For the most part, Merman -- who claims to be the love child of the great Ethel Merman and her husband-for-a-minute Ernest Borgnine -- focuses on body issues as she mocks plastic surgery, breast obsession, and podophilia (foot fetishism). But, not afraid of a scandal or stirring up emotions about current affairs, she also blithely ridicules Osama Bin Laden and even pays tribute to her hometown, the barely recovering New Orleans.
As in most Merman productions, this one contains clever spoofs written by Roberson (with support by Jacques Lamarre). The targets include the title song from Broadway's Hair and "Talk to the Animals," the Oscar-winning tune from Doctor Doolittle. There's also an opera spoof that cunningly merges Saint-Saens with The Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha." Merman displays considerable panache for singing in her powerful alto-soprano voice, as well a penchant for making silent screen queen faces worthy of Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish.
The show additionally features some video spoofs, including a John Watersesque music video version of Cher's "Dark Lady"; a fly-on-the-wall vision of Varla Jean on a bender; and a special guest appearance by the disease-ridden chicken Salmonelli, with Forbidden Broadway star Christine Pedi providing a spot-on imitation of Liza Minnelli.
When she's not taunting society or celebrities, Merman makes self-effacing comments such as "I put my heart in everything, whether into a top-notch cabaret show...or even this one."
Credit for the show's success also belongs to her longtime director, Michael Schiralli, and costume designers Michael Velasquez and Cecile Casey, who provide her with a dazzling variety of wacky outfits, from a Middle Eastern hijab made out of bed sheets and a water gun-squirting camel hand puppet to a see-through bra complete with fake breasts, a giant squirrel costume, and a naked body suit with a glow-in-the-dark anatomy map.
In short, the costumes are as outrageous as Varla Jean Merman, who will say, sing, or wear anything to get a guffaw from her audience. Fortunately for her fans, she always succeeds.
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