"Out of respect for our actors and their boobies we request that NO PICTURES are taken during the performance," reads a large notice in the program for Showgirls! The Musical!, which returns to New York City at Theatre 80 after previous stints at XL Nightclub and The Kraine Theater. Indeed, there's plenty of T&A in this musical send-up of the movie that redefined "so bad, it's good" for a whole generation of gay men (and their cultural bosom buddies). Starring Gina Gershon, with Elizabeth Berkley in what was supposed to be her adult breakout role, Showgirls is probably the most important example of the camp classic genre since Mommie Dearest. If you're a true-blue fan, you likely won't be attending to ogle at ladies' breasts, but their generous inclusion just goes to show that this vodka-soaked romp through the trashy, brassy world of Vegas showgirls has something for everyone.
Written and directed by composing team Bob and Tobly McSmith (Bayside! the Musical!, which plays at 8pm, right before Showgirls!, in case you're in the mood for an Elizabeth Berkley double feature), Showgirls! The Musical! is the story of Nomi Malone (April Kidwell), a drifter (hooker) from "different places" who winds up in glitzy Las Vegas. She wants to be a showgirl in Goddess, the faux-arty topless spectacular for which her best friend, Molly (Marcus Desion, who is also the show's honest-to-God costume designer), does wardrobe. Unfortunately, she ends up dancing at the Cheetah Club, a sleazy stripper bar. When Goddess star Cristal Conners (Rori Nogee) shows up at the club and buys a lap dance from Nomi for her boyfriend/boss Kyle MacLachlan (John Duff), Nomi's ship starts to come in.
It could be argued that Showgirls is actually a complex meditation on the dark underbelly of the American Dream: "Remember, darlin', if you're the only one left standin', they'll hire you," Cristal ominously tells Nomi (shortly before Nomi shoves her down a flight of stairs). Of course, that's not why we remember it. We remember Showgirls for Elizabeth Berkley's comically bad acting and inability to even eat a hamburger convincingly.
And boy, have they found a perfect surrogate for Berkley in April Kidwell. From the moment she tosses those French fries across the stage and twists her face incredulously, you can feel the magic. Rori Nogee proves an equal match as she struts around in a cowgirl hat declaring, "Excuse me. I'm just going to powder my nose...with cocaine." Philip McLeod regularly steals the show as "gay," the clipboard-wielding, brown-rice-and-vegetables-pushing stage manager who really just wants to be a dancer but is forced to live vicariously through the girls. The whole ensemble thrusts into the ridiculousness of this venture with committed gusto and the well-lubricated audience generally eats it up. (There's a reason this is playing in a theater attached to a bar.)
The McSmiths have written a lyrically clever score with song titles like, "You're a Whore, Darlin'," "F*cking Underwater," and "Whorrior." The music is not particularly memorable, but nevertheless it captures the essence of the film. So does the craptastic design, which would be a major point of contention in almost any other show, but seems appropriate here. The first-act finale, "Boat Show," features an epically busted yacht costume. I cringed as one of the dancers took out a large chunk of the cardboard volcano during Nomi's "Goddess" star turn. But really, this wouldn't be Showgirls if you weren't cringing for a good portion of the proceedings.
Just a heads-up: This show is soooo not 90 minutes, no matter what the official run time tells you. Don't expect to get out before 12:30am (curtain is at 10:30, provided management can herd the audience in from the bar on time). But don't think about leaving during intermission. You wouldn't want to miss the pool scene, would you?