For “Cirque Berzerk,” it must have been an interesting journey from the dusty Black Rock desert of Burning Man revels to the moist fleshpot of downtown L.A.’s Club Nokia, where demands are probably – and admission prices certainly – higher. Conceit of “the Devil’s Cabaret” as a hellish circus, with some first-rate performers in tow, is already fun, but may have blockbuster potential if the creators can tone down the pervasive campiness and predisposition to cliche.
The one-time tent attraction, for several years part of California’s fabled, anything-goes summer festival, makes a stylish scenic transition to indoors. David Morong’s heavenly deconstruction of carnival hell – surrounding staircases and decaying canvas flaps – is raised almost to poetry as Dan Reed’s flashing lights keep breaking film noir shadows. (An exception is the upstage projection screen, resembling a slice of bread, a mitten or the state of Wisconsin rather than the presumed tombstone.)
Audiences have to endure preshow noodging from a wittily made-up (courtesy Alexis Kelley) troupe of refugees from a Tim Burton nightmare, wackily clad by Mikiko Nagao and Heather Goodman and toplined by Death, a twee knob played by composer Kevin Bourque with the silhouette of Dr. Caligari and the tiresome affect of Dr. Frank N. Furter.
You keep hoping for the old vaudeville call “Get the hook!,” though in fairness Bourque proves an exceptional percussionist for his eclectic, hard driving, smashingly performed score. No whiny, New Age Cirque du Soleil musicianship for this troupe.
And we see less of him as the ensemble becomes a nifty band of tumblers, aerialists, fire jugglers and dancers with smokin’ bodies and a distinct strain of daffy humor mixed into their showmanship. Circus highlight is the act one finale on side by side trampolines separated by a high wall, a quartet of stooges eliciting laughs and cheers in their dizzying defiance of gravity.
A linking story follows leggy brunette Emilie Livingston, her tight skirt symbolizing repression, its red color symbolizing readiness to be flown aloft and initiated into the rites of Hades or whatever.
Veteran Broadway choreographer and helmer John Carrafa echoes “Thriller” in some zombie moves, and amusingly captures Livingston with a team of Kafkaesque, briefcase-wielding dancing bureaucrats. Carrafa would do well to attend to the faux eroticism a la community theater “Cabaret” productions – you know, guys and gals in Weimar Berlin attire, rubbing each other in a vain effort to persuade us they’re horned up.
But there’s nothing faux about an extended scene in which two chiseled studs keep repelling their women’s advances to explore interest in each other, finally soaring into a midair athletic pas de dudes. Their eventual lip-lock elicits the delighted whoops of the assembled, liquored-up co-eds but not, perhaps, of their dates.