If there is an art to marshalling one’s facial and body parts to move in coordination with a pre-recorded soundtrack, then John Epperson has taken it to its zenith. In a flawless display of virtuoso timing and physical agility, Epperson seques effortlessly through a sometimes hilarious, often harrowing homage to the legendary divas of stage and screen. However, once he has established his jaundiced, surrealistic course for the evening, there simply is not enough variation on his theme to warrant his 70 minutes on stage. Director Kevin Malony certainly keeps this inventive solo artist on track but should have advised on more judicious editing.
Epperson’s on-stage persona is striking. Moving lithely across the stage in his Bryant Haven-designed knockoff of a ’50s cocktail dress, the slim, flame-haired performer displays the legs and dance moves of a young Ann Miller (minus the tapping) and the slapstick physical comedy of a Betty Hutton. His synergistic relationship with the soundtrack includes minute but flawlessly detailed gestures, including dead-on gesticulations and throat bobbings that constantly underscore his depiction of divas under stress.
Epperson’s awe-inspiring soundtrack design caroms loudly off the walls as if controlled by a crazed channel surfer on speed. High energy musical outpourings from such artists as Shirley Bassey, Kay Thompson, Dolores Gray, Betty Morris and others are seamlessly interwoven with such jagged film snippets as the sexually repressed ravings of Piper Laurie from “Carrie,” Elizabeth Taylor’s lurid revelation of childhood molestation in “Butterfield 8,” Faye Dunaway’s searing “She’s my daughter/she’s my sister” speech from “Chinatown,” Natalie Wood’s unapologetic “Gypsy” and Patty Duke’s wretched Neely in “Valley of the Dolls,” as well as prerequisite outpourings from such grand dames as Betty Davis and Joan Crawford.
A disturbing aspect to the evening is the inclusion of the audience responses on such pre-recorded offerings as the virtuosic but tediously over-long drunken rendering of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Epperson also proves unnecessarily self-indulgent and redundant as he overuses a bit, rapidly moving amongst a bank of imaginary telephones, changing mood and body language with each call. Though Epperson has taken his artistic discipline to uncharted heights, he still needs to adhere to the maxim that less is more.
The production is certainly enhanced by the spectacular set and lighting designs of Jim Boutin and Mark T. Simpson, respectively. Epperson’s soundtrack would have been more effective if the sound operator had brought the volume down a decibel or two.