Burlesque is back, thanks in no small measure to the success of “Moulin Rouge,” and choreographer Robin Antin’s cabaret act “Pussycat Dolls Live,” which had its beginnings at the Viper Room in 1995, seems to be in the perfect position to capitalize on the trend. Seems, though, is the operative word, because this act, playing for four consecutive Thursdays at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, is all energy and effort with no impact, all atmosphere with no earthiness, all heavy breathing with no… well, you get the point. Most shockingly, given the bevy of leggy sirens lead by “special guest star” Carmen Electra, is the fact that it’s so lacking in sexiness.
Antin and the show’s director, Kristin Hanggi, attempt to re-create the bohemian feel of a 1920s club. Two beauties in black lingerie sit on swings on either side of the stage, while a gaggle of sailor boys express their hormonal urges in what comes off as a lust-track to accompany the production numbers. The boys are really a big mistake, injecting a layer of affectation between the pussycats and the audience. Carmen and her clan, tightly trussed in fishnet stockings, bustiers and boas, perform to them rather than the crowd, and their incessant hooting only makes the goings-on feel even more fake.
The fakeness doesn’t need a whole lotta help. The music, which includes “Fever,” the “Pink Panther” theme and “Smooth Operator,” is all recorded, and there’s a lot of lip-synching. The production numbers, much of them sea-themed — for the sailors, no doubt — rely then on the movement, and the cleavage, for their vitality. Antin, as well as much of the cast, comes to this show from the world of musicvideos, which pretty much explains the thrusting hip gyrations that pass for dancing. The sloppiness of the execution makes one admire the apparent genius of musicvideo editors. The show starts out with a number set to “Big Spender,” but given the level of work here, anything that makes someone think of Bob Fosse is ill-advised.
There is a brief moment, at the end of the first of its four segments, that “Pussycat Dolls Live” comes well, alive, and demonstrates that, despite a lot of evidence here to the contrary, Antin does have a clever imagination. One of the dolls, Dita Von Teese, sits in a giant martini glass and wets herself with a big sponge in the shape of an olive. It’s a tasty cocktail that’s a lot better than the bland hors d’oeuvres that make up the rest of this planned hourlong show that comes to an abrupt end in 40 minutes.
On opening night, Christina Applegate was the unadvertised MC, reciting the noirishly naughty lines of Steve Antin and Joe Voci — “Inside every woman is a pussycat doll, and if you can’t find it someone else will” — with inadequate camp, empty of pizzazz. Being ribald is harder than it looks.
It’s all enough to give burlesque a bad name.