Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret Presents Grimm (photo: Patric Carver)
Remember when you were a kid and sleepovers were the epitome of excitement? Pizza, movies, gossip, and all the soda you could possibly guzzle until you finally succumbed to sleep? Well, imagine that party expanded to a historic theater in Chinatown. About a thousand friends you’ve never met are swilling champagne instead of Tab™, but the childhood enthusiasm is still hanging heavy in the air. That’s what it’s like to experience Grimm, the latest production by Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret.
Though the theme of the night was supposed to be “fairy tales,” I couldn’t help but think that the true theme was my childhood. Robichaud has had previously described Misfit Cabaret as a “love letter” to her childhood. I feel that with this production she’s penning that same letter, but for all of us this time. Much in the way that the Netflix hit series Stranger Things came about at just the moment when the youngest members of Generation X and the oldest millennials are maturing into a stage of life ripe for nostalgia, Grimm brings every child of the ’80s back to their youth in the days of Reagan. In some ways those days were more filled with fantasy. Movies like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and perhaps most literally The NeverEnding Story pushed young viewers to stretch their own imaginations and test their own boundaries to be part of the story, part of the creative process. There wasn’t a single kid in my class that didn’t at some point pretend that their dog was Falkor. Most of my friends bore the scraped knees and elbows of kids who had tried to make their bikes fly like Elliot in E.T. Though it as a more real era — CGI was first used in the 1970s, but it wasn’t yet the go-to for movie effects. Puppets, models, things you could touch and feel were standard. It’s that fantasy made alive that Robichaud and company welcome her audience into with Grimm.
Dressed as the continually undaunted Oona from Legend, Robichaud started the show with a strident and manic medley that swung from sweet ballad to hair metal to synth pop faster than you could slouch your socks or pop your collar. Costumed as The Princess Bride’s Wesley, musical director Brendan Getzell bantered back and forth with Robichaud between tunes in a way that was entertaining in that hokey way that cabaret banter should be. For me, the two standout bits of the medley were a transformational (though brief) snippet of the theme from The NeverEnding Story and a powerful rendition of Queen’s “Princes of the Universe” that left audience members feeling positively alive and, dare I say, immortal. Though the music and performance were the stars of this opening act, I would be remiss if I didn’t take some time to address the incredible level of detail in the costumes and set. Framed by a thorny rose bush and haunted tree stump, the performers were not overwhelmed by the props. Nothing was too specific in terms of the set — it was perfect in its generic nature, as if it could have been ripped from any fairy-tale-themed fantasy movie.
This attention to detail and high standard of performance continued throughout the night. Aerialist Eka.Boo.Button thrilled the crowd with one of the most seamless rope acts I’ve ever seen while Robichaud sang an original, currently nameless song. Dressed as the mythical luck dragon Falkor, Button contorted herself meters off the ground and appeared to either have an intense internal understanding of the laws of physics or some sort of magic on her side that allowed her to perform free of such confines as gravity and friction.
Burlesque dancer Bo Vixxen played the archetypical crow as Robichaud sang a heavy version of The Beatle’s “Blackbird.” I’ve seen a lot of burlesque lately, and Vixxen’s performance stayed close to a style that I am noticing more and more in this neck of the woods. Leaning more on the playful nature of the artform, she fanned her way into the hearts of the audience members. A lot of the performances I’ve seen in other places have had a very ‘striptease’ feel to them, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it was nice to see Vixxen be revealing without it all being about the big reveal. She used her figure to make emotive shapes and movements; told a story.
Songstress Eliza Rickman brought her comically foul mouth and golden voice to the stage for two appearances. Self-described as, “indie as fuck,” Rickman looked like a pretty young piano teacher all gussied up for a rehearsal with her metronome in hand. Her music seems to come from an era where all refined young ladies learned to play an instrument, it had a parlor room feel. It’s charming while still being substantive. Her song “Devil’s Flesh and Bones” is one of those coy, simple sounding ditties that says in your bloodstream for longer than you imagined it would — an oratory aperitif. but her first act of the night was one of the best.
One performance that left me kind of cold was Hollow Eve’s Queen of Hearts drag. I say this with a heavy heart because I think the performance was almost there. Eve is clearly a seasoned performer — the performance was mostly centered around jerky body motions and pained facial expressions that could have come off as comical or robotic. Eve’s interpretation gave them a netherworld edge that was perfect and engaging. However, there was something missing from the show. Robichaud introduced Eve saying it would be a performance that would, “spook the crap” out of the audience. Eve’s costume was certainly spooky — a white figure with a hollow-eyed look topped with a crystal crown. However, they batted about these clearly light plastic chains that made a light chink-chink sound when dropped. It wasn’t spooky, and it didn’t live up to the rest of the costume’s detail in that respect. In fact, it was distracting. If it was meant to be haunting, it should have gone all the way. If it was meant to be funny, I didn’t fully get the joke.
One aspect of the show that didn’t disappoint in the slightest was Dave Haaz-Baroque’s Shadow Circus Creature Theatre. Drawing inspiration from Jim Henson’s fantasy films, the puppeteer presented a cast of bird-like characters that were at the same time disturbing and grotesque as they were alluring. The level of detail in the creature creations was astonishing; it is hard to believe that Haaz-Baroque created them all himself. “I’ve been making puppets on an off since I was eight,” Haaz-Baroque told me after the show. Mostly self-taught, he says that his formal art training was bolstered by watching DVD special features for films featuring puppets. From the moment they appeared on stage, the puppets sparked a warm ember of nostalgia in me; I haven’t seen work that good since Henson’s heyday. In addition to the craftsmanship of the puppets, Shadow Circus Creature Theatre brought another thing to the stage that had that masterful Henson quality — the playful nature of the puppets. Henson was king at creating characters you could care about without feeling silly, and characters that made you feel silly without any cares. Haaz-Baroque captured that completely.
If I had to pick one champion performer as an exemplary highlight from the show, though, it would have been the killer performance of Tim Curry‘s “Paradise Garage” by Johnny Rockitt. This role in this performance seemed like it was made for Rockitt — he fit the part so organically. “Kat was looking for someone for the role,” he told me backstage, “so I said to her, well, I’m gigantic, I can be the devil, and I can sing like Tim Curry. Let’s do it!” It was hard for me to believe that this sweet, personable man was the demonic rocker that graced the stage so shortly before. Rockitt is a tall drink of water any day of the week, but in this performance he towered. Dressed in shiny black vinyl from head to toe, he stomped onto the stage in gargantuan, lace-up, platform heels that made my ankles ache just looking at them. Atop his head sat a duplicate of the massive horns that Tim Curry wore in Legend. With his face caked in red makeup and prosthetics, he looked fierce. Even more shocking than his appearance was the fact that this was his first time singing live for an audience. He’s no stranger to performance, with a regular Friday night gig at The Eagle. Rockitt knows how to take command of the stage and entrance an audience. He thrilled the audience by using a power tool to grind his metal codpiece — sending sparks flying. He moved naturally around the space. His showmanship is enough to carry the performance, but his voice was no consolation prize. It was the real deal.
As I left the theater, so many audience members were absolutely buzzing with delight. One woman dressed in a lace-up corset with a frilly skirt turned to her date and said, “I don’t want it to be over.” I know how she felt. It was a wild fantasy ride, and I greedily wanted more.
Robichaud and company will be back at The Great Star performing Grimm for a final weekend March 3-4. Their next production, Cinephelia, will be debuting at the Great Star June 2-3.
Eliza Rickman will be performing at The Lost Church with an accompanying band on April 27.