Channeling Cockettes chaos

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday April 9, 2013
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Over-sized bananas get a workout in one of the production<br>numbers in <i>Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, </i>the<br>latest Thrillpeddlers revival of a Cockettes musical. Photo:
Over-sized bananas get a workout in one of the production
numbers in Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, the
latest Thrillpeddlers revival of a Cockettes musical. Photo:

There must be vats of glitter backstage at the Hypnodrome. That is the venue for Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma, and lips, faces, hair, and even penises are adorned with those reflective little specks. The sets may be proudly cardboard, but the flesh is defiantly not weak.

Tinsel Tarts is the latest foray by the Thrillpeddlers troupe to channel the briefly aglow life-force of the Cockettes, an ongoing revival that has now outlasted its inspiration. Tinsel Tarts wrote a particularly notable page in the underground group's history as the show that traveled to New York in 1971 on an enormous wave of mainstream publicity, only to collapse in front of an opening-night audience of star-studded slummers. It's only minutes into the new production that this notoriety is addressed. "Do your amateur night in an insane asylum," suggests columnist Vedda Viper in her radio review of the show we are about to see.

Pam Tent, one of three original Cockettes in this production, has taken on the role of the high-hatted Vedda Viper, and also worked with fellow Cockette alum Scrumbly Koldewyn (now at the piano) on creating a new libretto. It is an understatement to say that Tinsel Tarts was not then and is not now a densely plotted show, and probably was not the Cockettes' best chance to take Manhattan. During the second half of the New York run, the group staged Pearls Over Shanghai, and garnered some good press that could not change the overall trajectory of the trip. Would that they had first put that foot forward.

Pearls Over Shanghai was also the show that first connected Thrillpeddlers with the Cockettes canon, running an astounding two years. It was a show that subversively traveled through a myriad of genres and subjects, and Tinsel Tarts is more limited in its itinerary. It shuttles between Hollywood and Broadway, with a come-and-go plot that mostly serves as a vehicle for a parade of period-song parodies. The good news in this scenario is that more often than not the songs and their elaborately staged production numbers are like mini-musicals unto themselves. It's akin to the inscrutably entertaining numbers in a Broadway musical as imagined in a movie musical like 42nd Street.

Only four songs have been carried forth from the 1971 production, and Koldewyn has written a dozen new melodies to replace the adulterated popular standards that were first used. The satire becomes less sharp toward the evening's end, at least until the finale that is a de-glittering maelstrom.

Thrillpeddlers founder Russell Blackwood is at the helm, finding ways to suggest a well-organized chaos that honors the Cockettes spirit. He also plays Hollywood diva Madge the Magnificent in full dragon-lady mode, a performance smartly balanced by Bonni Suval's keen variation on a wide-eyed ingenue whose star is on the ascent. Various roles are double cast, so whom you see may not match what you read here.

If you are fortunate, you will see the delicious mugging of Rumi Missabu, the third original Cockette in the show, as a luncheonette counter girl who, too, wants the glamorous life. He's part of a large cast, and many performers move through multiple roles. It's only possible to mention a few for exceptional drollery, such as Birdie-Bob Watt and Dalton Goulette as world-weary conjoined twins, Leigh Crow as the Queen of Mars, Gerri Lawlor as martinet film director Cecil Von Paramour, and Jim Jeske as Groucho Marx.

Star billing is certainly due costume-designer extraordinaire Alice Cunt, whose work is both enchanted and berserk. Suval and Noah Haydon get primary program credit for the eclectic choreography, and other estimable crew members include wig designer Flynn DeMarco, set designer James Blackwood, and lighting designer Nicholas Torre.

It takes a village, it seems, to put on a Thrillpeddlers-Cockettes show. And half of that village is actually in the seats, with a quorum of give-and-take needed to make the experience viable. That shouldn't be a problem except for those suffering from extreme glitter intolerance.


Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma will run through June 1 at the Hypnodrome. Tickets are $30-$35. Call 377-4202 or go to [email protected].