'Baloney' Brings Out the Burlesque Beefcake

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Friday April 10, 2015
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 "Office Heat" stars (L-R) Shaun Mullen, James Arthur M, Rory Davis, Moe Arikat and Adam Roy
"Office Heat" stars (L-R) Shaun Mullen, James Arthur M, Rory Davis, Moe Arikat and Adam Roy

With equal parts wit and wild sexiness, "Baloney," the all-male dance burlesque show, returns to Oasis for a pair of encore performances this weekend, with some new material. Director and MC Michael Phillis talked about the inspiration and work involved in bringing the show to the stage.

Phillis works closely with local nightlife dance choreographer Rory Davis, which is convenient, since they're also boyfriends.

He considers Oasis to be the perfect venue for their new show. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be," said Phillis. "It's like home, not only for us, but these other cool acts."

Phillis has made many local stages home since his debut about six years ago in a Peaches Christ number at The Bridge Theatre.

"Rory was doing his first ever Peaches number," he said. "He asked me to go up on stage and get shot dead in my underwear, and I would get paid in popcorn. I said. 'I will do that!' That was the first time we met. Shortly after that we started a relationship."

Baloney MC and director Michael Phillis

Since then, Phillis has worked with Davis, and on his own, both of them expanding their creativity, and audience reactions.

"Rory did a Trannyshack Star Search number with Miss Rahni at DNA Lounge," Phillis recalled. "It was one of the first big dance numbers for the shows, and it raised the bar as to what Trannyshack could be. Rory was a big forerunner of that. Now, you go to a Peaches show, like the recent Witches of East Bay , and expect big numbers.

"That's been our sort of weekly and monthly recital now, doing Mother or Peaches shows. The community around that is like our family, and that's enriched our lives in many ways."

His nightlife work is a change from the more traditional theatre that Phillis also creates, like his recent works D Face and Dolls for New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Developed with Andrew Nance, Phillis took both works to great success at New York City's Fringe Festival. Phillis also created and performed a stage show about Mrs. Miller, the elderly muse and audience favorite of 1970s talk show host Merv Griffin.

His dance-performance ensemble for Exhibit Q shifts personnel, depending on availability. Phillis, who studied theatre and dance at UC Santa Barbara, moved to San Francisco afterward, only to immerse himself in the performance scene.

Phillis recently hosted a slew of screenings and shows around his comic short film Mini Supreme, about a gay man who tries to make a quick buck by entering a children's beauty pageant.

"Part of the feature of the movie is that it was completely self-financed," said Phillis.

"We had two drag pageants and the proceeds from those events fed into the movie. We made almost our entire budget with these community fundraisers." A recent club event included some live drag pageant acts. Look for Mini Supreme at a film festival near you.

James Arthur M. oils up at the beach  (Source: Gareth Gooch)

So, how does Phillis balance nightclub, theatre and film work?

"There's really no road map," he said. "Whatever project tugs on my inspiration. I still love local theatre pieces. But lately it's more based on Baloney and the film stuff. In the last year, I re-evaluated my life, looking at removing things that took away from all things creative. I also want something that will last beyond the moment."

Thus his film project, that isn't forgotten after the cocktails and drag shows are done.

"Theatre is ephemeral," said Phillis. "That's the beauty and the curse of it. To make a film, something that can live beyond the moment of performing only, that's a whole new world as a storyteller. But there'll always be a place for theatre in my life."

The practiced spontaneity of Baloney pleased audiences in its premiere, which fed the curiosity about what the show would include.

"We capitalize on that with Baloney by not allowing photos or recordings," said Phillis.

"If you're not in the room, you're not a part of it. We want it to be a special theatre piece that can only be experienced in the moment."

What was included in the show's first night ranged from dancerly depictions of lust between male cowboys, to SM submission, paternal spanking, a beachside orgy of one, and group numbers that mix music video camp with an erotic strip show.

"We're adding a bunch of new stuff, sort of Baloney 1.2 ," said Phillis of the upcoming shows on April 10 and 11 at Oasis.

"Because our first show was so successful -more than 60 people were turned away- we wanted to bring back the same material, and have a little more time with it as a cast," he said. "And work the moments; get a little more rehearsal time and make things hotter and funnier. But we also have some completely new numbers, so now it'll be a two-act show."

The new numbers include a new Act 1 closer and an Act II opener. "They give some folks in the cast some more moments to shine," said Phillis, "while still keeping with that vintage theme, and music that brings you back to another time." A cross between the theatrical and the erotic, the Baloney opener was an amusing combination.

"It was such a strange night, our debut last month," recalled Phillis. "I think nobody quite knew what they were getting in for. The biggest reaction was the finale. I think people were thinking, 'It's Raining Men' or a gay Chippendales. I don't think they were expecting stories, character and laughter. So in that sense, I think we did push people. Now it'll be interesting to see where it goes the second time. Some will be in the know, and the response will be different. The cast also had no idea what to expect."

While most of the cast has performed in some of nightlife's wilder drag acts, and others regularly gogo dance, Phillis said there's still an element of risk.

"It's a very vulnerable thing to put yourself out onstage anyway, and be objectified on purpose," he said. "Some of our guys have been gogo boys, so they're cool about it. Some are techies working down on Market Street. Once we got down to the rehearsal and what we were looking for, the trepidation slid away. We weren't going to ask them to do anything they wouldn't see at Trannyshack (now Mother) or in a Peaches Christ show."

The reaction from the cast was good, Phillis said. "The way we're doing it is so respectful. They all said, 'We need to do this again.' That's a great testament to our process."

And several of the dancers, known more for shaking their booties behind a drag queen, get to show off their own talents.

"We chose amazing performers who look fantastic," said Phillis of the diverse looks of the performers. "But it's also not necessarily an easy show, because we are pushing our audience and the cabaret medium. It's almost revolutionary for men to be men. The guys who've done more drag said it felt good to move from being back-up to being the focus of a number. That was new for so many of us. That's something we can continue to find new ways of doing."

The outlet for creating new works from classic styles seems an endless font of inspiration for the team.

"We are interested in having Baloney become an ongoing thing," said Phillis. "An only-in-San Francisco kind of thing; that's our goal. Upcoming shows would be completely different. We're already planning new acts for the summer, so hopefully they'll be ready."

And, hopefully, so will audiences.

"Baloney," the hit male burlesque comedy show returns to Oasis, with sexy dancs and sketch acts choreographed by Rory Davis; directed by Michael Phillis. $20-$200. 8pm. April 10 & 11. 298 11th St. at Folsom. 795-3180. www.sfoasis.com www.SFbaloney.com

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