Flame-spinners, magicians, contortionists and babes with big voices got together for January’s “Karnival,” held at the Onyx Theatre on Jan. 4. As the first show of the new year, the performance represented an auspicious start. As an installment in the ongoing “Karnival” series, it constituted a step in a dynamic and highly enjoyable direction.
One of the strongest attributes of the show was its ability to showcase new talent while still keeping audience favorites alive and well. The recurring “Mama” character was present in voice if not in person; a voice-over was broadcast because, as the story goes, Mama was in Costa Rica during the show. (Stephanie Castellone, Mama’s alter-ego, was in the show this time around and no walker was necessary.)
Instead, Mama’s sister Girdy (played by J P Nomi Malone and pictured below) fulfilled the role of hilariously outrageous accoutrement. Coupled with emcee Vivianne Dumonde, the drag queen filling in for Ginger Grant, the show was well-spiked with comedy of the same brand but of a different flavor.
The talent continued along this vein as well, with a mix of classic acts and newcomers. Spade of Hearts started the show in proper Broadway fashion with a cheeky character, a masked rabbit in a tux, sly magic tricks and a fabulously belted version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”
Leda Las Vegas and Lou Lou Roxy took the audience from Wonderland to a cabaret … or, rather, “Cabaret.” Leda, mic in hand, sat coyly at a table downstage while Roxy, clad in black fringe and dark lipstick, preened and shimmied her way through the act. The number was both understated and outgoing, with Leda’s expressive voice defying the role of simple accompaniment.
Two other voices stood out in the show as well, proving that while “Karnival” might be playful at times, the performers themselves aren’t playin’. Isabella Ivy and Ianroel Gargantiel (pictured left) sang the title track from “Phantom of the Opera,” complete with an opera gown on Ivy (but, strangely, no mask on Gargantiel.) Ivy’s soaring soprano and the seriousness of Gargantiel’s character were transforming forces for the small theater and added a note (or several) of seriousness to the show.
Bellydancer Resa Alhena, accompanied by John Dark on accordion, and Miranda Glamour held down the dance fort with two different but catchy acts. Alhena and Dark (both pictured below) performed a sweet and sultry duet at the top of the show, rife with details from fingers and belly alike. Perhaps the most enjoyable facet of the number was the conversational nature between the two and Alhena’s serenity and quiet smile were infectious. Glamour took another route altogether, stepping into “Toucha Toucha Touch Me” track from “Rocky Horror Picture Show” with all the personality and bubblegum sass that the song requires.
A magician, a fire-spinner and a Cirque contortion act ushered in the quintessential side of the circus a la Las Vegas.
Kyle Marlett (pictured left), a self-proclaimed nerd magician that has yet to turn 21, razzle-dazzled the audience with unique illusions to a track from “Chicago.” Ripped paper that became whole, a never-ending sugar packet, and a one-sided conversation with the audience transcribed into a composition book set up Marlett’s grand finale: a demonstration that he really does have the best mouth in Vegas (their words, not mine.) Into that mouth went dental floss, followed by a number of small objects. By the end of the act, Marlett was pulling the floss back out of his mouth with each of the objects tied, in cherry-stem-style, to the string.
Oh, my. Marlett’s illusions were excellent and his Michael Cera-esque demeanor was both endearing and impressive.
Contortion and fire ended the show in style. Cirque contortionists (of whom Castellone was one, explaining the absence of Mama) twined over, under and around each other in a number originally performed in the touring Cirque show called “Nouvelle Experience.” The ease with which the performers maneuvered was astounding and the smiles that interspersed the act were the cherry on top.
Who loves a flaming stage? Maybe not the stage manager, but Chris Staefe (pictured above) has it under control — it was only on fire fora few seconds, after all, and it really was intentional. Staefe’s choice of music, a dramatic instrumental track from “The Lion King,” paired with the act well and accentuated the “wow” factor of watching balls of fire on a string spinning around.
And all too soon, the performers were stepping forward for their final bow. I don’t know if a New Year’s resolution at the Onyx was to ramp up the entertainment value of their shows, but if it was, mission accomplished. Hopefully the extreme talent and variety continues.