They're two gals out to show the world they've got what it takes to make it in the spotlight. Only first, they'll have to elbow past each other.
With Broadway B*tches, Deuce Theatre put together last Friday an evening of cabaret style entertainment that manages to leverage the company's hallmark sense of humor with "let's put on a show" verve.
Andramada (Andrea Studley) and Humora (Heather Moss-Layman) are two rising Broadway starlets, each arriving at the theater thinking they'll have this evening's audience to themselves. Forced to share a stage, this mismatch made in heaven wrestles for dominance in the best way they know: lobbing one liners and classic Broadway musical numbers at each other.
The result is a delightful theatrical smackdown.
Andramada is the high-strung, high society chanteuse, elegantly dressed, operatically emotional, perfectly coiffed. In contrast, Humora probably couldn't even spell coiffed or correctly pronounce it. She's the plucky bridge-and-tunnel gal whose infectious charm is equal parts steamy charisma and Bronx cheer.
While Studley's Andramada graces the stage as though she's assured that an enormous bouquet of flowers waits for her in the wings, Moss-Layman's Humora makes you feel like the joint's about to get raided. You wind up rooting for each of them.
The musical mayhem kicks off with a pair of Stephen Sondheim numbers, "Broadway Baby" and "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience," both of which give us a chance to see these wildly divergent divas at their best: singing and dancing, posturing, and poking at each other all the while.
Andramada's "Art Is Calling to Me" is her shot at elevating the tone. She makes it a hymn to the upper crust with a vocal range that swells hilariously, as if rising to meet her celestial namesake. It needs only a chaise lounge to complete the over-the-top glam.
Cole Porter's "Brush up Your Shakespeare" leads the ladies into the audience, hunting for talent among the crowd. It's like a quiz show gone off the rails.
Moss-Layman's showcase is the "Class" number from the musical Chicago. "Whatever happened to old values? And fine morals? And good breeding?" the song asks. She delivers the punchline with pitch-perfect working-class horror: "Jesus Christ!" she moans. "Ain't there no decency left?"
With the rival starlets each scoring impressive, hilarious moments, the first act concludes, and Humora invites the audience to "Powder your noses and drain your hoses."
The diva's competitive momentum — built up in the first act — loses a little steam in the second. The focus shifts and some of the strands holding the evening together loosen. There are some great numbers.
"Brother Can You Spare a Dime" shines, sung by Studley with soulful string accompaniment by Robbi Kenney, who also provided piano accompaniment.
"Ten Cents a Dance" features Moss-Layman as a taxi dancer (and erstwhile Deuce Theatre fund-raiser): a comic motif that leads to the second act highlight, the duet, "Little Tin Box."
Tom Lehrer's "Pollution" follows, but it feels shoe-horned in, and the environmental awareness exchange that's read from the stage comes off like a Public Service Announcement intruding on the show.
In their previous production, The Emperor is Naked?, Deuce wove its social sensibility throughout the production. Here, the themes of art, class, wealth, and ambition don't set the audience up for such a severe departure.
That said, Deuce Theatre is quickly earning a reputation for innovative theater that revels in audience participation — Broadway B*tches even managed to drag the constitutionally ungraceful among us into a rousing conga line. Overall, it was a great night.
Broadway B*tches will be reprised for the North Charleston Arts Festival on May 1.