Can-can Cabaret

Chico Cabaret lives up to its name with locally grown musical

Playwright Daniel Penner Cline (who also stars as painter Toulouse-Laautrec) is surrounded by the can-can girls of Masquerade at the Moulin Rouge.

Playwright Daniel Penner Cline (who also stars as painter Toulouse-Laautrec) is surrounded by the can-can girls of Masquerade at the Moulin Rouge.

Photo By matt siracusa

The sold-out opening night (June 10) of Chico Cabaret’s Masquerade at the Moulin Rouge was wild and crazy right off the bat.

Audience members—including some women attired in revealing, tight-fitting, alter-ego-expressing get-ups—flitted pre-show between the tiny, festively lit bar and their seats, stopping for animated chit-chat with other excited folks.

Next to me sat a large man wearing a forest-green feather boa. As we waited for the show to begin, Prince’s “Sexy Motherfucker” pumped over the sound system.

Chico Cabaret Executive and Artistic Director Phil Ruttenburg stepped on stage to give a welcome speech that included crediting new Almond Orchard costume shop Masquerade with providing all the costumes for the play.

“Take it off!” someone yelled from the audience to Ruttenburg as he spoke.

Foreshadowing the raucous form of the night, a blonde woman leapt from the audience and ran in front of the stage, mid-speech, yelling to Ruttenburg, “Your speeches are really long. I have to pee!”

Masquerade was written by local Daniel Penner Cline and directed by Ruttenburg. It’s a bawdy, entertaining musical set in the Montmartre district of Paris in 1921 that tells the story of an ex-clown-turned-cabaret-owner named Christopher (played admirably by Nick Anderson) whose clown parents were murdered when he was young. And the tragedy obviously contributed to his becoming a depressed, absinthe-swilling alcoholic with a crippling fear of love and attachment.

The show opened with the appearance of Penner Cline (billed as “Omar” Penner Cline) as the ghost of 19th-century painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (or simply Toulouse).

“Welcome to the Moulin Rouge, or what is left of it,” said Toulouse, before offering that he “still [has] a penchant for the ‘green fairy,’” as he sipped on a glass of absinthe.

True to the fast-paced spirit of the night, Toulouse’s brief introductory appearance was immediately followed by seven young women dressed in underwear awkwardly rehearsing the can-can to the “5, 6, 7, 8” of effeminate male choreographer Louise, played by Cody Garcia.

“Ladies!” shouted Garcia-as-Louise at one point, “I created the can-can—not the can’t-can’t!”

The basic story of Christopher’s inability to ever love again and how he is healed is set against the backdrop of the festive, funny and attention-getting goings-on that swirl around the Moulin Rouge. Costumes—like the words and lines—were racy and colorful.

Kelsi Fossum-Trausch shone as Abella, the Moulin Rouge’s newest star and Christopher’s redemptive love interest (Fossum-Trausch also serves as the actual choreographer for Masquerade). Scenes between Abella and Christopher were notable for their believable emotion and capable singing. Likewise, Fossum-Trausch’s early-in-the-show delivery of familiar, Peggy Lee torch song “Fever”—visually aided by her skintight, spaghetti-strapped black dress and good looks—was a hit, as was Anderson’s take on Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare.”

Loki Miller, as musical director and guitarist for the three-piece show-band that included “movergutz” on bass and Clint Bear on drums, provided an appropriately rockin’ musical canvas for the show, which ran the gamut of popular music: John Lennon, David Lee Roth, The Rolling Stones, Christina Aguilera’s “Nasty Naughty Boy,” even a reworked version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

Singer Buddy Charles’ mid-show cameo performance was easily the highlight of the evening for me. Dressed in a white suit, white shoes and a blazing red shirt, the portly, white-haired Charles—accompanied by three scantily clad backup dancers—busted out a version of Roth’s “Just A Gigolo” that was spot-on-and-then-some.

Masquerade at the Moulin Rouge is a fun summer-night’s romp. Leave the kids at home and make it a date night.