The trouble with theater reviews, or reviews of any kind for that matter, is that the writer’s internal condition can color the article as much as anything that occurs on stage.
When I went to see Sugar Babies, I had a fever of 103 degrees and was unable to find my editor’s phone number to plead for amnesty. Mindful of my duty to this newspaper and its readers, I wrapped myself in layers of clothing, downed a last cup of hot tea for courage and ventured to UNR.
My weekend was a hazy medley of violent chills, prolonged sweats and delusions, both mundane and frightening. Yet, the time I spent watching Sugar Babies was by far the highlight of my illness, the closest I came to true escape from my infirmity. At times, I even forgot my self-appointed responsibility to wallow in self-pity.
Sugar Babies is a musical tribute to the lost art form of burlesque. My only previous exposure to burlesque was the “Maison Derriere” episode of The Simpsons, but Sugar Babies made me wonder where this type of entertainment had been all my life.
The show was a series of comic skits and musical numbers loosely tied together by the recurring characters of LeeAnne (LeeAnne Mathews) and the Sugar Babies, a flirty seven-woman dance troupe. All the characters were named after the actors who played them, which reinforced my impression that Sugar Babies was not overly concerned with characterization or plot; rather, its intent was to capture the spirit, energy and humor of the 1920s-era burlesque show.
Since my knowledge of burlesque is limited, it is difficult to evaluate the play’s historical or cultural accuracy, but I can say that Nevada Repertory Company created something wonderful. The jokes came fast and furious, the dance numbers were energetic but tightly choreographed, and most importantly, everyone on stage was having a blast. Even if the script had been wretched, the enthusiastic actors probably could have won the audience over.
The script is, in fact, quite clever. Sugar Babies offers up a type of humor that is hard to find today, but still resonates with a modern audience. The jokes are bawdy, without being explicit. Instead of four-letter words or gratuitous nudity, the script’s laden with clever puns, double entendres and innuendo. This is a sex comedy you can bring your grandparents to.
Headlining diva Mathews had fun with the older gentlemen in the audience, singling them out for attention and sitting on the occasional lap. Mathews is a lovely woman with a big voice, although her musical numbers sometimes dragged when she strayed from the interactive humor to more serious musicality.
The Sugar Babies are complemented by a comic troupe of seven men, who, like the ladies, had impeccable chemistry. Casey Maxwell is perfectly cast as the straight man, funny because of his seriousness. Meanwhile, Tyler Dean was exceptional as the high-energy, slightly insane comedian, reminiscent of Saturday Night Live‘s greatest hams.
When an occasional joke fell flat, the actors picked up the cue immediately and responded with self-referential comments. This reinforced the feeling that the performers and the audience all had the same goal—to have as much fun as possible.
Sugar Babies is not a profound show that will change your life, and at times it does lose its comic momentum. It is, however, a great deal of fun—even if you’re not feeling up to it.