review: WIDE AWAKE: A CIVIL WAR CABARET

by Toby Zinman

for the Inquirer

The Bearded Ladies are five women and two men. They sing—very well--and they wear bizarre costumes. Their new show, Wide Awake: A Civil War Cabaret is  wildly entertaining, even if it still needs some kinks worked out.

Medley is the name of their complicated, charming and entertaining game: old and new, historical and contemporary, male and female, funny and moving, parody and pointed if implicit social commentary. This is the American Songbook in snippets, glimpses, segues, shifts and slides. Old songs from the Old South (“Swanee,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” and new songs about the South (“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Sweet Home Alabama”) and songs from the North (“John Brown’s Body,” “Come Together”). The program lists 33 songs.

The star Bearded Lady is clean shaven; John Jarboe plays Dixie in a spectacular and enormous ante-bellum gown who proves, on stilts, that the South’s gonna rise again. He has a delicious manner and a wonderful tremolo, and is, incarnate, the appeal of the gone-with-the-wind myth America has  succumbed to (just listen to the accents of the Republic candidates as they court us in the Tara of their mind). He is also the fact of the fakeness of all that, being a guy in drag. Dixie/Jarboe reminds us that America has “traded freedom for magnolia blossoms and soft breathable fibers,” good cotton being so hard to get these days, even in the land of.

The Bearded Ladies who are actually ladies are Liz Filios (who sings a gorgeous song with lyrics by Walt Whitman, warning Dixie that  “your ass is leaves of grass”), Jessica Hurley, Rebecca Kanach, Mary Tuomanen, and the outstanding Kristen Bailey. They represent the North in huge Lincoln tophats, corsets, britches, moustaches and boots. Heath Allen is the stalwart piano player and the show’s musical director, and EJ Simpson guests on drums.

The venue is not ideal (not so comfy, poor sightlines) and there are moments in what seems like a work in progress that don’t work, like the dividing of the audience with a rope.  But mostly The Bearded Ladies provide a merry hour of song and fun—as well as a glass of a concoction called Dixie’s Downfall.

 

Bearded Ladies at the Wilma Theatre Lobby, Broad & Spruce Sts. Through Nov.19, and Dec.1-3 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Information: 215-546-7824.

=======================

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines
Help us learn more about Philly.com commenters. Click here to take this quick survey.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments
Continue Reading