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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Miss Sugarpuss Must Die

by Barbara Ford

From the first strains of the opening song, fairly dripping with sexuality, to the triumphant and surprising ending, Holly Gauthier-Frankel a.k.a. Miss Sugarpuss rules the stage for a solid 55 minutes.  No wonder the one-woman show, co-written by Frankel and Paul Van Dyck (who also directed), won the 2010 Frankie Award for Best Fringe Festival production.

From the outset we know that Miss Sugarpuss Must Die but to find out why, we follow her life from the backstage brandy-guzzling brat to the lean years selling flowers, crackin’ wise with the street crowd, eking out a living as an abandoned teen.  The inevitable seedy opportunist discovers our heroine, scoops her up and thrusts her onto a Burlesque stage, where at last she finds the love and adoration she’s been looking for but at what cost?  

If you’re thinking this ‘bare-all’ show will finally reveal the tantalizing Miss Sugarpuss, you are right and also … you are sorely mistaken, as there is way more here than meets the eye.  Vaudevillian humour delivered with expert timing and the cheeky chicanery of Burlesque weave a gossamer world of sequins and feathers, baubles, boobies and booze in which we’re never sure what is true and what is dramatic license, but how intriguing, not unlike the titillating costumes she frolics in and out of on stage.  Are we caught in a 1950’s time warp?  Is this not the post-feminist, sexually liberated second millennium?  Frankel effortlessly blends both realities, channelling the classic film noir bombshell with a heart of gold: a tough brassy broad one moment then vulnerable, honest and trusting the next. At the height of Miss Sugarpuss’s increasingly lurid lifestyle, a giddy romp for the audience, Frankel suddenly emerges, alarmingly candid and exposed.

On the one hand the piece is a fond tip of the hat to the likes of Gypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr but there are layers upon layers, not unlike the multi-sheathed actor, singer and writer herself.  With one letdown after another, Miss Sugarpuss (or is it Frankel) puts on a brave façade time and time again because you never know when things might work out.  Although she laughingly shrugs off the neglect, the drugs, the alcohol, the bulimia, her wit and depth of character are undeniable and regardless of the pain and loss, she gets back out there with the forgiveness and wide-eyed optimism of a child.  It’s heartbreakingly funny: the Burlesque equivalent of I Pagliacci, right down to the slap-stick buffoonery of a novice stripper-tease artist and the gut-wrenching longing of “Cry Me a River” (a musical highlight of the show).  Throughout Frankel masterfully embodies the tragi-comedic ambiguity.  

Don’t miss this tap-dancin’, drinkin’ n’ singin’, strippin’ n’ struttin’, turbo-entertainer.  She will melt your heart and get it racin’ too!

Miss Sugarpuss Must Die is at Wildside

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