Meet Crazy. All her life she’d been called “crazy” so much that the nickname stuck – eventually she called her nightclub CRAZY as well. The former jazz club owner, played by the multitalented Kat Reuss, reminisced throughout last Friday’s nearly two-hour show about the golden days for her and the former underground prohibition-era establishment. “Technically it was a jazz club,” revealed Crazy in a slightly sophisticated English accent. “We served the cheapest hooch, and men came to see my girls dance.” Things were just peachy until her joint got raided by the coppers. In the aftermath, Crazy sat by the phone hoping her former dancers or fella would call. During this dark and lonely period, Crazy admitted perhaps she was a little crazy as she transitioned in and out of Twilight Zone-like flashbacks with erotic overtones.
Reuss’ short narrative comes at the beginning of the presentation and is followed by a series of stunning aerial acrobatics performed by members of Aerial Arts Hawaii. Most of the performers are based on the Big Island, but two came from Maui and one flew in from Portland, Oregon, for this two-show event.
CRAZY — An Aerial Jazz Cabaret is the fifth musical Aerial Arts Hawaii has produced and the fourth at the Palace Theater. Zoe Eisenberg and Bella O’Toole, cofounders of Aerial Arts Hawaii, developed CRAZY and the others. CRAZY’s 1920s theme worked perfectly at the Palace since it was constructed in that era, although I imagine Hilo was a little tamer back then.
Reuss, who has appeared in numerous plays on the Big Island, most recently South Pacific as Ensign Nellie Forbush, acted as MC and sang four songs to pre-recorded tracks performed by PMJ (Postmodern Jukebox), a musical collective known for reworking popular modern music into different vintage genres. Eisenberg and O’Toole’s musical selections were spot on – a cover of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and others went well with the Roaring Twenties backdrop.
The producers gave their presentation a PG-13 rating for its sensuality. There wasn’t any nudity, although the only male performer was bare-chested, err, topless? The audience got its fair share of skin – skimpy thongs and tight fitting catsuits ruled the night. The Palace crowd didn’t seem to mind, and at times cheered and whooped loudly like they were at a strip club or a bachelorette party. One scene featured a claw-footed bathtub surrounded by clouds of steam. As the steam dissipated, a seductive dancer contorted her body in what appeared to be impossible positions.
Most thrilling were the skilled aerialists who effortlessly climbed red silks that towered sixty feet above the stage. Twirling, but never tangling, these artists were the best of the bunch.
A few more risqué skits closed out the show and used jazz and cabaret tunes like Peggy Lee’s heart-pounding version of “Fever,” and “You Gotta Have Boobs,” by Ruth Wallis, a cabaret singer of the 1940s, and ’50s. Certainly you remember “Hopalong Chastity,” and her signature novelty number, “The Dinghy Song,” an ode to Davy, who had “the cutest little dinghy in the Navy.”
As Reuss sang her final tune, “A Little Party” (originally by Fergie), she invited the cast of sixteen performers and four backstage techs to come out and take a bow. The cast then exited the stage and quickly fled to the lobby. Forming two lines, creating a human hallway, they said goodbye to the patrons as they left the theatre.
The Eisenberg & O’Toole production team have given the Big Island’s talented aerial artists an outlet to stage their skills in a musical like CRAZY. It was obvious these artists had been professionally trained and went to college to study circus arts. No doubt Eisenberg & O’Toole will be back next year with another thrilling event.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos/video: Steve Roby