A Review of The Yard Dogs Road Show and Circus Contraption live
At the Showbox on May 4, 2007 Seattle, Wa
The recent pairing of The Yard Dogs Road Show and Circus Contraption for what was referred to as a "co-headling bill" was genius. Both acts have their own distinct style. These styles working through everything from costuming, to music, to types of acts, as well as the actual presentation. At their hearts they're both vaudeville acts: they present broad, often bawdy, entertainment. But thanks to their individual visions you have no doubt which is the Show and which is the Circus.
Reviewing two sets of vaudeville is as hard as reviewing three hours of television where the channel changes every 5 minutes and you have no control over the remote. Not surprisingly the results can be uneven.
Overall both Circus Contraption and The Yard Dogs Road Show are great sets of performers. Both do a stand-up job of continuing to breathe new life into the classic routines. If I had to split the cover charge between the two artists for two separate shows I still would have been happy. Each set was solid and amusing, there was the right mix of bravado and business. Neither group came across as "all bluster, no balls". Both of the teams had incredible highs.
The Yard Dogs Road Show's "The Mad Maharaja" bit was perfect. At it's heart it's a time-honored fire act. But The Dogs are crafty enough to channel it through the post-modern spirit of The Blue Man Group. "The Mad Maharaja" isn't simply just not live it celebrates it's artificiality to make the performance even more entertaining. I've seen many, many fire eaters in the last few years. The Yard Dogs Road Show found a way to make me grin like a kid again over the classic molten moments.
Circus Contraption's best point showed off their greatest strength: the ability to take something well known, and by giving it a slight twist, re-create it for the modern masses. The piece in question was essentially a two person floor acrobat routine. The routine was well done, but it's the Circus Contraption contortion that makes it seem so new, so now. Yet all they did was paint the performers like skeletons with glowing paint and have them do to the act in darkness. The description of the piece does not do justice to it's affect on the crowd. You could see honest glee in the eyes of people who thought they were jaded.
The weakest moments for both troupes were the ones that should have been the "sexiest".
Circus Contraption had a good idea: mix stripper-style pole dancing with bits of rope acrobatics. But the execution was lackluster and you could feel the crowd losing interest. It was like something you could see at a dance club. Later the Circus presented a extended gag called "Spank the Audience". This skit went on way too long for very little pay off. It put the brakes on a what is generally a very fun and fast paced show.
Speaking of speed and timing, the least exciting part of The Yard Dogs Road Show was the Black and Blue Burlesque. To their credit The Dogs managed to keep their manic pace going through the whole show, except for the productions by the Burlesque. It's not that the girls are remarkably slow, but the reduced pace is so marked compared to the sharp timing of the rest of the Road Show that it sticks out. Speed should also be of the essence for any quick-change. Perhaps my costuming background gives me a different perspective but the simple changes the dancers did took forever, and the onstage change seemed long and clumsy. There was also very little "burlesque" in their performance, that is very little tease. The disrobing was sudden, not seductive. It reminded me more of Las Vegas showgirls than naughty cabaret.
But the brief challenges to both acts were easily overlooked and are overshadowed by the spine-tingling stunts found in the rest of their shows. My hat if off to both Circus Contraption and The Yard Dogs Road Show for making vintage vaudeville current and captivating.