The Plump Sisters have burst onto the Sarasota scene with “Vaudeville’s Dead,” a campy, fun musical revue that drew sold-out crowds to the dining area of the Starlite Room this weekend.
The “sisters,” Eleanor and Ester (actually actors and co-writers Parker Lawhorne and Kelly Leissler), are two of a trio of performers who string together mostly faithful musical theater classics from the likes of Kander and Ebb, Sondheim and Loesser with a plot full of rivalry and innuendo.
Lawhorne and Leissler are men, after all, and what drag show would be complete without a heaping helping of innuendo? Their third is Brian Finnerty as stage manager Dick Sonormous (yes, we all see what they did there), Ester’s love interest who dreams of a return to his performing days.
The year is 1956. Ester and Eleanor are bringing their routine to television, and while Eleanor is hoping for a more lucrative gig with a broader audience, Ester wants to get out from under the thumb of her controlling older sister and settle down with Dick. But once Eleanor, who always expected to marry first, catches wind of their romance, the hapless Dick becomes her pawn, and shenanigans ensue.
All three performers had the audience engaged. Leissler was largely sympathetic as Ester, whose own selfish motivations seem pure at least early on. Lawhorne delivered the most solid vocal performance and was delightfully catty as Eleanor. Finnerty’s Dick brought down the house with his surprise appearance in “I Got Bed Bugs,” where the sisters lament that unfortunate souvenir from their travels abroad to the tune of Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm,” and with his performance of “Buddy’s Blues,” despite the fact that some of Sondheim’s vocal acrobatics meant the lyrics were occasionally difficult to understand. For an audience that was largely familiar with the source material, though, this proved a minor obstacle.
The musical numbers are split into two acts that generally move along briskly, with music director Michelle Kasanofsky providing lively accompaniment on the piano. Occasional “commercial breaks” provide a quick laugh from bawdy double-entendres and and pay homage to the era. References to the long-shuttered Mel-O-Dee Restaurant were a nice tip of the hat to both time and place.
The humor gets darker in the second act, but rarely crossed any lines with the audience, although I felt one “weenie stand guy” line would have been just as effective with no mention of ethnicity.
The set relies heavily on props to best make use of the small stage built around the Starlite’s staircase. The action is a combination of on- and offstage antics, with pantomime clearly communicating when the performers are on and when they are off. The vintage luggage and clothing that spills from it, along with advertisements and other kitsch pinned to the stairs, sets the action nicely in the era and transitions neatly from the memorabilia that adorns the walls of the Starlite itself.
Keep an eye on the Plump Sisters Productions Facebook page; somehow I doubt Ester and Eleanor’s dresses are going to stay in the wardrobe for long.