Channeling Carol, a Queerdo Production at Bedlam Theatre

Queerdo, a queer artist collective formed out of the mission of Outward Spiral Theatre Company, launched its first production with a cabaret inspired by legendary performer Carol Channing. Conceived and curated by Jeffry Lusiak, it featured new work by 10 local artists, all given free rein to respond to Channing’s art and life as they wished.

Both acts opened with a video montage of the participants describing what they found inspirational about Channing and what they planned to create as a result. Sort of. Lusiak’s editing (I assume it was his) created some good fun out of not much, really – much like a costumer assembles a dress, hat and shoes that individually might not catch your eye, but together has an impact.

The live performances generally lacked polish, which was fine for the individual performers whose skill and talent could carry that kind of spontaneity – Lusiak and Jaime Carrera, especially. It was a little too home talent show for the others, who could have benefited from more serious rehearsal and Lusiak’s guidance.

Kristin Van Loon’s interpretive dance was lovely – fluid and engaging, though I don’t know what it had to do with Channing. Sheridan Zuther is clearly a fine singer but didn’t get the mileage she deserved out of her idea. The lesson here may be if you don’t ad lib with Carol Channing’s ease (and not many do) then rehearse it well enough to give the whole piece a rhythm. We were waiting for her, which is deadly in live cabaret performance. Molly Van Avery’s narrative was truly engrossing, with or without the video, which didn’t contribute quite enough to the storytelling.

The Wreck Family’s contribution, on the other hand, was indulgent and meant for the pleasure of the performers, not the audience, and that’s my objection. What’s titillating to talk about in your living room isn’t necessarily that provocative in front of audience, much less entertaining. And yes, there is a distinction. He would do well to ditch them the next time around.

Lusiak’s racy film, on the other hand, was pure entertainment, and his “Scary Carol” piece was a bit of clowning at its kinky best. He, like Carerra, is so audience focused that they could hardly miss. In a camped-up, over-the-top Channing persona, Lusiak was cunning and waggish, in the way good drag should be: take the subject matter (Carol Channing, who he adores) and give it a personal twist. Affection gone just a little awry makes for good theater. Carerra’s tubbier version of Channing offered a completely different, but totally winning take on the legendary star, providing a solid finale for an evening that careened and churned more than it flowed. He is a genuine front man.

When you are brave enough to turn large parts of a show over to others to assemble, you get what you get. Lusiak’s sense of adventure is to be admired, but I hope he gets more personally involved next time – and earlier in the process. Given the level of expertise evidenced in the performer’s bio’s, it should have been better. A week or two of Lusiak’s sense of what works and what doesn’t, and imposing his fine sense of pacing on the whole evening would have taken it to another level entirely.

Nonetheless, if local theater is a little bland for you and you’re looking for something edgier, I’m going to guess that Lusiak’s next project, which he suggested will be inspired by the Muppets, is likely to be just as eclectic, risqué and (mostly) fun. “Channeling Carol” ran two nights only, January 29 and 30.

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