Murder by house:
Mae West sashays away
by Drew Rowsome photos by Raul Da Silva
Superstar East Side Marion's silent move career has been sidelined by the invention of talkies. To combat this decline in her diva credibility she is planning to launch an all-new one woman show, accompanied by the 72-piece orchestra known as The Flying Monkeys, in New York's Emerald City Nightclub: a Speakeasy and Fine Dining Emporium. The Emerald City Nightclub is funded by Al Capone who has arrived from Chicago to inspect the books. Disaster strikes and - spoiler alert! - a house falls on Marion killing her. Fortunately her equally diva-ish twin sister Mae West arrives to make sure that, in the best show business tradition, the show goes on. But what of the scheming understudy Dorothy?
Mysteriously Yours' Speakeasy! is a hilariously unholy mash-up of The Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain, 1930's Hollywood glamour and innuendo, every Humphrey Bogart movie ever made, and, of course, dinner.
Mysteriously Yours Mystery Dinner Theatre always offers a reliably entertaining evening out but with Speakeasy! they are upping the ante and heading in a more theatrical and erudite direction. Don't let that dissuade you, there are still lots of double entendres and risqué jokes - "My name is Spade. Sam Spade. And I'm a dick." -but this time there is a tighter theme at work and the film references fly fast and furiously. For creating a coherent deliriously funny evening this works wonderfully; for a night out of spoon-fed theatre Speakeasy! is still finding the proper balance
A throwaway joke about Toto is a line that any comic would love in their repertoire but it flew over the audience's head. Debbie Collins, a sexbomb re-creation of Mae West, broke character for a second (not that the fourth wall is in any way respected in a Mysteriously Yours production, the asides, improvisation and audience participation are a major component of the fun) to gratefully acknowledge that I cracked up at a classic Mae West line that again missed the mark with the majority of the audience. Not incidentally, the same line, and it's not a subtle line, earned raucous guffaws when used in the opening monologue in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Has the wit, wisdom and cultural immediacy of Mae West been lost to the sands of time? If the audience for Speakeasy! had been stacked with more film buffs and gays, Collins would have slain even more than she did.
Of course, as has been chronicled extensively, The Wizard of Oz is now firmly a part of our cultural vernacular. All the Oz references in Speakeasy! landed solidly and a "friends of Dorothy" joke also caused uproarious laughter. Mysteriously Yours deserves credit for stretching the parameters of their comfortable niche. Co-writer and artistic director Brian Caws noted afterwards that the cast is still playing with their parts, finding what works and what doesn't. Allan Cooke, playing Knuckles, a frenetic thug with a bad-boy-coked-out sex appeal, riffed on a delicious bit about wanting to direct. I'm sure it is a heartfelt sentiment as the entire ensemble polishes the framework and lines that Caws and Danny Wengle have given them to turn the Emerald City into a diamond.
The dinner part of the evening could be allowed to coast - laughter makes everything taste better - but chef Rossy Earle continues her quest to get a lot of meals out quickly without sacrificing flavour or visual appeal. Both the beef and chicken (the quinoa substituted for mashed potatoes was a texture sensation) were delicious and the butternut squash and corn soup with coconut milk and corn salsa balanced heat - Earle also sells her own Diablo's Fuego hot sauce - and sweet perfectly. And of course the desserts are wonderful.
Also sweet is Stephanie Folkins as Dorothy (but only until she unleashes her inner Canadian, and maple syrup-fuelled, ambitious diva) and Cooke earns empathy for his twitchy devotion to the diva-in-training. Tom Melissis brandishes a giant sometimes-a-cigar-is-not-just-a-cigar to match an outsized lecherous persona. Mysteriously Yours stalwart Danny Wengle, clad in a natty white suit, holds Speakeasy! together and keeps the quips and evening flowing at a relentless pace. Lawrence Prance is a dervish as Doc (and he has to work hard to compete with the seemingly tireless Cooke) and his experiments with various drugs sets up the inevitable, but well-handled and surprisingly subtle, Rob Ford jokes. This lead to the one minor glitch in the evening when I attempted to be funny by ordering on of Doc's concoctions as a cocktail - our poor server Anya was forced to confess that she hadn't seen the show yet, she is rather busy throughout getting orders to the masses, and missed the reference.
A lot of the audience came clad in 1920s splendour - there are a lot of sequins and fedoras - and whether they caught all the references or not, prohibition be damned, a good time was had by all. Even if we didn't get to enjoy The Flying Monkeys, a real 72-piece orchestra would have been too far over the top: though Collins' semi-scatological acapella rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" - "We're still working on the melody" - was delightfully worthy of full accompaniment.
Speakeasy! continues until at least Fri, Oct 31 at the Mysteriously Yours Dinner Theatre, 2026 Yonge St. mysteriouslyyours.com