Limelight Blends Chaplin, the 1920s and Burlesque Into an Odd Stew

Photo by Robyn Andrzejczak

Photo by Robyn Andrzejczak

Advice for the Plaza’s new Limelight star: After the pretty lady dancer yanks your skivvies down to your ankles and you’re waddling your naked buns off stage-right and pulling that fake-shy cup-your-junk move, kindly extend your palms downward to completely obscure your … low-hanging fruit.

We—or at least some of us—would appreciate it. OK, Slick?

Otherwise, featured performer/co-producer Danial Brown is an entertaining (and limber) fella to watch in Downtown’s new wriggle-and-jiggle entry, weekends through November 1. (Given the Plaza’s run of here-and-gone flops, being billed a “limited engagement” allows for a graceful exit, if needed.)

Titled after Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 film, Limelight is a hodgepodge-y curio that dresses its skin parade—but no toplessness and just one pasties moment—in a Chaplin-esque/Roaring ’20s motif. That sets an ambitious goal as burlesque shows go: using a unifying theme beyond the standard playbook of unconnected, sex-slathered production numbers (cowgirls, construction workers, Sapphic suggestiveness—you know the drill).

Cool idea. Lukewarm result.

Nominally cloaked in the iconic Chaplin persona of the mustachioed, bowler-hatted little tramp—fused with a blast of Magic Mike—Brown is the star gyrator, aided by six female dancers, including co-producer/ex-L.A. Lakers girl Jodie McDonald. Also featured as Betty Boop—in pale black-and-white makeup to match her black-and-white outfit—is Felice Garcia, pulling double duty with Million Dollar Quartet. (She warbles “I Wanna Be Loved By You”—yup, with “boop-oop-a-doop”—and serves shots to audience members.)

Opening with a grainy video of the performers in a silent-movie homage to Chaplin, they emerge through the screen onto the stage in a promising kickoff to the theme. Yet over 65 minutes, adherence to it is spotty and often discarded in favor of the clichéd stream of hips/tits/pecs/rears set to a generic soundtrack of throbbing contemporary music. (And do we really need another “Hey Big Spender” number?)

Despite the perplexing muddle, Limelight offers energy, imagination and impressive choreography. Several numbers bristle with retro dynamism—flapper-style steps and fan dances reminiscent of Sally Rand’s heyday—performed to vintage tunes.

The (too-infrequent) bounce-back to the theme is inspired: Brown mouths Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator in one military-flavored number; gals outfitted in plastic soap bubbles scrub clean in old-fashioned wash buckets; and performers do the Charleston in dance-club double-time.

Humor and audience connectivity play sizable roles—performers sprint through the crowd and dance atop pillars near the booths. Comedy moments include that hide-the-junk maneuver, as well as Brown wearing a bra swiped from a dancer, and donning a polka-dot tutu (with underwear—thank the testicle gods).

And when Brown displays his slick tap-dance chops, the effect is dazzling.

Yet thematic consistency should be solidified so this talented cast doesn’t wind up as The Not-Ready-for-Lime-Time Players.

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