It’s been a long time since Paula Now has produced a show. A pity, because her productions have always been among the most interesting things to happen on a Seattle stage.
But the artist formerly known as the Swedish Housewife has dusted off her vinyl LPs to bring forth another rendition of her Led Zeppelin-themed show, House of Thee Unholy.
Burlesque by tradition tends to be skit-based. The strength of Ms. Now’s piece is that it moves away from a series of spectacular vignettes toward an actual epic narrative. Nowhere is this more visible than in the show’s closer.
Giving the dancers a break, the band hits a purely musical interlude of three songs, each one a showcase for the band’s three singers, Sarah Rudinoff, Jen Ayers and Zack Davidson. Then, quickly, they break into “The Immigrant Song.” A brash, loud, violent Viking raid on the New World comes to life on stage. Vikings both male and female come to rape and pillage and rend asunder everything in their path. Then just as suddenly they sail back into darkness leaving a swath of corpses on the stage behind them. Before one can even catch a breath, the corpses slowly begin to stir to the slide guitar opening of “In My Time of Dying.” One by one each comes to life. Despite the darkness of the scene, everything is airy, delicate. Plumes serve as angel wings as each dancer enters into the spirit world, all ending with a final transformation that looks something like a cross between La Cage aux Folles and Petipa’s choreography for Sleeping Beauty. It’s wild but it’s also extremely lyrical, and far beyond a mere skit.
That spirit comes to a head in the show’s closer but it is present throughout the evening. It runs hand in hand with the purely hallucinatory abandon that drives other numbers in the show, such as the ambitious rendering of “When the Levee Breaks” and the stoner classic “Dazed and Confused.”
Paula Now has done this show many times before, but the cast this time around is truly magical. I am an immense fan of Waxie Moon and, of course, the divine Ms. Lily Verlaine and the luscious Indigo Blue, but I was also taken with some faces I had not seen in this show before. I was truly impressed with Jody Kuehner, who is an extraordinary conceptual dancer but rarely gets to show what a truly fine technical dancer she is. It was also delightful to see Mimi Me again, whom I had not seen since Land of the Sweets.
The band is fantastic, as one would expect, given the immense talent on stage. Darren Loucas is especially good. The addition of Kathy Moore to the lineup was inspired. Normally Ms. Moore makes me think more of Black Sabbath than Led Zeppelin–probably because I’ve seen her so many times in her Sabbath tribute band–but her chops are remarkable and she clearly delighted in playing with the other musicians. Andy Stoller holds down the fort in John Paul Jones fashion while Mike Stone’s feet on the kick drums were truly made of Led, and he often sounded like he had four sticks on the trap. I was wishing for a little more volume in the keyboards on “Kashmir,” but I can hardly fault the arrangement or the musicians for that.
I’ve watched Paula Now’s work slowly evolve over the years. It remains sensual, coarse, vulgar even, and quite unlike most of Seattle burlesque. Which is precisely its appeal. I love the free-flowing, almost surreal style of her work. She has been in hiding for awhile without producing a “new” show, so I remain curious to see what she will bring next. I can only imagine.
Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net