Fresh from a very successful run at The Theatre on King in Peterborough, Cathy Petch mounted Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush for a one-night performance in Toronto, playing to a packed room at The Cameron House last night.
Accompanied by Dickie the Pianist (director Em Glasspool), Mel (Petch) walks the talk when it comes to ‘the show must go on,’ for her heart is heavy with sad news about her Vagabond Theatre home: the theatre is closing to make way for a movie cinema. And she knows she must tell Dickie and the audience, but hasn’t the heart just yet. And so the intrepid impressaria carries on, introducing her vaudeville show line-up and regaling the audience with skillful musical saw numbers. Taking moments in her dressing room during the acts, she reminisces and read odes to the various loves of her life: her mentor Dr. Sweeney, who ran a travelling medicine show where she got bit by the acting bug while working as his assistant; her male impersonator persona Victor the Crooner, with whom she discovered the man inside; and the unique love she found in the unappreciated beauty of a side-show attraction colleague.
Petch brings a lovely, melancholy sense of mirth to Mel; saucy and entertaining in the shifts from Mel’s bits and introductions, to Victor (a suave lady’s man performer – and “Just a Gigolo” is a perfect song for him), to a Dietrich impersonation-driven spoken word performance on being called a “tramp,” to Dr. Sweeney (the charming rascal elixir salesman). And then, in Mel’s private moments backstage, misty-eyed with memory as she reflects on her history in vaudeville – a job she loves, working with colleagues she regards as family. While Mel’s inability to say the words “goodnight” or “goodbye” is hilarious – there’s an undercurrent of sadness there – and her ability to smile through the heartbreak is what Chaplin wrote and sang about in “Smile.” Glasspool gives one of the most hilarious drunk performances I’ve ever seen as the reliably drunken pianist Dickie; there’s a rhythmic quality to his staggering and swaying, and a child-like wonder on display, as he occasionally gets lost in watching the onstage goings-on while chugging back bottles of Dr. Sweeney’s elixir and needs to be reminded of his cue.
Through the 1931derful vaudeville laughs and cheek, there’s a reminder here that live performance brings a flesh and blood immediacy that watching onscreen can’t.
A lovely ode to vaudeville in the bawdy, funny and poignant Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush.
Mel Malarkey Gets the Bum’s Rush was a one-night only affair at Cameron House this time around, but keep your peepers open for future productions at a fine performance venue near you.