The golden age of vaudeville, the 1880s to the 1930s, was known for variety, so it's disappointing to find that a show called "Vaudeville Revival" feels so humdrum. For a medium that's known for song, dance, juggling, comedy, magic, trained animals, acrobats and more, the Piccolo Spoleto show, presented by the Charleston-based carnival troupe Carnivalesque, doesn't quite live up to its promise
The show features five performers: magician Howard Blackwell (also seen in the show "Voix de Ville"), a juggler, a martial artist/dancer, burlesque dancer/Carnivalesque director Evelyn DeVere, and sideshow performer J Honea, the last of whom also serves as the emcee. Supporting the performers is a scantily-clad stage assistant by the memorable name of "Helena Handbasket."
Carnivalesque wisely opens and closes with DeVere, by far the strongest performer in the lot. In her first bit, she does a classic burlesque feather-fan dance; in her second, she performs an aerial striptease (true, it's only a foot or so off of the ground due to the theater's height, but she remains suspended in the air). What makes DeVere's work stand out is not just her naked beauty but the level of precision in her work with the fans and on the acrobat ring. Every move seems extraordinarily worked out for maximum effect - it's a great display of showmanship.
Showmanship is a consistent problem with the other acts. Honea is not a confident speaker, and he frequently trips over his words. There were several mistakes made throughout the night, from dropped objects during the juggler's act to Honea having difficulty with audience participation during his straightjacket escape bit. Honea played that off well ("This is the first time I've taken longer to get into a straightjacket than to get out"), but it added time to an already sluggish and somewhat sloppy show.
That isn't to say that the other performers are bad. Honea's glass-walking, straightjacket escape and bed of nails routines were impressive (though the nose-through-the-nostril bit was too much for this writer to watch). The juggler's second routine was better, the martial artist/dancer was effective, and Blackwell's magic acts and mentalism were entertaining enough. But for a show that claims to take an audience back to the golden days of vaudeville, there's not much that one couldn't see anywhere else today.
Max O'Connell is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.