The Lascivious Biddies
The Mad Cow Theatre has returned last year's hit group the Lascivious Biddies to the stage for the Fifth Annual Orlando Cabaret Festival. I missed the ladies last year, then stumbled onto their debut Biddie Luxe! CD and its slick sound: The four Biddies mix smooth jazz, '50s pop and a late-night piano/stand-up bass sensibility that I associate with cigarette smoke and overpriced martinis. I made sure to catch 'em live for their first performance this year.
Lead Biddy Lee Ann Westover covers most of the singing and splits the songwriting with pianist Deidre Rodman. The Biddies nail a style built on a lightly sarcastic attitude and tight harmonies, making everything sound fresh yet somehow nostalgic. They opened with an ironic career lament ("Famous"), moved on to an "Isn't New York Great?" number ("Jones"), then threw in a requisite song about love with a creepy guy ("Odd Bird"). It takes a standard to make cabaret homey, so they added a warped cover of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" before a detour into the truly exotic with a Peggy Lee version of Hendrix's "Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire."
While Westover gets the most attention, the rest of the band is worth watching as well. Miniscule Saskia Lane wrestles with a bass that's a head and a half taller than she is, while Amanda Monaco plays guitar with the detached air of John Entwistle dodging a flying microphone. Even with an hour running time, this show flies by and you'd swear it was over in 20 minutes. You might enter skeptical, but you'll come out sold. These are four hot Biddies. (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at Mad Cow Theatre; $20; 407-297-8788; www.orlandocabaret.com)
— Al Pergande— Al Pergande
The eighth annual gathering of Japanese animation aficionados drew more than 4,000 anime fans over the weekend of May 4-6, cramming the halls of the International Plaza Resort & Spa with samurai, giant bears and people in painful-looking wooden sandals. To an otaku outsider it can be intimidating, so I made a beeline for the dealer's room. My target wasn't the mountains of manga or J-Pop CDs, it was Mr. Billy West. You might not know his face or name, but if you've turned on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon in the last two decades, you've probably heard his voice.
In 1990 West teamed with animator John Kricfalusi (they met working on a short-lived revival of Beany and Cecil) to provide the voice of Stimpy the moronic cat in Big House Blues, which became the pilot for The Ren & Stimpy Show. The show, with its blend of lush animation and grotesque surrealism, was a huge hit, but Kricfalusi's volatility led to his firing in 1992. When West stayed with the show, taking over the voice of Ren, Kricfalusi berated him in the press. West doesn't regret his actions, but the attacks from Internet posters "who would fly into the sun for John K." still sting. He's very happy he declined to participate in the abominable "Ren & Stimpy ‘Adult Party Cartoon'" revival, saying, "They invented a new genre: comedy without laughs."
Since the first Ren and Stimpy cartoon, West has voiced Disney's Doug, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, Invader Zim and countless other characters. He's been a regular on The Howard Stern Show, the announcer of The Weird Al Show and the composer and producer of Mark Hamill's Comic Book: The Movie.
But West is best know for is work on Matt Groening's Futurama. West provided the voices for Fry, Dr. Zoidberg, Zap Brannigan and others on that much-missed show — even Richard Nixon's severed head. Futurama never reached the popularity peak of The Simpsons, but from the start it was more consistent and emotionally layered than its sibling show: Put "Jurassic Bark" about Fry's faithful-to-the-end mutt up against anything Homer and Bart have done this century.
Fans are still mourning the way Fox mishandled the prematurely deceased series (it's their trademark — see Firefly), but they can now rejoice. Futurama has a new lease on life in the form of Futurama: Bender's Big Score. This direct-to-DVD series of four full-length features will arrive on store shelves by the end of the year. And for you cheapskate fans, Comedy Central will be broadcasting them in 2008. That kind of news is worth toasting — anyone for a nice can of Slurm?
— Seth Kubersky
Optimists, such as the lead character of the Voltaire-penned satire cum Leonard Bernstein musical Candide, always have it tough — the world constantly challenges them. In Orlando Opera's production, we see the upbeat Dr. Pangloss (played by Frank McClain, who also directs the show) tutor the youth of Westphalia, Germany, and none of his students is as happy as Candide (Jon-Michael Ball).
Early on, Candide finds infatuation between the firm thighs of his cousin Cunégonde (Marcy Richardson), but their friendly experiments just get him exiled, and he finds himself destitute, hung-over and enrolled in the Bavarian infantry. When the army invades his homeland, further misery is set into motion.
Strictly speaking this is not an opera, but an operetta, as dialogue does as much work as the songs. But do not fear the fat lady singing, this is a fun and whimsical story. While Orlando Opera's set is rather minimal, they get the maximum effect from their cast of singers. Both Ball and Richardson provide consistently solid vocals and a fiery chemistry as the show careens between Broadway-style show tunes like "I Am Easily Assimilated" and operatic arias like "Glitter and Be Gay." Natalie Cordone belts a few good ones as the single-buttocked old woman, and supporting actor David O'Donnell impressed me as the hairy-chested governor of Montevideo.
Candide boasts seven authors and adapters, including Stephen Sondheim,
Dorothy Parker and Lillian Hellman. Despite this rather large committee, director McClain pulls its disparate elements together. Candide pushes the boundaries of opera with nearly all the principle players dying and resurrecting repeatedly with no real justification, supernatural or otherwise. The most bizarre scene comes with a long and loving description of an auto-da-fé, or ritual confession often leading to burning at the stake, done as a comic song. (through May 13 at Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts; $30; 407-426-1700; www.orlandoopera.org)