When Tinker Bell wears a plus-size leotard and has hairy legs, you know you're at the Follies. When the Queen of Hearts has a drinking problem, you know you're in Durango. When Jeff Rea sings a prison lament in an orange La Plata County Jail jumpsuit, you know you're home.
Tuesday night, the 2012 Snowdown Follies gave a dress rehearsal to an enthusiastic hometown crowd at the Henry Strater Theatre. By the time Big Jim and the Danglers wrapped up the evening with a mixed medley accentuated by the most imaginative gongs you've ever seen, the house was on its feet whooping and yelling.
Yes, Big Jim needs a moment. Played by the inimitable Dave Imming, who appeared earlier as the ersatz Tinker Bell, “Jim” arrived on stage dressed in a red-feathered Snowdown boa, fishnet tights, body-hugging bodice and black lace.
When a tall, burly ex-firefighter walks on stage dressed as a vamp, he gets a laugh for just being there. When he mugs to the audience like Sophie Tucker, he gets a shout-out.
And so Imming launched the final act of the evening with a bang, so to speak. Joined first by Paul Gibson, Brian Zink and brother Dan Imming, the men soon were overtaken by RubiStarr Randazzo, Amanda Fresh and Kasey Ford. In turn, they were superseded by the real Danglers, three percussionists the Fort Lewis Percussion Ensemble would be loathe to join their ranks. Dressed in black leotards, the men-of-the-gong played their so-called instruments in a most unusual manner.
Don't get excited. The instruments are frying pans strapped over one's privates and struck by metal bars suspended between the knees. I am not kidding. Somehow, the Danglers danced and struck the gongs in time to the music. People were laughing so hard there wasn't, as they say, a dry eye in the house.
Good thing the Danglers wrapped up the Follies. No one could have followed that nonsense. Except perhaps Beyoncé and her entourage. Played by Fresh, “Single Ladies” brought together a motley crew. Megan Maurillo played the star's director, and her assistant, Jay Hecker, set up each take. A trio of “Single Ladies” danced backup. Eric Sirois, Andre Pierre-Louis and Ry Bolton appeared in skimpy leotards and high heals. The guys tottered awkwardly but danced up a storm. All Beyoncé could do was complain.
“Men in Tights” abused the same comic territory with some of the same dancers – all to the audience's delight. The men-in-tights gratuitously set up the crowd for Adele Nielsen-Graziano's hilarious “Rindercella.”
Fairy-tale characters took a turn into Victoriana with the B-Cast emcees appearing as the Mad Hatter (Jonathan Hunt), Alice in Wonderland (Karen Rose) and a tipsy Queen of Hearts (Dawn Staten).
The A-Cast emcees stayed with old-fashioned fairy-tale characters. Rebecca Gilbert and Lisa Govreau appeared as Rapunzel and Bo Peep. Dryly, they spun webs of word play right up to the most political part of the evening: The Top Ten Fractured Fairy Tales. They ranked everything from Occupy-Buckley Park to Zombie Madness, our infamous Bridge to Nowhere, the sewage spill in the Animas River and the story about fecal postal madness.
Tidbits were tossed at Durango High School and Fort Lewis College. The Durango Herald didn't take the drubbing it used to. Snowdown 2012 seemed a bit short on local political commentary. Michael Rendon got one tap; Sydney Spies a mere two. Gone are the days when Jeff Dietch or the city manager would take a dozen darts.
But as always, Suzy DiSanto's ur-Fosse dance number is almost too glitzy and sophisticated for Snowdown. “After the Happily Ever” showed us what can be done with a few dancers, a few chairs and stylish choreography.
The biggest change, however, was the number of live performances. Who would have thought? “Durango Housewives,” a saucy rap delivered by Dawn Kast and Taylor Vincent, turned out to be a jazzy lament performed without a verbal slip. Ditto Mike Testa's deadpan tribute sung to Jessica Perino, his “friendly little cat.”
Kudos to first-time director Amber Pedigo, whose goal has been to shift more and more to live performance. There's always a back-up recording, she said at intermission, if the performer wishes to use it. Well, the inimitable Rea sang over his own recording in that beautiful if deceptive prison ballad. And yes, you had to be there.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.