We All Live in the Palace of Dreams

Amy Danielson

 

Shawn McConneloug, inspired by the intriguing history of American vaudeville and the unique tales behind Minneapolis vaudeville houses (the Heights Theater in particular), decided to explore the genre by creating a modern show based on the work of the original vaudeville performers. Last year, she performed her applesauce show for the first time at The Heights, and it is currently playing at the newly-renovated Suburban World Theatre, where it is launching a new generation of performing arts in Uptown. in Palace of Dreams … 21st Century Vaudeville, McConneloug melds the old with the new by alternating movie clips of old performers from the days of vaudeville betwixt a series of nut acts. Even back when vaudeville was in its heyday, movie clips were shown between acts, so these grainy black and white images brings us to the true sentimental heart of the vaudeville show. In one segment, the spectacle of actors crushing their heads together in romantic embraces reminds us just how corny love scenes used to be on the silver screen.

An extraordinarily physical performer, due to her extensive experience as a dancer and choreographer, Shawn McConneloug propels her orchestra into the world of the popular stage arts, 21st Century-style. The show begins with a dance piece that illustrates McConneloug’s off-the-wall physical style well: The entire “orchestra” (a ragtag collection of dancers and stage clowns) takes the stage for the Army Air Corps Anthem. Here, we witness dancers in military garb, tapping out the tune’s rhythm with a straight-backed posture and energetic attack. But as the tune progresses, dancers slowly begin to lose momentum, their limbs flailing seemingly uncontrollably, their heads flopping from side to side as though they were marionettes manipulated by frantic puppeteers. One by one, our soldiers fall out of line and step offstage, until just one floppy performer remains, exhaustedly attempting to carry out the final bars of the song. As sloppy as this performance appear, it is an act of skillful choreography and precise execution. The simulated physical deterioration of the performers signifies the morale degringolade of the soldiers while the lyrics contrast it, “Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps.”

And that’s just the beginning of the marvelously compelling show. From there we are hit with a host of boff acts. including a sultry singer in the deuce spot who wails into a megaphone “I just don’t care,” ukulele ladies, and eventually fin-clad dancers in the feature spot. Each bit is funny or lewd ñ or sometimes simply beautiful.

The stubholders could be heard yocking and delivering hand to hand music during the frequently hilarious schtick. The skilled hoofers didn’t even miss a step as their pants begin to drop around their ankles in what looked to be random order. They simply step out of their trousers and continue to tap as before. Another unusual act, one of the funniest bits in the show, is a silent act featuring Luverne Seifert and Susan Scalf. Seifert plays a content juggler, traditionally tossing his three balls in a trance-like state. Even when a menacing, finned woman slithers across the stage to snatch his balls, he quickly reproduces them from his pockets as she snatches them from the air. Soon after, he truckles to her and they begin a bizarre floor dance. They roll about together, bodies enmeshed. Watching these performers writhe around on stage, flail and wail, one begins to wonder where these folks came from. As the press release details, “an eccentric collection of actors, dancers, opera divas and circus stars.” Leave it up to McConneloug to find the talented freaks in the Twin Cities to perform in her show. And as they would say in vaudeville, this show knocked ’em bowlegged without any fish.

 

Palace of Dreams plays through May 12 at the Historic Suburban World Theatre; (612) 825-6688.