LOU'S VIEWS: Jokes old but spirits high in B&B burlesque show

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

The slide whistle and the snare drum get as much of a workout as any instrument in the band during “Jack Milo’s Baggy Pants Burlesque,” and that should give you some idea of the level of humor celebrated in this deliberately unoriginal original show.

Unlike the nouveau burlesque troupes that have been popping out all over Indy lately, the emphasis in the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre production (running through Jan. 8) is on comedy rather than striptease. Here, such fundamental questions as, “Why is my finger like a pie?” are asked, students are instructed to use the word “ascot” in a sentence, an infant-garbed adult shoots seltzer from a baby carriage, and you find yourself giving in to punch lines like, “Even the czar was nickel-less.”

ae The jokes are old, the spirits high, and the dancers sweet in “Jack Milo’s Baggy Pants Burlesque” at Beef & Boards. (Photo Courtesy Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre)

Frankly, I was excited to learn that someone else knew both of the one-armed bell-ringer jokes.

Taking a break from the typical B&B fare, “Jack Milo’s Baggy Pants Burlesque” begins knowingly, with a wife dragging her husband to the theater.

“How many times can you see ‘The Sound of Music’?” he asks, with a nod to the shows usually found after the buffet at Beef & Boards. What he wants are jokes he’s heard before and gals to lust after.

And that’s what he and the audience get, even if the ladies in the show have all the va-va-voom of a high school production of “Guys and Dolls.” (Sorry, but a fully clothed fan dance loses some of its raison d’etre.)

That’s not to say the song-and-dance interludes aren’t spirited and well-sung. But they take a back seat to the obligatory schoolroom sketch, the obligatory courtroom sketch, and the obligatory hospital sketch. The fact that rubber-faced leading man Jack Milo doesn’t appear in drag seems a remarkable and rare sign of comedic restraint.

For the most part, it works, with big laughs throughout. In an era when just about every joke ever uttered is available online, it’s nice to know there’s still enormous pleasure in hearing them live. “Jack Milo’s Baggy Pants Burlesque” has the makings of a B&B tradition.

A few years back, I was asked by the show biz newspaper Variety to write an essay identifying iconic characters—those that have endured in the popular consciousness—created in the past 100 years on page and on stage.

Along with the obvious Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Batman, James Bond and the like, I included Willy Wonka. Who among us, I reasoned, can open a chocolate bar without secretly hoping, if only for a moment, that it contains a golden ticket?

For all his literary and film popularity—and perhaps because of those—the quirky candy maker has yet to make a satisfying transition to the stage. The challenge: how to capture the quirky joys of Roald Dahl’s characters and story, the crazy scale and fun specificity of the chocolate factory, and the heart of the first film while still being a unique theatrical event.

An adaptor has to wrestle with how much to pull from the original novel, the Gene Wilder classic film, or the interesting-but-hardly-universally-loved Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version. Is there a way to go that takes elements from all three, mixes them with love, and makes the whole thing taste good?

williw wonka Civic’s production of “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka” stars Noah McCarty-Slaughter as Charlie. (Photo Courtesy Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre)

Perhaps Director Sam Mendes will find that magic formula in the large-scale adaptation he has in the works for London in 2013.

Unfortunately, that secret has eluded writers Leslie Bricusse and Tim McDonald in “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka,” the adaptation being presented by Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre (through Jan. 7).

Most problematic was the decision to make the theatrical Wonka a host figure similar to The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical.” In the first act, before the chocolate factory doors are open, Wonka drops in and out of scenes, playing multiple characters and commenting on the action, rarely in an endearing way. Rather than warm us up to the man, it makes Wonka less mysterious, less enigmatic and a lot less fun. By the time he opens his doors, he already has overstayed his welcome.

Here we have a Depp-like Wonka (at least in costume). The over-plotting of Burton’s adaptation is ditched in favor of the simplicity of the novel. And Bricusse’s songs from the original film—yes, including the Oompa Loompa ditties—are in the mix.

Alas, the menacing presence of rival candy maker Slugworth (a great addition to the first film) is gone and without him there’s little drama, leaving the rushed ending without a strong emotional payoff.

The Oompa Loompas give the show some needed oomph. And there’s some spark on the kid front with fun performances from the bratty quartet. Here, Charlie Bucket is a dead ringer for the actor in the Burton version, but the slickness of the production works against the pathos of the character. Once you’ve seen Charlie dancing in a “Candy Man” production number, he loses the low-key magic that made audiences root for Peter Ostrum’s cinematic kid.

That being said, I’d certainly rather sit through “Wonka” than another paint-by-numbers “Wizard of Oz” or “Beauty and the Beast.” At least here, the creative sets and costumes indicate that some pure imagination is at work. And the squirrels are adorable.•


This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Good Day I am Mr (Victoria Wright) from United state of America, i stayed in NEW YORK, and i have a broke up business, until i found this company email who help me to gain a loan for business,, and now i want to used this short medium to congratulate the below company for the fast and safe money they loan to me without any form of collateral, i loan 500,000USD from the company to save my business and lots more, i saw their mail on the internet, everyone always give testimony for what they did, so i quickly contacted them and they all did everything for me without stress and my money was sent to my account just 3 days later, i was surprise and i feel so glad, now i have a standard business control agent who help me, now i will advice those who need urgent loan to contact him at the bellow email:zenithfirm12@gmail.com

  2. NOTICE:This is to inform the general public that Vampires are real. My name is James Franklyn.,am an agent of vampire,am here to introduce our new world trend to you,a world of vampire where life get easier,we have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich,you will be assured long life and prosperity,you shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness,stronger and also very fast,you will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk.In case you are wildly oppressed by some unscrupulous persons we can still help you fight them.Your protection is assured immediately you join.Just contact the bellow email if you are interested we are here to attend to you anytime you want us. Contact the bellow email for more details. Email:vampirescreed@hotmail.com Sincerely: James Franklyn.

  3. Bravo! Someone else that is willing to speak the truth! Bravo!_____NBCSN is available in almost 2 MILLION more homes than just a few years ago, but Indycar STILL gets less total viewers than it did just a few years ago when NBC took over Versus. Attendance and ratings cratered with the end of season races (just when the title battle got "interesting" HAH!__________And now...new race in Basilia, where Miles celebrated the "rich history" of Indycar racing there. Rich history? What, 7 events in the 100 years of AOW? Yep, some history. Well, at least its an oval. It's not??? Are you kidding me??? Gosh darn road racin furriners.

  4. PURITY RAY LOAN OFFER........ Have you been denied by your banks,or are you in need of of an urgent loan to pay of your bills we are capable of giving loans @ cheaper rate to interested individuals, student, companies and members of the public in need of finance to settle bills, we do offer considerable loans which you can count on. For more information on our various types of loan,then you will have to contact PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM, to help you achieve your desire LOAN APPLICATION FORM TO BE FILLED BORROWERS INFORMATION * Full name:………………………. * SEX * ……………………………. * Country………………………….. * State:……………………………. * Land:…………………………….. * Occupation:…………………….. * phone number:…………………. * Telephone: ………………………….. * Age:………………………………. * Amount needed as loan:……… * Loan Duration:………………….. * Propose of Loan:……………….. * Annual revenue:………………… * Monthly Income:……………….. * Guarantee:………………………. * Payment: monthly or annually Email.....purityrayloanfirm@gmail.com Thank you and God bless Mr Purity Ray PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM we tend to serve you better

  5. Problem: most of the people responding to this article don't know about this service AT ALL! Why? Lack of awareness. This isn't IndyGo. This is CIRTA: might as well be the mattress company because they are asleep at the wheel - something like 3 directors over the last year? Playing with federal grant money is great! This "region" wants commuter rail service, has spent MILLIONS on Transportation studies yet can't even support a commuter bus line? This is largely for suburban riders to get to downtown - not for "service people to work in our hotels and restaurants" ! Get your head out of your backside!! These are professionals, students etc. that don't want to fight traffic, save some money on parking, gas, stress.... if CIRTA would put their federal money into widely promoting the sevive to Greenwood, Fishers & Carmel instead of finding directors and studies - this would be a successful service. Our family uses(d) it daily for the last several years - but the recent uncertainty & now unreliability due to cuts from Carmel has been a problem. Now, costs us an additional $350/month for gas & parking ( $4200/year) plus vehicle wear, service, environmental impact ... YES - this REGION needs this this type of service in order to keep growing and getting the people it needs to fill skilled positions in downtown Indianapolis. Think outside of your own car !!!