Chicago Takes Off at Park West | Photos and review
For a show aiming to capture noir’s smoky, black-and-white rhythms, the banquette and table seating at the expansive Park West formed a suitable cabaret setting for the evening’s moody themes. Host Miss Astrid replaced Murray Hill’s zingers and insults (Hill emceed the last two years) with kittenish musings wrapped in a thick German accent. “I’m wur-gin,” she purred. “Will you be gentle with me?” She was a suitable stand-in and gave the evening a Weimar kick, although I longed for Hill’s sly one-liners and upbeat showmanship.
The first stunner of the evening was “Informant,” a solo number in which a pole dancer, looking genderqueer in his corset and maroon thong, defied gravity a number of times as he worked the pole to the jaw-droppings of the audience. By the end of the song, the corset had disappeared and so did the thong (revealing only a barely visible G-string in its place). Numbers like “Forbidden Tango,” with its R&B vibe, and “Trouble’s Brewing,” featuring a live vocal performance wrapped in '80s pop energy, gave the middle portion of the show the up-tempo energy it needed, including plenty of gorgeous men in briefs and women in stockings and garters.
The real showstoppers arrived later. “Lord Dragonballs” featured a lone dancer artfully rocking a red ball back and forth around his upper body while stripping down to a leopard-print thong. Meanwhile, “Thugs,” which I was hoping would deliver a man-on-man brawl, nevertheless showcased the most skin of the evening as a quintet of studs stripped out of their trench coats and boxer shorts and ended up naked on the catwalk with just their hats, and at times only their hands, covering their junk. But the real winners of the evening were the S&M enthusiasts and latex fetishists in the house. In “The Panther Arrives” (Or was it “The Boss Returns”? The running order started to blur after my third cocktail), we got a full-on master-and-slave number complete with leashes and spiked collars. Considering the noir theme lacked the insouciant energy and comic prowess of previous Chicago Takes Off efforts, in going dark it proved it could bring the audience to its feet and at least one dancer down on his hands and knees.