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World premier at The Montalbán – “The Batette Follies of 1939” reviewed

Suave, sensual and elegant, The Batette Follies of 1939  is the newest show from Australian film, TV, theatre, and publishing maverick, Russall S. Beattie—the visionary who brought us The Empire Strips Back.

An inspired blend of vaudeville and cirque to produce a retro evening of entertainment, The Batette Follies of 1939 is a parody stage production set during the Prohibition era, and evoking a kind of gothic Gotham City recreated on stage.

The brand new creation, conceived and developed in collaboration with Hollywood’s handsome ~1,000-seat Vine Street theater The Montalbán, made its world premiere debut last Friday night to a rapturous crowd.

The high-concept cabaret and burlesque show is consciously set in 1939, just between the two World Wars, and captures the jazz-infused prohibition era of licentiousness and teasing sexuality.

Featuring a large and astonishingly talented cast of dancers and singers, the performances pay tribute to the Gotham setting first presented by DC Comics back in the 1930s. DC Comics (the DC stands for ‘detective comics’) is one of the largest and oldest American comic book companies, with their first comic under the DC banner being published in 1937. Of course, it’s best known for The Dark Knight aka Batman. In a playful parody, this new show features numerous beloved and familiar characters from the DC Comic empire, all clad in exquisitely designed costumes. Performers included Niko Nelson, Lindsay Farris, Saeed Renaud, Brodie, Dayna Madison, Rachel Hospers, Cori Denell, Logynn Schickel, Alexandra Yonkovich, Chloe Corpuz, Kenji Igus, Jabu Graybeal, Sterling Stumphauzer, Brittany Harlin, Courtney Campbell, Tevyn Cole, Anthony Howes, as well as a chorus of eight dancers known as the “Batettes.”

The opening act was a sexy strip tease from a Catwoman who seductively danced and posed on a chaise longue while cracking her whip. Sadly, the absence of front-of-house lighting meant that Courtney Campbell as Catwoman was almost impossible to see clearly whenever she was performing downstage. Such a shame! The show’s dramatic stage lighting also had some moments when we were blinded by some strong backlights. Nevertheless, the moody lighting design was mostly excellent throughout, apart from these disappointing oversights.

The evening was a mix of burlesque performances and cabaret-style acts. The second song of the night was a racy and suggestive number from a masked performer who gyrated his hips as he cheerfully extolled the virtues of “my girl’s pussy.” This number was a good illustration of how the show is trying to capture the spicy and risqué flavor of the naughty thirties.

Several performers showed off their extraordinary vocal talents, while others danced to familiar pop tunes such as the Prince song “Lemon Crush” from Tim Burton’s first Batman movie.

Saeed Renaud as the sartorially splendid Penguin showed off his amazing voice with a beautiful and soulful rendition of the debut single from American soul duo Gnarls Barkley “Crazy,” made famous by singer CeeLo Green.

Harley played by Brittany Harlin was cute, sassy and perky. The young performer was accompanied by two oversized creepy puppets / props who came to life and danced along with her.

Poison Ivy, played by Cory Denell, was a highlight. She pranced around and gyrated entrancingly while two admiring males caressed her shapely form. She eventually audaciously stripped down to a teeny emerald green sparkly g-string with matching pasties.

Harvey Dent aka Two-Face was performed by someone who appeared to be classically trained in both opera and concert piano, thrillingly playing (basically) two pianos at the same time—one, a baby grand for the more classical flourishes and the other a jangly, slightly out-of-tune upright piano reflecting the more dissonant side of his split personality. This performer proved capable of channeling everyone from Nick Cave (“Red Right Hand”) and Bowie’s plaintive “Heroes” to Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli’s operatic “Time to Say Goodbye” with tremendous panache.

In-between each act we saw a mini video of each upcoming performer while the stage was reset. In some cases, such as for Harley, the video needed to be longer as there was an awkward pause before the next act commenced.

A super-sexy performer stripped seductively to the dulcet strains of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” A pair of art deco twins danced while an amazing animated video featuring characters inspired by Max Fleischer (including a demented-looking Betty Boop and some menacing, wiggling ghosts) was projected on a series of scrims. One performer emerged from a silky lotus flower and gyrated to the strains of “Sweet Dreams (are made of these).”

One trapeze artist was daringly suspended from a pulley system operated by a couple of stagehands who I glimpsed just in the wings hauling on the rope that suspended her while she performed mid-air. Death-defying!

Joker in person was, unfortunately, extremely disappointing. This performer was seriously lacking the sinister charisma and bizarre physical features of the Joker actor/model who had been used for the promotional video and artwork. This Joker sang a silly and dirty song about defecating which was frankly distasteful and seemed at odds with the rest of the elegant show.

The melancholy Mr. Freeze puffed frosty mist from his elaborate suit and sang a mournful tune. Leisurely numbers like these—while enjoyable—really slowed the cabaret show down, setting a much more unhurried pace than expected.

Batman and his boy wonder Robin drove up in their batmobile wreathed in smoke and delivered a tap routine backed by the fleet-footed chorus of batettes. This energetic tap routine that concludes the 90-minute show featured the entire cast and helped the evening to end with a bang.

Lots of fun and gorgeously designed, this 1930’s era cabaret and sexy burlesque show proved to be an enjoyable event.

The Batette Follies of 1936

Now playing in Hollywood at The Montalbán on Vine.

The Montalbán

1615 Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028

Tel: 323-871-2420

Box Office: 323-461-6999

Runs through July 14, 2024

Thursdays, 7.30PM

Fridays & Saturdays, 7.30PM & 10.00PM

Sundays, 7.00PM

Purchase tickets here.

About Russall S. Beattie:

An Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) graduate, Russall S. Beattie has worked in the entertainment industry for over two decades. Producing everything from TV series such as “The Hard Word” to managing touring Fringe shows and staging burlesque entertainment, his creatively envisioned live theatrical spectacles have toured the globe. He recently published a glamorous 245-page photography / history book “Gotham 1919-1939” to complement the upcoming stageshow.

In Sydney, Russall developed some of his most successful shows such as Dames of Throne, Batman Follies of 1929, BIBA Wizard of Oz, Hail To The King and, of course, his flagship show The Empire Strips Back.

The Empire Strips Back started out as a one off event for 100 people but soon developed to become a national theatrical stage show selling 70,000 tickets in Australia alone. Going from strength to strength, the level of creativity bringing a world that has only been experienced on the silver screen to life on stage wowed audiences everywhere it played. 2018 saw The Empire Strips Back embark on its first tour of the United States to rave reviews and sold out audiences.  These shows have now been performed to thousands of people, touring theatres across Australia and established Russall unique style of entertainment which combined his love of cinema with live performance. 

Montalbán History:

The Montalbán, Hollywood’s classic theatre reborn for a new era of screened entertainment and performing arts, is one of the few remaining mid-sized and fully equipped proscenium venues in Los Angeles. It features orchestra, mezzanine, loge, and balcony seating, and is known for its excellent sight-lines and acoustics. 

The Ricardo Montalbán Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, bought the building in 1999. Humanitarian and Emmy Award-winning actor Ricardo Montalbán’s vision was to create a presence in Hollywood that provided inspiration and employment for young Latinos, as well as other underrepresented people throughout the community.

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

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