Vinyl Vaudeville brings magical thrills to Performance Works
Eden Cheung is a good man to know. He can transform a 10-dollar bill into one of 10 times that value just by folding and then unfolding it in his hand. Before the start of the Vinyl Vaudeville show at Performance Works, the magician was already working the tables with his tricks, preparing the audience for wonders to come.
Vaudeville performances were hugely popular from the 1880s until the ’30s and featured a broad mix of artists—singers, musicians, comedians, actors, and conjurers. Essentially variety shows, they were episodic in nature, usually with little or nothing linking the acts. Vinyl Vaudeville’s contemporary approach focuses on the integration of live music and circus arts. That’s a tricky act in itself, with the onus on the musicians, who need to be completely reliable with cues, and both precise and adaptive with pacing and timing—otherwise a move can be missed or an injury sustained. Fortunately, the young acoustic jazz sextet the Vinyls Band stayed on the ball. Its music between acts and after the show included such vintage numbers as Cab Calloway’s classic “Minnie the Moocher”, but most of the material was original, ably crafted for the artists by baritone-saxophonist and leader Tim Sars to suit the different moods and textures.
Most performers did two sets. The comedy came from the wise-cracking, whip-cracking Cheung and the initially silent, deadpan clown and unicyclist Dynamike, who showed an unerring knack for plucking the right “volunteers” to take part in his buffoonery. The audience seemed a tad reserved until his appearance, but once the barriers were down, and the band well settled, the experience of seeing circus acts in a cabaret rather than a big-top setting created a special rapport with the artists.
The thrills came fast. With balletic movements and position changes so swift there wasn’t time to applaud them, aerialist Sylvia Louis performed splits, scissors, twists, and hangs from a suspended hoop and a metal mast. The tour de force of acrobatic duo Equilibrium Circus featured a man raising himself from the floor to a standing position while balancing his outstretched partner on one hand—without showing the slightest strain on his face or breaking a sweat. L.A. pair Pogo Dudes, a string of Guinness World Records to their name, provided the evening’s grand climax with a bizarre choreography of synchronized bounces, flips, and acrobatic tricks on pogo sticks that concluded with double backward somersaults off the poles and onto the mat.
It’s not what your great-granny would have seen, but gives a bright new face to the vaudevillian spirit of her day.