Even with three Elvises, `Roxi' isn't a class act

Theater Review

March 29, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

One of the characteristics that distinguishes the Theatre Project is that you can see things there that you wouldn't, couldn't and sometimes shouldn't see anywhere else.

This thought struck me as I watched a female Elvis impersonator named Anne Weshinskey singing "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" while riding a unicycle and accompanying herself on a ukulele. Weshinskey's performance - she later rides the unicycle on a tightrope - is part of the pre-show that leads into Roxi Starr in 3D with Elvis, Susan Mele's send-up of a sleazy lounge act.

Weshinskey is one of three Elvises (hence the "3D" in the title) in the pre-show. There's also Matt Sahr, who juggles blocks while singing the un-Elvis-y selection, "I Feel Pretty," and Eugene "Bubba" Lloyd, who engages in a display of exaggerated dancercise/kick-boxing/aerobics while singing "Can't Help Falling in Love." All three wear such enormous Elvis wigs, they have to adjust them from time to time (Lloyd's pompadour is so enormous, it hangs over his eyes like an awning).

The silliness and incongruity of this act is an almost-guaranteed grin-producer. The same cannot be said for Mele's performance. A spin-off of Just Say Blow Me, the show she performed at the Theatre Project last season, the new show is again co-written with Leah Ryan, directed by Kirsten Laurel and features Daniel C. Meyer's on-stage accompaniment.

But unlike the previous show, in which Mele portrayed a host of characters in and around a self-help conference, this time she plays only one of those characters - a name-dropping, talent-challenged lounge singer who calls herself Roxi Starr. And though Roxi's act may be amusing in small doses, there isn't enough substance to carry an entire show.

While the earlier show suggested, by example, that neuroses could actually be healthier than some aspects of the self-help movement, Roxi Starr has a more limited purview and more limited appeal.

As self-deluded Roxi - who claims to be Ringo's sister, John Belushi's former lover and a Kim Basinger stand-in - Mele speaks in breathy tones that reek of fake sincerity and wears a flowing red wig that looks like a cross between Farrah Fawcett and Louis XIV on a bad hair day.

She seems to have intended Roxi to be a kind of female incarnation of Bill Murray's smarmy lounge lizard, Nick (even Murray, however, performed this character only in short skits). Roxi is awkward (she does splits on top of an upright piano and has to engage an audience member to help her get down), inappropriate (she burps during her act) and divulges too much information about herself.

Presumably nothing about Roxi is private. Even her costume changes take place on stage (though behind a screen). During these, she squabbles with her manager (a prima donna in his own right) and discusses an old high school enemy who is supposedly in the audience. Combined with Daniel Allen Nelson's self-conscious portrayal of the manager, these tangential interludes are more of an irritating interruption than an effective link between lounge scenes.

Several of Roxi's songs - the majority are composed by Meyer with lyrics by Ryan - are funny, but not to her, which should be the source of the show's humor. Being good at bad art, however, isn't as easy as it might seem. In the end, it's Mele, more than Roxi, whose efforts feel amateurish.

Theater

What: Roxi Starr in 3D with Elvis

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. Through April 12

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-752-8558

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