Stefan Haves' show features up to 30 performers a night showcasing oddball skills and physical prowess.
Vaudeville acts like plate spinners, sleight-of-hand artists, burlesque beauties and sword swallowers hardly seem like they have a place in an entertainment universe dominated by high-flying Cirque du Soleil and high-tech concert tours. The good old variety show is the stuff of a simpler era.
But Stefan Haves has stripped back entertainment to the essentials of physical comedy and corporeal dexterity in a bid for an astonishing night out. The former comic act director for Cirque du Soleil has taken up residence in the Coronet Theater (home of Largo) on La Cienega Boulevard with his new show, "Your Town Follies," and is whipping up an extravaganza in which everything old is new again. Packing the stage with as many as 30 performers in a night, the show promises a baffling array of oddball skills from pancake juggling to magic to creating characters out of shaving cream.
Ever heard of a tango-contortionist dance staged atop a 4-foot-wide platform? A hula-hooper manically spinning four hoops at once? Though many of the skills represented in "Your Town Follies" draw from the classic vaudeville repertoire, it's the ingenious modern touches — plus years of honing a skill set — that really raise the bar.
"Many of these performers, like Mat Plendl [the aforementioned hula-hooper] have been working and performing on their acts for over 20 years," says Haves. "And then, of course, there is the next generation of performers, who have amazing creativity, but don't really have professional outlets to perform."
For instance, Thayr Harris, a specimen of physical prowess (and frequent film stunt worker) whose act is somewhat like skateboarding with just one massively oversized wheel. While juggling. And skipping rope. How to top something like that? One of the most bizarre acts in the "Follies" lineup is executed by film and TV actor Michael Carbonaro, who, let's just say, knows his way around a can of shaving cream like no one else. Plus there's Ed Alonzo, the "misfit of magic," and Rudy Coby, whose recent show at the Magic Castle, "Science Vs. Magic," was a smash hit.
To add to the authentic "magic" of the show, there's no stage direction that reads "push play on the CD deck"; as musical accompaniment, Haves has brought in composer, orchestrator and conductor Philip Giffin ("Say Anything," "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," "Die Hard" and many more) to create an original score for the show, performed by a live instrumental and vocal ensemble.
Haves' idea for "Your Town Follies" came quite easily. As a global performer himself, Haves runs with the crème de la crème of international circus performers and novelty act experts — many of whom live in Los Angeles, but find most of their work overseas.
"Places like Germany and Asia, there's still a huge market for variety acts. These performers can make anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 for a single TV show," Haves says. Collecting so many of these talented one-offs into one evening creates some wonderful collaborations, like the pairing of tap dancers Joe Orrach and Jason Rodgers, two performers from different generations and different sides of the country. Orrach, 54, grew up tapping on the streets of New York City, but in the "Follies" performs a structured improv duet with California-based Rodgers, 27. For these two, the piece is a work constantly in progress.
"The first time we performed, we figured out what we were doing about an hour before the show started," laughs Orrach. "Since then, we've been trying different things out, bringing jump rope into the mix, putting a lot of character work into it, things like that."
This kind of emphasis on experimentation and audience-pleasing characters is precisely what Haves is striving for. After his last venture with Cirque du Soleil, the big-budgeted, short-lived "Banana Shpeel," he was eager to create a "really pure vaudeville experience, full of heart, something for the audience to really connect with."
As he puts it, "It's not only about someone's skills; it's about heart they bring to their character." But is Hollywood ready for a down-to-earth, authentic vaudeville show? Hey, Hollywood is a town loaded with bizarre and misplaced talents pouring their hearts out for a chance at stardom. So, right from the get-go, the prospects look good. "Your Town Follies" played to a sold-out crowd its opening weekend, and this Sunday looks to do just as well.
For Orrach, the selling point is simple. "When I tap from my soul," he says, "you're gonna feel it … trust me."
Where: Coronet Theater, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood
When: Sundays, 7:30 p.m., through Aug. 30
Price: $30 in advance, $35 at the door