One of the many guilty pleasures about Guilty Pleasures Cabaret’s “The Femme Fatale,” on view through Sunday at Stage 773, is the pure entertainment they bring to an evening. Harkening back to classic off-off-off Broadway cabarets during the golden age of musical theater—the kind you’d find in a gloriously seedy club in Chicago, for example—this company of dancers, singers, and exhibitionists of all kinds banded together in 2014 to yield to their corniest of dance and music obsessions.
That’s not to say “The Femme Fatale” is corny, exactly, or fails bring talent and the potential for massive appeal on their first tour to Chicago. Honestly, it felt good to sit back and take a load off, reveling in a laugh-inducing, smile-inducing evening of cabaret-style dinner theater, without the dinner.
“The Femme Fatale” spans 100 years of history, with brisk numbers strung together under a loose theme of celebrating fierce females ranging from the suffragettes to P!nk, and everything in between. Em cee Melissa Becker accompanies a handful of these songs, and sings Alanis Morissette’s ‘90s anthem “Nothing In Between” solo, giving the corps of five dancers—Bridget Bose, Melissa Buriak, Katarina Lott, Andrea Palesh and Kayla Radomski—time to cycle through a whole host of period costumes. Becker is strongest when she channels a vintage lounge singer persona in songs like Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and a Post-Modern Jukebox-esque remix of “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, less confident in the pop-ier tunes of Morissette and Fiona Apple.
The dancers, who ooze with feverous sex appeal, even when wearing suffragette frocks or Rosie the Riveter bandanas, are joined by Chicago Tap Theatre’s Aimee Chase for two numbers, and Annie Jo Fischer performed a rousing solo for Friday’s performance only. Jesse Wintermute helps Becker em cee; his character, “Je’she’” is an incredulous bearded drag queen. Appearing periodically throughout the evening, the flirty and charismatic Wintermute parodies the cartoon diva Jessica Rabbit, Val from “A Chorus Line” in a leotard-clad “Dance Ten Looks Three,” and a whole host of other campy impersonations.
This isn’t high art, and it’s not trying to be. It’s high kicks and high-cut leotards. It’s an aptly named cabaret of guilty pleasures—I haven’t even mentioned Andrea Palesh’s belly dance strip tease which ends with her in a combat suit, or the one where she twirls light-up orbs to La Roux’s “Bulletproof.” This is the type of entertainment you might find at a corporate event, at a late-night dive bar, or on a cruise ship. That’s not criticism—don’t knock Guilty Pleasures Cabaret until you’ve tried it. In fact, “The Femme Fatale” has just one fatal flaw: Becker’s very first appearance is in the catwalk of Stage 773’s thrust theater wearing a Cubs track jacket and a White Sox ball cap. That’s a nonstarter in this town, but the company added a baseball-themed “League of Their Own” styled opener to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” just for us, so I’m apt to give them a pass on mixing teams while performing a handful of blocks from Wrigley Field.
“The Femme Fatale” runs through Sunday at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $35-50, available by clicking the link below.