While the weather outside might be frightful, Chicagoans are heating up in Lincoln Park’s Greenhouse Theater. Heading into the new year, the hottest show in town is back with its Christmas-themed song and dance.
The night I attended was crowded with a line nearly out the door to get into the small theater and the air was one of general excitement. It was snowy outdoors and it seemed everyone already knew they were in for a special late-nigh treat. I was handed a candy can immediately after sitting down near the back.
The set mimicked It’s a Wonderful Life, with a wintry window of snow falling, while the entertainers performed inside a living room. With Christmas themed decor, the Cigarette Girls were wearing red and green tutus with red tops. The show started on a hilarious note with a dancing woman named Velma ClapTrap wearing a Christmas tree outfit and playing the accordion. She sang a song telling the audience to silence our f-*!%ing phones and all that polite theater etiquette jazz.
Next we were introduced to our Master of Ceremonies, Max Flattery. Wearing white face paint and a white suit – he looked like a ghost of Christmas past. Note to audience members who sit in the first three or four rows: Flattery will notice you. He might make fun of a strange noise or snort that escapes your throat, imitate what you’re doing or comment on whom you came with. For example, Flattery asked a female Jimmy Johns sandwich artist if she was a stripper before telling her she “could be.” For everyone in the crowd, these interactions are engaging and pretty funny, and part of what makes Greenhouse Theater productions intimate and interactive experiences. Just be prepared.
The female performers, known as The Kiss Kiss Coquettes, were wonderful – and of course what everyone was really there to see. In their first number, the ladies were half-naked in about 20 seconds and pulled an unsuspecting young male from his seat in the first row. They threw a Santa Claus outfit over him, complete with a hat, and sat him down for a close-up striptease dance. His face was in utter shock, but everyone else was in an uproar. He wore the outfit for the remainder of the show.
The Coquettes are an endearing group of young women, each with their own specialty asset. When it was clear one Coquette, Coo Coo Cachoo, was only doing her second burlesque act ever, the audience was with her every step of the way, totally digging the difficulty of pulling off stockings while balancing on a chair. The group of young men behind me was in awe, occasionally releasing audible breaths.
As with all cabaret, there is usually a mix of acts, and this show was no exception. The Amazing Thomas, magician and comedian, was back for another round of hilarious card tricks and cheeky jokes. Irish-Chicago comedian Adam Burke was there too, drinking a beer and comparing Chicago winters to an abusive boyfriend – “He’s not always like this!” His jokes were fresh, if a little brash, but the male entertainment was enjoyable.
Now, the night I was there was exceptional for a couple of reasons. First, everyone in the audience was given a cheap kazoo around 12:30 am and Max Flattery asked everyone to hum along to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” If you’re familiar with a kazoo, you are well aware the sound it makes is less than beautiful and slightly annoying. To my surprise, 100 audience members performed the song together and it was a blast. Being a part of the show was much more fun than I would’ve thought and Flattery appeared to be genuinely shocked that it went so well – maybe the beer helped. Although, most of us did respond with a firm “no” when asked if we wanted to perform a second holiday carol. On with the show.
The second reason the show was unique this night was because of a surprise quest. A male "boylesque" troupe member, Bryce Bordello of St. Louis, was sitting in the fourth row. When it was discovered Bordello was in the audience, he rose to the occasion to perform a number, stripping down to his boxer briefs and fedora. This too, it seemed, was a first, as Flattery remarked “we have peer pressured a lot of people.”
After a few more dirty holidays songs by the Christmas tree, accordion playing woman, the final act was due. I’ve had the opportunity to see special quest “Ammunition” before, but for many the experience of her act is astonishing. Though there was a brief lighting issue, Ammunition closed the show with a sparkling smoke show of grinding on her crotch. Really, it’s a spinning saw grinding against a young woman’s metal belt. It’s amazing.
The Kiss Kiss Cabaret is a unique part of Chicago culture in the heart of some pretty great bars. The show is cheeky, funny and completely entertaining – which is why I cam back to see the Holiday Spectacular. I highly recommend checking out the late-night show.
The Kiss Kiss Cabaret Holiday Spectacular show runs through December 20 at the Greenhouse Theater on Lincoln Ave. To ring in the new year, Greenhouse Theater is hosting The Kiss Kiss Cabaret New Year’s Eve Hullabaloo, starting at 10 p.m.
Visit the Kiss Kiss Cabaret website to find out more about upcoming shows.