International drag superstar Varla Jean Merman and avant-campy playwright Ryan Landry make for a flat-out hilarious combination in Mildred Fierce. This parody of the 1945 Joan Crawford film Mildred Pierce doesn’t have any serious message to deliver, but does its spoofing with a fun-loving ingenuity that makes it a real pleasure to watch.
Mildred Fierce could be called a pastiche musical: the songs aren’t original. Instead, they’re song parodies like one might find in Varla’s nightclub act, but cleverly stitched to the madcap plot at hand. Like the Crawford flick, Fierce focuses on the pie-making Mildred’s fraught relationship with her diva daughter Veda.
This is presented by Landry’s Boston-based troupe, The Gold Dust Orphans, which has been doing this sort of thing up in Beantown for nearly 20 years. As such they’ve developed a relentlessly creative low camp style which is surprisingly detail-oriented: The stage is overstuffed with toys and miniatures, as well as way-over-the-top costumes and set pieces…not to mention the tap-dancing pies!
Varla trades her usual operatic shenanigans for a more restrained vocal tone, as fits the rejiggered standards Mildred sings. Thank goddess, though, that doesn’t mean that she’s at all restrained in delivering trashy, down and dirty comedy. Penny Champayne, in the show’s other star turn as the conniving Veda, is hilariously mannish and brutish. In the end, Mildred Fierce isn’t anything revolutionary – or even insurrectionary – but it is undeniably a whole bunch of anarchic, raunchy fun.
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