Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is neither properly a family attraction nor a circus. Rather, it is more in the vein of an old-time medicine show, featuring an eclectic array of ad hoc performers – making every show different – unified, albeit, by the artistic and real-life duo of Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson. That’s about as far as the family nature of the somewhat risqué cabaret-style evening of entertainment extends (although the group does on occasion tone things down for audiences of all ages, as it will at Club Helsinki Hudson on March 30), as seen at Club Helsinki Hudson this past Saturday night. And if circus means clowns and elephants to you, well, there were clowns of a sort, but these were more like clowns out of your worst nightmares. And I didn’t see any elephants, nor any other non-human animals.
There was, however, acrobatics, comedy, magic, snake-oil salesmen, sword swallowers, trapeze artists, and plenty of original music, written, sung and playmed by keyboardist extraordinaire Sabrina. There was a flurry of activity in two acts, deftly hosted by Monseu, in character as “Philomena.” A troupe of specialty acts drawn from the thriving new-vaudeville scene – and this show owes as much or more to vaudeville as it does to anything else.
The show got off to a rousing start with X-rated balloon animals, drawing on audience participation in the process. Then Dr. Frangible spoke quickly and convincingly about the awesome healing powers of his unique magic potion, a remedy for just about anything that could ail you and guaranteed to make “you suffer from infrequent headaches,” before he swallowed five razor blades and somehow lived to tell about it. A belly dancer performed for an interlude before Philomena kept our rapt attention with an offbeat, terrifying story that was almost believable.
Sabrina kicked off the second set with a couple of numbers, including one that she aptly described as a Randy Newman-style number stripped of any subtlety, with few if any lyrics that could properly be quoted without having a spam catcher block this review in an e-mail. Another trouper entertained with a disco-style yo-yo routine; another balanced an impossible number of blocks horizontally and diagonally; and Nigel Blackstorm performed his cross between heavy metal and magic called “Heavy Magic.” As he explained, “I’m a little bit OC/DC.”
Bindlestiff Family Cirkus’s winter residency at Club Helsinki Hudson continues with shows on February 14 and March 29.