Torch Song ... sung with Grace
Posted by Robert del Valle on Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 3:09 PM
Theirs to Hold High: Torch gives a welcome "twist" to the City Theatre To paraphrase what was once said about war, the first casualty of change is (frequently) elegance. Happily, though, no one told Torch With a Twist. For more than several years now, this ensemble of strolling entertainers has committed itself to reviving, resurrecting, resuscitating, and resuming a style of theatrical entertainment (several styles, in fact) that gradually vanished from these parts between VJ-Day and the post-transistor zeitgeist of this morning. We are talking about (in no particular order): cabaret, vaudeville, burlesque, stage magic, pyro-juggling (we coined that one), and haunting "torch songs" performed by a chanteuse bathed in the soft glow of a spotlight. Now add a firm commitment to making the "atmosphere" of a venue just as real and as authentic as their performances - that is the Torch technique in full. On June 5, the troupe will present The Grace Menagerie at the City Theatre. And happily enough, Grace Detroit herself is permitting us a closer look at the company and a preliminary glimpse of the show. 1) We love the title Grace Menagerie (which is a nice twist in its own right) and would love to know why it was chosen. Precisely! And that's how I explained it to the cast...BECAUSE it's a "twist". Menagerie can be defined as " a collection of wild or foreign animals kept especially for exhibition, 2: a varied mixture" & figuratively speaking...that's us! 2) If Torch With a Twist had a mission statement (and it wouldn't surprise us if it did), how would that mission be described? My only "mission" is to make the world shout, "YAY!" 3) The recent death of Lena Horne prompted a number of commentators to lament the absence of genuine personality (and class) from the world of pop music. Do you agree? And was Ms. Horne a model for the type of entertainment that you and your performers strive for? Of course, I do agree that there is an absence of genuine personality & class in the world of pop music & definitely enjoyed Lena Horne...but I'm really more concerned with whimsy I think we're more along the lines of the Muppet Show...or like in The Little Rascals or a Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland film, when someone said, "hey, gang...let's make some costumes & put on a show!"...we're really just doing what comes naturally! 4) What prompted the creation of this repertory effort (right term?) and how long has it been in operation? "Repertory effort"! I wish we were that organized! Honestly, I just got bored presenting the same old lounge-act...you know, girl with jazz combo...it's been done & done & done again. So I literally got together a group of friends & friends of friends, who happened to have mad-unusual skills & using my own love of the old-timey, campy, over-the-top theatrical productions - like the Ziegfeld Follies & anything starring Rita Hayworth or Jane Russell!! I outlined & organized (as much as is possible with an ever-evolving "troupe" of 20+ individuals) what I called "Torch With A Twist". We ran on a monthly basis at Cliff Bell's - where I first put the whole thing in motion - over 3 years ago. 5) The forthcoming show will be in the City Theatre (one of our favorites), but Torch is strongly identified with Cliff Bell's. That, we presume, was not due solely to chance ... Cliff Bell's was looking for something new & unprecedented to present on Sunday nights in order to build up business - which was almost non-existent on Sundays before we started doing Torch. I had been performing there on a somewhat regular basis with my standard jazz combo & after pitching my show idea to the former manager, Andrew Gyorke we ended up with a hit. We were the first group to perform there that was NOT "just" a band. It became a regularly monthly event & usually filled the house one Sunday a month. But that's not the only place we ever did the show; we also performed Torch With A Twist at Theatre Bizarre, Dally In The Alley, The Wyandotte Art Fair & The Detroit City Music Hall's Fringe Festival. Cliff Bell's was a great back-drop for our old-timey style of performance due in large to it's authentic restoration-but it also posed many challenges & barriers to our performance, such as the structural pillars that block the view of the stage from so many places in the room, as well as the smallness of the actual stage & it's close proximity to the ceiling, made some acts impossible & others simply got lost since only the folks down-front could actually tell what we were doing up there. The choice to move-on to other venues came along with the decision to only perform the show quarterly, as opposed to monthly. It's just very time consuming to produce & unfortunately, a girl's gotta pay the bills with a "regular" job! 6) The degree of verisimilitude that you and the company achieve with your productions is remarkable. A vulgar question: Does that entail a great deal of cost? Verisimilitude - the semblance of reality. Well, I guess, for most of us, this IS our reality; even off stage, I do often spontaneously burst into song & I really am a bit of a flake...I make a habit of spinning & dancing & I find a little bit of humor in almost everything. Most of us have honed our individual skills over many years, especially the band...they are all well trained & well-versed, & some are full-time musicians...while some of other performers are brand-new to the stage & just decided to free the fire-inside & become a part of our little side-show-lifestyle...& truthfully, most of us are really gypsys at heart. As far as expense goes...the answer is yes!...glitter & feathers do not come cheap. 7) When did you first become fascinated with this vanished or semi-vanished world? And ... should we ever find ourselves in need of "encyclopedic familiarity" with it, could we turn to you? As a child I spent a lot of late night hours in the company of my grandmother - she was an insomniac too - watching old classics & musicals...without really consciously meaning to, I memorized the words to most popular standards; it's just sort of second-nature. I don't always know the name of the composer, but if it (a song) was in an old MGM musical production I probably know it. I have always been fascinated by elaborate costumes & productions, but conversely, by the simplicity & innocence of the characters portrayed by those films. I love show-girls, as well as the girl-next door. I just seemed to soak-up the "old-timey". I have been joking called an etymologist before-because I have a kind of a pre-occupation with definitions & I love reference books...but as far as the era we try to represent, it really is primarily due to those late night movies! 8) We have been to a number of performances and we note that Torch has practically a "stock company" of regulars. Who has been with you the longest and if an individual wanted to audition how would they go about it? The cast & the band have always varied & been subject to change - however, Flec (Contact Juggler/Fire Performer) & Chantal (Belly Dancer/Snake Charmer) & Tigerlilly (Cardgirl) have probably been with me the longest & (speaking of Twists!) for this next show - on Saturday June 5th - I have arranged to bring home two of our original cast members who started with me in our first year & who have both moved out of state & have not performed with Torch at all this past year - Tovio (Juggler/Musician) is the quintessential "Vaudevillian" who has literally traveled the world busking & there's Lady Mischief who is about as bawdy as a good burlesque dancer can be! As far as adding new acts & performers, I am always interested in seeing what someone has to offer but do prefer to keep it varietal & olde-timey....nothing contemporary, especially the musical accompaniments which the band & I prefer to perform live.