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A CurtainUp Review

Lypsinka! As I Lay Lyp-Synching
By Brad Bradley

John Epperson
John Epperson
Lypsinka may have seemed like an ephemeral party joke when she first appeared long ago, but she has evolved into a theatrical institution, and is reveling audiences in her high-dudgeon bodily accompaniments to assorted voices of the past, some still familiar and some amazingly peculiar. While I am by no stretch of the imagination a particular fan of this bizarre performing skill, I must confess that Lypsinka transfixed me in the past by thoroughly transcending the clichés of both other lyp-synchers and drag artistes in general, and still amused me in her current appearance. The novelty element may have worn off a bit, but her technique is still amazing to watch, and the ample production values assure that this theatrical morsel can be savored by many.

Lypsinka's material is drawn not only from the predictable areas of musical comedy and sappy horror and melodrama films, but also from recorded advisories on fashion and etiquette, for Ms. L's projected persona is the quintessence of such standards. Her most familiar voices include stage belters and film drama queens. From the stage, the essential Ethel Merman and Dolores Gray are joined by Carol Burnett and Mimi Hines, among others, and in two delicious appearances, the lamentably little-known Karen Morrow. Screen divas Davis, Crawford, and Taylor are supplemented by the likes of Olivia de Havilland, Faye Dunaway and Tippi Hedren.

The show begins with a clever use of the production's key sound, the telephone ring, as the most original anti-beeper warning observed in a theater thus far. The ringing is joined by a Poe-inflected heartbeat and the terrifying squeal that recalls Hitchcock's Psycho. Sound of course is central to Lypsinka, for her entire career centers on brilliantly eclectic miming to a huge gallery of both singing and speaking voices. Alas, the sound level on this outing might be annoyingly loud, so be prepared for an auditory onslaught.

The opening sounds are followed by an overture of sorts, an amalgam of a circus salute and a Raymond Scott festival. Such playful instrumental music joins the voiced portions of the soundtrack as described above. Unfortunately, the show's Playbill fails to list music credits.

La Lypsinka's entrance, in a straightjacket, as cleverly revealed by Mark T. Simpson's versatile lighting, sets the tone for the Psycho salute which pervades the performance. Simpson's efficient and effective set presents a mini-stage surrounded by stretched white curtains which are ideal for projections and Technicolor lighting effects, and supplemented with a disco ball suspended from the ceiling. (I'm sure you've been waiting for another chance to hear Merman's inimitable disco version of the quintessential performer's anthem, "There's No Business Like Show Business.") Our heroine appears in a variety of mid-century chic guises, and her fetching skirt covered entirely with green fringe, yet with a provocative slit nearly all the way up the thigh, shows off her still alluring girlish legs. The hairdo, on the other hand, perhaps influenced by the distressed nature of the evening's theme, makes her look less like the Rhonda Fleming or Arlene Dahl of her earlier outings than the decidedly less festive Agnes Morehead.

Ms. L often is at her best when parody is her motif, and such is evident in the Norma Desmond grotesquerie which flavors her Bette Davis and the antic joy which colors her Shirley Temple by way of Carol Burnett. (That, curiously, comes from one of three different musical flops from 1964 recalled in the current program. See how many you can pin down.) But surely the fiercest and perhaps funniest moment for musical theater aficionados comes in a schizophrenic battle between two very dissimilar musical leading ladies with similar names, Judy Holliday from Bells Are Ringing (singing from "I'm Going Back") and Jennifer Holiday from Dreamgirls singing from "And I am Telling You I'm Not Going."

Lypsinka! As I Lay Lyp-Synching
Directed by Kevin Malony
Performed by John Epperson
Soundtrack Production, Creation and Design by Mr. Epperson
Set and Lighting Design: Mark T. Simpson
Costume Design: Bryant Hoven
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Sound Design: Brett Jarvis
Wig Stylist: Mitch Ely
Running Time: 65 minutes (no intermission)
> Minetta Lane Theatre @ 18 Minetta Lane (off Sixth Avenue) 212-420-8000
Tuesday through Fridays @ 8 PM; Saturdays at 7 and 9:30 PM ; Sundays at 7 PM
Official re-opening 11/05/03 through 1/04/03
Review by Brad Bradley based on November 2nd press preview.

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