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The Show Goes Downtown


Step Right Up, Folks Clockwise from left: Showgirl of the Universe Ami Goodheart; sword swallower Johnny Fox; Daredevil Opera Company clown and Trapeze School New York teacher Ritual Clown Cosmic Colt; Johnny’s wife, Val Fox (Snake Dancer); Ula the Pain-Proof Rubber Girl; the three clowns of Happy Hour; and (center) Kiva Kahl, also known as Grindergirl.  


Broadway, here's a shtick in the eye.

Vaudeville, the geeky, wisecracking step-brother of legit theater, disappeared for decades, but it’s back in full force, packing them in everywhere from Todd Robbins’s Sideshow Saturday Night at the Soho Playhouse to Chashama, the nonprofit arts complex next to the Condé Nast building. These days, the old-school yuckety-yuck of Jimmy Durante is fused with the showmanship of P. T. Barnum to form an irony-free hybrid of real talent and roar-of-the-greasepaint showbiz of which no one thought Gen Xers capable. The Old World exerts a strong pull on today’s vaudevillians. Stop a juggler or fire-breather after the show and they can tell you the history of their act, their nineteenth-century heroes, the 50 books you should read.

Heirs to Barnum’s sleaze empire include Circus Amok and the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, run by Stephanie Monseu (ringmistress Philomena) and Keith Nelson (neon-tube-swallowing Mr. Pennygaff), as well as the Wau Wau Sisters (pictured), Adrienne Truscott and Tanya Gagné, who define their act as “a bawdy concoction of acrobatics, cigarettes, smarts, and desperation.”

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