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THEATER | REVIEW

`Varla' flaunts her body of work

January 26, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Those who think camp is passe should check out Ultra Suede in West Hollywood, where "Varla Jean Merman Is Anatomically Incorrect!" is holding court. Jeffery Roberson's incomparable drag creation revisits her cabaret roots in peak sidesplitting form.

Roberson is a flawless female illusionist, and Varla's fulsome femininity is never in doubt (her sanity is another matter altogether). "Anatomically Incorrect," co-written by Roberson and Jacques Lamarre, references Varla's desire to "celebrate the body. My body. Your body. Anybody's body I can lay my hands on." After a video cover of Cher's "Dark Lady" warms us up, Her Amazonity enters, in a burka-and-camel outfit that fractures the house. Midway through her opening number, Varla turns around, a certain terrorist's face on the back of her headpiece, and sublime irreverence commences.

Under Michael Schiralli's knowing direction, the nightclub setting suits Varla. It's far easier for her to touch us where we live without stage aprons getting in the way. The songs, from parodies to Roberson's witty originals, take full advantage of Varla's astounding vocals, with their hiccuping lows and flutelike highs that Renee Fleming wishes came so easily. The merger of Saint-Saens and the Pussycat Dolls featuring tenor Mark Cortale is downright refined in its dementia. "I'm More Than a Double D!," a paean to the poitrine, busts Ultra Suede open, and Varla's tribute to New Orleans (Roberson's hometown) is fabulous, purposeful without schmaltz.

Words cannot do justice to the outrageous videos, particularly the food-poisoning cautionary featuring the voice of Christine Pedi as Salmonelli. The costumes by Michael Velasquez and Cecile Casey are invaluable, as are Gerard Kelly's wigs. Not since Divine and '50s cult icon Rae Bourbon has a drag artiste so nailed the risque, old-school pleasures of the genre, and "Varla Jean Merman Is Anatomically Incorrect!" does a body good.

*

`Varla Jean Merman Is Anatomically Incorrect! '

Where: Ultra Suede, 661 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays. No show March 1.

Ends: March 29

Price: $25 and two-drink minimum

Contact: www.groovetickets.com

Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

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