The bar is half-empty when we arrive. A deserted stage, a line of music stands abandoned under the lights, a piano with no one at the bench. A table of Jell-O shots and overpriced desserts looks appealing but largely untouched.
It's April 30, and we've come for New Muse's New Music Everywhere vaudeville show at Plan B, 924 Williamson St. The people are well dressed but milling aimlessly. Undanceable music pounds through speakers, so loud we can't hear each other speak. Just as we're wondering if we should give up and leave, the music abruptly changes.
Host Davina DeVille, a local drag celebrity, saunters into the crowd in a skintight jumpsuit with hand-glued rhinestone studs. "If you're blue and you don't know where to go to, why don't you go where fashion sits," she sings. "Puttin' on the Ritz." She looks and sounds fabulous. My faith is restored.
The next act is Jennifer Lien, a stunning soprano in a flirty red dress, accompanied by Vince Fuh on piano. Their act is a perfect little gem: succinct and hilarious. Jennifer's clean soprano is paired with some very unclean lyrics, and the audience roars with laughter.
I want to keep liking the show, but it begins to feel very long after that. The performances are all excellent, some of the best music and dance I've seen in Madison, but for a vaudeville show, there is little that's vaudevillian about it. The songs are mostly sleepy: a lilting flute, a sad saxophone, a contemplative ballroom dance. Within 20 minutes, people are yawning and rubbing their eyes, striving to look alert. The breaks between sets are uncomfortably long, punctuated by club music cranked to a painful volume, with no relationship to the performances on either side. Juxtapositions are effective when they take the audience on a journey, but these just feel jarring.
Madtown Ballroom wakes us from our slumber with a sexy dance number featuring Latin beats and gold lamé shorts, a recommended combination. The crowd leaps to its feet, cheering and dancing along, but when the number is over, the energy in the room dissolves. The show has no build in pace or tension, just a lot of stops and starts. This is a crowd that wants to be on its feet, but there is nothing to keep us there.