Arias with a Twist Review - Twisted and Textured

Our Hero's Journey Begins

I was obsessed with arts & crafts as a kid.  When I wasn’t playing piano or dreaming of running away to New York, you could find me in the basement making all kinds of history-making, world-changing creations.  One genre of my magnificent handiwork was a series of marionettes that I made from Styrofoam balls, various scraps from Grandmom’s sewing box and some fishing wire.  Occasional puppet shows would dazzle the before-dinner crowd in the family kitchen area: my mother would take a drag from her cigarette and give me an approving nod; my father would chuckle and marvel at my ingenuity; my grandmother would be so impressed she’d call a distant aunt in New Jersey to brag; my brother and I would have a fight and the marionette would end up a mangled abstract art sculpture that would stay in the hallway floor for at least a week and a half.

Joey Arias, who performed his one-man diva drag show last night at the fabulous Redcat Theatre in Downtown LA, knows all about puppets.  He’s enlisted his friend, and legendary puppeteer Basil Twist to create a panoply of wonderful, often exquisite puppet tableaux as a supporting cast to the song and dance act that includes breathy renditions of Billy Holiday, Led Zeppelin, Eric Carmen and others.

Joey Aria on an Alein Starship

The show opens with Joey captured by aliens.  Joey is in dress-down drag: a black leotard, a bodice panel that resembles a Barbie doll segment; and a long Arabian pony tail.  He is being probed on the starship; jacked-up, Halloween-style sheet ghosts have their way with Joey…to the point where he/she starts demanding more.

After Joey’s CALL to adventure with the Aliens he is ejected from the spaceship and plunges endlessly to earth (an effect created masterfully by Basil Twist puppetry) where he lands in the JUNGLE, complete with giant velvet flowers, velvet serpents and a very turned-on Venus Flytrap. (Arts & Crafters everywhere: you will be immediately transported back to childhood and your first obsession with felt).

Joey in the Jungle

And so our hero’s journey begins.  A series of songs, chronically Joey’s many passing fancies as he journey’s the jungle of life unfolds.  Twist’s generally brilliant puppetry surrounds Joey at all times: there is a hip puppet-sized jazz quartet on tiny instruments (check out the drummer..he looks like Richard Nixon) always supplying interesting arrangements for Joey’s dramatic stylings; a cut-out layering of the New York skyline that seems to build upon itself while Joey becomes King Kong and eats people down below; two sexy anatomically correct male robots who take Joey out of the “R” rating and into XXX; and (my favorite) a  Busby Berkeley style number with big mirrors surrounding Joey on a huge wedding cake that had stocking-clad legs darting out of it – the effect was a sort of transvestite-spider-kaleidoscope thing.

Joey becomes King Kong

The music itself was mostly hit, a couple slight misses.  I LOVED the occasional bossa nova arrangements of some of the pieces. The song mix was generally eclectic but intended to reflect the individual scene it scored. I had difficulty hearing some of the words but suspected it was a microphone issue despite Joey’s breathy delivery.  I liked Joey’s voice; it was sweet, youthful and….sounded somewhat cigarette damaged.  Perfect for drag, right?!

The one thing I would stress to would-be goers is that this is a song & dance one-man show.  As the curtain goes up on the small exquisite stage (well, actually several curtains, recalling a true puppet theatre) I began to anticipate a full-on puppet extravaganza.  And, although there were crafty splurges aplenty, I did find myself re-adjusting to a lengthier format of song.  After I hunkered down I was fine.  Joey eventually finds his HOMECOMING in the final scene where is flanked by two life-sized Rockettes-style chorus lines with moving legs and Joey’s trademark drag look.

Busby Berkley Style Wedding Cake with Joey as the Topping

Arias with a Twist, at the beautiful Redcat Theatre, was heart-forward.  As I mentioned above, it recalled to me a home-spun glamour; the kind of flair that sparkles of creative genius and is ultimately derived from sewing kits and dress-up day. Seemingly without any corporate interference to get us all worked up, Arias with a Twist provides a multi-textual experience of songs, fabric, ideas and heart.  My rave goes to the scrim visuals that create amazing candy for the eyes with overlays of brilliant images ranging from exquisite paisley to dancing darts of captivating light-shapes.

Whatever may be lacking in overall structure is conquered by love.  Joey and Basil deliver one from the heart.  Can’t go wrong with that!

Redcat Theatre
631 West 2nd Street
Los Angeles 90012

Wednesdays–Saturdays at 8:30pm

Sundays at 7:00pm

(Added performance Tues, Nov 24; No performance Thurs, Nov 26)

Tickets: $35-40 [Students $28-32]

213-237-2800 or

Photos by: Steve Menendez

Wayne Bethanis

Wayne Bethanis
hosts his own TV show, The Wayne Bethanis Show. He is a well-known concert pianist and entertainer and holds a Ph.D in  Musicology.

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