Esther’s Follies (***½)

Posted on December 18th, 2006 in Austin,Entertainment by EngineerBoy

If you’re ever in Austin make time to go and see Esther’s Follies on Sixth Street. Part of me wants to refrain from giving away any details so that you can experience it fresh, but my take is that if you don’t already know some of what makes the Follies so good you may not go see it. I mean, if someone were to tell me that Esther’s Follies were a vaudeville-esque stage show that had been running continuously for over 20 years, I’d say something like “That sounds quaint…” and then check the movie listings. I mean, come on, really?! Nothing sounds more boring to me than a show filled with singing, dancing, “comedy” skits, and a local magician. I mean…ugh.

However, several years ago Mynagirl convinced me to go see the show, and it was a lot of fun. At that time the material was a bit dated (Ann Richards jokes?) and the seating was sardine-esque. Well, we went again this past weekend and while a coach seat on Continental is a freakin’ emporer’s throne compared to the mini-seats in the theater, the material was very fresh and super-funny. Our party ranged in age from 17 year old teen girl to a 61 year old grandfather and we all laughed our ***es off!

First off, the show is quite ribald, but they do allow children in – there’s no flashing of skin or anything, but the jokes and innuendos do sometimes end up just over the line on the skanky side of naughty, so if you’re not sure if the show will offend you then it probably will. However the show doesn’t just have naughty bits in order to be shocking, the naughty bits are also quite funny. The cast and crew are very talented and hard-working – you will see them before the show setting up, selling tickets, and helping to seat patrons. After the show you’ll see them setting up for the next show while the patrons file out. It has a very we’re-all-in-this-together-the-show-must-go-on feel to it.

The theater itself is entertaining just standing there. First, the inside is decorated in a strange underwater/pool motif (the “Esther” in Esther’s Follies refers to Esther Williams), with murals and sculptures, and gel lights, and all manner of strange, colorful, and engaging touches. The theater appears to hold around 500 people, and both times we’ve gone it’s been a complete sellout. The seats are little institutional stacking chairs with about a quarter-inch of padding and packed in cheek by jowl (well, cheek to cheek in normal human sitting configuration, but you get the gist).

But the ingenious conceit of the theater is that as you sit and look at the stage, the back wall of the stage, behind the performers, is a floor-to-ceiling picture window looking out onto Sixth Street at pedestrian level. Random revelers wander by the window in various states of sobrietary and awareness of the show – some are shocked when they realize an entire theater is watching them watch the show/pick their nose/scratch their nether regions/belch/smoke/stagger by. Also, the show itself spills out to the other side of the glass at odd times. It’s all very engaging and interesting and is a perfect fit for the bohemian geniality of Sixth Street.

Note that the show contains a lot of commentary on current events, with a definite liberal bent (duh!), so leave your dogma at the door and just enjoy the precise puncturing of pompous political prima-donnas.

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