Roarin' upstage in a bold red dress that's the color of sex, makin' jazz hands that vibrate to match her thrusting hips, she belts it out -- a hot mama gettin' hotter.
"It's been said she knocks 'em dead when she lands in town;
"Since she came, why it's a shame how she coos 'em down;
"Fellers she can't get are fellers she ain't met;
"Georgia claimed her, Georgia named her;
"Sweet Georgia Brown."
Sing me, swing me, ring-a-ding-ding me, babykins!
"Big and brass -- I like that," says Deidre Lang, sweet as a peach offstage. "We're bringing a new vaudeville to Vegas."
One night only -- that night being tonight -- as 20 members of "The Lion King" cast migrate from the Strip to North Las Vegas to perform "Vegas Vaudeville" to benefit the Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, which is hosting the retro wingding at the College of Southern Nevada's Cheyenne Avenue campus.
"There were two circuits, the black circuit and the white circuit, and I wanted to take elements of both," says director Tim Bennett, an unabashed admirer of the ya-ain't-see-nuttin'-yet vaudevillian vibe. "I wanted to have vintage material and a couple of contemporary acts that I thought is what vaudeville would be today. And it's a real morale-builder for the cast."
Ensemble singer and understudy in her nightly "Lion King" gig, Lang relishes bustin' out in this bawdy shake-and-shimmy. "We do the same thing every night (in 'Lion King'), and in the ensemble, I don't get a chance to showcase my talent," Lang says. "I'm from the old Broadway, and I want to show everything I can do."
Harlem's Age of Apollo echoes through a rehearsal at the Horn Theatre, where comic sketches and rimshot-worthy shtick will mingle with top hat-twirling song and dance.
"There's so much comedy now that's either sophisticated or raunchy in-your-face, and this kind of comedy is missed right now," Bennett says about the yuks from the "Who's On First"/"Slowly I Turned" era. "It's the ability to be silly without feeling the need to add an intellectual component -- old-fashioned belly laughs."
Porkpie hat on his head, ukulele at his waist, Adam Kozlowski is a walking throwback. Taking the stage to run through a number as part of his emcee role, the man who portrays Pumbaa the warthog for his paycheck on the Strip has no problem stripping away about a century from his performing style as he starts strumming:
"She could love! She could coo! Cootchie-cootchie-cootchie-coo! Has anybody seen my gal?"
Gravelly jazz scatting provides the bridge back to the bouncy melody, evoking memories of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.
"I grew up loving Louie Armstrong and Louie Prima, watching the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello, Sid Caesar and 'Your Show of Shows' and Carol Burnett and the Smothers Brothers, which was a throwback to that," Kozlowski says.
"Vaudeville was an era when you had to be an entertainer. Today, there are a lot of people out there doing well, but they aren't necessarily entertainers. They've been created, a project somebody put together. The whole idea of being an entertainer is fading, and I wish it would come back."
Variety being the spice of vaudeville, the next act up on the rehearsal stage is a pair of dancers -- "Lion King" singers Sindi and Noku -- their liquidlike gyrations an exercise in seduction during a Zulu dance. Provocative in skimpy native costuming, their beaded skirts clack sensually to a pulsating, percussive-heavy beat.
Sorry, though -- no strippers here. That would be too tied to burlesque, vaudeville's raunchier companion. "Vaudeville was supposedly higher-brow burlesque," Bennett says. "Some of the vaudeville producers and promoters advertised it as clean burlesque for the middle class. But of course the comics would push it and audiences loved it."
Someone blow up a tuxedo rental joint? Penguin suits galore onstage, outfitting both guys and girls (though it's guys who know that whomever invented cummerbunds was a prankster).
Spiffy, though: tuxes, top hats and canes in a black-and-white blur of high-steppin' and cake-walkin'.
Emerging from the wings a dancer at a time, they step smartly to the midtempo swing of Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon," the Count Basie band providing exquisite backing:
"Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars. Let me see what life is like on Jupiter and Mars "
Such a sight demands somebody shout, "Hit it, professor!" or "A little traveling music, please," those classic vaudeville catchphrases.
"I watched movies like 'There's No Business Like Show Business' and a lot of Fred Astaire movies to prepare," says Andrea Avruskin, a longtime "Jubilee!" dancer who is now a backstage physical therapist for the "Lion King" cast -- and who choreographed the "Fly Me" number.
"I love the classic and classy look of tuxedos. I love elegance and grace, and tuxedos and top hats epitomize that to me. Some people think vaudeville was vulgar or unseemly, but in reality, many acts were quite classy."
A little class, a lotta sass.
That was vaudeville.
Professor? A little traveling music, please.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.