Photo courtesy Michael von Redlich

Listen up beautiful people– The Gold Dust Orphans are back with a bang and this time they have some pretty big shoulders to fill. Joan Crawford did it in 1945 and Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Roberson) is doing it onstage right now at Machine: MILDRED FIERCE!  To quote the show, it’s definitely more fun “than a hyped up hyena passing razor blades”! It’s another one of founder Ryan Landry’s brilliantly out-of- its-mind and on-the-mark musical parodies. Who else could take a film noir classic and turn it into a rollicking live musical packed with tap dancing waitresses, sultry chanteuses, a cartwheeling Crawfordesque heroine– and an elephant in the room. Yes, somehow Ryan has involved a pesky pachyderm in the proceedings which also include a murder, a mom on the make, and a miserable miscreant of a daughter.

As Mildred, Varla Jean nails Crawford’s brittle glamor. From her jelly roll hairdo to her gingham checked pinafore, Mildred is as tough as nails baking her way to success, while failing to win the love of her daughter the conniving vixen Veda. Penny Champayne, Olive Another, plus the whole Gold Dust Orphanage– in and out of drag– wow us with their vocals, non-stop choreography and whip crack timing.  Every inch of this show is packed with business– show business and a barrage of musical theater references from 42nd Street to whatever the cat dragged in from the recesses of Ryan’s roiling brain.

There is always a moment in one of his shows that makes me scream. This one happened in Act II when our heroine (as so often happens in film noir) gets slapped silly.  You’ll laugh your pants off. Bring another pair. Don’t bring the kids.

You’ve got to see “MILDRED FIERCE” through March 17 at MACHINE (a.k.a. The Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts)