One of infamous/legendary filmmaker Ed Wood’s many contributions to the horror-camp canon is the screenplay for 1965’s Orgy of the Dead. In the movie, a couple of squares crash their car near a graveyard, and two baddies—the Emperor and the Black Ghoul, played by The Amazing Criswell and proto-goth babe Fawn Silver, respectively—force them to watch a series of sinister stripteases. The dancing and exotica-style soundtrack are excellent, but the film is best known for its so-ridiculous-it’s-brilliant dialogue, like Criswell’s classic, horny declaration that “A pussycat is born to be whipped!”
Even if Kelsi Judge—the primary force behind Hypnotique Productions’ Nightmare on Mulberry Street—isn’t a Wood-ophile, it’s easy to imagine that the long-gone director/writer of camp would be a fan of the latest Hypnotique burlesque extravaganza. Bawdy, funny, sexy and sometimes crass (in the best possible sense), the show ran for seven days in October, often to sold-out audiences. The Halloween-season production, staged at Chico’s Mulberry Station Brewing Co., was brought to life by a dozen-strong troupe of dancing, singing, bumping, grinding, wise-cracking performers and a crack live band.
In addition to playing the seductive Sue the Scissorer, Judge wrote the script and directed and co-choreographed the show—with assistant director/head of P.R. Sandii Buckman and co-choreographer Kiersten Gama (both of whom performed as well). A veteran of the much-missed local musical-theater hub Chico Cabaret, she said she was moved to get something new rolling during the artistic drought brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. “I was so thirsty to do shows and had so many ideas in my head,” Judge said during an interview the evening of Nightmare’s penultimate performance.
This prompted her to put together Trinity Cabaret at Oroville’s Union bar and grill last Halloween That show’s success led to the formation of her own company, Hypnotique Productions, which put on another burlesque show called Eden at Mulberry Station in February. It was so successful that the restaurant gave the production bearing its name a three-weekend run.
Of Nightmare’s inspiration, Judge said: “I knew this group of performers would really dive in and love this theme, so figured what better outlet than a campy horror thing and to do it on Halloween? Plus, we could get creative with the song selection and give the band room to explore, to make things more rock-’n’-roll or creepier or campier as needed.
“The music and the overall energy of this community of performers is amazing,” she continued. “It’s been perfect.”
The overarching plot tying together the titillating dance numbers and cheeky sketches of Nightmare on Mulberry Street was the summoning of Big Daddy, aka Satan Themself (portrayed by assistant director Buckman), who “left to get a pack of cigarettes 6,669 years ago and never returned.” A hive of vampires, led by Sue the Scissorer and brother Vharaz (Judge’s real-life husband, Jojo Judge), teams up with a coven of witches, led by Madame Zelda (Sierra Hall) and drag queen Miss Ruby (Alexander Asher Garcia), to engage in a prolonged ritual.
Each stage of the ritual included song-and-dance routines featuring contemporary music performed by a live band directed by local musician Ethan Swett; songs ranged from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” (the theme song for HBO’s vampire campfest True Blood). Performers punctuated the musical numbers with dialogue that included (sometimes intentionally cringe-worthy) sexual bits and double entendres, a lot of wit and the occasional pop culture or political quip (generally in response to political efforts to control women’s bodies and oppress sexuality of all stripes).
Of note was the quality of vocal performances, especially since they were often given while simultaneously dancing. In fact, the song deliveries were so smooth and faultless that I—and other audience members overheard expressing the same sentiment—initially thought they were pre-recorded (kudos to sound engineer Justin Thomas for his part in this accomplishment). Most of the dancers took a turn fronting a song, and while each did so well it’s hard to single any out, Samaria Mckenzie’s take on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was exceptional. Mackenzie also joined the band to provide backup vocals for several other songs. Another highlight was the surprise appearance of local musician Scout who performed an original song as the ritual’s human sacrifice.
The audience—its sheer enthusiasm and participation—provided a huge part of the show’s appeal. Many attendees came dressed in their sultry Halloween best, making it difficult at times to determine which lingerie-clad witches and handsome warlocks were cast members, spectators or off-stage support. Tipping was encouraged, and watching people gleefully throw money at the performers was itself entertaining; they certainly earned it.
A pair of fire dancers served as a warm-up act in the brewery’s parking lot before the show and kept the spectacle going through intermission with a hula hoop routine.
Judge credited the staff of Mulberry Station, her co-organizers and her fellow performers for the show’s overwhelming success and plans to do more local productions in the future.
“I have something in the early spring planned and I want to try to do two shows a year, plus community projects,” she said, adding these efforts will all be collaborations with local performers.
Check facebook.com/hypnotique.production for info on future shows.