The set was simple: gold silk curtains, a coat rack for quick costume changes, a desk, a microphone center stage, and an end table with a phone. Nothing more is needed to convey the story when you have the caliber of talent that came with this musical, found in Sara DelBeato and Ryan Bintz.
Sara DelBeato is Belle. She's a prettier, voluptuous, powerhouse vocals embodiment of the comedian that boasted her love of the dirty joke. And Ryan Bintz is a man of many characters and accents, tackling a role that seamlessly covers all the men in Belle's life, from her beloved father - her inspiration for performing- to her fiancé, four husbands, and even a rude manager at Carnegie Hall.
The story unfolds in 100 minutes of song, laughter, dance, audience interaction, and even a few misty-eyed moments. But Sara as Belle brushes away her sadness and finds the acceptance she so desperately craves in front of a microphone, live audience, and in blue comedy. Belle dared to break the rules - be a woman telling dirty jokes instead of a man. During a time when sex was discussed in hushed tones, if talked about at all, Belle liked men, marriage, and sex and had no qualms loudly telling the world through stories and jokes.
Sara is perfectly described by Owen as "an exuberant force of nature." Her favorite song was a hopeful ballad, "Take It From Me." While she had fun singing that particular ballad, Ryan enjoyed trying his hand a multiple accents, exploring different sides, and playing many different characters.
Even when Sara was singing about a taboo subject - her first husband's emotional and physical abuse in a song entitled "Mr. Not Quite Right," Owen explained that they were able to use healthy laughter to deal with this serious subject.
Despite selling millions of records and headlining top night clubs and hotels in Miami Beach in the 50s and 60s, many people do not know about Belle, the woman who paved the way for today's scandalous comedians like Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer, simply because, like Elvis's pelvis, she was too salacious for a television audience.
Having worked with Jimmy before in SOPHIE, TOTIE, AND BELLE, Sara and Ryan have instant chemistry and the confidence that comes from working with someone in which you've already bonded. The play is expertly crafted and the actors were amazing to watch bring Joanne's words to life.
Ilya said that there is something for everyone in this musical, whether a particular detail or universal message that resonates.
RAUNCHY LITTLE MUSICAL - BELLE BARTH IS BACK isn't just a story about a little-known female comedian's rise to fame; it's a woman looking for love - love withheld by a disapproving mother, love freely given by a father lost too soon, love from men who always disappointed, and love from an audience who always came through.
The musical is only in The Black Box Theatre at Carrollwood Players for one more performance before touring and heading to New York and Off-Broadway. Joanne described Jimmy as the "sweetest, kindest, and wonderful man to work with." After tonight's performance, he should be proud to helm an incredible flawless production and Carrollwood Players should be proud to be the lucky venue selected for this limited engagement. Those in the audience Friday and Saturday night have the honor of telling their friends - I saw "The Diva of the Dirty Joke" debut here first.