Today we call them whores, but back in '53, when Cole Porter and Abe Burrows were writing Can-Can and what they were writing about -- life in Montmartre, circa 1893 -- worked best as musical mockery, the show's sidewalk sluts were called "laundresses."
Director Jack Allison's take on the show, the first production of the new season of the Conservatory Theatre Company of Point Park University Pittsburgh, knocked me on my can-can. If this is a college production, then I've been going to the wrong colleges.
The bare, basic premise: The dancers of the Bal du Paradis have been arrested for "lewd and luscious dancing and indecent posturing." The judges see their work as breaking the law; the women see it as awfully fun. These are women who never give anyway anything that they can sell, and now the selling has been stalled ... sort of. Add to the fallen soufflé Pistache, the madam of the house, who suddenly feels a different kind of throbbing in her loins when she meets Judge Aristide.
Even a cursory view of the plot -- censorship, abuse of judicial power, prejudice, elitism and the power of forgiveness -- makes you wonder if Porter and Burrows could peek into the future.
Instead of peeking, just ogle and enjoy. When the scrim goes up and the court goes into session and the ladies began dancing ... ooh-la-la! OK, so clocking in at nearly three hours (with one intermission), the show is a good 30 minutes too long, and while this is Gay Paree, the accents lapse a bit too often into Young Frankenstein territory. Still, this is a high-spirited, high-octane naughty vibrating Valentine, with enough tits and ass to keep the straight guys happy, and enough men in drag and homoerotic dancing (as in one huge slithering snake) to keep the gay boys giddy. I even checked my program a few times during the "Garden of Eden" number to make sure I hadn't wandered into the Kit Kat Club. Yes, it's that over-the-top: eye candy that's at once sweet, salty and a bit (un)savory.
The cast is close to perfection. Kudos to Michael Essad's glorious Art Noveau set, complete with the trademark Moulin Rouge windmill (that revolves) and an illuminated Parisian skyline. If this is what's known as airing dirty laundry, then I'm ready to come clean.
Can-Can continues through Oct. 26. Pittsburgh Playhouse, Oakland,. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com