“In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful!” The mythical nightclub of Cabaret celebrates glamour and hedonism, but there was a subtext to the show that could be both political and personal. Luxe Obscura, a brand-new modern cabaret experience, provides a unique take on this format that can be both thought-provoking and decadent.
Performed in the round at the completely revamped Sayers Club in Hollywood, Luxe opens with a white-clad figure in a veil and long train flouncing through the crowd as the band launches into its first number, “Up the Beach” by Jane’s Addiction. From there it’s an all-out extravaganza, with a cast of gorgeous professional dancers giving their high-kicking, sinewy personal bests as the band plays impassioned versions of darker, goth-themed favorites of the ’80s and ’90s.
The creation of Luxe Obscura took a year and a half and was born out of a decade-long friendship. Neil Kadisha, the owner of Sayers Club, had been wanting a substantial, tasteful but exciting weekly show that was more than T&A, while dancer-choreographer Molly D’amour — who had performed with many big names, including Lady Gaga, Prince and Kanye West — was looking to put together her ideal revue. “It was a perfect meeting of the minds,” explains Kadisha, who is also the show’s executive producer. “I have known Molly for 10 years and always appreciated her talent and vision.”
With Kadisha’s blessings, D’amour and her production designer, Drew Pluta, dove into creating Luxe Obscura. Over the 18 months it took to assemble the show, D’amour auditioned “hundreds of dancers,” while Pluta completely redesigned the club’s interior specifically for the show, creating the industrial bead wall that the dancers use in place of silks to execute their lifts and twirls, the above-bar truss/catwalk, and the elevated mirrored corner, which is the location for a clever play on traditional burlesque.
A stadium-quality light and sound system has transformed the club into a Las Vegas–level venue that still retains intimacy. Luxe Obscura’s band came together through the rhythm section (Asa Watkins on drums, bassist Taiki Tsuyama and alternative bassist Ethan Farmer), with whom D’amour had worked at clubs throughout town. Keyboardist Shok Zeitmahl, who celebrated his birthday on Luxe Obscura’s opening night on Saturday, July 28, brought in guitarist/vocalist Julia Pierce, while vocalist Jeff Ahrens was the bartender at Eastside Luv where D’amour had performed. “Jeff’s karaoke was legendary, and he has such presence, and he’s absolutely fearless,” she enthused of the singer.
The band create the coda for the night, giving us The Cure, Jane’s Addiction, PJ Harvey and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others, with their own spin. And each dancer, while performing set pieces, has a mandate from D’amour, who also performs in the revue, to be herself and find her own characters in the midst of a routine executed to the likes of Joy Division, Love and Rockets, Nine Inch Nails and Iggy Pop.
The show’s penultimate number, to Dramarama's “Anything,” brings the bridal opening full circle as the dancers perform in abbreviated wedding gowns. But Luxe Obscura is not about sacrifice or marriage but rather, according to D’amour, becoming one’s own muse, falling in love with yourself. “The show is a representation of all female perspectives and the relationship to different ideas and their environment, and relationship to the self and sexuality for all of us,” she says.
Luxe Obscura is fun and frothy, sexy but never smutty, with a soundscape connecting to the dark underground, conveying themes of longing and rebellion. Thematically, the show recalls transgressive aspects of the Weimar Republic and the entertainment that emerged in 1920s Germany, as well as Bob Fosse’s anti-establishment film version of Cabaret, which became a noir musical critiquing Vietnam-era America under his direction. These flourishes of Fosse combined with theories of Isadora Duncan make for a perfect after-dinner mint of an event.
There are high expectations for this show, especially at a time where cultural capital is shrinking and civil rights might be shriveling; the morning after Luxe Obscura’s opening, the country awoke to President Trump tweeting that he “would be willing to ‘shut down’ government” if he didn’t get his way on the border wall. For those who think like Cabaret's Sally Bowles (“Politics? But what has that to do with us?”), Luxe Obscura will be escapist fare as they unconsciously mimic the clueless heroine’s sadly madcap desire: “The economy is in shambles, let's be bourgeois and decadent.” But for those who crave a little more, they have only to open their minds and let in the light and luxury here to enjoy a transformative night on the town.
Luxe Obscura at the Sayers Club, 1645 Wilcox Ave. Hollywood, every Saturday in August. Tickets here.