If Baz Luhrmann and Busby Berkeley had raised a rambunctious love child back in the 1970s, it might resemble something like “Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma.”
The full-length, revamped version of The Cockettes’ wildly unconventional 1971 musical gets a robust reboot in Thrillpeddlers’ sixth annual Theatre of The Ridiculous, which opens in previews at The Hypnodrome this week.
Original Cockettes Scrumbly Koldewyn, “Sweet Pam” Tent and Rumi Missabu are on board, but the production is more than a reunion. It also pays homage to eras long gone — the unpredictable verve of the 1930s and the artistic playfulness of the 1970s.
“It’s just thrilling that we have 26 people onstage reuniting in this work,” says director Russell Blackwood, who in recent years has helped breathe new life into such long-lost Cockettes productions as “Hot Greeks” and “Pearls Over Shanghai.”
Set in the 1930s, the plot revolves around a quirky actress and her ingenue friend as they travel from Hollywood to Broadway then back again. They’re searching for stardom, of course, and nurse pangs for artistic validation.
“I think this is the perfect time to bring the show back,” says Tent, who co-wrote the work with Koldewyn, who also oversaw music and lyrics. “Younger people are not hip to how fabulous the 1930s culture was for music, dance and the arts, and older people just miss the escapism of the wonderful entertainment.”
Tent stars in the show, too, playing Vedda Viper, a 1930s gossip columnist who rehashes the plot at various points in the production via “vicious radio broadcasts where she spears her least favorite entertainers.”
Eighteen new songs have been added, and four original songs remain. New characters related to the era also have been added to freshen up the plot.
As for why a strong fascination with The Cockettes continues some 40 years later, Tent targets the group’s outrageousness.
“We’re still rebels and a living reminder of where and how far the gay culture has come,” she says. “There is always much imitation but we were the real thing.
“The year we first came out, it was before there were gay bars, pride parades. We were hybrid hippies, all mixed together,” she adds. “It was a time of wild abandon — after Eisenhower — and we flouted convention at every turn. Now, there’s more worry and boxed-in behavior. We’re restrained as a culture in ways we weren’t in those days. It’s a whole different world. And I think that is why, now, it’s so exciting.”