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Paulanne Simmons

Who's Who in Hell

"Hell's Bells"
Directed by John Znidrsic
The Midtown Theatre
153 West 46th Street
Opened Sept. 10, 2011
Saturdays & Sundays at 5pm
Closes Oct. 2, 2011
Tickets: $45 (866) 811/4111
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Sept. 18, 2011

Laura Daniel as Joan Crawford and Kristen Mengelkoch as Bette Davis in "Hell's Belles." Photo by Mark Krieger

In Dante's inferno people are sent to hell because of the sins they have committed. In Bryan D. Leys and Steve Liebman's "Hell's Belles," all they need is a good voice. The show is mostly a review with Ley's thin plot-line tying all the songs together.

When a pop star (Oakley Boycott) is sent to hell due to an unfortunate accident, she meets Lester (Omri Schein), a devilish master of ceremonies. As Lester explains how things work in hell, he is interrupted by Eleanor Roosevelt (Kristen Mengelkoch) and Lady Godiva (Laura Daniel), the two other recurring characters. Eleanor is an uptight, upright society lady; Lady Godiva only wants to sing about her bareback (and bare everything else) ride on a horse.

The excellent cast is so well directed by john Znidarsic that one is apt to forgive some of the show's campy excesses. There are also enough right-on impersonations to bring tears of joy to the eyes; Herbert Hoover in drag was a personal favorite.

Liebman's music tuns from rock, to country and western, and even a soft shoe (performed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas). Leys' lyrics are most often quite clever. Thus Marilyn Monroe sings "Dead and Sexy," Janice Joplin sings "Sex,Drugs, Booze and Rock ‘n' Roll," and Eva Braun warbles ‘I saved Hitler's brain when he went down the drain."

Laura Daniel, OmriSchein, OakleyBoycott and KristinMengelkoch in "Hell's Belles." Photo by Mark Krieger.

Speaking of Eva's, Eva Peron sings a pean to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who, unlike other composers like Sondheim or Richard Rogers, Eva says, "made a star out of me." Other hellish highlights include Lizzie Borden appearing with her axe and the infamous Ma Barker asking melodically, "What's a mother to do?"

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis duke it out verbally over who is campier. And Princess Di, sounding remarkably like Julie Andrews, sings about how all the very best people are in hell.

Just when it seems to be all over, one of the greatest divas of all time, Judy Garland, appears and announces that she is on a mission to take the pop star back to earth. Without revealing the exact ending, let's just say hell is left with plenty of room for a whole new batch of occupants, many of whom have familiar names and are not necessarily female.

One part vaudeville and two parts burlesque, "Hell's Belles" is filled with raucous fun. It's really more cabaret than theater, especially since the Midtown Theater includes table seating. And come to think of it, the show is best enjoyed with drink in hand and plenty of room to lean back in your chair and let out a great big roar of laughter.

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