Ennio Marchetto's "The Living Paper Cartoon” at the Pasadena Playhouse


Please indulge this reviewer as I write about Ennio Marchetto’s remarkable modern Quick Change show “The Living Paper Cartoon” which is delighting audiences for a mere seven performances at Pasadena’s jewel like “Pasadena Playhouse.” There are four remaining performances of this extremely goofy cabaret act. I urge you to see this.

It’s a show driven by a series of pre-industrial stage tricks that puts Hollywood’s current crop of CG driven Special Effects to shame, reminding them and us what an inventive use of simple effects can do to tell a story.

The rubber-bodied, giddily clownish 51-year-old Ennio parodies a cavalcade of pop stars. Dressed in a series of jointed cardboard costumes designed by Sosthen Hennekam (Though Ennio makes the paper wig-hats) Ennio pulls off and re-attaches velcro-ed props or folds back parts of his garb to reveal a side splitting gallery of past an present pop-sters.

He is a Carnivalesque artiste supreme, who began by creating costumes for the Venetian Carnival. He studied with British mime Lindsay Kemp, who also coached David Bowie, toured with Prince and appears annually at Sir Elton John’s Oxfordshire AIDs Benefit.

The protean Ennio Marchetto and his wildly inventive designing partner Sosthen Hennekam brilliantly renew tricks of the quick-change specialty headliners of the Golden Age of Vaudeville.

With his shaved head and mobile features and bold hand gestures, Ennio whirligigs about the stage dressed in a slick black leotard, it’s flesh colored top serving as a décolleté backdrop for some of his 50-plus transformations. His silly jiggy steps sprinkled through the proceeding delight as old time eccentric dancers once did on stage and on film.

Warned that he would perform 50 Characters (50! Count Them!) I challenged myself to document as many as I could remember

Pre-set music plays a lullaby, a sleepy Ennio Wee Willy Winkie, in a cardboard wig and nightshirt enters carrying a candle, walks towards the audience and blows out the candle

He pulls up his cardboard costume and becomes Marilyn, the top half of the scored cardboard costume rolled into bobbing tits, which he flicks playfully, singing “I Want To Be Loved By You”. Lifting the white skirt of her iconic “Seven Year Itch” dress, she flashes white fifties panties, then scatters paper valentines, pulled from under her costume, at the audience.

Next it’s a bored Mona Lisa. Her face peeps out the face hole of Leonardo’s framed Mona Lisa. With her hands emerging from the hand holes, Mona begins an increasingly bawdy stripper’s act. She rolls her eyes, sticks her tongue in one cheek, them begins a wild tongue dance. Working the lip of the stage she begins bumping and grinding, directing lascivious looks at an audience member.  Tipping her frame one way and the other to the music, she scampers upstage, kicking his high heels to Shocking Blue’s “I’m your Venus I’m you fire.” The audience is convulsed.

In a cardboard striped suit and fedora, with a cardboard umbrella aloft, Ennio portrays Gene Kelly’s “Singing In The Rain.”  Snapping his umbrella into a cane, he showboats his way across the stage and into the wings.

Next he’s a baby sucking a pacifier, then folding down his mask, he becomes Stevie Wonder, replete with shades and braids lip-synching, “Isn’t She Lovely”. He slips two keys off his electric piano keyboard to makes harmonica.

Typically Ennio morphs between 2 to 3 characters, punctuated with quick change blackouts. He enters as a belly dancer, spinning her jointed circular belly, she shakes it. Crepe paper veils and fringes awhirl, she pulls off her face veil to show his snaggle toothed grin. He walks on as M & M and transforms into a sequined Gloria Gaynor, performing “I Will Survive.”

He plays a silly “Birth Of Venus”. The coy Goddess of Love, with her blond tresses, posed on Monticello’s classic half shell, cannot resist giggling and flirting with the audience.

Some of his silliest showstoppers are multiples in which Hennekam’s ingenious costumes allow Ennio to play several characters at once. As Ella Fitzgerald, in a purple wig and well-known glasses, she sings a duet sitting piggyback on Satchmo’s shoulders, performing Ira Gershwin’s’ “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.”

Dancing towards the audience, Ella fights toppling off his back. Pulling the cardboard Satchmo off, the “two” dance side by side, till with an annoyed gesture, Ella tosses her partner offstage.

He plays Sister Sourice The Singing Nun, the Belgian Nun, who’s “Dominque” was a number one hit worldwide. Strumming her guitar, her face is a ticker tape of expressions, setting off the signature soprano’s trills. Disappearing upstage as the lights go down, her black light crucifix glows.

Next Ennio plays Kanye West frontally, and Beyoncé’s back, flipping her blond locks and shaking her ass to “Single Ladies.” His Bono doing “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” becomes Spiderman!

Whitney Huston’s “I Will Always Love You,” a meta-joke about Lip-synching, stops the show. Profiled in half-light Whitney does some nose candy and begins synching her hit. The “record” sticks and Whitney has to repeats some of her famous vocal gymnastics. At first she’s bored, repeating the same glissandos and hand gestures; She stares at the tip of her nails and clean off her manicure. She rolls her eyes; soon it’s become hard work as shorter passages of the song repeats, until it’s two famous high notes, over and over.

Ennio appears as Judy Garland’s Dorothy, spinning Toto’s bobbing head in his wee basket Stripping her pigtails off, she’s older Judy singing her concert version of “Over The Rainbow,” then ET (who rode over a rainbow on his sky bike.)

As The Supremes, he’s Diana Ross, with the profiled Mary Wilson and Flo Ballard folded out on either side. With two extra pairs of arms hung from his, they perform the famous hand gestures to “Where Did Our Love Go?”

Jesus Christ enters to the momentous opening riffs of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” and checks his watch as the intro drags on. Folding up his costume he’s suddenly Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, singing to an animated cardboard sparrow.

Next it’s “Sweet Transvestite” from “Rocky Horror” then The Three Tenors. Playing a competitive Pavriotti, with the faces of Plácido Domingo and José Carreras attached to his shoulders, Luciano monopolizes “Oh Solo Mio” He tries to tries to muzzle the “other guys”, pulls out threatening nooses as he monopolizes “Oh Solo Mio.” Finally he takes over, waving his signature handkerchief, wiping his sweaty self down.

Doris Day enters in her 60’s flip, doing “Que Sera, Sera.” She’s draped in a Stone Marten pelt stole, complete with tails, paws and interlocked muzzles. Sticking her hands in the stole she pulls down the pelts. With her hands in their mouths like sock puppets, she works their red jaws. White teeth gleam as they sing the backup lyrics, paws dangling in time with the music.  It’s an absolutely endearing choir.

Peggy Lee, snapping her fingers to “Fever”(the audience snapping along) checks her temperature incessantly, pulling thermometers from under her arm pits, her cleavage and spinning to reveal her backless dress, from her butt crack.

Shakira appears doing her back bending shimmies. Justin Beiber, his little legs swaying, performs before becoming the other pretend boy, Pinocchio. Barbara Streisand performs. As her cross-eyes drift to center, her own punctuating claps force her to concentrate. Queen Elizabeth in her dowdy hat, crossed hands dangling her handbag, enters, singing “I’ve paid my dues, time after time”, she origami’s into Freddie Mercury singing “We Are The Champions.”

Strobes like blackouts reveal a Vogueing Madonna. In her pink Gautier cone-bra bustier, she strips down to panties, then complete nudity. Finally she reveals her own innards. It’s a hilarious moment about Exhibitionism gone wild.

There’s moment when he’s an Indian Nautch dancer, or he’s Tina Turner, switching his hips, or he’s Elvis, working his animated guitar and twisting his knees with strings behind the cardboard.  A statuesque Maria Callas, in a red flamenco dress and Roman nose, performs Carmen in profile. It’s a rich portrait in the seemingly endless series of 50 paper impersonations.
Camping, he picks her enormous schnozz, flips a booger (!) and fans himself with a fan plucked from his cardboard duds.

In a dramatic entrance as King Tut, he pulls of his gilded mummy case and strips the mummy wrappings from his face to become Cher, doing “Believe Do You Believe In Life After Love?” Dancing down front in a shorty metallic stage costume, she pulls down golden pant legs, flips her face plate open to become “Star War”‘s R2-D2.

Ennio’s transformation into Dolly Parton is another winsome showstopper. Sitting astride an old dobbins (whose sweet face shakes side to side musically) Dolly rides downstage. Her horsie’s four feet dangle, keeping time to “My Tennessee Mountain Home.”

Celine Dion is another highpoint in a stream of memorable stage trickery
Singing her ”Titanic” theme song “My Heart Will Go On “Celine swivels her long blond hair. Now it streams out behind her on either side. Her jointed dress becomes the doomed ocean liner, she the figurehead. Pulling two tiny figures from her costume, she sets a tiny Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the prow, arms outstretched. The audience is beside itself.

As Lady Gaga, performing “Poker Face” she parades around the stage in an over the top wig, costume and shades before stripping. Popping off her shades, we see staring blue dolls’ eyes. She strips off nipples, her public hair and finally plucks off her belly button, collapsing head first to the floor like a de-inflated rubber sex doll.

He performs  “Oh Happy Day” as The Edwin Hawkins Singers. His face protrudes amongst eight other painted faces of the gospel Choir as he lip-synchs Evelyn Turrentine-Agee’s wailing solo. Suddenly the eyes snap open and shut on the choir’s faces, punctuating their choral response. What a hoot. It’s a dynamic lead-in to the closing number.

As a wipe of colored lights stream across the backdrop, head shaved Ennio appears upstage, clothed only in his body language and leotard. A red crepe paper streamer becomes Liza’s Halston shawl. She breaks into her Bob Fosse choreographed; Kandor and Ebb’s hit “New York, New York” striking her silhouetted poses. BIt by bit the emotional singer tears off scraps of her shawl tossing them at the house. A last scrap momentarily covers her privates. She tosses it. From the deepest of bows she morphs into a confetti strewing Statue Of Liberty. Black out. The house in on its feet.

After a curtain call off milked diva bows, each lower and lower, the show ends. He even pulls a dying swan ballerina low curtsy before he’s through.

There’s a surprise encore. A Sumo wrestler, two circles of cardboard representing his bulbous face and naked belly, morphs into the most negligent of Can Can dancers. As Offenbach’s Infernal Galop plays, she-he turns her large circular petticoat, revealing her lacy drawers, but this time showing us parts of the superb Ennio behind the tricks. She holds a leg up over her head (In a traditional port d’armes). A second cardboard leg, this time naked and hairy appears. OOPS. What a sweet closing joke. Ennio works the stage, throws applause at the paper detritus that litter the stage. In a final burlesque he wipes his sweat on scraps of crepe paper throwing them to his now adoring crowd. DO NOT MISS!

Remaining performances : Friday, August 26 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 27 at 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, August 27 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 28 at 2:00 p.m.
THEATRE:39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena CA 91101 ● BOX OFFICE: 626-356-7529 ● GROUP SALES: 626-921-1161  For more info and to see a video go to http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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