I’m a Good Little Devil: Songs and Scandals of Gaby Deslys

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I’m a Good Little Devil:
Songs and Scandals of Gaby Deslys

The Triad Theater, NYC, February 10, 2018

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Any show with Mark Nadler in it is cause for cheer. Nadler sings, dances, plays piano, and dispenses comedy (and pathos when called upon) in great dollops of unabashed talent. In I’m a Good Little Devil: Songs and Scandals of Gaby Deslys, he did not disappoint, playing his own turns and accompanying his two stage cohorts, Jean Christophe Born (who wrote the piece) and Perrine Cabassud (who plays Deslys). Both singers are Marseille-based, French opera stars of tremendous vocal range and power, who can sing popular music just as well as an aria. Together, the three staged a theatrical cabaret performance piece about Deslys (1881-1920), a singing, dancing, music hall diva and silent film star who had a huge career, made a literal fortune, and enjoyed a somewhat notorious reputation (her Grizzly Bear dance number, for instance, was banned in Philadelphia). Deslys was the toast of New York City and environs from 1911 to at least 1913, playing with up-and-comer talent such as Al Jolson and Mae West.

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There is a commitment to excellence and authenticity to be applauded in I’m a Good Little Devil. The costumes are stunning, particularly the absolutely gorgeous array worn by Cabassud (designed by Born’s wife). Piano arrangements and vocal delivery are of the time, or reminiscent of it, and the musical numbers of the period such as “Philomene,” “The Gaby Glide,” and “Take Off a Little Bit,” serve to reveal bits and pieces of Deslys’ life in alluring song.

But, while the result is charming and entertaining, the flaw in I’m a Good Little Devil is its lack of a cohesive text and focus. The narrative is mostly delivered by Nadler, for whom no character has been assigned—thus depriving I’m a Good Little Devil of a smooth through-line. This deficiency deprives Born and Cabassud the opportunity to act and perhaps generate some heat.

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It’s also apparent in a highlight of the show, a tour-de-force riff on Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.” The ghost of Victor Borge was surely smiling down on Nadler’s off-the-charts full-complement mastery, but the bit is its own moment of perfection rather than an integral part of the Deslys story. With a structure provided for its narrative and a director to raise the bar beyond mere entertainment, there’s potential here. With some correction, I’m a Good Little Devil could realize a success as a more meaningful theatrical work in homage to the remarkable life of Gaby Deslys.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.