Andrea Leap has a sneaking suspicion that the burlesque revival is causing confusion about art forms. While most burlesque shows lean heavily on cabaret music, the climax of a proper cabaret is not necessarily a topless chanteuse twirling her pasties. Leap, an Illinois-born Francophile who recently settled in the Twin Cities, is hell-bent on clarifying matters. "There seems to be a huge misconception that it involves stripping," she said in an interview before the opening of her first self-made show since arriving in town. "And I wouldn't want anybody to be disappointed."
But at the Bryant-Lake Bowl during the Minneapolis debut of Leap's original cabaret, Ça, c'est l'amour, lust hangs heavier in the air than the smoke at a Left Bank bistro. Even the box-office attendant feels it. Apparently amused by his French-speaking abilities, he hoots "Ça, c'est l'amour" every so often, elongating his vowels to feign a sultry Gallic accent. Onstage, Leap thrusts her hips forward while singing such naughty odes to Paris as Lynn Ahrens's "Speaking French." The audience sits wide-eyed, laughing nervously, not offended by the lyrics--our CD collections are peppered with parental advisory stickers--but impressed with Leap's orgasmic charades. For Leap, Paris is the ultimate turn-on. It's a city she long pined for and got to inhabit for a year, thanks to a grant that funded her formal study of the city's cabaret scene. And while the nature of her relationship with Paris is clearly, shall we say, salacious, Leap manages to keep her shirt on--actually it's a scanty scarf, a wardrobe malfunction-in-waiting--throughout her set of sexy torch songs to the City of Light. When she closes her eyes and curls her lips with a come-hither grin, we really hope she takes it all off--and for a time, she has us believing that she might.
A well-trained cabaret vocalist and musicologist, Leap instills her show with history, giving it a 1920-'30s Parisian Jazz Age feel (the era from which cabaret sprung). In the spirit of that musical idiom, her stage persona is an innocent, all-American ingénue, newly arrived in Paris and hungry to swallow Paris whole. Her Lolita smile sparkles for classics like Irving Berlin's "Paris Wakes Up and Smiles." Clearly the essentially monolingual visitor, she has much to learn about her temporary home and its hommes galants. But she learns quickly--as she is soon crooning in "Speaking French," the only French one needs is a moaning ooh!
With an impetuous, far-reaching voice, Leap barrels between wide-mouthed bellows and seductive snarls. Tucked into an inconspicuous corner of the stage, pianist and fellow France-lover Jocelyn Dueck is equally, albeit less extravagantly, adaptable: hard driving when Leap's character is seductive, whispering when she breaks, invisible when she sings most voraciously.
Naïveté crumbles, as it did for Leap during her yearlong sabbatical. "There's only so much wine and cigarettes you can take," she told me. Her alter ego having been scorned by Parisian romantic prospects, the singer's voice assumes a smoky, mournful timbre for Kurt Weill's wailing "Youkali" and "Je ne t'aime pas." Her lips quiver--and it is not only by way of her high Cs. She has grown weary, by now schooled in Parisian romance and heartbreak, no longer a stranger in the world's loneliest town.