Sizzling Kitchen Showdown drawing some heat on cross-country tourBy JULIA ANN WEEKES
NH Weekend Editor March 07. 2018 4:14PM
Performance artist, writer and actress Roslyn Hart is talking about her latest stage show, “Chefs –The Sizzling Kitchen Showdown.” She’s surprised at the overly enthusiastic reaction of some audiences members so far.
The show began its cross-country tour in February, and it’s been causing some outbursts among assembled crowds. It seems the cooking challenges barely get underway before someone inevitably launches out of a chair and starts shrieking, “Take it off! Take it off!”
“We’ve have had to add security,” Hart confides to NH Weekend in an interview from the road.
But Hart definitely isn’t offended. From the moment she starts talking about creating a show that is part culinary competition and part male revue, there’s a knowing wink in her voice that frequently gives way to bubbly laughter. She’s got a gleefully exhibitionistic sense of humor and is getting a kick out of the heat “Chefs” is generating.
“The response has been crazy beyond my wildest dreams people,” she says of some of the more exuberant ticket-buyers. “They’re shouting from the seats, dancing in the aisles, rushing to the stage. It’s definitely a wild ride.”
Hart, in advance of a visit to the historic Colonial Theatre in downtown Keene Friday night, sets up the premise for the “Showdown,” a (mock) reality-show type of cooking competition in which contestants (cast members) metaphorically and literally lose their shirts each time they lose a round in the kitchen.
“It’s a cooking competition that is led by a chef who is a former stripper,” Hart explains. “He’s opening a new restaurant in Las Vegas, so he needs to find a chef to run it. He’s having a tournament so that male strippers who are (also) aspiring chefs can compete for a chance to get off the pole and into the panty.”
Auditions for the stage show, which is presented through Mills Entertainment, called for performers to be triple threats — actors, dancers and kings of the kitchen, able to whip up a recipe and stir up a crowd.
“People love to cook and people love to watch men strip, so why not combine the two?” Hart says before the thought spills into a giggle.
“It’s a tough order to find men who are all good looking, who can dance, who can act and who can cook ... and who are hysterically funny,” she says of casting the “Showdown.” “They ... can actually cook in real life, and are incredibly dancers. They can juggle knives, cans and cocktails and all this stuff.”
Hart, who splits her time between New York City and Naples, Italy, has been working in “participatory shows” — a mix of cabaret, comedy and social commentary — for a long time. Two such shows have given the immersive performer some outspoken alter egos who have generated their own social media presences and book deals.
In “Shells,” co-written with Nick Chase, Hart was the vacuous Michelle Hoffman, a self-absorbed member of the me generation whose often misguided confessions got worse with each glass of wine. In “Never Sleep Alone,” she’s Dr. Alex Schiller, a blunt sex therapist who despite having no degrees has a lot of dating advice to give those attending her seminar. That show still plays at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre in New York City (with the next one set for April 17). As Schiller, she’s also released a sex and dating book published in North America, Germany, Japan and Czech Republic.
Hart’s current project skewers both the exotic dancing realm and reality TV’s culinary face-offs.
“I come from a theater background, and I’ve been to male revue shows, and they’re cheesy and frankly boring. I don’t want to see a guy take off his shirt and dance to ‘Uptown Funk’ for three minutes, and that’s it,” Hart says. “There is something new happening every 10 seconds in this show. Never a dull moment, like when you’re drumming your fingernails and are like, ‘Ok, I get it.’
It’s all about stirring up a sense of drama and theatricality, she says. The Showcase is presented as if it were playing out in real time for prime-time TV. There’s a kitchen set, a clock counting down the final seconds in each challenge, and a camera man named Charlie who is capturing all the action and audience reactions for a big screen overhead.
The three contestants who have been chosen from thousands of applicants are Chef Mike, Chef Ryan and Chef Salvatore.
“The winning chef would begin working as an apprentice immediately, with a $100,000 starting salary,” Hart says of a story that could (but isn’t) based on fact. “You kind of feel those stakes in the tournament. One man’s life could be changed forever if he wins the tournament. He’s no longer a stripper at male-revue Mondays; he’s working for one of the greatest chefs on the planet. He becomes an instant celebrity, too.”
Pretty far-fetched. Or is it? After all, in this era of scripted reality, “Survivor” inadvertently helped paved the way for “Naked and Afraid.” Only in this case, the focus is less on surviving the wilds than getting wild.
“A lot of people have been saying it’s ‘Iron Chef’ meets ‘Magic Mike,’ because if a chef wins a challenge, he gets to pick the next mystery ingredient for the next challenge,” Hart says, contending it’s a combination that brings a sense of “community” to each show, since audience members serve as judges and assist challenges on stage.
“For every challenge, there is one winner and there are losers ... who have to strip, to lose an article of clothing in a highly choreographed stripped number. It’s not just like, ‘OK, now you have to take off your shirt.” It’s the level of Thunder From Down Under or ‘Magic Mike.’”
(Thunder from Down Under, an Australian male revue, will return to the Tupelo Music Hall in Derry on Wednesday, Aug. 15, as part of its 2018 U.S. tour. The 2012 movie “Magic Mike” hit screens in 2012 and was followed in 2015 by “Magic Mike XXL”; both starred actor/dancer and onetime male stripper Channing Tatum.)
Hart also is known for the traveling adventure party/pub crawl “Masquerade on the Town” and the theatrical spy game “Confidential,” both of which she produces with Italian performance artist Alfredo Guenzani.
Hart says the idea for the “Showdown” proves inspiration can strike in the strangest places.
“I was thinking about celebrity chefs. They’re kind of rock ‘n’ roll in their own way. They’re sensualists but ... I’ve never seen the celebrity chef that I wanted to see,” Hart says. “Chef Patrick Wilde is like a dream come true. He’s a celebrity chef, who still kept his body.” (There’s that laugh again, like an invitation to a party.)
It’s Chef Patrick’s job to be the demanding task master in the escalating kitchen battles and the ring master for audience members who are invited on stage.
“Chef Patrick is a very commanding personality, and he has to be. We weren’t expecting audiences to be as crazy as they are, and of course they want to see the guys take it off so they start immediately shouting before the challenge is over,” she says.
Dropping an ingredient on the floor can bring heavy admonishment for a contestant, but it also can trigger mayhem among the predominately female audiences. It’s not usually for slight mishaps to cue screams for clothing removal before a victor in a match has been decided.
“Sometimes Chef Patrick has to say, ‘No, no, I told you all. Don’t make me stop the tournament right now. I will,’” Hart says, affecting Chef Patrick’s British accent and calling to mind another celebrity reality-show chef famous for his harsh kitchen reprimands. “He keeps it in control.
“I don’t want to put in too many spoilers, but it’s a very interactive show,” Hart says. “If you want to be on stage, just be loud and Chef Patrick will call you to the stage.”
How audience members respond on stage often makes for the funniest moments. In particular, Hart recalls one 80-year-old woman’s quick quip (we’ll say only that it was a double entrendre), and the “lumberjack-looking fella” who looked angry but wound up challenging the “Chefs” cast in his own impromptu strip-off.