Frank Olivier is a nut — probably not personally but certainly professionally. He’s an overgrown kid playing with fire and very sharp objects, an inept klutz teetering through leaps and pirouettes on a unicycle, and an eager innocent dabbling in gross-out humor with irresistibly boyish charm.
He’s also very good at what he does. “Frank Olivier’s Twisted Cabaret & Pandemonium Vaudeville Show,” is a strong showcase for Olivier’s talents. Which makes it a very funny and often astonishing tour de force of juggling, fire-eating, tongue contortions and madcap comedy.
Some of the material will be familiar if you’ve caught any of his previous solos, TV appearances (“The Tonight Show”), his show-stopping featured act in the Mickey Rooney- Ann Miller national tour of “Sugar Babies” or just seen him honing his skills on the streets, where he started in Berkeley at the age of 11 back in the 1970s. Some of the material is definitely new. Much of it is simply a delight.
“Twisted” is a succession of vaudeville turns with patter and occasional magic tricks by a master of ceremonies, the dryly humorous Paul Nathan. It also features a sharp trio playing the beguiling Weimar cabaret- influenced original tunes of Nolan Gasser, with Gasseron piano, Tim Vaughan on drums and the honey-sweet reeds of Roger Glenn.
The heart of “Twisted,” though, is the solo vaudeville turns by artists with variations of the name Frank, all played by Olivier in a mind-boggling assortment of debonair and ridiculous costumes. As himself, he’s the same wondrously funny, dexterous juggler as ever.
As the Great Frankini, he’s a deft magician. As Frankonovitchski, he’s the kind of knife-thrower who makes you glad he’s working with a dummy. As Frankananda, he does queasy-making nostril tricks, and as Lingua Franca, he’s a tongue contortionist extraordinaire. As theFrankettes, Olivier transforms himself into a comic trio of chorus girls. And he’s also Maurice, the 3-foot-tall theater janitor engaged in a kind of search for signs of intelligent love in the universe.
Olivier has always been the kind of artist who makes failure intrinsic to his act. Even the unfulfilled skits become almost as much part of the joy of “Twisted” as the dropped clubs and unicycle spills that add a shiver to his handling of a sharp blade or casual consumption of flaming blobs on a very long skewer. And Olivier isn’t just an adept and original juggler, fire-eater and all-around vaudevillian. He’s also one very funny guy.
— Robert Hurwitt