BWW Review: Sven Ratzke Weaves a Web In The Captivating HOMME FATALE at Joe's Pub
Endlessly imaginative and full of bravado, with his new show, HOMME FATALE, Sven Ratzke set out to ensure that femme fatales don't get to have all the fun.
As described by Ratzke, an "homme fatale" is simply the male equivalent. At his October 27 performance at Joe's Pub, he proved just as captivating, just as dangerous, and just as likely to seduce a man in the front row.
Kicking off the show with "Elegant Man" (Ratzke/Dez Mona), Ratzke set the tone of the evening impeccably, instantly cementing his Bowie-esque vibe, as he repeatedly insisted, "I'm a man/I'm an elegant man."
There was no disputing that point. Donning a tux, a cape with a glittery inner lining, and a mask obscuring part of his face, his Mugler-designed ensemble made him the perfect blend of the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, SAILOR MOON's Tuxedo Mask, and Liberace (all of whom, to varying degrees, could themselves be described as homme fatales).
While femme fatales have appeared in culture in many forms, from mythological sirens to GONE GIRL, in carving out a new archetype, he had the formidable task of adopting his own lore, and, as a view, keeping it straight could be something of a challenge. Calling Lucifer the first homme fatale, Ratzke began a complicated mythology, dragging the devil through time from half-man, half-ape to beggar in medieval times, before implying he was right there on that stage.
Suddenly, the action shifted to Paris, leading into "Johnny Moto," a number he co-wrote with his band, which consisted of Christian Pabst on piano, Florian Friedrich on bass, and Haye Jellema on drums. (Though, when it came to the dance break, Ratzke was samba-ing solo.)
Ratzke then described shrinking after taking a sip of a mysterious cocktail and entering an ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND-style adventure that, while confined to places you could spot on a map, was no less fantastical or, at times, maddeningly obtuse.
Sliding into the bar's basement, he encountered Arachne, a woman in Greek mythology transformed into a spider after challenging a god to a weaving contest. Performing Rufus Wainwright's "Arachne" with a glint in his eye, Ratzke's physicality perfectly aligned with the character throughout the piano-driven number. Ratcheting up the song's Disney villain quotient, he breathed malevolence into the space, moving his fingers benignly before striking the air.
From there, the story trekked all across Europe, hanging with a famous Italian actor here, luxuriating in a bath with lavender candles there. Later on, he landed in Berlin, just in time for the "hour of the wolf," a colloquial term for that exciting moment where night turns into day and forbidden things are possible.
In this case, that forbidden thing was donning a collar of faux wolf hair, and an unselfconsciously corny disco number, "Mephisto" (Ratzke/Christopher Pabst), a spiritual sister to "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty," only, you know, about a mythological demon.
The other notable time in which Ratzke's musical fable took a backseat was when he walked down into the crowd, asking female audience members to select the bandmate they'd most like to take home. Fortunately, the women were game, with one asking if she could take "a package of three," while another played a quick game of eenie, meenie, miney, mo--- or, rather, its equivalent in German, sparking a charming back-and-forth with Ratzke.
However, in fighting for the male equivalent of the femme fatale, it was surprising how little women otherwise factored into the world Ratzke was building. In fact, when the story jumped to Italy, he painted a mental picture of the men carousing while the women were "cooking and doing the wash," leading one woman in the crowd to sigh, "Well, that's depressing."
It's possible some of that is a casualty of chopping down what was originally a two-hour show nearly in half for the cabaret space, but that's neither here nor there. He seemingly tried to make up for it in the final number, "Goodnight Ladies" (Ratzke/Rachelle Garniez), which he dedicated to the women in the audience, but it felt a bit like lip service.
Over the course of the evening, Ratzke slowly peeled away layers of his costume to reveal a gold-flecked leotard and little else. And the song and the spectacle continuously dwarfed the story---particularly his solemn interpretation of "The Man Who Sold the World," written and originally performed by David Bowie, a muse of Ratzke's---banishing the tale's lack of connective tissue to the back of your mind.
Perhaps the most fatal thing of all would be trying to keep up, instead of simply going along for the journey.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.