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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Clune's Chicks takes a cheeky look at the '70s

Like it or not, the '70s — complete with polyester clothes, platform shoes and big wide pants — are back, and with them has come London performance artist and cabaret singer Jackie Clune. After a two-month stint on the British soap EastEnders, Clune has crossed the Atlantic to Theater LaB for a two-week run of her one-woman homage to that winsome long-ago decade of sky-blue eye shadow, bell-bottom jeans and deliciously free love.

Clune's Chicks with Flicks takes off from a supremely silly and altogether hilarious premise. In a show filled with '70s tunes and an almost surreal banter, Clune gives her version of the history of the hairstyle that made Farrah Fawcett and her Charlie's Angels famous. Of course, it would be the Brits who attach such a naughty name to that hideous hairdo that has been sported at least once by almost every woman in the western world over the age of 35. And only an English girl as quirky and dry-witted as Clune could dream up this script of "completely fictional nonsense" that brings to life an entire decade of breathy-voiced divas, saccharine-sweet love songs and bad hair days.

Wearing a John Travolta Saturday Night Fever-style white polyester leisure suit, Clune leaps on stage exclaiming, "Welcome, flick pickers!" Her eyelids are painted baby blue, and her tawny English locks are hot-rolled into an interminably mousy "flick" hairstyle. The disco lights spin and the mirror ball turns. Clune is about to take her audience "through the pages of pop history" on a "flicktastic tour of hairdo heaven."

Her favorite "flicky chicks," we discover, are the grand dames of the '70s pop scene, and it isn't long before Clune is singing those unforgettable tunes by a whole stable of flick-wearing chicks, including Olivia Newton-John, Marie Osmond, Bonnie Tyler and the high priestess of the that decade, Karen Carpenter.

But first, Clune — who has lectured at London University on everything from Stanislavski to Greek tragedy — lectures the audience "about the history of the flick hairstyle." Apparently Clune knows flick history from "A to zed," though every word of it is "complete rubbish," as Clune says in that ever-so-British way.

Even more impressive, she can analyze a woman's personality based on her flick hairdo. Newton-John, for instance, "had a bold center parting that denotes stability; the center parting means balance." And sprightly Marie Osmond's flick comes complete with a curl of aspiration. Deadpan serious, Clune delivers this foolishness with all the solemnity of a proper British school teacher. Flick history it seems, is very, very dry and very, very funny.

Clune knows some stunningly well kept secrets about her favorite stars. For example, "Marie Osmond was once a member of the famous family singing sensation the Jackson 5. She used to have a big afro, and then she decided to go for the flick hairdo instead. That's when her career really took off."

But there's more than good gossip and an informative lecture. Clune's singing is remarkable for its sweetness and its uncanny ability to capture the exact lilt of those unfortunate tunes that will be forever imprinted on the gray matter of all children of the '70s.

During a version of "Paper Roses" Clune bids her audience to "sway side to side." "You're in the hands of a professional," she reassures them, urging "the whole audience," to join in, "even the boys!" She sings Newton-John's "Xanadu," complete with the impossibly high notes that made the singer so memorable. Clune admits that she has "no idea what the fuck this song's aboutŠ. No idea whatsoever."

But Clune doesn't need to deconstruct "Xanadu" to prove that she knows what she's doing. She "started out singing in cabaret, singing in clubs and pubs, a lot in the gay circuit." She was teaching at the time. So she led a "double life for a while." Finally, when she gave up the teaching and started writing her solo shows, her career took off. She has toured her shows to the Edinburgh Festival, the West End and the Continent. The Glasgow Herald described her production as full of "top tunes, prime wit and undisputed superior talent." The Heraldalso wrote, "[T]his is a compulsory disco experience for anyone who ever aspired to be Farrah Fawcett."

And it won't be long before those with advanced cable will be able to find Clune on England's funky Channel 4. She'll be captain of a team for a "panel game show about sexuality and sexual scandal in the papers." Sounds delicious in an altogether '90s way.

The '70s are indeed back, but not without a few interesting additions.

Chicks with Flicks runs through July 17 at Theater LaB, 1706 Alamo, (713)868-7516. $20.Only an English girl as quirky and dry-witted as Clune could dream up this script of "completely fictional nonsense" that brings to life an entire decade of breathy-voiced divas, saccharine-sweet love songs and bad hair days.

 
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