Review: Sexy Baby (Hell in a Handbag Productions)

| May 6, 2012
Alex Grelle and Jeremy Myers, Sexy Baby, Hell in Handbag       
Sexy Baby 

Written by David Cerda and Scott Lamberty
Directed by Derek Czaplewski 
at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map)
thru June 16  |  tickets: $15-$22   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review


Reveling in the (garish and crass) world of girl pageants


Alex Grelle and Jeremy Myers, Hell in a Handbag, Sexy Baby

Hell in a Handbag Productions presents
Sexy Baby

Review by Clint May

Hell in a Handbag productions continues its 10-year run of skewering pop culture with Sexy Baby—a docu-musical surrounding the lives of pageant toddlers and their mothers. It has all the requisite Handbag tropes—men in drag, high kitch and low camp. Over the top and proud of it, Sexy Baby is mostly a dark comedy parody of the TLC reality (horror?) show “Toddlers & Tiaras”. What becomes of the children in a hyperworld of perfection surrounded by dubious coaches and overwrought mothers? Some love it, some become monsters because of it. Recent works from Hell in a Handbag have skewered Christmas, B-movies and the classics. While the world of pageantry seems an obvious choice for a troupe of their skillset, it’s disappointing just for that reason. Pageants, especially those that involve children, are already caricatures of reality. To make a caricature of a caricature is to spread thin the humor that can be mined from situations wherein the participants of the original are already grotesques. Hell in a Handbag has done better going after subject matter that wasn’t already a joke. Still, they give it their all and earn some guffaws and groaners with a willfully tasteless look at a terrifying mini-world.

David Cerda, Hell in Handbag Productions, Sexy BabyMoving on up in the pageant circuit is the oh-so-angelic Swann Black (Jeremy Myers). Ever aided by her own Rose Hovick-esque mother Robin (Heather Currie), they are the quintessential white trash Southern duo living only for the next catwalk and crown. They’re about to move up from the small time to the nationals, but there’s some fierce competition in the rarefied atmosphere at the top of the mountain. There’s the creepily vivacious Epiphany Jones (Edlyn Griffin) and her scooter-bound mother Cindy (Billie Bryant). The baby of a baby Beyansay Riddle (Alex Grelle) is followed by her teenage mother and grandmother who may or may not have pushed her in front of a cart to get some settlement cash while leaving their baby with a polyurethane forehead. The only boy is the pageant-loving Larry (Steve Love) and his supportive and seemingly sane mother Lorraine (Lisa Tosti). It’s Leslie Ann Dubonnett (Elizabeth Lesinski) that provides the biggest threat along with her flamboyant coach/father Kelvin (John Cardone). As a documentary, it has less of a plot and more of a day-in-the-life feel, telling the story of the training, competition and eventual fallout for the “winner.”

As a musical, Sexy Baby is more or less entertaining, with some numbers more clever than others. Artistic Director David Cerda plays the Sexy Baby competition headmistress Candy Secks with his usual Mommy Dearest severity mingled with a touch of Dixie Carter. Video components add to the documentary feel with faux interviews with former winners and judges discussing the nature of the supposed purity of intent for an obviously tawdry topic. Baby offers nothing that The Simpsons and It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia or Best of Show and Drop Dead Gorgeous haven’t already said about the insanity of a world that exists so far outside normalcy that making fun of them is functionally superfluous. Again I qualify that by saying that the entire cast is having fun throwing their heart into the production and prop up a weak/overdone conceit with some humor that is a bit more repulsive than usual (making fun of the turmoil of children is always tricky, even if those kids are actually grown men in drag).

Alex Grelle and Sydney Genco - Sexy Baby, Hell in Handbag Jeremy Myers and Heather Currie, Sexy Baby, Hell in Handbag Productions
Sydney Genco, Alex Grelle, Jeremy Myers, Heather Currie - Sexy Baby, Hell in Handbag Alex Grelle and Jeremy Myers, Hell in Handbag, Sexy Baby

I’m a fan of John Waters, and – watching his hilarious stand up act “This Filthy World” not three days ago – I grinned at his acknowledgment that being a success with critics would actually be something of a detrimental occurrence for him. The program provided at Sexy Baby contains the “obligatory note” and in it is a little jab to critics from Mr. Cerda stating that he wouldn’t be “caught dead with [us] in any other circumstances [outside theater].” This excludes the particular critic reading it, but of course, he assures. I too am acutely aware that this sort of production is critic-proof to a certain extent, with a built in audience of camp-lovers enjoying every minute and rebuffing anyone’s arguments and analysis as going too far uptown on a downtown subject. It’s everything you want and expect from a Hell in a Handbag production, and if you don’t know what to expect this is a good primer. Sexy Baby revels in the garish and crass in a proud tradition of thumbing its nose at the sacred and serious. Next time it just needs to remember to target things that are seen as such.

Rating: ★★½

Sexy Baby continues through June 16th at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $15-$22, and are available by phone (800-838-3006) or online at (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 1 hour 45 minutes, includes one intermission)

Sydney Genco and Heather Currie, Sexy Baby, Hell in Handbag

All photos by Rick Aguilar Studios 




Billie Bryant (Cindy Jones), John Cardone (Kelvin DuBonnett), David Cerda (Candy Secks), Heather Currie (Robin Black), Sydney Genco (Grandma Crystal/Mother), Alex Grelle (Beyansay Riddle), Edlyn Griffin (Epiphany Jones), Michael Hampton (Mr. Wayne/Howard), Andrea Larson (Tiffany Amber Riddle), Elizabeth Lesinski (Leslie Ann DuBonnett), Steve Love (Larry Castlebury), Terry McCarthy (Arlene Secks/Mom), Jeremy Myers (Swann Black), Lisa Tosti (Lorraine Castlebury/Lakshmi Singh), AJ Wright (Kyle Kennedy Harper), Katherine Glavin, Joshua Peterson (understudies)

behind the scenes

Derek Czaplewski (director), Kate Setzer Kamphausen (costumes), Peter Neville (video production), Chad Ramsey (assistant director), Ally Wetz (stage manager), Jason Grimm (Improvisation Director), R. Christopher Maxwell (house manager), Stephen Hermann (scenic designer), Carrie Hill (lighting designer), Marie Quinn (sound designer), Jacob Green (wig designer), Cheryl Snodgrass (dramaturg), Chris Carpenter (violence designer), Megan Keach (prop designer), Michael S. Miller (graphics), David Cerda (executive producer), Kristen Smiley (choreographer), Josh Walker (music director); Rick Aguilar Studios (photos)


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Category: 2012 Reviews, Clint May, Hell in a Handbag, Mary's Attic, New Work, World Premier

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