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Exploring Seattle's Vices With Cabaret

Courtesy of ACT Theatre/John Cornicello

Seattle has a nice reputation. We are squeaky clean, we compost and recycle, and rumor has it we have more people trained in CPR than most cities our size in America.

But a new cabaret show at Seattle's ACT Theatre aims to show the shady past underneath that shiny image. Seattle is a port city, and like every port city, it has had its share of vice, corruption and not-niceness.

"Seattle Vice" is based on a book by journalist Rick Anderson.

"My boss, Kurt Beattie, who's the Artistic Director at ACT Theatre, he dropped it off on my desk," says "Seattle Vice" co-creator Mark Siano. "He said 'I think this would make a great cabaret, and I think you might really have fun adapting this."

Siano performs with the comedy troupe The Habit. He's also part of an off-beat dinner-theater group called Cafe Nordo, along with "Seattle Vice" co-creator Opal Peachey.

Peachey says she knew a bit about some of the characters in Anderson's book. In particular, Peachey had read newspaper accounts of a 2003 local scandal.

The so-called Strippergate involved several Seattle City Council members who were charged with accepting bribes from Frank Colacurcio, the proprietor of a string of strip joints. "It's really a smear campaign that we don't have a sleazy history," Peachey observes. "We really, really do."

Peachey and Siano focus their stage show on one year in particular: 1965.  Siano calls it a moment of supreme vice.

The three main characters are Colacurcio, who was the target of gang-related investigations over the course of his lifetime; Colacurcio's money man, a lounge singer named Gil Conte; and one of the town's leading madames: Rose Washington, a former beauty contestant.

For the most, Siano and Peachey stick with the facts, as recorded in Anderson's book. The show isn't standard musical theater, it's cabaret.

Siano points out it's set in a nightclub, like the ones that Frank Colacurcio ran in the 1960s. The show is a historical recreation, but Siano says the kind of entertainment Colacurcio's patrons once enjoyed is seeing something of a comeback.

"Burlesque dancing became go-go dancing, then became the clubs that we associate with Rick's [Colacurcio's Lake City strip club]," Siano explains. "Now we're seeing a resurgence of that burlesque dancing, and vaudeville is coming back. And the speakeasy style is really popular."

"Seattle Vice" the cabaret musical is part of ACT Theatre's Central Heating Lab project, which provides production support for independent and fringe artists.

The show runs from March 28 – April 19 at ACT Theatre.