Performer April Kidwell is an expert at portraying a frenetic female anti-hero. Her first major role was as Cleopatra at Caesars Palace. Kidwell’s dazzling smile, bedazzled bra and feathered headdress may have said “Vegas showgirl” more than “fierce queen,” but it paid her way through a theater and dance degree at UNLV. And more importantly, it set the stage for a career to come.
The Off-Broadway star has built a cottage industry parodying (and re-inventing) roles originally played by actress Elizabeth Berkley. Kidwell starred as Berkley’s character Jesse Spano in Bayside! The Musical!, a parody of the ’90s TV sitcom Saved by the Bell. (A New York Times reviewer cited Kidwell as being “particularly gifted as the high-strung pill-popper.”) Then, Kidwell starred as Berkley’s character Nomi Malone in Showgirls! The Musical!, a parody of the 1995 Paul Verhoeven film Showgirls. (Late critic Roger Ebert described the film as both a “sleazefest” and a “masturbatory fantasy,” neither of which prevented it from becoming a cult favorite.)
Last summer, Kidwell combined her prodigious skills with her unique resume to create her one-woman tour de force, I, Nomi. The mashup combines the story of Showgirls’ Nomi with that of real-life figure skater Tonya Harding, a la her recent biopic I, Tonya.
With five dance numbers, five original songs and even a solo fight scene, Kidwell says she turns her performance up to 11: “It is a roller coaster. It is intense. I am dripping with sweat. I like to call it theatre acrobatics. …
It is nonstop, but it has levels because you’ve got to give the audience a chance to breathe from, you know, the laughter.”
The challenges of performing such an energetic show include finding spaces to breathe, drink water and do costume changes. “It’s like running a marathon,” says Kidwell, who moved to Las Vegas at age 16 and graduated from Las Vegas Academy.
Kidwell says that audiences can expect “doggie chow, thrusting and over-the-top laughter.” Prior knowledge of the source material isn’t required to enjoy the show, but streaming the two films in advance will help viewers pick up all the inside jokes.
Amid the low-brow raunchy humor, don’t be surprised to find a feminist message. In a world where females are often portrayed as two-dimensional, Kidwell says that both the fictional Nomi and the real-life Harding share complex characteristics: “They do things wrong. They’re fallible.”
Kidwell points out that Harding, Berkley and the film Showgirls have all been demonized in the past. But she says they’re all experiencing a public reappraisal, from which a more nuanced story can be told. “I feel grateful to be a part of that. And to help shift the conversation and be more accepting of women who have flaws. We’re all humans, and hopefully, we all choose to grow.”
I, Nomi June 27-30 & July 11-14, times vary, $30. Majestic Repertory Theatre, 702-423-6366.