I have rarely seen a more aptly named show; the whole thing really is a shambles! It’s a hot mess. Except for a quartet of variety acts that are sprinkled throughout, which I’ll laud in a minute.

The tree on the back patio where they serve free champagne before the show. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The tree on the back patio where they serve free champagne before the show. Photo by Karen Salkin.

However, I have a conundrum with this review. As you know, I’m always honest, but Mr. X often suggests I soften-up my bad reviews a tad, especially at the holidays. But doing that puts me in a bit of a bind because then I always hear from people who saw the same shows, telling me that I’m not being honest enough. All that means that I’m walking a thin holiday line here. So please bear with me, as I discuss it all.

There’s no story to Shambles; it’s basically a relentlessly pointless revue. This show truly is a case of yin-and-yang, the good parts being the very talented variety act performers, and the bad being the rest of it.

But, if you’re a holiday imbiber, Shambles just might be your cup of tea. (It’s not mine; it’s more like my cup of hemlock.) They even serve complimentary champagne before the show, which is a lovely touch; I’m sure that helps with the enjoyment. I don’t drink, so most of the evening just annoyed me.

Karl Herlinger. Note the bunny slippers on both Karl and his little friend! Photo by Karen Salkin.

Karl Herlinger. Note the bunny slippers on both Karl and his little friend! Photo by Karen Salkin.

But seeing hilarious comedy juggler Michael Rayner and ventriloquist extraordinaire Karl Herlinger was worth every second of sitting through the rest of the chaotic and unamusing presentation. Those two performers are priceless!!! (Details on them both momentarily.) And the live band, led by Philip Giffin and featuring wonderful singers, is fabulous, as well.

To be fair, my friend, Lou, did enjoy some of the experience. He said parts were “cool” or “cute,” and I saw him smile occasionally during it. And he’s not an imbiber, either. So there’s that.

Let’s get to good stuff first, which are the way-too-few variety acts. (They change every night, so don’t get married to the ones I’m listing here.) I’ll go in order.

Super Tall Paul opens the show. I’ve seen him elsewhere before, (where I described him as “an excellent and sort-of nutty musician,”) and he provides that same very pleasant and easy-going musical comedy entertainment in Shambles.

The band and tappers. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The band and tappers. Photo by Karen Salkin.

And then the foolishness begins. The first break in it featured smooth tap dancers Jason Rodgers and Joseph C. Wiggins. It’s always great to see good tapping, so that bit is on the plus side. [Note to them, which is a positive: The late, great Fayard Nicholas was a very good friend of mine, and he always told me that he hated the way some of the newer tappers always hunch over when they dance. He said they should all stand-up proudly and present their craft. And no one has ever done that better than The Nicholas Brothers! So I was glad to see Jason and Joseph dance the way Fayard would have loved.]

Michael Rayner. Even the band (on the left) is loving him! Photo by Karen Salkin.

Michael Rayner. Even the band (on the left) is loving him! Photo by Karen Salkin.

After more gibberish from the cast, gut-busting comedy juggler Michael Rayner finally appeared. Not many people can get me out of a bad mood once I’m in it, (as I was for the first hour of this drivel,) but Michael did just that. His tricks are so creative and jaw-dropping, and that he can be so hilarious while performing them is the icing, cherry, sprinkles, and all the decorations on top of the cake! (His final performance in this show is tonight, Dec. 22!)

After another lengthy section, (or at least it seemed interminably long,) Karl Herlinger, came on. Karl is the most brilliant ventriloquist ever! He’s even better than my favorite Miss America of all time, Vonda Kay Van Dyke, (who is the only Miss America to also be crowned Miss Congeniality, possibly due to her unique-for-a-girl-back-then talent.) I’m semi-kidding about that comparison, but I really do love ventriloquists, and Karl has brought that art up to a really higher level. I was downright guffawing over every single thing about his very different act. (Sadly for future audiences, Karl will not be in Shambles again this year.)

Elena Brocade. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Elena Brocade. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Last up was aerialist Elena Brocade. I adored seeing her perform so up-close. Actually, this is the closest I’ve ever been to an aerialist since I was in the circus myself! And those performers were up way higher, where you couldn’t see them as well, which made this act even more interesting.

Another good thing about Shambles is that before every performance, the audience members are led to a lovely outdoor patio in the back, which is beautifully decked-out for the holidays, and where the gratis bubbly is. Everyone seemed to enjoy being out there, (although, sadly, I was the only person fun enough to wear an Ugly Christmas Sweater!)

And after the show, the entire audience is invited down to the big, comfortable stage floor to dance the night away to the first-rate band. That is a really cool bonus, especially at holiday time.

Neither here nor there is that the whole presentation, (except for the decorated patio,) seems more like Halloween than Christmas. I love both holidays, so that’s not a bad thing; I’m just saying.

So now to the iffy stuff. The show could definitely do with more variety acts and much, much, much less of the other nonsense! The cast members running around in-between those good acts, doing basically nothing worthwhile, reminded me of a high school production. Those parts of the show are actually even worse than anything my siblings and I put on in our living room! And that’s saying something!

Something I didn’t like is that they make the entire audience go into the theater at the same time, which, on the night I saw it, made for a totally disorganized seating situation. It all worked-out, of course, but in my case, it made me miss most of Super Tall Paul, whom I would have enjoyed watching.

The back patio of the theatre. Photo by Karen Salkin.

The back patio of the theatre. Photo by Karen Salkin.

Now to my biggest complaints about the show. I’m actually shocked that Shambles is created and directed by someone who’s worked with Cirque du Soleil. The creativity (of the two works) is at opposite ends of the spectrum, (with Cirque being the higher, of course,) so that dichotomy totally confuses me. (But I met the man after the show, and he was very nice.)

I have to get one more thing off my chest, and then I’m leaving it in your hands. If you’ve noticed their colorful ads anywhere, let me tell you that, even though part of it says, “…as theatergoers meander through curated rooms of wonder,” there are no such rooms! I even kept asking everyone there—cast and staff alike–and no one had any idea what I was talking about! There’s just that aforementioned patio in the back, but definitely not any “curated rooms of wonder.” (But there are several in my house, much to Mr. X’s chagrin, so I just wandered around a bit when I got home that night, to complete the experience.)

On top of everything else, Shambles is billed as an “immersive cirque-infused panto.” It’s actually none of those things! It’s not really immersive, (because we’re not in the middle of an experience, as with the artwork of Van Gogh in that exhibition, nor are we participating in the show—we’re just watching it); the only thing close to a “cirque” bit is that few minutes of an aerialist near the end, (and, actually, bad clowning, which always slows Cirque du Soleil productions down, too); and don’t get me started on labeling something a “panto,” which they might be doing because they know that most people in America have no idea what it is. Actually, I’ll get myself started on it!

A panto is actually a story, (not a revue, which is what Shambles is,) based on a well-known fairy tale, (as are ones I’ve reviewed in this e-zine, such as Cinderella, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast,) with plenty of songs that fit right into the narrative, sections where the audience is told to boo or yell something else to the characters on stage, and one female main character played by a man in drag, (as opposed to almost all of the actors cross-dressing in this show.) Shambles does have music, and humor that I’m sure appeals to a few people, but that’s it. Nothing else about it is a “panto,” (but I doubt that anyone besides me will really care.) [Note: I correct people on the erroneous use of “High Tea,” as well, so I guess I’m just a British-concept protector. And proud of it, Guv’nor!]

Photo courtesy of Shambles.

Photo courtesy of Shambles, as is the one at the top of this review.

So, here’s my final thought on Shambles: If you don’t mind having to sit through the parts of the show that you might possibly dislike, as I did, so that you can see incredible variety acts such as the ones I mentioned above, have at it. Also, at this stressful time of year, you might enjoy seeing a show you don’t have to think much about. But just remember—if you don’t like it, don’t blame me—I tried to warn you. In the best possible way, of course.

Shambles running through December 31, 2022
The Actors’ Gang Theater
9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City



  1. You are so right!!!!!!!!!! My friends and I saw those same acts last week-end, on Sat. nite, and we agree with everything u said here. Except that it was even worse than that. We even thought of asking for our money back!

  2. Thanks Karen for saving us $100! We were going to buy tix for tom. night bc we thought it was some great Xmas show, but u set us straight. looking at the 2 pictures here that appear to be professional ones, we would hate it.
    Merry Xmas to u. And thank u for always telling it like it is.

  3. Your honesty is always a breath of fresh air! I wish I had read this review before I saw the show last week-end. It’s even worse than u wrote it is. Possibly the worst show I’ve ever seen. I know it’s Tim Robbins’s company, so he should be ashamed of himself to present such garbage.

  4. Claire Holloway on

    Oh my God–I thought I was the only perosn on earth who knows who Vonda Kay Van Dyke is! What a reference! My jaw dropped out when I read that. You’re a hoot and a half, Karen. Thanks for all the entertianment over the years. And the honesty!

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