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'Silver Balls' a gay holiday comedy, in drag

It takes awhile to get your bearings with the drag-a-licious Christmas comedy "Silver Balls: A Life in Dragee."

That's because the one … um … er … "woman" show is really a cabaret performance, better suited for a nightclub, but here produced as theater at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.

But if you like your comedy campy and your holiday tunes with a twisted-twist, then you'll eventually settle right in and let all the snowbiz charm you.

Written by Garet Scott, co-owner of Empire Stage, the story centers on Francie Silver, the globe-trotting heiress to a candy fortune – specifically those tiny silver balls called dragee. Get it?

Francie is played by Brooks Braselman, an actor who has carved out a niche playing faux femmes at Empire Stage in spoofs such as "Mommie Queerest" and "The Silence of the Clams." He is more than capable of filling Francie's pumps, playing the Southern socialite turned cabaret singer as a wacked-out send-up of Eve Arden, Joan Crawford and (admittedly I'm just spit-balling here) Charles Nelson Reilly, all mashed up together.

To tell you the adventures that Francie relates to the audience in one story after another seamlessly woven into a narrative would be a criminal spoiler. Suffice to say the story winds from the candy factory floor and the Queen Mary (the cruise ship, not HRH) to the Village in New York and the Panama Canal. The meandering "plot" is peppered with eight Christmas songs, ranging from "Let It Snow" and "A Winter Wonderland" to "Feliz Navidad" and "Frosty the Snowman," with a weird but wonderful "I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts" thrown in for good measure.

Braselman plays his broad broadly. Blithely oblivious, Francie's persona seems to have gathered every tick from every Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, Lana Turner melodrama ever made: side-eye glares; twirling entrances; hitch kick-steps; snickering laughs; coiffure pats; jaw-clenching dressing downs.

It's an impressive performance; kind of like watching a living pop-up book of female impersonating actors Charles Busch, Varla Jean Merman, Dame Edna, Charles Pierce, Coco Peru, Craig Russell and Danny La Rue.

But at around 80 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission, "Silver Balls" still feels a little scant; for theater, not a cabaret act.

"Silver Balls: A Life in Dragee" runs through Dec. 21 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $30. To order, call 954-678-1496 or go to EmpireStage.com.

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