“Minnie the Moocher” is an expanded version of Pointless’s 2012 production of the same name, and the pantomime, featuring puppets and masked actors, is structured like a concert. Using Calloway’s lyrics, Pointless Theatre pieced together the story of Minnie and Joe, which spans several songs. Other instrumental pieces are used to set the tone.
“It’s sort of a give-and-take,” says Matt Reckeweg, co-artistic director and director of the show. “Some songs explicitly told us what the story needed to be, and for some songs, we’ve given ourselves the opportunity to guide it toward what the story needed to be.”
“Once we figured out the very literal lyrics that worked really well, we chose the more abstract ones to fill in our own blanks,” Kalil adds. “It took us to a dark place.”
The updated production takes more of an inspiration from the cautionary exploitation films of the 1930s, such as “Reefer Madness,” an over-the-top 1936 film about the dangers of marijuana. The show is led by a Calloway-esque singer, played by Aaron Bliden, who narrates the downward spiral of Minnie and the other puppets.
“He’s taking pleasure in seeing Minnie go through this sequence,” Reckeweg says. “It’s sort of the ultimate idea of satire. It’s a story about the dangers of sex, drugs and jazz, being told by someone who is a jazz singer. He’s literally telling the dangers of himself with a smirk on his face — ”
“ — and a shiny white suit,” Kalil interjects.
This isn’t the first time Minnie’s story has been reinterpreted. In 1932, Fleisher Brothers Studio made a Betty Boop cartoon of Minnie the Moocher, which Kalil used as a reference point in developing the show.
“Designing the puppets from a cartoon is a dream,” she says. “Most animation, to me, registers as puppetry on film.”
But film can’t capture the energetic, interactive nature of Calloway’s performances, which often involved call-and- response with the audience. Pointless has been able to capture that in its shows without even trying.
“We thought: ‘Should we have an introduction to teach people to call and respond?’ But we sort of dropped that because . . . we thought maybe people will just figure it out. And they did,” Kalil says. “And that just goes to show how maybe some things are a little more timeless and universal.”
Minnie the Moocher
Wednesday-Jan. 25 at the Mead Theatre Lab
at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. www.pointlesstheatre.com. $15-20. Wednesday’s show is pay-what-you-can, and tickets are available only at the door.