St. Lou Fringe Review: Melissa Allen, Aerialist

Even before Melissa Allen, aerialist, takes the mic to kick off her one-woman show of off-the-wall storytelling and jaw-dropping acrobatics, you can tell that entertaining is in her blood. Watching from the sidelines as she warms up her dance moves, sings alongside her kids, or welcomes people walking by to take in the show, you know her time in St. Louis hasn’t wiped away her Vegas showgirl days.

With her first-ever Fringe show, one she entered just minutes before the submission deadline, Allen takes her audience through her journey from circus performer to Broadway touring production star to Clayton mom, covering the heartbreak of show business and the highlights that made every audition and struggle worth the trip. She peppers her show with stories covering dishy gossip from her days as an NBA dancer and cringe-inducing tales born from the circus train. Stories most of us would kill to have in our arsenal for those nights when our secrets spill out over our highball glasses.

As a former professional dancer entering her 40’s, Allen could settle into her cozy life as the matriarch to five, hanging out at the park alongside Lululemon-clad moms – the very moms she used to make fun of, but has since become one. Instead, her mid-life crisis culminated in the purchase of a trapeze to continue the role she loves – and it appears age hasn’t slowed her one bit.

“I figured I’d be the bitter old queen, still wearing my lashes to Dierbergs and telling all my old stories to everyone at Denny’s,” she said but admitted that’s exactly what she’s doing – while continuing to rediscover her love of the arts.

Sprinkled between her monologues is a spirited combination of acrobatics and choreography that tells Allen’s unique story and inspires audience members to discover the artist within themselves. Using a combination of yoga moves and trapeze artistry, she pays homage to her love of yoga, in a way that’s engaging, charming and awe-inspiring.

But more impressive is her demonstration of how the same choreography routine can tell a different story simply by changing up the music and movement. With “My Wheelhouse,” the scene is flirty, as she contours her body and spins sensually through and around the trapeze, recreating a routine in Strauss Park that could be easily set on the Vegas stage.

Minutes later, she launches into “Running to Standstill,” her tribute to those who have struggled with the demons in their lives, whether it be drugs, depression or anxiety. By simply slowing her movements, changing her facial expressions and tumbling to the haunting lyrics of U2, the dichotomy between the two is startling and emotional. You truly learn how someone dedicated to their craft can create something that can move the audience in such different ways.

Some moments during her show, Allen got off track, forgetting her lines or losing her spot as she caught her breath after stepping off the trapeze. Occasionally, her focus drifted to her friends in the audience to share a personal joke. But overall, the blips were minor, and while they could be distracting in a different capacity, they added to the intimacy of her performance.

Allen’s journey of self-discovery, and more important, of self-love, is a joyous romp for anyone who thinks their days in the spotlight are over. Or for those who want to step into it for the first time. Uplifting and inspiring – with just the right amount of caution thrown in – Allen’s story captures the spirit of carrying on your dream. Even if the dream looks different than what you imagined.

Allen’s next performance will take place at 6 p.m. on August 25 at Strauss Park. Tickets for the one-hour performance are $15.

FEATURE IMAGE CREDIT: Michele Thomas of Yogogirls

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