"I don't know how far I should go into Alphonse's background," Ashby Blakely says. "Like our show, some of his story might be inappropriate."
Blakely is attempting to give a clean origin story for the World Famous Tampones, a cabaret duo he formed with Charlotte actress and PaperHouse Theater's Artistic Director Nicia Carla. Let's just say that Alphonse Tampone had a difficult birth, and that he crowned at several international border crossings.
Sporting unidentifiable yet vaguely European accents, Alphonse and Carmella Tampone are warm, witty, worldly and perpetually horny. They bring their racy LoveFest – A Very Special Valentine's Cabaret to Petra's, Saturday, February 11 at 9 p.m.
Ashby and Carla developed their characters three years ago for XOXO's Bohemian Grove, a mystical absurdist journey through the South Carolina woodlands and the spirit world. Since the XOXO show dealt with the great beyond, it makes perfect sense that the the dead-sexy, jet-setting Tampones took on an afterlife of their own. The Tampones have gone on to stage several shows centered on holidays like Christmas and Halloween, and plans are afoot to launch a Tampones podcast and YouTube channel.
- [From left] Ashby Blakely and Nicia Carla.
Creative Loafing talked with Blakely about love, ukuleles and everything sexy – pronounced in the Tampones' accent as "sessy."
Creative Loafing: Can you describe the Tampones for people who have not experienced them before?
Blakely: Alphonse is the mayor of the town where Bohemian Grove is located, and Carmella is his wife, but they're also a world famous traveling act. We do magic tricks, tell jokes, play games with the audience and strum ukuleles. It's just a fun night. Everybody usually leaves feeling happy, and I think that will be especially true for this show. The LoveFest is going to be a special occasion, even if you're single.
What will you be playing on ukulele and singing in the Valentine's show?
We're opening with a Celine Dion song, "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" – a really dramatic love song. We've also done Madonna's "Like a Prayer" and "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus. We try to find songs you wouldn't think somebody would play with ukulele.
These characters are very warm and very sex positive. Can you expound on the whole sexy (pronounced "sessy") thing?
Alphonse and Carmella are open and very welcoming. They want everyone to be comfortable, so they're not pushy, but they are pro-free love. They have an open relationship, so if an audience member fancies them, they can definitely come back to the hotel with them. Who knows? If you're single and you come to the show, you might end up meeting your significant other at the Love Fest.
The Tampones are almost characters on Sesame Street, only kinky. How did you develop that aspect of them?
I think a big part of that is Nicia. In her everyday life, she is just so warm, welcoming and sweet, that it translates into Carmella. And then Alphonse became infused with that warmth while we were developing the characters. That's where it started. We want you to know how much they love each other. It's not about getting with other people as much as they love each other so much, that they want others to experience that level of love. With them, it can be a hug, it can be going back to their house, or it can be whatever the people in the audience are comfortable with. We wanted to feel free to be dirty or perverse, but we didn't want to do it in a way that would turn people off. They seem endearing instead of nasty.
So Nicia brings some of herself to her character. Is there anything of you in Alphonse?
There's a lot of me in Alphonse. Alphonse, more than Carmella, likes shock value. Sometimes I'll tell a certain joke that I know will shock people. I think Alphonse gets a kick out of that. He even shocks Carmella sometimes to keep her on her toes. We've been at certain venues before where I'd gone over jokes and Nicia would groan, but I did them anyway. Sometimes they land and sometimes they don't.
This is a musical comedy cabaret show with ukuleles and purposefully bad magic tricks. Does it have a message?
The overall message is that we should love one another. The Tampones take everybody away from what they're thinking about. It's just a ridiculous, fun and silly night. You stop thinking about what's going on outside of the venue and you become a part of their world. Whether you're participating with them playing games, or laughing at a dirty joke, the biggest message is to take time out and laugh.