Powhaus Meets Morocco

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, the party people behind Powhaus Productions have chosen the Rialto Theatre as the location at which to ring in 2011. You might want to come attired in evening gowns and dinner jackets, because the theme for this New Year's Eve bash is a celebration of the decadent environs and World War II-era tension of Rick's Café Américain in the classic film Casablanca.

It may be the 21st century, but a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, and the fundamental things still apply when it comes to New Year's Eve—and that means class and grand gestures.

In that spirit, Tucson's popular indie-mambo band Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta (featuring Salvador Duran) will become Sergio Mendoza and His Orchestra for the evening, playing big band hits from the '40s by the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. The group will play on the floor of the Rialto, rather than on the stage, bringing an intimate nightclub feel to the proceedings.

You also can expect to see the Rialto tricked out like the Moroccan nightclub in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman play out the last act of their doomed romance in Casablanca. So the Powhaus crew also has enlisted va-va-voom singer Lola Torch, of Black Cherry Burlesque, to elicit that mood by performing torch songs.

Also on the program will be a new rock band formed for the occasion—The Tangiers, led by incorrigible guitarist and bandleader Clif Taylor (aka Chick Cashman)—performing "guerilla-style" here and there throughout the evening. Pianist Brian Eichhorst will tickle the ivories (kinda like Sam did in the movie) in the Rialto lobby, and DJ Buttafly will tackle the unenviable task of spinning discs that somehow bridge the decades between the '40s and now.

This New Year's gala is the 16th themed dance party thrown by Powhaus Productions this year. It's organized and produced by the usual suspects: Jared "Kitty Katt" McKinley, Nadine Roselle and "Diamond" Dallas Reece.

Powhaus has produced fêtes oriented toward themes such as glam, punk, disco, robots, Japanese pop culture and influential artists Leigh Bowery and Andy Warhol, among other themes. The mission statement for Powhaus is "art for fun's sake."

The New Year's party almost marks the first anniversary of Powhaus, although it is a few days early; the team's first party was Jan. 2. McKinley says turnout for Powhaus events has been encouraging—attendance has ranged from 200 at the low end to 1,200 at the high.

Most Powhaus parties have had an admission price of $3, and even the New Year's tickets are relatively inexpensive. "We're not in this to make a lot of money, that's for sure," McKinley says.

The original intent of Powhaus Productions was to create a TV show that McKinley envisioned as "American Bandstand crossed with an Andy Warhol influence and Pee-wee's Playhouse." Throughout the year, videos of Powhaus productions have been easily seen on YouTube, and the group has been affiliated with Access Tucson, showing events on public-access cable TV.

McKinley recently acted as co-host, with Miguel Ortega, for the Access Tucson TV Telethon. It aired live on Dec. 15 and will be replayed until the end of December on Access Tucson, which you can find at Channel 99 on the Cox cable service and on Channel 74 with Comcast. It also streams at accesstucson.org.

Powhaus also is bumping up activity at its website, which McKinley expects to become "kind of like Pitchfork for Tucson, but with art, culture, food and all of the renegade downtown culture." The site will include a new series of videos about local artists and photographers, produced in conjunction with Curious Camera.

Powhaus parties often have been filled with outrageous fashion, music, art and personalities, with an emphasis on irreverence, but McKinley points out that his company presents events that aren't empty cultural calories, but rather irony-free zones.

"We're not into this trend of art and music that is phobic of sincerity. I think you can have a sense of humor and still be sincere. We are definitely unholy and joke around a lot, but I think there is substance to what we do, too."

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