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LOS ANGELES — A groovy world of lounge lizards and martini mavens limbo in the expressively campy paintings of the artist known as Shag — née, Josh Agle. But while Agle has managed to translate his iconic imagery into a wildly successful range of spin-off products — from cocktail sets to gift wrap — turning his flat, two-dimensional imagery into a full-length dance musical (complete with a Greek chorus) was no easy task.
Still, Agle views the new murder mystery called “Shag With a Twist,” bowing Friday at the Los Angeles Theater Center, as a natural transition.
“I look at it as almost a collection of paintings. If you go to a gallery, you would see that my paintings relate to one another thematically. This is kind of the same thing,” Agle says from his midcentury-modern home in Orange County.
His limited-edition works celebrate the Sixties hipster lifestyle, complete with tikis, après-ski scenes, buxom babes in go-go boots and mythical creatures in Rat Pack poses. Among his avid collectors are Courteney Cox Arquette, Ben Stiller, Nancy Sinatra and Rob Zombie. Lisa Kudrow is on a list to buy her own Shag painting. So, too, are the executives behind iconic figures such as MGM’s Pink Panther, who have enlisted Agle to reimagine the character.
To bring the Space Age to stage, Agle collaborated with San Pedro City Ballet director Cindy Bradley, costume designer Joel Berlin and set designer Doug Smith.
It was actually Bradley who came up with the idea of a Shag musical two years ago. She could actually see his aesthetic work perfectly as dance.
“When I saw a cocktail napkin by him I thought, that’s a world I would like to be able to step into, to bring to life, so others could feel like they stepped into a Shag painting. It would be visually exquisite,” she says. Bradley finally sealed the deal when she gave Agle a videotape of her singing with her old band, The Wigs, circa 1981. “When I saw the clip of her band, they were wearing vintage clothing with vintage hair, playing vintage instruments, and I knew that she understood,” recalls Agle. Bradley envisioned a swizzle stick-toting Shag world about a murder at a Tupperware party.
Like Agle’s work, the characters come to life in a riot of color and camp. The perfect husband, Eldon, wears a brassy yellow and orange plaid jacket. Seductress Kitty sports a curly black tail, slinky red dress and tiny black ears. The bubbly Siamese twins Shimmy and Shake are connected via their purple hair.
In order to realize the outlandish shapes of Agle’s imagination, Palm Springs-based designer Berlin had to do quite a bit of creative tailoring. Bras were added to create the torpedo busts and superstrength waist cinchers for an exaggerated hourglass figure.
Even so, Agle still finds the whole extravaganza a bit intimidating. “As an artist, you can sit in your studio. You have your paint and your canvas. You are sort of a one-man operation. With something like theater, it takes dozens and dozens of people. As an artist who is used to doing it myself, it’s daunting, but works out really well.”