Putting on a naughty version of Cirque du Soleil was an idea waiting to happen and it's no surprise that it succeeded when Absinthe was premiered in the new Spiegelworld attraction at the South Street Seaport three years ago. Last year's sophomore effort was a disappointment, but three times seems to be trick because the current edition of Absinthe features an entertaining mix of comedy, eccentricity, and skinand all of it done with a smirk at Cirque. The only serious complaint from these quarters is that the two hosts of the show, The Gazillionaire and his sidekick Penny, are so excessively coarse and vulgar that, by comparison, they make simple bad taste look downright virginal. We should add, however, that the audience seemed to enjoy them. Now, that's a little scary.
The hosts aside, Absinthe have brought back some of their most memorable acts, including an amazing skating duo called The Willers, but supplemented with some exciting new acts including a muscle team called the Two Sergios and a high-flying tumbling group called the Anastasini Brothers. The returning Julie Atlas Muz, who once again manages to get her entire body inside of a balloon, generously displays the skin in the show. Done in by the tent's blaring sound system, the show's chanteuse, Kaye Tuckerman, doesn't score in this production but, happily, most of the acts rely on their bodies, not their voices, so the sound system is otherwise not much of a factor.
What makes so many of the acts in this show particularly astonishing is the tiny stage on which all of the action takes placewhich is surrounded by the audience in the intimate confines of the Spiegeltent. Absinthe is about 90 minutes long, including an intermission, and on a summer night down at the Seaport you can hardly go wrong.
Desir is the big Spiegelworld surprise!
This summer's companion piece to Absinthe is a new sexy circus called Desir and it tops everything the Spiegelworld producers have created for their audiences in New York during these last three seasons. Including Absinthe.
Using a filament of a plot upon which to highlight a series of mostly terrific acts, we were pleasantly surprised to find that even the generally weaker acts are still engagingly stylish. On the other end of the continuum, the strongest acts are among the best we've ever seen under the Spiegeltent, including an exquisitely choreographed aerial act that sizzles with sexuality between two perfectly matched women, a wild apache dance, plus an smartly realized send-up of acts at places ranging from Cirque du Soleil to, well, the Spiegeltent. A small troupe of performers provides most of the entertainment and they are a colorful, talented group.
It's an unexpected pleasure to discover a retro musical at The Fringe. Chip Deffaa's loving ode to a simpler form of musical comedy, built around the story of Vaudeville star Eddie Foy and his seven children, is a delightful charmer full of classic early 20th century popular tunes and a winning cast that is made up largely of children and teenagers, with one delicious ringer: The grandson of Eddie Foy Jr., Ryan Foy, plays the pivotal role of George M. Cohan.
To most of us, Eddie Foy is simply a name out of the distant theatrical past. At best, some of us remember his son, Eddie Foy, Jr. as a musical theater actor in movies like The Pajama Game. Lastly, you might stumble upon the movie The Seven Little Foys starring Bob Hope. This musical at The Fringe will give you a chance to immerse yourself in the music and the mentality of a different era. The cast of ten is a pretty sharp bunch. Chip Deffaa has done a wonderful job of writing and directing this piece, keeping it well-paced and, most important, keeping its sentimentality honest and true.
I Love You, Petty, & Favre - A Slice of Cheese (in a good way)
At one point during the sweet and otherwise purposefully "normal" story of courting, romance, marriage and family, one of the characters blurts out that he has an idea for a screenplay. His concept: start at the middle of the story and then go both forward and backward in time, discovering where the characters are going even as we're discovering how they began. Well, that's exactly how the charming Fringe play I Love You, Petty, & Favre is structured. It begins with the marriage of Brett and Brian and then, following two different sets of actors playing the same characters, one set moves forward in time to a bittersweet ending, while the other travels backward in time to the moment when they first met.
The title of David Scott's play refers to the two passions (besides each other) that our two lovers embrace. She is a rabid Tom Petty fan and he is an obsessed fan of former Green Bay Packer (now NY Jets) quarterback Brett Favre. The play comes to New York from Wisconsin and wears its cheesehead (literally, at one point) with pride.
The novelty of the construction gives the play a sense of theatrical adventure but the actual text is essentially straightforward and otherwise not at all "fringy." Several of the performers help to carry the piece, with special mention going to Jason Denuszek, Philip Marino, Alison Saltz, T.D. White and Charles Marti. John J. Budion's direction, befitting the concept, is flashy by Fringe standards; he uses the Barrow Street Theater space exceedingly well.
Usher -- the musical, not the person who seats you ...
Usher, based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, is one of The Fringe's most sophisticated and ambitious musical offerings. Even as we say that it still needs work, that some sections simply are not fully fleshed out, we can still speak in awestruck tones about the accomplishments, so far, of the show's creative team, Sarah Hirsch (music), Molly Fox (book and lyrics) and Becca Wolff (direction).
The show is largely cast with singers who act rather than actors who singand that's understandable considering the demands of the score. Nonetheless, fulfilling both talents with distinction is Ben Wexler who plays Roderick Usher. Great voices in the cast belong to Casey Breves, who plays James the protagonist, and Claudia Rosenthal who plays the show's love interest, Madeline Usher.
Usher is conceived as a chamber musical and, in addition to some soaring vocals throughout the show, the direction deserves high praise as does the set design by Timothy R. Mackabee. Large picture frames, in their many and varied uses throughout the musical, provide the opportunity for some inspired stagecraft.
For more information on The New York Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), visit www.fringenyc.org.