Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: The Perfect Christmas Gift

By Michael Block

Tis the season for the good tidings and gay apparel. Alongside her closest pals, Showbiz Spitfire Paige Turner rings in Christmas with her newest holiday extravaganza. Hoping to put on her twisted rendition of A Christmas Carol, Paige and friends run up against a plethora of obstacles while searching for the true meaning of Christmas. The Grinch May have stolen Christmas, but Paige Turner defiled it. Paige Turner’s Christmas Carol is a perfect stocking stuffer.
photo by Michael Block
Back at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, Paige Turner has fantastically twisted Christmas and in turn, created quite possibly one of the best Paige Turner shows to date. The show tells the tale of Paige’s attempt to put on her spin of the Dicken’s classic. Her uber long and twisted version casts her slurp as Tiny Twink and the beloved Jackie Cox as an old hag, among others. And to give this show a boost, Dante invites his Grandma CC into the fold. CC being of course Carol Channing, as portrayed by James Mills. As they hit roadblock after roadblock, we learn just how ridiculous Paige’s adaptation is while sprinkling in some of her best-written parodies yet. Phylicia Rashad is all you need to know. This holiday show worked because it didn’t attempt to be more than it was. It moved along fluidly while maintaining its comedic integrity. The more we ingratiate ourselves in the mind of Paige Turner, the more her world becomes realized and comes to life before our eyes. The stakes are certainly low here, but Paige commits to giving each individual a purpose and an arc. Dante, effortlessly played by Remy Germinario, gets one of his biggest moments yet. He’s so lovingly stupid that you just want to pinch his cheeks. In the other shows, Jackie Cox is the butt of the jokes. We see how it bothers her, but, like a good side kick, she brushes it off and doesn’t bother her. To now see a different side of Jackie, through her animosity with Carol Channing, offers depth to the character. Mills plays upon the wackiness of the Carol we know and love, while being completely out of touch to the world. The Paige Turner persona, in this theatrical setting, is just a bit out of touch, but the moments of real world self awareness are brilliantly funny. The digs, jabs, and references bring the audience inside the jokes and keep things fresh. Like any great drag show, the quartet turned out look after look. Special recognition should be given to Gloria Swansong for the stunning dress Paige donned at the top of the show.
The holiday cheer was in full gear at Paige Turner’s Christmas Carol. Paige Turner is a staple in New York City and the drag community at large. If there’s one holiday show to check out this season, this one’s probably it.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Review: Drew Droege's Wild Ride

By Michael Block

Weddings. They bring family and friends together to celebrate the bond of two people in love. But the legal union of matrimony isn’t always for everyone. We all may have that right in this country today, but in certain cases, some people are better off on their own. Enter Gerry, the main character of Drew Droege’s Bright Colors And Bold Patterns. Playing the Soho Playhouse, the return of Droege’s hilarious comedy continues to resonate despite a slightly dated message.
Gerry is invited to the wedding of Josh and Brennan. He and his old friend Dwayne, along with Mack’s boyfriend and his ex Neil, rent a house nearby. As soon as Gerry arrives, he starts talking about everything and seemingly never stops. A thesis in post marriage equality, Gerry questions why a big celebration and why marriage at all, ignited by the attire request on the wedding invitation. Bright Colors And Bold Colors is Mr Toad’s Wild Ride of solo comedies. Droege’s writing is snappy and accessible. In a way, Gerry represents an “everygay” stereotype. Sure, this may offend some as the character of Gerry can simply be called “extra.” The conceit of the show Droege drafts is Gerry is the only seen character. He interacts with a trio of others despite not being present to the audience. So are these people real, unlike Gerry’s imaginary boyfriend he eventually reveals, or is he conducting the conversations he wishes he could have? The ambiguity plays highly into Droege’s quick tempo comedy, aptly directed by the brilliant Michael Urie, a sharp comedian in his own right. The combination of Droege and Urie is quite possibly why this production moves as swiftly as it does. With only one moment of reprieve for the audience, and actor alike, once you strap your seatbelt on, you’re off to the races. Droege bounces from menial stories to personal exposition to significant hot topics by balancing the weight for the audience without becoming daunting or overwhelming. The title of the play refers to a line on the card regarding the wedding attire. It is something shocking to Gerry. How dare anyone try to hide the pride at a wedding? This request plays a big part of the story yet it never fully resolved itself. We never quite get to see what Gerry is going to wear. Though, you can assume it’s up to us to decide. Will Gerry submit or is he playing by his own rules?
photo by Russ Rowland
Wearing two hats as writer and performer, Drew Droege seamlessly balanced the two. The character of Gerry is a loose lipped, mile-a-minute person who seems to have lost his filter. You might say he has verbal diarrhea. He’s the sort of person who has a plethora of thoughts, but when they leave his mouth, it’s certainly unrehearsed given the tempo and frequency of his observations. Droege is a high energy performer who has the ability to make his material fresh and new, fitting for this character. Droege crafts a character that is able to read anyone in the room while still remaining genuine. There is immense difficulty by being the sole performer on stage that is required to engage in conversation with unseen people. Droege remains present while listening to his imaginary scene partners. And this is a big part of where the comedy comes in.
Pairing Droege with Michael Urie is a winning combination. Urie pilots Droege through his unhinged character and his rollercoaster writing. Dara Wishingrad has designed an exceptional poolside getaway. It’s colorful splashes of white and blue mixed into the outdoor furniture sets a relaxing ambiance that easily puts your mind at ease. Wishingrad’s brilliant use of depth is extended into the depths of the stage which allows the audience to get a glimpse of the inside of the house. If ever there was a misfire, it’s the unfortunate black platform used to raise the dinging table and chairs. The umbrella naturally gives levels and Urie only has Droege use the area late in the game. While it’s fine that the stage is black, there needed to be something, even if it was artificial grass, to cover up this evident theatrical platform.
Bright Colors And Bold Patterns is a mostly satisfying comedy that keeps the mind racing. In its return engagement, Drew Droege maintains the fun and quirkiness of his script. While it desires to be a beat or two shorter, Droege’s accessible commentary keeps the play current.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Out of the Boxx

By Michael Block

When it comes to the world of Drag Race, she may be best remembered for her feud-filled relationship with Mimi Imfurst on Drag Race All Stars, but Pandora Boxx is an all star comedy queen. Returning to the Laurie Beechman with her newest show, Insert Title Here, is laugh fest.
photo by Michael Block
After a brilliant video package, Pandora comes to the stage adorned in a poop emoji dress while singing about poop with a dancing poop montage behind her. It’s gross out humor in the campiest of fashions. Along with lists written on some unique items to stories, parodies, and some exquisite shade, Insert Title Here is a well structured piece. Pandora has a subtle way of doing comedy. It’s not big. It’s not too crude. It just happens. It comes naturally. It’s a great brand and unique to her. Season 2 of Drag Race was more a fashion showcase rather than the show its evolved to today. Pandora didn’t necessarily get to shine her brightest with these parameters. But in a venue like this, her campy persona is welcome and adored. The way the evening is structured is very generic to a show of this caliber. She brings songs, stories, and shade, interspersing a video to cover up a costume change. Her standup style of storytelling lends itself well to the show. If anything can be amped up, it’s the overall energy. With a lackadaisical brand, any missed joke highlights the occasional cricket.
Insert Title Here is just what the drag doctor ordered. It’s not a big and bold show, but not everything needs to be. Pandora Boxx is a true all star.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spotlight On...Katie McHugh

Name: Katie McHugh

Hometown: Pensacola, Florida

Education: Undergrad at Florida State University (BA in Theatre) Graduate School, The New School for Drama (MFA in directing)

Favorite Credits: The Dream Project (A five-year international project), The List (Fringe NYC 2012- winner of Overall Excellence in a Solo Performance and Critic’s pick, Time Out Magazine, also performed 2013 at Fringe San Miguel in Mexico and Medea (The New School, Thesis production).

Why theater?: I am interested in many fields of study, science, math, medicine, architecture, archeology, and most of all history. Theatre allows me to be an artist and work in all these fields at the same time. It is the only profession in which time travel is indeed possible, where there are no limits to what one can accomplish. Theatre satisfies every ounce of my curious artistic nature.

Tell us about The House on Poe Street?: Gothic ghosts encounter modern monstrosities when twin sisters inherit the house where Poe is reputed to have composed The Raven. In The House on Poe Street a wealthy estate lawyer learns to appreciate Poe’s dark twisted spirit while questioning his own presumptions of wealth, gender parity and the power of poetry to conjure visions of a spectral afterlife.

What inspired you to create The House on Poe Street?: Fengar's work is both political and fantastical, stylized and fun with a potent message. House on Poe Street takes everything I like in a good play to the next level, a fun sci-fi ghost story encompassing a smattering of Poe's Macabre tales. A true quest of feminism that makes us laugh at the same time. 

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Any story with a strong message or interesting twist. I’m not into kitchen sink drama, but rather, theatre of the absurd, abstract, or bizarre, some of my favorite playwrights, in no particular order are Beckett, Charles Mi, Mark Schultz, Sartre, Gertrude Stein, Caryl Churchill, and our beloved Bard. The world around me! The people in my life, fellow collaborators and artists, conversations with strangers, and the brilliant minds of our youth. I am also highly influenced by movement and dance. My background is classical ballet which translates to my directorial vision through use of space.  Vertical space excites me and I find a way to use it in every production, whether it is climbing and choreographing in the air, or extending the set vertically, I strive to use 360 degrees of theatrical space. Ensemble and movement based techniques have strong influence in my work to name a few: Overlie’s and Bogart’s Viewpoints, the work of Frantic Assembly, and Williamson technique.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Julie Taymor

What show have you recommended to your friends?:  Frantic Assembly’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?:  This is a fun one.  Tina Fey, and it would be a comedy called Huzzah!

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Julie’s Midsummer.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Binge watching any good sci-fi show.  Right now it’s Orphan Black.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be ______?: An obstetrician or family doctor like my mother and father. I’ve always loved medicine and science.

What’s up next?: The Dream Project, Phase 1.5, March 2018, NYC. The Dream Project is a collaboration between North American artists from Mexico, United States and Canada. Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream is deconstructed and reinvented into an immersive, experimental, multilingual and multidisciplinary piece. With original dance and music, Spanish, French and English text, aerial choreography, and multimedia design, The Dream Project encompasses the most compelling art forms of North American culture.  If you’re interested and want to know more about Dream Project, you can see exceprts of it at The Dream Party, Shetler Studios and Theatres Penthouse One, Saturday, December 2nd 6:00 pm.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: A Visual Legend

By Michael Block

A five octave phenom that took the world by storm. Rumors swirled of her origin. Who was this Peruvian jungle princess with the voice unlike any human? Time has passed since her death but her memory lives on. In The Legend of Yma Sumac, the songstress is celebrated through the art of lip sync and drag.
photo by Michael Block
Using video interviews and the magic of drag lip sync, Yma Sumac comes to life on stage once again. Portrayed by the wondrous beauty that is Scarlet Envy, the songbook is illuminated as the intrigue and mystery is paralleled through clips of interviews. Directed and written by Steve Willis, a friend of the late star, The Legend of Yma Sumac is a completely lip synced piece. Through song and spoken word, every moment is precisely mirrored by Scarlet Envy. There is no one who could possibly match Yma and rather than attempt, Willis takes a smart approach in his concept. That being said, there is a natural disconnect in this. A hint of intimacy is lost. But what you loose in spontaneity is gained in perfection of performance. Scarlet Envy dazzles as the titular singer. Between her tight lip sync and her inherent beauty, you are immediately drawn to her effortless presence. Billed as a “live documentary,” Willis switches back and forth from song and video interview, which is to the aid of Scarlet Envy’s quick changes into the next wondrous gown. It’s likely that you may not know Sumac by name. To the millenials who may not recognize her, those Drag Race fans certainly are reminded by her music as “Malambo No. 1” was used in an iconic lip sync for your life between Jinkx Monsoon and Detox in season 5. By placing this number as the start of the show, Willis engaged the uninformed by tempting with something they are familiar with.
The Legend of Yma Sumac was a transformative piece for the Laurie Beechman. With a topnotch performer, exquisite visuals, and a story so wild it desires more, this show deserves more. There’s a closeness to the piece that puts a boundary between creative and audience. Once that gap is bridged, The Legend of Yma Sumac will be a legendary stage experience.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Spotlight On...Drew Droege

photo by Russ Rowland
Name: Drew Droege

Hometown: Lincolnton, NC

Education: BA, Wake Forest University

Select Credits: The Chloe videos, “Drunk History,”  “Bob's Burgers,” “Transparent”

Why theater?: I got hooked when I played Naughty Victorian Child in a community production of The Nutcracker when I was three.

Tell us about Bright Colors And Bold Patterns: It takes place the night before a gay wedding in Palm Springs. Gerry arrives frazzled and chaotic. He's both the life of the party and the ruiner of it all. It's a comedy about friends and memories and booze and what we stand to lose in queer culture.

Who do you play in Bright Colors And Bold Patterns?: I'm Gerry, the wildest, sauciest, brightest, boldest MOST guy we've all met, maybe sometimes have been.

What is it like being a part of Bright Colors And Bold Patterns?: It's a party every night. And fascinatingly different for me each time I go up. I'm interacting with three other characters who the audience doesn't see, but I weirdly feel like I'm in a play with three other actors. I try to surprise myself a little every performance.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love character-driven pieces. Complicated people making difficult choices and/or misbehaving. I love watching people eat and drink. I love when there's a fine line between the outrageous and the real. This play is for sure inspired by Mart Crowley's Boys In The Band, Terrence McNally, Edward Albee, Tracy Letts. But I think above this, my friends inspired this play for me. I wanted to reflect how we talk and engage and fight and love.

What’s your favorite showtune?: There are so many, but I will never forget Lillias White singing "Brotherhood Of Man" in How To Succeed... I had no idea I could weep with joy like that.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Carol Burnett

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Ed Sheeran could play me in my biopic, "Slap On A Wig And Scream!"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: The original production of Carrie on Broadway.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I LOVED A Doll's House Part 2, Oslo, and The Little Foxes this past season.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I love wasting hours of time with my adult coloring book.

What’s up next?: I'll be playing the drama director on the upcoming reboot of “Heathers" for the Paramount Network next Spring!

For more on Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, visit