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.