As anticipated, we had our minds officially blown at Jack and the Beanstalk OneOfUs (Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz)’s transplantation of English panto to Abrons Arts Center last night. And (I make no apology for saying this), attendance is MANDATORY! If you call yourself a theatre, burlesque, vaudeville or circus artist, and you had the opportunity to see this, and didn’t, I’m going to have to write you off as not knowing Jack Shit about your craft going forward (unless you’ve been to the panto on its home turf). Nothing will sound so lame to me as “Yeah, I wanted to, but I dunno, I just never made it over there.” This is a life changing kind of thing. It DEFINITELY was one for the throngs of kids who attended last night — those kids were galvanized — but it ought to affect any performer who knows how to watch and learn just as much.
When I was working on my feature about the show a couple of weeks ago, the first person I talked to was Linda Martini, and I said, “This’ll be the first time I’ve seen you perform in a character other than Dirty Martini” and she said “No, I’m pretty much Dirty Martini in this.” And, you know what? She IS. I don’t mean she strips. The farthest thing from it. She’s Mary the Fairy and covered in sequins and a crown, but the glamour of it, and the commitment to it, and the directness of it, and the beauty of it, are all the same skills she brings to burlesque. She, and the whole cast here, put themselves on the line in such an open way, it’s the most vulnerable and brave thing in the world. I’d seen Melody Jane and Matt Roper show this side of themselves in I’ll Say She Is so I had an inkling how they’d be (and they were both inspirational to me in this show), but all the burlesque people (Nina La Voix, Miss Ekaterina and Poison Ivory) brought this quality, as did comedians from the queer scene David Ilku and Michael Lynch. As the Pantomime Dame, Dame Delancey, the latter was riotously funny — a sort of cross between Faye Dunaway and Little Richard (special kudos to costume designer David Quinn — there must be 100 costumes in this show, many of them jaw dropping).
While we’re on the subject of design, Basil Twist’s Giant was one of the best things that has ever happened to me in a theatre. I don’t want to be a spoiler, I wasn’t expecting it at all, and it completely blew my mind. I predict that word of mouth among children on this element alone will be terrific. What else did I love? It has ghosts! It has talented performing kids (the traditional Babe Chorus). It has songs and dances (because I’m a crotchedy old dinosaur, my favorite number was Dirty Martini singing “Both Sides, Now”). And I was particularly impressed to read in the program that the guy who plays the villain Dastardly Dick, one “Hawthorn Albatross III” is a newcomer (this is his first show), for he not only holds his own with the veterans but must maintain his composure even as nearly every line he speaks is drowned out by the boos and hisses of hundreds of audience members. (Not because the actor is bad but because the character is evil, and audience participation is highly encouraged — something else the form has in common with burlesque).
Most impressive to me was the way Fraser and Muz fused all these elements together: it’s a traditional panto, but adapted for the Lower East Side, with a highly diverse cast and many local references, AND is a progressive, topical allegory (the villainous Giant is named “Rump” and the community bands together to thwart his bloodsucking campaign to enrich himself on the backs of poor people). At any rate, this show isn’t just for kids, although families made up 99% of the audience last night. Like I say, theatre, burlesque, vaudeville, clown professionals need to go to see how it’s done. Not just how panto is done — how IT is done. Go and get reconnected with why you do this in the first place.
Get tickets here — whilst you can!