Queen of Hearts – A Phantasmagoric Burlesque Alice in Wonderland

The corridor is dark. Shepherded into a theater filled with red light and fog, we’re led to our VIP couch by a genial male host. Like other doubling cast members, he wears fabric rabbit ears, a neck ruffle accented by faux jewels, a brocade morning coat (open to reveal chest), fishnet pantyhose over a jockstrap, large, glittery cod piece, strappy Capezio heels, and theatrical makeup. (Others sport feather boas or top hats.) Every ensemble is artistic and different.

Waiting at our seat, included with top tier admission, we found a package of truffle chips and a cold bottle of Nicholas Feuillate Champagne. (Although my companion drank the Champagne, I found it cloyingly sweet. They could do better.) Special cocktails and drinks can be purchased (cards only) at an elaborate bar decorated in tufted leather, merry-go-round-horses, and a giant bejeweled cocktail glass later occupied by one of the show’s highlights.

Nicolas Katen, Marcy Richardson (The Mad Hatter) Lilin Lace

There are lots of tattoos, but next to no one in the audience flies his/her freak flag. Nor is the crowd predominantly millennials, so that if this is outside your usual bailiwick, you likely won’t feel uncomfortable. Be over 21 please.

Austin McCormick’s Company XIV creates fairytale-based extravaganzas comprised of vocal and instrumental music-rock, opera, fifties pop, perhaps a smidgen of music hall, circus, and dance. Costumes, wigs, and acoutrements – burlesque and otherwise – are enormously imaginative and never tacky. (Zane Pihlstrom) The company is in faaaabulous shape.

Music is mercifully not too loud, though sound design often obscures lyrics. Each scene is identified by a cast member parading across the stage with identifying placard – examples Lady Alice, Eat Me, The Pool of Tears, Tweedledum & Tweedledee, The Caterpillar, The Mad Tea Party…Highlights:

Ryan Redmond (Cheshire Cat)

“Alice in wonderland/Oh, won’t you take me by the hand/And lead me to your wonderland of love…” (“Alice in Wonderland.”) Decked in a Louis XIV gown and wig, our heroine (LEXXE) sits on an ornate bed catered to by barely covered servants. She sings. A tall white rabbit (Josh Hobbs) appears… and sings. Chase ensues in and out of armoires…down the rabbit hole. There are plumed Folies Bergère headdresses, jets of green smoke, shadows; a key. Alice’s presumably own hair is greenish. Her dress has diminished.

Ashley Dragon’s Cyr performance finds her inanimate partner a graceful collaborator. The large hoop spins and circles as within, she holds, folds, stretches, revolves, and poses. “Everyone is sweet on my sugar/But my sugar’s only sweet on me” accompanies. An amusing mushroom dance led by statuesque Jacoby Pruitt strategically places flopping, red-headed fungi.

Storm Marrero (The Red Queen) and LEXXE (Alice)

Swathed like a black mummy The Caterpillar is carried onstage, then unwrapped to reveal a blue-sequined Theda Bara type with long cigarette holder. She’s wonderfully sinuous contortionist Lilin Lace. We hear Perry Como’s “Dream On Little Dreamer.” All that’s missing are smoke rings.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Ryan Redmond and Nicholas Katen) are half man/half women twins – the female side is formed by stuffed lumps and bumps. When bras come off, pendulous bags drop below knees, and are flirtatiously swung like flapper pearls, even braided. Here’s the ultimate ‘over the shoulder boulder holder.’ Drink Me spotlights powerfully supple merman Làszlò Major who’s borne aloft from the aforementioned glass to stage where he executes an extraordinary pole dance, tail dancing behind.

LEXXE (Alice)

Rosini’s “La Pastorella” defines The Mad Tea Party as Hatter Marcy Richardson sings. An updated version of Sheldon Harnick’s splendid “Merry Minuet”… The whole world is festering with unhappy souls./The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles./Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch./And I don’t like anybody very much!..is alas lost to sound design. I do hear the name Trump.

A giant black, four-legged teapot walks down the aisle to Frank Sinatra singing “When I Take My Sugar to Tea.” Inside are Ryan Redmond and Youngsil Kim, two ballet dancing Cheshire Cats affecting feline gestures. Strains of Tchaikovsky morph into Tom Jones’ performance of “What’s New Pussycat?”

Nolan McKew and Marcy Richardson take to the air hanging from and voguing in a giant crown frame. They wind, split, extend, curl, and dangle. Painting the Roses Red centers on the red queen in a gargantuan skirt. She literally sinks within, comes forward, and reigns in red-horse-headed chessmen to Billie Ellish’s “You Should See Me in a Crown.” Stripped down to look like Aladdin’s Genie, Storm Marrero lets loose with “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” her powerful R & B gospel voice a soaring gift.

Nolan McKew (Dormouse) and Marcy Richardson (The Mad Hatter)

A can can with skirt linings printed as playing cards brings things to a frenzy. Alice is to lose her head. “Heads Will Roll” (Yeah Yeah Yeahs). She’s bound, her head bagged. The White Rabbit swings a giant axe… Alice wakes.

Queen of Hearts is not titillating unless aesthetics do it for you. Visuals are more captivating than sexual. The show is inventive and flirty. Performers are skilled, choreography often wry.  Lewis Carroll’s iconic story loosely remains. Music mash-up is fun.

Also featuring: Sam Urdang, Allison Schuster , Jacqui Dugal                                                                                                

Caveats: the dual intermission show is easily half hour too long and can be very expensive.

Bushwick

If you go, get to the neighborhood half an hour early and stroll Bushwick’s sponsored murals. Wall after wall has been covered by a wildly diverse group of very good artists.

Production Photos by Mark Shelby Perry
Opening: Ian Spring- LEXXE as Alice
Red Interior & Bushwick Photos by William Goodheart

Company XIV presents
Queen of Hearts
Conceived, Choreographed and Directed by Austin McCormick
Theater XIV 
383 Troutman Street, Bushwick
Through November 2, 2019

About Alix Cohen (658 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.