Puck as a magician? Oberon as a nightclub MC? Tatiana as a Mariah Carey-ish singer? This is Midsummer: A Shakespearian Experience. Like the hit song by the Dawes, “It’s a little bit of everything.” A bit of vaudeville, with USO-era tap dancing numbers; a dizzying trapeze performance, a gymnast/contortionist accompanied by a live jazz band. Now, if you remember your high school Shakespeare class, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy with a variety of plot twists, including a marriage between Theseus and Hippolyta, a wedding performance, a pair of frolicking forest fairies and their king, Oberon. Every character thinks they know what’s going on, and then they find out they haven’t a clue. Does the audience need to know the storyline to follow the fun? Not in the least. Although it wouldn’t hurt.
Puck (Photo Credit: Nick May)
Held at Casa 51, a dance club on 51st Street and 11thAvenue, Midsummer is the newest entry in the Manhattan theatre world and is unlike anything we’ve seen. At its opening last Friday amidst the mist and strobe lights of the club’s interior, a full bar was hustling and bustling as bartenders moved to the beat alongside drummers pounding out rhythms while customers ordered specialty drinks. Chairs were set up-close to the minimalist stage like something out of a boxing match, and those who chose those front row seats were sometimes pulled into the action of the actors’ assorted shenanigans. No one was split in two, but a few helped Puck, the magician, with some amazing tricks, and if one didn’t laugh at a joke, they might get a good-natured side-eye from the performer. Nothing was taken seriously despite Shakespeare’s typical themes of mismatched lovers, disappointments, angry altercations, and death. Yup, an enchanting night at the theatre.
Photo by MJ Hanley-Goff
This is not the first go-round for “immersive theatre,” or what is being known as a 360-degree spectacle for the production team of Kaitana Magno and Jimmy Sutherland and their Variety Life Productions company. Their sold-out run of “Carmen: To Havana & Back” in 2019 reimagined Bizet’s opera taking place in a hot and hopping tropical nightclub. Forbes called it “tremendous combination of concept, music and choreography that makes for an incredible evening” and Broadway World.com said it was “a dynamic adaptation of the classic Carmen, presented in a compelling new light.” Magno and Suthering have a shared goal: “present the most extraordinary and unique talents in hopes of illuminating fresh perspectives for the betterment of mankind.”
For us on Friday night, we were definitely better off after being thoroughly entertained with a treasure trove of talented jugglers, ballet dancers, clueless clowns, and with a tight jazz quartet and fully stocked bar, what more could one ask for. As a special treat, this night had a special walk-on and raunchy performance by Leonid the Magnificent, who made a grand entrance dressed as a bejeweled butterfly, and who balanced a collection of swords on his head, in his mouth, all while lit candles hovered overhead.
Audience members are encouraged to come dressed in royal garb or fun attire; 21 and over only.
Midsummer: A Shakespeare Experience
625 W 51st Street
Top photo: Titiana’s Angels
Photos credit: Nick May