“MIDSUMMER: A Shakespearience” is Better Than Broadway!

A welcome sign that our beloved New York City was returning to some degree of normalcy (As if ANYTHING about New York could ever be considered “normal”…) was the much-anticipated announcement that Broadway was re-opening in September 2021.   As great as that news was, this reviewer for one believes that the hottest show in town is actually on 51st Street in Manhattan, at the aptly named Casa 51.  The show is Variety Life Productions’ Midsummer: A Shakespearience, and yes, folks: This opulent, highly original, and immersive show is better than Broadway!

Before you say, “Well, I’m not really into Shakespeare!”, rest assured: This wet dream of a theater piece is indeed inspired by one of the Bard’s most popular comedies, but this sparkling fantasia reaches new heights in terms of pageantry, glamour, and talent, becoming an original work in its own right.  It starts with the atmosphere. The audience is welcomed into the performance space– an enchanted forest adorned with romantic lighting and lush tropical-flavored swing and jazz music, courtesy of a very hard-working live band.  It’s… well, dream-y.  As the attendees waited for the show to start, the actors of  the anticipated “Titania’s ‘Round Midnight Revue,” nervously rehearsed their lines.  Given the instructions on the show’s invitation to “dress to impress”, it was hard to determine if some of the elegantly clad attendees were actually “incognito” Midsummer cast members strutting and fretting their hour 2.5 hours upon the stage.  The audience does indeed find out…  But that’s just one of many, many surprises in Midsummer, a show full of unexpected treats for our four senses (Add a cocktail for the fifth sense…)

The dominant theme of Midsummer, true to its 16th century origins, is L-O-V-E.  With Oberon (the charismatic DeWitt Fleming, Jr.) as the MC, the audience does indeed get to witness the various passionate permutations of the play’s famous lovers.  Will the audience get to see the play’s equally famous wedding?  I won’t say!  But what I will say is that in the show’s delectable two and a half hour running time, we are treated to a wide variety of universal talent. It’s one awe-inspiring act after another, kicking off with a contortionist portraying Eros, the goddess of love, performing to the band’s jazz-flavored version of the golden oldie Cupid.  If that act defied gravity, the next one, Leonid the Magnificent (“Seven feet of beauty!”), defied belief.  The act involved a chainsaw, but that was JUST the beginning.  Helena (Amira Murphy) brings spoken word to a new level, although this performer could make a statement without even saying a word.  Shakespeare’s eternal words never sounded (or looked) so sexy!  Puck, the Bard’s famous trickster (played by the bewitchingly appealing Greg Dubin), dukes it out with Oberon for the audience’s mass respect before offering some magic tricks that are absolutely NOT for the faint of heart.  By now, you may be wondering about the Bard’s most humorous night dreamer of all, Bottom (the idiosyncratically charming Mark Martin).  In this incarnation, he is still a weaver, albeit a “beat weaver”.  Even if you believed in fairies before this show, Martin’s beatbox talents must be seen heard to be believed.  And while fighting for another’s affections was never unusual in Shakespeare’s works, chances are you’ve never seen a romantic quadrangle take on the form of a dance-off between Helena, Demetrius (Izaiah Harris), Hermia (Emma Rose), and Lysander (Orlando Hernandez).  The tap dancing in this show is so frenetic that I worried the floor would seek revenge.  

Once again, true to its source material, the climax of this Midsummer is a “show-within-a-show” revue for the Queen of the Fairies, Titania (the stunningly lovely Knoelle Higginson).  It was a variety show of sorts, featuring dance, comedy, renegade percussion, and more with cast members Snug, Nicholas Van Young, Jose Mitaynes, Flute, and others. Not to be outdone by her subjects, Titania gets to display her queenly singing talents as well– and that talent was, indeed, no less than royal!

Midsummer: A Shakespearience is an eye-popping and ear-seducing cocktail of comedy, dancing, singing, spoken word, burlesque, magic, acrobatics, and various combinations of all of those. The neon lights may be bright on Broadway, but this enchanted forest is REALLY the place to be. 

Variety Life Productions’ Midsummer: A Shakespearience continues Wednesdays through Sundays at 8PM through Sunday, November 7th at Casa 51, 625 W 51st St.New York, NY 10019.  Visit http://www.midsummershakespearience.com/ for tickets and more information!

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