November 30, 2011

Queen of the Mist

Michael John LaChuisa's Queen of the Mist is currently playing at The Gym at Judson Memorial Church only until this Sunday, Dec 4th. The show was stated to close on Nov. 20th but was extended for two more weeks. After seeing the show on the eve of the 19th of November, I can see why it was extended.

Queen of the Mist centers on Anna Edson Taylor the first woman who successfully goes over the Niagara Falls in a barrel and survives. It's an unusual topic for a musical but Mr. LaChiusa proves that he is incredibly gifted as a musical writer. He manages to turn an unconventional topic into a compelling tale. His characters are layered and intriguing, plot line is intricate but most of all, melodious music prevails throughout the show.

The first act focuses on Anna's determination to find the greatness in her as she designs and builds this barrel and eventually goes over the falls. She foresees a more famous life after accomplishing this impossible task. It is in the aftermath of the fall from the falls (Second Act) that takes the audience into an unexpected direction. The public's attention, as always, is short and fickle. It is eventually revealed that Anna's life as she saw it, isn't life as it actually played out. She is robbed of her fame and spends the rest of her life dodging questions about what actually happened in the barrel. And when it is revealed towards the end, the staging and the acting makes it an incredibly moving scene.

The musical is stage in sort of an arena style with audience members seated in tiers on each side like in a gymnasium. All the scenes play in front of you and the night I saw it, I was seated in the front row. It was actually discomforting for me to be seated that close but as the show progressed I appreciated the intimacy of the occasion.

As the lead, Mary Testa is extraordinary. I know it's a superlative but it's true. I've been amazed by her performances since seeing her in See What I Wanna See (another LaChuisa work). Her Anna is a showcase of her talent. She is determined, steely and affecting. There is a scene where she's frozen on the bed coming to the realization that there is an incongruency between what she dreamt and what reality is. There's no movement, no dialogue, no gestures but she manages to convey her turmoil through her eyes. It is a portrayal of loss and disappointment that's so powerful. I still get goosebumps thinking about it as I write this.

Beautiful voiced Andrew Samonsky plays Frank Russell, Anna's manager. Julia Murney plays Carrie Nation who once shared a stage with Anna. I have to say it is so nice to see her in a show albeit a supporting role. She does get to sing a very lively number and gets to do a bit of comedy. Theresa McCarthy plays Jane, Anna's sister. Tally Sessions, Stanley Bahorek and DC Anderson round up this great cast.

I really enjoyed this unconventional musical. The night I saw it, Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of The Public Theater sat behind me. I am crossing my fingers that maybe this show gets another life after Dec 4th, in let's say.......The Public Theater?

Here are some of the photos I took:

The Queen of the Mist poster outside the theatre

Washington Square Park at night

I passed by Washington Square Park on Monday on my walk to Soho to take more pics:

Judson Memorial Church where The Gym at Judson is located

Beautiful day for a walk!


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