Le Cabaret Grimm
nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
July 24, 2012
Every once in a while an event comes along that changes your standards. In 2009 after witnessing the beauty and power of Mac Rogers' Universal Robots (an under-appreciated masterpiece that should have been on Broadway already) my standards were set for play going. Le Cabaret Grimm, a punk cabaret (sans fairies) by Jason Slavik and Cassandra Marsh has now set my musical standard. And if I were a producer with any cache, I would pick it up, put it a sexy theatre a la Sleep No More (midnight shows would be mandatory) and just let it enjoy the long off-Broadway run it completely deserves.
I'm going to gush, but I loved this musical so much; I kinda want to take it home and marry it. By which I mean get absolutely naked with it. The creators and cast are from Boston and haven't been much heard of; New York theatre is exciting, is alive and in the moment, but sometimes what you need is the kid from out of town with some new ideas, a few puppets, killer choreography, daring, innovation, passion and fun. I hope these kids stay in New York and if they don't I hope they funnel more work like this our way.
Is it perfect? Nearly; it still has some moments to work out. Is it innovative? In a way I haven't seen independent theatre be in a very long time. It's also sexy, coy and naughty. I actually left the theatre feeling a little bit more alive, a little bit more flirtatious, a little bolder.
We begin before the show starts, with the actors, wearing gothic chic bustiers and outfits that were less there than not, lounging back and forth. I was not ready to be titillated at 1pm, but you know what—the mind quickly forgets what time it is. Then as the lights go down we meet Veronique, who welcomes us in a terrific opening number and then takes us through a wholly original fairy tale adventure that could easily be added to the canon. Transitions are accompanied by morality tales that reflect the moral lessons of the larger story at play. Some of these play better than others; all of them are fully realized, and told through puppetry, movement and dance, choreographed with precise innovation by Michelle Chasse.
The cast on the whole is excellent and the direction by writer Jason Slavic is tight and compelling. Haley Selmon is superb in the role of the narrator. She is coquettish, sweet and reminded me of underground music artist Amanda Palmer with the attitude of Doctor Who's "River Song." (I use those two super edgy descriptors, because if you know what I'm talking about you're going to love this musical even more. It's the perfect musical for geeks, outsiders and the daring.) Ashley Lanyon and Bart Mather are also quite good as the romantic leads and Alesandra Vaganek's Helga is a true joy to behold.
The tech credits are truly impressive, especially the dragon puppet at the end of the play so kudos to Tyler Brown and Eric Bornstein for helping create such stunning visuals. One can imagine the fun they would have if a producer put some money into it. However, I would say, it deserves a minimalist treatment, because part of the fun is seeing them achieve so much with so little.
This is one of the stronger scores I've heard at NYMF in a long time. Remember how we used to call Rent fans Rentheads? Well, I'm the first one in line to be baptized a Grimmlin if such a cult group establishes itself. I will not describe the songs in this review, because they deserve to be discovered. And some of them are so good, that you must almost go into the show not knowing what you are in for to truly enjoy them.
This is a work of passion and unbridled creativity, and I hope it finds a New York home that would let it flourish; though I hope it is not a conventional proscenium stage theatre because this calls for an environmental setting. I haven't been this excited about musicals since, well, a very long time. It really, truly set a new standard for me—but man, do I feel bad for any musicals I see after this.