The New York International Fringe Festival: Part 8

On Friday, I decided to spend the day at La Mama taking in three Fringe musicals I’d been hankering to catch. The Ellen Stewart Theatre, with its large stage and bleacher seating is a hard space to fill but an enticing challenge for a new musical looking to think big.

The shows ran the gamut, from burlesque to dinosaur-inhabited and Weimar-inspired, and each had its own unique voice that impressed me. All in all, it was a fine day at the Fringe; I’m happy to report the day’s findings below.

Dream of the Marionettes/Le Reve des Marionettes

by Johanna Divine and Christy Leichty, music by Johanna Divine and Daniel Coolik, directed by Steven Cooper and Christy Leichty, choreographed by John Vincent

The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ La Mama

Direct from a run in Lafayette, Louisiana, Dream of the Marionettes, a burlesque-inspired musical, comes to the Fringe with a go-get-’em sense of playfulness and likable feminist guiles. I should make it clear up front that the show does not actually feature wooden marionettes but rather a chorus of dancing girls done up to look like puppets.

If you’re a puppet freak who’s come to marvel at the goods, you’ll be sorely disappointed, but if you’re otherwise inclined to have fun, this show should tickle your fancy. The plot is as follows. A creepy puppet master (Bruce Coen) runs a tight ship at his marionette theatre, keeping his girls tied down and his profits soaring. One day, however, they rebel and take charge.

One of the puppets shoots the master, and the girls reclaim their show (and their womanhood), becoming real ladies at last (gaining human status like Pinocchio). Finally liberated from their former bonds, they perform a revue of feminist scenes and numbers that express the joys of their newfound freedom, including a satirical wedding scene, a secretary scene, and a cowgirl scene.

Jaunty ditties like Bad Habit (a naughty nun-inspired number), as well as the show-stopping Love With A Little Class, come and go quickly and are only occasionally memorable. But the spirit of the actresses who populate this puppet world is infectious, and the show, overall, is a delight.

Costumed in mostly uniform knickers, lace, and corsets by James Hamby, each marionette has its own visual and performative uniqueness, especially John Vincent as drag puppet Hairnette and Jessica Jouclard as Cookie. Their performances are amply supported by a fine jazz quartet that suits the show’s music well.

For a show inspired by burlesque, Dream of the Marionettes could have taken its subject matter further or been a little raunchier, but – even if it does skew more toward mild-mannered humor – it’s nonetheless entertaining throughout. These local actresses should be proud of the performance they’ve brought to New York City; they’ve given us a taste of their Louisianan culture with a certain Manhattan flair.

Bottom Line: SEE IT

Remaining Shows: SUN 29 @ 2:30

Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical

by Emma Barash, Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, and Steve Wargo, directed by Marshall Pailet, choreographed by Hayley Podschun

The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ La Mama

Next up in my jam-packed day was the hugely entertaining Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical, a show with a title that’s a declaration of its lofty ambitions in and of itself. Based on the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park and the film of same name, this Fringe musical claims that the unique “Q” at the end of its title stands for “question.” There’s no question, however, that the creators of Jurassic Parq know what they’re doing. They’ve crafted an ingenious little-show-that-could that deserves a look, for both its irreverent humor and its smooth production.

The hook here is that the show is no mere adaptation of the film. Instead, it tells the story of Jurassic Park from the perspective of the dinosaurs themselves. Employing a diverse cast of thirteen, we’re soon told by our narrator (a white actor portraying Morgan Freeman) that all of the dinosaurs we’re about to see, whether portrayed by men or women, are indeed female.

What spurs the action in the musical is the revelation that dinosaurs in the park have lately been known – all of a sudden – to change genders because of exposure to frog DNA. One of our lovely lady-dinos, a newborn Baby Velociraptor played by Brandon Gill, is barely off to a start in life before he comes upon the dueling influences of twin sisters the Velociraptor of Faith (John Jeffrey Martin), more informally known as “the Pastor,” and the Velociraptor of Science (the hilarious Mary Ellen Ashley), also known as “the Exile.” These two opposing forces come to blows over the influence of the humans (“the lab”) and are desperately in need of something to unite them.

Soon, two T-Rex’s are introduced, played by Tara Novie (T-Rex 1) and Natalie Bradshaw (T-Rex 2). Neither of them make matters any better for the dinos as a whole. T-Rex 2 soon finds herself sporting a penis, and her attraction to her fellow T-Rex gets her in trouble, particularly when she’s caught fooling around with the Baby Velociraptor in an immensely entertaining gender-bending sex scene set to the clever song Dick Fix and incorporating found footage of turtles making the beast with two backs.

There’s so much clever stuff packed into Jurassic Parq that it’s hard to pinpoint all of the highlights. The participation of the show’s pianist (dubbed the Pianosaurus) is good for a laugh, and the Fosse-dino choreography by Hayley Podschun is pitch perfect. Particularly funny are Morgan Freeman’s moments of existential crisis (it’s actually Samuel L. Jackson who appeared in the film, and much is made of these two actors’ interchangeability, particularly in the song Unreplaceable You). There’s even a clever mirror dance between Freeman and Jackson, featuring cameos from Danny Glover and the Allstate Insurance guy.

If the show had only its humor in its favor, it would at the very least be entertaining. Fortunately, all of the show’s elements come together to form a satisfying whole. The score for the show (which was written collectively by Emma Barash, Bryce Norbitz, Marshall Pailet, and Stephen Wargo) is consistently excellent. Songs like It’s A Beautiful Day To Be A Woman, Power Ballad Song, Unreplaceable You, and We Are Dinosaurs (set to the film’s theme song by John Williams) are likely to embed themselves in one’s brain for days to come.

Jurassic Parq, which provides perhaps an even wilder ride for an audience than its source material, most certainly deserves a life after the Fringe. From the show’s title, it seems as if the production has some lofty goals for its future. In the meantime, it’s satisfying enough that this lively cast is there to remind us that “we are dinosaurs,” all of us.

Bottom Line: MUST SEE

Remaining Shows: None remaining.

Return to the Onion Cellar

written and directed by Samantha Boyd

The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ La Mama

There’s a touch of the Weimar in Return to the Onion Cellar, a “dark rock musical” loosely based on Gnter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum. With music, lyrics, book, and direction all by the talented Samantha “Sam” Boyd, the show focuses not only on a central plotted story but also on the players telling that story, including Sam herself and guitarist Gunter, who’s consistently baffled by whether he’s real or merely one of Sam’s scripted creations.

After warning us that we’re going to be pulled into the action and that we’re likely to have our expectations for the show dashed (a la Brecht), Sam introduces the premise of the show. In a dystopian world, an onion cellar exists (populated by onion-sellers), where customers can come to buy onions (which have been made illegal), which they can cut as a way of releasing their pent-up emotions.

As on-stage characters rip apart their onions, their emotions flow through high-spirited pop-rock songs. The music is at its best when performed by Sam herself, but the rest of the cast members acquit themselves well. Katie Venezia is in fine voice as ill-fated Delaney, and Nick Lamedica makes a fine romantic lead as Tod. These two star-crossed lovers find themselves impeded by the influences of Delaney’s stepfather Charlie (who runs the cellar) and her brutish boyfriend. Bartender Glen/Glenda (his or her gender is never expressly established) finds hirself (that’s right, I’m using gender-neutral pronouns) up against tricky odds, alternately pursued and persecuted by Charlie until hir patience is worn to its bitter end.

The show takes its inspiration from a variety of places, including the sleazily enticing sensibility of Cabaret and the gritty drag bravado of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, stirring into the mixture the musical guiles of Spring Awakening to taste.

While the show’s story is engaging, Boyd’s script would benefit from some additional fine-tuning, particularly as the central story comes to an end and Boyd and her band take over and finish off the show. By the end of the evening, we as audience members are led to feel that perhaps the telling of the story is more important than the story itself, but for a show that clocks in at two-plus hours, it still would be favorable to feel more invested in the characters inhabiting Boyd’s show-within-a-show.

Nevertheless, Samantha Boyd establishes with this show that she’s got a knack for writing and directing quirky musical theatre material. Her songwriting skills are top-notch, and she’s got an impressive command of the stage as she gives us the show’s exposition in the form of patter songs that she speak-sings like a folk singer.

Return to the Onion Cellar elicits from its audience the same response that its titular vegetable releases in its users. As the on-stage characters experience rushes of emotion at the slice of an onion, so do we. And it’s thanks to Boyd’s talent that we do so. As she learns to sharpen her focus, I predict her writing will grow even more exciting. In the meantime, sit back, cut an onion, and relax; Return to the Onion Cellar ultimately entertains.

Bottom Line: SEE IT, especially if you like Spring Awakening or German things

Remaining Shows: None remaining.

For more information about the New York International Fringe Festival, visit

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