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Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe
This Tartuffe is a tart riff on religious revivalism and charismatic preaching. It's driven by the penetrating presence of Andre De Shields who, as the title character, unleashes a charisma so irresistible, you just might find yourself reaching into your own pocket to donate to the "church."
Unabashedly blurring the line between church and theater, De Shields (literally) reaches out into the audience to make this show not just a musical, but a euphoric experience. Gold-fringed lamps hang from the ceiling, and a dazzling "SUPREME" sign spills over from the stage into the audience. In short, designer Greg Mitchell has transformed the theater into a Harlem Renaissance-era church, and as the insidiously inspirational Tartuffe, De Shields channels such mega-religious, unorthodox icons as Reverend Ike, Daddy Grace, and Rasputin. "The lack of money is the root of all evil," he preaches, and his prescription is a hedonistic lifestyle filled with pleasures of the flesh (and plenty of coins in his offering plate).
As Tartuffe sermonizes, the four saucy members of the Supreme Choir quickly disrobe into bawdy, burlesque attire. Meanwhile, Tartuffe's sidekicks, Big Jerome and Little Jerome, give him solid support, intoning and repeating his messages to ratchet up the crowd's enthusiasm. All in all, it's a sensational seduction, from Tartuffe's slinky suits (which evolve from crushed red velvet to, later, a robe with very little underneath), to the snappy garter belts of the choir.
Writers Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner apply liberal doses of tongue-in-cheek humor, neatly skewering our own modern-day religious zealots. When Tartuffe appropriates such religious imagery as the Garden of Eden and a cross (over which he overdramatically drapes himself), the results are both ridiculous and hilarious. Music director and composer Kelvyn Bell also provides excellent channels for comedic subversion, incorporating such music as Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" and other raucous revivalist pieces.
Although the revival is really the thing in Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, also at stake is the soul of Orgon, one of Tartuffe's passionate followers (and financial supporters), who has abandoned his family to follow his new idol. The show flickers back and forth between the rollicking church and the laments of Orgon's family: his wife, Elmire (Kim Brockington); his materialistic daughter, Marianne (Soneela Nankani); his son, Damis (Jabari Brisport); and their visiting uncle, Cleante (Lawrence Street).
It's in this family's bickering that we hear echoes of Moliere's rhyming verse, and their quick call-and-response dialogue is also reminiscent of church cadences. These complaints are no match for the charisma of Tartuffe, however, and it's easy to see why Orgon flew the coop. Weiner gives each family member a song to explain his or her situation, but their random moods (the wife's "La Vie En Rose"-like take on sexual adventures; the son's death-metal dirge) are less than persuasive. As the effeminate uncle, however, the excellent Street executes a terrific tap-dancing turn in the bouncy "One Fine Day", Cleante's chipper chance to come out of the closet.
At times, the music seems a bit off-pitch, and the choreography slightly out of sync, but it all still feels right, somehow: like any true church service, the production seems slightly improvised, electric and alive. The show is strongest at its extremes, when the satire is at its broadest, and director Preisser has created some sensational moments — mostly involving De Shields' searing stare. As he slithers into the audience, he cajoles and conspires with audience members (his congregation), making us all complicit in his scheming.
The obvious message here is to beware the preacher in sequined clothing, but in the presence of such persuasive personality, resistance is futile. The plot may be wispy, but it's secondary to the performances: the best way to get through Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe is, simply, to sit back and get swept up in the sermon. Fittingly, the show closes with "For the Love of Money," the theme song of the financial-quest TV show "The Apprentice." It's not such a stretch to think of Donald Trump as a modern-day preacher who has purloined his own congregation, because you never know, there just might be sequins under that suit.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide