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A CurtainUp Review
The Ice Festival: A Wonderland, Lavaman, Babes In Toyland, Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant

The ever-cool Ice Factory Festival has just arrived at The Ohio Theatre 66 Wooster Street (between Spring and Broome) with 6 musicals in its line-up. The festival runs from 7/08/09 to 8/15/09.Tickets are $15. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturday @ 7pm. For tickets and more details, 212/868-4444 or

As reviews of the four shows to be covered are posted, an asterisk will be added placed before the title, a click on which will take you to the review.
* A Wonderland | *Lavaman|*Babes in Toyland:|*Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant

A Wonderland
Though A Wonderland, its first offering by Anonymous Ensemble, has just completed its brief run (July 8-11), it should not be forgotten easily by theatergoers. A deconstruction of Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland, the show literally gives the story new legs and a vibrant new voice.

Big is the watchword here. Featuring a large 18-actor ensemble, a band, and spectacular costumes and sets, Eamonn Farrell's and William Antoniou's musical is a modern urban fairy tale that draws on the beloved characters and plot of Carroll's original work but adds its own fantastical twists and contemporary digressions.

The central character is Alice (Janelle Lannan). Rather than being represented as a young girl coming-of-age, this Alice is a talented, urban dreamer approaching middle age and feeling the angst of shrinking career opportunities in a celebrity culture. She's experienced a modicum of success as a regular singer at The River Bank Café but in her opening monologue she reveals that she's on the brink of an existential meltdown, attempting to find her inner "I." She is chaperoned in her identity search by a cast of nine characters, including March Hare (Cory Antiel), Cheshire Cat (Kiebpoli M. Calnek), Dormouse (Liz Davito), Mad Hatter (Josh Hoglund), Blanche duBunny (Matt Mager), Caterpillar (Ensemble), The Duchess (Meghan Williams), and Sous Chef Sue/The Queen (Jessica Weinstein). They magically materialize into the action, and invite Alice on a journey of self-discovery. At first blush Alice doesn't trust any of these characters. And who can blame her? They speak in riddles about celebrity, fame, and all the wrappings of success. But because Alice is in a deep funk, she's soon persuaded by Blanche Du Bunny (in drag) and her retinue (DRINK ME and EAT ME) to join them down the bunny hole of glory.

In this radically refashioned as a psychedelic, multimedia/music fueled trip down the rabbit hole, this modern-day Alice finds herself in the midst of good and bad adventures with fantasy characters. No longer a wannabe, she gains center stage and hosts her own dream show. And, of course, she grapples and rubs against the terrors of misdirection, the weight of too much expectation and other perennial tendencies of the human condition.

Seeing this production struck by how influential, and resonant Lewis Carroll remains to our cultural time and understand why this nineteenth-century scribe shocked us into recognition, grabbing us by the heart and soul and thrusting us into a whole galaxy of new ideas and stances.

Is A Wonderland a coherent work? Well, one could quarrel with a few lapses of clarity, some minor sags, and an abrupt ending. But if authors Eamonn Farrell (who also directs) and William Antoniou nod, you can still admire how they use Carroll's work to point up the problems of artists in contemporary society, forcing everyone to wonder "What If?"

Production Notes
A Wonderland written by Eamonn Farrell and William Antoniou
Directed by Eamonn Farrell
Cast: Cory Antiel (March Hare), Kiebpoli M. Calnek (Cheshire Cat), Josh Hoglund (Mad Hatter), Liz Davito (Dormouse), Jannelle Lannan (Alice), Matt Mager (Blanche Du Bunny), Jessica Weinstein (The Queen/ Sous Chef Sue), Meghan Williams (The Duchess), Diana Egizi, Elisa Pupko, Kelly Shaffer (Ensemble), Theresa Coombe-Mannino, Simone De La Rue, JD Smith, Billy Tighe (Dancers).
Sound Designer: Ken Travis
Lighting: Lucrecia Briceno
Composer: William Antoniou
Choreographer: David Scotchford
Guitar, Bass: Sasha Brown; Keyboard, Bass: Shoheen Owhady; Drums: RakySastri
Running TimeOne hour; 30 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on July 8th press performance

Casey Wimpee's Lavaman is a play that is sure to rattle your nerves a bit. This hardcore punk rock mini-epic by the Aztec Economy company has an eerie nightmare quality that is often chilling, but its alternation of fantasy and reality is not deftly handled. Combining video animations, hard metal rock and a plot based on the protagonist's graphic novel, the original techniques and ideas employed do not coalesce into a viable artistic experience.

This entire discomfiting work centers on an introverted comic illustrator named Arnie whose raison d'etre since grade school has been finishing his graphic novel Lavaman. We accompany him and his 2 buddies, Gil and Dino, into forbidden zones of sex, violence, and even cannibalism. We get fiendish scenes that involve lesbian Hell's Angels, a dead (and stuffed) reindeer, recollections of Star Trek episodes, and even a grisly recounting of Dino's eating a "sautéed" Asian girl. The whole play seems to be dredged from the deepest roots of psychic experience, but it lacks the strong center needed to pull it off.

Chalk up most of the flaws to too many flashbacks and plot twists. It's impossible to get one's bearing with so much shifting in time and place. Everything happens in one evening. But the time frame keeps fluctuating between past and present, and often fusing the two which adds up to little cohesive, credible action. We start out in a limbo-like place, then shift to an animated video, proceed to a grocery store setting, and then morph to Gill's pad in Queens. Too bad, because much of the plot interesting

The best part of this work is in its small moments of honesty; for example when we get to listen to Arnie retell the story of his mother's death in Iceland when he was only a year old and how he comes to terms with it in his graphic novel. Indeed, Arnie's extended reflections about death are strangely moving, and are sometimes reminiscent of Wallace Steven's celebrated poem "The Emperor of Ice Cream." While Wimpee's Lavaman is not on Stevens' artistic level, one must still give him credit as he props his newly-coined mythology on stage. Despite Matthew Hancock's uneven direction, the actors do good work, and perhaps with more development Lavaman might have a post-festival life.

LavamanProduction Notes
Written by Casey Wimpee
Directed by Matthew Hancock Cast: Michael Mason, Adam Belvo, Cole Wimpee.
Sound: Ryan Doria
Lighting: Jake Platt
Video: Sean Berman
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on July 15, 2009 press performance

Babes in Toyland
Too many cooks are said to spoil the broth. Is that the case with the Little Lord Fauntleroys' new version of Babes in Toyland?

Victor Herbert's hit musical first arrived on Broadway 106 years ago, tickling audiences with its spectacular sets and menagerie of Mother Goose figures. The current concoction at the Ice Factory festival, co-directed by Michael Levinton and Jose Zayas, is a disappointing reworking of the classic with no real bite. The showbiz glitz has been usurped by intentionally tacky sets (the program strikes out "Musical Extravaganza" and replaces it with "Recession Spectacular"). But what really sinks the show is its uneven acting, singing, and dancing.

That said, there's one redeeming quality in the show, and it comes via a flesh-and-blood actor— David Greenspan. Greenspan is terrific both in the lead role of the Master Toymaker as well as the Widow Piper. He not only fully inhabits his roles, but swings the language and gives a heartfelt rendering of the sentimental song "Toyland." As the sleazy Master Toymaker he's truly the villain we love to hate.

The original plot is broadly adhered to by adaptor Levinton, the main difference being its cross-gendering. The action begins in Mother Goose Village Square, where we meet Widow Piper and her nine children: Jack and Jill, Tom-Tom, Mary, Boy Blue, Bo Peep, Georgie Porgie, Miss Muffet, Wee WillieWinkie. Everything is performed tongue-in-cheek with Mother Goose (Rodney Pallanck) in charge of the proceedings. The innocent mood of the story alters most conspicuously when Georgie Porgie (who's gay) kisses the girls and the boys. The subsequent entrances of Widow Piper and Barnaby (Michael Levinton) makes the patent cuteness vanish altogether. Barnaby, the evil uncle of Alan (Sofia Jean Gomez) and Jane (Megan Hill), has designs to steal their inheritance. Widow Piper is the quintessential killjoy to the denizens of Mother Goose Village.

Dialogue is not the forte of this musical. Its wan one-liners try hard to parlay themselves into laugh getters, but they more often than not fall flat. The song numbers here, borrowed from both the original stage production and the later 1961 Disney film version, largely propel the narrative forward. As we travel from Mother Goose Village Square to Spider Forest and to Toyland, the three worlds collide but never really coalesces.

Levinton's retooling of Babes in Toyland would be a tastier broth if playgoers were familiar with the original work. Sure, the 1903 Broadway production was a bonafide hit, but its high-wattage profile is a dim memory to playgoers today. And though the aforementioned Disney film and less-known 1997 animated version of Babes in Toyland had some appeal, these adaptations never caught fire like the stage production and the Ice Festival's meanders too much to be an effective sendup. Ultimately, this reworking glittes only when Greenspan is on stage.

Babes in Toyland Production Notes
Written by Victor Herbert and Glen MacDonough
Libretto by Glen MacDonough
Adapted by Michael Levinton
Directed by Michael Levinton & Jose Zayas
Cast: David Greenspan (Widow Piper, Master Toymaker), Rodney Pallanck (Mother Goose, Antoinette the Toyland Doll), Michael Levinton (Barnaby, Spider), Sofia Jean Gomez (Alan, Jack), Megan Hill (Jane, Jill), Laura von Holt (Mary), Becky Yamamoto (Georgie Porgie, Marmaduke, Babe), Sadrina Renee (Boy Blue, Grumio, Gypsy, Tree/Drone, Babe), Julia Sirna-Frest (Tom Tom, Tree/Drone, Zombie, Babe), Tonya Canada (Bo Peep, Tree/Drone, Zombie, Babe), John Kurzynowski (Wee Willie Winkie, Fleecy, Linda the Fairy Moth Queen, Gypsy, Soldier, Reindeer), Eliza Bent (Miss Muffet, Woodland Sprite, Svetlana the Queen of The Christmas).
Sets: Jason Simms
Costumes: Asta Bennie Hostetter
Sound: David Margolin Lawson
Lighting: Christopher Brown
Stage Manager: Catherine Bloch
Running time: One hour; 50 minutes
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on July 22nd press performance

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant
This fifth offering in the Festival in Soho serves a five-course meal that's a scrumptious mix of comfort food and gourmet cuisine. Even theatergoers who in the past have shied away from the avant garde genre can leave the theater with a sweet aftertaste.

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant began its theatrical life approximately three years ago, the brain-child of thespians who met in Maine during a 2006 summer production of As You Like It at the Stonington Opera House. Musing on the next-move in their careers, they considered the scenario of downtown actors taking over a restaurant and serving up the avant garde in a totally fresh way. Their post-modern project marinated quite well and before long the enterpising performers found themselves in New York, serving up delectable morsels and entertainment to happy patrons at their home base, the Bushwick Starr.

The show performed as part of the Ice Festival in cabaret-style is irresistible: a succulent meal plus avant garde theatrics (a $25 donation is suggested for the meal). The eclectic non-linear vignettes are peppered with musical numbers, all performed by a crew of actors who double as chef/waiters. The result is the sense of being a privileged guests at a private party with a company of fellow theatergoers and gournands. The hosts are the brother-and sister team, Peter (a former child star) and Muffin (the eccentric aging diva), who together whip up theatrical souffles from Miss Conni's (fictional icon of the culinary stage) original Kitchen Sink Drama. The performance/meal begins with chilled gazpacho , followed by a watermelon-mint salad, a choice of a meatloaf or portobello mushroom sandwich with trimmings, topped off by Mrs. Robinson's Lonely Fruit Salad Dessert, a sweet concoction comprised of poundcake with blueberries and whipped cream.

At this part burlesque, part cabaret, part community dinner, the diners become an integral part of the show. The performer/servers invite patrons to feast and imbibe (cafes of wine are available at every table) and, to a lesser or greater extent, actually participate in the show. This is unquestionably a lot more lively than some of the wilted theater offerings in town during these notorious dog days of August. In fact, this palatable theater is a good bet for an adventurous date.

The musical numbers are devilish fun with songs ranging from "Come and Serve You Tonight" (a version of Aerosmith's "Angel"), some original and spicy numbers played on strings and brass, plus popular sound tracks of rock hits. Adding to the festive air are hilarious skits with tap dances that quickly morph into ballets, folk dances and, just before the main course, a wild and wooly scene in which a deer character is shot and instantly made into venison. The biggest hoot is the audience participation number "Bus That Table" for which diners are recruited to bus their own tables, cheered on by their fellow diners. These patrons later get roasted good-naturedly by the performers, who not only assess their bussing skills but toss in a few philosophical questions with a seasoned avant garde flavor.

The ensemble consists of the kitchen staff, Lunch Lady and Sue James; an ingenue, Miss Goodi Two Shoes; an off-beat rocker, Mrs. Robinson; a wandering barkeep named Hunter; Nurse S. and Nurse M.; Doctor Smith; a Redman #2; and Scooter. The restaurant's namesake, Miss Conni Convergence, never materializes during the evening, but her presence is palpable in the aroma of the cuisine and the joie de vivre of her devoted crew.

By far, this is the Ice Factory Festival's most delicious offering. Where else can you have your theater nd eat it too?

Conni's Avant Garde Restaurant is written by The Ensemble, directed by Connie Hall
Cast: Justin Badger (Redman #2), Jennifer Caster (Scooter), Jeffrey Frace (Mrs. Robinson), Connie Hall (Sue James), Kelly Hayes (Goodi Two Shoes), Jerusha Klemperer (Lunch Lady, cook), Peter Lettre (Peter), Rachel Benbow Murdy (Muffin), Deborah Phillips ("D"), Thomas Piper (Hunter, head barkeep), Peter Richards (Doctor Smith), Melody Bates (Nurse M.), Stephanie Dodd (Nurse S.)
Sets: David M. Barber
Choreographer: Kelly Hayes
Sound: Peter Lettre
Songwriters: Peter Lettre and Jeffrey Frace
Lighting: Jeanette Yew
Production Manager: Jennifer Caster
From 8/05/09; closing 8/08/09.
time: 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on August 5th press performance

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