Austin McCormick's Company XIV specializes in the kind of entertainment we associate with Old World cabarets like the Moulin Rouge. When audiences arrive at the company's new Bushwick venue, the dimly lit rooms at the entrance smolder with a teasing red glow that entices patrons to the main performance space, where tables, couches, and a bustling bar await. Tastefully yet sparsely clad performers hurry about, appearing to be getting ready for the show on the fly, but Company XIV is engaged in executing very well-constructed illusions, designed to take audiences into another world for a couple of hours.
Cinderella, one of the company's decidedly adult reimaginings of a fairy tale, succeeds marvelously in doing just that. Like Nutcracker Rouge and Snow White, this show owes much to the cabaret and burlesque traditions, but McCormick, who directs and choreographs, also incorporates acrobatics, visually stunning tableaux, and a spectacular ensemble of multitalented performers in this sexy, cheekily naughty adaptation of Charles Perrault's "Cendrillon."
Through elegant dance numbers and an eclectic musical selection ranging from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf to Bobby Troup's "Daddy," we're told the story of a young woman taunted by her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters until a fairy godmother transforms her into a beautiful princess and whisks her away to a ball where she wins the heart of a handsome prince. But when the spell is broken at midnight, Cinderella runs away, losing a glass slipper in the process. Slipper in hand, the prince sets out on a search through the kingdom to find its owner, fighting off every would-be bride or groom who tries to squeeze her or his foot into the shoe.
The graceful Allison Ullrich plays the title role alongside the powerfully built Nolan McKew as the Prince. Besides showing off their individual acrobatic talents — Ullrich works her dizzying, seemingly gravity-defying routine on a Chinese pole, and McKew twists and whirls above the stage with a pair of aerial straps — the two together do the airborne equivalent of a pas de deux in a single aerial hoop. Meanwhile, the golden-voiced, single-named chanteuse Storm commands the stage as the Fairy Godmother with her soul-stirring vocals in songs like Jaymes Young's "Dark Star" and Labrinth's "Jealous." Her performances are brilliant highlights of the show.
Along with Storm and her showstoppers, performer Lilin plays the stepmother and adds to the high comedy of Nick and Ross Katen, who camp up the roles of Cinderella's envious stepsisters in this gender-fluid show. All three relentlessly pursue the Prince and wow the audience with a beautiful yet sassy tango-inspired number riotously set to Bizet's "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle," from Carmen. Throughout this song and the rest of the production, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew's nuanced lighting creates otherworldly images and an uncanny atmosphere. She is a master of capturing the magic of a single spotlight, creating sensual and stunning silhouettes of the ensemble members as they slide and bend within one large concentrated beam. It's a rare treat to experience such exquisite, masterful stagecraft.
At about two hours and 20 minutes (with two intermissions), the whole show is wrapped with an undeniably sexy ribbon. Wearing skin-revealing costumes (designed with extraordinary detail by Zane Philstrom, even down to the holes in the women's stockings and the sparkling high heels worn by the men), the agile ensemble performs McCormick's eye-popping choreography like revelers overcome by the unbridled energy in the room. Philstrom also designed the set, which recalls the backstage milieu of an underground establishment that might be raided any minute. It's all part of the dynamic gift of storytelling and atmosphere creation that McCormick and his talented team are able to conjure. It's worth the trip to Bushwick to see the most unique, sophisticated, and riotously fun date-night show running in New York right now.
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