Off-Broadway Theater Review: ARIAS WITH A TWIST (Abrons Arts Center)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on September 24, 2011

in Theater-New York

THE ETERNALLY UNMISSABLE SHOW

An alluring voice reverberates across the intimate, pitch black theater. This sultry sound is the product of a mysterious Z chromosome, the audience is informed, rather than the usual Xs and Ys that define a body as male or female. This voice belongs to none other than legendary drag diva Joey Arias.

Arias with a Twist by Joey Arias and Basil Twist at Abrons Arts Center - Off Broadway Theater Review by Sarah Taylor Ellis

A fruitful collaboration between Arias and fantastically inventive designer/director/ puppeteer Basil Twist, Arias with a Twist plays in the boundaries of gender and genre with kaleidoscopic creativity. This campy fantasia, originally produced in 2008, is currently receiving a stunning remount at Abrons Arts Center.

Arias with a Twist by Joey Arias and Basil Twist at Abrons Arts Center - Off Broadway Theater Review by Sarah Taylor Ellis

Although the scenes sometimes drag, Arias’ arias soar both sonically and visually. The sketch-like show musically leaps across a dizzying array of styles from electronic pop to jazzy torch songs, and the diva’s astounding vocal range encompasses rich, dusky lows and yipping, ethereal highs. Basil Twist crafts a unique environment to accompany each soundscape, from a futuristic extraterrestrial encounter to a lush and immersive Garden of Eden. In one sequence, the entrancing Arias is even suspended in the midst of Daniel Brodie’s psychedelic projections. Arias with a Twist transmutes every surface into a captivating, self-consciously theatrical wonderland.

Arias with a Twist by Joey Arias and Basil Twist at Abrons Arts Center - Off Broadway Theater Review by Sarah Taylor Ellis

Twist takes this theatrical magic to new heights with a remarkable range of puppets in each scene. A duo of devils dances with Arias in the smoky fires of hell. The four-part miniature Dream Music Orchestra backs Arias’ sexy nightclub performance; the full articulation of each puppet musician is uncanny. The six master puppeteers (Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith, Chris de Ville, Kirsten Kammermeyer, Matt Leabo, Jamie Moore, and Amanda Villalobos) may be clad in black and shielded from the spotlight throughout the show, but their fluid physicality brings Twist’s puppet creations to life. Arias even becomes part puppet herself when she joins a leggy line of showgirls for a stellar Busby Berkeley finale.

Arias with a Twist by Joey Arias and Basil Twist at Abrons Arts Center - Off Broadway Theater Review by Sarah Taylor Ellis

Arias’ warm and welcoming persona, coupled with the playful panache of Arias with a Twist, invites the audience into a mesmerizing self-created universe. This ever-surprising spectacle ravishes the ears and eyes, making it one of the most fantastically fun shows in NYC this season.

Arias with a Twist by Joey Arias and Basil Twist at Abrons Arts Center - Off Broadway Theater Review by Sarah Taylor Ellis

photos by Steve Menendez

Arias with a Twist by Joey Arias and Basil Twist at Abrons Arts Center - Off Broadway Theater Review by Sarah Taylor Ellis

Arias with a Twist
Abrons Arts Center
scheduled to end on October 16, 2011
for tickets, call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.ariaswithatwist.com

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