Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans is thrilled to celebrate the city’s finest up-and-coming talent at the Crescendo! Dinner, an immersive five-course tasting and listening experience inspired by the past, present and future flavors of Louisiana on June 21, 2023. At his culinary homage to the state, Miss River, beloved New Orleans chef and two-time James Beard Award winner Alon Shaya will honor the cuisine of his adoptive home state with an ambitious five-course menu that reinterprets culinary classics, while the youthful contingent of performers from legendary French Quarter music venue Preservation Hall will create musical pairings for this entirely original sensory experience. The exclusive, first-of-its-kind event will be guided by Greg Bresnitz, author and host of the Crescendo! podcast.
“New Orleans is a magnet for creatives across all mediums, constantly reinventing itself by attracting the freshest young chefs, artists, musicians and performers to its endless well of inspiration,” says Mali Carow, General Manager for Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans. “Louisiana has always been world renowned for its music and its food, but it is now more deserving of that acclaim than ever before. At Miss River’s Crescendo! Dinner, we look forward to celebrating the immense budding talent that is breathing new life into these treasured parts of our culture and identity.”
At the Crescendo! Dinner, five dishes will be prepared in harmony with live musical expressions, reflecting the breadth of life in Louisiana and making the old new again. In New Orleans, a younger generation has emerged on the stage and in the kitchen, ushering in a new era of creativity in the Crescent City. As courses are served, a hand-selected band comprised of Preservation Hall’s finest young artists will begin to play, pairing each bite from cutting-edge chef Alon Shaya with the opening notes of a song. Preservation Hall bandmembers include trumpeter Branden Lewis, who performs regularly in Chandelier Bar, pianist Grayson Brockamp, saxophonist Stephen Gladney, and guitarist Josh Starkman. The Crescendo! Dinner will permeate the senses with what makes Louisiana so unique, leaving diners with the knowledge that this great melting pot is much more than one note.
The Crescendo! Dinner menu will build with each course and song, much like a musical score, keeping the audience engaged. The evening begins with an opening act of deviled quail eggs with duck cracklin’ and cornmeal hotcakes with Louisiana caviar. The courses progress with a pirogue of slow-roasted rabbit in green coconut curry followed by a corn and crab bisque marrying together the traditions of the Cajun countryside with the Creole city. The menu crescendos with a main course of cochon de lait served over risotto “dirtied” with truffle pâté and savory sausage. Dessert completes the score with blueberry sorbet and a peach cake. All courses are paired with well-balanced cocktails and enviable vintages. For the full five-course menu and beverage pairings, visit www.missrivernola.com/event/crescendo.
Tickets to the Crescendo! Dinner are available for $250 per person inclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are available via OpenTable and by calling the restaurant at 504-434-5701.
THE RETURN OF BRUNCH AT COMPÈRE LAPIN
Beginning June 4th, locals and visitors can enjoy Compton’s Caribbean-meets-Louisiana cuisine from 10:30AM - 2PM every Sunday. Starters include Tater Tots with crème fraiche and caviar; Everything Bagel with tuna tartar and chili cream cheese; and the famed CL Buttermilk Biscuits with jam and whipped ricotta. Main plates include the return of Chef’s Hot Fire Chicken - a dish that was only available during lunch and brunch - served with biscuits and slaw; Braised Pork with polenta, confit tomatoes and sunny egg; Smothered Rabbit with biscuit croquette; and French Toast with rum caramel, pecans and mint. Guests can end on a sweet note with Buttermilk Pie with strawberry compote; Chia Pudding with coconut and berries; and Zeppole (Italian fried dough similar to beignet) with pecans and rum caramel.
The first New Orleans restaurant to receive the prestigious “Best American Hotel Bar” Spirited Award® by the Tales of The Cocktail Foundation, Compère Lapin’s cocktail program is as inventive as the cuisine. Boozy brunch offerings include In the Valley Below – Cimmaron tequila, coffee-infused mezcal, Campari, cherry and cacao; Last Stag – Union Mezcal, German amaro, Luxardo maraschino and lime; House of Zanzibar – Black Strap Rum, Creme de Banane, Angostura, orgeat and bitters; and more. A Bottomless Brunch Punch is also on offer for $20.
BAKERY BAR LAUNCHES CLUB BB: SUMMER CLASSICS REMIX
Discounted Tropical Twists on New Orleans Classic Cocktails
Available All-Day Thursdays May 4 - August 24, 2023
Just a stone’s throw from the Crescent City Connection Overpass in the Lower Garden District, Bakery Bar has become a locals’ haunt for imaginative cocktails, weekday brunch and Latin American-meets-Creole cuisine. Just in time for summer, Bakery Bar has announced the launch of Club BB: Summer Classics Remix – a weekly cocktail extravaganza available, Thursdays, from open-to-close, starting May 4th through August 24th. Priced at only $9 each, all-day on Thursdays, the specialty cocktail menu follows:
Tropical remix of the classic Café Brûlot
Spiced rum, orange bitters, allspice, Pretty Coffee cold brew, chicory whipped cream
Frozen twist on a Grasshopper
Light rum, mint, cacao, cream and lots of ice
Smoothed-out version of the Hand Grenade
Rum, vodka, gin, cantaloupe and pineapple
A tiki-fied Brandy Crusta
Spiced rum, dry curacao, orange, lemon and sugar
Guests can accompany these boozy treats with an array of snacks from Executive Chef Lydia Solano including Oxtail Croquettes; Fried Hibiscus Pickles with confit garlic and housemade chamoy; Bacon Blue Sliders; and Dumpster Frites – a Bakery Bar specialty featuring hand-cut fries, Urban South Who Dat beer cheese, pork debris and grilled onions. Bakery Bar is also showing love to locals with their weekly specials. On Tuesdays, aka S.I.N Day, service industry workers can enjoy 15% off brunch and dinner menu items with valid I.D.; Wednesdays, relish in discounted wine by the glass and bottles with Wine Wednesdays; and take advantage of Bakery Bar’s rotating Happy Hour food menu, available from 4PM -7PM Tuesday - Friday.
SUMMER TIKI TAKEOVER AT THE BOWER BAR
Enjoy Tiki-inspired Cocktails and Dishes June & July 2023
This Summer, The Bower Bar - the indoor/outdoor bar next door to The Bower - is gearing up for the season with a tropical Tiki Takeover during the months of June and July.
With a decked-out space filled with tiki decor, along with an array of tiki-inspired cocktails from Beverage Director Mickey Mullins, guests can enjoy $18 sippables featuring a variety of Don Q rums. Specialty cocktails include Frozen Pina Colada with rum, pineapple, and coconut; Rum Mango Old Fashioned - Don Q Gran Reserva Añejo XO, spiced mango, and bitters; Painkiller - rums, citrus, and cream of coconut; Jungle Bird - rum, bitter orange, fresh pineapple, and citrus; The Audacity - rum, passionfruit, citrus, orgeat, and absinthe spray; and Hakuna Matata - bourbon, velvet falernum, allspice dram, citrus, aquafaba. Additionally, larger groups can enjoy large-format (shareable) cocktails, including Zombie Bowl - rums, fresh citrus, passionfruit, pineapple, bitters, and house-made grenadine; and Bower Bowl - a refreshing punch shareable featuring fresh juices and Don Q rums. Guests can also enjoy a non-alcoholic take on a gin fizz with the Spiritless Fizz.
Executive Chef Marcus Woodham is spicing it up in the kitchen with options like Spam Musubi - sweet soy glazed spam, sushi rice, furikake, spicy mayo; Pineapple Braised Short Ribs - sweet plantains, avocado and cilantro rice, and pickled onions; Huli Chicken Skewers - Hawaiian macaroni salad, spicy pineapple; Spicy Salmon Poke Tostada - smashed avocado, shaved onions, cilantro, wasabi tobiko; and Peem’s Pad Thai.
When and where: June 1, 2023 - July 31, 2023. Monday-Thursday 4PM - 9PM, Saturday & Sunday 4PM - 11PM. The Bower Bar is located at 1320 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 7013.
TUJAGUE’S CELEBRATES PRIDE MONTH WITH POPPY’S DRAG QUEEN BRUNCH
SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 2023
Three-Month Summer Series Features Three-Course Brunch, Bottomless Mimosas & Lively Entertainment
It is quite fitting that Tujague’s, the birthplace of the tradition known as brunch, was also one of the first to popularize drag queen brunches in New Orleans when the restaurant celebrated its 160th birthday in 2015. The drag queen brunch was created in partnership with cookbook author, media darling and culinary activist Poppy Tooker. Now, in its new locale at 429 Decatur Street, the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans is celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month with the kick-off of the summer series of Poppy’s Drag Queen Brunches on Sunday, June 25th from 11AM - 2PM.
Taking place the last Sunday of each summer month (June 25, July 30 and August 27), these festive celebrations will feature a three-course drag brunch prepared by Executive Chef Gus Martin, bottomless mimosas for three full hours and lively entertainment by nationally-renowned drag queens Laveau Contraire, Debbie With A D, Cucci Licci and Starr Alexander, amongst others. Prepaid tickets are $70 per person (excluding tax and gratuity). Full menu for the June brunch is HERE and reservations can be made on OpenTable (under “Experiences”) or by calling Tujague’s at (504)525-8576. Tujague’s is located at 429 Decatur Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird
The Saenger Theater
Aaron Sorkin (best known for writing The West Wing) adapted of Harper Lee's classic 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, opening on Broadway in 2018. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the play is set in Alabama in 1934, focusing on steely-but-fair lawyer Atticus Finch, representing a young Black man who has been falsely accused of sexual assault.
The story is told from the perspective of its young protagonists, Scout, Jem, and Dill. Melanie Moore and Justin Mark are suitably youthful and exuberant as the Finch siblings, with Steven Lee Johnson's Dill bringing some balancing comedic moments.
Sorkin takes a few risks with the adaptation, choosing to focus on Atticus (the excellent Richard Thomas) and playing up his dignity and morality as a small town lawyer under pressure from his largely racist community. Thomas plays especially well against Jacqueline Williams, the housekeeper Calpurnia, who has a notable depth and stands up to Atticus when necessary. She has a memorable line when told about the stuff that doesn't kill us making us stronger: "But what about the stuff that kills us?"
The play addresses dark subject matter, including the machinations of the KKK and the implied sexual abuse in a local family, something that the film version shied away from. Period-appropriate slurs are difficult to hear in the modern day, but certainly conjure up the viciousness of the situation. Arianna Gayle Stucki plays the difficult part of Mayella Ewell, the teenager who accuses Tom Robinson. Robinson is expertly portrayed by Glenn Fleary, and contributes memorably to the incredibly evocative courtroom scene.
It’s a large and adept cast, including Mary Badham, who appeared in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird as Scout (earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress). She effectively retired from acting shortly after the release and has done very few roles, making her theater debut here as the bigoted Mrs. Henry Dubose. A piece of Hollywood history live on stage, then, and a sometimes chilling but hopefully optimistic story ensues, to which Sorkin has brought his customary rigor.
It's received wisdom that to understand folk, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. One of the themes revealed in To Kill A Mockingbird is that good people like Robinson already do this, so to create a just world, the trick is to make bad folk do this as well.
To Kill A Mockingbird runs at The Saenger Theater through June 4th. Tickets and show info here.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Review by Amelia Parenteau
The NOLA Project’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Brittany N. Williams, is a romp,
and this tight 2-hour production flies in the face of anyone who alleges The Bard’s works are
boring. Incidentally, this production marks a full circle moment for The NOLA Project, having
performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream as their first sculpture garden production, back in
As I settled into my picnic blanket with my fellow “groundlings” at the New Orleans Museum of
Art’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden, I was struck by both the honey-colored sun cloaking the
Spanish moss in the live oak trees on stage, and the multigenerational audience surrounding
me. Not to mention the Backstreet Boys crooning from the sound system.
Just as the audience trickled into the garden, the characters gradually entered the stage in the
round, garbed in early aughts summer chic, greeting each other, preparing the space for the
storytelling about to unfold. It felt as though we’d all been invited back in time, not just to the
pre-cell phone, pre-social media era of 2002, when this production was set, but to a medieval
village fair. Or perhaps the city of Athens, Greece, and its surrounding woods…
Like a dream, this play has subplots galore and intentionally blurs the lines between fact and
fiction, particularly as the fairies delight in interfering with the mortals’ realities. This includes
the play within a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, whose plot bears a striking resemblance to Romeo
and Juliet, played farcically in this context. As a traditional comedy, the story ends in marriage,
not only of Theseus and Hippolyta, but also the pairs of lovers who have finally aligned their
desires: Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena.
For a story as layered and complicated as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Williams’ direction and
the ensemble cast’s fabulous performances render the story truly accessible. To enhance the
feeling of communal experience, the actors’ sotto voce commentary underscoring the primary
action or dialogue added a realistic and often quite humorous touch. J’aiLa Price as Helena was
the perfect fiery foil to Alexandria Miles’ sugar sweet Hermia (until the tables were turned, of
In one spectacular moment of worlds colliding, Titania, the fairy queen exquisitely played by
Monica R. Harris, references the moon and points to it, and all the characters on stage gaze up
adoringly, causing the audience to also turn around and behold: the real moon! A glowing
crescent, slipping in and out of clouds.
This production truly had something for everyone: malaprops, innuendo, fairies on stilts,
Eminem, theater magic (like when Puck, the fairy king’s henchman, seemingly illuminates the
canopy of string lights by tossing an orb of light into the sky), impassioned soliloquies, bumbling
fools, magic potions, lovers’ quarrels, fart jokes. Kaci Thomassie and Bridget Ann Boyle’s costume and prop design were outstanding, including delightful details such as the lion’s mane
made of yellow rubber gloves in the play within a play. Emblematic of the entire production’s
fantastical melding of the absurd with the everyday, “these things do thus please me that befall
preposterously,” to quote a certain woodland sprite.
See the NOLA projects upcoming productions here.
Chef Nina Compton is inviting guests to indulge in a special a la carte Mother’s Day brunch. Amongst starters are Buttermilk Biscuits with mango jam and whipped ricotta and Tater Tots with creme fraiche and caviar. Entree options include Shrimp and Grits with Creole sauce; Beef Bolognese with potato and ricotta gnocchi; and Fried Chicken & Biscuits with hot honey. Desserts include a Mango Crème Brûlée and Bread Pudding with stewed local berries, Chantilly Cream, and mint. Guests can also enjoy an array of boozy brunch cocktails. Reservations can be made on Resy. For more information and full Mother’s Day menu visit www.comperelapin.com.
The second-oldest restaurant in New Orleans is celebrating Mother’s Day with a feast (pictured). On Sunday, May 14th, enjoy Executive Chef Gus Martin’s decadent Mother’s Day prix-fixe (priced $46 - $58, based main entree), featuring elevated Creole dishes including Boudin Balls with pepper jelly; Crawfish Au Gratin - Louisiana crawfish tails folded into mornay sauce with gruyere cheese, baked and served with French bread crostini (+$3.50); BBQ Shrimp and Grits - pan sauteed shrimp simmered in a New Orleans-style BBQ sauce, served over stone ground grits; Veal and Crawfish - pan seared veal medallions, served with asparagus, new potato mash and a smoked tomato beurre blanc, topped with Louisiana crawfish tails; Grilled Filet Mignon - 6oz filet of beef, served with asparagus, roasted pearl onions and sauce chasseur. For dessert, indulge in a sublime Bread Pudding with rum sauce. Full menu can be viewed at https://tujaguesrestaurant.com/menus/#Dinner, and reservations can be made on OpenTable.
Serving up savory dishes and craft cocktails, Bakery Bar wants to treat mom to a laid back brunch featuring Latin America-meets-Louisiana fare. Relish in the Mother’s Day Benedict - mixed greens, fried tomatillo, grilled ham, poached egg, and jalapeno avocado crema; Fried Tomatillo Benedict; Basura Patatas - home fries, sautéed onions, bacon, beer cheese; and Fried Chicken Sandwich - with spicy relish on a bun. The cocktail program is as creative as the menu, with drink names nodding to pop culture. Inspired by the theme “PRETEND,” a cocktail to try during your visit includes Abolish the Monarchy! - Pimm's, Lillet Blanc, cucumber bitters, green chartreuse. For dessert, guests can satisfy their sweet tooth with the Peach Cobbler Flan made by Chef Solano or a slice of Pecan Praline Doberge – a pecan studded white cake separated by layers of caramel pudding and covered with a pecan praline fondant. Take home a whole doberge cake for Mom or order online at www.debbiedoesdoberge.com and GoldBelly.
The lively restaurant located inside the Garden District’s Pontchartrain Hotel, Jack Rose, will feature specialty offerings this Mother’s Day, curated by Chef/Owner Brian Landry. Mother’s Day specials include Admiral Oysters with pink lemon mignonette; Crawfish Benedict with buttermilk biscuit, and creole hollandaise; Halibut with baby vegetables and citrus vinaigrette; and Duck Confit Hash with sunny egg, and orange beurre blanc. Jack Rose is located inside the Pontchartrain Hotel at 2031 St Charles Avenue. Reservations can be made on OpenTable. https://www.jackroserestaurant.com/
On Sunday, May 14th, Mister Mao will host a very special Mother’s Day Dim Sum BBQ. Perfect for those looking for an alternative to the traditional Mother’s Day brunch, the family-style menu will feature close to a dozen different small plates from the recently-returned “Here Comes the Chuck Wagon” roving carts. Price - $55per person (excluding tax and gratuity). Reservations available on Resy
This Mother’s Day, Birdy’s invites locals and visitors to indulge in favorite brunch offerings like Fried Chicken Biscuit with crispy chicken thigh, chicken sausage, jalapeño, and cane syrup country gravy, sunny side egg; Avocado Toast with farm radish, sunflowers seeds, orange, chili flakes, with a farm salad; Birdy’s Burger with two smash patties, Hook’s white cheddar, mustard aioli, lettuce, tomato, pickles, brioche bun, served with a side salad; French Toast; and the Birdy’s Brunch Board served with a donut, granola, slab bacon, hot coppa, bubble waffle, fruit, seasonal jam, mini cookies, mini pancakes, house syrup, triple cream cheese, and soft boiled eggs. www.birdysnola.com
Couvant will be open early for normal brunch (9 am – 2 pm) and dinner service (5 – 10 pm) with a Mother’s Day Brunch Special, the Fried Oyster, Bacon & Brie Omelet: Crispy Fired Gulf Oysters, Triple Cream Brie, Hickory Smoked Bacon and a Lemon Bur Blanc. Couvant will also feature 20% off all sparkling and champagne bottle options on Mother’s Day. Couvant’s weekend brunch features $25 bottomless brunch cocktails (Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Paloma, Sangria and brunch punch) plus some amazing brunch dishes with French/Southern Flare including Duck Confit and Waffles, Croque Madame, Pain Perdue, Louisiana Crawfish Hash, Shrimp and Grits and more.
Yo Nashi’s multi-course Omakase experience ($89) is the perfect intimate dinner experience to wow your mom on Mother’s Day (open 5-10 pm). Make the meal even more special with a Wagyu beef upgrade with the finest Wagyu Beef from Japan. For an earlier night, Yo Nashi offers daily happy hour from 5-6:30 pm featuring half-price beers and sake by the glass, with an a la carte menu for those not wanting a full Omakase experience. Those celebrating earlier in the week, Yo Nashi has teamed up with “The Sake Ninja,” aka Chris Johnson, to create a special omakase dinner with unique sake pairings this Thursday, May 11. The seven-course meal is $145++ and reservations can be made anytime between 5-10 pm (reservations via Open Table).
Saint John will be open for normal business hours (brunch 11 am – 4 pm, dinner until 9 pm). Saint John now features Mumm champagne varieties at the lowest prices in town – Bottomless Mumm Mimosas: Choice of Mumm Napa Brut Prestige or Brut Rose for only $45, G.H. Mumm by the Bottle for ONLY $75 (Over $40 difference in savings when you dine for brunch). Saint John also offers Bottomless Bloody Mary’s featuring Kettle One Vodka and Zatarains to the brunch menu ($25). Saint John also added some amazing new menu items sure to make any mother happy: Crawfish Bread and Breakfast (brunch), Pork Chop Yakamein (dinner), Chargrilled Filet (dinner), Brown Butter Seared Scallops (dinner) and River Road Crawfish Etouffee (dinner).
Copper Vine will be serving its regular brunch (10:30 am – 3 pm) and dinner service (3 – 9 pm).. Enjoy brunch on Copper Vine’s lush outdoor courtyard or indoor picturesque space with standout dishes including Creole Shakshouka, Cornflake Fried Chicken and Waffles, Gulf Fish Amandine, and Cochon de Lait Grits. Copper Vine also offers $25 bottomless mimosas throughout brunch.
Built by 12 Founding Restaurant Partners, Moveable Feast is a new platform for award winning independent restaurants to connect with guests at home across America. Their first product is Dinner Party.
Dinner Party is a culinary journey, featuring one new award winning restaurant each month. They source the finest seasonal and sustainably grown ingredients, largely drawn from the bounty of local farms near their open and collaborative kitchen in downtown Napa.
Now, from anywhere in America, you can not only read about restaurants that win Michelin stars, James Beard awards, and rise to the top of “best of” lists, you can experience them at home.
Check out their website: Moveable Feast
Couvant is excited to announce that starting this week, the restaurant will extend its weekend brunch service to Friday, now offering brunch Fri – Sun, 9am – 2pm! Couvant’s weekend brunch features $25 bottomless brunch cocktails (Bloody Mary, Mimosa, Paloma, Sangria and brunch punch) plus some amazing brunch dishes with French/Southern Flare including Duck Confit and Waffles, Croque Madame, Pain Perdue and more! Couvant has also added a few new brunch menu items, including:
DUCK AND BRIE SPRING ROLLS: Duck Fricassee, Apple, Pepper Jelly Aioli, Brie.
LOUISIANA CRAWFISH HASH: Sauce Nantua, Sweet Corn, Rosemary Garlic Potatoes, Sunny Side Up Egg.
SHRIMP & GRITS: Grilled Gulf Shrimp, Sautéed Onions and Peppers, Chorizo Sauce, Stone-Ground Grits
In addition, Couvant has also added new items to its dinner menu, including:
CRAWFISH GNOCCHI: Sauce Nantua, Sweet Corn, Chili-Garlic Crisp.
LEEKS VINAIGRETTE: Blanched Leeks, Eggs Polonaise, Fried Capers, Sauce Ravigote.
COUVANT OYSTERS: Lemongrass Velouté, Kaluga Caviar, Finger Lime.
BERKWOOD FARMS PORK CHOP: Pan Roasted Pork Chop, Dijon Panko Crust, Peas and Lima Bean a la Louisiane.
Bakery Bar has some special offerings for Cinco de Mayo. Known for its Latin American-meets-New Orleans cuisine, Bakery Bar is helmed by Costa Rican native Chef Lydia Solano. On May 5th, in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, Chef Solano will feature a special Taco Trio featuring a Boudin Ball & Latin Slaw Taco; Cajun Tongue & Mushroom Taco and an Alligator & Salsa Taco. In addition, the restaurant will offer a specialty dessert, Horchata Coffee Rum Gelato and $8 Spicy Margaritas all day long. Bakery Bar is located at 1179 Annunciation. www.bakery.bar.
Heaven deadly sins: Closer To Heaven
Review by Paul Oswell
I once saw a touring Broadway production of Kinky Boots, a musical set in the factories of a provincial English town. Nothing in the musical references England (geographically or linguistically), though, and so the artistic decision to have the entire cast perform in strikingly bad British accents baffled me.
Closer To Heaven is set in London, but with its script full of flats and birds and wankers, there’s nowhere to hide, and it would sound much stranger in American accents. Thankfully, this cast of UNO students do a better job than the Kinky Boots professionals, and likely only my fine-tuned British ear picked up on a few minor wobbles.
With music by pop veterans the Pet Shop Boys and book by collaborator Jonathan Harvey, Closer To Heaven is a disco drama, framed by a London nightclub and populated by a sea of lost souls. Innocent Shell (Adrienne Simmons) arrives in the big city to meet aging raver and club manager Vic (Aaron Brewer), her estranged gay father. Wide-eyed barman Straight Dave (Mason Willis) is trying to make his way as a pop star and club host Billie Trix (Laurel Tannehill) is a chaotic, Teutonic diva dining out on past glories and narcotics.
The plot strands (Shell and Vic fight, Dave falls in love but is sexually confused, Dave vies with a mercenary pop mogul) take place in variously seedy corners - the club, back offices, bedrooms, saunas. The world building is drug and sex fuelled, though I wish slightly more of it had evolved on the dance floor, as the chorus numbers with their more intricate choreography are where the lights shone most brightly for me.
Adrienne Simmons and Laurel Tannehill stand out, the former with notably elevated dance moves and a note-perfect accent, the latter with spectacularly dramatic psychedelic breakdowns and rants, peppered with touching moments of maternal clarity. Mason Willis’ driven but naive ingénu is impulsive and charismatic, and there’s good energy between him, Shell, and Jose J Figueroa as Mile End Lee, the cheeky yet tragic neighborhood drug runner.
I very much enjoyed (perhaps not ‘enjoyed’? You know what I mean) the Weinsteinian creepiness of Bob Saunders (Max Corcoran), an odious music industry boss, wielding predatory power from under a bath towel. Payton Wright as sidekick Flynn is also a treat, with some of the night’s best camp quips and a hilarious ketamine-tinged diatribe. Aaron Brewer handles Vic's redemption arc with graceful aplomb.
The songs (not Pet Shop Boys singles, sadly, but numbers written for this musical) edge towards balladry rather than bangers, although second-half opener It’s Just My Little Tribute To Caligula, Darling! is a fun, hi-octane romp. The ambience is more atmospheric dinge and low-lit gratification than shiny, glitter-strewn dancefloors.
Kudos to L Kalo Gow’s direction, and the lighting and set design for believable, near-seamless flits between shady city corners. The world feels aesthetically and emotionally consistent, and the dangers, inspiration, hedonism and tragedies of young love, queerness and urban life are creatively delivered. Shout out to the chorus, who danced and sang with entertaining gusto, and pathos when called for.
There are some bravely-undertaken explicit scenes, and as they’re played for truth rather than titillation, it’s kind of an unsure, exploratory eroticism. It’s not an easy ask for young actors to perform love scenes in front of a live audience, but there’s an impressive honesty to it - sincere credit to Adrienne Simmons, Mason Willis and Jose J Figueroa for navigating these with artistic integrity.
It’s a tricky show to pull off, what with the accents and the material and the choreography, but I left uplifted, and there’s a poignant celebration of queer legends as a finale. Come with an open mind, and you’ll surely get the most out of this show’s big heart.
Closer To Heaven runs at the Robert E. Nims Theatre on UNO’s campus through May 6th. More info and tickets.
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