by Melissa Griegel . . .

Variety Life Productions, a new NYC-based experiential theatre company overseen by Kaitana Magno (Queen of the Night, The Box) and James Sutherland, marries live music, dance, nightlife, variety, circus acts, and immersive entertainment in site-specific performances. In 2018, the premiered Carmen: To Havana & Back, a Cuban-infused re-imagining of the opera Carmen.

Their latest incarnation is Midsummer: A Shakespearience at Loft 51, on 51st and 11th. This imaginative re-telling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is set in a nightclub environment with a bar, floral forest decoration, and a low stage in the center of the room surrounded by couches and chairs.

The Shakespeare forest tale tells the story of the wedding preparations between Athenian Duke Theseus and Amazon Queen Hippolta, and the chaos that ensues. Eugeus wants his daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius but she refuses and elopes with Lysander. Their friend Helena is secretly in love with Demetrius. All four lovers run away to the forest. Meanwhile the fairy king Oberon conspires with Puck who creates mischief with love potion and enchantments, including one that makes Titania fall in love with Bottom, who has been turned into an ass, and one that makes Lysander fall in love with Helena. Fighting and confusion takes over until Oberon lifts all the enchantments and sets all right, making the participants think they dreamt it all.

“Enchanted Forest Couture” was encouraged of all audience members. As guests are seated, and drinks are served, fairies and other cast members roam the room interacting with guests. Fairies approach people asking them what their talent is and writing their name on a scroll of possible performers on this variety-style show. Even some of the cast sit amongst the audience as they integrate themselves amongst the onlookers.

The story is told in an innovative floor show that incorporates elements of Shakespeare’s play with snatches of verse from Midsummer’s Night Dream, live music from a jazz band, magic acts, contortionists, aerial performers, tap dancing, spoken word, beatboxing, drag, breakdancing, and bucket percussion. The fanciful costuming was colorful and lighthearted.

The audience laughed and cheered along with humor in the show. The most dynamic dancing was the tap dancing between Hermia and Lysander who displayed real chemistry. The big fight scene between them and Helena and Demetrius was told through a furious and dynamic tap dance-off.

Emmy Award winner Jason Samuels Smith (Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk) and Adesola Osakalumi (FELA!) created the choreography with music direction by Matt Parker (Postmodern Jukebox). Cinder Petrichor (The Illuminati Ball) and Roberto Garcia (House of Yes) did the scenic design. Costumes were by Isabel Frieberger (Carmen: To Havana & Back).

Photos by Melissa Griegel Photography