NY Theater Review by Joe Regan Jr.
If you have enjoyed any of the productions of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” including the current revised Broadway edition, and are fans of “Rent” and “Spring Awakening” you will have a great time at the Icelandic surreal multimedia original musical “Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” (currently playing at the Minetta Lane Theater), by Ivar Pall Jonsson (book, music and lyrics) and Ivar Pall and his brother Gunnlaugur Jonsson (story,) directed by Bergur Ingolfsson, with extraordinary choreography by Lee Proud, set and projection design by Petr Hlousek (the stage is a series of industrial steps on each side leading to a high bridge and bright tubing has been installed along the walls of the theater,) and the stunning costumes (mostly red and black and leather and industrial wiring) by Hrafnhidur Arnardottir and Edda Gudmundsdottir.
Because “Hedwig,” “Rent” and “Spring Awakening” were not major hits in Reykjavik, the Icelandic team decided to open in New York City and cast New York cast members, including award-winning Cady Huffman whose short blond cut and the fact that she plays Manuela, a part equivalent to the Mayor in “Anyone Can Whistle,” reminds you of the great Angela Lansbury in that part. Later on, when she is at the center of the top of the set bridge she is an instant image of Patti Lupone in “Evita.” Ragnar Agnarsson is a beefy video projection and the inhabitants of the musical live in Elbowville, which is his elbow. There are other sections in his body which are puns like “Penisvania” and “Tex-ass.” He has a complete collection of Robert Redford movies on VHS so there is a photo of Redford sometimes projected on the wall where he is referred to as “God.”
A great cast has been assembled for New York. Marrick Smith as Peter, the ambitious anti-hero, is an extraordinary singer-dancer-actor and his performance in the first act is funny, athletic (at one point sings a song with a sweaty bare chest) and absolutely astonishing. In the middle of the funny, energetic first act, there is an extraordinary tap dance with two members of the ensemble that is in unison and as a challenge. It stops the show.
Imposing Patrick Boll as Huffman’s advisor also is a narrator for the audience. The romantic lead is Jesse Wildman who is the love object of both Peter and his brother Alex (Graydon Long) and has a pet virus (which is treated like a dog on stage.) There is a love duet (without a kiss) but a projection shows the two silhouettes kissing. The third brother, Brad Nacht, has a strong wife played by Kate Shindle who keeps their baby in a mailbox.
The scheme Peter invents is a prosperity machine that prints out promissory notes which impresses Manuela and they recruit citizens to buy them. This plot aspect mirrors the worldwide financial crisis in 2008 and seems to be still going on in the U.S. Towards the end of the first act, Mandrake, a humped over man in a black cloak (played by Rick Faugno who was one of the tap dancing trio,) appears as a government auditor and informs Peter his audit has devalued their credit rating to zero in “Midas Reborn.” To remedy this, Manuela has Peter create a giant heart which rises from behind the scaffolding to set up an Evita like closing “ Our Heart Must Be In It.”
The second act is much more serious when all the items purchased with promissory notes are re-possessed, including furniture, blenders, shoes, and clothes. At one point Huffman, who has been clad in the most extravagant black and red outfits, sits down and plays a guitar and sings a plaintive ballad to Robert Redford, “Oh Bob.” A great moment in the second act.
It would be spoiler to reveal the rest of the plot but the curtain had the audience cheering the performers. It’s one of the most expensive off-Broadway productions but all that money is on the stage and in the great performances by everyone. Special fans of Huffman should not miss her acting, singing and outrageous costumes.
For tickets call 800-745-3000 or go to the website revolution/elbow.com