Earlier this year, Austin McCormick’s Company XIV gave theater-lovers a sexy twist on a childhood tale with “Nutcracker Rouge,” a cocktail of circus, vaudeville, and burlesque served with a glittery garnish and lots of skin. The performance, which has since become a staple of the troop’s sultry repertoire, established McCormick as a master entertainer whose productions dance with good taste and debauchery. His most recent work, “Cinderella,” belongs to this lineage of G-rated stories gone naughty. “Nutcracker Rogue” showed us what the ballerinas wore under their tutus; “Cinderella” makes us wonder, “What else can we do with a glass slipper?”
The performance begins from the moment you enter Theater XIV, a 200-seater in the heart of Bushwick, where the atmosphere is so thick with frankincense that it would have choked Louis XIV. The interior of the theater is styled in sumptuous Rococo, drenched in blood-red lamplight and the twinkle of crystal chandeliers. In the antechamber, barmaids and coatcheck-men towering in high heels wear powdered wigs, girdles, and Mozartian capes; virtually nothing is required of them to transform into the characters of “Cinderella,” which occurs as soon as they finish serving drinks and handing out tickets (I believe I was served a $6 pour-your-own coffee by Cinderella herself).
McCormick’s “Cinderella” offers a proper Manhattan indulgence in the senses and wallet, but with reminders of the neighborhood’s gender-fluid, hipster aesthetic throughout. At least half of the performers have visible tattoos, including Prince Charming who has Gumby on his left butt cheek. Cinderella’s two sisters, played by Nick and Ross Katen, are spindly-limbed twins sporting handlebar mustaches who debut with lip-syncing Bobby Troup’s song, “Daddy” (“Daddy I want a brand new car, champagne, caviar). The twins, an obvious crowd-favorite, draw catcalls and hearty laughs throughout the night whether they frolic about nude with just a scanty towel between them, or sashay in gold-sequin bodysuits while waving peacock-feather fans.
For two and a half hours — including two intermissions — “Cinderella” oozes sparkly stuff and titillates with cheeky dance numbers, breathtaking aerialist maneuvers, and sexy costumes. The musical selection includes probably every genre since 1634, when the first European version of the story appeared, from harpsichord trills wrapped in Kubrick electronica to modern tunes belted out by Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, a super-sized version of Rhianna named Stormy.
And have I mentioned girdles yet? Girdles, girdles, girdles.
The theater’s location off the Jefferson Street stop and the cost of tickets ($65 for a chair and $300 for a VIP divan) draws a mixed audience. Theater XIV is too far for Broadway purists, and tickets are too expensive for theater enthusiasts living in the neighborhood. My neighbor on the left was a blond financial analyst who had bought a discounted ticket online and come all the way from Jersey City — by herself — to see “Cinderella,” because “it looked like fun.”
During the spectacle, she became drinking buddies with a group of guys next to her who was getting very drunk on $8 tequila shots. One bearded Mets fan with a backwards hat had taken an interest in her. As semi-nude performers splayed and tumbled in delightful maneuvers on stage during the ball scene in the beginning of the second act, he tried to grab the analyst’s hand. She pulled it away, a protestation ensued; someone in the row behind hissed “shut the fuck up,” drinks were poured again, and all was soon forgotten.
During the two intermissions, the mustachioed twins and other cast carried trays of more tequila shots into the crowd. I found myself suppressing a yawn, even as the bare ass and gold-glittering codpiece of one of the twins nearly brushed my face as he squeezed by to bring my neighbors another round. It wasn’t a bored yawn, more like a drugged-out one — a sort of reminder that the human brain wasn’t made to process all the colors, sounds, and nude bodies within the universe, much as we might wish.
The climax of the performance occurs when Cinderella and the Prince perform a daring aerial pas de deux on a ring suspended from the ceiling. Ironically, it was the one point during the night when I felt grounded, as if only the stakes of flying-high could keep me planted in reality.
At the conclusion, one of the performers held up a sign that read, “All dreams must end.” I noticed that the outstretched legs of the bearded man and his new female friend were now entwined. As they got up, I overheard her say, “I really need to start doing yoga again.” The man nodded his head and slipped an arm around her waist.
This dream definitely wasn’t ending; it was going next door for another drink.