The Liberty Theatre on 42nd Street was transformed this past spring into the site-specific and immersive theatrical experience, Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic. The interactive show re-imagined Florenz Ziegfeld's lavish 1910-20's revues of the same title. Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic is the third interactive show in the Speakeasy Dollhouse series from author, artist and playwright Cynthia von Buhler.
According to press notes, "Guests can step into a reimagining of Ziegfeld's 1920’s extravaganza The Midnight Frolic, replete with showgirls, burlesque, aerialists and – of course – plenty of spirits. At the center of the story is the mysterious 1920 poisoning death of silent film star and Ziegfeld Girl, Olive Thomas, and the subsequent destruction of her husband, movie star, Jack Pickford."
Audiences are free to follow the story, about the poisoning death of silent film star and Ziegfeld girl Olive Thomas by wandering through the space at their own will. They can expect to encounter such 1920's icons as Fanny Brice, Josephine Baker, Eddie Cantor, Billie Burke, Will Rogers, Marilyn Miller, Mary Eaton, Dorothy Mackaill, Alberto Vargas, Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Sheen and the Ziegfeld Girls--and Olive herself, both alive and dead. The cast members mingle with the audience before the show and during breaks. Guests are encouraged to dress in 1920s fashions, and some are assigned character names, including artist Alberto Vargas, composer Maurice Ravel and writer Zelda Fitzgerald, and are encouraged to interact with the cast in character.
The event is held at the Liberty Theater, 234 West 42nd St., right down the block from the New Amsterdam Theatre, where master showman Ziegfeld produced many editions of his glittering Ziegfeld Follies revues a century ago. It now houses Aladdin. On the top of the New Amsterdam Theatre building was another performance space known as the New Amsterdam Roof (today offices for Disney Theatricals). In that space Ziegfeld produced a more adult-oriented series of revues, known as the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic off and on from 1915 to 1929. Olive Thomas is believed to haunt the New Amsterdam, with sightings occurring fairly frequently during the past decade. One of Thomas' photographs is hung inside every entrance to the theatre.
Audiences are free to follow the story by watching an elaborate stage show at Ziegfeld’s Rooftop Theater and or by using their passport to travel to “Paris” (in the former dressing room area). In Paris they choose their corruption at Montmartre’s Cabaret du Néant where a garish garcon regales them with tales of guillotines and deadly bacteria. Or, they travel around the corner to sleuth the luxury suite at Hotel Ritz Paris where Pickford allegedly tried to save the Follies’ star, after she drank poison. Olive Thomas is played by actress, model and filmmaker Syrie Moskowitz. Recently, Moskowitz starred in a one-woman play also adapted for the screen, A Telephone Call by Dorothy Parker. Violinist Russell Farhang, the star of Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning, plays Florenz Ziegfeld. Delysia La Chatte plays Josephine Baker. La Chatte wrote, choreographed, produced and performed in Dark Heroine, a burlesque show about super heroines of color, at The Triad Theater. Robyn Adele Anderson plays Lilyan Tashman. Anderson is a lead vocalist in Postmodern Jukebox, a band that recently became a viral YouTube sensation. Postmodern Jukebox’s album hit #1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart and charted in the top five of the Billboard charts.
The cast also includes Dash Barber, Haleigh Ciel, Brian Davis, Bethany Fay, Chris Fink, Ellie Frances, Luka Fric, Jeremy X Halpern, Celeste Hudson, Charley Layton, Rachel Boyadjis, Dana McDonald, Melissa Aguerre, Erin Orr, Erica Vlahinos, Carmen Carriker, Dolly Debutante, Lily Faye, Ivory Fox, Brianna Hurley, Wae Messed, Kat Mon Dieu, Melissa Aguerre, Sylvana Tapia, Akela, Angela, Amy-Helene Carlson, Claudia Acosta, and Maximillien Jaden.
Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic’s music director, bandleader and horn player is Alphonso Horne, a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars, the band that played nightly for the Broadway musical After Midnight. Bass is played by Jennifer Vincent, drums by Moses Patrou and keys by Chris Pattishall.
Cynthia von Buhler is the writer, director and set designer of Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic. Von Buhler's first play in the Speakeasy Dollhouse series, The Bloody Beginning, ran continuously in New York City from 2011 to 2105. Delysia La Chatte is the choreographer for the dance and burlesque. Carmela Lane created the costumes. Puppetry was created and is performed by Erin Orr. Billy Butler, wrote original songs for the show, and Czech photographer and filmmaker Bibiana created silent films for the play that feature the cast and the show’s sets at Liberty Theater.
The Liberty Theater offers a $65 per person prix fixe dinner option for guests during the show. Dinner will be traditional 1920's American cuisine (with pescetarian, vegan and gluten-free options) and will include a choice of an appetizer, a salad, an entree, a dessert and one drink (wine, beer, cocktails.) Dinner can be reserved by emailing [email protected] Tickets can be ordered at Web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/943609.
For this show, the Liberty Theatre accessible only through a "secret portal" located at the back of the Liberty Diner. The 1904 vintage theatre operated as a Broadway house only through 1933. It has served a variety of uses over the years, mainly as a movie theatre or space for business meetings. The back of the auditorium and balcony were considerably foreshortened in a 1990s renovation, but the front of the orchestra, the proscenium, stage, fly space and dressing rooms have been preserved.