Queen of Hearts

Alice (Lexxe, right) sings the opening number in Company XIV’s  Queen of Hearts .

Alice (Lexxe, right) sings the opening number in Company XIV’s Queen of Hearts.

If ever a show were able to make the word eclectic seem insufficient, and excess seem wan, Austin McCormick’s Queen of Hearts is it. Retelling the story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice for his Company XIV, McCormick primarily uses Alice in Wonderland but borrows characters from Through the Looking-Glass. That slight mashup aesthetic is more pronounced, though, in the show itself, which is an amalgam of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, The Rocky Horror Show, Cirque du Soleil, and Minsky’s. It’s an exuberant ride, but it helps if you are familiar with the original, since there’s no dialogue.

Alice meets the Queen of Hearts (Storm Marrero).

Alice meets the Queen of Hearts (Storm Marrero).

Instead, McCormick, who directed and choreographed, tells the story through dance, music and acrobatics. The lyrics connect to Carroll’s story thematically, though sometimes obliquely, with a word or a sentiment. They range from pop songs—some well-known, some curiosities—to more modern numbers with a thumping beat; even opera and classical music make appearances.

For the Mad Tea Party, Frank Sinatra sings “When I Take My Sugar to Tea.” Is it all magical? Dean Martin sings “The Magician.” Is Wonderland a dream of Alice’s? Perry Como sings “Dream On Little Dreamer.” When Cheshire cats appear, there’s Tom Jones crooning the 1960s charmer “What’s New Pussycat?”

The less remembered numbers include the 1941 “Flamingo”—Alice used one on the croquet ground as a mallet—and LaVern Baker’s mid-’50s’ song “Tweedle Dee,” inevitably heard with the double act of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, taken from Through the Looking-Glass and embodied here by twins Nicholas and Ross Katen. Dressed as overripe matrons, they do a bawdy striptease as they swing exaggeratedly sagging breasts, and end up with bare bottoms belonging to a different sex altogether. (The partial nudity requires an age of 21 for admission.)

Michael Cunio plays the White Rabbit.

Michael Cunio plays the White Rabbit.

There’s also a reworking of Tom Lehrer’s “The Merry Minuet” that Marcy Richardson’s Mad Hatter sings, with lyrics that, jarringly for this fantasia, include a reference to a wall and to Trump. More rock-oriented songs include “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by the Animals, and Billie Eilish’s “You Should See Me in a Crown.”

The men in heels, fishnet stockings and eye shadow seem as comfortable in their choreography as the renowned Les Ballets Trockadero, especially in red tutus as the roses that need to be painted red and, at another point, wearing dildoes with 18th-century costumes. The singing is exemplary, from Lexxe as an unexpectedly tattooed Alice to Storm Marrero’s Queen of Hearts. Both have powerful voices.

As if all that were insufficient, McCormick has enlisted specialty acts that evoke Cirque du Soleil. Ashley Dragon demonstrates a mastery of the cyr wheel. Lace appears mummified in black but is quickly unwrapped into a deep blue spangled dress; the skirt soon disappears, and she performs extraordinary contortions, most notably smoking a long cigarette holder held in her toes from a leg extended backward over her head, and, at one point, three cigarettes at once. She later appears in a pink-lighted dance as a butterfly.

A merman in a large fishbowl (Làszlò Major), makes his way to the stage on flippers but soon transforms into wholly human, putting his body perpendicular to a pole with seeming ease. A woman in toe shoes tiptoes atop a line of jeroboams, toe to opening. Even the often overlooked Dormouse (a splendid Nolan McKew) does aerial gymnastics on a crown-shaped chandelier, with a pasties-wearing partner, Marcy Richardson, as she sings “Mad World” by Michael Andrews.

For the costumes, Zane Pihlstrom seems to have cornered the market on tassels, spangles and froufrou. His dresses range from the high baroque—a bright red pannier skirt for Alice—to a steampunk-inspired outfit for Marrero. There’s a teapot worn by two dancers who become the Cheshire cats (Jourdan Epstein and Ryan Redmond). His clothes are inventive, and superbly lighted by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew.

Twins Nicholas and Ross Katen play Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Photographs by Mark Shelby Perry.

Twins Nicholas and Ross Katen play Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Photographs by Mark Shelby Perry.

The excess extends to hospitality: scantily clad women and men, the latter in jockstraps with glitter-covered cups, cheerfully guide audience members to their seats on arrival, where a small bottle of champagne is poured into a glass with a single blackberry. Later, chocolates are handed out, and between acts there’s a fine juggler and other entertainment. From the lithe performers, who all seem to hold master’s degrees in writhing, to the sybaritic atmosphere, pleasure is the goal. It’s irresistible.  

Company XIV’s Queen of Hearts plays through Nov. 2 at Theatre XIV (383 Troutman St. in Bushwick, Brooklyn). Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and through Aug 18; there is an additional performance at 8 p.m. on July 31. Tickets at $85–$155, and VIP couches for two people at $325–$475 may be purchased by calling (866) 811-4111 or visiting companyxiv.com.com. The running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with two entertainment-filled intermissions.

Click for print friendly PDF version of this blog post