The Extraordinary Fall of the Four Legged-Woman, a new musical being shown at the 10th annual FRIGID New York festival, is based on real-life human marvel Myrtle Corbin, a woman with four legs, two of her own and the other pair belonging to a Siamese twin sister, who was fully formed only from the waist down. The show does not go into a detailed historical account of Corbin, but one suspects that the creators have been inspired by Side Show, the Broadway musical about the Hilton sisters, who were conjoined twins.
Extraordinary Fall focuses only on a small part of Corbin’s story, during which she is a member of a traveling circus sideshow. On opening night, a mysterious man comes to see it. Corbin (Madeline Bugeau-Heartt) reveals her extra pair of legs in a sly manner, lifting the outer layers of her skirt slowly. The man, Dr. Clinton Bicknell (Justy Kosek), falls head over heels for Corbin and returns every night to pursue her romantically.
The other characters have individual acts, though what they are and what oddities make these characters “freaks”—or even if all these characters are freaks. It may be that they just have unique talents to perform. The character of Oswald (Marcus Herndon), for example, has chosen to stop performing, but the reason for his decision is never made clear, nor is the type of act he used to perform. Is he the strongest man in the world? In a choreographed movement (by Kory Geller), during one of his solos, the actor makes circles on the floor with his foot. It's not clear whether it represents Oswald becoming some sort of man-bull when he gets angry or something else.
At one point in the musical the character of Lola (Lindsey Ackerman) explains to the character of Simon-Elizabeth that she finds it easier to expose herself fully to the audience each time that she performs. Again, it is not clear what Lola is referring to. In her act she seems to be a sword swallower and tightrope walker, and she also does a striptease. Does she mean exposure relating to the striptease act? Is Simon-Elizabeth exposing himself as a hermaphrodite or a transgendered male to female? Although the show has holes in it, the way it examines what it means to be “other" is powerful.
Although the setting is Arizona—“The light was dark one night in Arizona./The brittle stardust sunk down low" goes a lyric—Michelle Rickert’s design doesn't really evoke the terrain. It's up to the dialogue to refer to dust, to the clear nights when stars can be seen for miles and miles, and to heat that warms the days in the cooler months but turns brisk at night.
Lily Ali-Oshatz, who plays M the Ringmaster, also wrote the show’s book, music and lyrics. This 55-minute musical, sung a capella in its entirety, is an impressive endeavor. There are haunting melodies that are hard to forget. The cast of five all have a strong musical sense and individual singing styles and vocal qualities.They have been costumed by TDF Costume Collection with stunning clothes that give the show a sense of the 1800s time period. Especially notable are the ringmaster’s striped cropped pants.
The minimalist style of set design and props also works well for the show. Bright-colored umbrellas with interior lined white twinkle lights serve many uses. Not only are they umbrellas, but they become other elements in the musical. When spinning around they are train wheels. When the actors line up with them, they act as a “theatrical flat” to create a sense of privacy as the lovers Corbin and Bicknell sing their intimate love song. Stacked on top of one another, the umbrellas become logs in a campfire, as cast members sit around them to listen to Oswald’s storytelling.
Despite the flaws, the overall concept, vision, and music are good enough to win plaudits for Ali-Oshatz's maiden effort.
The Extraordinary Fall of the Four-Legged Woman is playing at the Kraine Theater (85 E. 4th St.). Remaining performances are Feb. 22 at 8:50 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 27 at 1:40 p.m.; and Wednesday, March 2, at 8:50 p.m. Tickets are $10-$18 and are available online at www.frigidnewyork.info or at the Kraine Theater box office.