Off Broadway Review: “Whiskey Pants: The Mayor of Williamsburg”
- OnStage Associate New York Theatre Critic
A new musical by Christian De Gré is a vibrant, sweet celebration and a bitter truth, all in one shot.
The citizens of post apocalyptic Williamsburg, led by Charles aka the Mayor Whiskey Pants (Tony Mowatt), don’t let their copper mugs go dry. From dusk to dawn they drink whiskey. The biggest worry they know is a hangover. At Whiskey Pants: The Mayor of Williamsburg, the audience members are welcomed to have a taste of this life (literarily) as shots of whiskey are handed out along with the programs. As we take our seats in a 360-degree theater, the “tipsy” chorus members mingle with their guests, struggling to remain standing. Later during the show they periodically pass out on the chairs amongst the crowd, creating a beautiful “surround sound” effect while filling the cozy theater with choral arrangements.
The slick scenic design by Brian Freeland consists of backlit wood panels covering the walls and a wooden platform serving as a stage. The room that looks like a liqueur case lovingly embraces you and truly comes alive with spectacular lighting by Christina Watanabe. Bold and colorful, Watanabe’s work is nothing short of a painterly masterpiece. Very appropriate for a musical, the heroine of which, the mayor’s daughter (Michelle Ireton), is an aspiring artist.
Despite the celebratory atmosphere, the endless bender on the government’s penny is not a joyous affair. We learn from scratched sepia propaganda film that some horrible Event preceded the founding of the Whiskey Still settlement. Since then, the founding mayor Whiskey Pants strives to keep the entire town drunk so nobody remembers a thing. Or wants anything, or dreams for that matter.
Somnambular citizens shuffle around with futuristic makeup by Kate Marley, dressed in inventive costumes by Ashley Soliman. The attention to detail across all of the design departments is phenomenal. Each character, including the chorus members, are dressed and groomed in a uniquely creepy and beautiful way, reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd on steroids. It’s also hard to ignore the resemblance between Helena Bonham Carter and one of the stars of Whiskey Pants, Chloe Fox, playing Sybil, the right hand of the mayor. The strong but shattered woman Fox portrays is uncannily realistic, even wrapped in a whimsical dress and with thick bloody eyeshadow.
Tony Mowatt, starring as the mayor Charles, is surprising with the range of his voice, switching depending on the matter of the conversation. Juggling timbres allows Mowatt to conveying a vast emotional pallet. And he indeed has a lot on his plate. Around the corner is the annual drinking competition for the title of mayor. A shady newcomer is in town. And, the most bother off all, is his daughter. Unlike your average teenager, Abigail is hesitant to join the drinking population on the verge of her sixteenth birthday. She wants to leave Williamsburg and become a painter. Will she dare to dream or will she stay with her father whom, despite his undeniable alcoholism, she really loves?
At first I couldn’t become at ease with the phantasmagoric setting and the odd plot. Less time could be spent on singing about whiskey in the beginning. The obvious flaws of “alcogolistocracy” as a political system and some biological inconsistencies regarding drinking (namely in the scene of the drinking completion) kept me suspicions. Then it hit me, Whiskey Pants is a fiery tale and should be viewed as such. The engulfing, fast-moving music by Christian De Gré and spectacular visual designs might make you think for a second that it is all sheer entertainment. Then you realize that you are witnessing a coming of age story of a talented girl in an alcoholic family. Only instead of nasty bum who beats her, there is a loving father and she is truly torn apart. She has blue hair, lilac tutu and funny shoes. But she might as well walk the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn right now.
Whiskey Pants: The Mayor of Williamsburg plays at HERE, 145 6th Ave, through October 28, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30, Saturday and Sunday at 4:00.Tickets are $30 and$50 and are available at here.org or by calling 212-352-3101.
Whiskey Pants: The Mayor of Williamsburg is composed and directed by Christian De Gré. Book is by Serrana Gay. Lyrics are by Joseph Reese Anderson. Music Director is Trevor Pierce. Movement Director is Allan K. Washington. Costume Design is by Ashley Soliman. Make-Up Design is by Kate Marley. Scenic Design is by Brian Freeland. Lighting Design is by Christina Watanabe. Sound Design is by Wes Shippee. Video Design is by R. Patrick Alberty.
The cast is Michelle Ireton, Tony Mowatt, Charlie Tingen, Caitlin Mesiano, Claudillea Holloway, Nick Connoly, Stefanie Londino and Bernard Holcomb.