We got to live out this dream the other night…
…courtesy of a friend of ours who also happens to be the writer and director of a show currently knocking ’em dead on the Great White Way, Cynthia von Buhler.
Countess von Buhler is the brilliant and beautiful painter, sculptress, author, and theatrical impresario responsible for restaging the “Midnight Frolic” of master showman Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. A century ago, Ziegfeld bucked social norms by presenting late-night entertainments on the Great White Way filled with half-dressed showgirls and other scandal-worthy elements (such as racially integrated casts, featuring performers like Josephine Baker).
That’s all on the positive side of the ledger. He also bedded any number of his leading ladies and chorus girls, several of whom later came to untimely ends, such as Olive Thomas, dead of mercury bichloride poisoning while on her honeymoon in Paris. Was it murder, suicide, an accident…? Who can really say?
Well, Cynthia can. In her latest interactive theatrical extravaganza, she both recreates Ziegfeld’s most risqué show and takes the audience to the Paris hotel room where Olive Thomas met her terrible fate. The death is staged three ways — once as accident, once as suicide, once as murder — while out front Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice and Josephine Baker whip the crowd into a frenzy. There are singers and dancers, and aerialists suspended from a giant chandelier…
And for one very special performance, there were also a dozen topless women in the audience, joining in the fun.
We got to rub elbows with all the performers, see the show from the best seats in the house, crack open a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and take part in a demonstration where one of our number was placed in a coffin and transformed into a revolting corpse. (We got her back, safe and sound, before the night ended.)
Actually, come to think of it, the night never did end, not really — after the show, we accompanied cast members to an all-night spa for massages, steam, soaks, and scrubs, and before we called it quits, PM had given way to AM. Just like it says in “Lullaby of Broadway”: When a Broadway baby says good night / It’s early in the morning…
We left the camera in the locker room while at the spa — what happens in Koreatown stays in Koreatown — and even at the theater the low-light conditions and constant motion proved a challenge for documenting our adventure. But here are some glimpses of the fun we had.
You’re just going to have to imagine the rest.