There may be no decade whose clichés are more threadbare than the Roaring Twenties’ — at least, judging by Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic, an immersive performance created by Cynthia von Buhler. The piece trades in familiar flapper-isms — scandal, booze, fringy dresses — but although it promises audience participation, only the cast appears to have any fun.
Midnight Frolic‘s biggest revelation comes at the start. You enter a 42nd Street diner, then walk through a back door into the beautiful, hidden Liberty Theatre behind. You receive a “passport” — and possibly a role (aspiring Ziegfeld girl; Al Capone) — though it’s unclear exactly how the creators expect you to play along. Performers impersonating Twenties icons — Josephine Baker, Fanny Brice — belt out period-appropriate tunes, alongside, inexplicably, recent songs (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” anyone?). The singers are talented (as are the aerial gymnasts), but three hours with spotty microphones makes for a long cabaret no matter how much hip-shaking it involves.
Meanwhile, the story of Olive Thomas (Syrie Moskowitz), a beautiful Ziegfeld girl who died mysteriously, unfolds fitfully. And while the audience is periodically invited backstage to witness Olive’s tragic end, there’s disappointingly little to see.
The shadow of Sleep No More looms large here. For immersive spectacle to work, however, there must be something exciting to immerse yourself in.