Playwright Douglas Carter Beane is one of our wittiest writers from the evidence of such satiric comedies As Bees in Honey Drown, The Country Club, and The Little Dog Laughed. His musicals have been clever reworkings of myths and fairy tales: Cinderella, Lysistrata Jones and Xanadu. For the reopening of theaters since the pandemic, Beane has written and directed the world premiere of Fairycakes, a comedy with music, a new version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which the Fairy King and Queen (Oberon and Titania) encounter sets of characters from other fairy tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, as well as the Roman God Cupid, a Mermaid and Queen Elizabeth I.) Unfortunately, it is not very funny and the many storylines weigh the play down.
This mashup proves to be both too convoluted and too long at two hours and 20 minutes. Beane has, however, given the play a top flight send off with a starry cast of some of the most distinctive and unique actors on the New York stage: Julie Halston, Jackie Hoffman, Arnie Burton, Ann Harada, Mo Rocca and rising stars Kristolyn Lloyd (Grammy Award winner for Dear Evan Hansen) and Jason Tam (Be More Chill, Lysistrata Jones, Marry Me a Little, etc.) The biggest problem is that as these performers all have their own styles, the production seems to pull in many different directions with no one appearing to be in the same play. Most satisfying are the lavish and eye-filling costumes in a rainbow of fabrics and colors by Gregory Gale which take your mind off the play and should win awards at the end of the season.
Written in iambic pentameter like Shakespeare, and mostly using rhymed couplets which the Bard didn’t, Fairycakes is heavy where it should be light, as well as having a few too many false rhymes which are distracting. Starting in a wooded fairyland, Oberon (Arnie Burton) and Titania (Julie Halston), King and Queen of the Fairies, argue over the Changeling (Jamen Nanthakumar) in her keeping but where he is a child in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, here he is 20 years old and in love with her. They separate and Oberon meets and falls for Queen Elizabeth I who carries a work by Shakespeare (again Halston). Their daughters (in Shakespeare they are Titania’s fairy/ ladies in waiting), Peaseblossum (Kristolyn Lloyd), Cobweb (Z Infante), Moth (Jackie Hoffman), and Mustardseed (Ann Harada) worry that if their parents get a divorce they will be no more.
Toymaker Geppetto (Mo Rocca) is talked into carving Pinocchio (Sabatino Cruz) who runs away as soon as he is created. Cinderella (Kuhoo Verma) wanders in with her fairy godmother played by Cobweb (Z (Infante), then meets and loses The Prince (Jason Tam) who falls for Sleeping Beauty (Z Infante again). Dirk Dead-eye (a cross between a character in Peter Pan and one in H.M.S. Pinafore) appears and romances Moth (Hoffman) but in the light of day falls for Geppetto. Cupid (Tam), a Mermaid (Harada), a Cricket (Nanthakumar) and Aurora the Dawn (Verma) put in surprise appearances, while Oberon sends his servant, a uncharacteristically hunky Puck played by Chris Myers to find a flower that will make the lovers fall in love with the next person they meet, while Puck himself romances Peaseblossum. And in the second act, the enchantment ends and all come to their senses. It ends with a plea for tolerance and understanding and a same-sex marriage. It’s complicated, more so than necessary.
The cast of 12 play 22 characters, eight from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The well-known stage actors (Burton, Halston, Hoffman, Harada, Rocca) do what they are famous for even when it doesn’t quite fit. The more unfamiliar actors (Cruz, Lloyd, Verma, Z Infante, Nanthakumar, Myers and Tam) who have not yet developed individual shtick work hard and valiantly to attempt to make it work. They are all also required to sing Lewis Flinn’s lovely songs (the show calls out to be a musical) and choreographer Ellenore Scott’s dances. Aside from the fabulous color-coordinated costumes, Bobbie Zlotnick has created hair styles which match the costumes, and Andrew Sotomayor has designed suitable makeup and tattoos for some of the men. The basic unit set by Shoko Kambara and Adam Crinson consists of a tree with a door in it before an almost 3D backdrop of a forest glade. Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting makes this glow on various occasions. The simple set allows for quick transitions between the many scenes.
Fairycakes with its awkward title is an ambitious if misguided effort to create a new entertainment starting with the long enchanted night in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Unfortunately it is both over complicated and overly long. While it has some memorable moments, ultimately it does not come up to Douglas Carter Beane’s usual standard. The actors, the author and the director all work too hard to entertain us, always a mistake with comedy.
Fairycakes (through November 21, 2021)
Greenwich House Theater, 27 Barrow Street, east of Seventh Avenue South, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.FairycakesThePlay.com
Running time: two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission