The audience follows and votes in the 1929 New York City mayoral election during the diverting immersive theater show, Tammany Hall. Republican challenger Congressman Fiorello H. LaGuardia debating incumbent “Beau” James Walker in a boxing ring with the attendees cheering them on and asking questions is a key setup, as is the audience attending a preview of the fictional Broadway musical, Violet starring Walker’s mistress and future wife. The number performed is a frothy pastiche of the George Gershwin and Cole Porter shows Betty Compton appeared in. Lucky viewers are chosen to kick their legs up during an onstage chorus line bit.
The Soho Playhouse has been refashioned into “The Huron Club,” a Prohibition-era speakeasy through scenic designer Dan Daly’s snazzy vintage embellishments. Tammany Hall is very immersive. For much of its 90 minutes, the audience in small groups is moved by cast members throughout the entire building, even to the roof for interactions with various characters. Those exchanges can get really one-on-one so this is not for the shy. There’s a lot of walking up and down staircases and through dim hallways. Several bars sell drinks during the performance.
Co-creators and co-directors Darren Lee Cole and Alexander Flanagan-Wright have crafted a novel documentary premise, enforced with immaculate historical detail without being pedantic. The events and sense of this period are imparted through precise information characters deliver. That’s aided by the company wearing costume designer Grace Jeon’s smart dark suits, a variety of hats, and smashing flapper dresses. Lighting designer Emily Clarkson and sound designer Megan Culley add to the authenticity with their high caliber contributions.
With bravura gladhanding, politicking and bluster, Martin Dockery is wonderful as Walker. Visually and temperamentally, Christopher Romero Wilson vividly captures the essence of LaGuardia. The magnetic ensemble of Marie Anello as Betty Compton, Natasa Babic, Andrew Broaddus, Isaac J. Connor as Boss Olvany, Shahzeb Hussain as Curry, Chloe Kekovic, Nathaniel J. Ryan as Legs Diamond, Sami Petrucci and Charly Wenzel, all offer grand characterizations of their archetypical roles. As a jittery Federal agent, the youthful wiry Jesse Castellanos is singled out for his appealing intensity as he coincidentally had the most contact with this reviewer.
Founded in 1789, the Society of St. Tammany emerged and became known in the 19th century as Tammany Hall, a club that dominated New York City politics through patronage and corruption. Its end was orchestrated by New York Governor and later U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s criminal investigations. LaGuardia lost the election at the performance attended as he did in real life; however, four years later he won the mayoralty and served three terms.
With its historical flavor, in-your-face actions and fun atmosphere, Tammany Hall could be a rousing experience for adventurous theatergoers.
Tammany Hall (through December 18, 2021)
SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.sohoplayhouse.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission