Tonight I was privleged to have one of those rare NYC moments where you see something incredible and you think to yourself about how lucky you are to live in the greatest city on earth. Produced by the Transport Group, Queen of the Mist is playing at the Gym at Judson. Upon first sight of the theater, an actual gymnasium which has been converted into a theater space, the play doesn’t appear to be much. The stage is simple, and you’re sitting on what appears to be a real gym’s bleachers. But don’t let it fool you – there is a powerful play about to be let loose, and its impact will linger in your mind long after you leave.
The Transport Group is a Drama Desk and OBIE award-winning theatre company and I was aware of its reputation, but I had no idea just how good this show was going to be. Queen of the Mist is a piece of historical fiction that been adapted as a musical. It stars two-time Tony nominee Mary Testa as Anna Edson Taylor, who, in 1901, set out to be the first woman to shoot Niagara Falls—in a barrel of her own design. Navigating both the treacherous Falls and a fickle public with a ravenous appetite for sensationalism, this unconventional heroine vies for her legacy in a world clamoring with swindling managers, assassins, revolutionaries, moralizing family, anarchists, and activists. Convinced that there is greatness in her and determined not to live as ordinary, she sets out to battle her fear and tempt her fate. With a score that incorporates turn of the century themes with signature Michael LaChiusa elements, Queen of the Mist is the story of a single great fall, and how one woman risked death so that she could live.
In the play, the barrel Anna takes a fall in down the Niagra is a metaphor for her actual downfall. She hopes that going over the falls will make her famous and rich, and we, in the audience hope that it does and doesn’t die as she surely could. She calls the barrel the “queen of the mist” and declares that “no one can break me!” After act 1, we find out that she did make out alive, but no one expects what is to come. I won’t reveal what happens but what does transpire is mouth-dropping. It’s a history lesson, it’s a lesson of morals, it’s a story of friendship and betrayal.
The cast of Queen of the Mist is D.C. Anderson from The Phantom of the Opera, Stanley Bahorek from The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee, Theresa McCarthy from Titanic, Julia Murney from Wicked, Andrew Samonsky from South Pacific, Tally Sessions from The House of Blue Leaves and Mary Testa from On the Town and 42nd Street. Every member of the cast is a stand-out, and I feel lucky to have seen them all in a play so up close and personal. They sing the music and lyrics, written by LaChisua (5-time Tony nominee), passionately and connect with Testa and each other without missing a beat.
Seeing Testa perform in this play is a treat among treats. When she starts singing “There is Greatness in Me,” I felt my skin tingle. Her voice is powerful, and as she sang this feminist declaration, it made me realize I was in for a special treat. As her character sets out to shoot Niagra Falls, she sings, “My intelligence is large. My patience is small. My pride will be my fall.” Her facial expressions are also powerful and the look on her face during the entire second act is fearful and will pull your heartstrings.
Queen of the Mist is the inaugural production of Transport Group’s 20th Century Project, a ten-year initiative spanning ten productions, each production focusing on a different decade of the 20th century. The ten productions comprise five musicals and five plays—including three commissioned musicals, two commissioned plays, and five revivals. Queen of the Mist focuses on the decade 1900-1910.
Queen of the Mist plays Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm, with a Saturday matinee at 2pm, at The Gym at Judson Memorial Church, 243 Thompson Street at Washington Square South. The playing schedule for the week of November 8 is Tuesday, Thursday through Saturday at 9pm; Wednesday and Sunday at 8pm; with a Saturday matinee at 4pm. General admission tickets start at $58; premium reserved seating tickets start at $65. For information, visit http://www.transportgroup.org/ or phone 866-811-4111.
For Tickets, you can Receive $10 off with code TGMAMA. Go here and input the code.
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Disclosure: I received two tickets to this performance in exchange for a review. The thoughts and opinions are my own and I was not otherwise compensated in any other way for this review. I am a partner at MamaDrama, but that did not influence my review.