Banana Shpeel is bad.
My Cirque-adoring heart aches as I type that, but it is.
For a show that started with so much promise – Broadway Stars Michael Longoria and Annaleigh Ashford in a new Broadway-bound Modern-Vaudeville musical created by Cirque du Soliel! – The final result is really confusing, weak and disappointing.
It all began when, shortly after a (solid) performance on ”America’s Got Talent,” it was briskly announced that Longoria and Ashford, along with their romantic plot line, was being cut from the show because there was too much plot going on.
Let me say this:
Having seen the show, I would have appreciated some plot.
There are only fragments of what I assume at one point was a plot, which leaves a disjointed series of acts, strung together under the guise of auditions for Schmelky’s Spectacular.
Though, while acts are auditioning, the show is actually happening (I think? I mean, dancers in sparkly costumes were performing production numbers?) so.. yeah, I’m not really sure what was going on.
When Dan saw the show, he said “Less Shpeel, More Cirque,” and I couldn’t agree more.
The clown scenes (of which there seemed to be hundreds, all of which were unfortunate) dragged on endlessly, and weren’t that funny. This isn’t all the fault of the performers, who are obviously talented and doing the best they can, particularly the two main clowns. Being dragged down by lame material, including a painfully unfunny dinner scene, isn’t their fault. Who knows? Maybe they’re as confused as I was as to what’s going on?
There’s a chorus of ten dancers who show up a few times to do big routines in clever costumes. Though they’re all obviously talented dancers, the choreography is sloppy at times. More than once I noticed a dancer or two completely not in synch with the other dancers, and overall the dancing doesn’t look polished. Again, maybe the poor dancers are just trying to figure out what song is next?
The only things that got serious applause from the audience were four acts I would describe as typically Cirque. The first is a young man who juggles hats, and he’s a blast to watch. The second is a couple. He throws her around in the air. It’s very impressive – though they took a tumble during our performance. The third is a flexible young woman who twirls things on her hands and feet. (They might be placemats? I’m not sure.) And the fourth, and most impressive, is a beautiful young man who contorts himself while swinging around and holding himself on a spinning pole. These three acts are undoubtedly the highlights of the evening, and the only remnants of anything Cirque.
[Note: I'd even like to be able to call some of these hard-working performers by name, but the audience is not given programs. If you want to find out who's in the show, you can pay $10 for a souvenier program that features photos of actors who are no longer in the show - Michael Longoria and Annaleigh Ashford - in scenes that don't exist in the show.]
The show has gone through many changes – and is apparently still changing. Bob saw the show a few weeks ago and said what we saw last night was way different ( including songs in new places and new acts.)
For example, the first act ends really strangely. It’s a big “Magic” routine, with disappearing girls, and the entire cast swarms the stage suddenly, and for some reason one of the clowns is in a tiger suit, and there’s a big song that keeps saying something like “Schmelky, You can’t do it alone.”
In the back of my head, I was thinking “What can’t he do alone? I don’t understand. This is like a finale.”
Then Bob leaned over and said “This used to be the finale.”
Also, there’s a whole elaborate set-up to a scene from “Romeo and Juliet” even though the set piece says “Hamlet” that is a whole lot of lead-up so an old man clown can walk out and say “A whore, a whore.. My kingdom for a whore..s.”
Yep. That’s the entire joke.
And there’s also an audience volunteer, who might be a plant? She’s in the press photos, and Bob says she’s the same girl he saw get pulled onstage last time. If it’s true, it doesn’t make sense why it can’t be an audience volunteer – as she just gets led around for a while. Odd.
If the producers of this show want it to not bomb on Broadway, serious revisions need to be done. Perhaps stopping for a moment to figure out what the point of the show is would be a good start. Is it a musical? Is it a Cirque variety show? If it’s a musical, it needs a ton of work. If it’s a Cirque variety show, it needs more than four acts.
Banana Shpeel is, in a word, a disaster.
It’ll be interesting to see if it even makes it to Broadway. And, if it does, what the heck show it is by then.
Save your money.
Or, for the price of one ticket to this show, you could see about 5 storefront shows in Chicago.
Go See Redtwist’s The Pillowman instead. While there are no musical numbers, it’s a heck of a lot more engaging.