Written by Paulanne Simmons
Speakeasies were born during Prohibition, when they were one of the few places people could drink, listen to that new, naughty music called jazz, and engage in other kinds of illicit fun. Today, eighty years after Prohibition’s repeal, speakeasies are a thing of the past, but the entertainment they gave rise to lives on, these days most delightfully at Stage 72 (158 West 72 Street).
“Speakeasy Modern: a Modern Twist on the Illicit Speakeasy,” conceived and mc’d by Hank Stampfl, takes a nostalgic look at a time when singers enchanted, flappers flirted and dancers dazzled, and gives those times a modern twist with the addition of songs by current pop artists. Thus Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” is followed by Adele’s “Rumor Has It.”
The show features the spirited choreography of Kimberly Schafer, a swinging band with Matt Baker at the piano and a rotating cast (Ashley Alana Kenney, Julia Burrows, Monica Poulos, Kristin Ewing, Kimberly Schafer and Jackie Washam).
There’s a sexy strip done in silhouette and tap dance to “It don’t Mean a Thing” and “I Won’t Dance.” Singer/songwriter Dina Fanai, who has performed internationally with rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra, was the guest performer on March 28, wowing the audience with her powerful voice.
For Broadway fans, Fanai and Stampfl brought a soulful version of “Falling Slowly” from Once to this modern speakeasy. And, of course, Kander and Ebb’s iconic Cabaret was well-represented with the opening number, “”Willkommen,” and “Mein Herr.”
Stage 72 is a small house and the cast makes excellent use of the intimate space. Capitalizing on the cabaret’s retro look, they manage (with the help of dynamite period costumes) to create the atmosphere of a smoke-filled cabaret, without the smoke.
All of the wrinkles have not yet been ironed out of the show. There were a few snafus and technical difficulties. But this just added to the authenticity. After all, during Prohibition, one never knew when the police might arrive and put an end to the party.
“Speakeasy Moderne” will play each month at Stage 72. Upcoming shows on April 25 at 9pm, May 30 at 9pm and June 20 at 9pm.