The Arty Semite

Celebrating Gay Marriage at 'The Greenwich Village Follies'

By Eileen Reynolds

  • Print
  • Share Share

Photo by Peter James Zielinski

There are times when a trip to the theater is more than just an evening out — times when there’s something in the air (fairy dust? a benevolent ghost?) that transforms a merely great performance into the kind that makes all your hairs stand on end. June 26, for those of us squeezed into folding chairs in a tiny brick room at the Manhattan Theatre Source, was one of those rare, goosebumpy nights.

It was two days after New York’s Marriage Equality Act had passed in the state legislature, and mere hours after the year’s particularly festive gay pride parade had sauntered past Washington Square. Bits of rainbow-colored confetti and stray streamers still littered the cobblestone streets. And there we were, in a funny old building on MacDougal Street — just blocks from the Stonewall Inn — watching a musical revue all about the history of Greenwich Village.

This, as performer and director John-Andrew Morrison often said, between saucy high kicks, was a “special gay pride edition” of “The Greenwich Village Follies.” The show, playing every Sunday night at 7 p.m. (whatever its edition), is the brainchild of Doug Silver and Andrew Frank, who took inspiration, in part, from a 1920s song-and-dance venue of the same name. I love an old-fashioned revue, and yet the unlikely premise of this one (a string of historical events, from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire to the Stonewall riots, rendered in a frothy musical format) seemed dubious to me, right up to the minute the performers walked out on stage.

Somewhere between the pre-show shmoozing (“I want to gay-marry all of you!” Morrison cooed) and the first entrance of George Washington (Guy Olivieri), crooning along with Andrews sisters-style back-up singers, my doubts vanished. Silver and Frank have resurrected all that was good about the early-20th-century revue: the sense of humor; the sweet harmonies and show-stopping tunes, and the ability to shift swiftly between many different moods. Within each vignette, the performers embody various characters from Dutch colonists to Jackson Pollock and Edna St. Vincent Millay, but between musical numbers, they interact with the audience as some version of themselves.

The four members of the cast I saw — all charming and especially radiant in light of the weekend’s cheery news — were wonderfully adept at negotiating those frequent transitions. The bright-eyed Patti Goettlicher was darling as a chipper freshman turned jaded bisexual chain-smoker in “NYU,” a cheeky ode to the peculiarities of college life on Washington Square. But she drew even bigger laughs during the group’s anthem in honor of Greenwich Village’s many sex shops, with her raunchy delivery of the line, “I’m looking for a dildo.” (Sexual liberation emerged as one of the show’s many themes; Morrison handed out condoms as prizes for audience members who correctly answered trivia questions about the neighborhood’s history.) Olivieri was appropriately seedy as Sneed, the hoodie-clad neighborhood drug dealer (peddling, on this special occasion, “marriage equali-weed”), and later, thanks in part to a misbehaving stick-on mustache, he nearly brought down the house as the protagonist in a melodramatic musical version of Village-resident Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

Amidst all the jokes were a handful of genuinely moving stories from the neighborhood’s long history. Morrison, for example, was spellbinding as one of the 11 slaves working for the Dutch West India Company, who humbly asked for — and then received — land plots of their own, becoming some of the Village’s first residents.

When Silver and Frank really wanted to make a point, though, they brought out the big guns: the powerful vocal chords of Meghann Dreyfus. A song about the “grid protests” of 1811, in which Greenwich Village residents successfully prevented the city from bulldozing the neighborhood in the interest of making “rectangular plots” and “lots of lots,” switched from silly to soaring the moment Dreyfus starting singing about the “ancestry [that] lives in these streets.” By the end of the song, when the group joined in a stirring chorus of, “We like our triangles and curves / No squares in the village,” it seemed very important — no, downright revolutionary! — that we were in an old building on MacDougal Street, not 7th or 8th.

Dreyfus, in a duet with Goettlicher, helped make the Triangle Shirtwaist piece the unlikely heart of the work. The two women stood onstage gazing off at a spot in the distance, and began to sing, hesitantly at first, about the screams from “the factory on our corner.” It began as a spooky, melancholy piece (“everyone stopped / and everyone looked / and everyone cried when the first woman fell”), but as it went on, the two singers seemed to channel a kind of brilliant, transcendent rage. Their faces twisted in scorn as they sang about the factory owners who “locked all the doors from the outside,” and at the piece’s climax, their voices took on the raw, throaty sound of mourners keening for the dead.

In just 80 minutes, this delightful little show was over, but not before the cast sang a rousing song in praise of the Village’s many anonymous and unsung artists. “If no one will remember my name,” went one verse, “it will matter all the more that we were here tonight in this little brick room.” A sing-along version of “The Stonewall Girls,” based on the actual words a group of drag queens chanted at policemen during the 1969 protests, followed as a jubilant encore. In that moment, it did feel significant to be gathered together with strangers, singing that silly tune on what we’ll later remember as a historic weekend. When I stepped out onto the street after the show, I couldn’t stop grinning. The summer sun had not yet set, and the parade’s last revelers lounged happily in Washington Square. It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Theater, The Greenwich Village Follies, Stonewall Riots, Patti Goettlicher, Musicals, Meghann Dreyfus, Marriage Equality Act, Manhattan Theatre Source, John-Andrew Morrison, Guy Olivieri, Greenwich Village, Gay Marriage, Eileen Reynolds, Doug Silver, Andrew Frank

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.