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Story Time With Mr. Butterman (Fringe Festival 2012)

by Geoffrey Paddy Johnson on August 22, 2012

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It’s unusual for me to find much worthwhile in a contemporary musical that is not obviously wise to its own artifice. Call me cynical (and people do) but the heart-on-your-sleeve approach just doesn’t do it for me. I like my musicals (such as they are) worldly-wise, dirty, and with a twist. Which is why I can safely approve Christian De Gré and Mind the Art Entertainment‘s noisome spectacle, Story Time with Mr. Butterman; Fables for Adults Living in a Modern World. It’s broadly cynical, grumpy, disaffected and, in parts, just plain nasty.

Mr. Butterman is a homeless vagabond, a listening type, who collects the myriad tales of woe and undoing of other down-and-outs in a concrete jungle somewhere near you. These woeful presences – characters, ghosts, spirits – flock around him to give testimony of their troubles, find a sympathetic ear, and hope to encounter someone worse-off than they are. Butterman enjoys a good tragedy, and for all his kindly indulgence of the put-upons who seek him out, cracks the whip to keep them in line and keeps his own baleful history a secret. The tattered company of sad cases entertain each others’ stories in music and dance enactments that take delight in the harshness of the world and in the depths to which each has fallen. One blasted, bitter fable follows upon another, wringing out the wretchedness and sneering at the notion of a happy ending. Is there any low to which these connoisseurs of shame and tragedy will not sink in order to get a rise? Well … possibly.

Boasting a cast of fourteen singing and dancing actors, Story Time blasts its audience with a series of sharply co-ordinated vocalizations and tightly drilled dance numbers that could easily challenge any Broadway house ensemble. The energy is high. This is an able troupe of performers who understand physical illusion-making, how to tout character individuality, and how to come together as a unified team. Choreographer Paula Wilson may not be in the ground-breaking business, but she has her people in sync and on point, even working in the confines of a restricted space. Musically too there may not be any major awards for innovation, but the variety – ranging from big noise anthems, to ballads, and flirtations with hip-hop – is impressive, the musicality rich and assured. De Gré is joined in the compositional role by Jake “Dazed and Confused” Holmes, and Aaron Butler reigns as musical director.

A product of several writer contributors, not every turn in Story Time hits the mark. Ariana Paganetti‘s The Girl Who Cried Rape, a moment of reflexive solemnity, suffers from the sudden shift in tone, and by a somewhat under-projected choral performance on the part of the three actresses singing. Losing the song lyrics is a shame in such a thoughtfully written show. De Gré’s Ant Rant, Holmes’s Pigmailman, and Lauren Brady‘s slight Calculators sparkle in contrast. There’s a bit of the revue about it all, and a touch of cabaret, and a poetry slam, but it all comes together quite efficiently. Special mention should be made of Scout Isensee‘s considered costuming, which runs a wild gamut, and all but acts as a brand in itself. The cast are a tight-knit crew, as mentioned, and everyone gets a decent shake. It would be churlish not to mention however, Anthony M. Lopez‘s contribution as the MC-ing Mr. Butterman. When it’s finally eked out of him, his shame-faced tale (David Williams, writer), is delivered with restraint and passion, and worth waiting for.


Story Time with Mr. Buttermen: Fables for Adults Living in a Modern World
Mind The Art Entertainment
Writer: Mind The Art Entertainment’s Poetry Division
Director: Christian De Gré, Musical Director: Aaron Butler
Join the beloved Mr. Buttermen as he leads us on a journey of depravity, including the classic fables Petey the Impotent Rabbit, The Girl Who Cried Rape, and Pigmailman. Come giggle like a school child! [Peeing of pants highly discouraged.]
1h 45m   Local   Brooklyn, New York
Spoken Word/Poetry   Vaudeville/Sideshow/Magic/Burlesque
Staycation: Fantasy Island Excursion   My NYC Story
VENUE #18: HERE Mainstage Theater
Fri 10 @ 5:15  Sun 12 @ 9:45  Wed 15 @ 6  Thu 16 @ 9  Sat 25 @ 2

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