Arias with a Twist

Basil Twist and Joey Arias present a bigger and better version of their visually stunning artistic collaboration.

Joey Arias in Arias with a Twist
(© Steven Menendez)
Joey Arias in Arias with a Twist
(© Steven Menendez)

Bigger is better in the new version of Arias with a Twist, the visually stunning artistic collaboration between master puppeteer and designer Basil Twist and drag performer extraordinaire Joey Arias. Originally seen in HERE’s intimate Dorothy B Williams Theater in 2008, the show has undergone a dynamic shift in scale to fill the much larger stage at Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center.

The newly remounted production, once again directed by Twist, follows the same loose narrative of the original. In it, Arias is abducted and probed by aliens, then dumped in a verdant jungle where she eats a mushroom and embarks on a psychedelic journey. This includes a stop in hell with some anatomically correct demons (parents should note that this is an adult-oriented puppet show). Eventually, Arias ends up in New York City where she towers over the buildings and winds up singing at a nightclub.

However, any semblance of a story is merely an excuse for Twist to create one spectacular design after another. He’s aided in this by projections from Daniel Brodie that seem even more effective at the Abrons than they were at HERE. Of particular note are the visuals accompanying Arias’ drug-induced headtrip.

Twist’s elaborate stage environments are brought to life by a hard-working troupe of puppeteers — Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith, Chris DeVille, Kirsten Kammermeyer, Matt Leabo, Jamie Moore, and Amanda Villalobos. Sometimes you catch glimpses of them racing across the stage, but mostly the black-clad ensemble keeps to the shadows to more effectively create the illusion that Arias is alone onstage.

There were a few sound issues on the night I attended the performance that negatively impacted the production. At least one of the microphones used was not working properly, issuing static when turned on. The balance between the pre-recorded music and Arias’ vocals was also not perfect, particularly in the spaceship sequence where the loud volume of the music made it difficult to hear the lyrics of what Arias was singing.

The show’s score ranges from hard-driving rock to breathy ballads. It includes original songs from Alex Gifford, including the delightful “Garden of Eden,” as well as a few covers that Arias puts a unique spin on, such as a version of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

Arias can hit amazingly high notes, but then also transform them into something that is deliciously hilarious. The production plays to the performer’s strengths, while also delivering an eye-popping visual feast for the audience to enjoy.

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