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The Fartiste

This new musical about a real-life French performer with an unusual talent is occasionally entertaining but ultimately tiresome.

Lindsay Roginski, Kevin Kraft, Rachel Kopf,
and Analisa Leaming in The Fartiste
(© Carol Rosegg)
"My goal is to make 'art' an essential part of the word 'fart,'" says Joseph Pujol, a man with a musical derriere, midway through The Fartiste, now playing at Sofia's Downstairs. It will surprise no one that his wishes never come to pass in this occasionally entertaining but ultimately tiresome new musical.

Pujol (Kevin Kraft) was a real-life figure whose bizarre talent made him the highest-paid performer at the Moulin Rouge in 1890s Paris. He wants to branch out from using farting for humor, and instead utilize his unusual talent to compose masterpieces. Instead of blowing up balloons from behind and lighting cigarettes with his sphincter, Pujol wants to perform "The Concerto for Wind," a "serious" melody that still comes from his nether regions. Of course, his manager won't allow him out of his contract, so Pujol must make a difficult decision.

There are as many puns as there are farts in The Fartiste, giving potty humor a whole new meaning. Charlie Schulman's book is loaded with one-liners that easily evoke small chuckles. Much of Michael Roberts' music and lyrics are catchy, with or without the multitude of puns. However, a few of the songs such as "Lil From Lille" and "We Live for Art," clearly act as fillers to give the show some added length.

Kraft has great ease and a special gift for physical humor, but he never evokes any sympathy from his audience, even after a few formulaic 'being true to oneself' songs have passed. Nick Wyman, as the narrator of the show, Aristide, stands out, even managing to make the most awful of lines wildly funny and exciting, while also showing off his excellent singing voice.

Most entertaining is Steven Scott, the vocal "Effectiste," who solely used his mouth to create most of the sounds in the show, from the many timbres of flatulence to the hoots of trombones and the gurgling of water.

At times John Gould Rubin's direction is creative, as with the spreading of his actors through the real audience as though they are actually fans of the fartiste. Gould Rubin's direction falters, however, when he takes a number of scenes to the back of the theater, forcing his audience to uncomfortably change their positions far too frequently.

Kristina Makowski's appropriately raunchy, period costumes add to the atmosphere, as does Richard Move's intricate choreography, in which the show's burlesque girls kick as high as The Rockettes. However, their dancing often creates an uncomfortable challenge as they attempt to maneuver themselves through a small aisle set up between dining tables in front of the stage.

And just when you think there might have been an ounce of depth to the show's blatant simplicity, it literally ends on a low note -- one last bawdy toot reminds people that a show about farts won't necessarily leave its audience blown away.