With an obvious infusion of capital and an expansion in scale, the 2008 downtown hit “Arias with a Twist” has moved uptown –– though, to be accurate geographically, it’s actually headed crosstown to the Henry Street Settlement’s Abrons Arts Center.
With a larger show, its title has been amended to reflect its grander setting, but fortunately for its established fans — and those just discovering this madcap masterpiece — its essence, its wit and delicious vulgarity, and Joey Arias’ amazing presence are undiminished.
Arias is an accomplished performer with an astonishing vocal range and a wry outlook. The story, such as it is, concerns a woman abducted by aliens, probed, and returned to Earth, where she lands first in the Garden of Eden before embarking on an odyssey that ends in New York. There, our girl becomes a towering presence –– literally looming over the Manhattan skyline –– and ultimately a chanteuse.
An expanded version of “Arias with a Twist” returns, and it's a must-see
Don’t look for logic; relax and enjoy the ride, particularly a psychedelic journey in which the character, having eaten a mushroom in Eden, pays a visit to Hell.
All of this is framed by Basil Twist’s outstanding puppetry and design work, both of which make the most of the expanded space. As Arias romps in clothes by Thierry Mugler, the world around him springs to life. Flowers bloom, the skyline looms, tricks of scale are constantly surprising, and Arias himself becomes a puppet.
Aided by a hardworking team of six accomplished puppeteers, the magic keeps growing, but the show hasn’t lost the rough-around-the-edges quality that makes it so enchanting. The larger space makes the video sequences more effective than they were in the diminutive HERE Arts Center.
The show is a celebration of performance excellence. Arias is a classic drag artist who knows how to use illusion to create magic. He remains a unique visionary who stands out in a drag scene that has become more predictable and generic. For Arias, camp is a tool, not an end in itself.
No less than a showcase for Arias’ talent, the show is a wonder of puppetry. Twist’s wild vision and exciting executions are even more compelling when contrasted with a set of antique marionettes that appear with Arias in a hauntingly beautiful nightclub sequence that evokes a Billie Holiday mystique. The puppets, embodying both contemporary sensibilities and a classic style, seem almost human, which is their magic, and Arias’ interaction with them is real and touching — adding a surprising depth to the show’s illusions.
In the end, this scene and the manic Busby Berkeley finale that follows remind us of the kind of magic that two brilliant guys with a bunch of crazy ideas and yards and yards (and yards) of fabric can accomplish. Unbounded creativity and monumental skill make for an unforgettable evening. I was amazed at how many of the show’s images had stayed with me from three years earlier, and I was thrilled to be able to see them all again.
ARIAS WITH A TWIST DELUXE
Henry Street Settlement
Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand St. at Pitt St.
Through Oct. 16
Wed.-Fri. at 8 p.m.
Sat. at 8 & 10:30 p.m.; Sun at 7 p.m.