Theater review: VarieTease ‘Carnies’ at the Abbey


It’s been nearly eight years since VarieTease took us to the Carnivale at the 2007 Orlando Fringe Festival, and I first fell in love with creator/choreographer Blue Star’s blend of edgy dance and immersive performance art. Now, the troupe has returned to the big top with Carnies, which is neither a prequel nor a sequel to their original hit, but an “alternate universe” reimagining that demonstrates how much the VarieTease aesthetic has matured and deepened over the past decade.

This time around, Blue herself is the unwary innocent who arrives at the sideshow just as the midway is closing down. She finds herself drawn in by the sad-clown ringmaster (William Marchante), sinuous snake-woman (Tymisha Harris), pole-twirling strongman (Jack Kreger), and the rest of the friendly freaks (Lola Selsky, Megan Boetto, Michelina Wingerter). While the disembodied voice of actress Peg O’Keef ominously intones a narrative by Chris Yakubchik about “solitude” and “masks,” Blue becomes liberated by the sensuous circus life, trading her Mormon-esque dress for Dorothy’s gingham and rolling off to Oz in a big inflated ball.

As always, VarieTease's choreography is exuberantly electric, this time infusing Indian and African cultural elements with the classically influenced club steps. Likewise, Blue’s knack for finding fresh soundtracks (with selections contributed by Marchante) is in full effect, with the Tiger Lillies' cover of “Send in the Clowns” and Ingrid Michaelson’s take on “Over the Rainbow” setting the perfect mood. Blue continues to evolve beyond the show’s lip-sync origins, crafting a coherent (if not complex) storyline that supports the action in every song, and slickly smooths the transitions between them.

What’s brand new is the location: VarieTease has taken over the Abbey for the first time, and with the aid of co-director Kenny Howard they've used the entire venue to excellent effect. The pre-show begins with a bang in the bar area, then transitions to the main room, which has been reconfigured with a runway down the middle. The result is the most interactive, in-you-face show I’ve experienced at the Abbey, and that’s including their excellent recent production of Cabaret.

Maybe I was dazzled by designer Amy Hadley’s atmospheric use of the Abbey’s intelligent lights, or perhaps I was dazed by the discounted shots of Fireball. But in the cold light of dawn, as the tents are packed and sawdust swept, I’m still calling Carnies one of my favorite VarieTease experiences ever.

VarieTease Carnies
at the Abbey (
through March 28
$30 general admission/$50 VIP

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