Holly-Anne Devlin, a Hell’s Kitchen local with a laugh fit for her own Broadway show, is a force to be reckoned with. You might recognize her as NY1’s New Yorker of the week this past September, or maybe through her summertime swinging jazz band, the Hell’s Kitchen Happiness Krewe, which she created with the band’s leader, Josh Roberts. Most recently, however, Holly-Anne looked at the pandemic as a glass half full and decided that she’s not going to let it curb her creativity. Through her production company, Kaleidoscope Entertainment, she’s created the magnificently orchestrated (and very COVID compliant) Speakeasy On Demand.
Taking place in Storyville (named after the infamous New Orleans red-light district), Speakeasy On Demand is everything you’d ever want from a 1920’s Speakeasy. Hosted by lady of the night Madam Lulu White, the hour and a half online show features sexy burlesque performances, daredevil acrobatics, adorable dog acrobatics, a haunting magic show, and many more tantalizing singing and dancing acts.
The fun doesn’t just stop there, though. In true speakeasy fashion, the show is broken up by the house mixologist, Mr Mac, swishing his cocktail shakers to mix five delicious themed drinks, while giving instructions on how to make them at home. To make the show even more immersive, there’s an additional ticketing option — the chance to get all the necessary ingredients mailed to you so that you can make Mr Mac’s cocktails and follow along with the story.
So how did the show come to be? When news of the pandemic’s severity and the closure of Broadway hit, Holly-Anne was in Florida shooting a live project with a full production team. Then the show was halted and everyone came back to New York.
Instantly, she knew that “the world was coming to a really weird spot and that everything was going to shift drastically.” So, upon returning to the city, Holly-Anne decided 2020 would be the year for giving back. “If I didn’t make a dime in 2020, I was going to do what I could to try to keep our industry together,” she said.
Her goals were twofold. Firstly, to support all of the talented artists who had lost their jobs and any foreseeable opportunities because of the pandemic. Secondly, to show that a full production could still be done, and done beautifully, while still following all necessary COVID safety protocol. To do this, Holly-Anne had to film a lot of the show in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as New York law didn’t allow them entry into enough bars and spaces with adequate room.
It was “obstacle after obstacle” because of the restrictions, Holly-Anne recalled, but she was determined to make it work. “It was not a cheap venture,” she said, laughing. “People will say I’m totally insane, but I was employing New York performers, New York designers, and New York arts workers,” which, as a community advocate, was all she ever wanted.
“There were also spaces in Las Vegas and Los Angeles that could be open, and they had no one in them,” she said. Much of the show was shot at the Bourbon Room in Los Angeles. The legendary Hollywood Boulevard space had been declared permanent home for the west coast production of Rock of Ages in January 2020, a short time before the pandemic closed it down. “These are venues that I support and wanted to help,” Holly-Anne explained. “We flew everyone out there and put them in a bubble in the hotel and tested everyone regularly.”
To get everyone to that hotel bubble safely, Devlin booked them all in first-class so they wouldn’t have to sit next to anyone, and upon arrival organized a private car service to whisk them to the test center straight away. Once that initial negative result was given, it was a matter of maintaining it by doing things like consistently sanitizing props and wiping down banisters, which Holly-Anne described as a “full-time job.”
Although the entire process was three times as expensive as a pre-pandemic production, resulting in her needing to take out loans, she says it was all worth it. People are “desperate for human connection,” Holly-Anne said, and the show provides it to them with “the actors look you in the eyes while you’re watching, so you feel like they’re in the room with you.”
When asked if she has any tips on creating a show during the pandemic, Holly-Anne gave an answer I didn’t expect. “You need to plan for everything to go wrong,” she said, “and then expect that something else will go wrong. Then laugh it off.”
The final result is amazing and well worth all the hassle. Despite having a cast and crew of 80, sometimes working 18-hour days, nobody ever tested positive for the virus. And after wild success and favorable reviews from this past New Year’s Eve show, the team behind Speakeasy on Demand is biting for more Storyville visitors. You just have to remember to drink up.