Six years ago, when artistic director Grant Neale lived on W50th Street and 11th Avenue, he would “see all these people streaming from the cruise ships and missing the story of Hell’s Kitchen and the people.” This week, he’s brought a theatrical walking tour to the neighborhood to introduce the streets and the characters to a wandering audience in Butterfly Effect NYC.
The journey starts at World Wide Plaza, where the ticketed patrons collect an audio device and headphones — and then the show begins.
The performance takes guests on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with Brian (Allen Holloway), Mae (Kathleen Carthy) and Oscar (Josh Tyson) as guides. One part of the performance shows you the city through the lens of a photographer, Brian, snapping a “million moments, trying to find a theme.” Another time you will be traveling with Mae as she collects cans “worth 5 cents each” — sometimes by reaching into trash cans and occasionally through people on the street (not extras) handing over their plastic bottles.
Music backs the voices in your ears and segues between piano (Katie Down), saxophone (Matt Darriau) and bass (Dave Ambrosio). Oscar continues the musical connection through the history of the area’s piano factories — and his profession as a passionate piano tuner. “If there’s a piano in Hell’s Kitchen that’s out of tune, I won’t be able to sleep tonight,” he says — while offering a large discount on his services.
As well as being entertained, the wandering audience learns fact after fact about Hell’s Kitchen as they walk the streets and avenues. That includes everything from types of trees, the history of a locked community garden, churches that now host theaters and even a “hippy-dippy house”.
The performance lives up to Neale’s idea to introduce the audience to the characters of the neighborhood. “Clinton — hell no! We’re Hell’s Kitchen and proud,” shouts Mae at one point! The writing by CS Hanson, Ravin Patterson and John Robertson Tillotson is fun and engaging — and cleverly they manage to weave in over 40 factoids and quirky references.
As the host says at the start of the tour: “New York City will be New York City,” so keep your wits about you as you try to concentrate on the players, the facts and the streets of the city. It also means that there are plenty of interactions with passersby who you think might be characters in the play — but are not!
The performance ends with two wonderful treats — which we will not share as it will spoil the surprise. The show lasts 45 minutes, covers around a mile and does a fabulous job of subtly promoting some of the neighborhood’s favorite stores.
Butterfly Effect NYC/ Hell’s Kitchen is the brainchild of Grant Neale, artistic director of Nomad Theatrical Company with funding from The Working Theater. Tickets are limited to eight people per show and prices are on a “pay what you will” sliding scale at theworkingtheater.org
There are more performances through the weekend and the show will be back in spring.