If campy horror flicks, runway show parodies, and the word “hunty” are not apt to make you giggle, this is probably not the show for you. Fans of the glam-goth style of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the delirious excess of John Waters or the shade-throwing queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race will likely have a blast. This is not to say The House of Von Macramé is unoriginal. Our plumed, sequined hats must come off in deference to all involved for turning out a live, full-length, high-energy musical production in the welcoming little black box space of The Bushwick Starr, the audience LOLing most of the time.
The story follows the rise of innocent model Britt Greenpoint, a familiar Midwestern ingénue, through the ranks of the big city fashion world after revered designer, Edsel von Macramé, plucks her out of obscurity to serve as his muse. On her way to the top, Britt has to confront not only the envy of her peers, but her terrifying visions of the elusive Lipstick Killer on a bloodthirsty model-killing spree.
High fashion is a fun and easy target, with its treacherous king-making (or queen-making) that turns on a dime, its ritualized bitchiness and sanctification of the absurd. (A fashion line inspired by human secretions is a highlight.) There’s no set to speak of, but the ingenious use of props, eye-popping costumes (by Tristan Raines) and clever sound design (by Daniel Melnick) paint the scenes most vividly. A cast of young pretties and copious use of fake blood also helps.
The high camp acting teeters on the edge of hammy overkill among some of the ensemble players, but the principals turn out solid performances that keep the show careening along. Paul Pecorino (a veteran Frank N Furter of a touring production of The Rocky Horror Show) casts a genuine spell as a slinky and Mephistophelean Von Macramé. The singing and dancing, which get off to a bumpy start, suddenly make sense when he first bursts on stage with a shoulder shimmy like no other, his body language comedic perfection. Megan Hill is also a reliable delight as the plucky journalist who wants to get the real story behind the mysterious Von Macramé. Her diction mimics the urgent patrician tones of a 1940s movie heroine, a risky choice that she pulls off with consistency.
There are a handful of memorable moments in the many, many, many, many musical numbers. A song about the pleasures of schadenfreude is wittily staged in a swimming pool made of moving fabric; a sad lament, including a graceful pole dance, from the only straight guy in fashion is another highlight. These moments come during the second half of the show, when the music and choreography seem to finally find their footing. That’s a shame, because so much energy is demanded of both player and audience in the first half, which is packed with lesser numbers that tread familiar territory (a song about the naiveté of our heroine, for example, or another establishing the murderous envy of a fellow model). With the wisp of a plot stretched into 2-½ hours, this musical could do with some purposeful trimming. It’s hard to fault the creators too much; the excessive length seems to come not from an inflated sense of self-importance but rather from a generosity that wants to give everyone a turn in the spotlight, or maybe from the enthusiasm of people who were having a good time and just didn’t want to stop.