Lewis Carroll continues to be cool. Although the British author’s beloved story, Alice in Wonderland first appeared in 1885, it’s been translated in over 170 languages worldwide. In the last few years, the entertainment world has seen numerous adaptations of the book-including a film from from director Tim Burton. Since 2012, Third Rail Projects Theater has placed the leading lady in a defunct hospital in Brooklyn with their site specific version, Then She Fell. Earlier this year, MCC Theater set the story against the backdrop of London’s World War II Blitzgrieg with the Duncan Sheik musical, Alice By Heart.
Clearly, fans are hooked on the hallucinogen. Despite the onslaught of interpretations, it’s unlikely that anyone will slink into a more sexy and scintillating one than that found in Bushwick. That’s where Austin McCormick and his merry troupe of artists are reinterpreting the classic tale with their stunningly gorgeous Queen of Hearts.
Since moving into the space about two years ago, McCormick’s company continues to out do themselves with the finest talent, elaborate costumes and sets. Queen of Hearts however, is their finest production to date.
One need not have a prior knowledge of the source material in order to fully appreciate the variety of music and dance styles that Queen of Hearts offers. From a swingin’ Dean Martin number (“The Magician”) to a Tears for Fears tune (“Mad World”)–sung upside down by aerialists–there is never a moment that lacks capitivation.
Long time patrons of Company XIV shows may recognize Storm Marrero–if not by name, then definetely by voice. Marrero has brought her inimitable talent to several of their shows. Currently, she’s reigning over the imaginary kingdom in the title role.
Recently, she spoke with Manhattan Digest about joining XIV, overcoming her fears, and the singers who have most inspired her.
MD: How did you become involved with Company XIV?
SM: I used to sing at a restaurant on the Lower East Side called Duane Park Austin McCormick, the Artistic Director of XIV came to have dinner. Quite serindipitously, he wanted to know more about me. I had always worked with Marcy Richardson at Duane Park. She is our opera singer/aerialist at XIV. He gave my information to Austin, who then emailed me. That was the summer of 2016. I’ve been with them ever since.
MD: Was burlesque something you consciously wanted to pursue or was it something you just–no pun intended– fell into?
SM: I had been singing for burlesque performers for about 8 years. Prior to XIV, I had already been singing for them because Duane Park is a burlesque supper club. I was a vocalist more than anything. Little by little, I became interested in actually performing. In 2015, I started taking classes at the New York School of Burlesque, which is run by Jo Weldon. A lot of my Burlesque friends had either given classes or taken classes there.
It’s very liberating. We all grow up with these thoughts that we shouldn’t or couldn’t do that, or that we don’t have the body for it; but we put stops on ourselves. Thanks to all of these body positive women I’ve been around who use their platform as a social conscious, I learned that there is no such thing as a box. I started dabbling and it caught my attention how freeing it was–to be in front of people and to be accepted. As a plus size performer, I used to think I would never do it. With age, comes the ‘F— it’ moment. I realized that it’s time to stop myself from stopping myself. Being at Duane Park really helped my presentation so that when Austin encountered me, I had no inhibitions about what he wanted me to do. Had he met me earlier, maybe I would’ve been more hesitant. But he found me at the moment I needed to be found. He really gave me a space for acceptance- and he shines a beautiful spotlight for everybody. People from all walks of life, shapes and sizes and various talents are all welcome here.
MD: You grew up singing, but did you train professionally?
SM: I started taking vocal coaching classes when I was 13 or 14 from a Puerto Rican Soprano teacher. (I grew up in Puerto Rico). Then I studied music at the University of Puerto Rico. I continued vocal coaching and majored in humanities with a minor in music. After doing some theater and gigs in Puerto Rico, I decided to move to NYC in 20005 and have been here ever since.
MD: As a trained singer, is it diffcult to sing with a tight corset?
SM: It does a number. It’s really pushed me to use different parts of my voice. As a belter, I sing from the gut. Once I’m cinched up, I have to reteach myself different techniques. I had to rethink how I project or how I could make things softer so that it best reflects the character I’m playing. Breathing techniques have really been my go-to. I’ll do it in the morning or–even as nasty as the MTA is–on the train. The theater used to be an old warehouse so there is a lot of dry air. So, I use my facial humidifier at my station and drink plenty of water.
MD: I’ve joked that you sound like the love child of Shirley Bassey and Pink, but I’m wondering who your musical inspirations were growing up?
SM: Wow! There are so many. I grew up in a house that was very eclectic with music styles. My mom moved to New York when she was a kid and she loved Latin music, but she learned how to speak English through music. I’d have to say though that my all time favorite is Billie Holiday. With her, it was all about interpretation. When you listen to those jazz vocal greats, you can hear that they are delivering pure emotion. They are living every word and every lyric. Janis Joplin, Mary J. Blige, Marvin Gaye (also one of my favorite singers) and all of the Motown music have all been major influences. I really like the old school R&B and those British belters like Robert Plant.
MD: I know that you also write your own music. Tell us a bit about that.
SM: I’ve put that a little bit on the back burner at the moment, but hope to get that back on track. I just started writing again and putting my original out. It’ll take some time, but I definetly plan to do more. As long as XIV will have me though, I will always say yes. It’s just such unique theater. There are people who come from other countries specifically to see us. We’ve had people who have come directly from the airport who leave their luggage in the lobby. I call it ‘beautiful debauchery’. It’s very sexual but it’s more innuendo than anything. The talent that is in the theater is unbelievable. I think that iron sharpens iron. Out of respect for the fact that these motherf—ers are killing it, I’m not gonna show up half-assed.
MD: You don’t make your entrance in Queen of Hearts until Act III. Do you have a later call time?
SM: Oh no! I’m there at the same time as everyone else, but I take time to stretch- and I’m on my phone…I’m networking (laughs).
MD: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing the show again actually and look forward to all of your existing and future projects. Have a great rest of the run!
SM: Thank you so much!
Queen of Hearts will play through August 18th. The performance schedule is Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 5pm and 10 pm and Sundays at 8 pm. Single tickets are priced from $75.00 to $105.00. VIP Couches for 2 are priced at $325.00 and $365.00 (Premium). For information and bookings go to www.companyxiv.com