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Freaks out! Mermaid musical pits sideshow vs. Trump

Cuts like a knife: The “Freaks Don’t Cry” adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” uses a floor of broken glass to symbolize the pain felt by the mermaid character ever time she takes a step.
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It’s better down where it’s wetter — take it from freaks!

A glam rock retelling of “The Little Mermaid” will cast its fairy tale characters as sideshow freaks who must do battle with wicked real estate tycoon Fred Trump — the father of President Trump. “Freaks Don’t Cry,” which opens at Coney Island USA on March 3, is a fairy tale mash-up that also pulls back the curtain on a tumultuous time in Coney Island’s history, said its director.

“It’s this fusion of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ and the history of the Coney Island sideshow struggling during this time,” said Kendra Slack. “And so you have the historical context of the sideshow dying with people trying to preserve their home and what makes it unique, and this exploration of the idea of freakness, being the other, and the idea of unrequited love.”

In the real-world 1960s, Fred Trump bought up swaths of the Coney Island waterfront with the dream of developing condos in the space then occupied by the Pavilion of Fun the centerpiece of Steeplechase Park. To prevent the city from declaring the iconic attractions a protected landmark, the elder Trump and his friends smashed the glass windows painted with the iconic Steeplechase Funny Face. Those actions made the mogul a natural fit for the show’s supervillain, said Slack.

“He bought up all this land trying to build condos and casinos really take away the character,” she said. “Which is particularly terrible because Coney Island offers this haven for people who perhaps didn’t fit in when they first started out in life to come together.”

Those misfits include the show’s five main characters, each a sideshow translation of a figure from Andersen’s mermaid tale. A charismatic magician and knife thrower represents the prince, a tattooed burlesque embodies the princess he weds, a fortune-telling bearded lady mirrors the sea witch, and a timid young woman who stumbles into the sideshow world parallels the little mermaid.

The dagger-hurling magician, played by the show’s co-artistic director Jordan Chlapecka, narrates the story, using text from Andersen’s original mermaid text. The 18th-century story is much darker than its famous Disney adaptation, and it pairs surprisingly well with Coney’s sideshow culture, said Chlapecka.

“ ‘The Little Mermaid’ text lends itself to the freak show — the idea that she is walking on knives and having her tongue out is very sideshow,” he said. “We found these really interesting textual connections that allowed us to make this show.”

The extravagant fairy tale sideshow also draws on another historic figure of the era to inspire its original glam rock score and sparkling costumes — Ziggy Stardust–era David Bowie. The songs inspired by the space alien really tie together the themes of the show, said Chlapecka.

“The score has a sort of a stripped-down glam rock feel and gets to the grit of the show,” he said.

“Freaks Don’t Cry” at Coney Island USA (1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street, www.coneyisland.com). March 3–19 at 8 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Posted 12:00 am, February 28, 2017
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