Reviewed by Ryan Max
Ms. Poppy Bulova—a performer of incredible talent, fame, and self-regard—would not have liked the scene just outside of her recent performance. As happens with the venue-sharing turf, a large crowd of theatergoers was huddled in the lobby, waiting for another show. When the lobby had emptied, only a handful of people remained to see Poppy!: An Enchanted Evening with Poppy Bulova. How could they possibly be so near and still resist the powerful allure of Ms. Bulova? As she makes very clear, she is “much more interesting” than just about anyone else.
The lucky few that remain fill the small tables around her stage, and the intimate, lounge-y atmosphere is all the better for it. For Poppy, any sort of captive audience will do. The fairly bare space (a microphone, a piano, and its player) makes sure that when Poppy enters wrapped in a bright Asian gown, all eyes are on her. After some cursory introductions, she launches into a beguiling hour of stories and songs that detail her very strange life. Her ambiguously accented English (think Paris by way of the Ukraine) has a sweet, disarming quality, so much so that you hardly mind when you are lumped in with “all of the small people…who don’t really matter,” as Poppy so gently puts it.
Lillie Jayne—who, in addition to playing Poppy, also wrote, directed, and produced the show—keeps things lighthearted, even when detailing Poppy’s oddly tragic life (“toddler alcoholism and amphetamine addiction”). She also saves Poppy from being a character of Mel Brooksian (that’s a thing, right?) hyperbole. The engaging interludes between songs—in which Poppy explains her experience of puberty (“I make tits”), the origin of her exotic accent (“an island out in the Atlantic Ocean…Long Island”), and her eventual rise to superstardom in films that don’t exist—blend very organically into the show. Songs may be inspired directly by, say, her proclivity to alcoholism (“I drink to get drunk”) or spring from more obscure sources. Basically, whatever Poppy feels like singing about. And throughout them all, it is the clear disconnect between her view and the reality of her situation that makes the show so ceaselessly charming.
The songs that form the backbone of Poppy’s story—tapped out on the piano by her one time lover Fagen Beauregard (a mostly silent Michael O’Dell, who also arranged the music)—consist of simple, catchy melodies. But while the music may be simple and Poppy may be a parody, Ms. Jayne’s voice is legitimately gorgeous. She can alternate from a strong warble on the more rambunctious songs, to an intense Bjork-like whisper on the unexpectedly poignant “Black-Eyed Soldier.”
Toward the end of An Evening with Poppy Bulova, Poppy describes one of her many encounters with obscure (yet impressive, she assures us) Hollywood figures. He tells Poppy that one of her recent shows was awful because it “didn’t seem regretless.” And he is dead on about what makes Poppy so easy to enjoy: it is freeing to surrender your time to someone so sublimely confident and convinced of their own fame and glamour, regardless of whether they deserve to be. She is the beginning and end of the show’s strengths, weaknesses, charm and appeal, and that is why this review will end right where it began: with Ms. Poppy Bulova.
FringeNYC 2009: Poppy!: An Enchanted Evening with Poppy Bulova (1 hour)
CSV Cultural and Education Center, Flamboyan (107 Suffolk St.)
Performances: Concluded August 29