Immersive Theater in a Karaoke Bar–Review by Andrea Santo Felcone


My typical Saturday night usually involves some T.V., maybe a book, that kind of thing. You can imagine just how far I had to step out of my comfort zone to say “yes” to the most recent invitation to come my way through Motherhood Later. Would I go to an underground speakeasy/karaoke bar to review an immersive, paranormal show about Edgar Allan Poe? (What, now?) Well, I suppose binge-watching “Downton Abbey”, in time for the upcoming movie, could wait. This sounded too good to pass up. Think of the writing potential with this blogging experience.

“Experience” really is the best way to convey it. None of those words: “paranormal”, “immersive”, even “karaoke”, are words I associate with myself—especially the “paranormal” part. I’m not someone who seeks out horror movies or haunted houses. I’ve never gone to a Murder Mystery Dinner Party. (Unless you count playing “Clue”? Didn’t think so.) However, I’m trying to say “yes” to new experiences, so I decided to grab a friend and go. The show, “Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969” is being performed in RPM Underground—an 11,000 square-foot bar and eatery in New York City (244 W. 54th Street), where the upper level boasts a record store filled with unique finds, and the underground houses a speakeasy with 18 private pop-themed karaoke rooms and two full-service bars. In short, the karaoke bar experience—reimagined.

Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe Immersive Show

L to R: Makaela Shealy, Johnny Pozzi, Estelle Olivia, Dara Kramer, Brian Alford, Samantha Lacey Johnson, and Aaron Latta-Morissette. Photo Credit: Michael Gallo.

The minute my friend Sara and I arrived (wearing our best NYC-type clothing—a challenge when you don’t own leather pants) we were in awe of the place. RPM Underground is gorgeous, spacious, and every corner screams “fun”. There are retro movie posters (“Saturday Night Fever”!), boom boxes, tapes (remember those?), and colorful murals everywhere. As multi-colored lights swirled about, a man to our right immediately started singing into one of the karaoke mics as we checked in. (You must arrive promptly to your check-in time, with valid ID, if you are going to experience the show). Next up was a drink at the expansive bar to calm our nerves (just exactly how “paranormal” was this going to be?). We had read that no one in the show actually touches you, so that was a comfort, but we were still concerned.

After check-in, you are called in small groups to ‘knock three times’ to gain entrance into the show. (Creepy, yet fun.) You are given some instructions at the door. (By now it’s starting to feel a little like an Escape Room, that maybe you can’t escape?) I’m not going to lie, at this point my palms were sweaty. Once you enter, you are led to another bar, where you and the other audience members are now enjoying an interactive cocktail party with the actors in the show. Brilliant! And, so much fun.

In this “world” it’s October 7th, 1969, the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death, and you are a new initiate of The Poe Society of Manhattan. The cocktail party is hosted by the current members of The Society (the actors). They welcome you and provide information about the club, about Poe, even reciting some of his poetry. They are never out of character, and dressed the part, in wonderful, stylish 1969 clothing (costume design by Samantha Lacey Johnson). As the actors mingled with the audience, my fears took a backseat to my curiosity.

We enjoyed our conversations with actors Aaron Latta-Morissette (“Tom”) and Samantha Lacey Johnson (“Gina”). Aaron was charming and Samantha was very knowledgeable about Poe. She was thrilled to learn that my friend’s birthday is the same day (October 7) as Poe’s death. Chatting ended as a bell rang, signaling the show was progressing along to a séance, as a medium came in, and conjured spirits to (hopefully) explain Poe’s death.

RPM Underground

RPM Underground

This séance places the actors in entranced states as they are visited by spirits. You will remember famed writer Edgar Allan Poe was known mostly for his macabre poetry and mysterious short stories (“The Raven”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, etc.) so this fit well with the Poe theme. While no one really knows how Poe died, one theory postulates he was a victim of “cooping”. Cooping was a form of election fraud in the 19th century, where violent gangs would kidnap voters, force alcohol on them and force them to vote, often several times, for a particular candidate. The voters were kept ‘cooped up’ (thus the name) in a room. Their clothing would be changed multiple times, to allow them to vote multiple times. Poe was found disheveled and disoriented, wearing clothing that wasn’t his own, shortly before he died, which is why some believe it was cooping. There are numerous other theories on how Poe died, but this one is featured here.

Without giving too much away, the show felt like a “Choose Your Own Adventure”, as you could decide to follow different actors into the various karaoke rooms. You never knew what to expect, or what sounds you would hear, but, for me, the ‘entranced/zombie-like state of the actors’ seemed to go on a bit long, suggesting the show’s length could be trimmed here, or the storyline could be revised. However, all-in-all, the show was extremely thought-provoking, and held a haunting quality. We left learning things about Poe we didn’t know, and wanted to learn more. Kudos to Aaron Salazar for having conceived and directed the show.

RPM Underground Karaoke Bar

RPM Underground, One of Two Full-Service Bars.

If you are looking for something different—maybe to tie-into Halloween—check out RPM Underground (in general) and “Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The Cooping Theory 1969” (running until November 2nd). When you go, definitely save time for some karaoke!

Tickets are $75.00 and available here: www.knock3xs.com. This experience is 21 +. Valid ID is required to enter. There is a $25.00 beverage/food minimum per guest.

Book: Nate Raven

Original Score: Manuel “CJ” Pelayo & Giancarlo Bonfanti

Additional Material: Edgar Allan Poe

Conceived & Directed: Aaron Salazar, Artistic Director/Founder of Poseidon Theatre Company

Executive Produced by DDM Productions

Costume Design: Samantha Lacey Johnson

Cast: Aaron Latta-Morissette as Tom

Makaela Shealy as Anna

Johnny Pozzi as Jimmy

Dara Kramer as Madam Harlow

Samantha Lacey Johnson as Gina

Brian Alford as Pledge Crispin Carlyle & Swing

Estelle Olivia as Pledge Cordelia Carlyle & Swing

#knock3xs

#thecoopingtheory1969

RPM Underground: http://rpmunderground.us/

 

 

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