Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse

An immersive theatrical time machine that transports you to Election Night, 1929

By: Nov. 08, 2021

Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse

Oh, to be a fly on the wall during a pivotal moment of history! To witness everything unfold in real-time and see how the myriad assortment of players who did and didn't make the newspapers shaped the inevitable demise of a notorious political behemoth.

Tammany Hall, an immersive theater experience created and directed by Darren Lee Cole (Fleabag, Killer Joe) and Alexander Wright (The Great Gatsby, the UK's longest-running immersive show), now playing at New York's historic SoHo Playhouse (aka The Huron Club) allows visitors to be more than observant flies on the wall, but active participants in New York City's history.

Tammany Hall is a theatrical time machine that transports its audiences nearly 100 years back to Election Night, November 2, 1929. That eventful night was when Tammany Hall, New York's Democratic Party and ruling political machine for almost 200 years, came crashing down. The themes are all too familiar today; political corruption, scandal, self-interest, intrigue, bribery, voter fraud and the empty promises of a crooked charismatic leader.

Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse
Martin Dockery as Mayor Beau James Walker in Tammany Hall. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Upon entering the space, one truly forgets that they are in the year 2021. But instead of spending enormous amounts to renovate a space and transform it into something resembling 1920s New York, co-creators Cole, Wright, and scenic designer Dan Daly just pulled back the curtain to reveal the SoHo Playhouse as it truly is.

The SoHo Playhouse was formerly known as the Huron Club during Tammany Hall's heyday when they maintained clubhouses in every electoral district in Manhattan. The building's current layout is from 1920, so every exposed nook and cranny of the 15 rooms are true to the era. Emily Clarkson's lighting design stays true to the period, and Megan Culley's sound design plays with auditory props like old-fashioned microphones.

This historical space is as integral as the actors, beautifully costumed by Grace Jeon. You can feel the ghosts within its walls, possessing the performers and making the experience feel chillingly authentic. The players are sensational, each one with a multitude of layers, dimensions, and interwoven connections that are revealed based on how much time you get to spend with each.

Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse
Christopher Romero Wilson as Fiorello LaGuardia in Tammany Hall. Photo by Maria Baranova.

All the guests begin in the former upstairs clubhouse room where suave and chic Tammany man Mayor Beau James Walker (Martin Dockery) defended his title against the brash and portly Fiorello LaGuardia (Christopher Romero Wilson) in a boxing ring. As Walker's cronies sneer insults at LaGuardia, you can't help but feel part of the action.

After that, everyone disperses. An actor approaches you and your companion (groups don't get split as they do in other immersive events) and begins your storyline. It's not so much "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure" style as the adventure's starting point person chooses you, then all bets are off. Another character can snatch you from them and pull you deeper down Club Huron and Tammany Hall's rabbit hole.

Our adventure began with Legs Diamond (Nathaniel Ryan), a henchman for an infamous gangster with alleged ties to Tammany. A lover's quarrel with his showgirl paramour Kiki (Chloe Kekovic) was falsely arrested, making her late to rehearsal for her big show with actress, singer and Ziegfield Follies member Betty Compton (Marie Anello). (Fun fact: Compton, not to be confused with Broadway and Hollywood musical comedy writer/composer Betty Comden, was having an affair with Mayor Walker, who she eventually took as her 3rd husband in 1933).

Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse
Nathaniel Ryan as Legs Diamond in Tammany Hall. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Their argument took our group of four to the roof, where Kiki offered me a coat to brace against the November night's chill. That was just the first of many examples of how the cast and creative team of Tammany Hall take care of its audiences.

Some immersive experiences leave attendees feeling cheated that others receive the best storylines through the luck of the draw. The intimate nature of Tammany Hall, with its interwoven plots and genuine consideration from the cast, make every attendee feel like they are the show's co-stars, as vital to the action as any of the players. Perhaps it's all a ruse to get you to vote in their favor, but it works.

From the roof, Kiki led us to the penthouse (rumored to be Betty Compton and Mayor Walker's love nest) and down hidden hallways where the piping looked to be from the 1920s. We finally arrived in Betty's dressing room, where the star was preparing for "Violet," a Broadway-style revue produced by none other than Mayor Walker.

Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse
Chloe Kekovic as Kiki in Tammany Hall. Photo by Maria Baranova.

A note about Mayor Walker, played by Martin Dockery with panache and charisma: while LaGuardia never so much as looked my companion and me in the eye, Mayor Walker engaged with us attentively from the beginning, treating us to cocktails and a show (well, you do have to purchase the drinks, but the invitation to the Prohibition-era speakeasy is compliments of the mayor).

He was genuinely interested in my Egyptian friend's origins, is a patron of the arts, and cuts a lean, mean figure in a sharp suit. What's not to love about that? Can't scandals and greed can be forgiven when the mayor has such class and style? Smitten and charmed, I found myself all too happy to comply when the feisty showgirl and Tammany Hall schemer Ritzi (Charley Wenzel) suggested we play a game and conceive new names to cast two (or three) ballots to keep Mayor Walker in office.

The ellipsis of all the storylines comes to the final punctuation of an exclamation mark! The interwoven tales collide in the basement speakeasy as the votes are counted and the winner announced. Until the final reveal, the experience feels like a fast-paced whodunit where loyalties are formed and broken. Will your guy win?

Review: TAMMANY HALL at SoHo Playhouse
Martin Dockery as Mayor Beau James Walker and Marie Anello in Tammany Hall. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Tammany Hall is an incredibly well-researched and thoughtful piece of interactive theatre. Its script is said to be over seven hours long between all of the plots and characters. The thrilling adventure is worth coming back to Tammany Hall's Club Huron and discovering its secrets from every angle, every storyline, every performer. It's an extraordinarily satisfying theatrical experience that breezes by in 90 minutes and leaves you wanting a second round.

The timing could not be more poignant as the opening night of Tammany Hall coincided with the election of New York's next mayor (Eric Adams) along with various other elected officials across America and only a year following the election of a new president. But the timeliness is overshadowed by the timelessness of Tammany Hall's hot topics.

A century ago feels like yesterday. In 2021, the same problems persist. We find ourselves much like the citizens of that era, fed up with the status quo and self-serving corruption of a government meant to protect and serve. The people demand change, justice, and holding leaders accountable for their actions.

Not since Hamilton arrived on Broadway has reliving New York history been this fun, clever, or creative. However, in Tammany Hall, you get to partake in history as it unfolds in the very place where it happened. I wholeheartedly cast my vote (or several) for Tammany Hall as one of the best immersive theatrical experiences in New York City!


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From This Author - Cindy Sibilsky

Cindy Sibilsky is a Broadway, Off Broadway, U.S. and international Producer, Tour Producer, Marketing/PR Director and theatre, film, arts & culture and travel writer/reviewer specializing in globa... Cindy Sibilsky">(read more about this author)


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