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Theater: Leo Toys With Gravity

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LEO ***
CLURMAN THEATRE ON THEATRE ROW

One of the cleverest dance numbers in film history is Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding. It's a simple effect, really. They rotated the entire set slowly so it looks like Astaire is dancing on the walls and then hanging upside down from the ceiling. As a visual expression of someone in love, few moments are better.

In a way, this one-man show Leo let's you watch while a similar effect is created in front of your eyes. Our hero -- performed by Tobias Wegner, who conceived the original idea and then created it with Circle Of Eleven -- is in a room. On one side of the stage we see a rectangular screen where a video projection is displayed. On the other side of the stage is a set where Wegner is located. It's a room tilted onto its side. The "floor" in the video projection is actually a wall and when Leo looks like he is casually standing on the ground he is in fact performing a feat of gymnastics, holding himself parallel to the ground with one arm while planting his feet halfway up the wall. Thank goodness you can look at this video to see what I mean.

You spend the first five minutes giggling with pleasure. But of course your attention would soon wander if Wegner wasn't a gifted vaudeville act and circus-trained acrobat. Perhaps the subtlest pleasure comes from the fact that when Wegner is doing something that seems gravity-defying on the video, he's actually performing something quite simple. And when he looks casual, it's an effect that takes a tremendous amount of effort.

Just when Wegner has exhausted the possibilities, the piece ups the ante. First he adds "props" by making chalk drawings on the wall, then they add animation by Ingo Panke that can only be seen on the video projection and so on. It's a tight, very clever sixty minutes.

As a critic who gets to see shows, it's a delightful way to spend an evening. As a show in a fringe festival, it must have seemed like manna from heaven. And I don't think the show is stretched out to its one hour length -- Wegner and director Daniel Briere never flag in their invention. But it is juuuust long enough for that slot.

On a practical level, I would much prefer for audiences that this piece was kept at say 45 minutes and combined with one or two other similar acts. If this were shorter and paired with similarly bold and entertaining works it would make a truly outstanding evening. And properly marketed you could keep the showcase fresh by replacing one act at a time. On the other hand, my guest enjoyed it much more than me and has already recommended it. Hopefully adventurous audiences will discover this off-beat gem and enjoy it on its own terms.

Here's that Fred Astaire number if you don't know it.

The Theater Season 2011-2012 (on a four star scale)

The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs ** 1/2
All-American **
All's Well That Ends Well/Shakespeare in the Park **
The Atmosphere Of Memory 1/2 *
Bonnie & Clyde feature profile of Jeremy Jordan
Broadway By The Year: 1997 ** 1/2
The Cherry Orchard with Dianne Wiest **
Chinglish * 1/2
Close Up Space *
Crane Story **
Cymbeline at Barrow Street Theatre ***
Dedalus Lounge * 1/2
An Evening With Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin ***
Follies *** 1/2
Fragments ***
Godspell ** 1/2
Goodbar * 1/2
Hair ***
Hand To God ***
Hero: The Musical * 1/2
How The World Began * 1/2
Hugh Jackman: Back On Broadway ***
Irving Berlin's White Christmas ***
It's Always Right Now, Until It's Later *** 1/2
King Lear at Public with Sam Waterston **
Krapp's Last Tape with John Hurt ***
Lake Water **
Leo ***
Love's Labor's Lost at the PublicLab ** 1/2
Lysistrata Jones *
Man And Boy * 1/2
The Man Who Came To Dinner **
Maple And Vine **
Master Class w Tyne Daly ** 1/2
Measure For Measure/Shakespeare in the Park ***
Milk Like Sugar ***
Mission Drift * 1/2
Misterman ** 1/2
The Mountaintop ** 1/2
Newsies **
Pigpen's The Nightmare Story *** 1/2
Once *** 1/2
Olive and The Bitter Herbs ** 1/2
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever * 1/2
One Arm ***
Other Desert Cities on Broadway ** 1/2
Private Lives **
Queen Of The Mist ** 1/2
Radio City Christmas Spectacular ** 1/2
Relatively Speaking * 1/2
Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History Of The Robot War ** 1/2
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) ** 1/2
Seminar **
Septimus & Clarissa *** 1/2
Shlemiel The First ** 1/2
Silence! The Musical * 1/2
69 Degrees South * 1/2
Sons Of The Prophet *** 1/2
Sontag: Reborn *
Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark * 1/2
Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays **
Stick Fly **
The Submission **
Super Night Shot ** 1/2
Sweet and Sad **
The Table ** 1/2
Titus Andronicus at Public with Jay O. Sanders * 1/2
Unnatural Acts ***
Venus In Fur ***
We Live Here **
Wild Animals You Should Know ** 1/2
Zarkana **

NEW YORK MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL 2011

Blanche: The Bittersweet Life Of A Wild Prairie Dame *** 1/2
Central Avenue Breakdown ** 1/2
Crazy, Just Like Me ***
Cyclops: A Rock Opera *
Ennio: The Living Paper Cartoon ** 1/2
F---ing Hipsters **
Ghostlight **
Gotta Getta Girl ** 1/2 for staged reading
Greenwood *
Jack Perry Is Alive (And Dating) * 1/2
Kiki Baby ** 1/2
Kissless * 1/2
Madame X **
The Pigeon Boys ***
Time Between Us * 1/2
Tut **

FRINGEFEST NYC 2011

Araby *
The Bardy Bunch **
Books On Tape ** 1/2
Civilian **
Hard Travelin' With Woody ***
Leonard Cohen Koans *** 1/2
The More Loving One **
The Mountain Song *** 1/2
Paper Cuts ***
Parker & Dizzy's Fabulous Journey To The End Of The Rainbow ** 1/2
Pearl's Gone Blue ***
Rachel Calof ** 1/2
Romeo & Juliet: Choose Your Own Ending **
2 Burn * 1/2
Walls and Bridges **
What The Sparrow Said ** 1/2
Yeast Nation ***

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.

Note: Michael Giltz was provided with free tickets to the shows with the understanding that he would be writing a review.