Buckle up for this hellish ride through Desmond Channing’s demise.

Credit: Harry Elletson

Alistair Lindsay for The Unusual Theatre Company presents the deliciously camp Diva: Live from Hell! at the Turbine Theatre. Directed by Joe McNeice, with music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen and book and characters by Nora Brigid Monahan, Diva tells the story of Desmond Channing (Luke Bayer), a stereotypical, insufferable theatre student (think Rachel Berry or Sharpay Evans) who will do whatever it takes to stay at the top. The twist to this classic story is that Desmond’s performance is coming live from the Seventh Circle Cabaret Club in hell. The playbill gives a really interesting background of the way hell has been represented throughout the years (written by Joe McNeice). It also has a dictionary of theatre terms used in the play, which was very thoughtful – I even learned a few things!

Credit: Harry Elletson

Desmond, who currently resides in hell, tells us the story of how he got there, beginning with the day a new student, Evan, joins the drama club. Threatened by Evan’s talent and good looks, not to mention his interest in Desmond’s crush, Desmond makes bad decision after bad decision, spiraling into a horrible climax where Evan is no longer a threat – but neither is Desmond.

Bayer, who plays three other characters in addition to Desmond, is hilarious; I don’t know how he stayed straight-faced the whole time. I instantly saw the unhinged look in his eyes, cluing me in on the thoughtless, self-centered actions Desmond was about to take to preserve his spot as the drama club president and the school’s most talented student. From deadpan-ly delivering farcical theatrical allusions (e.g. there is no water in hell – instead, it’s Bob Fosse’s ball sweat) to impersonating a heartthrob teenage boy with a guitar (the ‘Feelings’ song had me in stitches) to breaking out in dance (I’m a sucker for a tap dance break, and his footwork is distinct and sharp) he gives a stellar performance. I loved his side notes to the band, asking them to adjust the music or change keys.

Given the show’s satire of the classic over-the-top theatre kid saga, I wish Diva would have delved more into what made it original – the setting. I wondered about the logistics of performing in hell and who else was there. Bayer has a fantastic voice and a remarkable range, but ‘Live from Hell!’ was the only memorable song. That said, it is extremely catchy and was stuck in my head my entire journey home. The last twenty-ish minutes were startlingly dark and gruesome, not really keeping with the previously camp and funny trends in the beginning of the play. It ended on a somber note, though I appreciated the story coming full circle with the beautiful irony of Desmond having to perpetually perform to a booing audience as his eternal punishment.

Diva: Live from Hell! is on at the Turbine Theatre until September 3rd – don’t miss out on Desmond’s infernal show!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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