The Fartiste: A Review

I got the opportunity to see The Fartiste last night.  I was in august company.  I was sitting at the table with the cast of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, along with John Towsen, author of the esteemed book Clowns, and an excellent clown and physical comedy blogger/writer.  Also at the table was Michael Bongar, former clown and now an event producer and booker for BongarBiz.  At another table were Mathew Duncan and Ray Grins.  And across the way sat Mikael Baryshnikov!

Joseph PujolBut enough about who was there– let’s talk about what was there.  The Fartiste is the story of a talented man Joseph Pujol (pronounced Poo-Joel, not Poo-Hole)  He has the strange ability to sing through his rectum.  He can expel air through his nether parts and make all kinds of crazy sounds, including songs, animals, gunshots, and lots more. He comes to the Moulin Rouge as a former baker determined to make his way, and he does, becoming one of the top paid stars of the Moulin Rouge and the toast of Paris.  (In Paris he was known as “Le Petomane”  In the play, the man who hires him says “I’ve hired plenty of assholes who can sing, but this will be my first singing asshole!”)

After 7 years, his hubris gets the best of him.  Rather than performing what people wanted, he dreamed up a magnum opus, a “Concerto For Wind” that proved to be his undoing.  In his desire to become an artiste, he forgot that people liked him because of the novelty of his act, not because of him. (This is also in some ways the story of Moliere, who dreamed his entire life of being a tragedian, but only got people to laugh with him)

Kevin Kraft as Joseph Pujol plays a duet on the trumpet with himself!

The show was fun to see and very well done. The acting is all  excellent.  Former Ringling clown (and friend) Kevin Kraft plays Pujol very earnestly, and is on the stage almost constantly throughout the show. He has great physical precision, especially while playing his “instrument”.  This is handled onstage very cleverly.  Foley artist/standup comedian Steven Scott does all of the sound effects, using only his voice. The combination of Scott and Kraft is precise and beautifully timed– their physical and vocal virtuosity are wonderful to behold.

The Moulin Rouge is full of nearly naked showgirls and leering men.

Other actors include veteran character actor (and current Actor’s Equity President) Nick Wyman as Aristide, the narrator, and Herndon Lackey, who plays a very funny Toulouse Lautrec, as well as the all business producer of the club where Pujol performs.  Wyman and Lackey are very good in their roles, as are the chorus of three showgirls (who play a multitude of characters, including Pujol’s parents, his wife, and his kids.)

Its a musical, with over 15 songs in the 90 minute show.  The music is well-played, and well-sung, and pleasant, and pretty upbeat, although I have to say I don’t remember a single melody (or very many of the lyrics) the day after.
There is a dinner option of a French buffet before hand.  I didn’t sample it, but I was hoping it consisted of beans, cabbage, and Coca-cola.  It apparently does not.

I had a couple of quibbles directorially (Steve Scott, the vocalist does some sound effects for other characters too– but only a couple.  I personally would have preferred him to be only the singing/farting voice of Pujol.  If those other people need sound effects, perhaps Scott can do them on a mike that’s NOT visible to us, instead of in the place where he does the Pujol sound effects.)   I also felt like there was one or two songs too many -it’s possible that they could have cut one of the songs about the Moulin Rouge– a couple of songs felt more like “Hey, it’s a musical, it’s time to sing a song.” rather than moments that required song to fully explicate the situation.)

But these are quibbles.  I liked the show a lot, and I think you will too.

Like Urinetown before it (which is another show that came out of the NY Fringe) , The Fartiste has a tough name to sell to the tour-bus crowd.  But I think that anyone who can get beyond the name will have a great time learning the fascinating story of Joseph Pujol, and will especially enjoy the ani-vocal musings of Kevin Kraft and Steve Scott.

Let me know what you think of the show in the comments below.

For more information, or for tickets, visit their website

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