Manhattan socialite Ms Cece Rockerfeller proudly makes her debut at the Butterfly Club, airing her intimates for the first time ever in Cece Rockefeller: Estate of Affairs.
From the cosy comfort of her bay window, Ms Rockefeller (created and performed by Christopher Fieldus) regales us with a personal memoir of love, loss and loneliness spanning decades of isolation and romantic tragedy. Embodying the prim elegance and practiced restraint of 1950’s social and sexual repression, Cece drifts from room to room; a lofty, alcoholic Julie Andrews, rummaging through artefacts of her bygone glory days and hopelessly pining for the requitement of a love long expired.
Between languid tracts of breathily delivered poetic monologue, we are treated to impassioned musical numbers that showcase the visceral, desperate frustration and heartache that lingers beneath her polished exterior.
Cece’s penetrating countertenor vocals – a glorious fusion of Kate Bush and James Blake – are perfectly complemented by Shanon D Whitelock’s musical direction, which reimagines a melange of pop favourites as dark, sexy R&B tracks. While this very clear direction lends a powerful contemporary gravity and edginess to these songs, it does occasionally seem at odds with the lightness and restraint of Cece’s characterisation – a particular kind of stylistic clash that can occasionally be executed to tremendous effect, but which sadly feels unbalanced here without stronger character establishment early on.
The sumptuous poetic stylisation of Cece’s monologue lends an air of indulgent middle-class decadence that serves the character well, but also occasionally overcrowds certain pieces of crucial character and narrative development and leaves both a little muddled.
With the majority of stage time dedicated to musical content and much of the monologue cluttered with florid imagery, Cece does not have enough space to fully ground herself and foster a relationship with her audience that is strong enough to give the show’s content the punch that it deserves.
Despite this, the rest of the production is remarkably strong. Amy Dyke’s original costume creation is gorgeous, Whitelock and cellist Claire Abougelis realise the ambitious musical numbers flawlessly, and Cece’s soaring voice will surely melt your heart.
This tragically short but impressive debut season proudly showcases the considerable talents of this team of young creatives and the thoroughly exciting potential of this fascinating new character.