The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips, a Work in Progress

Daphne Rubin Vega and Kenyon Phillips onstage in The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips at Webster Hall

Daphne Rubin Vega and Kenyon Phillips, photo by Juan P. Zapata


August 19th, 2015

Webster Hall, NYC

Kenyon Phillips is the writer and star of the self-titled show, The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips. He has surrounded himself with many talented and able-bodied performers: jugglers, contortionists, showgirls, drag queens, tightrope walkers, even a martial artist and a dancing penis make an appearance! Fans of burlesque will recognize among the cast burlesque dancer Aurora Black as well as the adorable aerialist Juanita Cardenas. Fans of Broadway will enjoy the high-caliber presence of Daphne Rubin-Vega (RENT) as Phillips’ mother and Tony winner Cady Huffman at the helm as director/choreographer.

Michael Rosman walking a tightrope in The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips at Webster Hall

Michael Rosman, photo by Nico Malvaldi

Kenyon Phillips enters from the audience with his backup dancers, looking like a cross between Anthony Kiedis and John Galliano. He joins a stage busy with a queenie emcee/hype-man and a glammed-out (almost) all-female six-piece band. The man and his story seem known within this rock star fantasy, but to humor the audience, he is willing to re-tell his life story. His anecdotes are buoyed along by catchy songs and a hard rocking band.

Club legend Michael Musto plays the part of a sequined St Peter to whom Phillips confesses all of his crimes. The storyline glosses through the low-lights of a life: abusive parents, bullying classmates, eating disorders, hollow sexual relationships. Yet even T.M.I. tidbits like “I let a dog give me oral sex” come off sounding bland.

Aurora Black with Kenyon Phillips onstage in The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips at Webster Hall

Aurora Black with Kenyon Phillips, photo by Nico Malvaldi

That is because one never gets a pulse off of Kenyon Phillips. How did he feel when these bad things happened to him? What did he learn? How did he grow? This story is presented with an archly ironic distance, but it is in need of a vulnerable heart at its center to anchor the sound and spectacle.

The current ending of the show speaks to this. All of the characters confront Phillips and call him an asshole and challenge his versions of their lives before quitting the stage. Kenyon strips out of his hipster clothes down to a thong, he even takes off his wig to reveal that he is bald, but what the show needs is nakedness, not nudity. (There is another part of the ending where Kenyon and the emcee character wrestle over a gun and then embrace but the significance of this was completely lost on this audience member.)

The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips is a rock opera filled with everything fans of circus enjoy and more. This show is packed with variety, original music and enough sparkles to satisfy a magpie. Watch for the next iteration Kenyon Phillips, as this ambitious work-in-progress has fans in high places and the finished product is sure to be worth checking out.

2 out of 5 stars

Staged as a one-off at Webster Hall on August 19th, 2015

Running time: approximately 90 minutes

Don’t miss the Beat. Subscribe.

* indicates required

All photos used here with permission expressly for Burlesque Beat. Please obtain permission for any other use.

Share this post