The Tattooed Lady (Philadelphia Theatre Company): Tattoo as metaphor, tattoo as tattoo

Tattooed Lady
Photo by Johanna Austin, Pictured left to right- Jessie Shelton, Anastacia McCleskey, Kim Blanck, Sophia Ramos, Ashley Pérez Flanagan

Tattoo as metaphor. Tattoo as tattoo. Once upon a time inked skin was mostly seen on Navy sailors sporting an anchor on their arm, or maybe a woman’s name. Today U.S. military can still wear tattoos – anywhere except on the head and face. And anyone else can have them too.

The story: A young woman lives with her grandmother because her junkie mother is dead. This musical explores her quest for identity, the need to escape from conformity to become the person she needs to be. It’s about overcoming the strictures of culture and gender stereotype and the obstacles of family, gayness, and society – through the wearing of tattoos.   

In 1835 P.T. Barnum, introduced side show circus freaks, featuring people with anatomical deformities or other oddities. Schlitzie the Pinhead, Ella Harper the Camel Girl, Isaac Sprague the Living Skeleton, Cheng and Eng the famous Siamese Twins, Grady Stiles the Lobster Boy, and four-legged Myrtle Corbin are examples. Those paying their coin for admission would also see The Bearded Lady, the Fat Lady, and of course the Tattooed Lady. History gives us five of these women who became living picture galleries, and all are represented in the play. Boisterous, joyful, defiant, and a little bawdy, the show may have a sketchy contraption of a plot, but you don’t go to a musical expecting Hamlet. Talented dancers and singers wear elaborate, colorful, and fantastic costumes… and tattoos. Each represents one of history’s famous tattooed ladies.

The show is backed up by great music, well performed. Music and orchestrations are by Max Vernon. At first it seems to be recorded. Not so. Late into the second act a curtain is drawn to reveal the shadowy musicians who should have been visible throughout the play. 

[Philadelphia Theatre Company at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St] October 29-November 20, 2022;

Approximately two and half hours long including a fifteen minute intermission.

Developed & Directed by Ellie Heyman, Choreography by Mayte Nataliano, Book by Erin Courtney and Max Vernon, Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg, Music Director, Rodney Bush. Cast: Kim Blanch, Ashley Perez Flanagan, Maya Lagerstam, Anthony Lawton, Anastacia McCleskey, Sophia Ramos, Jessie Shelton, Grace Slear, Katie Thompson



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