The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings







Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
A CurtainUp Review
Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe

The more I believe, the more I will receive.—Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, and the audience
Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe
Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe star Andre De Shields
(Photo: Lia Chang)
"Welcome to the service!" Sparkly blue eye shadow, vigorous handshakes, and flashy choir robes usher you into the theater for Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, the Classical Theatre of Harlem's racy reinvention of Moliere's comic indictment of religious hypocrisy, which was first written and performed in 1664 (and immediately censored by its righteously offended targets).

This Tartuffe is a tart riff on religious revivalism and charismatic preaching. It's driven by the penetrating presence of Andre De Shields who, as the title character, unleashes a charisma so irresistible, you just might find yourself reaching into your own pocket to donate to the "church."

Unabashedly blurring the line between church and theater, De Shields (literally) reaches out into the audience to make this show not just a musical, but a euphoric experience. Gold-fringed lamps hang from the ceiling, and a dazzling "SUPREME" sign spills over from the stage into the audience. In short, designer Greg Mitchell has transformed the theater into a Harlem Renaissance-era church, and as the insidiously inspirational Tartuffe, De Shields channels such mega-religious, unorthodox icons as Reverend Ike, Daddy Grace, and Rasputin. "The lack of money is the root of all evil," he preaches, and his prescription is a hedonistic lifestyle filled with pleasures of the flesh (and plenty of coins in his offering plate).

As Tartuffe sermonizes, the four saucy members of the Supreme Choir quickly disrobe into bawdy, burlesque attire. Meanwhile, Tartuffe's sidekicks, Big Jerome and Little Jerome, give him solid support, intoning and repeating his messages to ratchet up the crowd's enthusiasm. All in all, it's a sensational seduction, from Tartuffe's slinky suits (which evolve from crushed red velvet to, later, a robe with very little underneath), to the snappy garter belts of the choir.

Writers Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner apply liberal doses of tongue-in-cheek humor, neatly skewering our own modern-day religious zealots. When Tartuffe appropriates such religious imagery as the Garden of Eden and a cross (over which he overdramatically drapes himself), the results are both ridiculous and hilarious. Music director and composer Kelvyn Bell also provides excellent channels for comedic subversion, incorporating such music as Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" and other raucous revivalist pieces.

Although the revival is really the thing in Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe, also at stake is the soul of Orgon, one of Tartuffe's passionate followers (and financial supporters), who has abandoned his family to follow his new idol. The show flickers back and forth between the rollicking church and the laments of Orgon's family: his wife, Elmire (Kim Brockington); his materialistic daughter, Marianne (Soneela Nankani); his son, Damis (Jabari Brisport); and their visiting uncle, Cleante (Lawrence Street).

It's in this family's bickering that we hear echoes of Moliere's rhyming verse, and their quick call-and-response dialogue is also reminiscent of church cadences. These complaints are no match for the charisma of Tartuffe, however, and it's easy to see why Orgon flew the coop. Weiner gives each family member a song to explain his or her situation, but their random moods (the wife's "La Vie En Rose"-like take on sexual adventures; the son's death-metal dirge) are less than persuasive. As the effeminate uncle, however, the excellent Street executes a terrific tap-dancing turn in the bouncy "One Fine Day", Cleante's chipper chance to come out of the closet.

At times, the music seems a bit off-pitch, and the choreography slightly out of sync, but it all still feels right, somehow: like any true church service, the production seems slightly improvised, electric and alive. The show is strongest at its extremes, when the satire is at its broadest, and director Preisser has created some sensational moments — mostly involving De Shields' searing stare. As he slithers into the audience, he cajoles and conspires with audience members (his congregation), making us all complicit in his scheming.

The obvious message here is to beware the preacher in sequined clothing, but in the presence of such persuasive personality, resistance is futile. The plot may be wispy, but it's secondary to the performances: the best way to get through Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe is, simply, to sit back and get swept up in the sermon. Fittingly, the show closes with "For the Love of Money," the theme song of the financial-quest TV show "The Apprentice." It's not such a stretch to think of Donald Trump as a modern-day preacher who has purloined his own congregation, because you never know, there just might be sequins under that suit.

Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe
By Alfred Preisser and Randy Weiner
Directed by Alfred Preisser

Cast: Jennifer Akabue (Supreme Choir), Gerron Atkinson (Orgon, Big Jerome, and Supreme Understudy, Officer), Jabari Brisport (Damis), Kim Brockington (Elmire), Tyrone Davis, Jr. (Little Jerome), Andre De Shields (Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe), Ted Lange (Orgon), Soneela Nankani (Marianne), Gina Rivera (Supreme Choir), Charletta Rozzell (Supreme Choir), Lawrence Street (Cleante), Kisa Willis (Supreme Choir), and Rejinald Woods (Big Jerome, Madame Pernelle)
Music Director/Composer: Kelvyn Bell
Set Design: Greg Mitchell
Costume Design: Kimberly Glennon
Lighting Design: Aaron Black
Sound Design: Bret Scheinfeld
Choreographer: Tracy Jack
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street (212) 279-4200
Tickets ($51.25)
Performances: Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday through Friday evenings at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm and 7pm
From 6/12/09; opening 6/25/09; closes 7/19/09 Review by Amy Krivohlavek based on performance 6/23/09
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe
  • I disagree with the review of Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe
  • The review made me eager to see Archbishop Supreme Tartuffe
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

Try for great seats to
Jersey Boys
The Little Mermaid
Lion King
Shrek The Musical

South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2009, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from