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Banana Shpeel: new Cirque du Soleil show announces cast

Stars from Broadway's 'Jersey Boys' and 'Wicked' will join the cast of the brand new theatrical production, Banana Shpeel, presented by Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment.

Banana Shpeel will open at The Beacon Theatre on 11 Feb 2010, following previews from 4 Feb, for a limited engagement running through to 30 Apr 2010.

Michael Longoria, who starred as 'Frankie Valli' in the Broadway production of 'Jersey Boys,' will portray 'Emmett,' an innocent and romantic young actor, while Annaleigh Ashford, who starred as 'Glinda' in 'Wicked' on Broadway and in Chicago, portrays his love interest 'Katie,' and Remo Airaldi, a prolific resident company member of Boston's American Repertory Theater, portrays 'Schmelky,' a cruel and irritable theater producer.

Joining them is an international crew of comedic actors: Claudio Carneiro (Brazil), Daniel Passer (U.S.), Patrick de Valette (France), Gordon White (Canada) and Wayne Wilson (U.S.).

In keeping with Cirque du Soleil's unique and diverse performers, global talents showcased in Banana Shpeel include Russian hand balancer Dmitry Bulkin, Vietnamese juggler Tuan Le, Spanish foot juggler Vanessa Alvarez, and the American sister-brother tap dance duo, Joseph and Josette Wiggan.

Completing the cast is an ensemble comprised of 10 "triple threats": singer-actor-dancers Robyn Baltzer, Alex Ellis, Adrienne Jean Fisher, DeWitt Fleming Jr., Luke Hawkins, Kathleen Hennessey, Adrienne Reid, Anthony J. Russo, Melissa Schott and Steven T. Williams.

Under the direction of Band Leader Robert Cookman, the Banana Shpeel original score is performed live on stage by Roland Barber (trombone), Bobby Brennan (bass), James Campagnola (multi-instrumental), Iohann Laliberté (drums), Jean-François Ouellet (saxophone), Peter Sachon (cello) and Scott Steen (trumpet). The press notes describe Banana Shpeel as "a roller-coaster mix of styles that blends comedy with tap, hip hop, eccentric dance and slapstick, all linked by a narrative that ignites a succession of wacky adventures. This is not circus, or a musical or a variety show, or even vaudeville. It is Banana Shpeel!

Banana Shpeel plunges us into the world of Schmelky, a cruel and irritable producer who dangles fame and fortune in front of Emmett, an innocent and romantic actor who has come to audition for him. Emmett soon finds himself trapped in a flamboyant, anarchic world where Schmelky sows terror and reigns supreme. Emmett falls in love with the beautiful Katie and meets a bunch of absurd characters, including the strange Banana Man. But who is this mysterious Banana Man and how can Emmett escape the clutches of Schmelky and his henchmen?

The creative team features sets by Patricia Ruel, costumes by Dominique Lemieux, lighting by Bruno Rafie and sound by Harvey Robitaille.

Banana Shpeel writer and director David Shiner started out as a mime in Paris. His career took off in 1984 when he was discovered at the renowned circus festival Cirque de Demain. Shiner later teamed up with Bill Irwin to create the wordless two-man show 'Fool Moon,' which played from 1992 to 1999, including three Broadway runs. 'Fool Moon' picked up numerous prizes, including a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award. In 2007, Shiner directed his first Cirque du Soleil production, the big top touring show 'Kooza'.

Cirque du Soleil celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2009. From a group of 20 street performers at its beginnings in 1984, Cirque du Soleil is now a major Quebec-based organization providing high-quality artistic entertainment. The company has more than 4,000 employees from over 40 different countries, including 1,000 performing artists. Cirque du Soleil has performed before almost 90 million spectators in over 200 cities on five continents. In 2009, Cirque will present 20 shows simultaneously throughout the world.

MSG Entertainment (MSGE), the live entertainment arm of Cablevision Systems Corporations, is a worldwide entertainment company recognized for its signature combination of event production and entertainment marketing, it has an ongoing partnership with Cirque du Soleil to create new content and productions for its venues.

Michael Longoria and Annaleigh Ashford

Originally published on