April 29, 2015

Olive Thomas, the “Ziegfeld Follies” beauty whose teary ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam Theater, has taken up residence down the block. Her stage is the Liberty Theater, a long-ago Broadway house now tucked incongruously at the back of the Liberty Diner, on West 42nd Street. When she died scandalously in Paris in 1920, a Jerome Kern musical was running there. The murky story of her death by poison is at the center of an evening of dark revelry called “Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic.” This immersive theater piece, created by Cynthia von Buhler (“The Bloody Beginning”), takes its name from Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.’s late-night cabaret series on the New Amsterdam roof. Eddie Cantor (Chris Fink) and Josephine Baker (an excellent Delysia La Chatte) are among the performers singing and dancing to a terrific quartet for a show which, at the Liberty, begins at the more conventional hour of 8 p.m. The cast is talented, the costumes (by Carmela Lane) are glittery, and aerialists dangle from a giant beaded orb (by Anya Sapozhnikova) that is suspended, chandelier-like, above the crowd. Audience members may have dinner or sip cocktails — absinthe, anyone? — while they watch. This diffuse production is the latest of Ms. von Buhler’s dramatic explorations of Prohibition-era deaths. Ms. Thomas, a silent-screen star played here by Syrie Moskowitz, drank mercury bichloride, which was used to treat syphilis. Her death was ruled accidental, but puzzlement remained about how she came to ingest the stuff. Might it have been suicide? Could it have been murder at the hands of her actor husband, Jack Pickford (Joey Calveri), little brother to Mary? And how did he go so far downhill so fast afterward?