Across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, alongside a two-story Duane Reade, and around a corner and up a staircase is the front door of the Elektra Theatre, where Katdashians: Break the Musical has just started a month-long residency. The complex the length of a city block was formerly home to peep shows, strippers, and adult video booths, or as Time Out New York refers to it, "a porn labyrinth," before it was gentrified into Times Scare, a haunted house tourist trap that closed last December. Today, it's home to Katdashians, a musical about what the Kardashians would be like if they were cats instead of humans. And people say New York has changed.
"fuck andrew lloyd webber!"
Before my visit to the Elektra, I imagined Katdashians: Break the Musical would be a tweaked Cats, with Kardashian siblings filling the roles, but it's actually an almost-entirely original musical about the people Cosmopolitan so infamously dubbed "America's First Family." The cat theme is tenuous beyond pointy ears and a handful of unfortunate puns. Like the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, it was sparkly, loud, and incredibly seductive. Unlike an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, a character would occasionally shout "Fuck Andrew Lloyd Webber!"
Kendallkat (Ariel Ash), Khloekat (Elliot Brooks), Kyliekat (Viva Soudan), Kimkat (Carmen Mendoza), Dash Doll (Jenyvette Vega), Kourtneykat (Bridget Kennedy), and Dash Doll (Alexis Kelley).
Katdashians is the latest in a long line of musical parodies to set up shop in the Elektra. The theater was carved out of some extra space in the old Show World Center sex complex in 2012 to house the Silence of the Lambs musical parody Silence! In 2014, 50 Shades! The Musical had its New York debut there and was dubbed a New York Times critic's pick in a review that lauded its score for being "steeped in show tunes, R&B, gospel and Gilbert and Sullivan." For reference, that was eight months before Hamilton opened Off-Broadway.
The lobby at the Elektra has a full bar, glittery and new, paired with swathes of worn, ‘80s-holdover plush seating. The room was remarkably red. I tried hard to appreciate the venue's sexy history (by scrolling through Robert Mapplethorpe's Wikipedia page on my phone), but I was wearing mom shoes, so it was fruitless. Also, everyone else was drunk and I had completely forgotten to bring a friend. Instead, I brought in the dregs of an overpriced Times Square cappuccino.
There were about 130 people in the audience, though closer to twice that could have fit. As the lights dimmed, two "Dash dolls" encouraged us to take pictures of ourselves and others throughout the entire show, and hustled the usage of a preapproved hashtag on social media in exchange for a pair of free sunglasses.
As I posted a photo of the program to Instagram (it's what Kim would want), I noted that the set was a sparse dystopia — a dirty couch with "Buy Merchandise" spray-painted on the side, garbage bags full of clothes, and plush cat toys. Everything was covered with a film of gold paint. Britney Spears' "Work Bitch" blared through the speakers.
i posted to instagram, because it's what kim would want
There is no real plot to the show, which is fair enough because there's no real plot on Keeping up with the Kardashians. The only major conflict is the family's perpetual dread of falling out of the Google News box. That's my primary existential fear, too!
Some of Katdashians was funny, and all of it was beautiful. Broadway-grade makeup made an undead fame monster out of Kris Jenner and impeccable costuming followed Kim's transition from vodka-launch-party tacky to Kanye-styled mom in a sleek bun (baby hairs lasered away, natch). All of the Katdashians wielded Kylie Jenner's favorite Lumee phone case (it's framed with lights, to guarantee the perfect selfie) while they danced. They often came into the audience, which I found amusing until Kris Jenner slammed her elbows down firmly into my back while I was hunched over, taking notes. "SELFAYYY" she shouted, snapping a blurry photo of herself and my left eyebrow.
The best original song in the show by far was Kim Katdashian's solo number, which was part rap, part Beyoncé "Run the World" nod, and part spinoff from the opening number of Hamilton, with references to American history swapped out for jokes about Ray J's semen. There are two incredible dance scenes — one that mourns Rob Kardashian's engagement to Blac Chyna with a complicated, oddly-tempoed ensemble number about "ratchet old Rob," and the other setting up the meteoric rise of the Jenner girls, both of whom could do a world-class body roll and carry a tune while doing gymnastics (the actress who played Kylie also choreographed the show).
But as the night wore on, I found myself having less fun than I had imagined, and not just because I was sitting under an air conditioning vent and I didn't like my outfit. I wished that the show's creators had a little more love for their subjects. Bob and Tobly McSmith, who had previously co-written Full House! The Musical, settled on one joke per Kardashian and hammered them into joyless goop: Kim is a Kanye robot, Kourtney is boring, Khloe is vulgar and there's something wrong with her vagina. It's funny when Kim asks Kourtney how long Scott has been gone and she intones flatly, "17 weeks." It's not terribly funny when Khloe interjects "ANAL!" into a conversation for the 45th time.
i wish the show creators had loved their katdashians better
All of the Kardashian boyfriends are represented by inanimate objects — the hand puppet cast as the perpetually manipulated and sympathetic idiot Scott Disick is funny, but the inflatable basketball "Lamar Odom" and enormous black dildo "Corey Gamble" aren't really. The latter is probably a comment on how Kris Jenner has framed her new relationship as tabloid-worthy simply because it's interracial, but it's hard to make a sharp social critique in the midst of a toothless parody and expect it to land. The same is true of Caitlyn Jenner's big number, which moves brilliantly in and out of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Memories" (or, "Meowmories" in this case), but fails to really say anything: "I'm still a Republican and don't accept gay men but get to go on Ellen" is the closest it gets.
Peter Smith as Catlyn.
Katdashians: Break the Musical is a show at odds with itself. It assumes intimate knowledge of the Kardashians, their empire, their social media accounts, and their relationships, yet it also assumes that no one in the audience likes the Kardashians at all. I went to the Elektra expecting jokes as warm and terrible as the sisters themselves — a quick skewering of Kim's 72-day marriage and then an exuberant musical tribute to Kimoji; in short, an acknowledgment of the similarities between pop culture-inspired performance art and an internet-fueled fame machine.
In a way, a Kardashian musical is the most logical repurposing of Time Square's outdated sex marketplace (they're hot as hell, but it's verboten to admit that you like them) and its disgraced haunted house (they're chintzy, and when the makeup and lighting is just right, they're even a little terrifying), but it didn't have enough of either of those attractions' grime or good humor.
this is a show at odds with itself
Kim Kardashian isn't my personal hero, but it's clear that there are people accruing massive fortunes off of much worse things than their uncommonly good butts. In a news cycle that is too-often filled with surreal horror, the fact that the Kardashians remain untouched by real concern is a small comfort. They're of the same cloth as Donald Trump sure — outsized reality TV personalities who embody some of our basest impulses — but the sins they champion are guilty pleasures, not philosophies of hate. If the worst you ever do to the world is post too many Instagram photos of it, date too many of its loser rappers, and bogard a rather absurd percentage of its lip fillers, then God bless you.
There is one moment of tenderness in Katdashians: a classic KUWTK scene in which Kim sends Khloe an email calling her "fucking disgusting" and "an ugly little troll" is reenacted verbatim. When Khloe is asked why Kim would say such hurtful things she whines, "All I did was wake her up." It gets the biggest laugh, because it's a great memory of our girls, who are bizarre and mean but ultimately harmless.
Katdashians: Break the Musical is playing at the Elektra Theatre in New York City through July 17th.
Correction: A previous version of this article underestimated the number of people in the audience. The accurate figure has been supplied by the theater.