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A CurtainUp Review

A Look at the NY Musical Theatre Festival
By Elyse Sommer

October 4, 2004 Update: NYMF Winners
The Festival ended with a closing party on Pier 63 (Hudson River & 23rd Street) at which the winner of the Golden NYMF Award -- based on audience poll-- was announced. Not surprisingly, the winner was Caligula which will now continue for a post-festival week at the Theatre at St. Clement's Church. If you can't get a ticket, not to worry, this show is sure to reappear elsewhere before too long. There were also two runners up: Like U Like It, and Altar Boyz.

Theater goers disappointed that no new musicals lit up the Great White Way during September did have an alternative -- Far From the Madding Crowd. This is not just the title of a new musical adapted from Thomas Hardy's novel but sums up The New York Musical Theater Festival which presented thirty-two -- yes, thirty-two! -- new musicals at theaters that were "far from the madding crowds," but not too far, and at an affordable $15 per show. The Hardy adaptation, for example, presented its six performances at the 47th Street Theater, so did Top Gun, Altar Boyz and Tusk. Other host theaters included the Theatre at St. Clements on West 46th Street, the 45th Street Theatre, Theatre Three, three flights up on West 43rd Street, the Beckett on Theater Row and the Belt on West 37th Street.

Add movie musical screenings, a musicals on television series, a cabaret festival, panel discussions and concerts for a grand total of 283 performances livening up that not so far from the "madding crowds" scene during an otherwise slow period -- from September 13th to October 3rd. Whew!

Just working one's way through the Festival's enticing catalogue was daunting. With many well known actors involved and so many intriguing concepts, the big problem for Festival goers was to decide what to see.

As with the constantly expanded annual Fringe Festival, this new kid in town is for those willing to take a chance on the untried and experimental. Word of mouth astutely targeted the Festival's most likely to succeed, either with longer running productions in New York or further outings at regional venues. The most likely candidate for a continued Off-Broadway life was Altar Boyz about a five-member, gospel spreading boy band in Manhattan for a soul-saving concert. Mark Kessler's amusing concept may convert wannabe musical creators to aim for something original, simple and direct.

With the charismatic Euan Morton, last seen in Taboo, as the title character in Caligula, An Ancient Glam Epic this was probably the show with the biggest buzz, so that its six-performance schedule had to be extended. As one CurtainUp reader wrote " I learned a lot about Caligula and I keep hearing the songs." The Festival overall brought many other e-mail comments. Not all were raves for a particular show (one reader, thought Caligula too heavy-handed), but the overall tone was enthusiasm for the opportunity to sample so much interesting, eclectic work and talent.

My own first-hand viewing time was limited but I did manage to see staged adaptations of a favorite old movie, The Enchanted Cottage, and a favorite novel, Jane Austin's Emma. Despite the delightful Annie Golden to play Mrs. Minnet and Andrea Burns as Laura, The Enchanted Cottage was more miss than hit. Not so Emma. Austin's meddling young heroine is a character who's proved herself very well suited to parodies (remember the movie Clueless?) and Stephen Karam's book, music and lyrics managed to entertainingly capture the Austin sensibility within a contemporary setting. The next logical step for this show which already had an airing at Karam's alma mater, Brown University, would be a tightened, fully staged regional theater production. My companion, a Jane Austin Society member, thought an abbreviated concert version would go over well at one of the organization's's meetings.

Jam-packed with events as the festival was, the talent assembled, the organization and marketing all had the earmarks of careful planning and dedication. Given the attendance and enthusiasm, it's safe to predict that the first New York Music Festival will be the first of many more. For more details and to perhaps catch an event during the last weekend check out the festival's website at
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