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A CurtainUp Report
The 2005 NY Music Festival
by Eric Beckson, Amanda Cooper, Miriam Felton-Dansky, Simon Saltzman, Elyse Sommer, Jerry Weinstein, Liza Zapol
Updated: October 2 , 2005The posting of Orphan Train completes our coverage of this year's festival. Whether any of the shows presented move to larger New York stages for longer runs or not, it's for sure, that the Festival was a rousing success with many shows quickly selling out.
Reviews posted: ORPHAN TRAIN . . . THE UNKNOWN. . . TOM JONES. . . DON IMBROGLIO . . . GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL. . . BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER. . . PLANE CRAZY. . . ISABELLE & THE PRETTY UGLY SPELL. . . THE BIG TIME. . . YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE . . THE MISTRESS CYCLE. . . RICHARD CORY with good reviews (not just from CU) leading to an added 9/30 performance at 4:30 pm. . . WILD WOMEN OF PLANET WONGO . . . THE BALLAD OF BONNIE & CLYDE!. . . YANK. . . BANGER'S FLOPERA. . . THE TUTOR
Names and dates of shows scheduled for review at this point are listed below. Click on Show Title or Scroll Down Page to Browse. An * asterisk will be added before titles when a review is posted. The critic's name can be found at the end of the review.
Reviews*THE BALLAD OF BONNIE & CLYDE |*BANGER'S FLOPERA |*THE BIG TIME | *BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER | *GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL |*DON IMBROGLIO| * ISABELLE & THE PRETTY UGLY SPELL |*THE MISTRESS CYCLE | *PLANE CRAZY | *ORPHAN TRAIN| *RICHARD CORY | *TOM JONES | *THE TUTOR | *WILD WOMEN OF PLANET WONGO | *THE UNKNOWN | *YANK | * YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE |
COMPLETE INVITED SHOW LIST | NEXT LINK SHOW LIST |
THE BALLAD OF BONNIE & CLYDE! Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street, September 14 to September 25 -- $15. Book & Lyrics by Michael Aman & Oscar Moore. Music by Dana P. Rowe. Choreographed by Randy Skinner. Directed by Micahel Bush. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
This Texas hold 'em-up, country western musical lionizes the outlaw duo and their extended family (the Barrow gang). After a bloody crime spree from 1930 to 1934, the gang is stopped by a team led by Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer. Parker and Barrow are shot to death, but not before fast cars and photographs sensationalize their audacious acts of violence.
The leads, Sherrie Austin and Deven May are well matched. Austin, a tiny but full of punch Nashville Molly Picon, is a master of the country western genre. Convincing as the adventurous and rebellious Parker, she combines the beauty and toughness of a gal who could talk a coon right out of a tree.
May as Barrow, is an experienced musical theater actor with a mischievous smile that is initially appealing, but in the absence of character development he is more dense and disposable than lovable. Both he and Austin are starved for meaty lines and early moments that would endear them to the audience as required by the outlaw myth.
Through fits and starts, arrests and escapes, the Barrow gang finally comes together, and for awhile they're riding the gravy train with biscuits for wheels. Randy Skinner's choreography gets fat and sassy with the gang closing out the first act in a manner that evokes their impishness and depravity.
The simple set, imaginative lighting, and crisp direction maintain pace and focus. A five member band that doubles as a supporting cast should earn double time for their acting and flawless musical performance. Marcus Neville, as narrator, guitarist, and famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, deserves triple applause . His rich baritone anchors the otherwise flimsy narrative. And to his special credit, Neville, even while holding a guitar, is a convincing Texas Ranger (he dons a badge and a black cowboy hat).
Excellent performances all around compensate for the unmemorable music and lyrics. It is frustrating that we never see deeply into the souls of these self-destructive criminals. At the conclusion we feel like we've howdied but haven't shook. ---Reviewed by Eric Beckson based on September 14th performance.
This was the standout of this summer's Fringe Festival. I felt compelled to catch its NYMF debut on the strength of fellow CurtainUp critic Brad Bradley's impressions (see Fringe Festival Reviews) and on the sheer buzz of its subversive theatricality. I wondered, could it be the next Urinetown?
Upfront, the Inverse Theater is proud to subtitle Bangers a "musical perversion." While it's filled with scatology (to the extent that would make Monty Python-ites proud), it is less an upending of its source text, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, than a contemporary retelling.
While the Brecht/Weill masterpiece Threepenny Opera receives frequent productions (with Roundabout's new translation by Wallace Shawn imminent for spring 2006), Kirk Wood Bromley has gone back to the original and has created a vital, thrumming piece of theater. Just as he's created a motley cast of characters, the musical styles of his eighteen numbers run the gamut from trip hop to power ballad, torch song, to death metal. Bromley's book reinscribes John Gay's original by building it around a corrupt society that is base, putrid, and obscene. And those are its good points. Transported from 18th century London to 21st century New York City (although it feels more early Koch than present Bloomberg), Banger's is the tale of Mac the Knife and his fatal lust for the daughter of kingmaker Jonathan Peacock. In Bromley's world gangstaz, pornstarz and rockstarz rule the roost.
While Bromley's lyrics are sometimes too clever by half (its like the XXX version of grammarian Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots & Leaves), there is true joy in this perversion. The cast is the source of this joy. As Brad Bradley recognized, April Vidal, as Polly Peacock, is a revelation. She is an infusion of Kristin Chenowith channeling Britney Spears career midpoint between catholic schoolgirl/cheerleader and maneater. Somehow, she can sing "Gangstaz make my girl goop gush," with equal parts innocence and insouciance. As Mac the Knife Joe Pindelski has the weight of the entire production on his shoulders. Fortunately he has the chops, both dramatically and vocally, to convey both menace and fire in the belly. Pindelski is matched in swagger and timbre by Dan Renkin as his nemesis, Jonathan Peacock. The beggar in Gay's original Banquet is now epitomized by Hank Wagner, whose Shag resembles Fast Times in Ridgemont High's Jeff Spicoli but less as comic relief than as social commentary.
While the rest of the large cast is charismatic (like a downmarket version of Rent) and director Ben Yalom uses every square inch of the Barrow Theater -- you never know when an actor might pop out from under your seat or shine a high beam in your face -- he can't overcome physics. The show cannot be contained by such a small house. Between cast and musicians, I fear that our audience was almost outnumbered -- and the house was nearly sold out. A cabaret setting (or a production at The Zipper) would allow for both better acoustics and more room for his cast to carouse.
Be forewarned. Unlike Times Square, this production has not been Disneyfied; dysfunction is the norm. It's filled with strap-on dildos (2), sexual allusions that would make Hugh Hefner blush, and malapropisms (a paen to George Bush?) that outstrip Saturday Night Live's Emily Littella ("Solar abortions" for "soldiers of fortune"). This is a musical I would recommend to fans of Tommy (the Kurt Russell film), South Park and Mark Shaiman. My favorite songs include "Cheating's How I Love You," and "See How It Takes Two To Spell Abuse." But to answer that burning question: Is it Broadway-bound? Maybe, but with one fat caveat. While the theme of Banger's is about excess, the production itself would sing out more strongly if it was a bit more streamlined. It sounds counter-intuitive, but in this world of Bling, less is more. --- Reviewed by Jerry Weinstein, at September 13th, 8pm performance
THE BIG TIME Lion Theatre, 410 W. 42nd Street. September 16 to September 28, 2005 -- Added performance: Sept. 29, 1pm -- tickets $25. Douglas Carter Beane (book) and Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics). Debbie Gravitte stars; also David Beach, Raymond Bokhour, Bradley Dean, Joanna Glushak, Jackie Hoffman, Michael McCormick, Patrick Quinn, Sal Viviano Running Time: 2 hoursincluding an intermission.
If Mel Brooks can do a musical Hitler spoof and turn it into a super hit, who can blame Douglas Carter Beane and Douglas J. Cohen to do for the terrorists era what Brooks did for Nazis? If terrorists holding guns to the heads of terrified cruise ship passengers isn't a little to close to reality to amuse you, you might find The Big Time a big hoot. Actually, these terrorists have a comfortably old-fashioned Bolshevick look of by-gone days, and Beane and Cohen have not written a musical thriller but an ode to show business in which even the bad guys are more smitten with singing and dancing than terrorizing and shooting people.
While, even a bigger stage and more elaborate staging isn't likely to transform this 9-character musical into another mega hit, it is entertaining and goofy enough to have a more modest post NYMusic Festival life, with a small band instead of just piano and bass accompaniment. The heroes of this saga are Donna and Tony two second-tier singers (the terrific Debbie Gravitte and Sal Viviano) who are booked as the leading act on a luxurious UN Peace Keeping cruiser because the booking agent got their last name, Stenenetti, confused with the more famous Steve and Edie. No sooner have they hung up their lavishly sequined costumes than it turns out that a group of terrorists from what the show's press release describes as a "dreggish republic" have infiltrated the ship disguised as cabin attendants and now threaten to not only kill all aboard but blow up the world unless they're given a more distinguished and prosperous country of their own.
But not to worry, how bad can these terrorists be when they include the always hilarious Jackie Hoffman and Michael McCormick as the chief villain. On the victims' side, Joanna Glushak is also a riot as a straight-laced assistant diplomat who hates musicals but ends up making "Soft Shoe" one of the standout numbers. As for the gum chewing Tony's and sexy Donna's heroics, think further back than The Producers to the nutty road movies starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour.
Beane's whimsical humor à la his Drama Dept hit As Bees in Honey Drown is all over this show's book. Cohen's lyrics are catchy and so is the music, even though none of the tunes, really stick to the ears. Given the size of the stage Robert Bissinger's cruise ship set is about as elaborate as you can expect a showcase like this to get, and choreographer Daniel Pelzig manages to fit in some fun routines, including a tango for Donna and the chief terrorist (McCormick) and the terrorist ensemble's amusing "Western Ways. " Of course, with that master of snappy pacing, Christopher Ackley in charge of this ship of ditzy fools, the two hours (including intermission) zip by faster than you can say "stick 'em up." -- Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 9/22/05 performance.
Warm, funny, and clever, But I'm a Cheerleader is even better as musical theater than as film. Author and lyricist Bill Augustin and composer Andrew Abrams explore Cheerleader's deceptively silly anti-journey -- a five-step program in which only the dropouts truly succeed. It's a sweet coming-of-age story that doesn't lose its hilarity in its admittedly saccharine message.
Augustin thickens the movie's plot and embellishes on its characters. Megan, a well-adjusted cheerleader who just happens to get overexcited about her teammates' short skirts, faces an intervention from family and friends who believe that she is gay. The evidence for Megan's lesbianism is funnier than in the film; she is accused of eating tofu, decorating her locker with Victoria's Secret ads, and studying Gertrude Stein. "We worry that your life will be like a Greek tragedy/ Or an episode of Xena," her family and friends sing at the intervention, which is smartly staged as an evangelical sing-along.
Megan is shipped off to True Directions, a rehab center that "straightens out" gay teenagers through cooking and football, pink and blue uniforms, and simulated straight sex. (In effect, though, the program is a gay teen's heaven, where the "patients" pair up into same-sex couples despite the efforts of Mary, its repressed director.) Megan's best friend Kimberly, in one of Augustin's most entertaining original plot lines, suffers a crisis of conscience and takes off with Megan's slighted boyfriend to rescue her. Upon finding Megan happily out and in love with fellow TD-er Graham, Kimberly is equal parts horrified that her childhood friend is gay and insulted that Megan has never made a pass at her.
At times, Augustin seems overly concerned with tying up loose ends which is cute but not necessary to gain greater insight into Mary's repression and Graham's tough attitude. The ending, though sweet, is too much a public service announcement to resonate. Gone is the ambiguity of the film, where the girls fall in love but True Directions remains open for business. Gone, too, is the opacity of Natasha Lyonne -- but Chandra Lee Schwartz is a sympathetic Megan with a true-blue voice. She is backed up by a stellar cast of singers and acrobats who infuse every handstand and basket-toss with irony and humor. Abrams' songs are straightforward, nearly formulaic, but they are entertaining, and the cast belts them out so vividly that it's hard not to have a good time.
The exigencies of staging also make Cheerleader tighter and more interesting. Cheerleading becomes a transition motif, with a small squad announcing each scene. Every dance number becomes a virtuosic cheer. Double-casting that places everyone from Megan's homophobic hometown in a gay bar, reenvisioning her traditional mother as its leatherbound matriarch, adds a layer of ironic amusement.
A simple set consisting of four banks of pearly pink-and-blue lockers reinforces the constraints that the teenagers face, whether from True Directions or from their own high school and family. The final moment, in which the audience is positioned as the screaming fans at a football game and the entire cast as cheerleaders, riffs on the it's-OK-to-be-gay theme by concluding that "anyone can be a cheerleader" -- even sillier, more feel-good, and equally ironic. -Reviewed by Miriam Felton-Dansky based on September 23rd performance.
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL. Presented by Doug Simon and Bud Davenport at The Uptown Citizens Brigade Theatre, 306 West 26th St. September 24 to October 1, 2005. Tickets, $10. Music/Lyrics by Scott Brown. Book and Lyrics by Anthony King. Musical Direction & Arrangements by Barry Wyner. Directed by Charlie Todd. Running time: 40 minutes.
In a mercifully short program larded with lame gags, Doug Simon (Anthony King) and Bud Davenport (Scott Brown) are two schlemiels pitching the audience (and the producers they say are seated among us) their dreadful musical about the 15th Century German inventor of the printing press. With a veneer of originality, they use truckers' caps labeled with the names of characters to present a forty minute backers audition with piano accompaniment (Barry Wyner).
Brown and King seem capable of more sophisticated comedy. Brown, who is a clearly gifted comic, has great timing and can mug with the best of them. King (artistic director of the UCB Theater and a member of the UCBT House Team Reuben Williams) is equally comfortable on stage (although he is more of the straight man), working well with Brown.
Wearing rumpled clothes, as if they drove two days straight to get to New York, Doug and Bud are portrayed as idiots. In a brief mock intro preceding the mock musical, Doug says, "Before we get started, I want to talk about the Holocaust. It happened!" He further states that since the seeds of the Holocaust existed in 15th Century Germany, anti-Semitism will be addressed.
The inconsequential plot (accompanied by inconsequential, "showtuney" songs, no dancing, and no costumes -- just the caps) portrays Gutenberg as protagonist trying to bring reading and education to the illiterate, anti-Semitic Germans. An evil monk thwarts his plans and uses Gutenberg's love interest, Helvetica, to destroy the printing press and ruin Gutenberg.
It's all rather crude and juvenile. For example, while Doug tells us that the monk hates God, Bud (wearing a hat that says MONK) extends his middle finger upwards. Doug also tells us that the monk mutilated his own genitals by tying up his testicles to restrain their growth. To which Bud sings, "I'm the baddest monk/the baddest of them all/despite my damaged balls."
After Gutenberg and his printing press are destroyed, Bud and Doug join hands and together say "While the Gutenberg press can't solve the world's problems, the Holocaust happened!" Dumb, yes. Funny, no. -- Reviewed by Eric Beckson based on September 24th performance.
TOM JONES: THE MUSICAL, Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street,September 27 to October 2, 2005 --$15. Book & Lyrics by Paul Leigh. Music by George Stiles. Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Costume Design by Pamela Scofield. Wig Design by Gerard Kelly. Running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission.
When the music begins, we hear the Tom Jones' song, "What's New Pussycat?" But before we get to the "Whoa, whoa," the music is halted, and one of the actors on stage wearing a poodle size wig yells, "Not that Tom Jones!" In other words, we can relax and enjoy this tongue in cheek adaptation of the Henry Fielding novel -- nothing stuffy about it.
Besides the extraordinary wigs and marvelous costumes, my favorite part of the show was the continuous sound effects, created by cast members on either side of the stage. Whether it's a babbling brook (created by blowing air through a straw in a glass of water next to a microphone) or a horse galloping (two actors with wood shells), it makes one forget (much of the time) how bare the stage is (in fact, it's the skimpiest set I've seen in a musical this year).
The music, delicately old-fashioned to capture the atmosphere, is a welcome change of pace from most musicals I've seen lately. Orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke and musical direction by Lynne Shankel (conductor/keyboard) are excellent. The sound of the harpsichord is prevelant. For such a small ensemble (two keyboards, base, guitar), the sound is very full and harmonious. Jana Zielonka, a very young looking musican on keyboard, does a superb job, and Steve Benson (guitar) and John Beal (bass) are all very talented musicians as well.
The plot is rather simple -- good vs. evil-and guess who triumphs? The sexy, good natured bastard son, Tom Jones, is pitted against the calculating, greedy nephew who hopes to inherit all of his uncle's fortune. Tom (David Ayers) is so good natured, he fails to see what the nephew (Jeremy Webb) is up to, and prefers to chase skirt anyway. The uncle, Lord Allworthy (Allen Fitzpatrick) is also blind to the nephew's scheme, as is the convention of farce.
Alas, the plot is so familiar and predictable, it does not sustain much suspense -- but what can we expect, given the setup? It's almost irrelevant, actually, and that's an odd thing to say about a plot, but it's true. This is all about light entertainment, just for fun. There's no pretension about being a big-time musical here. The choreography will not dazzle you, but the winsome leads are full of charm.
David Ayers is a handsome young man, quick on his feet, but not much of a singer. He could have a promising film career (he's already been on Guiding Light). Jeremy Webb is gifted with the sinister sneer of the villain (he's been on Guiding Light as well, and several Law and Orders). The most talented singers are the women, it so happens. Angela Gaylor as Sophia is quite talented, as is Candy Buckley as Bridget, and Joy Hermalyn as Jenny Jones. --- Reviewed by Eric Beckson based on September 26th performance.
Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd. $15. September 25th to October 1st -- with popular demand adding an extra 9/29 at 4:30 performance. Music by Peter Hilliard; Libretto by Matt Boresi; Directed by Jenny Lord; Music directed by Steven McGhee.
Checking their guns at the door doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for the high-strung low-tolerance guests gathered in the garden of Italian mob boss Don Imbroglio's compound to celebrate his son's wedding. The only rule not to be broken, and presumably punishable by death, is the turning off of cell phones and beepers. This is made clear by Joey "No Name" Nero (Raymond Mcleod), the big burly Mafia soldier who goes up and down the aisles of the Lion Theater randomly picking out potential offenders for questioning, especially pretty ones (at least at the performance I caught). The laughs begin early in this Opera/ musical cross-over user-friendly musical farce self ascribed as "The Godfather meets The Marriage of Figaro meets Noises Off."
The bright and easily digested faux classical music starts right up and never lets up. It is as consistently delightful as it is purposefully derivative. What could be more upsetting to Don Imbroglio (Robert Dusold) on the day his "licentious" son Dante (Nick Dalton) is being wed than to have the FBI and IRS announce jointly that they are investigating the legitimacy of the family's front organization, the Staten Island Grand Opera. Their ultimatum: If the family doesn't produce an opera, they will all go to jail. But there are other pressing issues a foot, mostly addressed by a winning cast through soaring, roaring arias, duets, trios, quartets, and ensembles, mostly notable for their playful homage to Mozart, Puccini, Bizet, Gilbert and Sullivan and Sondheim, and with hilarious lyrics that are never more explicitly vernacular than "Joey, pass the cannoli."
Under Jenny Lord's frenetically paced direction, Act I plays like a dream. Arielle Doneson is a feisty delight as the Mafia princess Angelica Imbroglio whose romance with non-Italian "hapless" tenor Cesar (Vale Rideout) is not good news to the "drooling and groping" Lascivo (Wayne Schroder), the conspiring family consigliere who lusts after Angelica. Bad news runs rampant as Dante's bride Donna (Valerie MacCarthy) discovers the groom's sexy scantily clad "goumada" Chastity (Erica Schroser) is also at the wedding and wantonly making her moves on Dante.
It isn't long before virtually everyone is out gunning for the one they hate, making split second exits and entrances through slits in a white sheet on a draw string (designed by Lee Savage). When Cesar innocently sings, "You haven't told me what your father does," Angelica nonchalantly questions, "To whom?" Without excellent singer/actors none of this would work but Doneson is a delight and uses her coloratura (shades of Cunigunde) with aplomb ("He may be the boss of bosses but he's not the boss of me"). As the "Don," DuSold strokes his fat cat Figaro that sleeps on his lap with the same impassioned feelings that he sings, "I'm more Donald Trump than Don Corleone." As the unfaithful Dante, Dalton ultimately wins our affection by encouraging the audience to participate in his rollicking folk aria "La Familia." Everyone is caricatured to be sure, but Rideout, as the mild mannered outsider, holds his own (that means a gun) as the tenor that no one will let "fogetaboutit," but saves the family's honor when he becomes the star of the opera-within-the-opera that makes up most of Act II.
If the show could have ended with a short coda to the Act I finale that finds the entire company with guns drawn and Italian flags being waved by marching protesters of the Sons of Italy Club, Don Imbroglio would be a resounding success. Act II begins with the funeral of Figaro, the only casualty of Act I. Dufold's funny Pagliacci cum Al Jolson eulogy is funny enough, as is a ferocious cat fight between Donna and Chastity. But the protracted antics of the opera-within-the-opera fall flat and are not funny. Judicious pruning and tightening, however, are all that is needed to make this a Don Imbroglio no one can refuse. The four musicians -- Steven McGhee (keyboard); Fred Rosenberg (Clarinet); Taylor Waugh (Double Bass); Tyler McDiarmid (Mandolin/Guitar) -- offered splendid support perched above the set.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on September 27th performance.
ISABELLE & THE PRETTY UGLY SPELL. The Lion at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. $15. September 23 to October 02. Music and Lyrics by Steven Fisher; Book by Joan Ross Sorkin and Steven Fisher. Directed and Choreographed by David G. Armstrong. One hour 20 minutes, no intermission.
Conceived as children theater entertainment, Isabelle and the Pretty-Ugly Spell puts an amusing, if also overtly campy, musical-comedy spin on two famous fairy tales, The Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. A hybrid, to be sure, Isabelle… processes a dozen easily digestible songs within a tale with a commendable moral: that real beauty is on the inside. Not quite in the same comedic league or on the same musical level of its forebear Once Upon a Mattress,this show nevertheless has the potential to achieve its goal as fun family entertainment -- that is, if the collaborators, particularly the director, can believe in the basic sweetness and cleverness that propel their show. As of now, it is mired in unnecessary shtick and audience-pandering mugging.
Ruth Gottschall is gregariously funny as Carol Burnett…oops, I mean Isabelle a.k.a. Izzy, a fairy godmother who loves her job. When she sees that the baby Princess is "too beautiful for her own good," she puts a spell on everyone in the kingdom, one that makes the princess appear ugly ("warts, scales and horns") to them. Only if a suitor kisses her before midnight on her 16th birthday can the spell be broken.
Meredith McCasland is simply okay as the unhappy Princess, who is actually very pretty. She eventually finds the suitor she will marry in Clyde (Jamie McGonnigal), a timid commoner who dreams of being the court inventor. McGonnigal is on the verge of being winning, but could use some help finding his character's nebbish center. Nevertheless, he generates real laughs with his inventions that include Sanka, a hibachi, blinders, a lint remover and spectacles.
But happiness doesn't come until the Princess is wooed by a pair of idiotic/repulsive brothers (played frightfully over-the-top by Bill Caleo and Darryl D. Winslow, who also double as giddy courtiers and fairy godmothers). Becky Barta is a hoot, however, as the social-climbing Stepmother and as the flitting about Grand Fairy. Forget the lost glass slipper -- what we have here is a pair of lost spectacles that finally brings the lovers together in the show's funniest scene. A nice twist at the end finds the widowed King, as played with regality to spare by Kevin B. McGlynn, falling under Izzy's marriage spell. As sung by Izzy and Clyde, "Confidence" (title tells it) is the most memorable song in the otherwise lightweight and lively score. Set designer Ken Goldstein's handsome single backdrop of a royal book case serves the show nicely.
Originally commissioned by Upper Darby Summer Stage in 2002 and developed at BMI and ASCAP workshops, Isabelle… needs only to scrap some excessive buffoonery, and to bind itself in honest characterizations, the music and the text. -- Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on September 22nd performance.
Five women: four historical, one current. The four women from the past are the mistresses and the present-day woman will be faced with becoming one during the course of the show. Throughout this hour and fifteen minute one-act we hear the various stories straight from the mistresses' mouths. The cycle, with its scarlet-hued set, lights and costumes, does indeed succeed in not placing these women under either a guilty or a blameless light but, for better or for worse, the way of the "other woman" was (or is) their path. Unfortunately, it add up to a sketchy show.
Though the content is controversial, the format is traditional. The songs' emotionally runny melodies tend to be somewhat too busy and simplistic, and not differentiated enough from one another. The blocking is audience-geared and there are some strong performances, yet it all fails to challenge or spark. Somehow, the show lacks the subversive, witty charge the topic promises. The short time frame doesn't give the women the chance to interact, to explore each other's choices or to provide insight. Instead each story teller takes her turn singing her story, with the modern woman's story used as a framing device.
Anais Nin (played with lovely innocence by Lisa Brescia), known for her erotic writings and diaries that detailed many affairs is the most infamous and perhaps the most emotionally injured by her relationship with her father. Ching (Stephanie Bast), is a young Chinese concubine to an already much married older man. Diane de Poitiers (Lynne Wintersteller), the much older lover of King Henry II, seems to be an endlessly layered and fascinating female, but she comes off as oddly fragile. The fact that we get none of the underlying politics that made her behind-the-throne career fascinating is indicative of the show's disappointments . And what of our modern lady, Tess Walker? Sally Wilfert gives a lively performance as the New York photographer whose story is a classic, and ultimately the most entertaining. After a slew of screwed-up situations, Wilfert thinks she has met the perfect man at her art opening, but is thrown for a loop when she catches sight of his gold band. Aside from the ensemble singing, however, the Wilfert story misses in its attempt to serve as a binding to make the other four cohesive or profound. And so the suddenly spiritual ending to the evening turns out to be an enigma rather than a revelation. ---Reviewed by Amanda Cooper at September 15th performance.
ORPHAN TRAIN Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street, September 28 to October 1, 2005-- $15. Book by L.E. McCullough, lyrics by Michael Barry Greer, music by Doug Katsaros. Patricia Birch directs a 15-member cast. Running Time: 80 minutes, without intermission.
This slice of history musical is undoubtedly the one Festival show that will exert the strongest tug on your heart strings. Though widely documented (just Google "Orphan Trains" and you'll see just how widely), including a PBS film hosted by David McCullough in 1997, it's a story that can't be told often enough. As the stunning finale of the musical with a book by another McCullough (the prolific journalist and author, L.E. McCullough) makes all too plain, the problem of "surplus children" remains with us. Mc Cullough's book accurately portrays the Orphan Trains, the brain child of Charles Loring Brace (1826-90), a Methodist minister who came up with the idea of sending homeless urban children across the country in hopes of finding them homes and at least a chance for living a good life. As real events --and the musical's depiction thereof-- makes plain, this ambitious social experiment had its share of troublesome failures that are echoed to this day in the foster care system of which it was a precursor.
Under Patricial Birch's able direction, the musicalized story of these children's transports realizes all its opportunities to engage the audience emotionally. And contrary to what you might expect from this somber subject matter, this is not a sung-through, operatic and atonal musical. Doug Katsaros' score is packed with melody rich songs. Though, like most musical scores, it needs to be heard several times to be fully appreciated, the more than a dozen members of this production's excellent ensemble (most multi-tasking in several roles) do full justice to the show's acting and singing. It's hard to pick a star from so many stellar and diverse performances, though Katie E. Tomlinson stood out as the dedicated young social worker, Harriet Penderton, who can't accept the Reverend Brace's (Thomas-David McDonald), willingness to accept failure in the interest of the overall save the children mission.
Unfortunately, the Theatre at St. Clements while conveniently located and with a raked orchestra for uniformly good sight lines, is an acoustical challenge for musical theater directors. With the theater's stage needed for Richard Finkelstein's evocative black and white projections that serve as illustrations as well as most of the scenery, there was no room to put the 5-man band (gratifyingly larger than most at NY Music Festival productions) somewhere in the back of the stage where they wouldn't be as likely to drown out Michael Barry Greer's lyrics as they did tucked at the side of the front of the theater's orchestra section.
Since the musical covers just a few years (1872-73) of the Orphan Trains and one of its destinations, Bison Falls, Iowa, the emphasis seems to be on the abuses (sexual and labor exploitation) though there are some upbeat stories as well -- with the young overworked seamstresses (their "Pulling Thread" with its "stitch, stitch, stitch" refrain is a musical standout) clearly headed for a more entrepreneurial future and the star stitcher Jenny ((Zoe Raquel) reunited with her little brother (Brian D'Addario).
The March 1st performance I saw was the last of Orphan Train's four performances. For some reason this show didn't have quite the buzz of some of the other shows (though every seat was filled at the performance I attended and the audience was most enthusiastic) which is too bad. This was certainly one of the most thoughtful and worthy of a longer life musicals we at CurtainUp have seen. -- Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on March 1st performance.
Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd. From September 15 to September 25. $15. Book, music and lyrics by Suzi Conn.
Who ever would have thought that a handful of short-skirted, sexy stewardesses would be the center of a feminist musical? Certainly not me -- that is, until Faith Hope, our central heroine from Toledo, Ohio grades her mother's maxim, "better dead than unwed " picks up The Feminine Mystique.
Faith has landed her dream job as a stewardess - or "stew" on Venus Airlines. She is young, blond, beautiful and innocent. Janet Jones, the dark-haired youthful beauty who begins her stew career at the same time, could not be more different from Faith. She has come to this career to get away from her former fiancé, and sleep with as many men as possible (it is, after all, the dawning of The Pill age).
Shortly after Faith and Janet's employment Venus Airlines begins to launch its newest advertising campaign, making the sexy stews the central sell. For Faith, who's found a new friend in Betty Friedan and become increasingly aggravated by the way she and her colleagues are treated, this Ad campaign becomes the last straw. She and Janet, though polar opposites, find common ground in their feminine plights and attempt to reset the course of Venus Air.
Though Plane Crazy doesn't bring any new revelations or societal issues, this production consistently meets its own demands -- much more than many new musicals are able to do. Suzy Conn's book, music and lyrics are fast, witty and clever, and Jamibeth Margolis' directing never let the speed and energy of the show falter (a couple of the pure dialogue scenes could use some de-polishing in order to de-cliché, but this is a quibble).
Most impressive is the talent involved in this showm making this one of the most consistently solid shows I have had the pleasure of viewing in I don't know how long.
The entire production team is to be commended. Without spectacle or detracting sparkle, this was a detailed, colorful and professional showing of what fabulous artists with the right director can create together.
The ensemble is without a weak link. While onstage they are giving their all, whether or not they are the scene's central performers. Allison Spratt as Faith Hope and Sarah Mugavero as Janet Jones are a rockin' pair. They are each other's Yin and Yang, and although Janet has her love interest in pilot Brett, the friendship chemistry between Spratt and Mugavero is most prominent. This is Mugavero's New York stage debut, and a stellar one at that.
If this creative team didn't have the greatest time together, their results sure fooled me. Elizabeth Payne's era-appropriate yet with present-day influenc ecostumes also warrant mention as stand outs. (I'll admit it, I wanted half the dresses on stage).
It is refreshing to see a fun, flirty story so done memorably. Plane Crazy could be described as a feminist, twenty-something version of Hairspray, or perhaps Grease. Conn could easily bring her to another level, with the historical and deeper issues at hand explored further, and even reflecting our current feminine social situations right back at us. --- Reviewed by Amanda Cooper September 17, 2005
Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd. From September 14 to September 24. An additional performance has been added for September 19th -- and still another for September 30th at 4:30pm. Music & lyrics by Ed Dixon adapted from a play by A.R. Gurney.
The brilliance of Edward Arlington Robinson's end of the 19th century poem, "Richard Cory" (written in 1896 is that it encapsulates one man's glittering yet tragic life into four brief stanzas, culminating in this unforgettable two-line climax: " And Richard Cory one calm summer night,/ Went home and put a bullet through his head." Like "Miniver Cheevy," another famous Robinson poem, "Richard Cory" was inspired by the poet's brother who used alcohol rather than a gun to end his life prematurely. Naturally, the poem's biographical conciseness gets lost in translation to another creative genre. And yet, while A. R. Gurney's play adaptation now musicalized by Ed Dixon has indeed removed the tight structure from those sixteen imagery rich lines, Gurney and Dixon's collaboration has managed to transform Robinson's poem into something quite special and unique in its own right.
Richard Cory, the musical, still centers on the wealthy man who, though envied by his town's less fortunate, ends up shooting himself. Now pictured as a successful lawyer, Richard Cory isn't all that novel a character, essentially a man unable to find a way out of a midlife crisis which makes him feel increasingly and desperately isolated from everyone around him, including his wife. As Robinson ingeniously distilled Cory's incurable isolation into a spare poem, so Ed Dixon has been equally ingenious in using the musical format to illustrate that isolation. Thus, without any attempt at suspense as to what will happen (the show begins with Cory's death), the show uses the nine-member cast to illustrate why and how. What gives this chamber piece its originality is that the eight performers who act as a chorus of townspeople and as individual characters replay the events leading up to the tragedy in song, while Cory, the outsider, only speaks -- unable to find his own singing voice until it's too late. It's a construct that works beautifully.
Of course, in a musical, no amount of originality in executing a concept will go very far without a strong score and smart lyrics. Fortunately, Dixon delivers on both counts. While the theme is operatic and the music,except for the spoken libretto by the title character, is sung through, it's not dissonant but, in fact, quite melodic.
Given the tiny stage and the production budget available for these showcase productions, director James Brennan has done an outstanding job of staging which is given a strong boost from Kevin Hardy's lighting design and a cast that's as diverse as the musical styles (from old-fashioned to modern musical theater, to cabaret and modern opera). Cady Huffman, the original Ulla in The Producers, makes the most of a relatively minor star turn as a waitress. The larger female roles are superbly played by Catherine Cox, Lynne Winsteller, Maureen Moore and Christeena Riggs -- the latter a delightful Kristin Chenowith look and sound-alike. Harris Doran, John Sloman and Patrick Ryan Sullivan also do outstanding work. Herndon Lackey plays the non-singing central character with commendable understatement.
Lawrence Yurman has expertly arranged the music for a single piano and his playing is so fine that you almost don't miss a larger band. While Richard Cory is a rather special show that's unlikely to have the wide audience appeal to seed an extended run in a larger Off-Broadway house, it does have the musical legs to warrant an arrangement for more instruments and more detailed production values at quality regional theaters and small opera companies (New York's intimate and too little known opera company, the DiCapo Opera Company which often stages operatic musicals like Sondheim's Passion comes to mind).
And so, while Richard Cory may not be the NYMusic Festival offering with the strongest commercial possibilities, it certainly one which proves that not all the musicals being written are wannabe Urinetowns and Altar Boyz. Running Time: 80minutes, without intermission. ---Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on September 18th performance
--NYMF Partner Event at 59E59 Theaters, September 10 to October 2, 2005. $15. Book & Lyrics Maryrose Wood; music by Andrew Gerle. Directed by Sarah Gurfield. Choreographed by Christine O'Grady.
With such a large menu to choose from and time only to graze, I picked The Tutor based on Simon Saltzman enthusiasm for Prospect Theater Company's Ilyria and mine for their The Pursuit of Persephone -- both with a book by the Prospect's own producing artistic director Carla Reichl and music and lyrics by her gifted husband, Peter Mills. While Reichl and Mills' alma mater Princeton gave Persephone an interesting jumping off premise for musicalizing F. Scott Fitzgerald's life and career, it does not serve Wood and Gerle's The Tutor as well. Its two-way plot revolves around 1. a self-absorbed young man who supports his efforts to write the great American novel by tutoring rich kids whose parents want them to get into Ivy League colleges like Princeton learns a thing or too from his nose-ring wearing pupil. 2. The sullen teenager's controlling mom and her husband may never see their daughter enter Princeton but they do reinvigorate their marriage. To give the show some production numbers, there are scenes when the struggling writer's characters start to come alive.
Sarah Gurfield is to be commended for cleverly making a variety of settings -- not to mention the four musicians -- fit a tiny stage and even leave room for a bit of Christine O'Grady's choreography, the production. However, the production which has been in development for several years, should have by now been pared down from its overly long two and a half hours. That said, it might not seem quite so in need of a blue pencil if the music and lyrics were more distinctive and memorable, and the cast more uniformly flawless. The title character is played and sung well by Eric Ankrim and Richard Pruitt also brings a strong voice to the role of the father. Unfortunately, Meredith Bull is cute to look at but doesn't have much of a voice and Grayton Scott as her mother doesn't seem to have met a scene she can't chew up.
This adventurous young company deserves attention and support and I look forward to their next production -- especially if Mills and Reichl are in charge of the book and music. ---Reviewed by Elyse Sommer, at September 10th performance.
THE UNKNOWN The Barrow Group 312 W. 36th St., 3rd Floor September 23 to October 01-- $15. . Book/lyrics by Janet Allard and Jean Randich, music by Shane Rettig, directed by Jean Randich. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
A slight woman in red and black beads poses on a metal gurney. Below her, an armless freak grasps the blade of a knife between his toes. The carnival master approaches and tears off the young woman's skirt. The music builds. The audience waits. And the. . . nothing happens.
So it is for most of The Unknown, a musical theater adaptation of Tod Browning's 1927 silent film of the same name. There's something intriguing at stake in this dizzying stylistic collage, but it's buried too far beneath messy staging and indecisive storytelling to retain the film's power or marshal much of its own. In writers Janet Allard and Jean Randich's version, carnival owner Carrion terrorizes his performers, Alonzo the Armless Wonder wrestles with his love for Carrion's daughter -- here renamed Joan in a nod to the young Joan Crawford, who starred in the silent film -- while she vacillates between him and strongman Malibar Absolut. Appendages provide the story with an eerie organizing principle: Alonzo is only apparently armless, Joan is afraid of arms, and Malibar's massive biceps are the main obstacle between him and Joan. By the end of the story, everyone has been revealed to be a physical or emotional amputee.
Though the writers have selected rich source material, they haven't been able to quite figure out what to do with it. The dialogue is part melodrama, part silent film, part carnie-speak, and never quite at ease with itself. Alonzo's sidekick Fell guides the audience with film-style narration -- "close-up on the trailer at night" -- a device that, in the context of musical theater, can't help but reek of Rent, and to which the writers barely commit. The acting furtherx this entropy: Brooke Sunny Moriber as Joan embraces old film-style delivery, but without subtext so that her performance is flat; Joel Garland as Malibar and Manu Narayan as Alonzo live in shallow melodrama; Piter Marek as Fell hardly develop a character at all. Thom Sesma is a creepy, funny carnival master, but even he is a stock ringmaster, not an original personality. The play becomes more interesting as it spirals down from carnival antics to gruesome melodrama, but the bloodsoaked ending only makes one wish that its setup were more skillfully
The confusion behind Allard and Randich's vision is most apparent in the messy staging. The set focuses around a rusty metal gurney, which serves as stage for the knife act, home base for Alonzo, an unconvincing bathtub for Carrion's death scene, and finally the operating theater for Alonzo's fateful amputation. Black, white, and red-striped cubes provide staging arenas for the other acts, and blurry striped patterns are projected on the back curtain for much of the show. It meets the staging requirements of Randich, who also directed, but the effect does more to remind the audience of that this play was once a film than to take us anywhere new.
The one element of the The Unknown that does begin to move the performance forward -- not coincidentally, the element most absent from the film - - is its music. Composer Shane Rettig also leads the band, Atomic Grind Show, purveyors of self-described "circus punk." Their songs veer from blues to rock to vaudeville, making for a dissonant but intriguing score. It doesn't take us far beyond the rest of the performance especially since the lyrics can't yet keep up -- but it hints that beneath the layers of antics is something original that has yet to find its legs. -- Reviewed by Miriam Felton-Dansky, based on September 30th performance.
WILD WOMEN OF PLANET WONGO. Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd. From September 13 to September 25. Book by Steve Mackes, lyrics by Ben Budick, Steve Mackes and music by Dave Ogrin. Tickets, $15. Running Time 2 1/2 hours.
Nostalgia-laced musicals are everywhere, and they just keep coming. After all, the familiar tends to sell. As the movie musical becomes as common on and off Broadway as Starbucks, there is a genre that remains ignored (that is, until Lord of the Rings shows up) -- science fiction. Whether or not you think this genre makes for good musical theater will determine your enhusiasm for Wild Women of Planet Wongo, the semi-zany sci-fi adventure of two astronauts and their robot who crash a planet populated by beautiful, sexy women. As you can guess from the title, this 60's style comedy in which youth, idealism, true love, lust, revolution and snack food triumph over warped authority takes its inspiration from the B-movie Sci-Fi sector. Add in a grandiose gulp of a 60's staged beach party, some dashes of Spaceballs propel it all into that vague time frame known as The Future and you'll have a clearer picture of what this evening entails.
The plot centers on the space-age equivalent of a truck driver and his first mate who are space-shipping Cheesy Moon Crater Chips across the galaxy, accompanied by their servant robot. A technical malfunction crashes them into a remote planet (Wongo) where they stumble upon a tribe of women (wild). The women, who are kept under tight rule by a royal family, insure their tribe's survival by seducing and bedding the rare wayward male traveler who lands on their planet. Of course, these voluptuous creatures don't have to work very hard. Our first impression is that their survival methods are strictly pleasurable but as every story must have a twist, this one does too -- and though it may not be completely unexpected, it is fun and simple.
Unfortunately, with the characters only being shown at surface level, the story has a hard time sustaining one's interest for two and a half hours -- especially since the music is not especially memorable. Without meaty characters, no one performer is able to shine. That said, however, the performances overall are eager and zesty, as is the aiming-to-please direction by Doug Moser. Max Perlman as first mate Louie, and Daniel C. Levine as the Robot Hermie stood out the most. Some of the women would make a stronger impression, had Marie Anne Chiment's costumes not overshadowed the performances at every turn -- with hugely fake breasts and shorter than short skirts topped off by Jon Jordan's equally over the top hair helmets.
Towards the end of the second act, as the protagonists approached the turning-points for their characters, a simple refrain emerged. As a disheartened queen convinced her daughter (and herself) that you "gotta be tough," the captain and his mate echoed her words, picked up the lovely melody and embraced an ingenious plot irony. If everything that went before could have found the balance of this most nostalgic and original scene, the Wild Women of the Planet Wongo might have been a Wow throughout. --- Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on September 13th performance.
YANK! Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street., September 14 to September 21, 2005. $15. Book/Lyrics by David Zellnick, directed by Igor Goldin. Running time: 2:30 minutes with one intermission.
During World War II Irving Berlin was commissioned to write a military musical. This Is The Army, featuring an all-serviceman cast, soon became known as a "haven" for homosexuals. But thanks to its monster success, there was nothing they could do.
Yank! is a memory play flashing in the mind of Stu, a stroke victim living out the remainder of his Greatest Generation days in a Veteran's nursing home. As the tale unfolds, Midwestern Stu is a recruit at Fort Bliss's Company C. Being anxious that he's quickly tagged as the company "pansy" doesn't prevent him from falling hard for squad stud, "Hollywood" Mitch.
Yank, which was an actual military publication, is used here as a deus ex machina. The periodical, which was Life for the enlisted, claimed a readership of 10 million soldiers worldwide, with offices from Trinidad to Cairo.
Just as his basic training ends, Stu meets Artie, a friend of Dorothy who is a writer for the magazine. Stu is quickly hired as a photojournalist and gets to travel the world, rather than fight on the frontlines. He leaves his paramour Mitch behind, until circumstances bring them together just prior to a devastating battle.
As a memory piece, Yank! explores a pastiche of forms. "Put It In Your Dance" is all about ruffles and plastic fruit -- it's a campy homage to Carmen Miranda. "Click" gives us a bit of tap. There is even a dream ballet in "Stuck In A Cell." The musical succeeds best when it is most connected to its material. "Credit To The Uniform" suggests the double-standard of having sex with men, while being sure to pass for straight and the concept of military cohesion is upended during the number "Your Squad Is Your Squad."
While the lead calls for a corn-fed Stu, Doug Kreeger (who was so well-cast in Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story) suffers by comparison to his cast mates: a dynamic Ivan Hernandez whose performance forewarns Brian Stokes Mitchell to watch his back. Julie Foldesi does yeoman's work, sketching a dozen female characters, sometimes with only a change in accessory or a line or two. James Patterson provides solid support (and rangy comic relief) as Sarge. Joey Dudding's footwork is sublime. Finally, it would be criminal to overlook Jeffrey Denman, whose Artie is transparent as an unapologetic gay man, comfortable in his own skin.
Brother in arms David and Joseph Zellnik, author of book/lyrics and music, respectively, have explicitly created a musical that animates the survival strategies of gays and lesbians in both military and civilian life. While the author's note credits memoirs and oral histories of gay veterans, it is Allan Bérubé's Coming Out Under Fire (Free Press, 1990) and perhaps Donald Vining's A Gay Diary which should be recognized as definitive sources for this material. --- Reviewed by Jerry Weinstein, based on September 14th performance.
YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE 45th Street Theatre, September 22 to October 2, 2005. $15. $15. Book & Music by Norman Mathews; lyrics by Dorothy Parker. Directed by Guy Stroman, Choreographed by Denis Jones. Running Time: 2hr 20 mins with one intermission.
Dorothy Parker is certainly a venerable subject for a musical. Witty, opinionated, full of venom for those (many) she dislikes and much respect for very few. She reigned as a sharp-tongued critic and poet for over 30 years, in New York and Los Angeles, from the famous days in the 1920s at the Algonquin Round Table. You Might as Well Live finds Parker in the 1950s, broke and past deadline for a collection of her work.
Norman Mathews, who wrote the book and music, has managed to put together an interesting biographical piece, converting Parker's poetry into songs and stringing them together with her famous one-liners. Unfortunately, the result is not theatrical enough to make for a strong stage piece.
There are inherent difficulties in the one-person show format. The writer must clarify why and to whom the performer is speaking, as well as create some sort of conflict that will motivate the lone performer on stage. In this instance, the primary conflict is writer's block, which is extremely difficult to translate into performance.
Karen Mason, a Broadway veteran, makes a valiant attempt, but her energy flags and even her fine voice wears thin a by the second act. Mason is most alive when she has someone, even imaginary, to play opposite -- for example, when she receives telephone calls from her pleading ex-husband, from her frantic editor and from fellow author Lillian Hellman. For too much of this piece, however, Mason performs opposite a sheet of paper, her typewriter, and a glass of booze.
Despite the generally slow pace, the less-than adequate set design and sleepy lighting, the audience remained lively and responsive throughout the more than two hours, which may be a testament to Parker's enduring wit. Her still relevant truisms kept the guffaws coming from those willing to settle for You Might As Well Live, until a show really worthy of the the Parker wit and personality comes along. --Reviewed by Liza Zapol, based on September 22 performance.
COMPLETE INVITED SHOW LIST. New musicals handpicked by the NYMF Artistic team from the diverse array of projects being developed across the nation and around the globe.
6 Women with Brain Death
The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde
The Big Time
Nerds: A Musical Software Satire
People Like Us
Serenade The World
Soon of A Mornin'
The View From Here
NEXT LINK SHOW LIST. These are shows l chosen from the Festival's open submissions that undergo blind evaluations by the reading committee before being selected by the industry jury which chose 18 works from almost 400 submissions. Partner Events included a variety of shows of which we caught just one, The Tutor.
The Banger's Flopera
But I'm A Cheerleader
Isabelle and The Pretty-Ugly Spell
It Came From Beyond
The Mistress Cycle
Monica! The Musical
The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World
Uncle Jed's Barbershop
Wild Women of Planet Wongo
You Might As Well Live
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