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The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF):2012
An Overview and Review Sampler
The New York Musical Theatre Festival is alive and humming! The festival, nicknamed “NYMF,” is now in its ninth year and in its first inaugural summer season. Since its debut in 2004, it has spawned the likes of Altar Boyz, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Yank!, [title of show], the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal, and the new Broadway musical Chaplin, which opens at the Barrymore Theater this September. Little wonder that it's touted as the “Sundance of Musical Theater” and claims itself to be the largest annual musical theater event in America.
The festival has presented over 300 new musicals to date. And, with 30 new shows uncorking this summer, get ready for some new-style fantastification! NYMF’s mission is to “ensure the future vitality of America’s greatest art form,” but it’s well known for rattling old-school traditions, and creating lots of frisson along the way.
NYMF naturally draws producers who are looking for hot new talent and material. It's a go-go event for all interstend in seeing productions in their earliest and most pristine forms. The line-up this year is a real grab-baggery of serious, light, and toe-tappin’ extravaganzas. There’s the literary icon James Joyce featured in Himself and Nora, a sober look at the Lindbergh baby-kidnapping case in Baby Case, and a time-warping encounter between a famous hero of the Mexican Revolution and an Occupy Wall Street protestor in Zapata! The Musical. In short NYMF 2012 is feeding audiences love stories, sad tales, political shake-ups, or just plain fun. It never stales, especially with a show like Arnie the Doughnut, where families can home in on delicious donuts that toss their sprinkles around like so much confetti.
Along with its new time-slot, NYMF has also added the “NYMF Hub” on 42nd Street, a store-front space that gives visitors all the information that they need to experience the festival or to network with aspiring artists and industry professionals. NYMF, with nine years under its artistic belt, is going strong in the theater district this summer. If a show isn’t totally spit and polish here, it is sure to be alive and kicking!
CurtainUp will be grazing rather than trying to see and cover everything. Reviews of what time permits us to catch during the 3-week event will be added to this page, so check back often. And make sure you visit the homepage (www.NYMF.org) as the festival continues for updates. For tickets, call 212-352-3101.
This year's Festival runs from July 9th to the 29th with the shows mounted at the following venues:
Hudson Terrace – 621 W. 46th St.
Paley Center – 25 W. 52nd St.
Pershing Square Signature Center – 480 W. 42nd St.
PTC Performance Space -555 W. 42nd St.
St. Clement’s Church - 423 W. 46th St.
Theatre Row – 410 W. 42nd St.
45th St. Theatre – Upstairs* - 354 W. 45th St.
45th St. Theatre – Mainstage* - 354 W. 45th St.
The NYMF Hub – 330 W. 42nd St.
Zapata! The Musical is a historical sci fi turner with one foot in present-day Manhattan, and the other in the Mexico Revolution. Its "what if" premise revolves around the Mexican revolutionary liberator Emiliano Zapata. The what if question: What if an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator named Tom Magnani (Andrew Call) could travel back in time and become the brother (in all senses of the word) of Zapata (Enrique Acevedo).
If you can suspend your disbelief, and go with this time-bending conceit, can be illuminating. Ana and Peter Edwards’ book is highly original, and Peter Edwards’ music and lyrics are singable, and well-sung by the cast. Unlike a dry history text, this presentation gives us a very romantic portrait of Zapata. Always more passionate about protecting his people’s land than in gaining political power, he comes across here as a paradoxical figure, with many personas: murderer, idealist, lover, father, amigo, and revolutionary.
The authors use an ingenious framing device to link the centuries. The opening scene is set in a bedroom in New York City where Tom discovers his father’s dead body beside a .38 calibre revolver and an envelope. Stuffing the envelope into his pocket, he crosses the stage to join his fellow demonstrators Lupe, Lourdes, Roberta, and El Cuervo who's cooking their dinner. Tom's agony is palpable as he lights into the lyrics of the first song, “They’ve Ruined Too Many Lives” (“My father died this morning/He committed suicide/His money man on Wall Street/Took him for a ride.”)
In a program note, co-authors Ana and Peter Edwards describe Zapata! as a “romantic musical combining the poetic lyricism of Mexican Mariachi with the edgy social consciousness of Bruce Springsteen.” As directed by Elizabeth Lucas, the entire physical production complements the authors’ vision.
The show wears its revolutionary spirit on its bloody rag-tag sleeves as well as on Tom’s Emiliano Zapata tee shirt (costume design byAsa Benally). Its legend reads: “RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.” The aim of the writers is to capture the rage of people who have been robbed of their voice and freedom and in the best moments, they succeed.
The structure is a bit lop-sided with the emphasis on the past too heavy and short shrift given to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Much like last season’s Broadway drama On the Mountaintop that spun a fantasy about the late Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last evening on earth, this show attempts to portray a historic icon with a surreal twist proves to be a tough task.
Zapata! The Musical at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Remaining performances are July 27th at 5pm and 9pm; July 28th at 1pm; July 29th at 1pm.
Central Avenue Breakdown is a musical that grows on you, gets under your skin, sneaks up on you, and says ‘Boo! The best is yet to come! Writtn by Kevin Ray and Andrea Lepcio, with lyrics and music by Ray, the musical returns to NYMF as an encore production. Aftr winning five NYMF Excellence Awards last year, the show served as a musical ambassador for the Festival and preceded this return engagement with a performance of South Korea's Daegu International Music Festival.
Set in 1940s Los Angeles against the shadow of World War II, is the poignant coming-of-age story of Bill (Joshua Boone) and Jim Marcel (Rod Lawrence), two sax players determined to make their mark in the music world. Though their father William (Albert Christmas) failed in his musical ambitions, these two inherit his passion, his know-how and his blind faith that music can transform lives.
The book is sensitively written, and Ray’s songs range from deeply emotional, to humorous, to political. Sibling rivalry and addiction are the bug-a-boos here. Though the two brothers realize that fame can cut like a double-edged blade, when one gets his big break to play sax in New York, the other is left behind with a bruised ego —and a drug addiction.
The tragic episodes avoid a drif into La-La land, and a posse of colorful characters keep things buoyant. All the musicians of The Central Avenue Breakdown Band (Jonathan Smith, Greg Ward, Anthony Ware, Wayne Tucker, Steve Millhouse, and Joe Nero) can swagger their swing and bop their jazz. But nobody sums up the music better than Thaddeus Clemon III (Juson Williams), the so-called “Mayor” of Central Avenue: “Step right up if you like the music! Jazz music. Step right up even if you don’t, you’ll love it by the time we’re through.”
While lacking the historical heft of the Broadway musical Memphis, which deftly tells the story of rock and roll, it showcases the feisty underdogs of jazz and takes you from the haunts of Jack’s Chicken Basket to The Club Alabama.
Central Avenue Breakdown
at Pershing Square Signature Center.
Le Cabaret Grimm. Life can be pretty grim, and to remind you of that in no uncertain terms is Le Cabaret Grimm. This punk cabaret is a send-up of Grimm’s Fairytales, and it’s as as good as it gets. Jason Slavick’s book and lyrics, with music by Cassandra Marsh, are enchantingly wittyg. Populated with princesses, frogs, witches and lost waifs, it doesn’t come with any pretensions. Slavick, who also directs, clearly realizes that these archetypal tales soar on their own power.
This is a show that could, that did, and that continues to fine-tune itself. It started out as part of a student ensemble effort in 2008 and then became the inaugural production of the Boston-based theater company “Liars and Believers” in 2009. A 2010 workshop led to its presentation at the Boston Center for the Arts where it was embraced by critics and public alike.
The setting is a boite and there’s lots of dancing (choreography by Michelle Chassse), singing, and edgy clowning by a talented young cast. Before the show begins, female performers strut their stuff in sexy outfits and flirt with audience members in the front rows. Broadway’s Cabaret comes to mind, but retooled to a post-modern key. While the show will stir memories of all those stories you listened to when you were knee-high to a grasshopper, Slavick’s retelling is anything but childlike.
These reimagined fairytales (sans fairies) are stardusted via its punk music and the amazing imagination of the cast. The dozen or so musical numbers include emcee Veronique (Haley Selmon) and ensemble's aptly-named song “Welcome.” To intensify the noirish atmosphere there's “Helga’s Theme,” wickedly sung by the sorceress Helga (Alessandra Vaganek) and the bewitched ensemble. Nobody will turn a deaf ear to these off-beat songs.
This isn't the festival's most high brow show but the artistry of Miss Meow Meow, Amanda Palmer, and Sxip Shirey, makes it a winner.
Le Cabaret Grimm at the 45th Street Theatre (Mainstage). July 27th at 11pm; July 28th at 7pm and 10pm. j. Prison Dancer: The Musical has found its New York swag! Written by Romeo Candido and Carmen De Jesus, with music by Candido, it's inspired by the viral video on YouTube featuring the dancing inmates at the maximum security prison at Cebu, Philippines. Although fifty million people around the world have already watched the April 2007 footage,, Candido boldly alters the original story to focus on seven inmates and how dance changed their lives.
Now in its fourth iteration, this production arrives with sturdy stage legs. In 2010, it was workshopped twice in Toronto theatre festivals, and further developed in staged readings. One can admire the esprit de corps of the inmates shown in the original YouTube video as they mime the “Zombie Dance” from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” But this brand-new all Fillipino cast playing Fillipinos brims with authenticity.
Josh Zangen’s steel-clad set looks appropriately forbidding and neatly accommodates the multiple scene shifts from the prison’s courtyard, to Cell Block D, to a dilapidated chapel and visitor station. Sky Switser’s orange costumes are all of a piece, and evoke a warm, glowing sunset in the Philippines. BTthe deafening buzzer (sound design by Jon Weston) that punctuates the proceedings and propels the action forwarmay be hard on one’s eardrums, but certainly creates a realistic institutional atmosphere.
Jenn Rapp, who directs and choreographs, has balanced the high-energy of the dancing with stark tableaus of the prisoners. What comes across, time and again, is the amazing freedom of dance contrasted with the dreariness of prison life. The meaty book is peppered with brash prison patois. Though his faux execution scene for the convicted murderer Tondo (Albert Guerzon) doesn’t seem entirely plausible (Tondo is temporarily spared by a freak electrical blackout), butCandido surely manages to drive home his “born again” theme.
This show is for those who are willing to look the beast in the eye and appreciat top-notch dancing.
Prison Dancer: The Musical at St. Clement’s Church. Remaining performances are July 27, 5pm and July 28, 5pm & 9pm.
Re-animator The Musical . So many corpses. So little time. Re-animator The Musical is making a big noise at this year’s festival with its grisly-looking cast splashing blood all over audience members in the front rows. A dramatization of the 1985 cult film of the same title, this tuner is hilarious to watch but its over-the-top music (music and lyrics by Mark Nutter) should be toned down a few notches and its book (book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon, and William J. Norris) tuned up. The show is faithful to the stories of H. P. Lovecraft on which the film was based, but with less pyrotechnics.
The main character is star medical student Herbert West (Graham Skipper) who hopes to perfect his re-animator serum that brings back the dead, or in some cases, pieces of the dead. With antiseptic accoutrements on hand — defibrillators, bone saws, syringes, vials, and the glowing green serum —he goes on a quest for fresh corpses that he can inject and re-animate to life.
Sci-fi horror musicals have a rather good track record on and off Broadway, most notably, The Little Shop of Horrors which delighted Broadway audiences back in 198 and collected many awards. Re-Animator has all the phantasmagorical ingredients that made Little Shop shine, but it needs to highlight its narrative more to emphasize the Promethean myth that is at the heart of the horror tale. The character West pretty much nails it down when he describes himself and his mission: “I’m the modern heir to Prometheus, bringing fire to man. I give life because I can.”
Audiences can count on plenty of blood baths and airborne body parts! When it comes to nightmare-ish spectacle (set by Laura Fine Hawkes, special effects by Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin, and Greg McDougall), this show is a dead ringer. To protect them from the messiness spurting and spilling off the stage, ushers hand out free ponchos at each performance. There’s even a designated “splash zone” in the rows nearest the stage.
The fine cast includes George Wendt of Cheers fame, but it definitely needs to gain some dramatic muscle. The show is heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival following its New York run. May it re-animate itself with new zest at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it's headed following the New York run.
Re-Animator The Musical is at the PTC Performance Space.
Baby Case is a scathing indictment of the American Dream. We watch the once-in-a-Blue-Moon Charles A. Lindbergh go from the heights of fame to the depths of despair when his twenty-month-old son is kidnapped and murdered. Like the OJ Simpson trial, the Lindbergh baby case caught the public imagination, and the media launched it into the stratosphere, sensationally headlining it as the “crime of the century.”
This tragic tuner takes you from the aviator’s historic solo cross-Atlantic flight in 1927, to his son’s kidnapping and murder in 1932, to the trial and execution of Bruno Hauptmann in 1936. Written by Michael Ogborn (book, music, and lyrics), and directed by Jeremy Dobrich with musical direction Denise Puricelli, the piece exposes the darker side of Yankee pluck and American enterprise.
À Baby Case is not really a new show. After several work shops it was produced in 2001 at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, where it won four Barrymore Awards and much praise from the public and critics Including from Curtainup's Kathryn Osenlund (Philadelphia review). Having earned its theatrical stripes, it arrives in New York as a well-oiled machine, hoping to take wing at the festival and gain a larger audience and perhaps future.
This tuner comes alive with a bustling parade of twentieth -century celebrities, media moguls, legal hot shots, and ordinary folks. One gets a fleeting glimpse of Ginger Rogers (Patricia Noonan), William Randolph Hearst (Kurt Zischke), Phil Donahue (Michael Thomas Holmes) — and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. America themselves, Lindbergh (Will Reynolds) and his wife Anne (Anika Larsen). To ratchet up the media circus is commentator Walter Winchell (Michael Thomas Holmes), radio personality extraordinaire and historian in a hurry. His radio broadcasts via a period microphone clearly show us how facts and fantasies all-too-easily can blur, and that fame often comes at a steep price and with a toxic sting.
Looking beyond its flashy spectacle (set and costume design by Martin Lopez) and raw historical footage (graphic design by Ben Spriggs), the presentation is melodically bolstered by twenty-seven songs, not all of which are as outstanding as “Dirty Dishes,” in Act One. Sung by the Lindbergs’ maid Violet Sharpe (Melissa van der Schyff) who later commits suicide, it underscores the hysteria surrounding the crime.
The large cast is studded with emerging Broadway and Off- Broadway actors. Reynolds and Larsen are dually cast as the Lindbergh and Hauptmann couple, which arguably suggests that the Lindberghs themselves bear a modicum of responsibility for their son’s kidnapping and murder. But even if you buy into this idea of the Lindberghs’ partial culpability, it is hugely jarring to see Reynolds and Larsen morphing from heroes to public enemies in a nanosecond. Dollars to donuts, the audience would “get” the message without being hit over the head with this sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde casting.
Despite the ill-conceived double-casting, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water here. The festival's mission is not to give us perfect productions but good examples of projects-in-progress. With some luck, Baby Case might fly on to a post-festival life.
Baby Case is at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Remaining performances are July 21 at 5pm, 9pm, and July 22 at 1pm.
Stuck . Out of the fumes of a MTA subway car has emerged a tilted and slightly askew musical called Stuck. This tuner had its world premiere at Chicago’s La Costa Theater in 2008, and a later developmental presentation at New York’s Metropolitan Room. The brainchild of Riley Thomas (book, music, and lyrics), this off-beat musical is packing audience members in like sardines at the 45th Street Theatre (Mainstage).
The premise is original and plays out with steel bite and edge. We meet five strangers on a subway car who happen to get stuck between stations. As they wait f t to proceed, they all take inventories of their lives and listen to their their fellow passengers with increasing attention.
At 85 intermissionless minutes, the show trundles along at just the right clip, thanks to Michael Berry's smart directiony. The loosely structured narrative appropriates his characters lengthy diatribes, confessions, and epiphanies. Its punch owes much to the contemporary urban patois and subway mounting (scenic and lighting design by David S. Goldstein).
The songs are fresh and provocative. “If I Were You” is an unflinching look at Moms and Dads from their offsprings’ perspective. In sharp contrast, “Lullaby” is a poetic paean to a less-than-ideal mother. The show-stopper of the evening is “Now That You’re Gone ” which poignantly addresses suicide and how the person (or persons) left behind can all too easily get “stuck” with guilt.
There's some excellent acting to bring songs and story to life. Mel Johnson, Jr. inhabits the role of Lloyd, a slightly bonkers homeless man who intermittently spouts Shakespeare and old saws and so does Danny Bolero as Ramon with his decided machismo. As the old-school teacher, Beth McVey adds a big heart and a persuasive patina. Anita Welch is all spunk as the young outspoken Black woman. Just as convincing are Tim Young and Ej Zimmerman, playing the college students Caleb and Alicia
Without being treacly sweet, this musical drives home some old-fashioned truths and is likely to stick in your memory long after you exit the theater.
At the 45th St. Theatre – Mainstage. Remaining show on July 22, 8pm.
Rio is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist with a Brazilian beat and a Carnaval-esque atmosphere. In this modern-day Latin version, twelve-year-old Pipio (Nicholas Daniel Gonzalez) searches for his lost mother in Rio, and soon realizes that his faith must be stronger than the kids, gangs, and drug-lords of the city.
Joey Miller and Mitch Magonet, who co-wrote the book, music, and lyrics, take away the rose-colored glasses tp show us the dark underside of Brazil. They dedicate the piece that evolved over eight years, to the homeless street children who were cruelly murdered at the Candelaira Church by police in the “Candelaria Massacre” on July 23, 1993.
Rio succeeds on several fronts: Kate Dunn and Ron DeJesus’ choreography is lively, and gives the Samba fresh swing and flavor. Colin McGurk’s set design and David Kaleys’ costumes are an explosion of color, ranging from tropical white to magenta-sunset hues. Scott Paris directs the work with a clear respect for Brazilian rhythms and culture. The performances are energetic, and Gonzalez, playing Pipio, looks and sounds like he has a future in musical theater.
The problem is that the piece tends to overreach itself. The book presents too many digressions from the central plot. The simmering intrigues, and the wildly decadent scenes of Carnaval add texture to the musical, but the character Pipio needs to be more in the picture to crystallize his poignant jouney. Also, at two hours, cutting a scene or two would increase clarity.
Of course , this isn’t the first time that this Dickens’ masterpiece has been adapted to the stage. Lionel Bart’s Oliver! was a musicalization of Oliver Twist, a London import that landed on Broadway back in January 1963. While critics instantly threw brickbats at it, dubbing it a”poperretta,” the public welcomed it with bouquets of smiles and fell in love with its signature tune, “Consider Yourself [At Home].”
The 20 odd songs that are tucked into this show are good. “Dance Until You Do” is a spirited duet that Neves (Tanesha Ross) and Pipio sing to perfection in Act 1, and reprise with more mellowness in Act 2. And who can ignore the rowdy number “Carnaval 2” in Act 2, when the entire cast dances, exercise their tonsils, and pull out all the stops. However, no really big number emerges to have you humming its melody on the way home.
At St. Clement’s Church, 423 W. 46th St. Remaining performance is July 18, 9pm.
Himself and Nora. Jonathan Brielle gives NYMF-goers a slice of James Joyce’s romantic life. The Irish literary icon fell in love with a chambermaid named Nora Barnacle in Galway, and nose-thumbing the Catholic Church, he immigrated in voluntary exile with her to the continent, eventually ending up in Paris. Directed by Michael Bush, this new musical traces their romantic odyssey from 1904 through 1941, and it strikingly reveals Joyce to be more than a gloomy literary giant. With Nora at his side, not just in Dublin bt Trieste, Paris and Zurich ,Joyce could become most himself.
Unlike the 1999 Broadway musical James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, which was a stage adaptation of Joyce’s classic short story Dubliners this work focuses on the love relationship between James Joyce (Matt Bogart) and Nora (Jessica Burrows). Brielle (book, music, and lyrics) brings out the vulnerable side of this modernist avant-garde writer who wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the landmark novel Ulysses, the seminal Finnegan’s Wake, not to mention his poetry and journalism. A caveat: Audience members who go expecting to hear a good deal of Joyce’s literature interwoven into the show will be disappointed. There’s only a soupcon of his writings throughout the 2-hour plus evening. But this piece holds its own, and is extremely lyrical, witty, and smart without any dead spots.
Brielle poignantly bookends his musical with Joyce’s death, which Nora ironically missed being present at by 15 minutes. Between the first and last scenes, however, we witness her tremendous influence on the famous twentieth-century writer. In one of its most straightforward musical numbers in Act 1, “Stand Fast,” Burrows’ Nora states that “I’m the thing he’s found that he can’t push around.” Joyce did find his soul-mate in this beautiful and passionate woman, and completely surrendered his heart to her.
Fortunately, this piece is not mawkishly sentimental. Much of the narrative and music are built on the profound dilemmas and tragedies in Joyce’s life. We learn how his Jesuit education both marked and marred him, and how his rebellious attitude toward the Catholic Church made him refuse to wed Nora for many years. We see the couple living in Paris, which was the epicenter of literary pundits in the golden 1920s. At the opening to Act 2 is the number, “Grand Himself,” where Joyce, Nora, the poet Ezra Pound (David Arthur), the publisher Sylvia Beach (J. B. Wing), and a Priest (Brian Sills) reflect on the thorny road to Ulysses publication, due to existing censorship rules. Standing arrogantly on a chair, Bogart’s Joyce sings that his novel is in limbo, the “greatest words that have never been read.” This song rings true with history, as does the entire musical.
You can bet your shamrocks that some Joycean scholars will be outraged by the skimping on Joyce’s melodious language. But if you want a primer on Joyce’s life, and are curious about his lover (and eventual wife) Nora, and his two children (his daughter Lucia became schizophrenic in later life and was committed to an asylum), this piece is a real eye-opener.
Himself and Nora at St. Clement’s Church. Remaining performances are July 16, 5pm and July 19, 1pm.
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