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A CurtainUp Report
The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF)

Shows Reviewed (* An asterisk will be placed before the title when Review is posted) *Academia Nuts . . . | *Bayonets of Angst . . . | *Clinton. . . | *Ophrahfication . . . | * Madame Infamy . . . | *Mr. Confidential . . . | * Searching for Romeo . . . | *Wikimusical

A Quick Overview by Deirdre Donovan

The New York Theater Musical Festival running from July 2 to 28th. is growing up! So are some of the performers who have appeared on NYMF stages over its past decade. Tony Award-winning actress Lena Hall, currently in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway hosted NYMF's Special Preview Event on July 2nd and reminisced about being on the boards of NYMF back in 2008 in the sci-fi musical Bedbugs!. Unsurprisingly, Hall's enthusiasm for NYMF 2014 was utterly genuine as she introduced diverse numbers from new musicals, giving us a theatrical sampling of what to expect in the three weeks ahead. Time restricted Jacob Horn and Me to grazing the Festival rather than take in all the 26 full-length productions in this year's festival. Valueville with which seasoned actress and NYMF veteran Donna Lynne Champlin makes her directing debut; and Mother Jones and the Children's Crusade a family-friendly show (book, music, and lyrics by Cheryl E. Kemeny) with a social conscience. All shows are are an affordable $25. For details about all shows, check the Festival's Website

NYMF 2014 Venues:
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre and The Ford Foundation Studio Theatre and The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre all at the Pershing Square Signature Center. 480 W. 42nd Street. . . The PTC Performance Space at the Pearl Theatre Company building, 555 W. 42nd Street.

Shows Reviewed (* An asterisk will be placed before the title when Review is posted) *Academia Nuts | *Bayonets of Angst |. . . | *Clinton. . . | * Ophrahfication . . . | *Madame Infamy . . . | *Mr. Confidential . . . | *Searching for Romeo . . . | *Wikimusical . . . |

Mr. Confidential
Bob Harrison's heyday as a big shot in American popular culture has come and gone, but his legacy lives on in Mr. Confidential. His Confidential Magazine was the TMZ of the Eisenhower era and beyond, and anybody who was somebody was sure to be writ large on its front page.

In this celebrity-themed work Kevin Spirtas leads the 13-member cast as"Big Bob" Harrison. Though best known for his TV stint on NBC's Amy Bodnar as his girlfriend has the looks, pipes and theatrical savvy to go along with it. Erin Leigh Peck is well cast as Marjorie Meade the go-to gal for whispering the latest scoops on celebrities. Her feisty character becomes "Big Bob's" right-hand at the magazine.

The book and lyrics are by Samuel Bernstein heavily relies on the sizzling archives of Confidential Magazine The music, note by nuanced note, isby David Snyder. The story's spine is flexible enough spine to accommodate the Broadway and Hollywood worlds alike. Many of lyrics echo the real headlines of Confidential Magazine, others are simply in service to presenting Harrison's legacy in an accurate and fair-handed light.

The musical numbers gain more edge from smart choreography by Stephen Nachamie woh does double duty as director. One musical number in Act 1 that has Peck's Marjorie at the kitchen sink singing to her stage husband that she's not"the girl next door," gets wonderfully parodied in Act 2 when Marjorie must testify in court, and she strategically becomes the wholesome embodiment of that gir.

Legal action was brought against Harrison in real life (he was dubbed the"Sultan of Sleaze") for libel against celebrities, landing him and his magazine family in court. This gets dramatized effectively here, and adds a dark shadow to this celebrity show.

Harrison's name doesn't ring down the ages with the full-toned resonance of those he headlined in his rag. Ironically, the big flaw to Mr. Confidential is that its once-famous subject has largely faded from our cultural memory.

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on July 25th, the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater. Running time is 2 hour with one 15-minute intermission. Remaining performance is on July 27th at 5 pm.

Madame Infamy
The title characters'stories parallese of Marie Antoinette (she of let-them-eat-cake fame) and Sally Hemings (she of Monticello fame). Being a musical, it adds vibrant music and lyrics, lavish costumes and a large dauntless cast that includes the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Madame Tussaud.

This is a crossing of American and French revolutionary history is greatly assisted, of course, through the multi-faceted musical score and lyrics by Cardozie Jones and Sean Willis. JP Vigliotti's book is a conflation of history that better tells its tale by what it leaves out.

Marie Antoinette's story colors Sally Hemings',and vice versa. Well-directed by Carlos Armesto, Madame Infamy demands one's total attention as it leapfrogs from 18th Century Vienna, to Monticello, to Paris, to Versailles, with an exhibit at Madame Tussaud's famous wax museum used as a framing device.

No big names in the cast. But the acting ensemble, and the attractive leads play their parts with the right mixture of earnestness and pathos. Briana Carlson-Goodman slips into the skin of Marie Antoinette, and Bashirrah Creswell into that of Sally Hemings. Except for an occasional going up on their lines, both deliver their femmes with panache.

Shane Ballard's costumes are eye-catching, especially the scrumptious dress worn by Marie Antoinette in Act 1 as she sings"Chocolate" is embroidered with faux bon bons, designed to help her seduce her new (and still virginal) husband, the Dauphin. Does chocolate really work as an aphrodisiac? You bet.

Madame Infamy renders the controversial women the dignity that was deprived them in their own day, but without soft-pedaling their flaws. This production sings out their names, broadly traces what they did in extremely difficult situations, and allows you to draw your own conclusions.

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on July 25th, the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater. Running time is 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. (Remaining performances on July 26th at 9 pm and July 27th at 1 pm.)
Part celebrity profile, part career retrospective, part self-identity quest, Oprahfication reveals the Queen of daytime talk shows in a vulnerable new light. As directed by Dirk Hoult and performed by Australian actress Rachel Dunham, it's an homage to Ophrah and all women who refuse to rest on the laurels of past achievements.

The premise for this musical is that Ophrah is feeling her age and discovering that it isn't easy at all to play second fiddle to rising stars. No longer the reigning Queen Bee of global television, she is attempting to rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of her popular chat show and make a fresh mark on our culture. Rather than trying to outdo her past career achievements, she decides to orchestrate the ultimate interview on a one-night-only episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show." But, to her dismay, those that she would like to have appear as her guest (like Barach Obama) are, alas, not available.

Rachel Dunham, who wrote the book and lyrics by Rachel Dunham ( music by Shanon D. Whitelock conjures up, if not the icon herself, her spirit and a terrific slice of her dynamic life story. She's also the solo performer and her s performance in th3 intermissionless 2-hour show is heart-warming. Many of the 14 musical numbers that she sings like "A Simple Idea, "The Prayer (Oh, Lord)and "Then Came a Miracle, are a mirror held up to Oprah's genuineness.

Unlike many bio-musicals about world celebrities, the focus here is on the fading of an extremely influential and colorful TV personality. Oprafication scratches beneath Oprah's celebrity and reveals the real woman, warts and all.

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on July 21st, the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre through July 24th. Running time is 115 minutes with no intermission.

Clinton: The Musical
If it's spicy controversial politics you seek, then look no further. Michael Hodge's conceit of having our 42nd American President literally embodied by two actors (Karl Kenzler plays the strait-laced "W.J" and Duke Lafoon "Billy Mischief-maker") has become the hottest festival ticket. And no hype —it lives up to its Big Buzz.

Clinton comes to NYMF following its well-received runs at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (nominated for Best Musical) and then mounted the next year at London's King's' Head Theatre. No doubt our former President is a living legend, and his ambitious wife Hillary (played by Alet Taylor)) is, to say the least, no political wallflower. Toss in other personages like Newt Gingrich, Kenneth Starr, Dick Morris, Monica Lewinsky and Eleanor Roosevelt, and you have a cast of watchable characters.

What this show has going for it, besides a sturdy acting ensemble, is an excellent book by Michael Hodge and Paul Hodge, snappy music and lyrics by Paul Hodge, and firm direction by Adam Arian. Paul Gallo's patriotic set design is elegant with clean lines that evoke the White House and environs. The set's palette of colors is tastefully mirrored in David L. Woolard's costumes. Choreographer Emily McNamara is on the job with verve. James Dobinson, as the maestro and musical director, orchestrates the notes and more.

The two-act satire spans Clinton's eight years as President, focusing on his domestic issues and the scandals that nearly ousted him from the Oval Office. It looks backward and forward at once, and ends up with the long-suffering (but ever-resilient) Hillary in the political spotlight.

This show just might find itself making a noise in the future, as. many NYMF alumns do. Its drawback, if it is one, is that it might rub some humorless political pundits the wrong way. That said, it certainly hs got my vote. Australian-born Paul Hodge may not hail from American soil, but he sure knows how to write (with his brother Michael) about American presidents with brio.

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on July 20th, the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater. Running time is 2 hour with one 15-minute intermission.

Of all the offerings at NYMF this season, Wikimusical may well be the most au courant. It takes a dilemma that New Yorkers are continually confronting in their workaday and personal lives — spending hours in front of a computer screen — and dramatizes it in an epic tale about two brothers, Peter and Kurt, who vanish into virtual reality.

Its Prologue has a mood-setting number "Imagine the Future," where we meet Santa (Adam B. Shapiro) and the two young brothers, Peter (Noah Marlowe) and Kurt (Trey Harrington) on Christmas Eve at the Oglesby home. As the Prologue melts into Act One the brothers' parents step in: Mr. Oglesby (Bob Walton) and Mrs. Oglesby (Heather Jane Roloff). Then in a r,evealing song aptly named "Truth & Lies," the parents tell a few personal secrets that they have been keeping from their sons. The first zinger: Mr. Oglesby is a homosexual who has been out of the closet, if not to his sons, for years. The second: Mrs. Oglesby is not her sons' biological mother.

No doubt Peter and Kurt feel that their world, as they have known and trusted it, has been shattered forever. Little wonder that the new Gateway computer that Santa has just planted in their living room serves as an instant shock-absorber and perhaps a path to their future. So what could be a better choice for them than to log on to the world wide web and see what it offers? Well, the brothers soon enough discover that the computer and its virtual reality offer a lot. And though they welcome its uncanny efficiency and its mind-opening aspects (they recall other advances in history like the Wright's brothers' invention of flight!), they begin to be wary of certain websites and meeting others anonymously on Facebook. In a fitting song, "Search Engine Crash," the brothers soberly sing about the fallibility of the new technology and its downside.

To crystallize the dangers of the internet even further, there's a seductive character Spam King (Tony-nominee Brenda Braxton of Smokey Joe's Café) steps in at high-speed midway through Act One to inform the brothers that she can create chaos in virtual reality in one click of the mouse. She cleverly, and oh so maliciously, backs this up with "Mean is the New Nice." The reprise of this song a few scenes later takes on dramaturgical weight as the brothers vanish into virtual reality through a faux door on stage.

This parable of The Prodigal Son is smartly updated to the Computer Age and revises it by morphing the original Biblical character into two brothers who gradually rediscover the value of human relationships. The book, songs, and music (book & lyrics by Frank Ceruzzi and Blake J. Harris; music by Trent Jeffords) have the pulse and texture of our technological age. Excellent ensemble includes a Narrator who impersonates Morgan Freeman. It all adds up to a timeless and winning message musical.

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on July 19th, the PTP Theatre. Running time is 2 hour with one 15-minute intermission.

Bayonets of Angst
This new musical comedy about the American Civil War, is a far cry from what you learned in your high school history class. You certainly will recognize the famous personages dramatized: President "Abe" Lincoln (the superb J. Robert Spencer) and his wife Mary Todd (Brian Charles Rooney), Secretary of State William Seward (Ian Lowe), Generals Robert E. Lee (Ryan Andes), George McClellan (Rooney), William Sherman (Michael Abbot, Jr.), Ulysses S. Grant (Paul Whitty). However, this spoof of Civil War history clearly aims to reveal their personal quirks and flaws, and to tickle your funny bone.

Told through the perspective of the "last remaining veterans of the American Civil War" (performed by the ensemble) as they sit on the front porch of a Swamp House in Mississippi, the story begin in 1861 at the White House with Seward telling Lincoln about the first salvos of the war at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. It ends with the ghosts of the famous figures holding, and reading from, giant cue cards about their eventual place in history (some for glorious fame, others hang-dog shame). Betwixt and between are plenty of juicy tales about pivotal war decisions, behind-the-scenes events, and battles of the war recounted in wild and wooly detail.

The old-timers' narrative serves as the thread that stitches the more dynamically-charged scenes together, with the aforementioned historical personages alternately stepping to the fore to re-enact or describe the crucial, and sometimes just plain loopy, events. Of course, nothing ever happened precisely as told by these old codgers but they to copiously draw on the spirit of historic truth to make the intended dramatic (and often dizzy) points.

There' s plenty of drinkin', dancin' in this presentation. And, if it' s blue grass music. The score (Rick Kunzi and Adam Barnosky) and lyrics (Kunzi) seem plucked right from the rich soil of the Kentucky landscape itself. The music and songs are in fact the ace of this tuner. One can't help but fall under the country spell of "Oh Bury Me, Now," "You' re My Buddy, I' m Your Pal," "The Drinking Song," and "Failures." All of the songs are downright likeable, and infuse this Civil War work with a real pulse and blue grass gusto.

The problem with the show overall is that is the book (Rick Kunzi and Justin Zeppa). It's overly-ambitious and at times over-reaches itself. There's a plethora of Civil War personages but no in-depth portrait of any famous figure. True, a musical is supposed to let its music and lyrics tell its essential story and certainly Bayonets of Angst relies on its lyrical notes and witty turns of phrase. But this yarn, as told by the veterans who supposedly lived through the Civil War, it gets pulled in too many directions. The attempt to pack acres of history into two hours diminishes dramatic potency.

Still, Kunzi and Zeppa must be admired for their ambition, and the songs in this surreal cartoon are fun.

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on July 12th, the Ford Foundation Studio Theatre through July 16th. Running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes plus one intermission.

Searching for Romeo
High school romances can get so dramatic, it's only reasonable for Roz (Justine Magnusson) to begin to see her own love life in the terms of one of the most beloved dramas of all time, Romeo and Juliet. As she creates her own version of the play during an English class daydream, however, she doesn't cast herself as Juliet. Instead, the character with whom she identifies is Rosaline, the girl with whom Romeo (Josh Tolle) is madly in love up until the second that he first lays eyes on Juliet (Sam Tedaldi) and forgets about his former flame entirely. Rosaline, in turn, wants to find a new love, but continuously finds herself Searching for Romeo instead in this new musical with book, music, and lyrics by Brian Sutton.

Perhaps audiences are too fast to forgive Romeo for his quick casting off of one lover for another, Sutton's play suggests, but what would happen if he and Juliet were recast as the worst of high school archetypes: the dumb jock and the Queen Bee blonde? Sure enough, the characters are much less sympathetic, but the transposition is comic gold. With Laura Josepher's direction, Tolle and Tedaldi turn some of the play's most beautiful lines into the obnoxious banter of two ironically detached high school kids who are way too cool for that mushy love stuff.

In fact, some of the best moments of the play feature the Bard's own dialogue — whether delivered in the original place with a new spin, or ripped from a different show altogether in a number of well-placed allusions sure to delight any Shakespeare nerd with a sense of humor. When the show tries to play up its more modern romantic comedy side, it can feel like it's trying a bit too hard to be hip (the extended innuendo of the song "So Hard," for example, feels gratuitous), but the contrast to the Shakespearean content is still a continuous source of enjoyment.

Dan Drew, playing Rosaline's romantic interest Paris, deserves special recognition for stepping in after actor Zal Owen became ill shortly before opening. Even with script in hand, Drew (who sat in on rehearsals as the director's assistant) gives a fully developed, well-executed performance that would be impressive even after an extended rehearsal process.

Magnusson, meanwhile, packs a powerful voice in a deceptively small package. Her Roz is endearing, even if the script leaves her a bit stiff in comparison to the more lively characters around her. In this respect, the character is well matched with Paris, who sings of his averageness in "An Ordinary Guy Like Me."

Indeed, amidst a cast of zany characters, not the least of whom is Paris's mother Lady Avare (Natalie Newman), it's hard not to feel like Rosaline and Paris take themselves a bit too seriously. They may be the heroes of the play, but we can't help but wonder (not unlike in high school) if being the anti-hero — like the cool kids are doing — might just be more fun.

Reviewed by Jacob Horn on July 12th. Performances were July 8–13 at the PTC Performance Space.

Academia Nuts
A group of awkward, intelligent, and driven high school students compete for scholarships, approval, friendship, and victory in this zany comedy set at an unforgettable Quiz Bowl championship. It's not the most original concept for a musical — just ask the several cast members who've previously appeared in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee—but Academia Nuts has its charms nonetheless. Chief among these is the comedic power duo that is Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Jennifer Simard, between whom sparks fly as the two opposing coaches of the finalist teams.

Simard's Mrs. McCutter (pronounced 'McCooter') is the evangelical mother and homeschool teacher of Maggie (Alyse Alan Louis), Mary (Melody Madarasz), and Joseph (Will Roland). D'Abruzzo plays Sergeant Tina Van Wyck, coach of the Walla Walla Walruses: Tyler (Khris Davis), Dexter (Alexander Ferguson), and Mi Cha (Alison Lea Bender). Rounding out the cast of characters is America's premiere high school trivia competition host, Melvin Jessup (Todd Cerveris).

The witty book, written by Becca Anderson and Dan Marshall with music by Julian Blackmore, offers quality wordplay, a generous helping of double entendres, and some catchy tunes. Occasionally, the script veers a bit too far into inspirational nonsense (one "follow your dreams"-style remark prompted an audible "What?" from a puzzled audience member), but for the most part, Academia Nuts remains self-aware and unabashedly silly.

All the younger performers more than hold their own among the more veteran cast members, making the ensemble, under the direction of Thomas Caruso, very strong as a whole. As the show's romantic leads, Louis and Davis manage to preserve a balance of humor and tenderness, with help from sidekicks Ferguson and Bender. The whole group's Act II song "Get It Crunk" proves a particularly impressive test of their range as performers.

Act II also provides show-stopping numbers for the coaches. D'Abruzzo's "Sarge's Soliloquy" is a surprisingly emotional ballad with a hook that also makes fun of national education policy. "Hippy Dippy Days" takes full advantage of Simard's tremendous gift for spot-on comedic timing and her ability to go from zero to sixty in a split second.

If there's one thing holding back Academia Nuts from post-festival success, it's the jumbled end of the musical. By the finale, the best jokes are all behind us. What we're left with is a hasty resolution of the show's numerous stakes and the weakest song in the libretto, "I Speak Geek," which aspires to anthem-hood but yields little more than a rehashing of the eternal battle between Star Wars fans and Trekkies. It still has its moments, to be sure, yet it feels unsatisfying as the end to a musical with so much promise.

Ending notwithstanding, Academia Nuts is still a lot of fun. It's a perfect example of that kind of show that isn't meant to be taken at all seriously, and its solid book as well as a great cast make it a highly credible offering which one can easily envision enjoying success after the conclusion of its festival run.

Reviewed by Jacob Horn on July 11th. Performances were July 9–13 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

Links to past festivals we've covered:

The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show

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