| .
NYMusic Festival| a Curtainup Report
The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

A CurtainUp Report
The New York Musical Festival (NYMF- 2017)
Shows Reviewed (Listed in order posted with * an asterisk placed before the title when a review is posted):
*Numbers Nerds | *Matthew McConnaughey v. the Devil | *My Dear Watson ||Backbeard | Generation Me | Peace Love and Cupcakes |Shakespearean Jazz Show | Wall Apart|
About this Page: The Annual New York Music Festival, NYMF, has turned into a teenager. As in the past, Curtainup will be grazing at the festival. So keep checking back for our reviews on what's hot, and what's not. All but one of the shows we're covering will be staged at either the Peter Sharp or the Acorn Theater, both conveniently next door to each other. The conveniently located venues is a nice first; a producer not wanting to risk having a show reviewed less welcome loss of transparency. For details on everything on offer, check out the Festival's website http://www.nymf.org/
| Numbers Nerds.
You need not know what a quadratic equation is to enjoy Numbers Nerds, the smart new offering at the New York Musical Festival that celebrates four high school femmes who prefer numbers to dating.

The premise might not be all that original (think The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) but it surely adds up to 90 minutes of theatrical fun that features a likable cast, a cohesive storyline (book by Laura Stratford), and songs (music by David Kornfeld and lyrics by Alex Higgin-Houser) that you can count on to make you smile.

Here's the story: The mostly female math team from Waukesha Charter High School are determined to win the 32nd Annual National Math Sum-It in Poughkeepsie, New York. But before they go to New York, they first must earn the money for their trip, deal with the drama that arises whenever teens congregate, and conquer that old bugaboo called stage fright.

What sets this show apart from other school–themed musicals of recent years is that it sets out to change the stereotype that girls can't do math. It succeeds, and while it does, also delivers a very satisfying piece of theater.

On the credit side, the characters are fully-realized, replete with personality quirks and endearing qualities. Barbie (Madison Kauffman) has a rich fantasy life and owns a Lisa Frank calculator. Melissa (Maisie Rose) suffers from stage fright but is determined to solve it like an algebraic equation. Amber (Tiffany Tatreau) is the snob who is a closeted math wizard. Mary Kate (Danielle Davila) has the charm and gets the guy (the brainy and off-beat Leroy). Ms. McGery, the drama teacher-turned-school janitor (Alas, budget cuts are brutal at this Midwest high school) has the faith to move mountains and becomes the math team's guardian angel.

The five "mathletes" are convincingly played by Danielle Davila (Mark Kate), Madison Kauffman (Barbie), Jake Morrissey (Leroy), Maisie Rose (Melissa), and Tiffany Tatreau (Amber). Sharon Sachs inhabits the ex-drama teacher Ms. McGery with an indomitable will and theatrical flair. Although it's unfair to single out any one actor from this ensemble piece, let's just say that Sachs, whose character has an encyclopedic knowledge of world drama, can steal the show at times with her bon mots that index the literary classics and popular musicals.

Beyond the good characterization and acting, the songs measure up. There's "Melissa's First Theorem," in which math maven Melissa charts the life and achievements of Einstein and then dreamily projects her own career beside it. The duet "Public Speaking 101," sung by Ms. McGery and Melissa, cleverly borrows from Shakespeare's Macbeth and perhaps the musical Annie. Before this song is over, in fact, Melissa will go from a weak-kneed public speaker to a latter-day Demosthenes ready to tackle the upcoming national competition. And what rhetorical secret does Ms. McGery's retrieve from her tool-kit and impart to Melissa here? "Simply screw your courage to the sticking place/ and plant a smile on that freckly face." there's not a clunker amongh 15 songs.

The story can be predictable at times and some tired cliches creep in every now and then ("The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.) But this is nit-picking in an otherwise refreshing new musical.

As directed and choreographed by Amber Mak Number Nerds never over-reaches itself. It's clearly a show with a social conscience and in its own good-hearted way it helps to erase the male gender bias in math that is deeply ingrained in our American culture.

Hopefully the show will have a life after its brief run at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan.

Matthew McConaughey vs the Devil
Librettist Emilie Landmann describes Matthew McConaughey vs the Devil as a "morality play starring Matthew McConaughey as our Everyman."

Matthew McConaughey as Everyman? Everyman for the One Percent perhaps.

This rowdy, intermittently engaging musical is played on a stage that's bare except for nine set pieces (designed by James Fenton) which represent the tacky back side of the H O L L Y W O O D sign on Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. Authors Landmann, Jonathan Quesenberry (music), and Carrie Morgan (lyrics) purport to take us into the private, VIP precincts of the movie industry, with Texas native McConaughey at the center of the narrative (and another Texas native, Woody Harrelson, kind of on the side).

The Faustian action begins with McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) in the doldrums about his career. He laments having to play yet another leading man with handsome face, washboard abs, and a generously proportioned generative organ. He fears he's going to end up burned out and washed up like his stoner friend Woody (Max Crumm).

What McConaughey wants is an Oscar. For that, he needs a substantive role that will go against the grain of his typecasting and convince the world he's a gifted dramatic actor. But his agent, Penny (Jennifer Blood), isn't getting him the auditions he wants.

Help arrives in the form of Mephistopheles, a demon who works on commission for Satan. Marlowe, Goethe, and Gounod, it seems, were all mistaken — Mephistopheles is a woman (Lesli Margherita) and a super-hottie. She assures Matthew she'll get him that Oscar if he signs a contract with some small print about the eventual disposition of his soul.

Musical comedy aficionados will recognize here the contours of Damn Yankees. Matthew McConaughey vs the Devil is as featherweight and ridiculous as that 1955 hit. And the new show features some accomplished songwriting (shown off to good effect by a spirited, five-member combo under music director Kristin Stowell). But Quesenberry and Morgan's score is a little repetitious and seems bland in comparison to Richard Adler and Jerry Ross's melodies and lyrics for Damn Yankees.

Matthew McConaughey features a superb cast, directed by Thomas Caruso. Principals Wilcox, Margherita, Blood, and Crumm, though youthful, are Broadway veterans; and Margherita won a 2009 Olivier Award for her supporting role in the West End musical Zorro. The six ensemble members — Cameisha Cotton, Koh Mochizuki, Frankie Shin, Riza Takahashi, Nicole Vande Zande, and Betty Weinberger — sing well and handle a host of supporting roles. They execute Billy Griffin's amusing choreography with skill and poise.

It will come as no surprise to anyone attending this musical confection that Matthew lands a meaty role and has a very good night at the 86th annual Academy Awards ceremony in 2014. In real life, McConaughey's Oscar-winning movie was Dallas Buyers Club; in the musical, Mephistopheles gets Matthew cast in something called Texas Buyers Club. (Is this title change supposed to insulate the authors and producers from litigation?)

Audiences are unlikely to foresee the wild and woolly ways that the musical's characters become entangled with each other; or how Matthew escapes the musical-comedy siren's clutches and avoids an eternity of fire and brimstone.

The answers to those questions are entertaining enough. But Matthew McConaughey vs the Devil is hardly the morality play that Landmann claims it to be in her program note. On the contrary, it's light to the point of disposability. Since there aren't any catchy numbers comparable to "Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets)" and "You Gotta Have Heart" to hum on your way out, you're likely to leave the theater pondering why so much talent and professionalism have been expended on a project that already seems dated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes,no intermission, at the Acorn. Reviewed by Charles Wright on July 14.

My Dear Watson, a Sherlock Holmes Musical.
Few, if any, fictional characters have had more lives beyond their original genre than Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. John Watson. The roles in radio, movie and television adaptations have been long running, career boosting gigs for many notable actors.

Unsurprisingly there have been several musicals. Baker Street A Musical Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, which combined several Doyle stories, even made it to Broadway in 1965 and stayed open for 311 performances. Sherlock Holmes - The Musical ran briefly in the West End. However, neither it into the canon of Sherlock Holmes stories that became super hits when adapted for another genre.

Given the enormous success of Benedict Cumberbach's modern day Sherlock Holmes, the time certainly seems ripe for someone to take another whack at making Holmes and Watson sing; and perhaps provide singing opportunties for Holmes's bête noire Professor Moriarty and Inspector Lestrade.

With My Dear Watson, triple-threat librettist, lyricist and composer Jami-Leigh Bartschi has done just that. Her book is quite ambitious in that it takes us through the entire Watson-Holmes relationship, from their meet-up to the developing somewhat homo-erotic friendship to its bitter ending courtesy of a final Holmes-Moriarty confrontation. Her epic story also manages to work in a murder.

I wish I could say that the score and lyrics lived up to Ms. Barrtschi's ambitious concept and that we could now add John Didonna and Kyle Stone to a long list of memorable Holmes and Watson portrayals. But John Didonna is not an especially charismatic or vocally strong Holmes. He deserves credit for gamely double tasking as the show's director. unfortunately his direction tends to be rather clunky (case in point: the show's murder victim ies down before our eyes and puts a bloody cloth over his face, turning murder most foul into a bit of comic shtick).

In fairness to all the performers, this is clearly a case of a company working with a limited budget and most importantly, that Ms. Bartschi has not given them an especially impressive score or lyrics. Even a larger band than pianist Patti Sayers and violinist Eri Park (both are excellent) would be unlikely to make this music that fits no particular musical theater style soar.

To be fair to Ms. Bartsch, the problem was and still is that these are not characters who sing easily. Thus even the best of the dozen tunes — "Man or Machine" and "Where Are You My Friend?"— aren't real take away numbers and that there's actually more speaking than singing here.

Though Holmes and Watson characters do most of the singing, Justin Mousseau's Inspector Lestrade does get a couple of duets wiith Watson and and Jason Blackwater's aptly evil Moriarty even has a solo ("The End Of You"). It's too bad that Bartschi didn't write at least one song for Liz Curtis's Mrs. Hudson.

The rest of the ensemble has little to do, though they are kept busy moving the few props around. Which brings me to the My Dear Watson's most sophisticated and appealing visual asset, Diana Mott's projections.

Mott fills the large back wall of the Peter Sharp Theater's stage with a wonderful assortment of images: from accouterments for the Baker Street apartment to the finale between Holmes and Moriarty. Her illustrations for "It's Like a Game" compensate for the one rather lame attempt to introduce a touch choreographic movement.

According to the author's note in the program, My Dear Watson has been a work in progress for nine years. For it to have a life beyond its current brief run in New York, it still needs a lot more work. — Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, plus 1 intermission. Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at the July 14th matinee performance at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.

Search CurtainUp in the box below
Back to Curtainup Main Page

The Festival has narrowed its locations to two coveniently next to each other venues: Acorn Theater 410 West 42nd Street

Peter Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street

For more information and tickets:

©Copyright 2017, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from esommer@curtainup.com