Is there life after the New York Musical Festival?
I really don’t know the answer. The life of a musical depends on so many things, even if it’s great. When I look at NYMF shows, I’m looking at the quality of story, score and perhaps the choreography. I don’t judge the cast, but will give credit where credit is due. Sometimes they are great, and sometimes they are not, but there is very little rehearsal time and everyone is busting their butts to pull it together. The same goes with the sets. You need to minimize because there is little time and you need to move in and out quickly to let the next production take the stage. You observe using an open mind and a lot of imagination to see the potential. I did a random sampling of 7 shows and found 3 shows most promising:
Miss Blanche Tells it all
Musical, Drama, LGBT
Summary: This is a one man musical drama. I question whether I need to say a one ‘gender neutral’ drama for political correctness, as this is a story of Lee (Brian Charles Rooney), a drag queen who seemingly identifies as queer and likes to dress as a woman. Technically speaking, the Piano Player, Pete (Robert Frost) is also a character, but Lee/Blanche is the focal point. It’s set in New Orleans, French Quarter at The Golden Lantern. Miss Blanche is the drag queen headliner, but the person that comes out from behind the curtain, is a half painted, wigless shell of a man in a kimono who begins to tell the story of an abusive upbringing, with a father that beats and rejects him and a weak mother who tries to protect him from himself. Lee finds comfort in a large trunk he finds in his house that is filled with ghosts of the past in the form of, dresses, letters, and photographs and from which the story develops. The letter on top of the trunk is the final prop that brings the story full circle.
This is a touching, well written story by Jason Jacobs. It’s beautifully performed by the Brian Charles Rooney who takes his voice from male to female and has a vocal range of multiple octaves. The score (Matthew C. Pritchard) is bluesy, sometimes playful and includes some powerful moving ballads. A standout for me was “Too Much Skin In the Game”.
I found there was a disconnect in the story towards the end that needs some development, but the future looks good for this one.
Musical, Comedy, Fantasy
Summary: The setting is the summer of 1961. In a beachside, boardwalk town, Johnny (Patrick Dunn) is on shore leave and comes upon Mora (Tara Martinez) a beautiful mysterious woman who puts him in a love sick trance. It’s a push pull relationship as oddities are revealed about Mora that she is a dangerous Mermaid in disguise. Johnny is warned to stay away from her by the other boardwalk dwellers, the carousel operator, Ellen (Charly Dannis), Captain Murdock (Rick Roemer) who is Mora’s surrogate father and Madam Romanovitch, the fortune teller. Johnny is not deterred, but does he finally get the mermaid? It’s complicated, as love often is.
In addition to their good looks, Martinez and Dunn have enormous voices that are well suited for this score (Taylor Tash/Nathania Wibowo) that can move from hauntingly beautiful to lively beach blanket bingo-like tunes. The energetic ensemble cast consisting of hot bodied Odd Sam (Josh Sassanella), Stormy (Kissy Simmons) and Rocky (Ya Han Chang) keep popping up everywhere for no apparent reason. It not only adds wholesome fun, but they meticulously carry out spirited and bubbling dance moves under the articulate Direction and Choreography of Luis Villabon, who brings a plethora of Broadway experience that is not lost here. The set is clever and imaginative using wheeled picture panels that take you from beach to board walk.
Delivery and timing are critical to this type of comedy, and there was an off moment or two, but overall a very enjoyable cute-sical. Renamed “My Girlfriend the Homicidal Mermaid” it's an off-broadway cult classic in the making.
The Fourth Messenger
Musical, Mystical, drama
Buddha Legend and lore are the roots to this mystical musical with a modern day twist written by Tanya Shaffer and directed by Matt August.
Raina (Samia Mounts) is an intern at a struggling magazine. She is having an affair with her older married boss Sam (Alan Gillespie). Raina has a big idea of for story that will uncover hidden truths of a world renowned Guru who goes by the name of Momma Sid (Nancy Anderson). Sam reluctantly agrees to let Raina attend the Momma Sid retreat in Newfoundland to try to uncover the secrets that she is hiding. Raina questions the other students, unlocking small bits of information and finally gets and audience with Sid, and from there the story of Sid unfolds and the four messengers of sickness, age, death and light are revealed in series of flashbacks. Sid recalls her life’s experience of struggle, love and spirituality and the search for enlightenment. In a surprise and dramatic ending the truth is revealed for Sid and Raina. It’s a moment of great satisfaction for both them and the audience. Talk about the ‘elephant in the room’? There really is one. A big white one.
The score (Tanya Shaffer & Vienna Teng) is hypnotic with beautiful duets. This high caliber cast delivered every note with great skill. The set was soft and flowing using a lot of large silks that flowed in every direction. The use of shadows added beauty and mystique, as did the delicate movements (Natalie Malotke). Nancy Anderson is luminescent in her role as Sid, as is her voice. She comes with many credits including the recent producton of Sunset Boulevard where she was the Norma Desmond understudy for Glenn Close. Samia Mounts glows on the stage, and sings and acts with precision. The entire ensembles cast worked in unison to make this a flowing and harmonious production. I hope we all get to share in the secret and see this one take the big stage.