Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rest of the Fest

This week I caught 4 more NYMF shows. One of them, Punk Princess (books and lyrics by Yasmine Lever, music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald), was part of the developmental series. Since I don't think it would be fair to review the first reading of a musical, I will only be discussing Academy, F#@king Up Everything, and Street Lights.

All musicals at NYMF are still essentially in the developmental stages and I don't expect perfection. Of the musicals I saw (a small percentage of what was offered), all could go on to other venues in their exact incarnations and be just as good as other musicals playing around the city, but that would be stopping short of their full potential.

F#@king Up Everything had the strongest book, written by Sam Forman and David Eric Davis, who also wrote the music and lyrics. It's a fairly simple story--dorky guy falls in love with beautiful girl and a series of misunderstandings take place leading up to the inevitable happy ending--but it has enough quirks to make it a fresh take on the romantic comedy. Christian Mohammed Schwartzelberg (a very funny Noah Weisberg) is a puppeteer who performs for children, but his puppets (designed by David Valentine) are modeled on figures such as Noam Chomsky and Robert Smith (lead singer of The Cure). Not since Avenue Q have puppets been this amusing. A highlight of the indie rock score, befitting the Williamsburg setting, is "Something I Just Like About You," sung by Christian and his love interest Juliana (Kate Rockwell), where they adorably list the things they like, including each other. Adding to the fun of the evening is Danny Mefford's highly inventive choreography. Though the title implies an adult musical, overall it's tamer than you might expect. Not that this is a musical for children--one of the songs is called "Arielle's Areolas" (the weakest song in the show)--but it is inoffensive enough to reach a wide audience.

Academy and Street Lights (and The Cure, which I reviewed here), had very strong scores that were slightly brought down by their books. It's interesting that in all of these cases, the books, music, and lyrics were written by the same person. It seems in musical theater in general that an especially good book is hard to come by. Maybe that's because it's easy to overlook book problems with a strong score, but nobody really wants to see a musical if the music sucks. This may be a topic worth exploring in greater detail and I'd be curious to hear other thoughts on this, but for now, back to NYMF.

In Academy
(conceived by Andrew Cato, written by John Mercurio), two seniors, Amory (Corey Boardman) and Michael (Wilson Bridges) make a bet about whether or not Benji (a very over-the-top and jittery Steven Kane) will break the rules to survive his freshmen year at St. Edward's Academy. It is inspired by Goethe's Faust, which we know by the constant references to it (Benji is actually playing Faust in the school play). Also beaten over our heads is the fact that all the boys have issues with their father. There are several elements in the plot that just seem unbelievable, such as a student plagiarizing Ralph Waldo Emerson for a college admissions essay and not getting caught. There are nine students in total and most of the play reveals around the main three, but we get glimpses into the others in the songs--one of them has a nightlight, one of them likes to wear mascara--and I'd love to see more of them, especially when played by such a talented cast. Getting rid of some of the repetitive elements could allow for this. Any problems with the story end up seeming minor because the score so effective. The music is full of beautiful harmonies and the lyrics are often clever and reveal a lot about the boys' insecurities.

I already wrote about the score of Street Lights in the post below. Overall, this show is in great shape, but it could benefit from a few rewrites before heading to San Diego. Monique (Carla Duren) and her brother Rocky (Kevin Curtis) want to get out of their neighborhood in Harlem where shootings are commonplace. She wants to be a singer and he wants to get into a good college and eventually become a lawyer. Their school's music program is about to be cut and their friend X-Ray (Chad Carstarphen) leads them and the other students in a fight to save it. It's not that I didn't care about the story, but the musical numbers have so much energy, that it's no wonder the pace drags a bit in between. Most of the focus ends up falling on Monique and her love interest Damon (Miguel Jarquin-Moreland) in a believable courtship (except when her grandmother catches him shirtless in her room and barely bats an eyelash), so the rest of the other characters fall to the wayside. Rocky is an appealing character, especially as played by Curtis, but after his number "Georgetown," he is offstage for far too long. The character of Mr. Kinney (Jim Stanek) the music teacher never quite works. He is conflicted in that he wants to help his students, but doesn't want to jeopardize future jobs, but his mood swings were too intense and confusing. The biggest mystery is X-Ray (Chad Carstarphen), who we don't know much about except that he can find music in anything, including the sounds of the doors closing on the subway. The same could be said of composer Joe Drymala, who I expect to see more of in the future, along with Carla Duren, a star in the making.


Esther said...

I didn't realize it until I checked the Street Lights web site, but I saw Carla Duren in Roundabout's 110 in the Shade. And she was terrific in a smallish role. Very funny and memorable. Sorry I didn't get to see Street Lights but hopefully it'll keep getting developed.

Linda said...

I loved that production of 110 in the Shade. Carla Duren was very funny in it, but I didn't know she had such a powerful voice. I remember her being very silly and girly in 110 in the Shade.