Monday, July 27, 2015

The 2nd Annual Mikey Awards- NYMF 2015 Edition

For the first time, I was able to catch all the full productions at NYMF! It was a truly exciting experience watching the growth of some potential future hits. While NYMF has their own set of awards, I want to honor some of my picks of the 2015 festival with The Mikey Award! In each category, I have selected one "winner" and four honorable mentions. Some of the choices were obvious and easy. Pairing down some categories was much harder. While The Mikey may not mean much of anything, it's my way of saying congratulations. First, here are the 22 shows that were in the running:


  • 210 Amlent Avenue
  • Acappella
  • Claudio Quest
  • Deep Love
  • Foolerie
  • HeadVoice
  • Held Momentarily
  • Manuel Versus the Statue of Liberty
  • Moses Man
  • Napoleon
  • Passing By
  • Pope! An Epic Musical
  • Real Men, a musical for guys and the women who put up with them
  • Single Wide
  • Songs for the Fallen
  • Spot On the Wall
  • Summer Valley Fair
  • The Calico Buffalo
  • The Cobalteans
  • Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera
  • Wearing Black
  • What Do Critics Know?

THE AWARDS


Outstanding Musical- Single Wide

Honorable Mentions- Claudio Quest, Songs for the Fallen, Spot on the Wall, Summer Valley Fair

When it comes to musical theater, characters tend to be larger than life. But those rare occurrences where there's a musical about real, truthful people, that's when it gets magical. Single Wide is the full package. An incredible country score. A brilliant book with honest characters. And a company of actors who offered shining performances. There is such promise and hope in this musical that I am excited to see where it goes next.

Outstanding Actor- Ethan Slater (Claudio Quest)

Honorable Mentions- Doug Clemons (Passing By), Oliver Thornton (Moses Man), Robert Hager (Spot On the Wall), Sam Bolen (Pope! An Epic Musical)

When Claudio Quest begins, you're introduced to Luis, aka player number 2, and you think you're watching a great supporting character. Until a twist of fate is thrown in and Luis becomes the hero. Ethan Slater rose to the occasion offering a spectacular performance seamlessly transforming from sidekick to superstar. Slater has a pure vocal talent that will lead him to musical theater glory. Watch out for him.

Outstanding Actress- Sheridan Harbridge (Songs for the Fallen)

Honorable Mentions- Emma Stratton (Single Wide), Madison Stratton (Spot On the Wall), Shakina Nayfack (Manuel Versus the Statue of Liberty), Tracy McDowell (Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera)

Sheridan Harbridge is destined to be a megastar. Harbridge offers a tour de force performance in Songs for the Fallen. The Aussie gives Marie Duplessis a brilliant personality and manages to fascinate from curtain to curtain. Not only has she found her Hedwig, it's vehicle that could make her a legend.

Outstanding Supporting Actor- Jason Edward Cook (Pope! An Epic Musical)

Honorable Mentions- Andre Ward (Claudio Quest), Matthew Miner (Single Wide), Max Wilcox (The Calico Buffalo), Ryan Knowles (What Do Critics Know?)

Being a supporting character in a story rarely gives you the opportunity to be a star but it was Jason Edward Cook who stole the show in Pope! An Epic Musical. As Duncan the geek chic goofy henchman, Cook showed off his incredible comedic chops as well as creating a hilarious character. Put a spotlight on stage and Cook will be sure to find it.


Outstanding Supporting Actress- Jacqueline Petroccia (Single Wide)

Honorable Mentions- Katie Emerson (HeadVoice), Lindsey Brett Carothers (Claudio Quest), Liz McCartney (Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera), Olivia Polci (Foolerie)

As Flossy the floosy bad girl, Jacqueline Petroccia won the day even when she was being a jealous bitch. And it's all thanks to the brilliant performance and radio ready vocals of Peteoccua. Her rich tone is tender when it needs to be and sassy brassy when Flossy puts on a show. It's hard to imagine Single Wide without her. Expect big things in her future.


Outstanding Ensemble- Claudio Quest 

Honorable Mentions- Pope! An Epic Musical, Summer Valley Fair, The Cobalteans, What Do Critics Know?

From top to bottom, the ensemble of Claudio Quest was strong. From the bros to the princess to the ensemble players with the brilliant bits, this was a top notch bunch. Filled with triple threats, these kids turned on the fun. When you have a strong company of actors, it can make any material shine bright.




Outstanding Director- Jeff Whiting (Single Wide)

Honorable Mentions- Charlie Johnson (HeadVoice), Craig J. George (The Calico Buffalo), John Tartaglia (Claudio Quest), Taylor Norton (Summer Valley Fair)

With such prime material, Jeff Whiting made bringing Single Wide to life look easy. Whiting guided his company in capturing these stunning true characters. Whiting allowed the actors to discover that trailer trash isn't a negative connotation, it's just an unfortunate circumstance to live in.


Outstanding Score- Jordan Kamalu (Single Wide)

Honorable Mentions- Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet (Claudio Quest), Ethan Andersen (HeadVoice), Kevin Jaeger and Alex Mitchell (Spot On the Wall), Patrick Thompson (Passing By)

NYMF was filled with such extraordinary scores this year that picking just one was hard. But basically what it came down to is being able to remember the music after leaving the theater and the desire to want to listen to the score from top to bottom. Jordan Kamalu's contemporary country score did both.  If Single Wide doesn't receive the life it deserves, Kamalu should send his demos, with Petroccia as lead vocals, to Nashville to write for some country superstars.


Outstanding Book- George D. Nelson (Single Wide)

Honorable Mentions- Dylan Frederick (Summer Valley Fair), Justin Moran (Pope! An Epic Musical), Kevin Jaeger (Spot On the Wall), Sheridan Harbridge (Songs for the Fallen)

This season proved the struggles of writing a strong libretto but it was George D. Nelson's characters that captured the attention. From mothers who want nothing but the best from their children to a man struggling with coping with life post war, these people were rich and filled with promise.

Outstanding Overall Design- Claudio Quest

Honorable Mentions- Foolerie, Pope! An Epic Musical, Songs for the Fallen, The Calico Buffalo

To make this show work, the audience needed to be transported straight into the video game. And this design team did just that! The costumes by Leon Dobkowski were bright and playful. The set and props by Timothy R. Mackabee were loving rip-offs of Mario Bros. But what defined this show was the puppet design by Michael Schupbach and The Puppet Kitchen. The personality they had added extra lives to the show. But one was was most definitely taken away for the waste of Y.


Outstanding Orchestrations- Alan Schmuckler (Single Wide)

Honorable Mentions- Alex Mitchell and Mike Rosengarten (Spot On the Wall), Basil Hogios (Songs for the Fallen), Ben Matthews (Deep Love), Jordan Ross Weinhold (The Cobalteans)

I will make a confession. The first time I heard a song from Single Wide was at New World Plaza where Stacia Fernandez sang Amanda's big number. It was performed using just a keyboard. It was mediocre. But listening to the score in production, the wonders that Alan Schmuckler brought to Jordan Kamalu's is incredible. It's true, you can't do country music without a guitar. And the intricacies Schmuckler brought are astounding. He added flavor to Kamalu's music and made it even stronger.


Outstanding Choreography- Ray Mercer (Deep Love)

Honorable Mentions- Allicia Lawson (Spot On the Wall), Billy Sprague Jr. (The Calico Buffalo), Jeff Whiting (Single Wide), Marc Kimelman (Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera)

Deep Love had its issues in plot but the strongest aspect of the entire production was Ray Mercer's beautiful choreography. Mercy's ghostly company brought a new life to this piece. And he was also gifted with some amazing dancers. What happens next with Deep Love is a mystery but a concert style performance with Mercer's choreographer would be stunning.

Outstanding Artwork- Songs for the Fallen 

Honorable Mentions- Claudio Quest, Napoleon, Passing By, Pope! An Epic Musical

Selling a show is essential for getting butts in the seats. An eye-catching logo is how to physically sell your show. It not only needs to represent it well, it needs to look great. From colors to font to image to complexity, the logo has potential to represent the show forever. Instant recognition. The strongest logo that represented the show best goes to Songs for the Fallen. The pink is flashy. The font marries the periods. And the image is filled with as much intrigue as Marie Duplessis.

Unsung Hero Award- Alex Goley (Claudio Quest)

Honorable Mentions- Anthony Chan (Manuel Versus the Statue of Liberty), Jack Mosbacher (Napoleon), Joanne Borts (Moses Man), Ryan Speakman (Napolean AND Moses Man)

This is an award to honor the best member of the ensemble or chorus. The person who goes all out and stands out in the crowd in all the right ways. To get exit applause as a member of the ensemble takes talent. And Alex Goley expertly did so. Though he played an assortment of roles in Claudio Quest, it was his bits as the ignored instruction-giving Eggplant turned psycho that generated some of the shows largest laughs.





Band Geek Award- Songs for the Fallen

Honorable Mentions- Acappella, Deep Love, Spot On the Wall, Summer Valley Fair

So Basil Hogios wrote some amazing music for Songs for the Fallen but watching him as the one man band harmoniously in sync with Sheridan Harbridge was incredible. From dropping beats on the computer to playing drums and keyboard and accordion, Hogios did it all.


Most Likely Future Audition Song Award: Girls- “Overdue” (Single Wide)

Honorable Mentions- “So Smile” (Spot On the Wall), “Super Fish” (Claudio Quest), “Tickle My Iv’ries” (HeadVoice), “Watch Your Back” (Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera)

Though this wasn't Katy's big number in Single Wide (that number has some lyrical woes currently), Katy's "I Want" song has a universal message and the ability to show off some big notes. Emma Stratton made the number hit home.


Most Likely Future Audition Song: Boys- “Contender” (Manuel Versus the Statue of Liberty)

Honorable Mentions- “Don’t Wait” (Spot On the Wall), “I Won’t Disappear” (Moses Man), “Player Number 2” (Claudio Quest), “Wait a Minute” (Held Momentarily)

"Contender" is certainly a contender for audition and cabaret material. The song is such a wonderful pop number that blends a little hip hop into the fold. And the lyrics are quite powerful. Though not all the notes fit his voice, this song was Gil Perez-Abraham's big moment.


Song of the Festival Award- "Broadway" (What Do Critics Know)

Honorable Mentions- “Get Out of Your Head” (HeadVoice), “The Dream Within” (Napoleon), “The World Revolves Around Me” (Single Wide), “When I Scream” (The Cobalteans)

I approached this award in two ways. First, what songs wouldn't leave my head? And second, if NYMF were to make a promotional video for the festival and could use any song as the backing, what would it be? How could it not be "Broadway" from What Do Critics Know?! The song captures the hearts of every artist. And it happens to be a catchy little number.


Next Stop Broadway Award- Claudio Quest

Honorable Mentions- Pope! An Epic Musical, Single Wide, Songs for the Fallen, What Do Critics Know?

This award is a little different from Outstanding Musical. This is to honor the production that is most marketable for a commercial run. And without a doubt, Claudio Quest tops that list. It is a seat filler show with great numbers, a fun story, and the gamer draw. Expect to see it again soon.





So there it is! Congratulations to everyone involved in this year's NYMF! It's such an exciting time for new work and I'm so glad we get to celebrate it.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: An Ode to the Critic and the Classics

What Do Critics Know? A lot actually. Now that we've established that, the musical of the same question by Matthew Gurren and James Campodonico is an homage to the classics. A musical for insiders, What Do Critics Know? is a comedy about three prominent critics trying to put on a Broadway musical.
What Do Critics Know? is a low-fat musical. It has the appearance of a glitzy classic, it’s just missing everything that makes it full. The story follows Nathan, a constantly critically panned writer, who catches a big break when three prominent theater critics, inspired by some real life ones, are forced to put on a Broadway smash of their own. Set during Broadway’s Golden Age, What Do Critics Know? is like the offspring of The Producers and Curtains. The plot is cute. The script is filled with loving nods to theater and the famous people who make it. The musical comedy would have fit right at home in the time that inspired it. But as far as something fresh and new? What Do Critics Know? is anything but. The characters created by Matthew Gurren are cookie-cutter, and it works for this piece. They aren’t complex. They follow the basic musical comedy recipe. You have a simple leading man who just wants to win the girl, and save his career. You have the former flame who turned into the leading man’s opposition. You have the understudy who latches on to the leading man making the former flame jealous. And yet this love triangle still seemed contrived. It’s partially due to the timing of the love introductions. The first part of the first act is focused so much on the demise of Nathan and the plotline of the critics’ musical that it’s quite late that we learn that dancer turned critic Irma was Nathan’s ex. But hey, every musical comedy needs a love story. Some of the strongest characters Gurren fashioned happened to be the comic reliefs. Chester and Brad, the critics from the Times and Post respectively, are complete parodies of notable writers at both papers. And for that, they’re brilliant. Chester loves his long-winded rants while Brad just loves to gossip, and chorus boys. Because they’re so recognizable, it elevates the comedy. But that theory doesn’t quite work with the other pair of familiar names. Without spoiling too much, Chester, Brad, and Irma desperately seek out writers to write their show. What they get are Shakespeare and Bach. But not exactly them. They happen to be Ren Faire actors hired to take on the personas. Which leads to many comedic mishaps. Don’t get me wrong, they were audience favorites, but there was something so unfunny about this device that never ended. Overall, most of the plot mishaps occur during the messy second act. To match the fun, colorful classic style, the score by Gurren and James Campodonico rivals those of the Golden Age. Gurren and Campodonico give us tender ballads, show stopping production numbers, and tunes that will get stuck in your head. But unless you’re longing for this style of musical, the score is simply dated.
photo by Nick Tighe
To bring What Do Critics Know? to the stage, a company of well-rounded performers took command. As Nathan, Chris Gleim is the essence of classic Broadway. The musical style is clearly in Gleim’s wheelhouse. Gleim makes you nostalgic from the roles of yore. Mary Mossberg as Irma has such charm as the woman who gave up her dream. Mossberg's pure vocal, like Gleim, fits this score beautifully. Musical comedy requires actors who can sing and know how to be funny. Thankfully, Ryan Knowles and Prescott Seymour went above and beyond. As Chester and Brad respectively, Knowles and Seymour were the perfect comedic duo. They played off one another so well, you would think they had been doing it for years. You almost wish they weren’t upstaged by those buffoons Shakespeare und Bach. A musical like this needs a great chorus. And they got just that. Though they played many bit parts, Lindsay Bayer, Sean Bell, Kaitlyn Frank, and Danny Harris Kornfeld made the chorus equally as important. And deserve to be recoginized.
What Do Critics Know? isn’t making history. It’s meant to entertain. When it comes to getting the audience to smile and have a great time, director Michael Bello did just that. Bello allowed his actors to create characters that were fun and larger-than-life, though the ladies were a bit reserved as a whole. Bello let the physical comedy to take shape naturally. But you can’t have a musical like this without thrilling choreography. Choreographer Justin Boccito made his small ensemble perform as it were tripled. Boccito made the small stage look like a mammoth Broadway house. Scenic designer Anne Sherer tapped into her creative side when it came to the road boxes. The boxes doubled as many scenic pieces but the execution of the stickers on the side were just a disappointment. It was so nice seeing classic show logos but whether it was glue or paint, the halo around each made it look schlocky. The period costumes by Christopher Vergara fit the time but it was a bit of a bummer to have them be so bland in color. A little more pop of color would have matched the style of the show.
What Do Critics Know? brings the nostalgia factor. It reminds us all why we love musical theater. But in an age of desiring something fresh, What Do Critics Know? will soon be forgotten. This show is for the nostalgia seekers, and that’s about it.

Review: Thin Love

We will do anything for love and the ones we love. Even if it resorts to following a love to the grave. And then meeting a new love who's already loved but love knows no bounds. That's essentially the plot of the rock opera Deep Love. With music and lyrics by Garrett Sherwood and Ryan Hayes and a book by Sherwood, Hayes, and Jon Peter Lewis, Deep Love is a confused rock opera that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Deep Love is a sung through musical that follows a box of love. A box is love is a term used when all four characters in a show are involved in the sole love plot line. And it doesn't get much deeper than that. The story is super thin. In fact, you may have to ask your neighbor what exactly is going on. With the sing through style of the show, clarity of plot is essential in the lyrics. While some of the lyrics were absolutely beautiful, there were some moments it didn't alter the plot, stopping any momentum the story had going. The characters are simple and lack originality through arc. You could essentially compare Deep Love to The Phantom of the Opera. Scary skeleton dude stalks young ingénue. Ingénue meets hunky guy. Hunky guy falls for ingénue. The only addition to this story is hunky guy is already attached to axe-wielding hot girl with pipes of epic proportions. What's interesting about Deep Love is it began as a concert and it may actually be better suited as one. Or a concept album. Or even a dance piece. The storytelling is too weak to carry the show as is. The music by Sherwood and Hayes has a unique sound. Blending rock, jazz, folk, and pop, the score of Deep Love has some radio worthy numbers. And a capable quartet to belt them.
photo by Jeremy Daniel
Jon Peter Lewis is best known for his appearances on “American Idol” and “The Voice”, but Deep Love showed off the place where his vocals sit the best. As Old Bones, Lewis has a natural theatrical tone that showcased his mature sound effortlessly. Lewis had a presence on stage that allowed him shine bright. Screlting songtress Amy Whitcomb as Florence tour the roof off of the theater. Whitcomb’s vocal acrobatics were something you have to hear to believe. She is a powerhouse vocalist, doing things very few can imagine achieving. Garrett Sherwood as Friedrich is not much of an actor. In fact there was very little acting going on. Sherwood is a musician. He has the vocal grit of Chad Kroeger. It’s a unique tone for the stage. He also happens to look like a mash-up of Kroeger and Kenny G with those curly locks. While it’s clear that this piece was written for his voice, moving forward, bringing in an actor who can sing to play Friedrich may be the stronger option. As Constance, Melanie Stone was lost. Stone doesn’t have the vocal prowess as the others and had the blandest role in the show.
With very little clarity, Deep Love needed a keen eye to guide what story was present. With Michael Rader and Jon Peter Lewis taking a stab at directing, things were just not clean. What did save the show though was the exquisite choreography by Ray Mercer. Mercer made the simplest of lyrical dance look striking. Decked out in a ghostly ensemble by Bree Perry, the five-piece dance troupe added palpable energy to the production. As a whole, the costume design by Perry looked stunning. Though time was lost in this world, the old meets new was a good look. The scenic design by David Goldstein did something that no other NYMF show did and that was utilize the scrim. Adding the cutout brought a new dynamic to the piece. With lights on the miniature light posts and gel on the windows of the miniature homes, Goldstein and lighting designer Braden Howard’s design was unified and vibrant. A special recognition should be given to Ariel LaFontaine for her brilliant make up design. Her work on Jon Peter Lewis gave Old Bones a necessary personality.
No matter where this show goes from here, Deep Love is destined to be a cult classic. It all will depend on deciding the proper way to share the music. And a dance narrative may be it.

Spotlight On...Knud Adams

Name: Knud Adams (That’s pronounced like Canoe with a T and spelled like Dunk backwards.)

Hometown: We moved around a bunch: It was Denver, Berkley, France, Berkley, England, France, Scotland, and Cincinnati, in that order.

Education: After graduating Kenyon College, I spent four years assisting my favorite directors in New York. Before all that, growing up abroad, my mother dragged my five siblings and me to almost every art museum in Western Europe. Some days we would even get to skip school to go museum hopping. Discovering that she was an Impressionist and I was an Abstract Expressionist was my first act of independence, and I still love to reference paintings in my design process. That was an education.

Favorite Credits: That’s impossible! I don’t even like the word. But I’m most proud of the brilliant writers I’ve been working with lately, young geniuses such as Sam Alper, Will Arbery, Eliza Bent, Nick Jones, Jason Kim, Max Posner, Amelia Roper, Jenny Schwartz, Torrey Townsend, and now Carl Holder.

Why theater?: I love an underdog.

Tell us about An Intimate Evening With Typhoid Mary: This marvelously strange play is about a young man in a hospital dying from a horrific unnamed disease. In his fevered delirium, he imagines himself performing a cabaret act, channeling the historical figure Typhoid Mary. The play is about an artist’s impulse to rage against death with creation and about how to make the most of a sticky situation. We have an eclectic cast of bad-asses: Carl Holder, Peter Mills Weiss, Justin Kuritzkes, Celine Song, and Claire Siebers.

What inspired you to direct An Intimate Evening With Typhoid Mary?: Reed Birney introduced me to Carl and this play, so he is our official matchmaker and patron saint. I was immediately taken by the complexity and fearlessness of Carl’s writing, especially the way he combines tremendous flights of fantasy with the raw sincerity of personal experience.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love plays that capture authentic human experiences pushing against radical theatrical forms. In my own work, I take inspiration from the film directors Kubrick, Malle, and Haneke, as well as the world-class theater directors I’ve been lucky to assist, including André Gregory, Elizabeth LeCompte, Richard Foreman, Sam Gold, and Sarah Benson.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Literally Tilda Swinton.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Recently, 10 out of 12 and The Flick.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Six people would play different interpretations of me, as in "I’m Not There": Andrew Scott, Ben Whishaw, Dane Dehaan, Richard Ayoade, Ian Mckellen, and Greta Gerwig. It would be stuck in development and currently untitled.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall or The Rite of Spring or the Moscow Art Theatre’s Uncle Vanya.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: The high fantasy novels of Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: A photographer, a young adult novelist, or the Chief of Staff.

What’s up next?: After Mary, I’ll be directing Snore by Max Posner at Julliard. It’s the opposite of this and also wonderful.

For more on Knud, visit www.knudadams.com. For more of An Intimate Evening With Typhoid Mary, visit www.MARYMARYMARY.net

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Sheridan's "Hedwig"

Have you ever walked into a show with no knowledge of what you’re about to see only to be blown away after mere moments and realizing you’re witnessed theater history? That is Songs for the Fallen. Written by Basil Hogios and Sheridan Harbridge and performed in a star-making performance by Harbridge, Songs for the Fallen is a bawdy baroque cabaret biography musical about Marie Duplessis, the French courtesan who inspired literary characters for ages.
Presented as a larger than life cabaret wonderfully blending 19th century style with modern beats, Songs for the Fallen is an in-your-face journey through the loves of Marie Duplessis and the battle within. Duplessis, the inspiration for the character in The Lady of the Camellias and La Traviata and "Moulin Rogue", was a lady of high expense and lots and lots of lovers. And Harbridge isn’t bashful about telling you of her exploits. The way Harbridge goes about telling this story is by shamelessly breaking the fourth wall, blending self with character, and keeping you engaged with eccentric comedy and moments of despair. It’s evident Harbridge has done her homework. She’s seen every possible piece on the woman and the characters she inspired. She even gives loving nods to Nicole Kidman. And with such an attention to detail, the character Harbridge has created is nothing short of brilliant. It’s part truth, part character. And it works. Harbridge is a superstar. Like John Cameron Mitchell, Sheridan Harbridge has given the world her Hedwig and the Angry Inch. She has written a star vehicle she deserves to shine in. Harbridge has the vocal talents of a pop star and the presence of a diva. The only thing Harbridge doesn’t have, yet, is the name. But give it time, Harbridge has the power to be a household name. What also makes this piece special is the score by Basil Hogios and Harbridge. The music unites pop with glamor and a tinge reminiscent of Duplessis’ time. And the lyrics are biting. The songs live harmoniously as one but easily could be given to a pop artist like Lady Gaga. In fact, this musical is a perfect show for the pop diva, after Harbridge is ready to pass on the baton of course. Like Hedwig, Songs for the Fallen is a solo show with an ensemble. Songs for the Fallen thrives with the outstanding duo of Simon Corfield and Garth Holcombe who serve as all the lover and Alexandre Dumas, respectively.
photo by Al Foote III
There’s something glorious about seeing a well-polished show in a setting like this. There is a clear marketable objective in Songs for the Fallen. And it is all thanks to director Shane Anthony and his dynamic artistic team. The entire design is carefully detailed and executed. The scenic design by Michael Hankin is flawless. The bed that serves as Harbridge’s home base is luxurious and fit for a diva like Marie. The lighting by Alex Berlage is rock concert chic. While it’s certainly possible that Berlage played a game of light board roulette to master the looks, they certainly paid off. And the image of dying Marie with the entire theater engulfed in red was spellbinding. Each song and moment had it's own special look. Even the way Berlage captured the feathers floating around the stage was stunning. The costumes by Lisa Mimmocchi fit the world of the musical. It blended the times wonderfully and even included some stereotypical jokes. As the one man band, Basil Hogios holds down the fort as he drops beats and masters the squeezebox. Hogios is just as an important player to Harbridge as this show is all in the timing.
Songs for the Fallen is an experience that needs to be had. Sheridan Harbridge needs to showcase her talents on a global level and bring this show to the masses. What she and her team have going for her is the affinity of the character. Songs for the Fallen gives us the truth in such a sharp and provocative manner that is revitalizing. The men get Hedwig. The women get Songs for the Fallen.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Not One To Pass On

Love. It knows no age. From middle school crushes to full- fledged romances, watching love blossom can be a beautiful thing. In Passing By, an understated new musical by Patrick Thompson, the romance of Jenny and Edison are chronicled as the seasons pass by and time floats on.
Told through almost simultaneous parallel stories, Passing By tells the tale of boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl conflict, boy and girl depart, and boy and girl realize that they are true soul mates. With a Wisconsin farm as the backdrop, Passing By is not be a new story but it's something beautiful to watch. Thompson captures the essence of young love. We get to watch Jenny and Edison's journey as both kids and young adults. While age does cause some conflict to feel minimal, the story is accessible and timeless. Thompson's book isn't perfect. In fact, it's varied. Thompson's structure goes from book musical to suddenly abandon dialogue to make way for a song cycle style. Deciding which journey tells the stronger story is key. Passing By could use from trimming and become a single act piece. And also could benefit from strengthen the second half. Everyone loves a happy ending, except when it's schlocky. Love is ambiguous. And so should the ending. While the book needs work, the score does not. It's quite incredible actually. Thompson's music is intricate and purposeful. It's difficult but not overt. The way he changes time signatures within songs is beautifully subtle yet clear.
Unlike some other NYMF offerings, Passing By features a completely out of town cast. It's a giant risk that paid off pretty well. As Edison, Doug Clemons has all the qualities of an endearing romantic leading man. With a strong vocal and boundless charm, Clemons only has to smile to say a thousand words. Doug Clemons may be a Wisconsin local but he could be a star in New York. As Jenny, Sally Staats took a very passive approach. She was laid back and could have used a bit more bite in her fight. The majority of Thompson’s music fit well in her voice except when it hit her upper register. To play the younger versions of Jenny and Ediston, Harper Navin and Benjamin Usatinsky did a mighty fine job. Navin and Usatinsky are both youthful actors but some of their choices were big, bold, and beautiful.
To bring this musical to life, Patrick Thompson does everything. As the writer, he also takes on the director chair as well as scenic designer in addition to music director and pianist. For the most part, Thompson did a good fine carrying the weight of the entire production but for the future, taking a step back as director would be a strong decision. Stuck at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, a space that’s not too conducive for a well staged musical, Thompson didn’t quite have options to explore. Limitations aside, there was room to build. The sole scenic element was a storybook-esque structure that featured the same tree through each season. It was a clever touch for this space.
Passing By is a show that may be trumped by the larger scale productions of the festival, but it certainly should not be forgotten. Patrick Thompson is a promising writer and Passing By has the potential for greatness. Cross your fingers the right eyes saw the promise in this beautiful musical.

Review: Stalled Storytelling

MTA. It’s three letters that terrify New Yorkers. The three most untrustworthy letters known to man is how New Yorkers get around. But it’s the subway that you’re bound to experience some sort of issue. So why set a musical in a subway car? Because it’s instant drama! In Oliver Houser’s Held Momentarily, a subway train stalls underground and the people on board are forced to come together when one is about to offer the miracle of life.
This is not a musical for the anxious. Held Momentarily is a claustrophobic musical about a subway that is held momentarily and the random acts of kindness that rarely occur. Houser’s story may be one of the most truthful tales because the reality of stalled cars is an all too real reality. But after that, the characters are a bit contrived and the plot is a bit thin. Held Momentarily is an ensemble driven musical but there are some characters who serve a purpose and others who are present for the sound. Once the train is stalled, we watch the forced conversation between culprits of a bad date, Greg and Mindy, birthday boy Stan who is on his way to see his cheating boyfriend, pregnant Sam, who like Stan, finds herself in an abusive relationship, Liam who suffers from med school PTSD, soulful Asherah, the resident homeless woman, and Cal who is present just to present a conflict. Interactions between strangers are quite interesting. Watching strangers and how they handle a scary situation is mesmerizing. But there was little substance in this specific situation. Houser’s book seemed stalled itseslf. With nowhere to truly go, the flashback device was the only way to get any character development. Houser’s score surprisingly has a dated tone to it. It has the sound of a early 90s musical. It’s clear that William Finn was an influential voice to Houser. The music had feeling and passion but at the end of the day, you leave the theater remembering very few of them, if any. Though you may remember “One Lurch” due to the lyric Lurch and not having anything to do with “The Addams Family” character.
The ensemble was filled with some wonderful character actors. As Sam, Yael Rizowy not only has an incredible voice, she created a well-rounded character. She was genuine and relatable. Of all the characters, Rizowy is filled with such hope and beauty. One of the most surprising performances came from Ciaran Bowling as Liam. He was a bit young for the part but he broke out with his number “Wait a Minute”. It’s unfortunate that after his breakdown he was forced into the fetal position, perhaps a too on-point metaphor. As the homeless woman, India Carney had some opportunities to show why she was a top contender on “The Voice”. Carney put on a character but the style of music Houser asked her to belt didn’t seem to fit in her vocal wheelhouse. But it did make you want to hear her belt out “Summertime.” Oliver Houser as Cal looked sharp as the token asshole on the train. But Cal had the least to do and could easily be removed and still tell the same story.
With a very basic story to manage, director Harry Shifman focused on character development and finding ways to build them up. Since the storytelling used flashbacks, Shifman needed to keep things consistent. Sadly, his staging was anything but. For some of the flashback songs, the stage would be bare sans the characters in focus. Other times, everyone would get in on the action, the more interesting choice. Had this device been utilized in this manner, a stronger narrative would have been present. One of the saddest moments of the show came when the baby was born. Or should I say undisguised doll. It's moments like that that destroy believability. The story that Houser and Shifman wanted to tell was an intimate one. It’s unfortunate that they were stuck on the least intimate of the NYMF stages. The giant PTC stage swallowed the story as the only set was a row of chairs. The lighting looks by Elijah Schreiner allowed the flashbacks to have their own feel but with such a giant stage to deal with, finding a way to confine the subway car through light could have been of great aid.
Held Momentarily is just another musical about people getting stuck on the train. Only it’s the most realistic. In it’s current form, Held Momentarily is mediocre and will easily get lost in the shuffle. At such a short running time, building up the story and characters will be essential for any hope for the future.

Review: You Got Fool'd!

When you get an idea for a show, there's instant excitement when the creation process begins. Plot gets fleshed out, characters begin to take shape, and a show is born. But what happens when ideas won't stop coming and they all get thrown together because why not? You get Foolerie.
Written by Santino DeAngelo, Foolerie, also known as Foolerie: A Shakespearean Musical Comedy, is a tale of too many ideas. First, you have the set up of a traveling band of fools performing for an audience following in the historical accuracy of performing troops. Second, you have a mashup of Shakespeare references haphazardly thrown together by said band of merry performers in hopes that audience gets the references as they will lead to cheap laughs. Third, you get an existential crisis of the artist causing ideas one and two to be extremely meta. Fourth, you have wannabe rich characters who suddenly, and without warning, develop random love plots and internal conflicts and a moment ripped right from “Star Wars”. And fifth, you have a musical! Because why not break into songs that may or may not further the lack of cohesive plot. It's as if every one of DeAngelo's thoughts fell on the ground, he picked it up way after the five second rule expired, threw it in a blender, and served us a tall glass of recycled material. It all begins with a band of players saying they're looking for a competitor for a fool-off where the loser wins death. And it is true, death is easier than comedy. Out of the contrived nature of the piece, an overdramatic kid comes down the stairs and onto the stage to battle for the king of comedy baton. And that's all the plot you really get. Clarity? Who needs it! Foolerie prides itself on the comedy aspect of the world but to be a comedy, you gotta be funny. DeAngelo offered an abundance of guttural head-shaking jokes. And most of them happened to be tasteless sex jokes. It's evident that comedic greats like Mel Brooks and Monty Python had some sort of influence on DeAngelo. Even the crude humor of Joan Rivers. But they earned their laughs. The jokes in Foolerie come when there's nothing left to say. From sex jokes to gay jokes, I suppose if someone's not offended you're not doing it right. To say the plot was lacking is an understatement. It's a bad sign when the characters reference the lack of plot and confusion. The road map of plot finds itself journeying down infinite dead ends. With a concept needing an extreme makeover, it was worrisome how the score would fair. But DeAngelo does offer some amazing numbers in the fool world. But those sappy songs about artists were duds.
photo by Lance Brown
The ensemble that comprised Foolerie were certainly team players. What they had going for them was their strong ability to become a theatrical family. As the battling fools, Ryan Breslin and Ian Knauer as Knave and Clowne may be the central characters but their arcs are lost within the play within the play. DeAngelo doesn't quite give them room to play subtext. Within the ensemble, the players got to show off their performing chops. As the kinda gay sex crazed Leanard, Patrick Massey brought versatility, despite his character's character running gag of sameness. The most surprising member of the troupe was the under-utilized powerhouse Olivia Polci. Her pipes are Broadway rafter ready. Polci was forced to play a ridiculously silly role of Shakespeare’s “half brother” yet she managed to make herself present despite the joke. The other surprise of the company was a vocal cameo from Gilbert Gottfried as the “Earl of Pearl.” Gottfried was a ticket-selling smart draw but nothing was more painful than listening to a recording of Gottfried hammer an unsavory penis joke into the skulls of the audience.
The collaboration between writer and director is essential for any hope in success. But then there are those rare cases where strong collaborators still end up producing something that doesn't work. It's clear DeAngelo and director Tralen Doler were on the same page and that page was just not the best one. Tonally, Doler seemed to go for the “laugh and they'll forget the plot" strategy. He also borrowed a few tricks from the "give ‘em a spectacle and they won't notice the problems" from the Paulus Playbook: Pippin Edition. It’s true, the overall design of Foolerie was quite possibly the best aspect of the show. It all begins with the onstage seating where you’re bound to get in on the action. And let’s be honest, the largest laugh of the night came from a moment by a good-sported NYMF patron. The way that scenic designer Jen Price Fick transformed the stage was incredible. There was great attention to detail. The costumes by Whitney Locher also allowed detail to shine. Locher’s look was a wonderful Modern Ren Faire chic. The lighting by Matthew J. Fick was colorful and diverse. Though the lenient “rules” of the world should have prevented some of the looks. But who was really paying attention to the rules.
As noted in the program, Foolerie is an example of DeAngelo's youthfulness and immaturity in this medium. There's a line late in the show after the hokiest of hokey reveals about being the fool or being fooled. I think we all got fooled on this one. And that “A Shakespearean Musical Comedy” subtitle? It’s gotta go. Unless getting audience to think they’re seeing Shakespeare is part of the fooling. Then keep it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: It's Good to Be the Pope!

The colorful comic book world has found its way on stage before. From a little orphan girl to a web-slinging spider dude, there's something about a world of color and pop that translates to musical theater. In Pope! An Epic Musical, a fictitious colorful world is concocted where a boy destined to be Pope sets out on an action adventure after the evil archbishop goes on a reign of terror. Written by Justin Moran and Christopher Pappas, Pope! An Epic Musical is campy Papal comedy.
Pope! An Epic Musical follows Pope, a young man destined to be God’s earthy voice box but when a jealous and bitter Archbishop throws Pope right in the center of a sex scandal, Pope is excommunicated and sent into the world alone. To regain his position and right the world, Pope sets out on an epic journey. With a backdrop of vibrant characters and pop culture references that are spot on, Pope! An Epic Musical leaves you wanting more. Much more. The book by Justin Moran is quite strong. He establishes larger-than-life characters that don’t try to be anything more than they are. He layers in the pop culture in a way that’s not flashy. If you get it, you laugh. If you don’t, you move right along. From “Game of Thrones” to Starbucks, nothing is off limits. The objectives the characters have are simple and attainable, no matter how farfetched the situation may be. The only thing Moran should explore is the timeline of evens. The characters make reference to events occurring 28 years earlier. But with this young ensemble, it doesn’t quite check out. The music by Christopher Pappas is poppy goodness. There are so many fun, uptempo numbers that keep your feet tapping and smiles large. With an abundance of show-stopping production numbers, there's no doubt that the spectacle can get even grander.
photo by Jeremy Daniel
Matching the big personalities was a lively and energetic company. As the titular Pope, Sam Bolen was fabulous. Bolen not only has strong comedic chops, he has a stellar pop voice that matches the character wonderfully. He’s the perfect embodiment of this super Pope. Ken Land as the archenemies Archbishop portrayed the perfect evil, maniacal, power-thirty villain. As Duncan, the scene-stealing, fun-loving henchman to Archbishop, Jason Edward Cook gave a performance to remember. He’s the full package. Cook created a brilliant character, voice and all, and made the audience fall in love. If ever there was someone who deserves a spin-off musical, it’s Cook’s Duncan.
The vision that director Peter Flynn brought worked to lift this musical from page to stage with ease. Flynn allowed the jokes to land, the sincerity to shine, and the fun to be nonstop. Flynn allowed the campy nature of the piece to resonate in all aspects of the show. The choreography by Wendy Seyb was energetic and a thrilling taste of what it could be in a large-scale production. The overall design of the show was cohesive. The costumes by Vanessa Leuck were glorious. Leuck used color to her advantage yet still honored the garments she was prescribed. It was nice to see that each bishop had their own personality through costume. The lighting by Grant Yeager was colorful and vibrant. If any design aspect could have been altered, it was the scenic design. Rob Bissinger needed to translate the two-dimensional comic book world that inspired the musical into a three-dimensional pop of wow. The church inspired drop was flat and boring compared to the personality of the show.
When a musical knows exactly what it wants to be and has already eliminated all of the fluff, it’s quite a joy to watch. Pope! An Epic Musical is heavenly fun. Will it follow in the footsteps of that musical about those Mormon boys? It’s hard to say, but you should expect Pope to get another shot.

Review: A Long Fight Ahead

Immigration has been a hot button topic for decades upon decades. And in the current climate, it seems the battle will continue to be fought for time to come. So the timing of an immigration themed musical couldn't be more perfect. In Manuel Versus The Statue of Liberty, a young Dominican man fights the battle of his life in hopes of living the American Dream.
Written by Noemi de la Puente and David Davila, Manuel Versus The Statue of Liberty is inspired by the real life saga of an illegal immigrant of great promise who, despite all odds, fights the powers of liberty in order to be a Princeton student. Infused with Latin, rock, and hip hop, de la Puente and Davila make the conceit a live-action boxing match where Manuel takes on Lady Liberty. The concept is smart. It sets the story apart but the execution of the idea pulls the musical down severely. With a blurry directorial vision and material that needs to be fleshed out even further, the libretto needs assistance. Bouncing around from repetitive boxing moments to realistic book scenes, Manuel doesn't really know what it is. de la Punete makes the factual dialogue preachy and disingenuous. But when the campy nature of the story comes in, it makes the situation easy to laugh at, something the audience will resonate with better. The one-liners prove the value of the campy style. Something that also comes across as false is the ending. Is a happy ending really the way this journey wants to go? Displaying the sad cycle of defeat may actually be stronger. Davila's music is certainly the strongest aspect of this musical. He blends the musical styles seamlessly. There are some outstanding numbers in the show but they couldn't be realized at their full potential as some if the vocals held the strength back.
To say the casting of Manuel Versus the Statue of Liberty was perfect would be a lie. Director Jose Zayas turned the piece into something that requires triple threats. What he got was some double threats at best. As the titular characters, Gil Perez-Abraham and Shakina Nayfack were killer actors. In a straight play version, their performances would be star turns. Perez-Abraham had such strong hope and passion. Nayfack is the Diva of Democracy. She certainly proved how fierce liberty personified cane be. But they both lacked the full power Davila desired in his score. Perz-Abraham as a rapper was brilliant but he struggled with the belt. The rest of the ensemble were certainly capable performers but when dancing or singing wasn't there forte, they stuck out like a sore thumb. Of everyone in the cast, the only true triple threat was Anthony Chan. Give this guy his own show!
Decisions in the director's seat caused some clarity issues. With the boxing ring conceit designed by Jason Simms taking prime focus, anything that strayed from this looked messy. Zayas and Simms kept six chairs present in front of the ropes which stylistically threw off the feel of the fight. Zayas began his staging with the ensemble remaining on stage but that concept disappeared quite quickly. With the book jumping styles, Zayas seemed to just be lost in how to present the material. Costume wise, designer Lux Haac’s shining moment was the Statue. It was gorgeous and allowed Nayfack to stand as mightily as Liberty herself.
There is promise in Manuel vs the Statue of Liberty but until it picks a singular journey, it will continue to suffer from being mediocre. Like the Statue of Liberty, give it time to settle into beauty.

Review: Gender Norms in NYC

Pairing plays to present together takes great care and attention. Why do these pieces go together in this moment in time? Is there something in one that pulls out of the other? The Seeing Place Theater presents Howard Korder’s Boys' Life and Rebecca Gilman's Boy Gets Girl in tandem. Through an opposite gender lens, these plays explore gender roles and norms as stereotypes take center stage.
First up is Korder's bromantic comedy Boys' Life. The Pulitzer nominated script of 1988 follows three aging buddies and their personal trials and tribulations of dating and romance. Director Erin Cronican pulls the script into the now yet the references are stuck in the time proving the story and characters are sadly dated.  First and foremost, this production questions how Boys' Life could have been nominated for a Pulitzer back in the day. Perhaps it was due to the approach, but the trio of men, with some exception perhaps being Phil, are despicable characters. The women are so strong that you can't understand what in their right mind would make them want to be with these immature boys let alone converse with them. The play depicts the men as vile and unredeemable. Maybe times haven't really changed.
On the flip side, Boy Gets Girl is a psychological thriller about a bad date turned stalker drama. The script also falls into the dated trap as the means of stalking nowadays has taken a drastically and terrifyingly cyber turn. Regardless of this and the Lifetime-esque plot, the script, directed by Brandon Walker, keeps you engaged, until things get repetitive. The saga follows Theresa, a writer, who goes on a blind date with a man named Tony who develops a sick obsession with her. Fearing for her safety, Theresa turns to her coworkers and the police for help. It's a tale of strength.
Boy Gets Girl. photo by Russ Rowland
Part of the mission of The Seeing Place Theater is presenting theater through “organic staging.” This is fancy for no blocking. It allows the actors to live in the moment and the audience to see something present. The theory of this method proves the dangers, and benefits, of non-concrete decisions in staging. The dangers were evident in Boys’ Life. The pacing of the piece was reminiscent of a very first stumble thru in a rehearsal room. A strong production of this script needs variety to allow the heart to land. That means there should be moments of tender sincerity placed up against fast-paced, hard-hitting comedy. But when the pace is monotonous, the slower scenes come out bland and boring. Sadly, that was the case. The emotional arc of the play was severely lacking. Whether Cronican advised her actors to hit certain spots on the stage was unclear as the in-moment staging was a nightmare. There were entire scenes where actors had their back to an entire side of the audience for an entire scene.
The performances by the nine actors were a mixed bag. With the exception of Logan Keeler as Phil, the women outperformed the men. Keeler found a genuine charm in Phil. Of the three best friends, Phil is the most mature for his age. Keeler gave a sincere performance that made him sweet and charming. The other two buddies didn’t quite match Keeler. As boorish Jack, Brandon Walker was almost unwatchable. Walker screamed his way through the play. The character is completely unsatisfactory to begin with, actively pursuing an affair to cheat on his wife, but Walker figured out a way to make him even more unsavory. As Don, Alex Witherow found himself in his underwear and in bed with a different person the majority of the play. When it came to slow momentum, Witherow was the strongest proponent of slowing the play down.
When it came to the storytelling of Boys Gets Girl, Walker shined in the director’s seat. While it certainly could have used an act break as two hours plus in a theater is long, the pacing of the thriller was brilliant. The way the mystery unfolded was breathtaking. And that is also partially do to the exquisite performance by Erin Cronican as Theresa. Cronican showed her vulnerability from start to finish, allowing you to want to see her become victorious despite the odds thrown against her. Cronican was dynamic and found a way to not be a victim. Her supporting company did a decent job shaping her journey. As her boss Howard, Einar Gunn offered a balance to the high drama situation. Brandon Walker also took on the role of coworker Mercer. Walker fell into his habits from the previous play, something that didn’t quite fit the character. Though his plotline was quite unnecessary, John D’Arcangelo as Les Kennkat had some wonderful and witty moments with Cronican. Virginia Gregory as Detective Beck made some truly interesting choices. As the detective on Theresa’s case, she needed to be her support but Gregory spent most of her time not engaging with Cronican, making little to no eye contact. It seemed drastically out of character. As far as the actors' movement on stage, everyone seemed to hit the spots with one giant exception where Daniel Michael Perez's Tony not only didn't find his light, he deliberately stayed out of the giant pool of amber.
Boys' Life. photo by Russ Rowland
From a production standpoint, both Boys’ Life and Boy Gets Girl utilized generally the same scenic pieces, rearranged differently. What both Cronican and Walker had going against them was the layout of the Clarion Theatre. With seating on two sides and the theater walls creating a zig zag, creating a multi-location set forced everything to be present on all times. Lighting designer Duane Pagano did his best to isolate the space but there was only so much he could do. To tie these worlds into the themes of the play, white panels with poorly scripted adjectives were placed in each area. It was a cool touch but the handwriting caused them to look junky. Something that could have aided both productions was a solid sound designer. While the design in Boy Gets Girl wasn’t as noticeable, the sound cues of Boys’ Life were a complete distraction. The levels were far too high, overpowering the scenes. This was ever true in the party scene and the wedding scene. And the wedding song loop kept “Dancing Queen” happen too many times and “Macarena” pull the scene from the moment.
As a pair, Boys’ Life and Boy Gets Girl offered both the good and the bad with Boy Gets Girl as the drastically stronger of the two. But regardless of the correlation of the plays, both plays show the dangers of an unstructured production.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Spotlight On...Joey Doyle

Name: Joey Doyle

Hometown: Greenwich, CT

Education: University of Notre Dame, 2015

Favorite Credits: God of Carnage (director), The Demise of the Downtown Bar Scene (director, co-writer), Servant of Two Masters (actor, Truffaldino)

Why theater?: It’s humbling. It always reminds me that a person responds best to another person, not to an idea.

Tell us about SHE: SHE is about the personal highs you can reach with someone you’re close with, and the total mystery when that’s all gone three seconds later.

What inspired you to direct SHE?: SHE is an immediate piece of theatre, in every sense. From its dialogue to its story and definitely to its setting (four bathrooms, each different yet very much the same), SHE starts strong and moves forward at a clip. Simply enough, Renée’s writing is deliberate. She doesn’t throw curveballs, and that is what inspired me. The challenge of directing a piece that doesn’t allow for wandering was scary but exciting. And the first step was setting our production site-specifically in an actual high school bathroom. The setting itself has served as inspiration for me; when you make a choice like that, the production needs to justify it. I think we’re doing that and much more.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I love all kinds of theatre, but sparse plays really speak to me. The sort of plays – or books, comics, paintings, whatever actually – that give just barely enough for me to start mentally sprinting with ideas.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: There’s no big name that I want to say. Just the next person that’d be excited to teach me. That person, and my friends that I really want to collaborate with but haven’t yet.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: It just closed, but 10 out of 12 at Soho Rep. In fact, this might coincide a bit with the sort of theatre that speaks to me. I wouldn’t call the play sparse, but it felt like it created lots of outlines and left them for me to fill in.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Joey Tribianni. It’d be called Joey’s Joey.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Is it fair to say I feel like I’m already about to miss Hamilton?

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I’ve got two. 1) The *budduhbudduhbahTINGgggg* when the word “Scandal” appears during at the start of the TV show "Scandal" and 2) jokes about "Scandal" in 2015.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Hopefully becoming a schoolteacher. Probably high school but maybe junior high. I’d be an English teacher and my lesson plans would include as many movies as possible.

What’s up next?: I’m psyched to work more with my Open Booth Theatre co-founders on our coming projects, which we’ll be very excited to share in the near future. And beyond that, Renée [Roden, writer of SHE,] and I are developing a podcast series. It's somewhere between infancy and toddlerhood right now, but we know for sure that it'll be about WiFi passwords and the guilt of accidentally destroying a close stranger's refrigerator magnet.

For more on Open Booth Theatre, visit http://www.openbooththeatre.com/

Review: A Country-Fried Smash

Everyone loves an underdog story. Rather a story about someone defying the odds. A story of hope. Though we may not see the success in the end, knowing that there will be a happy ending when the curtain falls is equally as satisfying. In what could easily be considered the underdog musical of the festival, Single Wide, with music and lyrics by Jordan Kamalu and book and additional lyrics by George D. Nelson, follows the denizens of a trailer park when a mysterious stranger finds his way into their community igniting a flurry of change.
Set in a trailer park in the south where a humdrum life is status quo, Single Wide is a story about young mother Katy who wants nothing more than to get her son Sam out of the community and the life he is destined for. When Guy, a recluse, rents the newly abandon trailer, Sam instantly forms a bond with him causing Katy to form one too after playing matchmaker. Is this stranger her someone special and Sam’s ticket out of this life? The story by George D. Nelson is an incredible examination on individuals that rarely get a real depiction. And with his strong characters, he creates incredible relationships. Single Wide is by no means The Great American Trailer Park Musical. The characters in Single Wide are real and have unbelievable depth. And that is just one of the many reasons why this show is so special. These characters may be considered “trailer trash” but they are not trashy. They are not stereotypical hicks. They are genuine people who are stuck in an unfortunate living situation. From Katy, the young mother with the young son, to her mother Amanda, who too was a young mother, to the resident hussy Flossie, these women in their own right are strong. They have a strong will to fight for what is best for them and the people around them. And then there is Guy. Guy has a secret. The reason why he is in this place in this moment. Without giving anything away because the subtle way it unfolds is beautiful, the character Nelson has created is so rich with history. There have been many depictions of similar characters on stage that don’t seem real. Guy is genuine. With such strong characters, the bonds that these characters have with one another is, with perhaps one exception, equally strong. The most dynamic relationship in the entire musical is between Guy and Sam. Sure, it’s a little “About a Boy” but their instantaneous gravitation is so tender and authentic. When Sam plays matchmaker, you not only want Guy and Katy to get together for their sake but you truly want Guy to be the male figure that Sam looks up to. And their number, “While You’re Young” is one of the many musical highlights of the production. Even the parental-child relationships of the story are stunning. Both mothers want their children to have big dreams and achieve them. And they will make sure that it’s a possibility. Even if it means running a phone-operated pet shop. With such a strong foundation to build on, the story is in decent shape but could use some finessing. Due to the pacing of storytelling, the build between Katy and Guy is rushed. It can easily begin sooner to allow their romance to flourish naturally. The second half of the story, when a real character conflict develops, feels a bit soapy. Figuring out a way to avoid that, even if it means changing the conflict all together, will aid in the second half of the libretto. Nelson has two neighbors, Ali and Freddi, that definitely want to be expanded. There is a brief line of dialogue where Ali reveals something about someone finding her that doesn’t get addressed again. Unlike many musicals, Nelson has the room to layer this in. Single Wide deserves the possibility of more content. It’s evident that the libretto is strong. But can you believe that the score is even more incredible! Jordan Kamalu’s score is contemporary country pop. It’s so good, Kamalu could easily have some of the numbers played on country radio today. Kamalu brings a wonderful blend of uptempo and ballads that allows for a wonderful musical arc. There are many showstoppers but it’s clear that Kamalu has intended one to be the show’s eleven o’clock number. And lyrically, that number should be reexamined. “Microwave Life” is Katy’s moment of vulnerability. With such an emotional moment for the character, the lyrics Kamalu uses are a bit corny and unintentionally funny. By adjusting some of the words, he could change the title and story to “Single Wide Life” and turn this song into something historic.
It’s such a joy to watch well-written characters be brought to life by gifted actors. The company of Single Wide was a quality bunch. Of all the characters in the show, Katy is one of the more restrained personalities but Emma Stratton brought such soul to the role. Stratton should thank Kamalu for her material as she gets to show off her colossal pipes numerous times. Derek Carley, like his character, is full of mystery and when he unravels it’s truly remarkable. As Guy, Carley does not fall into the traps set by the stereotypes allowing his character to have human connections that are tangible. As Flossie the floosy, Jacqueline Petroccia shines. As the primary comic relief, Petroccia captures the character effortlessly. Like Carley, Petroccia avoids making Flossie a dumb character. There is substance behind her performance. And if there is anyone in this ensemble who should put out a country album, Petroccia is the prime candidate. Just reference “The World Revolves Around Me.” Remember these three. They will be superstars. Quality young actors can be hard to come by. Fortunately for Single Wide, Matthew Miner is good. Miner played Sam earnestly. He hit his beats with ease and truly had an incredible bond with each character. Stacia Fernandez as grandma Amanda performed like the veteran she is. Fernandez was a great matriarch and nailed all of her one-liners.
Sincerity was key for this musical to work. Thankfully director Jeff Whiting guided his actors effortlessly on their emotional journey. It was clear Whiting focused on the character work. The only struggle Whiting had was the rules of movement within the trailer park. The set by Jason Ardizzone-West was quite stellar. The two units with the trailer photo panels allowed the audience to get the sense of the world. But Whiting had difficulty defining the entrances and exits and the interior and exterior. It was a bit messy but you can completely forgive this after everything he did right. Costume designer Sarah Cubbage easily transported the characters into this world. Even with the vivacious Flossie, the costumes felt natural on the characters. Jordan Kamalu wrote a beautiful score. But it was amplified by the flawless orchestrations. This score sounds drastically different just on piano. Let’s be real, you can’t have country music without a guitar.  And the addition of the guitar, bass, and drums gives it the country vibe that truly sets it apart.
If you can’t tell by now, I can’t stop talking about Single Wide. It got me excited. Like the story, there is so much hope in this musical. The contemporary country music genre doesn’t quite get the respect it deserves in theater. Single Wide is here to change that notion. For where it is, Single Wide is in good shape. Nelson and Kamalu have some work to do but it’s all for the better. Keep your eye on this one. When the moment is right, Single Wide will take theater by storm.