Our NYMF 2016 Nominations + Awards Predictions!

The NYMF Awards for Excellence Ceremony is tonight!

Both nominations and awards will be announced tonight. Here are our best bets on what will be nominated! Each listing in bold is our guess for who will win in each category.

A couple of notes: We were able to review 16 of the 18 contenders this year (whew!), so “Icon” and “The Last Word” are not included in our predictions. (Best of luck to them tonight, though!)

Also, the “Outstanding Individual Performance” awards are given to a variable list of winners instead of just one person winning, so the list below are our guesses for all of the winners for that category.

Without Further Ado:

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REVIEW: Camp Rolling Hills

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Book & Lyrics by David Spiegel & Stacy Davidowitz

Music & Lyrics by Adam Spiegel

Choreography by Theresa Burns

Directed by Jill Jaysen

 

THE VERDICT:

”Camp Rolling Hills” understanding those little flittering camping memories in the same way “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” understands three panel comics. It’s a series of charming, genuinely funny vignettes starring genuinely funny kids. A lot of kids. There is a staggering amount of talented children on this stage. (It took me a few tries to count the stampede in the opening number–18, by the way.) We watch them from first of June to the end of the summer–and while there’s a bit of drama that unfolds (and which feels a little more convoluted than the rest of the show), the real highlight is just watching these young people have fun.

One thing I love about “Camp Rolling Hills” is that it doesn’t just feed the kids cute lines for cheap laughs–there’s a wide array of personalities on display, and may I say, these kids are legit comedians with unique schticks. (They’re particularly good at laying into genre comedy, especially when making fun of musical cliches and tropes. That’s a real skill some adult actors have to work at.)

I try to judge a show by what it wants to be, rather than what I’d want it to be. If you’re the type to turn your nose up at sentimentality or preciousness, well–you ought to give it a shot, but I’d understand if you wouldn’t want to. For everybody else–”Camp Rolling Hills” is funny, delightful, and (dare I say the cliche?) often heartwarming in the simplest way. I’m already a little homesick for camp. (Campsick?)

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: LUDO’s Broken Bride

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Concept, Music & Lyrics by LUDO

Adapted by Stacey Weingarten

Arrangements & Additional Story by Dana Levinson

Choreography by Steven Paul Blandino

Directed by Stacey Weingarten & Donna Drake

 

THE VERDICT:

When you watch a cheesy action movie (say, from the 80’s), do you care about the finer details of the plot points? If yes: You might be missing the forest for the trees, but hey, you do you. If no: Come check out “LUDO’S Broken Bride,” a delirious, brilliantly weird and wry rock musical. Ok, here we go: Tom is a physicist who travels back in time to keep his wife from being killed. But he misses and goes to prehistoric times. At which point he befriends a strange, growling mammal he names Hawking, while reminiscing about how he fell in love with said wife, and now we’re at a memory flashback frat party, and I think we’re sort of in a 80’s rom com? And that’s the first 15 minutes or so.

Needless to say, “LUDO’s Broken Bride” is (and I use this word lovingly) totally wacked out.  LUDO, if you don’t know them, are an alt rock band from St. Louis, who clearly have a manic yet soulful style. The music is catchy, driving, and totally irreverent. It has a feel of an extended music video, back in the days where some music videos were almost short stories tailored to a band’s whims. If you step back and look at “Broken Bride” as a Serious Musical, there are definitely problems–mostly that most dramatic plot points feel arbitrary, and the flipping back and forth between timelines gets tangled up here and there. But it has more of an opinion on what’s really riding underneath a storybook, cheesy rom-com love story–and is much more introspective than you might take it for on first glance. And it’s a fun enough ride that I was rocking out regardless.

 

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: Newton’s Cradle

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Music & Lyrics by Heath Saunders

Book & Additional Lyrics by Kim Saunders

Directed by Victoria Clark

Choreographed and Associate Directed by Sara Brians

 

THE VERDICT:

Up front, I’ll tell you one of the fastest ways to make me irredeemably angry at a piece of theater–when a character with mental illness or disability is used as a prop. An emotional crutch and sounding board for other, “normal” characters. A springboard for self-serving melodrama.

And on that note, oh gosh. Oh man. How wonderful it is to see a show like “Newton’s Cradle” soar way, way above stereotype and dismissal.

“Newton’s Cradle” follows the intricately woven trajectory of Evan–a twentysomething who is autistic. He’s also opinionated, funny as all get out, and wants things anyone else would want–duh, ‘cause he’s a human, you know. Not only is the story uncondescending towards Evan–through Evan’s eyes we see the family and connections around him, all in his family’s vacation cabin-away-from-home in Arkansas. They love Evan–but it’s hard to know how to love him, and harder still sometimes to be loved in return.  

The end result is a kaleidoscopic, charming, funny and often mesmerizing new musical, unafraid to be quiet, and richly textured with a subtle score that feels seamlessly woven with book scenes, dance, and instrumental moments. The experience can be hard to follow–Evan’s mind is anything but a straight line, and while we get to witness the unique geometry of his vision, sometimes the effect is disorienting–the show flies acrobatically but doesn’t always stick the landing. But what a flight to watch. Come for the joy, stay for the croquet history.

 

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: Dust Can’t Kill Me

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Music & Lyrics by Elliah Heifetz

Book by Abigail Carney

Directed by Srda Vasiljevic

Choreography by Jennifer Jancuska

 

THE VERDICT:

Exuberance! Stomping on the porch! Folksy sensibilities! Magical realism in the form of fruit! “Dust Can’t Kill Me” is a strange, high-soaring bird of a show. On paper, it’s a story about a band of misfits journeying through a Dust Bowl on the way to a paradise they hope to find. In reality, it’s more of a concert play that dances around every fringe of folk music–there’s some singer songwriter-y stuff, some indie rock, some waify indie pop sounds, a little bit of country, more than a pound of gospel.

The whole thing has the air of a folk band that decided to put on a show–the same ensemble is on stage almost the whole time, and their instruments (they play the music, too) rarely leave their hands, let alone the stage. Backup harmonies are ever-present, raucous foot stomping in the background is common. You can tell the cast is having unadulterated fun singing together, and gosh, that counts for something big.

That said, for all the youthful energy, there’s an equal measure of haziness–as much fun as it is to watch the band perform the gorgeous music, the scenes that tie them together feel underdeveloped. The misfits come together with framing stories I didn’t really understand until I inferred information later in the show, and the magical realist elements that come into play later on just feel half baked and vague. I appreciate the soul and heart the show is going for–but sometimes it feels like the plot is imitating the kind of story it actually wants to be. Plot points are performed with conviction, but feel loose and disconnected. The indie-style poetry apparent in the song lyrics translates to the script as a sort of attempt on a millennial Tennessee Williams script. When I played mental catch up, I think I understood what the show was trying to do, but even so, I can’t help but feel like the beautiful songs are more reflections on general sentiments hinted at in the story, rather than part of a cohesive musical.

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: The Gold

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Music, Book and Lyrics by Philip Yosowitz

Book by Andrea Lepico

Directed by Spiro Velpoudos

 

THE VERDICT:

Your experience with “The Gold” will largely depend on what you’re looking for out of a new musical. If you’re looking for a heartfelt comedi-tragic story about two generations of a German-Jewish family surviving (and moving on from) World War II, come on over. The show is unabashedly classic Musical Theatre in format–sort of refreshingly, in an odd way, since many shows at this year’s NYMF have broken more new ground. And to its credit, “The Gold” has a handful of surprises under its sleeve that come more in moments than en masse–the focus on two boxers (one Christian, one Jewish) competing to represent Germany in the Olympics early in the show, or the way World War II Germans are portrayed in a variety of ways without leaning on stereotypes typical of these sorts of stories. The German Jews portrayed here are not mere victims; they are strong, they fight, they survive.

But these surprising moments are few are far between, which leads me to my only real issue with “The Gold”–for the most part, the show is awfully safe in its construction. If you’ve seen any stories about families during World War II (and I for one have seen many) this show will not surprise you. Songs are lovely but feel a bit paint-by-numbers in intention, and plot points are often telegraphed in advance, especially if you’ve ever seen a similar story told.

I don’t mean for this critique to take away from any gravitas that the show’s story portrays–at its core “The Gold” tells a lovely, haunting tale, and if nothing else the reason our modern culture often retells Holocaust stories is because they are stories that demand remembrance and reflection, and likely always will. But with that respect in mind, “The Gold” feels as if it floats like a butterfly more than it stings like a bee–and I wish it really, truly stung.

 

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: Nickel Mines

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Music and Lyrics by Dan Dyer

Book by Andrew Palermo and Shannon Stoeke

Directed and Choreographed by Andrew Palermo

 

THE VERDICT: Here’s my best stab at describing “Nickel Mines”: It’s a experimental modern dance/musical hybrid about a tragic and surreal school shooting in an Amish community. (Although the bulk of stage time is devoted to the aftermath.) It feels a bit more like a concept album than a traditional musical, scenes are more of vignettes portraying specific emotions than plot points, and it has a keen finger on the pulse of the wake of a tragedy you want to understand but cannot. In total, it’s a sort of lens into all that follows death–a refraction of ghosts and survivors.

“Nickel Mines” will not hit everyone’s heart in the right way. Although it is much more self-assured than most experimental works are, it is firmly experimental, unapologetically nebulous, and requires a great deal of the benefit of the doubt. Mind you, many elements are quite lovely (specifics are noted below), but as a whole your enjoyment will hinge on whether you are willing to find meaning in the show, rather than have it handed to you. For what it’s worth, I count myself in the middle of the spectrum–I found parts of “Nickel Mines” haunting, and other parts vague and overly sentimental.

Check in with yourself, see what I thought stood out below this paragraph, and decide for yourself. (As one usually should, I suppose.)

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: Forest Boy

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Book and Lyrics by Scott Gilmour

Music by Claire McKenzie

Directed by Robert McQueen

Movement Direction by EJ Boyle

 

THE VERDICT:

“Forest Boy” presents me with quite a dilemma.

Crazy story this production team has selected–based on a true story, too. The titular Boy of the Forest, one Ray, grows up in a forest with his father. We see Ray in the most permeable part of youth, when one’s soul is wide open, ripe for new ideas and worldviews to seep in. Simultaneously, we see what happens in the future, when the boy finds his way back to civilization–the news, the cameras, the investigation into where exactly he could have come from. (With a bit of social media mixed in–more than a few mentions of #ForestBoy.)

Great basis for a musical, yeah? But here’s the aforementioned dilemma: “Forest Boy” is a gorgeously produced new musical in search of a throughline. The music soars, the staging is inventive (hot on the heels of shows like “Once” or “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”), the performances are grounded. But the musical substitutes story and character for poeticism and raw, unfocused beauty. The events of the story are there, but their depiction is obtuse, sometimes confusing, often hard to follow. Each step in the sequence is more of a lyric poem that reflects on moods or circumstances inspired by the true story of the Forest Boy than anything else. As a result, I always felt like I was missing something, that when new voices were introduced I was still trying to understand the one that just left the stage. I feel as if I completely understand how Ray feels in any given moment (which I’d call an achievement), but I have trouble putting the related events into any concrete details or words.

Oddly enough, I suppose, I still strongly recommend “Forest Boy” if you don’t mind a diffuse show. It really is quite beautiful, and I think it’ll rack up a few NYMF awards. But I must say, I’ve never had such a visceral yet disappointing reaction to a show such as this.

 

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: Tink!

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Music and Lyrics by Lena Gabrielle

Lyrics by Greg Kerestan

Book by Anthony Marino

Directed and Co-Choreographed by Rachel Klein

Co-Choreographed by Danielle Marie Fusco

THE VERDICT: “Tink!” smacks of a sort of travel tour–”See Neverland and its Peoples!” All the tribes and fairies and pirates and so on (plus a few new additions for good measure) are on display, given a song or two, and staged for us and a young Tinkerbell to marvel at, while Tink herself finds her place among it all.

The whole deal is lovely family fare–if you choose not to turn up your nose at the word “family musical,” you’ll find “Tink!” is quite funny in parts, and performed by a committed ensemble, and actually has a firm perspective and sense of morality hiding under the hood. (A quote from a excited 9 year old I heard walking out of the theater–”Wow, I never knew about Tinkerbell’s story!”)

The only really odd bit, in my book, is that we don’t get to know Tink as well as anyone else. No fault of the actress; the musical just seems more interested in everyone else. Even when Tink gets her own songs, they feel less vivid than others. But the sense of family-friendly adventure and whimsy is palpable, and as a fun all-ages romp, you can’t ask for too much more.

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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REVIEW: Lisa and Leonardo

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Music by Donya Lane

Lyrics by Ed McNamee

Book by Ed McNamee, Donya Lane, and Michael Unger

Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum

 

THE VERDICT: Truthfully, I’m a bit pleasantly surprised at the originality of this show’s concept: The story of Lisa (generally recognized by her acquired first name, Mona) and Leonardo Da Vinci. Leo is asked to paint a portrait of Lisa, Lisa befuddles Leo, Machiavelli chimes in with a subplot, a jealous Marchesa demands Leo’s attention–lots of happenings here in lively Florence. Any inclination towards the seriousness of Classical Artistry dissipates relatively quickly, as the show uses the painter and his subject more as a jumping off point for light diversions and toothless conflict of the musical comedy variety.

Like the Mona Lisa smile, there’s a depth and curiosity to Leonardo and Lisa’s relationship–when “Lisa and Leonardo” hones in on this central plot, the show is at its most self-assured and vibrant. Alongside this A-plot are a few other B-, C- and D- plots that are pleasantly presented but feel like an excess of adornment. Even so, the fluff is handsomely performed by a game cast.

All in all, “L and L” is airy but polished, and much funnier than the premise would suggest. (Even Machiavelli gets his jokes in.) We have some good fun, even if it’s not exactly one for the ages.

 

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

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