Our NYMF 2015 Awards Projections

Here it is–our best bets for the nominations and awards at NYMF 2015. Note that we weren’t able to cover every show, so this list is based off of the shows reviewed on this site over the past three weeks. Stay tuned for the NYMF 2015 closing ceremony tonight when the awards will be announced!

We’ve put our best bet for who’s going to win in each category, noted by italics.

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Review: What Do Critics Know?

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Book by Matthew Gurren

Music and Lyrics by James Campodonico & Matthew Gurren

Directed by Michael Bello

THE VERDICT: There’s two ways that What Do Critics know is going to go for you. If you go to a musical for jazzy showtunes, Broadway-style dance numbers, and classic-style musical theater from decades ago, you’re going to have a lovely old time, and I’ll tell you to check it out. The performances are polished, the music endearing, and it’s a rather funny show.

If you want something new, with a heart under the gloss and some new ground broken for you as a theatregoer, you might find it a bit ho-hum. “Critics” has a professional Broadway sensibility and it’s one of the more handsomely produced shows at NYMF this year, but there’s not much drive to the show. Ostensibly it’s about some malicious theater critics who are coerced into having to create a show of their own, reviews and all. (Plus the writer they panned, and all the earnest theater makers who work alongside them.) This premise provides some fun laughs and a heartfelt moment or two, but the show takes too long to get to it, and once it arrives it tap dances around any grounded emotional content or gripping plot that might arise from it. And there’s nary a three dimensional character in the house–stock types for days, even though those types are played to a good deal of their comedic potential. The whole thing feels sentimental to bygone musical times, and that’s not necessarily bad, but think about it all too hard and it starts feeling empty.

“Critics” is by and for classic musical theater lovers. It mostly just wants to have a good time, and it’s a pretty good time, but I found myself more pleasantly entertained than particularly engaged. But hey, what do I know?

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

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Review: Held Momentarily

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Book, Music, and Lyrics by Oliver Houser

Additional Material by James Zebooker

Directed by Harry Shifman

THE VERDICT: I doubt I’m the only one who’s looked around the train during his daily commute and wondered how stoic, isolated and lost in thought people seem to be. Held Momentarily is presumably about six strangers trapped in a stalled subway car, but its actual concern is exploring what dilemmas and hopes run through a commuter’s mind in that strange time when you’re alone with a hundred other people–and what happens when those commuters are forced to share it all. What follows is a sincere, compassionate portrait of what’s going down on the other side of the subway car.

Held Momentarily feels more concerned with flashing back or zooming in on the minds of its characters, rather than presenting plot points in the situation suggested in the title. As a result the quick seventy five minutes feel more like a loosely interconnected revue about New Yorkers than a musical that has a story to tell–when you take away the “I want” songs and the memory songs you’re left with not much meat left on the bones of the plot, and as a result it’s hard to root for the characters as often as you learn about them–not to mention that some characters feel sincerely portrayed but not completely fleshed out in three dimensions. But the songs are lovingly crafted and as varied as a story about six New Yorkers should be, and the last third of the limited plot shows us moments of crisis can bring us together, and quell the lonely stories that rampage in our heads. It turns out we need each other to figure ourselves out. Go figure.

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

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Review: Foolerie

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Santino DeAngelo

Directed by Tralen Doler

THE VERDICT: Foolerie wants you to laugh, and then think about why you laughed. A collection of Shakespeare-inspired fools gather to see who can out-fool the fools by playing out an improvised play, but the challenger has lessons to teach about the underlying darkness underneath any guffaw or chuckle. Don’t worry, though, there’s still a lot of fooling to do.

There’s a lot of individual features about Foolerie to love: strong vocal performances, smart and sharp staging, some well massaged clowning, wit by the pound and chuckles aplenty, but the whole thing never really gains the weight it wants to. The show seems desperate for you to consider its thesis about what comedy really is–and it’s a very thoughtful, true thesis. But most of your time in Foolerie will be spent watching a tedious plot-within-a-plot waiting for the next smartly crafted gag, with much too occasional and vague glimpses at the morals it seems determined to blare at you. As a result, the show starts out strong and often hilarious, and the laughs never totally subside, but as time wears on we get less patient and more hungry for some kind of smart, concrete and weighty revelations that never really come. The show has a wealth of complex, multidimensional fools to pull from the Shakespearean inspiration it wears on its sleeve, but it only skims the surface of those plays rather than trying to emulate the darkness that rumbles underneath. It’s disappointing, too, because it’s a handsomely designed production with some real talent under the hood.

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

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Review: Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty

Book by Noemi de la Puente

Music by David Davila & Howard Post

Lyrics by Noemi de la Puente & David Davila

Directed by José Zayas

THE VERDICT: Manuel is raring for a fight with a monolithic foe, and he’s gonna grin after every punch he takes on the chin. Manuel vs. The Statue of Liberty feels a bit like an educational musical that decided to go off the rails. The show tackles the processes behind undocumented immigrants seeking citizenship in the USA. (With brightly colored boxing gloves on.) In one corner: Manuel is a smart, earnest and bright-eyed guy from the Dominican Republic who wants to study the classics at Princeton. In the other corner: A towering, scowling Statue of Liberty that won’t let him or his loved ones get by unscathed. (And I literally mean a walking, talking, punching Statue.) We’re here at “Manuel” to watch them duke it out.

I have to give points to the show for putting up a specific yet dynamic portrait of a side of America that the American musical usually doesn’t touch. The show is full of spirit, often charming, and has a underdog kind of humor and a playful sense of musicality. And the ensemble lands some great skit-style comedic moments and soulful points where you see how much a bureaucratic system can affect a family.

There’s some real full-heartedness here, and thank God for a musical with something brave it wants to talk about. It’s too bad, then, that the production feels so unpolished around the edges–the performances are always in earnest but sometimes a little off-tone vocally, and the uneven rhythm of some of the songs and rap sections make it hard to make out what’s being said (many lyrics feel overdense and not everybody can pull off the raps.) And you can tell that, under the smiles, the show wants to really bite at the issues it’s trying to target–but in execution, the show feels more playful and educational than ready to brawl.

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

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Review: Songs for the Fallen

Book by Sheridan Harbridge

Music and Lyrics by Sheridan Harbridge & Basil Hogios

THE VERDICT: It’s rare to see a show build up as much goodwill and and such quick laughs as Songs for the Fallen does within fifteen minutes of stagetime. What you’ve got here is irreverence in every sense of the word–it’s a cabaret-style loose collection of musings on a darling 1800’s French starlet and courtesan, Marie Duplessis. (And there’s a lot of courtesan-ing that will go on). The music is best described as a Top 40 DJ taking up residence in a regal French ballroom–that’s mostly a compliment. It’s a tilted, opaquely lively and vibrant production that finds abundant and unexpected humor and, often, a certain kind of vivacious poetry.

The show leaves you in no doubt that it’s here to have fun–often directly, as the fourth wall is often nonexistent, and some of the best jokes are meta-theatrical jabs as Duplessis, a much-romanticized character in history and fiction, is ferociously aware of how people write about her and what her opinion on the matter is. But the show has so much fun at its own expense, and the plot is so thinly used as jumping off points for trance-like or pop-star-attitude-infused dance numbers, that when the show decides to take a serious turn you’re not quite sure what you’re supposed to care about or where the story is. As a result the last third of the show feels flimsier than what comes before–the comedy still lands and the performances are still exuberant, but you can’t help wondering if the cast is having more fun than you.

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

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Review: HeadVoice

Music/Lyrics/Book by Ethan Andersen  

Directed/Choreogaphy by Charlie Johnson

THE VERDICT: You’ve got voices in your head, right? Eric definitely does, and they have a lot to say in HeadVoice–so much that it fills up a musical’s worth of time. (A brisk, adorable, strange and sometimes very truthful musical.) Eric’s goal is to write a song, and we watch his various efforts at that while the three voices in his head give their thoughts (their thoughts’ thoughts?) and act out the roles from Eric’s life he needs to cast in order to put pen to paper.

It’s a likable and thoughtful look at the relationship between our mental blocks and our creativity. I love how it delves into the self-prodding and doubting nature of the creative mind, often to humorous results. The show likes to jump back and forth between lively silliness and brief but poignant moments of introspection via Eric and different parts of his head–I wish it’d let itself have as much of the latter as it does the former. Much of the show is cute, borderline cutesy, and I’d say that only a handful of songs and book scenes really drive the story instead of opting to hang out in cute land. The show winks at itself, and many times it’s actually in quite clever ways, but there’s so much winking that the rules of this world seem hazy and unenforced. It’d be a disservice to call it a bad show, though. It’s quite charming, the performances are full of love for the material, and, secretly, the show knows how goofy it is. What the goofiness is covering up becomes apparent in the last third or so, and it’s here that we get why we want to see Eric figure out just how his head really works.

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Review: Pope! An Epic Musical

Book and Lyrics by Justin Moran

Music by Christopher Pappas

Directed by Peter Flynn

THE VERDICT: Here’s what you get told between the lines in the first five minutes of Pope! An Epic Musical: “Hey, guys. We’re gonna just have a lot of fun with religion jokes and musical genre pastiches and generally be ridiculous. That’s cool, right?” And by the end of the joyously goofy comic-book-styled opening numbers, the audience immediately responds, “Yeah! Great! Let’s do it!”

Gosh, Pope is fun. The plot is that Pope (who is named Pope) wants to become the Catholic kind of Pope, and then becomes Pope, and then has to challenge an evil Archbishop who wants to rule the world as an evil Pope. That’s most of the plot, don’t worry about it, just come see it because the thing is so darn smart and funny and might win a Guinness world record for most words that rhyme with the word Pope. If you want to get nitpicky, the show is so ambitious in its breadth of comedic content, big show-style choreography and musical genre spoofs that the seams occasionally show themselves–a late entrance here, a missed cue there. And sure, there’s not much depth under the surface. But for comedic and just plain fun-loving purposes, the people behind Pope are action heroes.

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

  • THE ENSEMBLE: I want to give this entire cast pull quotes. They’re led by an incessantly funny and earnest Pope (an on-point and dizzyingly whip-smart Sam Bolen), and they seem like they’re having the best time in the theater district. I have to give nods to Gilbert L. Bailey II (who provides what I imagine will be the only time the words “baseball” and “full-tilt showstopping musical number” show up in my mind at the same time) and Jason Edward Cook (a pitch-perfect and dexterously funny classic evil henchman), and if anyone else from the cast would like a pull quote, email me and I can probably conjure something good about you without much effort. I assume that Peter Flynn (the director) is incredibly smart and helped them out, too.
  • THE SCENIC AND PROPS DESIGN: Rob Bissinger has littered this production with props and miniature set pieces that help land as many jokes as there are references to Catholicism. They’re not high-def–you’ll see a lot of cardboard–but they’re great gimmicks, often inventive and they always get unexpected laughs. My favorites are the comic book style text bubbles that show up in the opening number and a three-piece stained glass window that makes shattered glass more funny than it has any right to be.
  • THE QUICK CHANGES: Whoever is in charge of the dozens of quick changes deserves a medal.
  • THE BOOK AND LYRICS: It’s worth noting that Christopher Pappas’ music is driving and well put together, and hits lots of musical genres to spoof them spot-on, but the real comedic star of the show is the mass of witty words that Justin Moran wrote. I can only imagine how long he massaged even the smallest one-liners. Everything from show-stopping numbers to quick one-line mini-songs are crackling with creativity and never stop surprising. The book scenes, too, are loaded with solid comedic premises and never putter out.

WHAT IT’LL GET NOMINATED FOR:

  • EXCELLENCE IN WRITING (BOOK/LYRICS): Both categories should give a hat tip to Mr. Moran’s solid work.
  • OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR: For Sam Bolen. His earnest, madcap and fun-loving energy is the secret weapon of the show, hidden in plain sight.
  • OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE: See above.
  • EXCELLENCE IN OVERALL DESIGN: For Rob Bissinger. I want to see how big that prop table backstage is.

WHAT IT CAN WIN:

  • All of the above. If it doesn’t win at least one of the writing awards I’ll honestly be surprised.

WHERE IT’LL GO:

Take this somewhere big, you guys. Even on opening night at a festival that’s largely about work that’s mid-development there was a palpable sense of success and the audience almost riled an encore out of the cast. There’s a world in which the plot gets a tiny bit more focused and punched up, and I’d even say that expanding the musical into two acts might serve it well. But even as it is now, if the creative team and cast of Pope kept up their energy and style from the show I saw, they could take this to a big stage.

For more information, visit:  http://www.nymf.org/festival/2015-events/pope-epic-musical/

Review: Real Men, A Musical For Guys And The Women Who Put Up With Them

Music/Lyrics/Book by Paul Louis and Nick Santa Maria

Directed by David Arisco

THE VERDICT: I had a pretty good view of the audience during Real Men, and the look that never seemed to leave everyone’s faces (including my own) was a smirk. No more, no less, and it more or less never cut out. There were often chuckles and sometimes sincere belly laughs alongside it, but the dominating attitude was a knowing, haha-this-is-true smirk. You could fault Real Men for not being ambitious in theme or high-minded moral, but if you’d like to smirk and giggle and call it a night, come on down.

Real Men (comma, a musical for guys and the women who put up with them [woof, that title]) is a musical revue-style send-up of men, manliness, machismo and menfolk–one hour and thirty minutes of songs poking fun at men aged nine to ninety. It’s a grinning portrait, clean and harmless, and doesn’t really want to be much more. What’s there, though, is a good deal of fun. The first half is pure pastiche with consistently polished comedy. By the time you get to the second half, you find yourself recognizing the jokes even if the repetition is clever, and the comedy wears a bit more thin. But at the same time the show starts hitting closer to home: The men on stage start singing about the boys they’ve fathered and their own fathers, and you feel the show–in both comedic and sincere moments–find more of its heart. It’s a little narrow-minded in its range of men-types and I wish the portrayals of women were a bit more nuanced, but hey, on the whole, I’m charmed.

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

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Review: Acappella

Conceived by Greg Cooper

Directed by Lee Summers

Book by Vynnie Meli

Music and Lyrics by The Acappella Company

THE VERDICT: In the small Georgia town in which Acapella is set, everyone has a duty to sing for God with their full voice, and they know it–except for Jeremiah, a hometown-returning pop star who remembers how the old gospel songs go but forgot what it really means to sing them. This one is about Jeremiah figuring out how to get his soul back home, and how music holds a community together.

Acapella is unabashedly a gospel jukebox musical, and the reason you should go is to experience the music: As the name implies, there are no instruments but vocal chords involved. Every musical element is sung, and sung from the heart. Each cast member brings booming musical talent and a raw understanding of what it means to sing to the heavens.

The story is charming, sometimes very funny and told from the heart, although it feels unfocused–the show expects you to be smart about inferring certain plot points and some scenes feel cut short or too long. The plot never quite hits you the way the show wants it to, even though it clearly has some thoughts to share on what music means to these people. But in the end, it’s mostly an excuse to get to lots and lots of music, and that music’s more than worth your time on its own.

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

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