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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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REVIEW: A Scythe of Time

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Music and Lyrics by Mark Alan Swanson

Book by Alan Harris

Directed by David Alpert

 

THE VERDICT: If your curiosity is at all piqued by the phrase “morbid farce,” look no further–”A Scythe of Time” is the pleasant poison to pick. This Poe-inspired gleefully dark new musical wonders what would happen if a publisher (one Mr. Blackwood) paid writers top dollar to document their own suicides. (Lovely topic for a night at the theater, right?) But “Scythe” doesn’t succumb to melodrama [except when melodrama is worth a chuckle]–instead it prances around the gallows with an operatic flair.

Strong vocal performances, impressive design, and a carefully curated old-school humor round out “Scythe.” The only real disappointment here is a lack of tonal calibration–the show sometimes feels muddled between light farce and grim somberness. “Scythe” is at its best when it dances on the far reaches of this spectrum, rather than resting in the mushy center, with a lean towards the farcical. (It’s a fine line, but the best of Poe’s work makes you grimace and guffaw at the same time. There are parts of “Scythe” that feel more like a frown and a giggle.)

As a result, some of the weight of death feels perhaps more fleeting than it should, and the sense of strong conviction in the performances don’t feel matched by the events they transpire within. But the concoction is plenty of fun nonetheless. Have a laugh in the graveyard with the show, won’t you?

 

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REVIEW: Normativity

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Music/Book/Lyrics by Jaime Jarrett

Directed by Mia Walker

Choreography by Adin Walker

 

THE VERDICT: Thank God for a new musical that lets LGBTQ characters simply be characters–not sob stories, or emotional props, or cliches, but breathing, loving people. Gosh, that’s refreshing.

In “Normativity,” a flock of high schoolers come into contact with a Young Adult novel writer. The writer’s leading character (a young gay woman in destined-to-be-tragic love) appears in the real world, setting off a mission to rewrite her story with the help of the aforementioned teens. The teens, it seems, are tired of witnessing LGBTQ characters commit suicide at the end of a book, or be a token character in a movie. (With good reason.)

Out of all this, some conflict arises with the rules of the book-jumping, and who gets to write or say what–truthfully, the plot never really solidifies. You’re always on board, but the stakes feel fabricated by the arbitrary rules placed on the world. But: The conflict these teens feel is real–their desire to tell their own stories, and not have stories written for them. And this, friends, sets up a charming, scrappy, and full-hearted new musical.

 

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REVIEW: Children of Salt

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Music by Jaime Lozano

Book and Lyrics by Lauren Epsenhart

Directed by José Zayas

 

THE VERDICT: Seeds sown in our youth bear unforseeable fruit in adulthood–one kind gesture or stolen moment seeps into our stories and appears again, like a once forgotten friend. “Children of Salt” understands the way time yawns between childhood and the decades after.

This self-proclaimed “New Latin Musical” follows a web of children growing up by the beach in Mexico, punctuated by glimpses of their future meetings in later years. The show centers in on Raúl, who witnesses his friends (and himself) ebb and flow through trials and joys.

“Children of Salt” is richly textured, and performed with conviction.  Put the book up to scrutiny and it can be difficult to track–we mostly watch proclamations of emotion without really seeing those emotions develop and unfold. Love is beautifully declared but rarely simply witnessed in moments; relationships are telegraphed by sentiments more than events. But, despite this opacity, here’s my recommendation: See the show, and let it hit your heart. Don’t overanalyze. I’ll take a show willing to be brave over a well-oiled but toothless musical any day.

 

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REVIEW: Ultimate Man!

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Music by Alastair William King

Lyrics by Paul Gambaccini, Alastair William King & Jane Edit Wilson

Book by Jane Edith Wilson and Charles Abbott

Conceived by Paul Gambaccini

THE VERDICT: It’s strange to me that, considering the modern world’s wealth of diverse comic book stories across all sorts of movies, books, and shows, “Ultimate Man!” would lean so hard on hollow comic book cliches. Despite an earnest cast and few hints of some fresh (albeit under-explored) ideas about the connection between creativity and family, “Ultimate Man!” feels meandering and stilted.

The basic premise is pretty fun: Joe, a comic book writer, witness his comic creations leap off the page and cause mayhem in the real world. But the direction feels uninspired and half-baked, dwelling on sentimentality and characters that rarely reach beyond archetypes you already know and expect. The show has a spirited upbeat energy, but wears out the welcome by never really building a cohesive plot or breaking out of cliches. The villain is merely villainous, the hero has neither a clear superpower nor anything resembling a kryptonite, and good and evil forces are predictable. The plot twists are telegraphed, and we’re always a step ahead, waiting for the show to catch up and surprise us.

 

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REVIEW: The First Church of Mary, the Repentant Prostitute’s FIFTH ANNUAL!!! Benefit Concert, Revival, and Pot Luck Dinner

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Music/Lyrics/Book by Geoff Davin

Additional Music & Lyrics by Nicole Boggs, Kelleyann Hocter and David Mescon

Directed and Choreography by Martha Wilkinson

THE VERDICT: There’s a rule about comedy–if you write a character as a jerk, they better be charming, likeable, or fascinating. Regrettably, none of these virtues describe the main character of “The First Church of Mary, the Repentant Prostitute’s FIFTH ANNUAL!!! Benefit Concert, Revival, and Pot Luck Dinner” (whew!). We find ourselves in a concert play in the vein of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which zig-zags between bombastic gospel music and generally mean spirited sketch comedy routines. Ostensibly the whole thing is about a church gathering for charity and raising some joyful noise.

The cast is full of excellent gospel-style singers, and the laughs that do land are genuine and often somewhat inspired. But there’s a mean streak through the entire musical–the vast majority of speaking time goes to Adamenses Huckster, the preacher and leader of the benefit concert (and so on), played by Geoff Davin. (Mr. Davin also wrote the Book, Music and Lyrics.)

I wish it were an exaggeration to say that eighty percent of all on-stage interactions involve Adamenses Huckster belittling, insulting, shutting up or inviting ridicule upon her fellow cast mates. It isn’t an exaggeration. She spends most of the show irredeemably selfish, while members of the church chorus and organization are largely silenced in any attempt to rebuke. When redemption does come, it is halfhearted and about an hour too late.

 

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REVIEW: Eh Dah? Questions For My Father

 

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Book/Music/Lyrics by Aya Aziz

Performed by Aya Aziz

Directed by Corinne Proctor

 

THE VERDICT: Walking out of the theater after seeing “Eh Dah? Questions For My Father,” you feel that you’ve had your first heart-to-heart conversation with a soon-to-be close friend. Aya Aziz lovingly leads us through fragments of her life as a prism of cultures and backgrounds–her life (lives?) as Egyptian, American, New Yorker, Artist, and so on.

“Eh Dah?” is a refreshingly unselfish autobiographical solo show. On technical levels the show falls prey to a lack of focus–scenes feel more like shuffled episodes that are lovingly portrayed but hard to track in the greater trajectory of the show, and Aziz’s singing is earnest and heartfelt but rough and uneven after some scrutiny. If anything, though, the underlying faults are outweighed by the unique perspective and delicately constructed family portrait that Aziz offers.

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Welcome to NYMF Unauthorized 2016!

We’re back!

After a successful and widely-viewed run (we had thousands of visitors last year!) we’re back to review more shows for the 2016 New York Musical Theater festival!

As always, we’ll be here with reviews throughout the festival. We focus on what makes  a show great, what could be better, and what kind of musical lovers might find it worth a look, plus projections for the end-of-festival awards nominations and winners.

As always, feel free to shoot us any questions at nymf.unauthorized@gmail.com.

We’ll have our first two reviews out later today! Keep an eye out, and thanks for reading.

-Mike and the NYMF Unauthorized Team