REVIEW: Forest Boy

Forest_boy

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:

  • Beautiful, sweeping music by Claire McKenzie–sort of bipolar, with big optimistic, folksy harmonies on one side and ethereal moodiness on the other.
  • If you like your musicals with quiet, subtle book scenes that don’t merely bookend the songs, you’ll like Scott Gilmour’s work. Although the plot and setting is often opaque, the thought that went into each scene shows.
  • The ensemble helps craft a swirling sort of choreography–wooden chairs become a river, a work desk becomes a mountain peak.
  • Particular nods to two featured actors: One, Remi Sandri as a stoic, probing investigator delving into Ray’s story. Two, Erika Olson, as Lara. I have no idea if her character is real or not, but gosh, she’s an awfully lovely performer.
  • Ed McCarthy’s lighting design is elegant and maps well onto the complex staging.

 

WHAT IT’LL GET NOMINATED FOR:

  • OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE.
  • OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTOR/ACTRESS: For Erika Olson and Remi Sandri.
  • OUTSTANDING MUSIC.
  • OUTSTANDING LYRICS.
  • OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY.
  • OUTSTANDING DIRECTION.

 

WHERE IT’LL GO:

I think “Forest Boy” is a couple of workshops and a strong artistic director’s hand away from being a wonderful, wonderful musical that could easily find a home in an Off-Broadway theater.

For more information, visit: http://www.nymf.org/festival/2016-events/forestboy/

 

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