NYMF errant: A musical-theater preview


The New York Musical Theatre Festival, which runs from September 28 through October 18, is somewhat in danger of getting lost in the mad scramble of Broadway and Off Broadway shows clambering to open between the Jewish High Holidays and Columbus Day, and that's sort of a shame. The Fringe Festival has the advantage of playing August, when it is virtually the only game in town; but although NYMF has become the city's most important showcase for new musicals—this year's edition features a seemingly endless list of established musical-theater writers and performers—it may get drowned out by the the downpour of A Steady Rain and the chirping of Bye Bye Birdie.

As the festival's executive director and producer, Isaac Hurwitz, puts it, NYMF features "more musicals than anyone knows what to do with." TONY, alas, is no exception; NYMF is likely to get crowded out of our continuum of space and time allocation next week, at least where reviews are concerned. But we did manage to catch a press preview of songs from nine festival shows this afternoon, and here (after the jump) are a few quick thumbnail judgments of today's numbers—with the caveat that some of the songs would clearly benefit from more rehearsal, and others may work much better in context.

Thumbs up:
*"Is Her Butt Bigger than Mine?" from Fat Camp: A cute comic number about a pair of heavies in a weight-loss program, well performed by Ryah Nixon and Hairspray alumna Carly Jibson. Lightweight on its own, but we're guessing it fits nicely with the show.
*"Georgetown" from Street Lights: A solid song about an aspiring young lawyer-to-be from the projects, with several smart, surprising rhymes ("impartial/Thurgood Marshall") and a knockout delivery by star-to-be Kevin Curtis.
*"The Dream of Rhode Island" from Hurricane: In this selection from a musical on the unlikely subject of a killer storm that ravaged a Rhode Island town in 1938, more than 20 actors delivered a complexly arranged choral number that pleasingly calls to mind the gorgeous opening scene of Maury Yeston's Titanic.

Thumbs in the middle:
*"Feel the Fire" from Under Fire: A Latin number whose infectious rhythm makes up for less-than-innovative lyrics about being drawn like a moth to the flame and so forth.
*"Light in Your Eyes/Charade" from The Happy Embalmer: An enjoyable soul-inflected number about angry Sherpas was bizarrely introduced with a minute-long snippet of Jersey Boys star Daniel Reichard as a geeky funeral worker. How these two things fit together is anyone's guess.
*"Why Don't I Ask" from All Fall Down: A vaguely Jodie Foster--ish Jenn Collela did her best to sell this earnest, on-the-nose song about a mother whose son has attempted suicide; the material seems a bit pale next to Next to Normal.

Thumbs down:
*"Rome" from Judas and Me: The composers of The Wedding Singer have assembled an incredible cast (including Leslie Kritzer, Barbara Walsh and Ann Harada) for this musical spoof on the New Testament. We have to have faith that it comes together better as a whole than in the ultracheery and musical-theatery number showcased today. To their credit, the talented Doug Kreeger and Nick Blaemire made it through this very, very silly song—in which young pals Jesus and Judas imagine running away to Rome ("No messiah, no Iscariot, leave them behind/Riding on a chariot, cool and refined!")—without their faces melting.
*"Who I Am" from The Cure: Don't blame Michael Buchanan, who has a terrific high tenor, for what appears to be just the latest in a sorry line of failed vampire musicals. Did no one see Lestat, Dracula or Dance of the Vampires? Well, okay, almost no one did. But that's no excuse.

Thumbs spazzing out completely:
*"Those Who Refuse Mother's Wishes" from Anjou: The two young actors in this Mexican show about 16th-century France showed up with full period costumes and wigs and awesome telenovela melodramatics. Leisl Lar, as the villainous Catholic queen Catalina d'Medici, sneered and sang fabulously as she berated her weak-willed son with Spanish lyrics helpfully translated in the press packet as, for example, "Do not make me exasperate" and "Feel your mouth bleed with those sharp blades I force you to eat." It's crazy and sweet and impressive all at once. In a field of mere campiness, this might just be that rarest of modern flowers: genuine camp. If you have a taste for this sort of thing, don't miss it.