Numbers Nerds is a selection of the New York Musical Festival playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater until Sunday July 23rd, but it could just as easily be part of the fall line-up on Fox or the CW. Not surprising since a note in the Playbill from Producer Larry Little (also responsible for the story) informs us its target audience is high schools, colleges & community theaters. Numbers Nerds is about a mostly female competitive high-school math team from Wisconsin that reaches the National Sum-It Championships. And it was written in response to a dialogue with theater faculty at local high schools and colleges bemoaning the lack of roles for females. Which brings us full circle to the Festival which encourages musicals with diversity.
The Fourth Messenger is part of the New York Musical Festival and has performances through Sunday July 23rd. A reimagining of the legend of Buddha as a modern day woman who is both enlightened and flawed, the piece itself is a mirror image of its protagonist. The creators Tanya Shaffer (Book & Lyrics), Vienna Teng (Music & Additional Lyrics), and Matt August (Director); are a little like Park Slope helicopter parents. Too close and loving to see their child’s flaws in order to correct them. And really, the kid’s not that bad – there’s a lot to love here – which makes it almost more frustrating. Because with a tweak or two, The Fourth Messenger could be outstanding.
If you’re a Harry Potter mega fan who has read all the books every year since they’ve been released like my friend Katy, you’re going to love Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic. Do you have your own wand? Run right out and buy a ticket, don’t bother to read the rest of this review. If, like me, you read the books as they came out and enjoyed them, but haven’t felt the need to revisit Hogwarts again and again, you’ll enjoy the show. But you may not understand why the audience is laughing at some points. If you’ve heard of Harry Potter but the word Hogwarts is totally foreign to you – Puffs will leave you scratching your head. You’ll feel a little like Tarzan would if he was kidnapped and woke up watching the movie “Tootsie.” No context for anything that was happening around you.
The New York Musical Festival is in full swing, fostering culturally and stylistically diverse new musicals by early-career artists. But don’t let the “early-career artists” designation fool you – all it means is that they’re not household names – yet. A perfect example is Miss Blanche Tells It All currently playing at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater through Sunday, July 16th. Set in the late 1960’s in a gay friendly bar in New Orleans, an intoxicated drag performer, Miss Blanche (Brian Charles Rooney), reveals more than originally intended. It’s a nuanced story and a tour de force performance by consummate professionals.
This year’s summer offering by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, Amerike – The Golden Land, is a perfect fit for the NYTF’s mission: “to celebrate the Yiddish experience through the performing arts by transmitting the rich cultural legacy in exciting new ways that bridge social and cultural divides.” It’s not surprising that Amerike – The Golden Land does that so perfectly, since it was commissioned in 1982 by the Workmen’s Circle to do just that. WC Director of Education, Yosl Mlotek, tapped Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek – now the Artistic Director of the NYTF – to write the piece. And yes, Zalmen is Yosl’s son, and Moishe is Yosl’s nephew. Making Zalmen and Moishe cousins. And you’ve just played a round of what is affectionately known in NYC as “Jewish Geography,” or “are you a landsman (google it)/six degrees of separation.”
The one-act play has long been a favorite form of both novice and seasoned playwrights. Tennessee Williams wrote 43 of them over the course of his 50 year career. Begun in 1977, this season is Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays. This year’s 15 selections are broken up into 3 evenings of 5 plays each, that are running in repertory from May 14th through June 30th. Reviews of Series A can be found here, and Series B can be found here.
Bella is billed as a Western musical adventure. Ms. Childs sets out to turn a modern day woman she glimpsed on the street (and how all the men who were passing by reacted to her), into her heroine, a big booty Tupelo gal named Bella (Ashley D. Kelley). And in a tradition as old as America itself, attempts to tell the forgotten tales of the haunted and the hunted, and all those who came from far off lands to build, populate and protect this country’s frontiers.
Playwright Chisa Hutchinson’s thing is exposing murky corners to the light of day. She does it with compassion and insight, but also with also with a firm finger on her funny bone. In her current show, Somebody’s Daughter, at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, I suspect the wise-cracking character of the guidance counselor Kate Wu (Jeena Yi) is somewhat autobiographical. Her boyfriend Reggie Ward (Rodney Richardson) says to her, near the end of the play as she’s standing in front of him crying and trying to crack a joke, “you only joke about things that matter.”
Political Comedy troupe Capitol Steps will be performing their new show “Orange is the New Barack” at Symphony Space in the New York City area for two performances only on June 18th at 3:30 and 7:30pm. In advance of this gig, our writer, Donna Herman, had the opportunity to put a few questions to Capitol Steps writer and performer Elaina Newport recently.
Let’s rip the bandaid off this puppy quickly and get it over with. Mary V, currently playing at Theater for the New City, is only worth seeing as a cautionary tale. For students of the theater, you can often learn more from something that doesn’t work than from something that is seamless. This is one of those. Fair enough, it is playwright Rebekah Carrow’s first play and rarely are masterpieces created first time out of the gate. In fact, David Mamet says in his online masterclass on dramatic writing, (www.masterclass.com) that if you want to write, you have to be willing to fail.
One of the reasons that I love the theater is that it often affords me the opportunity to immerse myself in a world I might not otherwise get to experience. In a very present and visceral way. It can be an uplifting or a disturbing occurrence, but widening my world view is always good. The Abingdon Theatre Company’s The Boy Who Danced On Air, the new musical with book and lyrics by Charlie Sohne and music by Tim Rosser, is a perfect case in point.
The biggest value in New York City theater right now is Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 36th Marathon of One-Act Plays. There are three evenings of one-acts, Series A, B & C. See one for $25, two for $40 or all three for $60. I’ve seen Series A which includes Showtime Blues by France-Luce Benson, Blue Handed by David Zellnick, The Fork by Emily Chadwick Weiss, El Grande by Maggie Diaz Bofill, and How My Grandparents Fell In Love by Cary Glitter. And I was so impressed with the consistent level of talent both on stage and behind the scenes, that I want to see Series B & C. I’m sure you’ll feel the same way too.
Don’t worry about knowing the classics, or pronouncing the name. Just go see Iphigenia in Splott by Welsh playwright Gary Owen. It’s currently playing at 59E59 Theatres’ Brits Off Broadway Festival that showcases new British theater. All you need to know is that Splott is a factory community in the town of Cardiff Wales, and Iphigenia’s name in Greek means “strong-born” or “born to strength.” Although you’ll figure out that last bit by yourself quickly enough.
There are things to love about The York Theatre Company’s new musical Marry Harry, but I’m not ready to put a ring on it. It needs a little polishing before I’d commit to a lifetime with it in its current form. The music by Dan Martin and lyrics by Michael Biello, longtime collaborators, was outstanding. The Greek chorus of Village Voices (Ben Chavez, Jesse Manocherian & Claire Saunders), while hardly an innovative device, was a delightful and refreshing way to impart information and set the scene. The talented and charismatic trio becomes almost a third character in the piece, and every time they enter you know it means fun. Where Marry Harry needs a little polishing is plot and character development.
Anastasia, is a perfectly crafted Broadway musical fairy-tale that is going to run forever. Family-friendly, romantic, glittery, great sets and costumes, show-stopping second banana (Caroline O’Connor I’m looking at you), and songs the audience already knows and loves. Wait, what? It’s billed as an original musical with book by noted playwright Terence McNally, and music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the duo who brought us “Ragtime”, and oh yes, the animated movie musical “Anastasia.”