India Carny in Held Momentarily; New York Musical Theatre Festival; Photo by Sean Gregory

India Carny in Held Momentarily; New York Musical Theatre Festival; Photo by Sean Gregory

By Jervelle Frederick

Held Momentarily is modern New York City reconstructed into a comical musical—right down to the uncomfortable Tinder dates, the diversity, the attitudes and the unique “crazy” of the city.

The musical surrounds seven strangers who find themselves stuck underground on the C train heading to 59th street—basically your regular Monday.

A pregnant Sam (Yael Rizowy), is one of the seven commuters and not long after the train delays does she go into labor. This forces the others to come together to deliver the baby. Snobby businessman Cal (Olivier Houser) and med-school drop out, Liam (Ciaran Bowling), are a little more reluctant to help. Cal finds the situation repulsive while Liam is unsure about his ability to successfully apply his skills.

Geena Quintos plays Mindy, one of the passengers who immediately run to aide Sam. It’s the perfect distraction from her horrible Tinder date with Greg, which followed her onto the train even after storming away from the restaurant and him. Greg (James Zebooker) is completely head over heels for Mindy. He lends a hand, spending much of his time pep talking Liam. Stan (Jordan Barrow) suppresses memories of his arrogant and selfish boyfriend after receiving a cancelation call—moments before labor began—in order to help Sam. Homeless woman, Asherah (India Carney), reaches within her handy shopping cart for useful items she’s found in her days on the train and offers advice.

Rizowy has a certain freshness that will make you remember her once you’ve left the theater. I’m a sucker for good realistic facial expressions conveying the correct emotion and she is always spot on. I was definitely in that train car with her when she began to push out her baby, balling up my fist and holding my air in my chest.

Carney is sensational and simply exudes star quality even when covered in fashionable rags (beautifully crafted by Allison Dawe). Her tone is mature and her vocals are clean and rich with a signature vibrato. All I’m saying is the theater world has a new rising diva in the game and she’s more than ready to take it by storm.

Shining just as bright is Quintos who effortlessly nails the role of cycling yogi-vegan Mindy. She has a natural way of delivering her lines and staying in character from her feet as they kick before stepping to the flip of her hair. The pairing with Zebooker is perfect. Every single joke that he recites receives a laugh or at least a chuckle, which is quite difficult to do with a New York crowd.

Barrow has a certain spunk to him, which makes him delightful even when he successfully distorts the neglectful/ psychologically abusive love he receives from his partner. Bowling holds his own in his role, jumping back and forth between being ready to help and destroying his confidence. It gets annoying but that means he is doing his job right. If you’re a true New Yorker you have the uncontrollable urge to tell him to either suck it up or move to the next car.

Houser proves himself to be a quadruple threat, having written the book, music, and lyrics while still acting in the musical. It is clear that this man is a star; he commands the stage and shows promise in all other avenues. The music for the most part is well done in regards to harmonies and lyrics but there are odd choices made for song arrangements like “I know”. It is an upbeat lyrical song that Mindy sings about who she knows she is and what she wants. But for some reason the song has flatted notes in interesting places, which gives a dreary feel. Perhaps it’s a metaphor of sorts.

Director, Harry Shifman uses the space well and effectively assists with the creating of the train atmosphere with nothing but strategically spaced out chairs.

My only issue with this production is the writing but not in it’s entirety. It falls somewhere between trying to do too much with too many characters (filler) and feels more like a series of events than a story. In the beginning we see all the characters on the train—Mindy evading Greg. Then we get a flash back of Mindy and Greg’s terrible date and cut to them back on the train. It gives the idea that this musical will be about them learning to see whether they are truly meant for each other or not while traveling.

But when the other characters start to share their back-stories everything gets a bit fuzzy and focus is lost. Even the direction appears to suffer a bit with clarity because of this. I would ask if such characters like Stan (with his boyfriend troubles), Liam (with his confidence issues) and Cal (with his problems with confidence and affection) are even necessary in the grander scheme of this project. Both Stan and Cal’s stories could be their own separate musicals in which they are explored fully. Liam could be done away with completely because his character’s purpose can easily be given to another (Greg). It would have been interesting to see Mindy, Greg and Asherah struggle to help Sam with the baby without all the other distractions coupled with the same comedic chops and wit that the current script possesses.

Also it is hinted that Asherah may be an angel but it’s not fully addressed in a solid manner. She simply touches Liam’s head in the end and miraculously cures his low confidence. Even her ending reprise of “see something (say something)” doesn’t tie close the confusion. Maybe with the omission of other characters she can have room to grow, possibly making the story stronger and clearer.

That said, the cast is amazing and fun to watch. They definitely all enjoy the stage for it is their home. It is a treat just watching and listening to the actors. I do believe this piece isn’t the best that it can be but it is pretty close. I would recommend this show for the experience of refreshing new talent that you won’t regret exposing yourself to.

Held Momentarily–With: Jordan Barrow (Stan), Ciaran Bowling (Liam), India Carney (Asherah), Oliver Houser (Cal), Geena Quintos (Mindy), Sam (Yael Rizowy), Greg (James Zebooker)

Book, Music and Lyrics by Oliver Houser; Directed by Harry Shifman; Developed with Hunter Bird; and Choreographed by Geena Quintos; Scenic Design by Adam Rigg; Costume Design by Allison Dawe; Lighting Design by Elijah Schreiner; and Orchestrations by Jeremy Lyons.

Featuring: Scott Stein (Musical Director/Piano), Ari Folman-Cohen (Bass), Eric Allen (Cello), Steve Purcell (Drums/ Percussion), Zach Herchen (Winds), Caleigh Drane (Cello), Ian Hunt (Drums/Percussion), Becca Picket (Production stage manager), Taylor Leigh Cannon (Assistant Stage Manager), Justin Fenniman (Technical Director), Elisha Friedman (Wardrobe Supervisor), Sundance Productions (General Manager) and Dan Fortune (Press Representative).

The Pearl Theatre Company (555 West 42st Street),,
Through to July 27, 2015. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes, no intermission.