By Stanford Friedman
A British musical with a 14 member company, a Broadway legend and a seven piece orchestra? The sprawling romance Icon proves that, lest there be any doubt, the New York Musical Festival, now in its 13th season, has come of age. This year, the fest showcases 18 new productions and offers a slew of additional programming spread across a month-long run. Of course, “new” is a relative term. Icon arrives from the UK via a slow boat, having premiered at a London fringe theater back in 2008, but apparently gathering dust ever since.
This energetic company does its best to shake off that dust, though it is tricky material. The liveliest songs are in the wrong spots and the multiple plot lines pull focus from one another. Though primarily set in a palace in the Alpines in 1929, there are key scenes set in a Venezuelan villa in 1969. And just as we are getting a grip on the romantic entanglements, it turns out that we should have been paying more attention to the socio-politics.
At the center of the tale is Princess Constance (Charlotte Maltby) Like Princess Grace she is a young, beautiful American who marries the prince of a European principality. Like Princess Winnifred, she is culturally unrefined. And like Princess Di, she meets a tragic end at her prime. She also proves to be the anti-Evita, a commoner at heart who stands up for the villagers and mocks her new found royalty.
A whirlwind of complications surround Constance. Her new husband, Prince Cedric (Ben McHugh) is gay. Their wedding night duet, “I Wonder,” is a charming bit of sexual frustration, but we ultimately see so little of Cedric that his circumstances grow inconsequential. Seeking refinement, Constance takes up with Alvaro (Sam Simahk), a brilliant musician working as a lowly waiter. His recitative, “That’s All I know,” is a sarcastic attack of the elite who consider him a plebe, rife with rhymes like, “Help me comprehend harmonics while I pour some gin and tonics.” Their forbidden romance will, soon enough, lead to revolution and, seemingly, the demise of the princess.
Alvaro’s story suddenly becomes the heart of Act 1, with Mr. Simahk powering his way through five sequential numbers in a strong tenor. But there is not quite the fiery chemistry with Ms. Maltby that one wishes. In her high heels, she towers over him by several inches, resulting in many an awkward embrace.
Meanwhile, 40 years later in Venezuela…we meet Miss Vine (Donna McKechnie). Through a series of chats with a young journalist (Chase Crandell), we learn of her intimate connection to those royals, a connection that I won’t spoil for you here. Fans of Ms. McKechnie (Broadway’s original Cassie in A Chorus Line) will surely be disappointed, for she danceth not a single step and singeth merely a forlorn 16 bars or so in the show’s final wobbly minutes. Fans of Ms. McKechnie’s fingers, however, are in for a treat since her characterization is full of frantic gesticulation. The lack of musicality is especially frustrating in that each of her scenes is begging for a ballad and, given the reflective nature of her character, a dance, if not with the music and the mirror, then at least with Constance, would have made for a poignant finale.
Icon – Book by Sebastian Michael, Music and Lyrics by Jonathan Kaldor, Directed and Choreographed by Paul Stancato.
WITH: Colin Anderson (Dr. Haitzinger/Ensemble), Leslie Becker (Grand Duchess Cesara), Patrick Connaghan (François/Ensemble), Chase Crandell (Marcello), Chloe Holgate (Véronique/ Ensemble), Donna McKechnie (Miss Vine), Charlotte Maltby (Princess Constance), Ben McHugh (Crown Prince Cedric), Kalia Medeiros (Mrs. Haitzinger/Ensemble), Erika Peterson (Caroline/Ensemble), Christopher Ramirez (Busker/Ensemble), Casey Shane (Rico), Sam Simahk (Alvaro) and Tony Sheldon (Gualtieri).
Lily Perlmutter (Stage Manager), Jesse Warkentin (Musical Director), Kevan Loney (Media Design), Isabella F. Byrd (Lighting Design), Kenneth Goodwin (Sound Design), Liene Dobraja (Costume Design). The New York Musical Festival at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street. 866-811-4111, http://www.nymf.org/festival/2016-events/icon/. Through July 26. Running time: 2 hours.