Mephistopheles of Pancakes (gruyere) wrote,
Mephistopheles of Pancakes

NYMF Roundup, Day 2

The Piper
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Marcus Hummon

Hummon and director Michael Bush were responsible for one of the weakest shows I saw in last year’s festival (the wimpy Warrior); their entry this year is something of a theatrical atonement (appropriate for something I saw on Yom Kippur). It’s still not great, but it’s a giant step above. The show’s downfall is its book: the first act is almost entirely exposition, and the two “big twists” that show up in the last few minutes are dramatically senseless; one is obvious from the first five minutes of the show and the other comes out of nowhere (but is pretty obvious anyway). Lots of stuff needs to be clarified: the show seems to have a framing device of its being a story being told by one of the characters played by Nancy Anderson, but this doesn’t hold up throughout, for one thing. (The plot, for what it’s worth, is, at least, original: it’s a drama set in 1892 Boston, amidst the crossing paths of a boarding-house owner, her lame pennywhistle prodigy of a daughter, a German folklorist who stays with them, and a Jack the Ripper type who is murdering prostitutes throughout the city.)
All of that said, Hummon is as terrific a composer as he is dull a librettist; much of the score is in a hauntingly gorgeous Celtic mode, only rarely does the music slip into the dull country-pop that pervaded Warrior (Hummon is a successful Nashville songwriter), and only one song falls flat completely (an amiably inept comedy song for a group of hookers). Most notable among the songs are the searing “Only a Man,” the thrilling “Pay the Piper” and “The Pied Piper of Hamlin,” the rousing (if dramatically sort of pointless) opener “New Jerusalem,” and the instrumental “Stuart’s Theme,” repeated throughout.
The cast is uniformly excellent and were the main drawing point for me in the first place; aside from Anderson (who is unfortunately rather wasted in a pair of supporting roles—but who knew she can fiddle so well?), there’s also Christiane Noll (giving one of the best performances I’ve seen her give), Patrick Ryan Sullivan (always superb, and here charmingly evil), T.J Mannix (as haunting as the score), and Jillian Louis, among others. Also plenty of points for the exuberant choreography of Janet Watson.

The Yellow Wood
Book by Michelle Elliott
Music by Danny Larsen
Lyrics by Michelle Elliott and Danny Larsen

I should note at the beginning that I’ve seen The Yellow Wood before; it won the Richard Rodgers last year, and the York hosted its workshop. I saw that version; I found much to admire, particularly in the score, but felt that the show still needed a lot of work, mostly in the second act. For once, they’ve gotten it (mostly) right. The show still needs about fifteen minutes shaved off (and I can even say exactly where most of them should come from), but the revisions made in the past eight months have turned a winning but troubled show into one that’s just plain winning.
As I’ve noted before to some people, The Yellow Wood has a plot that does not exactly scream “musical”—the entire show is about a half-Korean teenager who doesn’t take his Ritalin and spends the day trying to memorize “The Road Not Taken.” Seriously. It’s better than it sounds, I swear. There’s lots of stuff that springs out of this: video games, psycho dragon teachers who use the bones of failing students to make paper, a voracious Korean ancestor, living word problems, and the titular forest.
Of the cast, standouts are some fellow who looks a lot like therandyshow, and Yuka Takara, splendid as the teenager’s bitter kid sister. What surprises me most is how agile much of the staging is—as far as I can tell, this is B.D. Wong’s first work as a director, and he’s done a fine job (although the use of the overhead projector is unpleasantly awkward). I’d like to commend whoever did the choreography (nobody is credited) for some fine work, as well as Larsen for orchestrating his own score so well (the six-piece band is under the control of Christopher D. Littlefield).

Bernice Bobs Her Mullet
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Joe Major
Based on the short story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thanks to an insanely good cast (kudos to mikecassara), Bernice Bobs Her Mullet is a far better show than it has any right to be. Can any show want more than to have—among others—Garrett Long, Ann Morrison, Jeff Hiller, and Hollie Howard? I doubt it. They help to make a charmingly silly evening of theatre out of what is essentially a really funny mess—songs are in the wrong places (or just plain missing, or else superfluous), scenes are too short or too long, et cetera.
The title tells you pretty much all you need to know—it’s going to be a down-home variation of Fitzgerald’s iconic short story—and what’s on stage is exactly what it promises: a mullet-headed young lady from the wrong side of the tracks goes to live with her high-and-mighty city relatives for two weeks, during which her world (and theirs) is turned upside down and backwards. Major does add a few additional touches (the two characters played by Hiller—a psychotically religious seminary student and an equally flamboyant hairdresser—are new, as is the final scene), but for the most part he hews closely to his source, aside from moving and updating the material.

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