Book by William Kotzwinkle and Elizabeth Gundy
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Based on the book Herr Nightingale and the Satin Woman by William Kotzwinkle
A new low for NYMF--or anything, really. Despite the presence of seasoned pro writers (Kotzwinkle is the author of 30-some-odd books, including the acclaimed satire The Bear Went Over the Mountain and the charmingly dumb Walter the Farting Dog series for kids, and Leiber and Stoller are rock'n'roll legends), Nightingale and the Satin Woman feels like something that was written in an afternoon, cast by grabbing passersby from the street, and rehearsed for one uncomfortable half-hour.
The plot is barely comprehensible: it's a noir-based funny animal fantasy of a sort about Nightingale and his lover the Satin Woman, who are on the run from Inspector Bag for reasons never explained. There's a black marketeer who may be a mole (of the tunnel-digging sort, not the reality show type); there's a piano-playing, tap-dancing cricket who somehow turns the Satin Woman into a mothwoman, a plot twist which is quickly forgotten; there's also a worm that finds gold but has to kill people every once in a while. None of this bothers to coalesce into anything more than a series of events that feel more like a bunch of episodes of a lousy late-70s Saturday morning cartoon (the kind that Cartoon Network used to rerun at night for nostalgia's sake), except with occasional repetitive songs. (And not a lot of them--the piece is two 40-minute acts, each containing maybe 15 minutes of music, if that.)
The cast of non-names (some of them non-professionals) couldn't even stay in time with each other or the music (which was all synthesized and prerecorded except, bizarrely, for some percussion and guitar, played live). The only moment of amusement was provided when the computer running the projections screwed up and we were met with several minutes of screensaver blown up against the back of the stage. Sure, it was only a reading, but it's unsalvageable.
SCORE: 0.5 out of 10 (would be a flat 0 if not for the computer screw-up)
The Greenwood Tree
Concept and Music by Will Reynolds
Text by William Shakespeare
Apparently this wasn't the complete show--the program indicated that it was an excerpted version. Seeing the whole thing might clarify the action a bit, but I don't think it would help. The plot is loosely sculpted around Shakespeare's words (mostly sung, occasionally spoken): a poet and a musician compete for a beautiful woman; she loves one, then leaves him for the other then leaves him, too; the two guys realize they love each other. Puck floats around the perimeter, being his snarky self.
Essentially, the whole thing is an excuse to show off Reynolds's music, which is unerringly gorgeous--mostly folk-tinged pop, with a dip here and there into gospel and classical modes, all played well by Andy Einhorn's four-piece band (keys, violin, guitar, and
SCORE: 6 out of 10 (the music on its own raises things a full two points)
Judas and Me
Book and Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Music by Matthew Sklar
I've been a fan of Chad and Matthew's for nearly a decade now--it was more than nine years ago now that I saw and fell in love with their show The Rhythm Club at its first preview at the Signature. That show has still never made it to New York, despite multiple attempts; their work was finally heard here in 2006, when their underrated musical adaptation of The Wedding Singer opened on Broadway. All of which is background material to the fact that they've gone and followed that up with a small-scale, irreverent (in the most literal sense of the word), off-Broadway style comedy. The best part: it's really, really funny.
The show follows the story of Judas Iscariot, or, rather, his mother: Rheba Iscariot. She and her children (Judas and his older sister Elke) next door to that insufferable do-gooder Mary; after the archangel Gabriel comes to Rheba in a dream before realizing that he...er, she...er, it ("I've got no sexual organs. THAT is unfair!") has landed at the wrong house, Rheba decides that her boy will be just as famous as the son of God growing up one house over--even if it kills him.
Most of the show is goofball paradise: Beguelin's clever words (of Mary Magdalene: "If she had scars or a million freckles/She'd still look like a million shekels"), Sklar's catchy music, the smooth direction and amusing choreography of Jeremy Dobrish and Dan Knechtges respectively, and especially the cast. Barbara Walsh works her Judaean tuchus off as Rheba, and she's more than matched by Jennifer Laura Thompson (as the Virgin Mary, she essentially gives the same performance she gave in Urinetown, but it works), Ann Harada (who's just plain brilliant as Elke, and I don't say that just because she's a friend), Nick Blaemire as a nebbishy Judas, and Doug Kreeger as a dorkily holy Jesus. Oh, and I mustn't forget Leslie Kritzer as the sexually ambiguous Gabriel, who offered (in tandem with Walsh) a hilarious recovery from a missed cue.
The problems arise in the second half of Act II (AND HERE LIE MAJOR SPOILERS). First, we're given an unnecessary, one-joke comic ballad for Mary Magdalene (it's nicely sung by Nikki Snelson), even though Judas himself is underwritten and gets no big musical moment (just two amusing songs he shares with Jesus, "Rome" and "Happy Is the Man"). Judas's actual betrayal of Jesus--the moment that any treatment of the material must, by necessity, build up to--is glossed over, such that, were someone to come in unfamiliar with the source material, they wouldn't know what's going on. And then the ending makes no sense: Rheba is arrested for collusion in the murder of Jesus and jailed; she is then offered the chance to go free if she recants and proclaims that Jesus is the messiah. Which she does--hey, it's better than being stoned to death--going on a life of selling statues of Jesus and Mary. The thing is, Christianity wasn't legal under the Roman empire for another 300 years, and the events of the last twenty minutes of the show are the exact opposite of what would have happened. This is a major, major problem, but one that is hardly unfixable.
(As a side note, however, I have to wonder: why, exactly, is Judas and Me in NYMF? Chad and Matthew have a track record, and their last show ran for a respectable amount of time on Broadway and then toured. Who do they have to fuck to get an off-Broadway production? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense.)
SCORE: 7 out of 10 (the troubled ending loses it a point)