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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Mephistopheles of Pancakes' LiveJournal:

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Sunday, October 17th, 2010
12:34 am
NYMF Roundup, Day 8
And so we reach the end. Capsule reviews for these last two, because I'm tired.

The Great UnknownCollapse )

Pandora's BoxCollapse )

The end. Final score for the whole festival: 53 out of a possible 110 points.

(3 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Saturday, October 16th, 2010
1:06 am

(3 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Friday, October 15th, 2010
1:28 am
NYMF Roundup, Day 6
Trails
Book by Christy Hall
Music by Jeff Thomson
Lyrics by Jordan Mann

(NB: I know Mann a little--enough to be Facebook friends, although we've only met once. And, clearly, not well enough to avoid criticizing the show.)


As children in Allentown, PA, Seth, Mike, and Amy were inseparable. But then they went off to college, and things happened, and now it's years later. Seth's mom has just died, and Mike has shown up to the funeral--they're thirty-four now (or, as Mike puts it, "halfway to sixty-eight") and he proposes that Seth join him in an endeavor that they talked about as younger men: hike the Applachian Trail the whole way, from Georgia to Maine. Seth, having nothing much better to do (he's a freelance...something or other), takes him up on it. (A reaction neither of them was quite expecting.) The hike along the trail is fraught with ghosts of the past, both remembered and improbably present. If they can come to terms with everything that's come between them--not least of which was Amy, for whose affections they competed--they just might make it to the end of the trail without killing each other.
There might be a good show in there somewhere, but it's hard to tell. Hall's book is clunky and obvious--the revelation that's supposed to be a shock at the end of the first act, is ludicrously apparent from the beginning--and wildly overwritten. (The cast also includes a Greek chorus trio of park rangers, each of whom doubles as a character the guys meet on the trail, each of whom has a solo song, each of which could be cut with only the barest damage done. Yes, they provide harmonies, exposition, and vocal underscoring, but that could've been handled by someone in the band, which includes at least one fine vocalist in violinist Emily Mikesell.) Thomson and Mann have crafted a fairly strong score with heavy folk influences (courtesy also of the attractive, four-piece orchestration by Thomson and musical director Aaron Jodoin), but it's still in an uphill battle against the book. It doesn't help that the handful of attempts at comedy songs fail miserably. (Thomson and Mann can write amazing ballads and story songs--give a listen to their non-show songs "Safe Harbor" and "Senior Prom" if you don't believe me--but comedy seems to be a weak point.) They have contributed some very fine ballads--"The One That Got Away," "Stories in the Sky"--and some driving uptempos--"Another Mile," Pennsylvania Nights"--and a gorgeous closer in "Journey's End."
A strong cast might have been able to put the material over, but they barely even have that. Matt Lutz (who's married to Hall) is wooden as Seth, although he sings well; Vanessa Ray is cute, but an inept actress and too thin-voiced for Amy's material. As Mike, Nick Belton provides a bright spot: a handsome, strong-voiced leading man who manages a convincing transformation from sweet-if-troubled child to just-plain-troubled adult lawyer.
The whole thing would be improved at 90 minutes, with just the three main characters on stage with the band. Maybe in the next draft?
SCORE: 3 out of 10

(Say something funny)

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
12:59 am
NYMF Roundup, Day 5
The History of War
Book by Chip Zien
Music by Deborah Abramson
Lyrics by Amanda Yesnowitz


Manfred is twelve. And angry. Very angry. His dad is dead--a casualty of war--and his mom is remarried, and now he's got homework: write about a world event. So, naturally, angry little boy that he is, he decides to write a history of war. And who better to help him than the greatest titans in history: Alexander the Great, Idi Amin, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, and Osama bin Laden?
I genuinely have no idea how to approach this. I couldn't even figure out how to start this writeup--that's how little sense the show makes. Chip Zien shouldn't quit his day job, as they say. The book he's written feels largely like a assignment from a playwriting class run amok: take a bunch of famous people from history, stick them in a room, and see how they interact! The idea is not completely terrible, but the action gets more and more surreal as the show progresses, and by the end the lines between imagination and reality have blurred past the point of intelligibility. These scenes are occasionally interrupted by cuts to a pair of soldiers, each pair trying to take a hill in a different era. The idea, I guess, is that war never changes. The result is "war is bad, mmmkay?" (In the end, it turns out that Manfred is one of these soldiers, going mad in Afghanistan. Or something. It's really hard to tell what's supposed to be going on in the last third of the show. Not that it's easy to parse the first two thirds, either.)
There is a very fine cast, at least, headed by the intense (if not strong-voiced) Michael D'Addario as Manfred. Max von Essen is a hilariously self-obsessed Alexander, Jason Kravitz a disturbingly accurate Napoleon, Herman Sebek a powerful Genghis, and William Michals a comically cowardly bin Laden; Paul Kandel does a decent job as Caesar, despite not really having a character to play, and Christopher Gurr's Hitler gets a strong song near the beginning ("Shadows and Light"), but not a lot else. (Eric Poindexter, as Idi Amin, gets to do little more than crack dick jokes--each of the other titans gets a song of his own.) Sophie Hayden and Jim Walton are present as Manfred's well-meaning mother and even more well-meaning stepfather, respectively--except that they're also the maid and butler in the clubhouose frequented by the warlords. Andrew Pandaleon and Robbie Tann round out the company as the two soldiers.
Amanda Yesnowitz's skill as a lyricist is something of an open secret: it's known that she's extraordinarily talented (hell, she was the first lyricist to win a solo Larson Grant), but her work is not often heard, and this is the first full-length show of hers to be staged in New York (or, I think, at all). She doesn't disappoint: the lyrics here are superb. The same, I'm afraid, cannot be said for Deborah Abramson's music. She's a talented composer (go to her website and listen to some of the stuff she's written--I'll wait), but, aside from the closing "Body on a Hill" and the aforementioned "Shadows and Light," the music here barely rises above mock-Sondheim vamps and noodling. (A fuller orchestration might have helped--in this production, the show is accompanied by Brian Usifer on keyboard and an unidentified fellow on a mostly inaudible bass.) Nick Corley's staging is smooth (although he doesn't make much use of the ATA's built-in idiosyncrasies), and Darren Lee provides some lively choreography.
SCORE: 4 out of 10 (with points granted for the cast and the outstanding lyrics)

(4 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Sunday, October 10th, 2010
2:16 am
NYMF Roundup, Day 4
Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jay Alan Zimmerman


What happens when a composer finds himself losing his hearing? If he's Jay Alan Zimmerman, he writes a musical about it. No, seriously. Zimmerman crafted an autobiographical musical tracking his life in music and art from childhood (the son of a music theory professor, he picked up the piano and other instruments early on) through his young adulthood (his presentations at the ASCAP Workshop got him labeled "a young Bernstein" by Betty Comden), and into the present. In his late twenties, mild hearng loss made itself apparent; today, he can hear only some low frequency sound. Even through this, he has continued to make music
So where's the musical in this? Well, that's the problem part. Incredibly Deaf Musical feels like two pieces uncomfortably glued together. One is a fascinatingly weird and intensely moving experimental musical about a man dealing with his own inability to hear, when it's the most important thing in his world. The other is a really boring and rather ordinary musical about a bunch of other people reacting to another person's inability to hear. The more that the material focuses on Zimmerman himself and the more unorthodox the musical material gets, the better the result is; conversely, the more ordinary songs are duller than dishwater, even when the music is pretty. (It is perhaps telling that when the show--now full-length and performed by a cast of eight--made its first appearance several years ago in the DC Fringe, it was a solo piece performed by Zimmerman himself.)
In a structural stroke that is less bizarre than it sounds, Zimmerman is played by five separate actors: Paul Amodeo in the present, Jason Reiff as a young man, Pierce Gidez as a child (he also doubles as Zimmerman's son), and Tiffan Borelli and Amber A. Harris as a pair of musical alter egos, respectively an artsy soprano and a gospel diva. All are excellent, although the two adult Jays get the bulk of the strongest material. Amodeo leads the company in a trio of impressive rap-based numbers, particularly the searing first act finale, "My Break-Up," and displays impressive piano chops accompanying Harris in the gorgeous "Disappearing Act" (most of the music is prerecorded, but there's an onstage piano played by several of the actors); Reiff gets to work through the powerful "Press Play," strongly reminiscent of Mikel Rouse's weirdly gorgeous experimental pop songs. Casey Erin Clark does decent work as Zimmerman's wife Lisa; she gets a strikingly beautiful (if out of place) ballad in Act One called "Fall." Her second-act song "I Don't Need a Picture," isn't nearly as good, although it's not as bad as the truly awful "Go, Go, Go," sung by Jay's agent Lou, or the amiably inept "With a Twist," wherein Jay finds a group of fellow musicians with hearing loss on the internet.
The evening ends on a high note--after a nice enough ensemble finale called "Fly," Jay Alan Zimmerman himself comes out to lead the company in a song called "Dance in Your Heart." It's a moment that, despite the weakness of the song and the insistence on audience participation, is far more genuine and lovable than much of what has come before it. Would that more of the show were such.
SCORE: 5 out of 10 (Although it's a complex 5. The show veers wildly between a 3 and an 8; those average out to 5.5. Add 0.5 for the finale, which makes audience participation both tolerable and moving, but then subtract 1 for the show's unwelcomely prodigious length.)

(1 Promise of the morning | Say something funny)

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010
11:46 pm

(Say something funny)

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
1:43 am
NYMF Roundup, Day 2
Things as They Are: The Life of Dorothea Lange
Book and Lyrics by John Dietrich
Music by Jonathan Comisar


In a sense, I was there at the genesis of this piece--John Dietrich was a classmate in the Libretto class I took through NYU Grad in the summer of 2006, and his final project was the first draft of this show's first act. I'm not certain how much of that first act remains (I haven't looked at the material since the class, although it's still in the basement), but some of it is definitely there.
As might be guessed from the subtitle, the show follows the life of Lange, the great photographer whose shots of the Great Depression became iconic. The show's biggest problem is also right there in the subtitle: it covers almost her entire life, from her childhood at the turn of the 20th century through her death in 1965, two weeks before the opening of a solo exhibition at MoMA. Although Lange's art was tremendous and dramatic, her life wasn't--she set out to take photographs and then she took photographs. Then she took some more photographs. We get a brief hint of drama and conflict toward the end when her son excoriates her for spending more time with her work than with her family, but prior to this scene, we've barely even seen her son--if there were any lead up to this, the song might actually have some impact. If the book had focused on the conflict between Lange's private life and public art (literally public--her best-known photos were taken while working for the government and were thus public domain), there might have been some drama worth watching. Instead, the script is merely a rote recitation of incidents.
If the score were better, this might be easier to take, but Comisar fails to provide many strong or even remotely memorable melodies. He does display great skill at choral writing--whenever there's material for the chorus (eleven people, comparatively enormous by NYMF standards), it works like gangbusters, but the solo numbers feel less like songs than like quasi-formless arias. (Which makes me wonder why the authors didn't just discard the dialogue and turn the whole thing into a chamber opera.) On the upside, Garrett Long gives a splendid performance as Lange--but does she ever not give an excellent performance?
SCORE: 4 out of 10

(Say something funny)

Thursday, September 30th, 2010
12:32 am
NYMF Roundup, Day 1
The Tenth Floor
Book by Sara Cooper
Music and Lyrics by J. Sebastian Fabal


Yep. It's a musical about juvenile hall. At least it wasn't called Juvie! The Musical! (I once read a script called Life: The Musical, about a bunch of different murderers serving life in the UK. It was...odd. But I digress.) Cooper was also responsible for the book and lyrics of one of the worst things I've ever seen--a nonsensical Fringe Festival horrorshow called We Love You, Johnny Hero--but in the years since, she's gone through NYU Grad, which is where she and Fabal met (it seems that this may have been a thesis project--Cooper's other thesis project, The Memory Show (with composer Zach Redler) has received a great deal more attention). It hasn't really helped, though.
The barely-there plot concerns a young man--one Victor Alvarez, sixteen--who has been locked-up on the tenth floor (hence the title) of the Miami-Dade Correctional Facility. (For reasons that are unclear, the show is set specifically in 1993.) A pair of mysterious fellow inmates (spoiler alert--they're ghosts!) keep taunting Victor and egging him on into fantasies of the life outside, trying to make him stop thinking of his mother and, for some reason, murder his devoted social worker. The first three quarters of the show is taken up almost completely with these fantasies--Victor dreams about partying with hot chicks, Victor dreams about making it big as a tattoo artist, Victor dreams about helping his mother cook dinner--with no actual event (except a brief visit from the aforementioned social worker) until the last quarter, when Victor finally faces up to the realities of his crime and his life.
The action (or lack thereof) might have been more buyable if it weren't for the seriously terrible acting displayed by pretty much the entire cast. Only Farah Alvin manages to escape with much dignity--she fights valiantly against the unplayable role of the social worker, who's barely a character beyond a few light sketches. The score--mostly Latin pop, with a few brief ventures into a more traditional musical theatre style--might have fared better were the lyrics remotely intelligible, but the sound design renders them utterly impossible to understand most of the time, both through muddy speakers and an overy loud band (conducted by Mark T Evans and orchestrated by Jon Russ). At least there's a good director on board in the form of Igor Goldin, who provides a smart staging, as he often does. He works wonders with a set that consists mostly of eight small neon lights and a bedsheet.
SCORE: 2 out of 10

(Say something funny)

Friday, August 20th, 2010
1:26 am
Informal Thoughts: Passing Strange and Chess in DC
Spoilers for Chess below. Massive fucking spoilers. Especially for this production.


Passing Strange, Studio Theatre

Works well with a large cast--it lends the company vocal sections a nice heft. There are fifteen actors: Narrator, Youth, Mother, and an ensemble, four of whom double in notable roles (Terry/Hugo, Sherry/Marianna/Sudabey, Mr. Franklin/Mr. Venus, and Renata/Desi). The costume design renders the actors largely unrecognizable from role to role, to the point where I didn't realize that there was this much doubling. (Which also sort of surprises me, considering the number of ensembleers whom I now realize didn't play major characters.) The band--though in full view of the audience--are off to the side and no longer participate in the action or vocals except for a bit of shouted backup during the prologue. The vocal lines sung by Heidi in the original production were reassigned to female cast members.

There have been a few changes to the material. In the prologue, "let's cut to the chase--my name is Stew" is now something to the effect of "let's get right to what we came to do." Narrator is no longer Stew himself, which I supposed makes a degree of sense without Stew in the company. The other big(?) change I noticed is that the melody and accompaniment were almost completely deleted from "Surface"--Sean Maurice Lynch (standing on stilts and carrying an massive pole as a cane) delivered the number as a largely shouted monologue, standing on stilts and coercing audience members into participating.

There's very little set to speak of--pretty much just a platform and some plastic panels on the back wall used for projections. Really terrific costume design, though. The entire LA section is all in muted grays, without any color (other than Youth's pale blue t-shirt) until we get to Amsterdam, when there's suddenly a kind of an explosion of color. Nice little Wizard of Oz-ness there.

Also, a lot of NY theatres could learn from Studio's example. The announced curtain time was 8:30; the theatre (99 seats, general admission) was opened at 8:25; the entire audience was seated within ten minutes and the show began squarely at 8:35. Amazing.


Chess, Signature Theatre

Okay, so I've been waiting almost half my life to see Chess in production--so even if this production had sucked (and it didn't), I probably would still have declared it awesome.

The script used is a heavily edited version of the Richard Nelson script as licensed. Lots of dialogue has been trimmed, as has some of the more incidental musical material: the Diplomats and Merchandisers numbers are gone, as are "Chess Hymn" and the press conference theme ("Smile, You Got Your First Exclusive Story.") More oddly, "The Story of Chess" is gone--Gregor sings "Apukad Eros Kezen" (forgive the lack of diacriticals) in the prologue. "The Arbiter's Song" is present in its proper position during Act I (the Broadway version used it at the beginning of Act II but dropped it during the run, I believe); weirdly and ineffectively, the positions of "Nobody's Side" and "Someone Else's Story" have been switched. I was happy to see that "Let's Work Together" was included, as it's an amusing bit of material that I'd never actually heard before (it's a second act duet for Walter and Molokov, set to a drastically rearranged version of "One Night in Bangkok).

The strangest--and most surprising--change comes right at the end: this is a Chess without a completely bleak ending. Anatoly still returns to Russia with Svetlana, but there's no indication that the man we are told is Florence's father actually isn't. So, she loses the man she loved, but at least she's got her daddy back, right? (I have a feeling like this ending was used in some obscure version of the show, but I can't recall which--the 1992 off-Broadway version, maybe?)

Of the three main leads, only Jill Paice doesn't quite satisfy--she seems to be pushing a little bit too much, and she's got something weird going on with her vowels, like she's half-heartedly giving Florence a foreign accent (which doesn't make sense, considering the character has lived in the US since her childhood). Jeremy Kushnier is such ridiculously perfect casting for Freddie that I'm amazed it had never happened before. I'll be amazed if his voice manages to stay in shape for the whole run, what with his version of "Pity the Child." Euan Morton is vocally perfect for Anatoly, although he comes across a little young for the character for my tastes. As far as the supporting cast members go, I can't complain aside from Eleasha Gamble--as rich as her voice is, she just isn't pretty enough to provide a credible romantic threat to Florence.

The design--all neon, steel, and plastic--is fantastic to look at, although I would have liked it if the television monitors along the back wall had been better used (they were barely used at all, actually). David Holcenberg's written new orchestrations that are a mixed bag--too much mediocre synth in the name of trying to recreate the orchestral treatment that the original recording and the OBC had, but they work better in the rock numbers.

(10 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
1:27 am
I didn't get stoned, but I missed it anyway.
Somehow, I missed commemorating my tenth blogiversary--I started this bloglet on July 17th, 2000.

Damn. Time flies. Or something.

(3 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010
1:23 am

(2 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

12:54 am

(Say something funny)

Saturday, May 15th, 2010
10:57 pm

(Say something funny)

Monday, May 10th, 2010
12:09 pm
Well, it's movement, at least.
My senior project, How to (Not) Write a Musical: Stories of an Accidental Musical Theatre Martyr (Now With Appendices!) is finished, approved, signed, and handed in.

This would be a more satisfying accomplishment if I didn't still have another year to go before I can graduate. I'll be finishing college right in time for the tenth anniversary of finishing high school.

(2 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010
12:29 am
No Context Theatre
ME: You may be my dream girl right now. You love bacon, you have red hair, and you'll do porn.
ANONYMOUS LADY WHO SANG AT BMI TONIGHT: Well, I won't do porn. A musical about porn.
ME: Even better.

(2 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Saturday, January 30th, 2010
1:50 am
Truth in a Quote
My father and his mother only spoke to one another in Yiddish. One day, when he was in his early twenties, he and a friend were discussing how to say "disappointed" in Yiddish, and neither could figure it out. So they came up with a plan. They went over to my grandmother's house and my father said to her "Ick ken nisht kumen tzu seder" (I can't come to the seder, in his anglicized syntax). She replied, "Oy, ick bin zeyer disappointed." They never did figure it out, but I always wondered if Yiddish actually lacked a word for disappointed because disappointment is the general condition of the Ashkenazi Jew, so to use the verb "to be" would be sufficient. Years later I looked it up (antoysht) but for a long time I just figured that to say that a Jew from the Shtetl is disappointed is just redundant.

- Harold Augenbraun, from here

(2 Promises of the morning | Say something funny)

Monday, January 25th, 2010
9:15 am
No Context Theatre
ME: I hate the school, but the pants are decent.

(Say something funny)

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010
11:13 pm
No Context Needed Theatre
SCOTT SIMON (on iPod): It is often said that war planners had projected that a land invasion of Japan could cost the lives of a million U.S. soldiers and many more Japanese.
ME: Dammit, never get involve a land war in Asia!

------

Unrelated: Today I saw the two David Greenspan plays, which were awesome. Between them, I spent an hour walking through Williams-Sonoma and Chelsea Market with my mom. It's amazing that I'm straight.

(1 Promise of the morning | Say something funny)

Monday, January 11th, 2010
12:03 am
No Context Theatre
MY MOM: Is the printer in the refrigerator?

(1 Promise of the morning | Say something funny)

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010
11:43 pm
No Context Theatre
ME: To his credit, the guy has a way with words. To his debit, he is clearly a fucking idiot.

(Say something funny)

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