The undisputed break-out hit from the 15-year history of the New York International Fringe Festival is Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann's Urinetown. The musical premiered at the 1999 FringeNYC, and then moved first Off-Broadway and then on to Broadway in 2001, where it won three 2002 Tony Awards, including for the duo's score, and also for Kotis' book. Now, Kotis and Hollmann are returning to the Fringe with their latest creation, Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life).
The show is set on the bottom of the primordial sea and tells the tale of earth's first creatures -- salt-eating yeasts -- as they struggle to survive and, ultimately, evolve. "I composed the music of our opening number, 'Hear the Song,' using the pentatonic scale in order to set the primordial mood," says Hollmann. "Much of the rest of the score is aggressively pop/rock, with some mock opera embellishments added in order to serve the grandly dramatic aims of the piece."
The musical has previously received productions in Alaska and Chicago, but Kotis and Hollmann have had difficulty getting a producer to put it up in New York. "As we found with Urinetown, a show titled Yeast Nation, with its unusual title and offbeat premise and subject matter, is a hard sell," says Hollmann. "Greg and I decided that we needed to once again realize the show in a bare-bones production and get it in front of a New York audience."
But while the production, directed by Kotis, is utilizing a "poor-theater aesthetic," it's not scrimping when it comes to the acting talent involved, which includes Tony Award winner Harriet Harris. "Harriet plays Jan-the-Unnamed, described as part witch, part oracle," says Kotis. "She's the soothsayer of our story -- ancient, destitute, dangerous, and weirdly prescient. Harriet brings endless smarts, invention, conviction, and an acute sense of humor to the role."
Also returning to the Fringe this year is Matt Saldarelli, whose Getting Even With Shakespeare was a hit at last year's festival. His new work is entitled Welcome to Eternity, and is a collection of vignettes about an engaged couple. "Each short play comedically tackles an issue that the couple -- Patrick and Amanda -- face during their engagement, whether it be in-laws, sex, religion, or dieting," says Saldarelli.
The playwright is, himself, engaged, and the work benefits from his first-hand experience. "Although the play is not a memoir -- we're not that interesting -- there were elements from our lives that inspired pages of text," says Saldarelli.
One element of the show is particularly autobiographical, he notes. "I woke up one morning and declared, despite my inability to draw, that I was going to write a graphic novel about my fiancee's family with my future in-laws as superheroes. My fiancée, quite sensibly, thought this was a horrible idea. In 'Justice Family of America,' Patrick makes the same suggestion and gets a bit further than I did."
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