"There aren't too many things like NYMF, which fosters so many different kinds of works at the same time and with a commercial spirit behind it," says Daniel Reichard, one of the many theater celebrities participating in this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival, which runs September 28-October 18.
Reichard plays Edward, the title character of The Happy Embalmer, written by one of his childhood friends, Mark Noonan, with Nick Oddy. "Edward is basically the Tiger Woods of embalming," says the actor. "His family funeral home is doing big, big things because he is so gifted; it's almost to the point that old ladies want to compete to get him to work on them when it's their time. The story starts when Edward's unrequited childhood love shows up on his table and he goes on a Candide-like adventure across the world."
Despite the funereal aspect to the show, Reichard insists that "it's a very colorful comedy -- wacky and screwball, and not dark at all. In a way, it's not even very morbid." The show has a rock score, but one which mimics or parodies several musical styles. "There's a David Bowie-type song, one that sounds like Johnny Cash, a Beach Boys homage, and a Bertolt Brecht rock anthem." There's even a nod to The Four Seasons, which should please fans who know Reichard primarily from his work in Broadway's Jersey Boys. "There's a number where we lift, as a joke, the end of 'Who Loves You,' which my friends wrote in as a little tip of the hat to Jersey Boys.
Tony Award nominee Brenda Braxton is playing the Queen mother-in-law in Vynnie Meli and Casey L. Filiaci's family-friendly tuner, Plagued--A Love Story, which is a sequel to the Cinderella story. "It's 20 years after Prince Charming and Cinderella have met, and my character is trying to marry off their 15-year-old daughter Dusty to another monarch," says Braxton. "But she ends up falling in love with this little guy who comes into the kingdom with news about the plague. And they have to convince me to help them implement their plan for a cure."
Braxton is very enthusiastic about the score, which incorporates soul, jazz, and traditional theater music. "One of my favorite songs is 'Put On Those Shoes,' sung by the prince," she notes. "He and Cinderella have an anniversary ritual to pull the glass shoes out again, and the song is just amazing."
The veteran actress is also appreciative of the opportunities offered by the New York Musical Theatre Festival itself. "When I started out, I did many shows that were NYMF-ish in the sense they had no bells and whistles and everyone works really hard and nobody's trying to be a star," she says. "You don't have a chance to create roles much anymore, because they do so many revivals, so it's also good to feel like you're in on the ground floor."