by Zachary Stewart
Hormone-addled Catholic-school students put on a classic play and learn a lot of valuable lessons about life in the process: We've seen this conceit before, most recently in the off-Broadway revival of Bare. Yet Joe Slabe's new musical Crossing Swords is so intelligently written and sensitively acted, it makes the genre feel fresh and new.
Centered around a joint production of Cyrano de Bergerac in fall of 1969 between the all-boys St. Mark's and the all-girls St. Anne's, Crossing Swords is one big mess of unrequited love. Jeremy (Lyle Colby Mackston) is in love with his best friend, David (Marrick Smith), but he doesn't want anyone to know. So, like Cyrano (who he just so happens to play), he tries to help David woo Nicky (Ali Gordon). The only problem is that Nicky has the hots for Jeremy (poor girl). This love triangle is overseen by free-spirited French teacher Miss Daignault (Linda Balgord) and a persnickety British math teacher known only as Sir (Steven Hauck). Sir pronounces the play "See-rah-noh." He's just that British. Both of the adults are running from painful memories left over from World War II.
The first act utilizes a lot of overlapping lyrics and melodies to get through the exposition and the characters' "I Want" songs. The five actors sing in harmony and counterpoint as they establish their individual objectives. This delicate dance becomes a train wreck in the second act as competing agendas collide.
There is something awe-inspiring about the economy of this show, with only three musicians and five actors to produce such complex music...and they do it perfectly while sword-fighting. Under the surefooted direction of Igor Goldin, the show never loses focus nor does the sense of time and place never become jumbled — a remarkable feat considering the fact that so many of the scenes are also overlapping. This is theater for the Windows generation.
Beyond the serious drama, Crossing Swords is also very funny and unabashedly theatrical in its contrivances, which is a lot of fun to watch. At the performance I attended, some high school age kids practically jumped out of their seats at some of the pivotal moments of the play. If you can get an audience to become that invested in your story, anything is possible.
Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist
by Bethany Rickwald
Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist is High School Musical for the nerds. It follows Gary through the trials of being an overweight teenager and wannabe magician at his Long Island school. He's in love with the most popular girl in school (of course), who teases him relentlessly (of course), and is blind to the advances of the sweet, quiet girl in a wheelchair (yeah, of course).
Despite all those tired tropes, however, Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist, like Gary himself, manages to reveal occasional sparks of potential. The NYMF production features several laugh-out-loud-funny moments courtesy of the cast's brilliant interpretation of a book that could easily have fallen flat in less dynamic hands (Jared Loftin as Gary and MaryAnne Piccolo as Mrs. Goldfarb/cafeteria lady Ms. Salmonelli are both notable in that respect). The score includes a few easily cuttable songs such as "With a Little Bit of Magic" and "Oy, Mon Dieu," but others, especially a sweet ballad sung by Penelope (Krista Buccellato) entitled "Piece of Me," are promising bits of musical-theater writing.
Gary Goldfarb most fully embraces its oddball nature in a surprising scene and not-quite-PC song ("Walk All Over") near the very end of the show. This moment, in which Gary and Penelope discover their love, is touching and unexpected. It is an example of the kind of risk-taking, in a show with a predictable plot and familiar characters, which makes Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist stand out among quirky, new musical-theater offerings.
Homo: The Musical
by Bethany Rickwald
You don't have to read much more than the title and three-sentence description of Homo: The Musical to know without a shadow of a doubt whether it's the show for you. Homo promises aliens, chaos, rock, and camp, and faithfully delivers all of the above in a tale about a small family in a Stepford-esque town that's visited by lanky, green aliens from the planet Homo.
The plot involves the abduction of Sally the housewife (Danielle Erin Rhodes), who is replaced here on earth by a wig-wearing Gaylien (the talented Sam Given), who is determined to convince the Earthlings to decrease their numbers by shunning hetero sex and, you know, murdering one another. The ensuing 80-minute romp is tiresome and bursting with cliché. There are also several hastily written-off violent murders. But Homo does provide a few moments of over-the-top fun thanks to a capable cast who seem to be having a legitimately great time singing and dancing to the music of composer and lyricist Gina Volpe. In fact, the songs in Homo: The Musical, though featuring silly lyrics, are surprisingly good. The fun tunes could easily inspire dancing along if the audience wasn't confined in their plush seats.
And that is perhaps the biggest issue with NYMF's production of Homo: The Musical. Homo knows its audience, but as a part of NYMF, it doesn't have them. This show would be best presented somewhere dingy and danceable, where the audience would have already consumed a few judgment-clouding beverages and where it wouldn't be considered rude to chat through some of the less-titillating scenes.