Doug Kreeger and Ivan Hernandez in Yank
(Photo © Shaffer/Coyle)
Doug Kreeger and Ivan Hernandez in Yank
(Photo © Shaffer/Coyle)
[Ed. Note: This is the second of three TheaterMania review roundups of shows in the second annual New York Musical Theatre Festival.]

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Yank

The World War II movies released by Hollywood studios in the 1940s were often criticized for the calculatedly heterogeneous make-up of the squadrons portrayed: one WASP, one Italian, one Brooklyn Jew, etc. To this grouping, Yank! adds a participant whom the passage of time has finally allowed to be included: one homosexual. The musical, with book and lyrics by David Zellnik and music by Joseph Zellnik, says out loud and proud that The Good War was also The Gay War.

Actually, there is more than one homosexual among the characters. Stu (the winning Doug Kreeger) is "out," while Mitch (the sexy Ivan Hernandez) is closeted. Then there's military magazine reporter Artie (the adept Jeffry Denman), not to mention a briefly seen typist pool of light items. The entire bunch figures into the Stu/Mitch relationship as the pair try to come to terms with their longings in a hostile environment made even more hostile by the fact that a war is going on in the Pacific.

As the show unfolds under Igor Goldin's brisk direction, it wavers between effective realism and wishful dreaming about the plight of men sharing the love that dare not speak its name while grenades fly. There's even a dream ballet for which choreographer Chase Brock owes Agnes DeMille a debt. At the bigger-than-life moments, the enamored men and their fellow soldiers -- some of whom are sympathetic to the affair -- sing period pastiches. They often have the help of cheerful Julie Foldesi, who gets to play all the gals in their lives. The numbers, including an homage to South Pacific's "Honey Bun," sound right. With the exception of a tap item called "Click," however, the Zellnik brothers' songs never measure up to the real thing.

The best and most ironic line in Yank! goes, "The crime is not doing it. Lots of guys do it. The crime is wanting it." The most manipulative line, spoken by the put-upon protagonist Stu as he finishes his story, goes, "I'm sorry if I made it sound too cheesy and like a musical." Well, if the army boot fits…

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Bradley Dean, Debbie Gravitte, Patrick Quinn, Jackie Hoffman,Sal Viviano, and Raymond Bokhour in The Big Time
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Bradley Dean, Debbie Gravitte, Patrick Quinn, Jackie Hoffman,
Sal Viviano, and Raymond Bokhour in The Big Time
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
The Big Time

As recently as the year 2000, when Urinetown: The Musical suddenly appeared on the horizon, self-referential musicals were new as the morning sun. Five years later, tuners that keep bringing up tuner conventions for easy laughs seem as dated as last month's carton of milk. The latest tired attempt to make a musical and simultaneously make fun of it is The Big Time.

With a book by Douglas Carter Beane and a score by Douglas J. Cohen, the show concerns a small-time showbiz team that's billed as Tony and Donna Stevenitti (Sal Viviano and Debbie Gravitte), even though they're not married -- much to her chagrin. That their surname sounds an awful lot like the combined given names of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme is the plot point by which they are booked on a U.N. cruise that is hijacked by a terrorist band of Dregs, whose anti-capitalist leader happens to have a soft spot for the real Eydie Gorme.

The Big Time falls awkwardly somewhere between Cole Porter's Anything Goes and John Adams' Death of Klinghoffer. Into the rambling plot, Beane introduces a bunch of comic guerillas and a CIA agent whom Donna mistakes for a CAA agent. (Anybody laughing yet?) Whatever happens to the early suggestion that the Stevenittis think they're on a gay cruise? I can't say. In the end, Beane indulges in some narrative contortions that allow Tony to save the world, thereby snaring the big-time attention he and Donna have long craved.

The big-time letdown here is Cohen's score. He rolls out a few cute numbers, including "A Guy Without a Girl" and "A Little Soft Shoe," which Viviano, Gravitte, Jackie Hoffman, Joanna Glushak, David Beach, Patrick Quinn, Raymond Bokhour, Bradley Dean, and Michael McCormick polish professionally. But Cohen rarely rises above the "very good" mark, and he falls considerably below it with a song titled "Big, Brash, Splashy and Illogical Musical." Is there big-time potential for this show? Not yet.

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Todd Fournier, Katherine Von Till, Kevin Earley,Heather Marie Marsden, and Stephen Breithauptin It Came From Beyond
(Photo © Mike Peebler)
Todd Fournier, Katherine Von Till, Kevin Earley,
Heather Marie Marsden, and Stephen Breithaupt
in It Came From Beyond
(Photo © Mike Peebler)
It Came From Beyond

It Came From Beyond is a sometimes slick but frequently annoying musical that has arrived a light year or two past its time. The conceit of writer Cornell Christianson is that nerdy professorial type Harold (Kevin Early) thinks he's going to solve a nagging physics problem by locating hints on how to do so in a comic book titled It Came From Beyond. In a variation on City of Angels, Harold and his associates also have their counterparts on the illustrated page. Thus, five hard-working-to-the-point-of-panting actors do double duty as the story of the scientific quest that Harold pursues while romancing the nubile Becky (Heather Marie Marsden) alternates with that of the comic book's pioneering professor and his inamorata, also called Becky.

Songwriters Stephen M. Schwartz and Norman Thalheimer have worked up songs that sound as if they might have been written during the Eisenhower era. If at first this seems like a laudable accomplishment, it really isn't. Tammy Hart, billed as associate director, has apparently restaged a previous Jeff Calhoun attempt at the material, which includes a few anthems about recognizing the hero in oneself. The cast also includes Todd Fournier, Stephen Breithaupt, and Katherine Von Till, all of them overdoing the super-hero spoofery. By the time this two-acter ends, a viewer kinda wishes that it would return to the beyond whence it came.

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Mary Bond Davis, Lisa Brescia, Sally Wilfert, Stephanie Bast,and Lynne Wintersteller in The Mistress Cycle
(Photo  © Bruce Glikas)
Mary Bond Davis, Lisa Brescia, Sally Wilfert, Stephanie Bast,
and Lynne Wintersteller in The Mistress Cycle
(Photo © Bruce Glikas)
The Mistress Cycle

The premise of The Mistress Cycle is so strong, it's a shame that the 80-minute piece is such a disappointment. Virtually through-sung, it begins as an argument for understanding the complex status of mistresses throughout history but finishes as a tribute to the gallant women who've stood behind the women behind their husbands. Using shades of bordello-red throughout his set, Michael Fagin might just as well pin to the draperies a banner that says, "Wife be damned! Up with the mistress!"

In humorless fashion, photographer Tess Walker (Sally Wilfert), diarist Anais Nin (Lisa Brescia in a stiff Nin wig), madame Lulu White (Mary Bond Davis), consort Diane de Poitiers (Lynne Wintersteller), and concubine Ching (the stunning Stephanie Bast) tell their tales while circling a chaise longue under chandeliers meant to represent each woman's historic era. As they unfold tales of their difficult pasts, they blame men, intruding wives, and society for their troubles. Undoubtedly, all of this has some validity, but almost never do the characters delve more than tentatively into the darker sides of their own natures. (Nin does touch upon an incestuous entanglement with her father that triggered her famous hedonism.)

The earnestness with which this song cycle is offered attests to the significance of the subject matter in the eyes of librettist-lyricist Beth Blatt and composer Jenny Giering. But earnestness does not good listening make. A positive description of the piece, which could easily be retitled Second Lady Suite, is "a collection of art songs." Unfortunately, Blatt's often angry and just as often clumsy lyrics are merely prose paragraphs to which Giering has fit snatches of melody that ultimately add up to meandering, uninteresting songs. Much of the same ground is covered by "Fifty Percent," the Marilyn Bergman-Alan Bergman-Billy Goldenberg Ballroom declaration about settling for less than a man's full love and attention. There's no need to sit through a show that declares practically the same sentiment.