Hanley Smith and Curtis Holbrook in Frog Kiss
(© Ellis Gaskell)
Hanley Smith and Curtis Holbrook in Frog Kiss
(© Ellis Gaskell)
[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the seventh annual New York Musical Theatre Festival.]

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The delightful new musical Frog Kiss, at the Theatre at St. Clement's, breathes new life into the oft-told fairy tale, "The Frog Prince." This version is a bit bawdier than other incarnations -- and perhaps not appropriate for the youngest of audience members while teens and adults are sure to find plenty to enjoy.

Charles Leipart's book keeps enough elements of the traditional story intact, while adding in things like a chorus of Tao Masters (Jordan Barbour, Kenita Miller, Kate Pazakis, and Herman Sebek) and giving a more intellectual bent to the princess Clementine (Hanley Smith) whose attempt to transform the frog (Curtis Holbrook) into a prince proves more difficult than a mere kiss.

Eric Schorr's catchy, jazz-infused score keeps toes a tappin' -- especially those of the actors! Lorna Ventura's energetic yet whimsical choreography is well performed by the entire cast, but most especially by triple-threat leading man Holbrook who gets to demonstrate his dancing in several numbers, not the least of which is the dynamic first act closer, "Talents to Tap."

Holbrook also proves to be a great comedic actor, and has good chemistry with Smith's Clementine. Another standout is Manna Nichols as Clementine's sister, Hortense, whose sexy yet comic rendition of "Attention" is one of the show's highlights. Joseph Dellger and Terry Burrell, as King Frederic and Queen Margot, respectively, do a wonderful job with "Think of the Children," which imagines what kind of offspring a princess and a frog will produce with Margot initially thinking about them as monsters and Frederic likening them to the half animal creatures of mythology.

There are admittedly a few jokes that don't quite land in director Kenneth L. Roberson's production, as well as some roles that are too broadly caricatured. But these are minor quibbles that could be fixed in a more fully realized mounting of the show. Indeed, Frog Kiss definitely deserves to be the next breakout NYMF hit.

-- Dan Bacalzo


Justin Gregory Lopez in The Tenth Floor
(© Peter James Zielinski)
Justin Gregory Lopez in The Tenth Floor
(© Peter James Zielinski)

There's a lot of potential in The Tenth Floor, the energetic yet misguided new musical at the Chernuchin Theatre. Written by J. Sebastian Fabal and Sarah Cooper, the show charts the struggle of a troubled teenager, Victor (Justin Gregory Lopez), who winds up imprisoned with hardened criminals. Most of the show plays out through songs that remember times past juxtaposed with the struggles of survival in prison.

The music has an irresistible pulse, and the songs have traces of fine craftsmanship. The riff from the title track is particularly appealing, but it doesn't go very far to satiate the audience. The lyrics are mainly awful veering on unintentionally comical, and the story is stagnant, lacking any discernable dramatic drive. At one point a character declares, "you talk so much, but you say so goddamn little," which perfectly sums up the audiences frustration, and it's hard not to laugh.

At only 90 minutes, the show feels excruciatingly long. The plot languishes over Victor's obsession with winning his mother's love, and his interactions with his social worker smack of an afterschool special complete with the trite and saccharine feel of "I know you're a good kid underneath your homicidal tendencies."

Unfortunately, we don't get to see much of Victor's struggle with who he is at his core. Instead, the dialogue boils complex issues down to their simplest parts. Victor talks often about wishing he could be better, but we can't really see the materialization of this. Late in the show, he sings "Save Me," a song that hints at what the show could be if it allowed us to feel the inner conflict of the characters instead of just the surface sensationalism.

-- Chris Kompanek


Tiffan Borelli, Paul Amodeo, and Amber A. Harris in
Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical
Tiffan Borelli, Paul Amodeo, and Amber A. Harris in
Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical
The autobiographical story told in Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical, at the Duke on 42nd Street, is moving and occasionally quite funny. Unfortunately, the show's score only rarely captivates its audience.

Zimmerman's role within the show is played by three actors: Paul Amodeo as Jay, Jason Reiff as Young Jay, and Pierce Gidez as Kid Jay. The action skips backwards and forwards in time as it chronicles Jay's love affair with music, and what happens when he finds out that he is steadily growing deaf. The writer/composer handles the subject with a wry humor, particularly in the numbers "Say the Word" and "Talkin' Dirty." But he also delves into the darker aspects of the situation, most notably at the end of the first act when Jay is at his lowest point.

The music samples from various genres: "Beh-toe-zart" draws from classical composers; "Manhattan Mosquito" is a tango; there are also a few rap-based numbers and an intriguing experimental composition entitled "Music, Speech, or Noise." Too often, however, the songs sound somewhat generic, particularly "New York Jam" and "Building a Life."

Amodeo has a likable quality that endears the audience to the character. Reiff pushes too hard most of the time, while Gidez is a little too stiff. In supporting roles, Amber A. Harris as Diva J shines in the song "Disappearing Act," while Casey Erin Clark captures both the strength and frustration of Jay's wife, Lisa. She also sings one of the best numbers in the score: "I Don't Need a Picture," even if it is oddly placed within the show's narrative -- she's singing to Jay, but he's offstage for most of the song -- just one more flaw that needs to be corrected if the show expects future productions.

-- Dan Bacalzo


Jason Michael Snow, Jillian Louis, and Zachary Clause
in POPart: the Musical
(© Peter James Zielinski)
Jason Michael Snow, Jillian Louis, and Zachary Clause
in POPart: the Musical
(© Peter James Zielinski)

POPart: the Musical, a new teen musical at the American Theatre of Actors, is heavy on situation, but light on story. The thin book and inane lyrics are by Daryl Lisa Fazio, with derivative music by Aaron McAllister. And while all the performers labor mightily to make something of the show, they simply cannot succeed.

Kitty Katz (wide-eyed, hard-working Jillian Louis) feels like a nobody in high school, as demonstrated in the song "I Blend In," but hopes she'll bloom once admitted to the Ghetto Art School (GAS).

The show's first act is largely given over to caricatures of Kitty's new teachers: the Isadora Duncanish Ms. Hamm (Neva Rae Powers), who calls her acolytes "my lilies"; imperious French imposteur Mr. Manne (Josh Powell), who favors Liza Minelli muumuus; and shy, soft-spoken Miss St. Helen (Marla Mindelle), who, predictably enough, proves a volcanic gospel belter. Every so often a gynecologically obsessed feminist critic, Dr. Bore (Cyrilla Baer), steps in to elucidate -- unnecessarily -- some widely known art-world reference.

Kitty has a wisp of a backstory: a gin-swilling, lipstick-smeared mom (Adinah Alexander), undone by divorce, and a newly declared gay dad (Timothy Warmen). The pair also turn up as a couple of homeless ghouls -- "Self" and "Doubt" -- who haunt her and prompt a crisis of confidence. Kitty is bolstered by two new school friends: goodhearted barrio boy Toni-O (Zachary Clause) and pretentious, paint-eating Edward (Jason Michael Snow), who prefers to call himself "Edvard."

DJ Gray's edgy choreography provides an occasional respite, but otherwise the show is a long, dull slog, less clever by half than the author seems to think. The one stage brightener, in her few moments in the spotlight, is Kitty's wonky ex-classmate/competitor Veronica (Rachel Cantor), who ends up attending trade school and losing her virginity -- "twice!" Now, that has the makings of a story worth listening to!

-- Sandy MacDonald