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Wood NYMF and Other Delights

The fifth annual New York Musical Theatre Festival features such fare as Wood, The Road to Ruin, and Play It Cool. logo
Cady Huffman singing a song from Wood
(© Tristan Fuge)
"NYMF takes live musical theater to its most basic, most joyful, most intimidating level," says Tony Award winner Cady Huffman, who is starring in the New York Musical Theatre Festival production of Wood. The fifth annual festival, which runs September 15-October 5 at various venues, will include 24 full productions, a dance series, a developmental series, concerts, and special events.

Wood, featuring music by Juliane Wick Davis with book and lyrics by Dan Collins, is one of the most anticipated offerings. The show is a modern day re-imagining of A Midsummer Night's Dream that revolves around 17-year-old Herman (played by Jason Michael Snow) who sneaks off into the woods to explore his homosexual desires. "Things happen in the woods that you wouldn't normally do in the world," says Huffman, who plays Herman's mother, Judy. "We also have a fairy chorus -- three boys that you're not sure if they're making things happen, but maybe they are!"

Huffman's character is naturally distrustful of the woods, she says. "To me, they signify the moment when he would lose himself. I am trying to destroy them, basically, to save our little perfect town. The musical is a story of a mother trying to hold on to her son's sexual naivete; she wants him to stay her sweet little boy." As for the score, the actress calls it a mixture of pop and a more traditional music theater sound. "I have two big songs, and they're very different from each other. One's big comedy, and the other's the big cathartic realization that my life is crap!"

Cristina L. Fadale, Brooke Sunny Moriber, and
Ann Morrison in The Road to Ruin
(© Jennifer Isaacson)
Budding teenage sexuality is also the theme for The Road to Ruin, William Zeffiro's musical comedy spoof of the 1928 silent movie of the same name, which tells the story of Little Sally Canfield (played by Brooke Sunny Moriber), whose life takes a downward turn after a supposedly innocent sleepover leads to cigarettes, liquor, and even further debauchery. Although it was supposedly filmed as a cautionary tale, "nobody went to it to learn anything or be edified," says Zeffiro. "It was really to watch young girls run around in their nighties and misbehave."

Zeffiro -- who penned book, music, and lyrics -- uses a show-within-a-show format that mimics how the film was originally presented. "They would pitch a tent outside of town, and then the locals would come out to the tent to see the movie," he explains. "That solved a problem for me. It's the story about the destruction of a 15-year-old girl, and if you use a real 15-year-old girl, that's not funny. But if you have the distance of a show within a show and use a 25-30 year-old woman playing 15, then it's funny."

Broadway stars Sally Mayes and Josh Strickland lead a cast of five -- which also includes Kristen Sergeant, Daniel Torres, and Michael McGurk -- in the jazz-inflected musical, Play It Cool, conceived by Larry Dean Harris with a book by Martin Casella and Harris. "It's just so wonderful to hear Sally Mayes sing jazz!" exclaims Sharon Rosen, the show's director. "We were really looking for people who could do that. A lot of wonderful actors came in and could sing beautifully, but they couldn't swing."

Josh Strickland and Sally Mayes
star in Play It Cool
(© Carol Rosegg)
Set in 1953, the show is centered around a fictional jazz club that catered to the gay and lesbian community in Hollywood at a time when there were a number of restrictions on what kind of behavior was acceptable. "In the first number, there's a whole 'rules of the club' section that's sung to welcome everyone and tell them what's up," says Rosen. "Both the audience and the characters are told you can't dance with each other, you can't hold each other's hand or you get in trouble."

The piece is built around lyrics by Mark Winkler, and includes pre-existing songs that he wrote with a number of composers as well as music composed specifically for the show with Phillip Swann. "When I came on board in 2005, I talked about how we needed one composer to pull everything together," says Rosen. "I think Phil has written about half the songs, and some of the others have had lyric changes to help adjust it. This has been such a great collaboration. I've worked on a lot of things, and haven't had the musical conversation with people that I've had with this project."

Other offerings include the rock satire Bedbugs!!!, Love Jerry, about a family dealing with the discovery that the uncle is a pedophile, and Wild About Harry, a commissioned dance musical about Leona Helmsley. "We have a fair amount of escapism, as well as some really dark material,"says executive director Isaac Robert Hurwitz. "That's exciting because musical theater is a large umbrella and there's room for all of that."

In addition to its more celebrated productions, NYMF also encompasses a number of concerts and partner events, which will include Prospect Theatre Company's 10th anniversary concert, featuring Matt Cavenaugh, Gavin Creel, Malcolm Gets, Adam Jacobs, and Jose Llana; a panel on writing musical comedy that features Nell Benjamin (Legally Blonde), Mark Hollmann (Urinetown), and Bobby Lopez (Avenue Q); and a talk by [title of show] creators/stars Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen, who were responsible for the festival's first Broadway transfer. Says Hurwitz of these events: "It's really been about trying to find things that celebrate musical theater and highlight the talent that's out there."

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