FringeNYC Roundup #3
Young Zombies in Love may not be a great musical, but it's an awful lot of fun. Written by Damian Hess, with songs by Gaby Alter, the show tells the story of Nick (Daniel Zaitchik) and Lu (Erica Ash), two high school seniors in Tombstown U.S.A. who discover that zombies are about to overrun their sleepy little town -- and they may be the only ones who can stop it. Zaitchik and Ash have a good onstage chemistry and they lead an appealing cast of 21 performers.
The show takes a campy poke at late-night creature features while maintaining a musical comedy sensibility. Alter's pop score is, for the most part, fairly bland; it's pleasant enough to listen to but it doesn't stick in your head. An exception to this is the love duet "Don't Say Goodbye," which is easily the best song in the show. The country-inflected "Sleep of the Just" is also quite a successful number, thanks in part to the over-the-top Tammy Wynette impersonation delivered by Cynthia Pierce as Lu's mother, Mrs. Drue.
Joshua Carlson's choreography is athletic and well executed by the hard-working cast, yet it's sometimes too busy. Erik Flatmo's set successfully suggests the kind of cartoonish world that the characters inhabit; Jenny Mannis's costumes are likewise appropriate. As directed by Jackson Gay, the production maintains a quickly paced, energetic feeling that helps one to overlook some of its flaws.
The stories that Sara Kahn relates in Haven are intended to inspire both sympathy and outrage -- and, to a certain extent, they do. The writer-performer is also a social worker who has worked with refugee children in Bosnia and assisted with political asylum cases here in the U.S. The true-life tales of horror and injustice faced by the primary characters in Haven are moving in and of themselves; yet Kahn tends towards simplified versions of these stories that are aimed at pulling the heartstrings of the audience, rather than treating her subject with more complexity.
The performance is part monologue, part cabaret. Original music by Kelly Dupuis and Marc Smollin is seamlessly interwoven with more familiar tunes such as "On a Clear Day..." and "My Funny Valentine." Kahn possesses a fine singing voice, and the musical elements nicely complement the performer's spoken sections.
Kahn also describes her own journey from naïve young musical theater actress to more committed social activist. Of her first trip to Bosnia, she says, "I was no hero; I was going to find something inside of myself." Kahn readily acknowledges the privileges associated with her position, but it's not fully clear how she overcame the difficulties that this engendered. For example, she notes that a translator with whom she worked in Cypress was initially hostile, challenging both her credentials and capabilities. As Kahn presents the story, she seems to win the man over to her side by singing at a public event, but it surely can't have been that simple; details seem to be missing or at least glossed over.
Nevertheless, Haven is ultimately quite moving as Kahn relates both her successes and her failures. At the performance I attended, one of the people whose stories she told was in the audience: Albert, a former Olympic athlete from Cameroon who fled to the United States after his family was threatened by government authorities if Albert did not participate in a corrupt sports venture. Kahn brought him up to the stage at the curtain call and his presence contributed to the overall effect of the performance piece, which resonates with hope and the belief that individuals can effect change.
Moonchild, a new play by Maureen Fitzgerald, is inspired by a historical connection between renowned occultist Aleister Crowley and the father of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. Set in December 1945, the play imagines what this meeting of the minds might have been like; unfortunately, the playwright has constructed an elaborate plot that is bogged down by badly written dialogue and too much exposition.
Ron (Jonathan Cantor) arrives at the home of Jack Parsons (Eric Altheide) in order to convince the wealthy young eccentric to finance a business venture. Discovering that Jack has become a black magic devotee and one of Crowley's disciples, Ron decides to use this to his advantage: He agrees to assist in a mystical procedure that will supposedly allow Jack to sire a Moonchild, a being that will have no soul and will herald the end of the world. Ron enlists the aid of a past associate, Marjorie Cameron (Heather Tom), to participate in the scam. Moonchild downplays the mystical elements of the story and emphasizes the grift involved; Ron is a con man of the first order, and he claims that Crowley is, as well.
As directed by Alex Lippard, Cantor constantly talks like he's in an infomercial. While this can be funny at times, it's too one-dimensional to carry the actor through the play. The rest of the cast also fails to achieve much depth in their portrayals. Tom is sexy and seductive as Marjorie, but she's playing the stereotype of a vixen rather than an actual human being. Altheide has a tendency towards overblown acting, as does Abby Wathen as Jack's young lover, Betty Northrup.
In Moonchild's most compelling scene, late in the second act, Ron tries to convince Crowley (David Jones) that no one is afraid of the devil anymore and that the key to achieving power is to convince the masses that you have something they desperately want. It's unfortunate that Fitzgerald spends the bulk of the play on less interesting subject matter.
Despite a promising score by Michael Holland, Believe in Me...A Bigfoot Musical is a big disappointment. Written by Adrien Royce and based on her stage play Everything That Happens in the Woods Is Real, the musical is poorly constructed, with numerous bad jokes and minimal character development.
Directed by Drew Geraci, the show follows Arlene (Christina Norrup), a socially conscious television writer who takes on the Bigfoot story in order to pay her bills. She meets Sasquatch expert Nicolai (H. Clark Kee), who claims that he's had an encounter with the creature and who has gathered around himself a rather bizarre crew to report any Bigfoot sightings. There's also a romantic subplot, but it's not well integrated into the main storyline.
Norrup pushes too hard as Arlene, while Kee can't even hold a tune. A woefully miscast David Gurland plays Native-American artist White Bird, one of Nicolai's cronies. Although Gurland sings well, he heavy-handedly attempts to comment on the character's ethnicity by overemphasizing the word "reservations" when he sings about having his own doubts in regard to the existence of Bigfoot. Not only is this unamusing, it's offensive -- and the racist overtones of the production don't stop there. Rudy, played by Jamie Laverdiere, is a mishmash of Latino stereotypes ranging from Latin lover to revolutionary to drug dealer, with no semblance of self-awareness in the script to make such political incorrectness remotely palatable.
Holland's cabaret career as co-creator, along with Karen Mack, of the "Gashole" series -- which pays tribute to the pop song stylings of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s -- serves him well here in constructing songs that capture a "period" sound, seeing as the bulk of the action of Believe in Me is set in 1980. The composer has a way of subtly and, sometimes, not so subtly sampling melodic lines or musical riffs from existing tunes in order to make his music seem at once familiar and freshly minted. "The Ballad of Nicolai" includes a blatant rip-off from "Rawhide" (the title song of a 1960s TV series), while "Kiss Me Clever" has all the makings of a breakout pop hit. Capable of writing clever rhymes and catchy tunes, Holland has a potential future as a Broadway composer, but he needs to pick projects more worthy of his talents.
There are a few humorous moments in Vampire Cowboy Trilogy, but they're not enough to make this insipid show worthwhile. Its three main sketches go on much longer than they should and become increasingly less funny as the minutes tick away.
Written by Qui Nguyen and Robert Ross Parker, the production attempts to satirize pop culture genres ranging from pulp fiction to comic books to action adventure TV series. However, its humor lacks the bite necessary for a successful parody. An exception to this comes at the very end of the otherwise dreary sketch "Captain Justice & Liberty Lady versus The Hooded Menace." Here, the Cold War-era heroes -- played by Temar Underwood and Melissa Paladino -- are confronted with an unpleasant reality and make a decision that calls into question what our contemporary society deems heroic. More incisive, self-reflective moments such as this could have greatly improved the show. Directed by Robert Ross Parker, the actors attempt to bring a light-hearted, farcical tone to the proceedings, but it's difficult to do so when the script isn't very funny.