Legacy Falls; Mother Divine; Standby
TheaterMania's NYMF coverage continues with reviews of three brand new musicals.
by David Gordon
The perils of starring on a popular soap opera are the focus of Legacy Falls, James Burn and Ian Poitier's satiric look at what happens when a television network gets too involved with the day-to-day running of a daytime staple. That show is also called Legacy Falls, named for the suburban community where siblings can become lovers, husbands cheat on wives with their daughters, and death is never entirely fatal.
Unless they want you out. And when the show gets a new lead producer (Erin Leigh Peck, lovably conniving), anybody can be killed at a moment's notice, whether you've been on the show for three decades like Stephanie Stone (the enjoyably vain Tara Hugo) or three minutes like Amber Fox (Liz Fye, humorously ditsy). At the center is Edward Trafford (daytime veteran Kevin Spirtas), the dashing and graying leading man with a big secret: He's gay.
The treatment of Edward's outing is one of the more troubling aspects of this charming but overlong work, which Poitier also directs and choreographs. When told by one of his co-stars (Nikki Van Cassele) to look on the bright side and embrace flamboyance, Edward is greeted by a production number featuring the entire cast prancing around with limp wrists. In 2013, when the musical seems to take place, not only is this misguided, it's seriously gauche. Still, the piece builds to a frenzied and funny conclusion that left the soap fans in the audience laughing heartily.
by Hayley Levitt
A pompous religious leader who fancies himself God incarnate convinces his devout followers that his deceased wife has returned to Earth as a 21-year-old blonde, leggy Canadian. And that's just the historic foundation for Laurel K. Vartabedian and Bill G. Evans' camp-soaked Gospel musical Mother Divine.
Mother Divine is based on the true life story of Father Devine (aka Reverend Major Jealous Devine, played by a charismatic Randy Donaldson), whose Peace Mission Movement gained widespread recognition during the Depression Era. Vartabedian and Evans put their own creative spin on the Reverend's already theatrical story by adding a few Ghost The Musical-inspired elements: The P.O.'d spirit of his deceased wife, Mother Divine, seeks revenge on her philandering husband by means of a scheming tax man named Lester (expert physical comedian Howie Michael Smith), who suddenly develops the ability to communicate with ghosts. Mother Divine is played by the spunky Danielle Lee Greaves, who lends her Broadway vocal chops to the soulful power solo, "Comin' Round Again," which closes the first act. Daisy Hobbs, who plays one of Father Divine's newest followers, Emma, is given a substantial platform for her beautiful voice to shine as well. Choreographer Randy Davis also nicely plays to his cast's strong suits with several energetic dance numbers.
The parade of characters and storylines that weave throughout the show, however, dilutes these isolated, shining moments. The audience is asked to follow the development of at least three brewing romances, a convoluted plot of ghostly revenge, the plight of a down-on-his-luck office worker, and the journey of a delusional, pint-sized Al Sharpton, all on the backdrop of historical and religious commentary. Instead of tying together these separate pieces, Adam Hester's direction simply amplifies the musical's shallow comedy bits. His actors mug for the audience in eager anticipation of their approval, which, more often than not, throws sand on any potential comedic fire. Needless to say, if Mother Divine ever comes round again, I hope she packs a lighter bag.
by David Gordon
For many people, air travel is its own sort of hell these days, with invasive x-ray procedures, costly added fees, and long delays. For the five lost souls at the center of Mark-Eugene Garcia, Alfred Solis, Amy Baer, and Keith Robinson's relentlessly dour new musical Standby, it's more like purgatory. Actually, it is purgatory. These lost souls (played by Darren Ritchie, Matt Shingledecker, Eryn Murman, Alex Goley, and Jenna Leigh Green) are stuck in limbo, waiting to claim the only pair of seats left on the next flight up.
It's easy to see why the show's four creators would think that an airport as the land between heaven and hell would be a novel concept for the show. However, watching the production, which is directed by Carlos Armesto with enough pregnant pauses to make Harold Pinter blush, you realize that not only has it been done before, but it's been done with much greater skill. Part of the problem is that there's no wondering about anything. The crux of the plot is revealed in the show's early moments; the rest comes out in dribs and drabs that you could see coming long before the twists are announced. All of the songs sound the same; the book, which ends on a cloying and mushy note, is super serious and without an ounce of self-awareness.
Fortunately, the cast is at the top of its game, always giving the material their all. Particularly strong is Dwelvan David as the aptly named gatekeeper, Peter.