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NYMF 2011 Roundup #2

Reports on Crazy, Just Like Me, The Big Bank, and Ghostlight.

Andrew Kober and Andy Mientus
in Crazy, Just Like Me
(© Matt Murphy)
[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the eighth annual New York Musical Theatre Festival.]


Drew Gasparini and Louis Sacco's charming new tuner Crazy, Just Like Me, at TBG Theatre, features a pleasant pop musical score with occasional funky flourishes. And while the book scenes sometimes stretch credulity, there's enough heart in the show to win audiences over in the end.

The musical follows the lives of 20-something roommates Simon (Andy Mientus) and Mike (Andrew Kober), who have been best friends since they were kids. Simon is feeling increasingly depressed, partly due to the continuing presence of Mike's girlfriend Lauren (Lexie Papedo). And when the couple tries to set Simon up on a blind date, things don't go quite as planned.

The script has a sitcom-like feel that makes some of the earlier scenes seem superficial, and the presence of Simon's therapist, Dr. Headman (Louis Sacco), comes across as a shoehorned-in plot device to help Simon reach a couple emotional breakthroughs.

As the show progresses, however, we get some terrific solos that help to flesh out the characters. These include Simon's "A Little Bit," which amusingly depicts his efforts to tell his mother something very important via telephone; Mike's "Fell in Love With Crazy," a nicely underplayed number in which he comes to a major realization; and Lauren's power ballad, "Slow Down," delivered at a crisis point in her relationship with Mike.

As Lauren's gay best friend, Mike Russo also gets a solo, "Straight Girl Problems," which contains some of Gasparini's most amusing lyrics in the show. A particularly choice rhyme is the word "reminder" with the gay hook-up mobile device app, Grindr.

Mientus finds a nice balance between indulging the show's quirky humor and bringing out the deeply felt loneliness that Simon experiences. He's well matched by Kober, who is particularly affecting as he struggles to find just the right things to say in the song, "Look at Me Now." The two actors also share a wonderfully palpable chemistry that helps to demonstrate the affection their characters have for one another.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Next Page: The Big Bank
Klea Blackhurst and company
in The Big Bank
(© Tim Knox)

Anyone might think a musical called The Big Bank -- during which employers at the institution in question are ecstatic at the very idea of foreclosures and repossessions -- would be as up-to-date as a Capitol One quarterly report. Unfortunately, brothers Daniel and Jacob Seligmann, who began this opus in the early 1990s, hardly avail themselves of the potential of our current economic world.

Instead, they offer an inane narrative in which hard-nosed manager Sage Green (the always right-on-the-money Klea Blackhurst) sics her slick-suited underlings on delinquent mortgage-holders.

Chief among them is would-be poet Stuart Stevens (Stacey Todd Holt), who's assigned to toss out Clarence Underwood (Daniel Marcus) who runs the Radical Marxist Ecology Quarterly Review (talk about dated targets!) with his daughter Parsley (notably precocious Carly Rose Sonenclar).

Stuart must also bring bad news to nubile flower-shop owner Iris Jablonski (Piper Goodeve). Instead of immediately effecting her fall, he falls for her, quickly suggesting a romantic walk. She agrees, abruptly leaving that cherished flower shop of hers as if she couldn't care less about it. Whether their love will stand the eventual foreclosure test supplies the tuner's essentially non-existent suspense quotient.

David Glenn Armstrong has directed the proceedings, albeit with little to show for his efforts, and Daniel Haley choreographed the male singer-dancers who appear as the foreclosers a la Rob Ashford. And the simple fact is that these sort of guys have already turned up in much better musicals. To succeed here, the Seligmanns really needed to try much harder.

-- David Finkle

Next Page: Ghostlight
Daisy Eagan, Rachael Fogle,
Abbey O'Brien, and Lindsey Clayton
in Ghostlight
(© Kristin Picone)
The brief if meteoric career and personal life of long-forgotten entertainer Olive Thomas is the fodder for Ghostlight, playing at the Peter Norton Space. It's a tale that could make for a grand piece of musical theater, but unfortunately, this over-laden and overwrought show, with book, music and lyrics co-written by Matthew Martin and Tim Realbuto, who have also directed, proves more tiresome than satisfying.

The show begins as Olive (Rachel Fogle), newly arrived in New York from Pittsburgh, has the exceptional luck of being cast by none other than Florenz Ziegfeld (Michael Hayden). In short order, she begins an affair with the impresario -- then married to actress Billie Burke (Rachel York) -- which leads to her headlining alongside luminaries such as Fanny Brice (a winning Kimberly Faye Greenberg, who has previously played the role of the vaudeville star in another show).

While still in the Follies, Olive also begins a relationship with movie star Jack Pickford (Matt Leisy). The two ultimately marry, and she begins a new career on the screen. Both the marriage and film work prove unsatisfying for Olive -- although in the creators' sketchy book it's never clear why -- and her life ends in seeming suicide in 1920. (There are rumors that her ghost still haunts the New Amsterdam where the Follies were staged.)

The show's overcrammed first act, which runs close to two hours, features a host of clumsy pastiches of songs from the era, as well as unconvincing book songs that sound more contemporary. In the show's second act, Martin and Realbuto take the show to an existential realm as Olive is confronted by her friends, lovers and colleagues. It's like Funny Girl meets Sondheim's Follies.

Thankfully, the cast boasts such Broadway vets as the underutilized Daisy Eagan, who charms as a chorus girl who befriends Olive. Even more impressive are Hayden and York, whose rich vocals enliven the proceedings and who share a remarkably spiky chemistry even during the piece's most languorous moments.

-- Andy Propst


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