NYMF 2014: Bayonets of Angst; Cloned!; The Mapmaker's Opera
TheaterMania offers a review roundup of three shows at the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
by Zachary Stewart
"This is the real story of the war; not all that gibberish you read in the history books," says Zebulon Mordechai (Herndon Lackey), the narrator of Bayonets of Angst, Rick Kunzi, Adam Barnosky, and Justin Zeppa's musical comedy about the American Civil War.
Zebulon leads a band of veterans (all well over 100 years old) in an annual recounting of the war, dredged from their questionable memories and lubricated by a healthy dose of bluegrass. As the vets slowly die in their rocking chairs (Seth Easter's endlessly useful set looks like the porch of a Cracker Barrel), ghosts of the past appear downstage to act out their twisted history. They swap costumes and sophomoric barbs with lightning speed in director Michael Lluberes' irreverent and hypertheatrical production.
Much of the humor comes from the randomly silly school of comedy: William T. Sherman (Michael Abbott Jr.) wears a Carmen Miranda hat and carries around a pet duck; Robert E. Lee (Ryan Andes) is constantly accompanied by an unenthusiastic British herald; a male courier is inexplicably referred to as "Lieutenant Debbie." It's not so much Monty Python as it is that boy in your high school who would recount Monty Python sketches line for line over a bologna sandwich at lunch. This show is just trying way too hard, leading to tepid and polite laughter.
The cast of Broadway veterans make the most of a so-so script, with committed performances. Brian Charles Rooney, in particular, excels in the dual roles of Mary Todd Lincoln and the incomparably fey General George B. McClellan. Mary Todd's second-act duet with the president, "It's a Mad, Mad World," is a real highlight.
You're not likely to walk away from Bayonets of Angst with any new insights about the war betwixt the states and how it has indelibly shaped our national character, but you will get a few laughs, and have the pleasure of listening to a jaunty bluegrass score performed by the first-rate musicians in Music Director Joe Brent's band.
by David Gordon
Jacey Powers, Dan Wolpow, and Adam Spiegel's Cloned! is the story of a young scientist who, instead of building a teleportation device, actually builds a machine that clones you and then teleports you. It's a silly concept, down to the exclamation point of the title, and the creators know it. Thankfully, they use it to their advantage. Cloned! is an honest-to-god musical comedy in the vein of Little Shop of Horrors, with catchy songs and clever dialogue that doesn't try too hard to be witty.
The nine-member cast is led by the appealingly nerdy Alex Goley as Wally, a young scientist with a borderline creepy love for the actress Sharon Stone (played by Crystal Kellogg) and the desire to present his device at a symposium. Complications ensue when his clone (Eric Mann, a carbon copy of Goley) appears and a certain spy from North Korea (Tony Romero) finds out about the plan.
Director Tom Wojtunik has some very nifty staging ideas up his sleeve; the best (and funniest) is keeping puppeteer/actor David Andino onstage to add his hilarious facial expressions to the role of Tramell, Wally's pet bird (designed by David Bizzaro). The production moves at a very fast pace, but at nearly two and a half hours, there's a whole lot of filler that could be trimmed. With the right work, Cloned! could find another life very quickly.
by Zachary Stewart
Kevin Purcell and Victor Kazan's The Mapmaker's Opera has a lot going for it: Based on Béa Gonzalez's historical novel and featuring a score of vibrant flamenco music, this story of star-crossed love and exotic birds on the eve of the Mexican Revolution has the premise of a truly great romantic musical. Unfortunately, the end result is disappointing and, at two and a half hours, overly drawn-out.
Diego Clemente (Joel Perez) is a Spanish artist who leaves his native Seville for the Yucatán to be the assistant of American naturalist Edward Nelson (Sean McDermott). Nelson desperately wants to save the nearly extinct passenger pigeon and sees a chance when he learns that two of the birds are in the private aviary of wealthy plantation owner Don Victor Blanco Torres (Paul Cosentino). Don Victor's son, Carlos (Henry Gainza) has a crush on Sofia Duarte (Madeleine Featherby), the daughter of local gentry who have fallen on financial hard times. Of course, as these things go, Sofia only has eyes for Diego. Meanwhile, a gang of peasant revolutionaries is lying in wait offstage to kill all these rich folks and take their land.
It sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is, partially because book writer Kazan has a tendency to digress. For instance, Sofia's spinster aunt Marta (Alma Cuervo) sings a tearful ballad about her lost love late in the second act. While Cuervo interprets the songs with gentle grace, it does little to advance the plot and feels like just another loose end when the storyline is never mentioned again.
Nevertheless, the cast is full of talent, not least of which is the vocally powerful Perez, who is Disney Prince handsome (if a little Disney Prince stilted in his line deliveries). Two dancers (Natalia Lepore Hagan and Andrés Acosta) keep us constantly entertained during the show's many interludes. Tony Chiroldes gives a committed performance as Diego's faithful manservant, Very Useful, milking the role for every drop of comic potential (which is unfortunately very little). There might still be a great musical inside The Mapmaker's Opera, but it will take some serious editing to find it.