NYMF Reviews 2019: Buried and Illuminati Lizards From Outer Space
This is TheaterMania's first roundup of reviews from the 2019 New York Musical Festival.
by David Gordon
Combine The Last Five Years, Bonnie and Clyde, and Sweeney Todd, and you get Buried, a British musical by Cordelia O'Driscoll (music, lyrics) and Tom Williams (book, lyrics, direction) that follows what happens when two serial killers fall in love. Rose (Lindsay Manion) and Harry (Sebastian Belli) have their "meet-cute" when she discovers that he's about to stab her as she pours poison into his cocktail. Coming from similar unhappy childhoods, they decide to go on a killing spree together — until a turn of events tears them apart.
Manion and Belli make for a charming couple of murderers, and each of the four ensemble members (Niamh Finan, Laurence Hunt, Wilf Walsworth, and Rebecca Yau) get their chance to stand out. However, Josh Liebert's sound design betrays them all to some degree; it's not particularly well balanced between the singers and Olivia Doust's six-member band. But that's a small complaint, and one that can be ironed out in future performances.
Ultimately, Buried is one of the better NYMF musicals I've seen in many years, one that could have a charming little afterlife, particularly with university theater groups (the show was first hatched at the University of Sheffield, where Williams and O'Driscoll were students). Williams' book has just the right amount of piquant cheekiness, while O'Driscoll's chamber score has a richly traditional folk sound. They could afford to cut a pair of songs towards the end, and the piece gets a little too saccharine for my taste, but Buried has enough going for it that the 90 minutes fly by. More often than not, it's a pretty killer good time.
Illuminati Lizards From Outer Space
by Kenji Fujishima
"We all 'ave our delusions," says scientist Klaus (Tom Deckman) to beauty queen and wannabe world savior Tina (Dani Spieler). So does the musical they're both in. Illuminati Lizards From Outer Space aims to be a cheesy, breezy, lighthearted sci-fi parody with gestures toward topical social commentary. But creators Yuri Worontschak (music) and Paul Western-Pittard (lyrics and book) fail to clear the creative bar they've set for themselves, peppering their show with dopey jokes and songs that are bound to dissolve from memory the instant they're over.
The storyline, like the title, is overtly ridiculous: After being cheated out of first place in the Miss Beautiful World pageant, a despairing Tina checks into a wellness center, not knowing that it's actually a front for a group of Illuminati lizard overlords secretly using the hospital to try to further their plans for world domination. Many sci-fi classics from the 1950s started out with similarly nutty premises, but managed to find unexpected depths through imaginative screenwriting and committed acting and direction. Worontschak and Western-Pittard appear to have only the most superficial awareness of what makes such sci-fi spectacles work. There's no attempt at world-building or characterization in Illuminati Lizards; the creators' level of thought seems to have begun and ended at its concept, as evidenced by the show's sloppy, haphazard plotting.
With Western-Pittard's occasional references to "illegal aliens" in his book, perhaps the creators thought they were crafting an allegory keyed into the xenophobic fears being stoked by some in this country right now. The creators, though, would have to evince actual sympathy for these outsiders for such a reading to hold water. Instead, everyone in Illuminati Lizards is simply varying degrees of dumb and dumber, with a dash of monstrous selfishness to further sour the proceedings. "Life is such a really big deal," Tina says at one point in what passes for worldly wisdom in this show. Indeed it is…too big a deal to waste on this Area 51 of witlessness.