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NYMF 2008 Roundup #2

Reports on Wood, College: The Musical, Love Jerry, and Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale.

Cady Huffman, Patrick Ryan Sullivan, and Joe Cassidy
in Wood
(© Luke Redmond)
[Ed. Note: This is the second in a series of TheaterMania review roundups of shows in the fifth annual New York Musical Theatre Festival, playing various venues in Manhattan.]


A talented ensemble cast brings to life the vibrant and often hilarious Wood, currently performing at the TBG Theatre. The musical -- featuring book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis -- takes its inspiration from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but wisely does not try to slavishly copy the plot.

The story revolves around gay teenager Herman (Jason Michael Snow), whose mother Judy (Cady Huffman) is seemingly in support of her son -- as long as he doesn't date anyone until gay marriage is legalized. However, Herman has been exchanging instant messages with Luke (Ben Thompson) -- a situation nicely realized onstage in the whimsical and gorgeously sung duet "R U There? (Question Mark)." Luke begs him to meet in person in the seedy wood on the outskirts of town.

Meanwhile, Chad (Stanley Bahorek) is hopelessly in love with Diana (Kate Wetherhead), who is stuck on Herman; Herman's father George (Joe Cassidy) has a secret; there's a cop (Patrick Ryan Sullivan) patrolling the wood; and a trio of fairies (Ryan J. Ratliff, Maurice Murphy, Roland Rusinek) are up to some mischief on this midsummer's night. By the end of the first act, all of the characters are in the wood, with Judy, looking for both her husband and son, borrowing a page from other Shakespeare comedies by cross-dressing as a boy to better blend in.

Huffman brings out both the humor and sadness in her role, and expertly allows Judy's frustrated desires to peek through her June Cleaver façade in the comic gem, "Laundry Day." Snow has a sweetly earnest demeanor, and good chemistry with Thompson. Bahorek possesses a goofily comic presence, while Wetherhead excels in the torch song, "The Fag Hag Drag." In the end, the entire enterprise comes together beautifully, making Wood an absolutely magical delight.

-- Dan Bacalzo


The cast of College: The Musical
(© Steven Rosen)

In the sweet spot between ironic and post-ironic lies College: The Musical, now at American Theatre of Actors, a preternaturally savvy tuner crammed with trenchant observations about the collegiate experience.

This isn't to say the show is firmly rooted in reality. For the most part, College is what you think higher education will be like when you're 15 -- a never-ending string of parties, friendships, and frivolity. It's the sort of place where you can show up as a freshman geek and instantly find yourself surrounded by cool older kids and pursued by a ridiculously forgiving hottie.

For all its up-to-the-minute references (one character starts a club called "face-to-face Facebook"), College is old-fashioned in its structure. The plot exists only to provide a setting for its goofily perfect pearls of wisdom. Songs touch on the simple, violent joys of video games ("Click, Smash!"), the rites of partydom ("Alcoholeluia"), and the apathy of the aughts ("Generation Meh").

Co-authors Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen, both recent Princeton grads, have fashioned an unapologetically pop-rock score that's pretty, addictive, and outfitted with well-crafted lyrics. The young cast -- some of whom have been with the show since its actual collegiate beginnings -- are uniformly terrific with an assemblage of gorgeous voices that actually possess character. They're harnessed together by Jeremy Dobrish's remarkably clear direction, complimented by Boo Killebrew's witty choreography. And while I'm fairly certain that the creators' best work still lies ahead of them, their work is far better than one of their song titles, "Good Enough for Now," might suggest.

-- Adam R. Perlman


J.T. Arbogast and Donna Lynne Champlin in Love Jerry
(© Julian Rad)

A one-act play with music which tells an emotionally wrenching story of child sex abuse, Love Jerry, currently performing at TBG Theatre, is a riveting and intense piece of dramatic musical theater that is both unflinchingly honest and deeply affecting. The show's book (by Megan Gogerty, who also wrote the music and lyrics) does not minimize or excuse the crime in the least and yet, remarkably, finds genuine substantive compassion for the abuser as well as for those devastated by the abuse.

The story is set in motion when Mike (J.T. Arbogast), his wife Kate (Donna Lynne Champlin), and their young son (who is never seen on stage) move in with Mike's brother Jerry (Harris Doran), a socially awkward bachelor whose obsessive interest in the boy is mistakenly believed to be innocent. The dramatic scenes, naturalistic except for a series of recurring ones between Jerry and a creepy clown-masked pedophile (well-played by Jonas Cohen), flash forward and back purposefully but never confuse, partly due to Hilary Adams' lucid direction.

The often folk-flavored songs, performed far downstage away from where the show is otherwise played, function more as inner monologues, mining the characters' emotions rather than moving the plot along. The specificity in Gogerty's lyrics make the songs cohere with the rest of the play.

The cast give committed, fiercely brave performances. Arbogast seems initially too low-key, but once his character's story is more fully made known, his choices make sense and his performance is quietly moving. Doran is a revelation, committing fearlessly to "Move Closer," a harrowingly honest song in which Jerry lusts for his nephew. Champlin moves from blissful denial to consuming rage, capping her magnetic performance with "Cry," a mother's anguished plea to reach the son who's withdrawn from her. All the while, the show doesn't recoil from the uncomfortable and the explicit, yet it never exploits the taboo subject matter for cheap sensation.

-- Patrick Lee


Diane Davis and Jason Wooten
in Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale

Of the seven deadly sins, sloth is the deadliest in musical theater. Granted, tonal coherence can be hard to sustain, but the creators of Bonnie & Clyde: A Folktale, now at American Theatre of Actors, don't even seem to be trying. It's as if, early in their process, they threw their hands in the air and adopted an ad hoc approach that shoots for the easiest target in any scene.

The musical starts off in the mode of a carefree caper, with Clyde (Jason Wooten) boasting of the joys of criminality. He exploits dimwitted locals, then invests the proceeds in hookers and booze -- which makes us wonder why we're supposed to root for him or why good girl Bonnie (a vocally unimpressive Diane Davis) takes up with him.

After initially plotting a screwball course, the musical detours through sentimental territory. We're asked to care about such characters as Clyde's wild-eyed brother (Cole Burden) and a mad dog accomplice (a criminally wasted Kevin Cahoon) -- even though the writing gives them only cardboard construction and is happy to use them as fodder for cheap jokes. Oh, and J. Edgar Hoover (Kevin Carolan) is on everyone's case. Many cross-dressing jokes ensue. There's also a particularly obvious -- and grating -- series of analogies to the Bush presidency.

Rick Crom's score, a mix of country and ragtime, is palatable if not quite satisfying. Hunter Foster's book is full of yuk-yuk thudders and attempts at running gags that never pay off -- jowls just aren't as funny as he thinks they are. Even worse, the two pivotal scenes in any take on Bonnie and Clyde -- the one where she chooses to join him and the ambush that claims their lives -- are woefully underdramatized.

-- Adam R. Perlman


For TheaterMania's NYMF Roundup #1, click here.

To read TheaterMania's NYMF preview article, click here.