Special Reports

5 Songs You Really Need to Hear From the New York Musical Festival

New musicals invade 42nd Street this July, and these are the best songs we’ve heard so far.

A masked hero stars in Peter, Who? at the New York Musical Festival.
A masked hero stars in Peter, Who? at the New York Musical Festival.
(© Theresa Stroll)

Don't think that the end of Tony season means the end of new musicals in New York: This month, the New York Musical Festival (NYMF) presents 12 full productions of new musicals, all of which you can see on 42nd Street for a fraction of the price of a Broadway ticket. In addition, the festival is hosting a slew of readings, concerts, and special events. Before you decide what to see, here are five songs from the festival that caught my ear.

1. The Gunfighter Meets His Match
Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Abby Payne is behind this Wild West musical inspired by New York's music scene and the frontier stories of Louis L'Amour. Fans of Sara Bareilles and Waitress will find a lot to like in this score: This song uses percussive piano and candid lyrics to deliver a highly emotional message with a driving beat. And with the spectacularly named Glitter Kitty Productions in charge of direction, choreography, and costumes, one expects fabulous staging to accompany memorable, soul-stirring music.

2. Between the Sea and Sky
This new musical from Australia is about two sisters on a beach holiday who unwittingly uncover a dark secret from the past. If that mysterious plot description isn't enough to entice you, this song will. Composer Luke Byrne's dreamy piano and siren-like vocals seem to invite audiences across a dangerous sea and into a hidden world. Expect a professional production here: Director Michael Bello is a regular at NYMF, having helmed last year's much-lauded Errol & Fidel.

3. Emojiland
Husband-and-wife team Keith and Laura Nicole Harrison concocted this wildly inventive new musical that takes place inside a smartphone amid a catastrophic software update. Featuring a dramatis personae of anthropomorphized emojis, Emojiland stars Broadway veteran and Drama Desk nominee Lesli Margherita. One wonders if each song will stylistically correspond to the specific character. With echoes of My Chemical Romance and Panic! At the Disco, this one (performed by the skull emoji) is appropriately emo.

4. Peter, Who?
Musicals about spider mutants have a poor track record, so I have to admire Justin Moran, Jonathan Roufaeal, Doug Katsaros, and Adam Podd for the sheer audacity of writing one. Predictably, it's about a high school nerd named Peter who develops special powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. I was delighted by this song's snazzy beat and shameless product placement. (I hope they're getting paid!) Even if these guys don't end up on Broadway, they could have a bright future reinventing the industrial musical.

5. Legacy the Musical
If Lin-Manuel Miranda can write a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, why not write one about Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism? November Christine's Legacy considers the notoriously dour rebel priest with rhymes and beats that will have you grooving in your seat. While all the other songs in this article come from full productions at NYMF, some of the most innovative and interesting work is highlighted in the festival's reading series. This reading has just three performances, so be sure to book a ticket early.