NYMF 2016: Icon; Lisa and Leonardo; Tink!
By David Gordon
It's a rare opportunity to see A Chorus Line Tony winner Donna McKechnie starring in a new musical. So for diehard theater fans, Icon, a tuner from British writers Jonathan Kaldor and Sebastian Michael, is certainly a treat from the outset. It also happens to be a largely engaging work with several excellent performances (McKechnie included), though its New York Musical Festival production is still slightly undercooked overall.
Set primarily in the fictional Alpine principality of Centoluci circa 1928, Icon explores the life of the equally fictitious Princess Constance (Charlotte Maltby), an American debutante who, by marrying the Centoluccian Crown Prince Cedric (Ben McHugh), becomes an overnight sensation, despite most of the citizenry finding her less than bright. Her marriage goes unconsummated (guess why), and her life totally changes when she meets Alvaro (Sam Simahk), a would-be conductor who introduces her to the beauty of music and love.
Scattered throughout are scenes set in 1969 Venezuela. Marcello (Chase Crandell), a descendent of a longtime Centoluccian government official (Tony Sheldon) who knew Constance, has gone seeking Miss Vine (McKechnie), a piano teacher who has suddenly been left the entirety of his family's estate. The spurned Marcello is looking for answers from Miss Vine. How she ties into the mystery of Constance forms the bulk of the story.
Icon is smartly written, with an engaging script and score in the vein of the big British pop-operas, though it's a mistake to try and carry the question of Miss Vine's identity for as long as they do, given that its roots are quite obvious. Director-choreographer Paul Stancato's production leaves much to be desired in terms of pacing and clear-cut storytelling. Costume designer Liene Dobraja provides stately attire fit for royals, while Kevan Loney's projected set is especially professional-looking for a festival run, despite the cheesiness of the graphics (there's a lot of what seems like confetti being tossed interspersed with actual location settings).
While she doesn't get to dance, McKechnie does leave the audience rapt late in the second half with a fantastically delivered monologue about Miss Vine's true-life story. Sheldon's talents are largely wasted in what amounts to a walk-on role. Maltby is a plucky and headstrong Constance. Simahk nearly steals the show with his touching, fiery Alvaro. Together, they make a touching central trio in a piece that shows a great deal of promise.
By Hayley Levitt
The woman behind the enigmatic Mona Lisa smile has been one of the art world's most tantalizing mysteries for over 500 years. In response, Donya Lane (composer), Ed McNamee (lyrics), and Michael Unger (co-librettist) have taken this centuries-old question mark and fashioned a musical that hangs its hat on some of the more lurid theories of Leonardo Da Vinci's relationship with his muse.
Despite the common historical portrayal of Da Vinci as a celibate, the creators of Lisa and Leonardo instead paint a virile Da Vinci (compellingly acted and sung by Timothy John Smith) whose artistic sensuality sparks a romance with the married Lisa del Giocondo (Lizzie Klemperer, who sings her portion of the score impressively as well). Da Vinci frees Lisa from her own rigidity and the trappings of her unhappy marriage with the much-older Francesco (paternally played by Dennis Holland) while Lisa gets the procrastinating mad genius to focus his efforts on a single project — her portrait. Meanwhile, Da Vinci maintains a homosexual relationship with his mischievous young pupil Salai (Ravi Roth). Though only loosely supported by the history books, this love triangle makes for a gripping dynamic rife with complex emotions that lend themselves well to musical theater. Unfortunately, the writers only scrape the surface of Da Vinci's split loyalties, using Roth more for comic relief than for dramatic tension and focusing primarily on his traditional love affair with Lisa.
Lane and McNamee write a lovely lyrical score, though not many of the tunes stay in your head after a first listen. The extensive song list covers the many plot lines that supplement the central love story — from Da Vinci's relationship with Machiavelli (Cooper Grodin) and involvement with the political water supply conflict between Florence and Pisa, to his association with Isabella d'Este, Marchesa of Mantua (a standout comic and vocal performance by soprano Marissa Miller). Depth is sacrificed as the story wanders, but if the writers, like Da Vinci, focus their efforts in a single direction, Lisa and Leonardo could have a life ahead of it.
By Pete Hempstead
The new musical Tink!, now running at the Pearl Theatre for NYMF, is not only a delightfully imagined tale about Peter Pan's twinkling friend Tinkerbell, it's also one of the most musically satisfying works at the festival this year. Hopefully it's also one that finds its way to a commercial venue.
Elly Noble plays the teenaged Tinkerbell Copperblossom. Unlike other fairies, Tink is no conformist. She has an adventurous heart — and a penchant for pirates. Despite the warnings of her bestie Tiger Lily (a delightful Shoba Narayan), Tink quickly falls for the swashbuckling James (the suave Max Sheldon), who plans to woo her, break her heart, and steal her magical tears so that he and his fellow pirates will be able to fly. But James (the future Captain Hook) may really love her. Can Tink's friends, including Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, save her from James and the other pirates before it's too late, or will she save herself?
The surprisingly polished musical numbers, including "Fool Me Twice," "A Million Things," and "A Special Kind of Madness," already sound like they belong on Broadway. Tink and Tiger Lily share a charming teenage friendship that resonates like Glinda and Elphaba's in Wicked, but their relationship would benefit from a little more fleshing out. Under Rachel Klein's direction, the actors, including Kurt Hellerich as Peter Pan and Patch David as Smee, together with the acrobatic ensemble, show off their dancing and vocal chops to great effect in energetic numbers like ''The Dream Weavers" and the big fight scene "Save Tink!"
NYMF-goers should make it a point to pencil this entry into their schedules. With a little tinkering to the story and some smoothing out of the occasionally stiff choreography, this show looks poised to fly.