NYMF 2017: Night Tide; Temple of the Souls; Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil
This is TheaterMania's third review roundup of the 2017 New York Musical Festival.
By Bethany Rickwald
In basing their musical on a 1961 B-movie thriller (with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 56 percent), the creators of NYMF's Night Tide were starting out at a deficit. But it would be difficult to deny that Taylor Tash (book and lyrics), Nathania Wibowo (music), and Luis Villabon (direction and choreography) dove into their project headfirst with enthusiasm and their eyes wide open.
What charm Tash and Wibowo are able to squeeze out of this story — about a sideshow mermaid concealing a series of progressively more unlikely dark secrets — is due to a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness reminiscent of Little Shop of Horrors. As Johnny (played with an appealing "aww shucks" attitude by Patrick Dunn) spends his shore leave wandering the boardwalk, he's shepherded by an all-singing, all-dancing trio of semi-magical locals (Josh Sassanella, Kissy Simmons, and Ya Han Chang) who lend the production an air of carefree silliness with their beach-side shenanigans. Likewise, Johnny's nautical love interest Mora is played with an overwrought melancholy — and lots of dramatic pauses — by the impressively committed Tara Martinez.
But while those irreverent flourishes certainly serve to remind the audience about the show's source material, they can't rescue it from the film's own shortcomings. What the movie version of Night Tide lacked in plot, the musical only highlights. In adding nearly 30 minutes of garish nonsense (including gaudy costumes and inexplicable dance breaks) and a confusing final scene, Night Tide the musical only makes a mediocre tall-tale worse. Like Johnny and Mora's romance, built on such a wobbly foundation, Night Tide was doomed from the start.
By Dan Stahl
Temple of the Souls is a union, though not always a happy one, of the foreign and the familiar. This "musical drama," with a score by Dean Landon, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell, opens in a Puerto Rican rain forest. Masked figures in loincloths and straw wigs dance across the stage, chirping and whooping as they go. They are Taínos, and here, they sing, is "our magical home."
Familiarity invades in the form of conquistadors. They've established a colony in Puerto Rico, and the daughter of their leader falls in love with a Taíno youth. The doomed lovers are named Amada and Gaurio, though they could almost as easily be Maria and Tony.
Formula wars with ingenuity for the soul of this show. In one camp are the banal love plot and trite lyrics, which have Guario wailing, "Why do you hate me? I want to know / Is it simply the color of my skin? / There's no difference between us; I'm human like you." Opposing such platitudes are the musical's choreography and percussive music, which couple thrillingly when Amada and Guario have sex in a cave, his body undulating rhythmically with hers. The acting too is divided between melodrama and nuance, but Lorraine Velez, both nurturing and sensual as Amada's Taíno mother, prevails.
Perhaps there's ultimately an appropriateness to the struggle embodied by this production. As the Spaniards battled the Taínos, so, in the songs and staging of Temple of the Souls, the conventional clashes with the unique.
Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil: An American Myth
By Grace Ebach
"How the hell did he win an Oscar?" That's the question that Emilie Landmann's musical, Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil: An American Myth, attempts to answer. Her response, in the form of an amusing Faustian comedy, proves an entertaining addition to this year's New York Musical Festival. While Landmann's book and Jonathan Quesenberry's score could use some tightening, the show's imaginative and hilarious spirit leaves audiences giggling in almost every scene.
The musical opens with a sullen Matthew McConaughey (Wayne Wilcox) lamenting about his lackluster film career to his devoted agent/friend/dog-walker Penny (Jennifer Blood). They agree to work together on a project that will finally earn McConaughey what both he and rival Leo DiCaprio desperately want: an Academy Award. Enter Mephistopheles (Lesli Margherita), Satan's demonic press agent, who arrives with a tempting offer: Sign a contract to star in "Texas Buyers Club" and win the Oscar he's always dreamed of. The catch? Penny can't read the fine print. Chaos ensues as Matthew struggles to maintain his friendship with fellow pothead Woody Harrelson (Max Crumm) and his loyalty to Penny, whose mounting frustration thrusts her into her own potentially hellish endeavor. In the end, all three must come together to save Matthew's soul.
An impressive list of Broadway veterans stars in the production, including Wayne Wilcox, Jennifer Blood, Max Crumm, and Lesli Margherita. Wilcox entertainingly portrays a whiny yet ever-likable McConaughey. Blood and Crumm both deliver superb vocal performances. It is Margherita, though, who absolutely shines as Mephistopheles. Even if she utters just a few words in a scene, she leaves the audience howling. Director Thomas Caruso wisely capitalizes on the talents of the ensemble, who show off Billy Griffin's enjoyable choreography with ease. Ensemble member Riza Takahashi delivers a humorously catty Leo DiCaprio, and Nicole Vande Zande and Cameisha Cotton captivate with some stunning vocal riffs.
The musical's book, music, and lyrics could benefit from some editing. Although the opening numbers "Alright, Alright, Alright" and "I Could Win an Oscar" sparkle, others like "McConaissance" and "You Do You" are too long and not entirely satisfying. The book features fantastic referential humor à la Something Rotten!, yet some of the jokes don't land. But in the end, this lighthearted look at a charming A-lister's rise to fame is devilish fun.