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NYMF Reviews 2019: Overture

A new musical looks at the efforts to keep the Kansas City Philharmonic afloat.

A scene from the New York Musical Festival production of Overture.
(© Steven Rosen)

Overture is a well-intentioned musical that has a lot of heart. What it doesn't have, though, is a heartbeat.

Overture, written by its star, Krista Eyler (book and score), and its director, Barbara Nichols (book), follows a homespun effort to save the Kansas City Philharmonic from financial ruin in 1953. Eyler plays Lily, one of the orchestra's ticket sellers and a classical-music aficionado who was forced to give up her own performance career when she began to lose her hearing. As Lily and her colleagues struggle to keep the Philharmonic afloat, she finds herself falling for the troupe's assistant conductor, Christopher (Joel Morrison), while keeping her own secret intact.

Textually, Overture is in desperate need of dramaturgical help. Eyler and Nichols's unfocused script lacks a climax — it feels more like a series of scenes that don't build to anything except an easy-to-spot conclusion. There's not enough meat in the text, which makes it hard for any of the actors to really develop their characters.

Eyler's score fares a bit better: simple, sweet, and generally well performed (even though you simply cannot replicate the sound of a full symphony with just an electric piano, bass, and drums). A couple of the songs are earworms (a lot of verse-chorus repetitions), and also a couple that could have been done away with entirely. A second-act number, in which two of the orchestra's Women's Club matrons get into a fight over who has a better recipe, goes on forever and stops the show dead in its tracks when it really needs to barrel down to the dramatic high point.

Despite the deficits, this New York Musical Festival presentation is a pleasant, nonthreatening experience over all. Written and performed by veteran artists of the Kansas City theater scene (ranging from pros to community players), there's clearly a lot of passion behind it. If only that passion translated into compelling musical drama.

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