What do you get when you put together political scandal cover-ups, a villain who plots through songs, extremely flexible chorus boys, a family secret and a musical within a musical? Propaganda! The Musical. An official selection of the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), which ended July 27th, Propaganda! is one of 24 original new musicals showcased throughout NYMF's month-long run. The musical itself centers around a young man called Rookie, who takes over his grandfather's super-secret government bureau — with much hesitation — after Grandpa not-so-mysteriously dies from a cup of Starbucks coffee poisoned by his number two at the bureau, Agent X. Before he goes, however, Grandpa manages to confide in Rookie the so-called Secret to leading the bureau to greatness: following the song in his heart.
The bureau, Rookie discovers, is an operation which specializes in covering up political scandals by distracting the unknowing public with celebrity magazines and reality show blunders. He meets the round of board members who make up the bureau's eclectic staff, including lovelorn personal assistant Tary (short for Secretary, natch); the ever-helpful Board Member 1 and Ted, a dim-witted but enthusiastic member of the team, to name a few. Rounding out this motley crew — and grounding it back to some semblance of normalcy — is a man named Harry, Grandpa's best friend and confidante, who also happens to look strikingly similar to his fallen friend. Through Harry, Rookie is able to take his place at the bureau and complete his first assignment: to cover-up a potential scandal regarding an affair between Madame President and a terrorist. Meanwhile, Agent X grows ever more determined to overthrow his position in the bureau. Armed with a hot outfit, a decibel-defying voice and a gang of Fierce Ass Queens, Agent X is poised to take over the bureau, one scandal at a time. As she quietly plays along with Rookie's idea of putting on a musical based on a botched cover-up (ahem, Watergate: The Musical, anyone?) as a cover-up for the imminent Madame President scandal, Agent X finds herself having to cover-up her own secrets.
A show about shows and the power of escape through song, Propaganda! is a bold, entertaining escape itself. No need for cover-ups here: with its memorable songs by creators Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster (I dare you to try to get "Unrequited Love Song" out of your head); bright, quirky costumes by Sky Switser and flawless choreography by Jason Sparks and Kristen Hoagland, Propaganda shines as one of the most promising musicals in development. The dialogue is rife with "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" references and clever one-liners by the cast members themselves. Dale Sampson is perfectly cast as the protagonist, Rookie, and Kenita Miller is deliciously devious as Agent X. It is difficult to single out just one performance by the stellar company, but the ones that were perhaps the most enjoyable to watch were Ben Redding, Nick Mason and Shaun Repetto as Agent X's girls — but then again, this critic has a certain penchant for sassy chorus boys singing and dancing in unison, if for morally ambiguous reasons. Other notable performances included Beth Cheryl Tarnow as Tary; Marc Cornes as Ted (who hilariously gets his chance to shine in the show's musical-within-a-musical); and MaryJoanna Grisso as a woman so eager to join the department that she disguises herself as a rotating cast of characters called Operator 3, Beth, Marcia, Actor 3 and Jan.
Funny, fabulous and full of heart, this is one piece of Propaganda you'll definitely want to buy into.
Propaganda! The Musical ran from July 23- July 27 at the PTC Performance Space (555 West 42nd Street) as part of the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival. For more information, visit www.propagandathemusical.com.