Decades after his death, Robert Moses’s legacy is still felt throughout New York City, from the Triborough Bridge to Lincoln Center. As the urban planner responsible for much of the city’s 20th-century roadways and infrastructure projects, Moses had a polarizing career, making lasting improvements to the city and the surrounding area even as he was criticized for imposing his plans, no matter the consequences. New Yorkers traveling through Moses’s former domain to the Theatre at St. Clements, however, will find little unique insight into the man behind the infrastructure at Bulldozer: The Ballad of Robert Moses, a bio-musical of the master builder who outlasted mayors and governors to impose his will on New York City and the surrounding area from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are the Rihanna of musical theater. Just as the Barbadian pop goddess releases hit song after hit song while selling relatively few albums, Kerrigan and Lowdermilk are less known for their plays than for their individual tunes, which have gained them a rabid online following. Their contemporaries Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen, La La Land) have conquered Broadway and Hollywood, but Kerrigan and Lowdermilk have connected with the millennial fan base like no other musical theater writers; they’re the official composers of the Internet. Now, several of their conversationally catchy pop songs have found their way into the long-gestating original musical The Mad Ones, playing at 59E59 Theaters.
Young Frankenstein, a revised version of Mel Brooks’s 2007 Broadway musical parody, is winning accolades over in London, but Eric B. Sirota’s version of the Frankenstein story, receiving its world premiere on a budget a hundredth of the size, is surely much more faithful to Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel. Sirota, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for Frankenstein, imbues his show with the serious philosophical underpinnings of Shelley’s original: the dangers of man playing God, the belief in a higher power, the pitfalls that science may hold for overweening practitioners. But even with capable performers, the more adult approach comes up short.
The Flea, an estimable downtown theater company with an irritating name, prides itself on having conjured “joyful hell in a small space” for the past 20 years. Now starting its third decade, the organization has moved to a handsomely renovated building it owns on nearby Thomas Street. The official inaugural presentation in its new home is Syncing Ink by NSangou Njikam.
Shakespeare is getting a Wild West twist this fall with Desperate Measures at the York Theatre Company. The new musical transports Measure for Measure to the American frontier in a high-energy adaptation by Peter Kellogg and David Friedman that charms and entertains.
Ars Nova’s KPOP begins with a chorus of glittering young Korean pop performers belting the lyrics “the future’s standing right in front of you.” Indeed, the purported mission of the play’s fictional management enterprise, JTM Entertainment, is to bring K-Pop to American audiences, and the production delivers K-Pop-styled numbers in droves.
Inspired by Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, Boomerang Theatre Company’s Loveless Texas is a toe-tapping musical comedy set during the early years of the Great Depression. Although many of the characters hold the same names as in the Shakespeare play, the story begins with a twist: Berowne Loveless Navarre (the hugely talented Joe Joseph) and his buddies—Duke Dumaine (Colin Barkell) and Bubba Longaville (Brett Benowitz)—are playboys who travel from New York to Paris. Along the way they do all the things that upstanding young men shouldn’t be doing: chase women, drink liquor and spend the Navarre family money.
Whether one considers Van Gogh’s Ear a mixed-media presentation, or, in the parlance of millennials, a mash-up, the production directed by Donald T. Sanders for The Ensemble for the Romantic Century abounds in pleasures, from its stately pace, to the extraordinary musicianship that suffuses it, to the revelations about a painter whose work is well-known, but whose personality less so.
The advertising campaign for Come Light My Cigarette promises a “suspenseful” evening and features a photo of Erikka Walsh gotten up in Sam Spade trench coat and fedora. Indeed, there’s mystery about this mildly noir-ish musical, written and directed by Arnold L. Cohen; but what’s offstage is more provocative than what’s visible in the auditorium of the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
The musical Lili Marlene takes its name from the famous German love song of World War II, first recorded in 1939. It became a hit among German troops (in spite of Joseph Goebbels’s dislike of it) and was eventually popularized among Allied troops as well, in a famous rendition by Marlene Dietrich in 1944. Yet that’s only an imaginative jumping-off point for the show of the title, which takes place between June 1932 and June 1933, at the tail end of the Weimar Republic and the first days with Adolf Hitler in power.
First, we love Nancy Opel. The frisky singing comedienne all but stole Honeymoon in Vegas from Rob McClure, which can’t have been easy. Her Yente considerably enlivened the goyische Alfred Molina revival of Fiddler on the Roof, and her Dickensian Penelope Pennywise was one of the few enjoyable things about Urinetown. She surely deserves a musical of her own. And she deserves a better one than Curvy Widow.
This is the guy who wrote Anna Karenina? Librettist-lyricist Peter Kellogg, perhaps less than happy with the memories of that short-lived 1992 Broadway musical, has turned about as far away from tragic romance as it is possible to turn for his new project. Picture this: a small, whimsical Off-Broadway musical—a book show, but with a loose narrative allowing for plenty of sketchlike comedy, and with a structure borrowed freely from Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. A little social comment, but broad characters and an overriding silliness that induces, if not a lot of guffaws, a fair number of smiles. Music by David Friedman, best known for the great cabaret song “My Simple Christmas Wish” and several syrupy ballads that were gracefully sung by the late Nancy Lamott. Hence, Money Talks.
Most people going to the cell’s production of Bastard Jones have probably not encountered Henry Fielding’s hefty 18th-century novel. The odds may be greater that they’ve seen the Oscar-winning Tom Jones, a rare Best Picture comedy, but it rarely hits revival houses. That may be to the good, because Marc Acito and Amy Engelhardt’s new musical takes liberties—a lot of them—and fans of the film, scripted by John Osborne (Look Back in Anger), will find much has changed.
Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, at the Lion, has no subtitle, so here’s a helpful suggestion: The Attention Deficit Disorder Musical. Lory Lazarus, who perpetrated book, music, and lyrics, just staggers from premise to premise, seizing on some new plot point and leaving whole subplots behind to die of malnutrition. Some of them contain good ideas. More don’t.
At the center of Kirsten Childs’ new musical, Bella: An American Tall Tale, is the title character, “a big-booty Tupelo gal.” Although the “tall tale” labeling promises lightheartedness, there isn’t any blue ox or apple-seed scattering to be found. Childs’ formula for a tall tale includes some dark material, and the tone of Bella veers from cheerfully tongue-in-cheek to just plain vulgar, from wildly inventive to hackneyed.
It’s easy to imagine what drew composer Tim Rosser and lyricist/librettist Charlie Sohne to bacha bazi, the subject matter behind their new musical, The Boy Who Danced on Air. The lives of Afghani “dancing boys,” poor young men conscripted by the wealthy into sexual slavery, offer high-stakes drama and political topicality. Though spirited and nuanced, though, the play lacks the caution, finesse, and heterogeneity necessary to avoid joining the ranks of American musicals that have tried to absorb non-Western cultures, only to abuse and debase them (which is pretty much all of them).
Leaving no explorer-themed cliché unturned, Ernest Shackleton Loves Me boldly goes where many, many musicals have gone before, weaving a story of ersatz empowerment out of artistic crisis. The show, which encumbers a pair of insanely talented performers with thankless roles at the center of a human cartoon, patronizes and demeans its audience in its eagerness to be idiosyncratic.
Marry Harry revives a genre not much seen in these parts lately, the charm musical. The work of Jennifer Robbins (book), Dan Martin (music), and Michael Biello (lyrics), the show is small and hasn’t much on its mind, just the urge to put a few likable characters through a simple story and send its audience out with a collective feeling of “Aww.” Thanks to an attractive production on the intimate York Theatre stage and an overqualified cast, it gets its “Aww,” though it also earns a couple of orders of “You can’t be serious.”
A night at the newest production of Baghdaddy might begin with a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and a name tag. From the start, the audience is thrown right into the midst of Marshall Pailet and A.D. Penedo’s punchy political musical. Actors sit in the audience, and audience members sit on the stage as the show begins with a support group for the CIA operatives and others who played a role in starting the war in Iraq.
Poor, put-upon Percy Jackson. All he wants is to stay at the same school for more than a year. And have more than one friend. And not get in trouble all the time. And not have attention deficit disorder. Or such a rude, acrid stepdad. And if only that minotaur hadn’t killed his mom…