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1001 Minutes of New Musicals - Hollywood Fringe Festival Review


By Bill Garry

I think of the Hollywood Fringe Festival as creative anarchy -- independent writers, composers, actors and producers put on hundreds of shows with just as many goals in mind. Some want to be discovered, some want to hone their craft, some want to test a concept and some just want to have fun.

One of those producers is New Musicals, Inc. (NMI), a Hollywood non-profit that provides support and encouragement to aspiring musical writers. For the Fringe, they are mounting twelve 20-minute musicals developed in workshops under their guidance.

And their guidance makes the difference. Each of the three shows I saw had that professional "something" -- whether structure, character arc, and/or music and story integration -- that tells you that its creators have talent, training and potential.

A critical factor in creating a musical is knowing how to collaborate, and how to choose the right collaborators. (I worked on a Broadway musical with a dream team that fell apart when the legendary lyricist died and was replaced with a personality-challenged "star." The original show smelled like a hit; the revised show, when mounted on Broadway, flopped.)

I interviewed creative team members for the Fringe musicals afterwards; they all understood the benefits of working hard and working together.

Now for the reviews. I attended "R-Rated" night of 1001 Minutes of New Musicals, which put three adult-themed musicals together.

FEET FIRST
Collaborators Chris Smith (book), Ross Plotkin (music) and Brad Beaver (lyrics) created a fast-moving and hilarious chamber musical. The premise -- two gay foot-fetishists planning an afternoon with Fleet Week sailors get an unexpected visit from one of their mothers and her gay companion -- plays like a twisted episode of Will and Grace.

Matt Valle (Jace) and Frankie Rodriguez (Parkie) are perfectly cast as the roommates who wonder if their afternoon of seamen (pun intended) and feet will affect their friendship. They have good voices, good chemistry and play off their differences -- Jace a body-builder, Parkie a "Twink" -- well.

Elise Dewsberry (the mother) and Anthony Michael Meyer (the companion with the nickname of "12-incher") play the other couple in the show. The actors go over the top and into sitcom territory as the unwanted visitors.

Fortunately, the writers provide individual "freeze" moments when Jace pours his heart out and grounds the show in his painful, yet funny, reality. The fun, and pain, escalates when the other characters catch on to the "freeze" gimmick and fight for the solo spotlight.

The merry-go-round of entrances and exits are staged by director Denis McCourt with obvious glee. The four actors, and the audience, feel the glee, too.

F**KED UP FAIRY TALES

Grace Jasmine (book and lyrics) and David Jayden Anthony (music) gave themselves a challenge when they decided to put nine fairy-tale characters on stage and write a 20-minute show around them. While it is entertaining (especially when a Trump-like King Midas is center stage), it is too much to follow. I didn't figure out who one character was until 3/4 of the way through when somebody yells "Jiminy Cricket!"

The characters use the songs not to reveal their inner lives to us, but to bitch and moan. Funny, for sure, but shallow. The plot revolves around the forbidden gay love between Jack of the Beanstalk (a sincere Michael Steven Mraz) and the Giant (cuddly Tyler Stouffer). The villainous Midas (a suitably slimy Matt JJ Miller) gets a lot of stage time for his proclamations and machinations. If only the heroes and heroines were as well-defined. There's a great message of love and courage vs. pig-headedness hidden in this show. It's just buried under layers of comic "business" (who knew that Prince Charming had ED?)

CHATURBATE
Dan Margules (book), David Jayden Anthony (music) and Chris Edgar (lyrics) present a sweet story about a sweet girl from Iowa who wants to be a Broadway star. The girl is Laura London, played with corn-fed moxie and spunk by Tamara Philbrick.

Laura goes to auditions and deals with abrasive New Yorkers and insecure actors. But why is she so calm? Why is she not starving like the other Broadway gypsies begging for a break? Her secret? She leads a double life as BroadwayGirl69xo, star of an online chat room where she masturbates live for money (hence the title "Chaturbate").

Laura's journey from shame to acceptance to celebrity spills out in emotional and comic numbers that are peppered with sexual puns and sight gags that never descend to the level of groaners. The audience roars throughout -- who knew that modern audiences would be so up on the latest sexual slang? Despite the subject matter, the show stays out of the gutter and plays as a sophisticated "chorus girl to star" showbiz musical. BroadwayGirl69xo's online audience (the good, giving and game Chandler Reed, Theodore Georgios Crosby, Richard Van Slyke and Matt JJ Miller) are the supportive family on which the plot turns. Mackayla Hill (Summit) and Miatta Ade Lebile (Nasasha) as Laura's girlfriends come off as weakly-written stock types (the afore-mentioned Abrasive and Insecure). As this show develops, the men who wrote it would do well to -- ahem -- flesh out the women's roles.

1001 Minutes of New Musicals plays through June 23 at the Sacred Fools Theater. Tickets here.



Posted By Bill Garry on June 15, 2017 11:34 am | Permalink