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A CurtainUp Omnibus Review
The 2007 New York Musical Theatre Festival

Updated: October 5, 2007: *Emma, *The Beastly Bombing, *Such Good Friends,*Sympathy Jones, *Little Egypt, *Jungle Queen Debutante, *Gemini The Musical, *Petite Rouge, *Girl Gang, *Sherlock Holmes the Early Years, *The Good Fight, *Austentatious, *Virtuosa, *Bernice Bobs Her Mullet, *The Piper

The New York Musical Theatre Festival is back. Whether it will produce another super hit like , Altar Boyz, still running on West 50th Street, or not, it's bound to be lots of fun This year's Festival again runs from Sept. 17th to Oct.7th and is scattered over more venues than ever (See box at end of page for list with addresses). As usual, our coverage will be a case of grazing rather than attempting to see and review everything, so keep visiting this page, for our NYMF "tasters' " reports. For further information about other shows, added performances and maps of theater location see the Festival website: . . .Venue Addresses
Shows To Be Reviewed (* before title indicates that review is posted):
*Such Good Friends | *The Good Fight | *The Beastly Bombing | *Virtuosa| *Austentatious| *Emma| *Bernice Bobs Her Mullet| *Girl Gang | *Sherlock Holmes the Early Years | *Jungle Queen Debutante| *Sympathy Jones|*Petite Rouge|*The Piper|*Little Egypt|*Gemini The Musical

The Good Fight
I wish I could urge everyone reading this to rush out and see The Good Fight instead of reporting on it after it's all too brief run has ended. It's , a chapter of Australian history that has been transformed into an absorbing, achingly beautiful musical that transcends its Aussie roots, especially for today's audiences. Though staged with a two-piano orchestra and just a few ingeniously used benches for scenery, this is nevertheless a spectacle that succeeds by any criterion for measuring the success of a musical theater piece.

The book by the late Nick Enright effectively uses the story of an Australian boxing legend Les Darcy, as a springboard for a broader exploration of a still very young country caught up in the even bigger sport fighting a war (World War I) that was promoted by a gung-ho for conscription Prime Minister as a way to strengthen the country's bonds with the mother country and for young men to prove their manliness. The lyrics (also by Enright) and music by David King soar with lyricism and passion. The attractive, seventeen strong cast of students from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts which composer King heads brings the minor as well as the major characters of this epic to vivid life. Director Crispin Taylor (the Academy's program coordinator and resident director) and choreographer Jenny Lynnd make stunning use the actors to form evocative tableaus when not actively involved and for the fight scenes which are absolutely brilliant thanks to lighting designer Glenn Hunter.

To expand the story of the Catholic Darcy's career which began when he was just and made him middleweight champion at nineteen, Enright introduced a second main character and contemporary of Darcy's. This paves the way for the dual story of Darcy and and Charlie and their mothers (one an ardent pro-war proponent, the other an ardent pacifist). Given the political frenzy of the times, it's a libretto with all the elements of an opera. However, with scenes in the music hall stages of Australia and America as well as the battlefields of World War I, there are plenty of bright, colorful scenes.

Like Darcy of The Good Fight, Nick Enright's own play and lyric writing career (The Boy From Oz/ and Cloudstreet) was cut tragically short just a few years ago and also put further productions of this his last musical on hold. The inclusion of this production in the Festival is a well-deserved tribute to Enright and one can only hope that these all too limited performances will lead to more elsewhere.
Book & Lyrics by Nick Enright. Music by David King. Cast: Gareth Keegan as Les, Brad Carroll as Charley; also Chrystal De Grussa, Gemma-Ashley Kaplan, Kathryn Sgroi, Suzanne Mathers, Stephanie Morrison, Vanessa Raspa, Matthew McFarlane, Keane Fletcher, Brent Dolahenty, Stuart Fisher, Elizabeth Styles, Lachlan Gillespie, Caleb Rixon, Zack Curran, Bernard Angel and Eliza Anderson. The Good Fight was part of NYMF's Invited Works Series, Sep 20th, 8:00 pm, Sep 21st, 4:00 pm, Sep 22nd, 4:30 pm at Julia Miles Theater. —Elyse Sommer.

Gemini, The Musical
Gemini was an enormously popular play when first seen decades ago, and now has been transformed into an intimate musical with its original author, Albert Innaurato, at the helm to create a libretto based on his own script. Its intimacy is contradicted by its noise and hysteria, and truly there is much shouting, screaming, and cursing by several of the seven characters. One of them even contributes coughing hacking, and spitting. The musical, as the play, is set largely outdoors in front of a group of row houses in a lower middle class neighborhood in South Philadelphia.

Francis, about to reluctantly celebrate his 21st birthday at his father's home, recently has returned home for the summer from Harvard University where he seems to be studying nothing in particular. He's beginning to explore his homosexual leanings, which are made much more explicit here than in the original play. Dan Micciche, while perhaps a bit too mature for the role, gives his portrayal a fine balance of defiance and frustration. Fran, his dad, here is somewhat more sensitive than in the play, and in the performance of Joel Blum, is an effective crooner as well. His neighbor, a boisterous and raunchy woman known as Bunny, is a buxom live wire given to suicide threats. Linda Hart's musical moments in that role virtually turn her into an Irish version of Tina Turner. Her largely ignored son Hershel, fathered by long-missing man identified only as "the Jew", is a sweet and very bright but decidedly awkward lad who today might be called autistic. Jonathan Kay's multi-textured performance of the multi-challenged youth is nothing short of wonderful.

We are told late in the performance that the year is 1973, perhaps when the last bits of innocence of American society were being swept away. In many respects, however, the time setting feels a decade earlier, or perhaps Innaurato merely means to suggest that this part of Philadelphia was rather behind the country in social developments. Shorn of much of the original script and nuance, the musical adaptation unfortunately feels long. The music by Charles Gilbert, while not particularly memorable, is presented in very listenable arrangements, and does work well for the characters, reminding us that while virtually each one of them is odd and/or annoying in one or more respects, as a group they are a decidedly likeable bunch.

Editor's Note: Our Philadelphia critic liked this better than the play when she saw it three years ago. You can read her review here and also a review of the non-musical revival at Second Stage here.

. Gemini, the musical Book by Albert Innaurato, music by Charles Gilbert, lyrics by Charles Gilbert and Albert Innaurato.Based on the long-running Broadway comedy. Cast: Joel Blum, Linda Hart, Bethe Austin, Dan Micciche, Kristen Bracken, Ryan Reid, and Jonathan Kay. Sets, Dana Kenn; costumes, Carol Sherry; lights, Philip Rosenberg; sound, Duncan Cutler. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including one intermission. Performances 9/18 8pm, 9/21 1pm, 9/22 8pm, 9/25 8pm, 9/29 4:30pm, 10/01 8pm. Acorn.—Brad Bradley
Such Good Friends
I don't usually spend time on a show program, but the one for this backstage look at the world of TV comedy has an especially apt cover to illustrates both the title and its tag line— "when comedy came in black and white—some saw red. " A halfttone sketch of three figures, each holding a tv screen spelling out the title, represents the show's main characters: 50s TV star Dottie Francis and her creative team and friends Gabe Fisher and Danny Factor. The American flag background hints at the subtext of the American history event these good friends were caught up in, the McCarthy anti-communist witchhunts that affected so many people like Dottie and Gabe and Danny.

Noel Katz who wrote the book, music and lyrics for this ambitious musical has the good fortune of a splendid cast, headlined by Liz Larsen as Dottie Francis (whose variety show calls to mind Carol Burnett and whose name will make old timers think of Arlene Francis), Brad Oscar as Gabe Fisher and Danny Factor Jeff Talbott as Danny Factor. It also has the benefit of a director and design team who make the most of a modest budget (the first thing you see is a shower curtain-- but that shower curtain proves to be extremely versatile, as do a few innocuous looking modular props.

These considerable assets notwithstanding, show's viability as a full-featured production with a longer run raises a big question mark. While Katz has a good idea in giving his his friendship story a political twist, the problem is that the era when Senator Joseph McCarthy imposed a queasy reign of terror that affected many show biz folks has been so much written about (Names and , Trumbo come to mind) that even musicalizing another such story may fail to resonate yet again, , especially with young audiences for whom it might take a something grand and metaphoric like Arthur Miller's The Crucible to connect with that era.

There are also structural problems. The first act is merely a setup for the meat and potatoes —the more dramatically and musically muscular second act. Yet that setup act is as long as what follows. Thus, while the second act engages you emotionally and features the few songs that stand out and really showcase the leads the first hour's piling on of song after fairly unmemorable song, is more exhausting than exhilarating.

Still, there's that terrific "You're a Red, " the bittersweet Oscar and Talbott duet "My Name Is Mud" and Oscar's wonderful musical testimony as the "Poor Boy From Brooklyn." What's wrong with the first act is best illustrated by Larsen's " Little Sisters" duet with her friend Vivian (the excellent Lynne Wintersteller). That song makes little impression in act one, but lands with much more of a character-developing bang when reprised with a surprise ending in the second act. If you're not looking at this Festival as a showcase for another potential Altar Boyz, Such Good Friends is a not to be missed chance to see topflight talent at a bargain price.
Book, Music and Lyrics by Noel Katz. Direction by Marc Bruni. Musical Direction, Michael Horsely. Choreography, Wendy Seyb. Cast: Brad Oscar, Liz Larsen and Lynn Wintersteller; also Shua Campbell, Michael Thomas Holmes, Laura Jordan, Dirk Lumbard, Shannon O'bryan, Jeff Talbott, Lynne Wintersteller And Blake Whyte.Sets, Jeff Hinchee; costumes, Lisa Zinn; lighting, Jim Milkey; sound design, Nick Borisjuk; props, Teresa Hull. Schedule: Sep 28th, 8:00 pm, Sep 29th, 1:00 pm, Sep 30th, 4:30 pm, Oct 3rd, 4:30 pm, Oct 3rd, 8:00 pm, Oct 6th, 1:00 pm at Julia Miles Theater. —Elyse Sommer

The Beastly Bombing
It's a pretty safe bet that Julien Nitzberg and Roger Neill, respectively the writer/director and composer of The Beastly Bombing, aren't high on the lists of groups attempting to promote cultural sensitivity. In the course of their operetta which originally debuted in Los Angeles, Nitzberg and Neill manage to hit every major stereotype for Christians, Jews, Muslims, homosexuals and a host of others— and one gets the sense they would go for more if they had time. But any of the show's inherent offensiveness is muted by its presentation, an intentionally Gilbert and Sullivan-esque romp which follows the exploits of two white supremacists and two Arab terrorists, all of them interested in blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge because, as Patrick the white supremacist (played expertly by Jacob Sidney) points out in a song on the subject, "a delightful little bomb / A fine and lovely fuse / Could quietly with great aplomb / Help propagate our views." A similarly irreverent approach permeates the entire production, from Patrick's friend Frank's (played by Aaron Matijasic) lament on the difficulty of being a "sensitive white supremacist" to President Dodgeson's (Jesse Merlin) proclamation of love for "The House of Saud," and the cast's commitment to the show's vision is admirable—particularly Sidney, Matijasic, Andrew Ableson and Russell Steinberg (the last two play the lovable Arab terrorists, complete with headdresses and obvious accents), without whom the show would flounder badly.

Borat have covered the cultural gags and religious jokes in The Beastly Bombing with a much sharper (and more offensive) eye, while TV shows from South Park to Saturday Night Live exhausted the tired Bush jokes well before this production decided to take them on. Avenue Q has already blazed this trail in the musical world.

The music, while serviceable, is hardly memorable (and at this performance not helped by severe technical problems), and in any case Gilbert and Sullivan were much more subtle about their satire than Nitzberg and Neill, who never seem able to decide if they want to be Mel Brooks or Jonathan Swift. Instead they settle for an uncomfortable mix of both, and the result is a show which generally prefers sledgehammers to scalpels. The Beastly Bombing isn't a terrible show, but its moving out of the Festival setting seems unlikely.

Book and lyrics by Julien Nitzberg. Music and direction by Roger Neill. Choreography by Kevin Remington. Cast: Andrew Ableson, Joel Bennett, Curt Bonnem, Kate Gabrielle Feld, Heather Marie Marsden, Aaron Matijasic, Jesse Merlin, John Quale, Natalie Salins, Jacob Sidney, Russell Steinberg. Schedule: Oct. 2nd, 8 p.m., Oct. 3rd, 1 p.m., Oct. 4th, 8 p.m., Oct. 5th, 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., Oct. 7th, 1 p.m. at the Julia Miles Theater. —Gregory Wilson

(Editorial Note: When our Los Angeles critic reviewed this, she found much more to like and the production she saw has drawn enough audiences for an open-ended run —Beastly Bombing--Los Angeles

a Virtuosa
This is an oddball entry for the Festival. Not really a musical, it's a biographical drama with music —that's not pop or rock or hip-hop but classical music. Oddball or not, however, this show's three performances were a wonderful opportunity to get caught up in the fascinating true story of the career and bittersweet love story of Clara Wiek Schuman (September 13, 1819 - May 20, 1896). Playwright Diane Seymour fashioned this true story of a child prodigy whose career as a renowned concert pianist was spearheaded by a dominating, driving father into an intriguing two-person piece. Actress Katrina Ferguson and pianist Allison Brewster Franzetta, are dressed alike to foster the concept of a single Clara on stage —one narrating her story and moving around the stage and the other at the piano and ready to illustrate the narration with music. When Ferguson first joins Franzetta at the piano, the evocation of the two as a single image is stunning. The father's tight reign on his daughter and opposition to her marrying the mentally fragile Robert Schumann so that they had to petition the court to permit their marriage is sufficiently documented so that you could just read up on it with a quick Googling session. But Seymour's script is smartly organized and Ferguson, who bring to mind a young Marian Seldes, is an appealing and emotionally resonant actress. As for Franzetta's piano playing, it coudn't be better if you were in a grand concert hall rather than in the rather shabby 45th Street Theater. In case you're wondering whether this offbeat fare is likely to be appealing to NMTF, the last performance was well attended. No walkouts at intermission and lots of enthusiastic applause at the end.

Written by Diane Seymour. Featuring Katrina Ferguson as Clara Schumann and and Allison Brewster Franzetta playing music of Chopin, Brahms, Clara Schumann and Robert SchumannSchedule: Sep 19th, 8:00 pm, Sep 20th, 12:00 pm, Sep 20th, 4:00 pm at 45th Street Theater. —Elyse Sommer

Madcap antics and zany farce obviously have very little to do with the correct romances and gentle satire of Jane Austen. Which is basically what makes Austentatious so funny. Who wouldn't laugh at a Pride and Prejudice that features gunslinging, clog dancing and adventures on the high seas?

This clever new musical is about a community theatre that decides to put on an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The effort is beset with the egotistical, the incompetent and the drug-addled. Sensible stage manager Sam (Stephanie D'Abruzzo) tries to contain the chaotic production but it grows steadily more unrelated to Austen's original as opening night approaches.

A play about a bad play can be a dicey proposition, but Austentatious is well served by Mary Catherine Burke's speedy direction , and surprisingly accomplished writing. The five-strong team of authors has bolstered the whimsical concept with jazzily attractive songs, oversized characters, and bottomless creativity when it comes to finding jokes. We're easily won over by the strong cast. All are fearlessly wacky and nearly always avoid mugging. I especially liked Stephen Bel Davis as the flaky director, and George Merrick as the slightly nerdy leading man. But D'Abruzzo is the most charming of all as the overworked and long-suffering straight man to the other performers' antics.

Unlike many comedies that start off well and end poorly, Austentatious actually starts a little slowly and gets much funnier as the night goes on. In fact, it ends with one of the more hilarious sequences I've seen in a long time. Who knew that Jane Austen's work could inspire so much silly fun?

Music and Lyrics by Matt Board and Joe Slabe. Book by Matt Board, Jane Caplow, Kate Galvin, Luisa Hinchliff, and Joe Slabe. Directed By Mary Catherine Burke. Cast: Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Lisa Asher & George Merrick.
Schedule: Sep 18th, 8:00 pm, Sep 21st, 8:00 pm, Sep 23rd, 4:30 pm, Sep 23rd, 8:00 pm, Sep 25th, 4:30 pm, Sept. 28, 11pm, Sep 29th, 4:30 pm at the Julia Miles Theater. —Julia Furay

Poised, accomplished and lovely would certainly be words that describe the character of Emma Woodhouse. As it happens, they also apply to the new musical named for her. With solid writing, a strong cast and clear direction, Emma nicely transforms Jane Austen into musical comedy.

Unlike the show-within-a-show of Austentatious, this second Austen piece is very faithful to its source material. Young and beautiful Emma (a terrific Leah Horowitz) matchmakes her way into trouble, and learns to grow up as a result of it. Author Joel Adlen (book, music, and score) has created a musical that manages to feel truly period-specific. Though Adlen's book mirrors Austen's in both dialogue and structure, it's the score than is the show's asset. Though not sung through, Emma contains far more music than most musicals, and while not always conventionally tuneful, the music's complexity fits in perfectly with the overall tone.

The production itself is equally elegant. Director Terry Berliner has made sparse sets and low-budget costumes seem ample for the show's purposes. She has made fine use of a large cast, especially the unflappable Horowitz and John Patrick Moore as Mr. Knightley. There are a few performances (Jesse Lawder as Frank Churchill, Tiffany Diane Smith as Jane Fairfax, and Terry Palasz as Miss Bates) that feel more cartoonish and over-the-top than one would expect from the original. Surprisingly enough, however, these roles lend themselves well to that sort of lampoonery and it all works.

The two Austen shows at this year's NYMF couldn't be more different. But happily h for those of us who admire Jane Austen's work, both succeed on their own terms.

Book, lyrics and music by Joel Adlen Schedule: Oct 2nd, 8:00 pm, Oct 3rd, 1:00 pm, Oct 4th, 4:30 pm, Oct 4th, 8:00 pm, Oct 5th, 8:00 pm, Oct 7th, 1:00 pm at The Acorn Theater. —Julia Furay

Bernice Bobs Her Mullet
The mullet may be difficult to take, but the musical Bernice Bobs Her Mullet is just the opposite: a show that's very easy to like. It's funny. The songs are great. The cast is impressive and the production quite polished.

Joe Major, the Arkansas native who is responsible for book, music, and lyrics, has stayed faithful to its inspirational source — F. Scott Fitzgerald's popular short story, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair.",; It's about an innocent who goes to the city and learns manners and the wily ways of society. As the amended title suggests, Bernice (Garrett Long) is now a redneck from the Ozarks instead of a country girl from Wisconsin. That guarantees an abundance of cheerful redneck jokes. This could easily be a bit offensive were it not for the fact that Bernice and her fellow bumpkins are actually the only likable characters in the show. The caricature parts fall to her society friends from the city — snooty cousin Marjorie (Hollie Howard), backstabbing Roberta and Genevieve (Lauren Worsham and Katrina Rose Dideriksen) and holy roller Draycott (Jeff Hiller)— and they're played as such. Andy Sandberg has directed everyone for broad laughs so there's some shameless and energetic mugging. Despite this, Bernice Bobs Her Mullet pleases on its own terms. Long is an effortlessly appealing lady, a convincing hick with a nice country twang. Ann Morrison (of Merrily We Roll Along fame) does double duty as Bernice's mother and aunt, and finds laughs in both characters. AddShea Sullivan's brash choreography to the production's strengths, and you have a fun, rewarding festival entry.

Book, music & lyrics adapted by Joe Major, Based from F. Scott Fitzgerald's story and directed by Andy Sandberg. Cast :Garrett Long as the title character, Nick Cearley, Katrina Rose Dideriksen , Hollie Howard , Gerry McIntyre), Ann Morrison, , Brandon Wardelland Lauren Worsham. Shea Sullivan (choreographer), Charles Corcoran (scenic design), Herrick Goldman (lighting design), Ryan Rossetto (costume design), Justin Hatchimonji (music director) and Kim Douglas Steiner (music supervisor). Schedule: Sep 19th, 8:00 pm, Sep 22nd, 8:00 pm, Sep 23rd, 1:00 pm, Sep 25th, 8:00 pm, Sep 27th, 4:30 pm, Sep 30th, 1:00 pm at Julia Miles Theater.—Julia Furay

Girl Gang
Set in the 1950's, this good-girl-gone bad story is one juicy pulp fiction musical. It's a cautionary tale with the feel of a smoky B-movie and dialogue straight out of the era.

Mark Knowles (who directed and wrote the book) and David g Smith (music and lyrics) have created a highly inventive show,. One of the reason it feels and sounds different from most other musicals is that , all the young characters (both boys and girls) are played by women, whereas the adults (both men and women) are played by men. This lends a campy feel to the incredibly eventful plot (expect various murders, turnarounds, unrequited passions and cunning plans) which is more focused on twists and turns than on plausibility or characterization.

Knowles' staging plays up the quirkiness of the book by constantly winking at its own ridiculousness, yet with room for a heartfelt torch song or two. Jodie Bentley is ideal as Didi, the sultry and vulnerable good girl who finds herself in reform school. Richard Butler as the one-eyed villainess called Mother shamelessly hams it up. They set the pace for the rest of the cast's alternately earnest acting and obvious posing. while this unevenness could be major weaknesses, that's not the case with Girl Gang which seems to delight in its plot holes and hokey dialogue. The kids really do speak like the characters in West Side Story, only more clichéd. Additionally, Smith has fused his music and lyrics perfectly to the story. The score is jazzy, energetic and period-perfect. The inventiveness of the lyrics is evident in titles like ; the lyrics show terrific inventiveness with titles like "Ballerina with a Blade", "Cigarette Attitude" and "Reform School Rock."

If you like a show with attitude and atmosphere, you'll find that Girl Gang has those qualities in spades.
Avid G Smith (Original Concept, Music & Lyrics) Mark W Knowles (Writer, Director, Producer, Graphic & Scenic Designer), Jaye Maynard (Producer, Co-Costumer), Tina Marie Casamento (Assistant Director, Vocal Musical Director)/ Cast: Marnie Baumer (Itchy / Mary-Jane Girl), Jodie Bentley (Didi), Richard Butler (Mother / Uncle Arnie), Dan E. Campbell (Sister Dolores / Aunt Jo), Adrienne Fishe (Spike / Hep Cat), Jen Kays (Rita / Hep Chick), Mark W Knowles (Serge), Jaye Maynard (Myra), Ali Mclennan (Sharky / Billy), Paul Niebanck (Doctor Goodlove),Amy. Russ (Reggie / Chop Chop). Schedule: Sep 22nd, 8:30 pm, Sep 23rd, 3:00 pm, Sep 24th, 6:30 pm, Sep 26th, 3:00 pm, Sep 26th, 8:00 pm, Sep 27th, 8:00 pm, Sep 28th, 7:00 pm, Sep 28th, 10:00 pm, Sep 29th, 8:00 pm, Sep 30th, 3:00 pm at Atlantic Theater Stage 2 — Julia Furay

Sherlock Holmes the Early Years
Despite the pathetic English accents, there's an authentically British feel to this show. Authored by a team of two Brits (book) and two Americans (music and lyrics), this owes more to British comedy than it does to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There's a mystery, sure, but Sherlock Holmes is really all about the silly fun.

Sherlock (Gavin Lodge) is a famous detective at show's start. But he's also a frustrated one who's lonely and rarely finds cases. Enter Dr. Watson (William Connell), and before we know it, they're chasing mysteries and solving crimes. Surprisingly, Sherlock doesn't actually solve anything for us since authors Kate Ferguson and Robert Hudson reveal who all the bad guys are from the start, and Sherlock's "brilliant deductions" are, well, really obvious. The focus is on the high jinks of "the Spider," a three-person fraternity of nurses who are determined to be Really Evil Criminals. This brings us dancing constables, a naughty Inspector Lestrade, a deadpan Mrs. Hudson, and a lovelorn earl. And let's not forget that adoring relationship between Watson and Holmes.

The score by Jared Dembowski and Susannah Pearse, is attractive enough to entertain without being memorable, with many ending in too obvious punch lines, like "It Is Ever So Foggy in London" and "It's Time For the Denouement." Director Nona Lloyd has kept a quick pace and played up the comic book elements (the scenes featuring the criminals actually reminded me of an episode of Scooby Doo). The actors, despite their uneven accents, are very good at finding laughs. Unfortunately choreographer Merete Munter's work feels really amateurish and could be more inventive. Nevertheless, Sherlock is clever and whimsical.

Music by Jared M. Dembowski. Lyrics by Susannah Pearse. Book by Kate Ferguson with Robert Hudson. Choreography by Merete Muenter. Cast: William Connell, Sarah Glendening, Scott Gofta, Nicholas Kohn , Gavin Lodge, Mike Masters, Susan Louise O'Connor, Robyne Parrish, William Ryall, Elizabeth Shepherd, Laura Shoop, Michael St. John and Doug Trapp. Schedule: Sep 24th, 8:00 pm, Sep 25th, 1:00 pm, Sep 30th, 9:00 pm, Oct 3rd, 5:00 pm, Oct 5th, 9:00 pm, Oct 6th, 5:00 pm at The Theater at St. Clements. —Julia Furay

Jungle Queen Debutante
Although it takes place in the 1950s, Jungle Queen Debutante feels even older. A silly romance, wild coincidences, a cheerfully demeaning portrait of jungle natives, and a few goofy mistaken identities give it the creaky feel of something out of the 1930's. Despite an attractive and gamely cast, this show suffers one misstep after another. The score by Thomas Tierney contains a few catchy numbers, notably "Pack" and "Coming Out. " For the most part, however, the music slows down the action rather than adding to it. Sean O'Donnell's book is even more frustrating. It's about a Connecticut debutante who goes to the South American jungle to save her bookish boyfriend from, yes, a Jungle Queen. The problems with the continuity and characterization, could be forgiven if Jungle Queen were funny, but the jokes are even more tiresome than the plot's twists and turns.

Though no one expect sBroadway polish from a Festival production, Jungle Queen Debutante definitely suffers from its low-budget feel. The cast possesses lovely voices and some comedic flair (especially Forbidden Broadway alum Donna English as a prim Connecticut superspy), but director Gwen Arment's production simply feels under-rehearsed and the sets are little more than cardboard cutouts. Even the theater itself is more of a community center than a performance space.

Ultimately, dooms this as one of the trulyly disappointing Festival entries, is not the old-fashioned air but the book and production weaknesses.

Book by Sean O'Donnell. Lyrics & Music by Thomas Tierney. Schedule: Sep 26th, 8:00 pm, Sep 27th, 8:00 pm, Sep 28th, 3:00 pm, Sep 28th, 8:00 pm, Sep 29th, 8:00 pm, Oct 3rd, 8:00 pm, Oct 4th, 8:00 pm, Oct 5th, 3:00 pm, Oct 5th, 8:00 pm, Oct 6th, 8:00 pm at Times Square Arts Center. —Reviewed by Julia Furay.

Sympathy Jones
Here's a show that would seem to have everything going for it, beginning with its clever and funny concept, a send-up of caper movies and James Bond spy jinks. The score is tuneful and upbeat . Best of all is the energetic and engaging cast, especially leading lady Kate Shindle as the title character. She is consistently likeable and charismatic as Sympathy, a mod 1960's receptionist at a secret government spy agency who dreams of being a secret agent herself — and tries to make her dreams come true by sneaking off from work to make her name as a spy. Naturally, chaos and adventures ensue.

The strong cast backing up Sympathy includes the terrific and hilarious Jimmy Ray Bennett as Nick, a cocky, sleazy agency superspy, and Lucy Sorensen, Sympathy's "Technical Disguise" guru and best friend.

Too bad that there are problems that keep Sympathy from soaring the way it should. To begin with, the show is too long, and the adventure starts to drag in the second act. Masi Asare (book and lyrics) and Brooke Pierce (book) are far more able to find success with comedy than drama. Consequently, the more serious, girlpower themes tend to fall flat. Director Sarah Gurfield stages promising scenes and songs without much invention, the exception being the excellent "Think Fast" number when we get to see a Mission: Impossible-type break-in done musical theatre style.

While it's a strong Festival entrant, Sympathy Jones has a way to go to be ready for a transfer —which is, of course, exactly why you should catch it while you can.

Book by Brooke Pierce. Music & Lyrics by Masi Asare. Cast: Kate Shindle and Megan Lawrence.Schedule: Sep 24th, 8:00 pm, Sep 25th, 1:00 pm, Sep 27th, 1:00 pm, Sep 29th, 8:00 pm, Oct 1st, 8:00 pm, Oct 4th, 4:30 pm at Julia Miles Theater. —Julia Furay

Petite Rouge
Joan Cushing's musical adaptation of Mike Artell and Jim Harris's children's book, takes Little Red Riding Hood from the forests of Germany to the bayous of Louisiana. It also transforms the characters into anthropomorphized animals. Thus Petite Rouge (Felicia Curry) is a duck, her pal, TeJean (Billy Bustamante) is a cat, and on their journey to the home of Grandmere (Cyana Cook), they meet singing turtles and frogs. As for the only animal in the original story, the wolf, he now becomes a fiendish alligator with a French accent who goes by the name of Claude (the charismatic Bobby Smith).

Michael J. Bobbitt, who directs, has also choreographed the energetic, funny and sexy dances that work so well with Cushing's songs, which include waltzes, tangos and ragtime. And Reggie Ray has created fantastic and colorful costumes and masks for Cushing's assortment of evil and innocent animals. There isn't a song that doesn't work, and some, like Claude's "I'm Hungry," the ensemble's "Riverboat Waltz" and the Cajun-influenced "Hot Sauce," work to perfection. Get ready to leave the theater humming one or two of Cushing's tunes.
Petite Rouge is ostensibly for children, but like all good children's theater, it is equally entertaining for adults. Who could resist this brave little heroine who sallies forth into the unknown, holds her own against the gator's chicanery, kicks up her heels at the Mardi Gras and finally makes it to her grandmother's house? Even Mr. Grimm would smile.

Book, music and lyrics by Joan Cushing. Directed and choreographed by Michael Bobbitt. Cast: Felicia Curry, Bobby Smith, Billy Bustamante, Cyana Cook, L.C. Harden, Jr., Tracy McMullen. Doug Bowles (music director), Alexander Cooper (lighting design), Reggie Ray (costume design), Debbie Wicks La Puma (sound design). Schedule: Sep 25th, 8:00 pm, Sep 26th, 1:00 pm, Sep 29th, 4:30 pm, Oct 3rd, 4:30 pm, Oct 4th, 1:00 pm, Oct 6th, 8:00 pm at 45th Street Theater — Paulanne Simmons

The Piper
In Marcus Hummon's new musical, The Piper, Boston at the end of the nineteenth century is a turbulent city. Prostitutes walk the streets, horse thieves are hanged in the public square and the notorious strangler haunts the alleyways. The Irish are in the ascendancy and many want to preserve the city for themselves, sending the blacks, Jews, Italians and Germans to New York City.

On Boston's Scolley Square, there is a boardinghouse owned by a former prostitute who goes by the name of Jordan (the saucy Christiane Noll). She has a crippled daughter, Wilder (Jillian Louis) who plays mournful and eerie tunes on a whistle she carries with her at all times. Jordan also has an assortment of tenants that includes Leonardo (Darin de Paul), an Italian immigrant who dreams of making some fabulous invention that will make him rich; and Juliette (Debra Walton), a washerwoman from Barbados who sidelines as a prostitute. Leonardo is shy but ardent. Juliette is worldly but needy. Romance is inevitable.

While the community holds its collective breath, wondering when the strangler — a "dark angel [who] takes only fallen women," according to Father James (Jeff Williams) — will attack his next victim, Grimm (T.J. Mannix), a brooding German who collects children's stories and rhymes, comes to the boarding house. He is strangely attractive to both Jordan and her daughter.

There's a lot going on in The Piper. Director Michael Bush gives the show a frenetic intensity that never let's up. And Hummon, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, supplies a storyteller/musician (the excellent Nancy Anderson), a hurdy gurdy man (Cole Burden) and a shady mayoral election. But despite a great deal of conflict, the plot is thin and the action often directionless.

Hummon conflates the Boston Strangler, Jack the Ripper, nursery rhymes and Grimm's fairy tales into one unmanageable story. Then he adds extraneous and confusing twists, such as Wilder's unsuccessful (and immediately dropped) attempt to get into a music conservatory.

The Celtic-inflected music is mostly enjoyable but sometimes redundant. The rollicking drinking song "It's Five O'clock Somewhere", and the anthem "New Jerusalem" are particularly effective. But often scenes seem to have been written for the sole purpose of accommodating songs that are not always successful, and lyrics are lost under incessant foot stomping and hand clapping. There's much worthy of keeping in The Piper, but without some careful pruning there's not much anyone will be whistling when the show is over. Music, book and lyrics by Marcus Hummon. Directed by Michael Bush. Cast: Nancy Anderson, John R.Armstrong, Sean Attebury, Cole Burden, Darin de Paul, Catherine Lavalle, Jillian Louis, T.J. Mannix, Christiane Noll, Robin Skye, Patrick Ryan Sullivan, Debra Walton, Jeff Williams. Schedule: Sep 18th, 8:00 pm, Sep 21st, 9:00 pm, Sep 22nd, 1:00 pm, Sep 23rd, 4:30 pm, Sep 27th, 1:00 & 9:00 pm, Sep 29th, 5:00 pm at The Theater at St. Clements. —Paulanne Simmons.

Little Egypt
Just when you think Little Egypt couldn't get any quirkier, it does just that. This oddball new musical tells the story of a group of regular folks in an unremarkable Illinois town: a security guard, three waitresses, a mechanic and the town mayor. What's so unusual about that? Well, for one thing, these characters are seriously damaged goods. Leading man Victor (Raphael Sbarge) is so tormented by dreams of the Vietnam War that he can't ever lie down. His girlfriend Celeste (sitcom star Sara Rue) is even more socially awkward.

The creative team, Lynn Siefert (book) and Gregg Lee Henry (music and lyrics; he also plays Watson in the show) , have paired these characters with an introspective, poetic script. But don't expect a cohesive plot for Siefert and Henry are more interested in pondering the great mysteries of the human condition than in plotting or characterization. Because of its meandering, rambling nature, Little Egypt doesn't really go anywhere, a problem that's exacerbated by director Lisa James, who tends to make the story even choppier than it already is with her reliance on ten-second blackouts between every single scene.

For all its problems this is an enjoyable show because of the terrific cast and score. Adding to Rue and Sbarge's , charismatic performances are Lee Wilkof, Jenny O'Hara, Henry and the golden-voiced Lisa Akey. The country-tinged songs enliven and illuminate the story, and the cast seems to revel in their depth and energy. Given the excellence of cast and music, Little Egypt would make a heck of a cast recording. I hope we get one.

Book by Lynn Siefert. Music & lyrics by Gregg Lee Henry. Cast: Raphael Sbarge, Sara Rue, Jenny O'Hara Lee Wilkof and Gregg Henry. Schedule: Sep 27th, 8:00 pm, Sep 28th, 1:00 pm, Sep 29th, 8:00 pm, Sep 30th, 4:30 pm, Oct 3rd, 8:00 pm, Oct 5th, 4:30 pm at The Acorn Theater —Julia Furay

THE ACORN THEATRE, 410 West 42nd Street
ARS NOVA, 511 West 54th Street
ATLANTIC THEATER Stage II, 330 West 16th Street
BARNES & NOBLE IN LINCOLN CENTER, 1972 Broadway at 65th Street
TBG (The Barrow Group Theatre), 312 West 36th Street
COMIX, 353 West 14th Street
45th STREET THEATRE, 354 West 45th Street
HUDSON GUILD THEATER, 441 West 26th Street
JULIA MILES THEATER, 424 West 55th Street
THE SAGE THEATER, 711 Seventh Avenue, 2nd Floor
STITCH Bar & Lounge, 247 West 37th Street
THEATRE AT ST. CLEMENTS, 423 West 46th Street
THE TIMES CENTER, 242 West 41st Street
TIMES SQUARE ARTS CENTER, 300 West 43rd Street
WALTZ-ASTORIA, 23-14 Ditmars Blvd., Queens

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