NAMT has announced their annual Festival of New Musicals and the authors involved are an eye-catching line-up of award-winning talent. From crowd pleasing adaptations (Bernice Bobs Her Hair from Kleban-winning Adam Gwon) to boundary-pushing works from underground-favorites (Joe Iconis‘ Bloodsong of Love), the 2011 NAMT festival shows are an eclectic roster worth a closer look…and listen.
But first things first, what is NAMT? It’s not NYMF–though you can be excused for getting lost in the alphabet soup. NAMT is the National Alliance of Musical Theatre, an organization dedicated to the advancement of music theater, made up of over 150 “members” (producers, theaters and higher education departments like the Goodspeed in CT and TheatreWorks in CA). Basically, these are the folks that actually get shows done. Over two days (October 27-28 this year), members are invited to watch fully -subsidized presentations from 8 new works; they are then encouraged to sign on to shows for further development or for a slot in their official season. Think Sundance for musical theater and you’ve got an idea of the stakes. The wrinkle is that each show is presented through script-in-hand, 45-minute readings (and let me tell you from experience, cutting a full-length show is a challenge). Although the festival is intended for members and other industry folk, music theater fans are allowed to line-up for open seats and are usually accommodated.
(As for NYMF, that’s the New York Music Theater Festival, a larger, fringe-like event featuring staged and, here’s the important part, self-financed full productions of new works. It runs over the course of a few weeks at venues around the city in September and October.)
There, I feel better now. Don’t you? Now, let’s get to the shows. While all the pieces sound intriguing (you rarely get a total miss at NAMT), let’s explore three of the more unusual selections:
Music and Lyrics by Peter Mills, Book by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel
An Appalachian moonshine adaptation of J.M. Synge’s classic The Playboy of the Western World, this show had a well-reviewed run in New York in 2009. From what I can hear, the bluegrass-infused score has real ear-tickling charm and bite. Of course, I’m a sucker for banjo and mandolin; traditional American mountain music is inherently theatrical when done right. Listen to Dolly Parton’s life-changing bluegrass albums like Little Sparrow and you’ll see how emotional and dramatic the genre can be (not to mention that it’s hysterically ripe with cheating men and half-naked mountain witches).
Listen to “Grist for the Mill” and other songs from the show by clicking here.
Book and Lyrics by David Javerbaum, Music by Brendan Milburn
What do you get when you take the story of Ronald Reagan’s controversial Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, and turn it into a rock musical by the former head writer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the genius piano maestro from the bittersweet Groovelily? I have no idea; I can’t find anything from the piece online. But, boy is that combo a delightfully combustible mix. I’m so in. And until we get a real taste, let’s listen to a sampling from each of the players’ prior work (except Mr. Watt; old news clips just don’t rock like they should.)
Book & Lyrics by Gordon Leary, Music by Julia Meinwald
Teenage best friends make a promise to become single mothers in this rocking winner of the Weston Playhouse’s 2011 New Musical Award. If it has half the wit and fiercely un-PC attack of High School satires like Heathers or Mean Girls, this could be a must see. On first listen, the lyrics are bracing and colloquial while the music features a hard charging pop sound interrupted by hiccups of very idiosyncratic voicing and lyric setting. I don’t know quite what to make of it…and that’s got my interest piqued.