The New York Musical Theatre Festival is in full swing. We caught two shows this week that capture varying degrees of success in the development of new work.
As We Lie Still is a musical fantasy that follows magician Avi Leiter (Travis Stuebing as Young Avi and Michael A. Robinson as Old Avi) and his rise to fame during the turn of the century. His one epic trick—the ability to bring his assistant Josephine (Olivia de Guzman Emile) is hampered when she is mesmerized by Azriel, gatekeeper to the afterlife (George Michael Ferrie, Jr.). The show flashes forward to show Hope (Erika Larsen), the daughter that Josephine gave up for adoption at the bedside of her coma-ridden husband, Michael (Clinton Greenspan). Will Old Avi be able to cast his spell one last time?
The production, staged by Broadway veteran Micahel Serrecchia (who appeared in the original A Chorus Line and has worked in the theater for 45 years) has great moment of theatricality, mostly because of the music and lyrics by Patrick Emile. “I set out to write a musical theater piece that explored the human experience in the style of magical realism,” Emile told the Broadway Blog. “I have a great interest in stage magic and the vaudeville era, as well folklore, the supernatural, etc. I had stumbled upon the term psychopomp (the culturally and historically ubiquitous being that transitions the dying into the next phase of existence), and the story began to click together like a puzzle. Once plotted, Olivia took it into the book writing stage.”
As We Lie Still’s book is less successful than its libretto, often feeling too earnest and as if each of the characters were cut from the same cloth. But at this stage of development, it’s serviceable and carries the plot along to frame Emile’s score, which has soaring moments. In particular, Azriel’s number, “Street of Mine” is a highlight of the show—delivered by Mr. Ferrie who has one of the strongest voices in the ensemble.
“My musical influences are many and vary greatly, but I tend to wear them all on my sleeve,” says Emile of his composing style. “For As We Lie Still, I chose to draw heavily from minimalist and post-minimalist wells and weave those ideas within a contemporary musical theatre fabric. Sondheim is of course floating around throughout.”
As We Lie Still is an interesting concept piece. I’m not sure what sort of life it may have after NYMF, but as Avi Leiter would testify, anything is possible.
As We Lie Still
PTC Performance Space
555 West 42nd Street
Tuesday, July 22, 9 p.m.
Thursday, July 24, 5 p.m.
Sunday, July 27, 5 p.m.
Move over Sally Bowles, there is a new girl in town. Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star), follows fictional chanteuse Erika Stern (a show stopping Alexis Fishman) on her final cabaret performance in Berlin circa 1933. Conceived and co-written by Fishman, who won NYMF’s “Next Broadway Sensation in 2012”, the musical draws its inspiration from German, American and British cabaret songs of the 1920 and ‘30s.
Ms. Fishman’s performance is subtly delicious, from the opening moments where the audience thinks she’s wiping cocaine from her nose; there are far darker stories to be revealed. Along with piano player Otto (an equally as entertaining Heath Saunders) and two-piece band (Steve Millhouse on bass and Giuseppe Fusco on woodwinds) the four actor/musicians weave a harrowing tale of Nazi Germany.
“I created Der Gelbe Stern to better understand and connect o to the unconnectable. It is so easy to put up barriers that allow us to disassociate from the plight of others. The lives of European Jewry were so much like our lives today… until they weren’t,” says Ms. Fishman in her program notes.
It may be a bit unfair to bestow such accolades on the piece compared to other NYMF entries, as the work opened in Australia at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in 2011 followed by runs in Melbourne and Sydney. The polished show feels as if it’s ready for an extended run. That being said, director Sharone Halevy still has the potential to draw more out of Ms. Fishman’s performance, which at times feels emotionally guarded. As she nears the end and the inevitable awaits, she has the audience in the palm of her hand and could take her final numbers, “If You Go Away, Little Boy” and “I Don’t Know Who I Belong To” in a more visceral direction. But the fictional Erika Stern is a survivalist, and perhaps the wall that she has built is one to protect her beyond Der Gelbe Stern.
Der Gelbe Stern (The Yellow Star)
The Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe
407 West 42nd Street
Sunday, July 20, 12 p.m.
Monday, July 21, 5 p.m.
Monday, July 21, 8 p.m.
Matthew Wexler is the editor of the Broadway Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.