by Ryan Leeds
The Real Actors of NYC is proof that lavish costumes, gigantic sets, lush orchestras, and full-scale dance numbers are not a prerequisite for a great musical. Quite the opposite rings true for Karlan Judd’s (book, music and lyrics) shrewd and observant show.
Jake (Noah Zachary), Jen (Jennifer Jean Anderson), Nick (Nicholas Barnes) are all aspiring musical theater performers who will literally stop at nothing to make it on Broadway. They are joined by the incredibly narcissistic Stewart (RJ Vaillancourt). The quartet is inseparable and share their woes and worries at a local diner. Mumz (Klea Blackhurst) works double duty as their server and agent. She also has history with Marge (Lorinda Lisitza), a conniving Broadway producer who is backing a new musical that has the Broadway world buzzing: “Millennials Are Everything.”
The title is ridiculously silly, but it’s that type of campy humor generously sprinkled throughout the piece that makes the otherwise nerve-wracking entertainment industry seem tolerable. Years ago, Mumz starred as a performer—or at least she tells herself and her young clients that she did. In reality, she was an aspiring actor whose star never rose. After auditioning for Marge, then a young casting director, Mumz is certain that she has landed the part until she learns that her role was given to Marge’s friend. Now she’s in for blood!
Danny (Jacob McKenna) rounds out this cast in a narrator/cameo role and offers some snappy one-liners. At first glance, McKenna could pass for comedian Zach Galifianakis, but he imprints his own brand of humor, which is a fun treat to watch. Even more amusing is his program biography, which states that after this show he’ll be “embarking on the South East Asian tour of Miss Saigon playing the helicopter.”
Judd’s characters are caricatures of actual New York performers, but only slightly. With inside jokes, he makes them completely relatable and recognizable to anyone who has waited outside of an audition room. Through the aspiring, optimistic and hopeful (Jake), the neurotic and anxious Broadway-bound baby (Jen), the typecast “heavy set” guy (Nick), and God’s gift to the stage (Stewart), Judd perfectly captures the cutthroat world of theater.
What makes his piece so refreshing is that Judd’s humor is sharp and witty without being cynical. He obviously knows show business and the headaches that it brings, but he frames the piece more as a charming love letter rather than making it a vehicle for snark and attack. He also tips his hat to another homage to Broadway, television’s Smash. Audiences may have to do a double take upon Marge’s first entrance to be sure they aren’t seeing Angelica Huston’s character, Eileen Rand.
Judd’s score will likely not be preserved in the canon of musical theater, but it serves the show appropriately and, for the most part, the cast navigates it well. There are occasional moments involving tight harmonies that could use improvement but, under music director Luke McGinnis, it’s likely that they will find their groove during the run. There were also a few mishaps with lines during a recent preview performance, but they should also be cured as the show continues.
The theater shares a set with Perfect Crime and James Morgan and Alberto Ruiz have assembled a sparse but comfortable set for a show that is primarily character driven.
The Real Actors of NYC will resonate with industry folks, but it’s not such an insider piece that non-entertainment folks can’t enjoy it as well. At $60-plus per ticket, it might be a bit steep, but it’s a rather safe assumption that online discounts and promotions will make it more appealing for ticket buyers.
The Real Actors of NYC
Anne L. Bernstein Theater
210 W 50th St, New York City
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.