FringeNYC 2012: Review Roundup Week 1

The 2012 New York International Fringe Festival (aka FringeNYC), which runs August 10 through 26, has just passed the halfway mark of its 16th annual edition. Of the scores of productions being presented in some 20 venues in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, nearly three dozen are musical offerings. Below are some highlights of selections from what theater bloggers have been saying about the shows presented so far.

Dark Hollow: Elizabeth Chaney (book, lyrics, music)

Stephen Cedars ( When the play works, it’s fantastic. … The well-oiled production, which manages to deliver this atmosphere with seeming ease despite a large cast, live music, and complicated transitions, is particularly noteworthy. Ironically, the times when the play doesn’t work are perhaps due to this very asset. Some of the singing is simply too good. … But what this team (adaptor Elizabeth Chaney and director Alkis Papoutis) has done is stay true to a legend while not letting themselves be hampered by it.

David Finkle (Theater Mania): Fidelity to a work so resolutely downbeat may not be the best idea for a piece that runs an intermissionless 105 minutes. … Chaney does add something to Buchner’s 1836 work. … By opening her version with Woyzeck sitting center stage while behind him a preacher rants and a choir member raves, she implies some of that old-time religion triggered his initial disorientation. … No less than 17 actors have been recruited, some of whom sing the included songs better than others and all of whom do their best to keep the proceedings involving.

Grimm: Ken Kruper (book, lyrics, music), Jon Randhawa (book)

PJ Grisar ( Kruper the, writer/composer, has a great ear for melody and themes, and his harmonies are no slackers, either – when you can hear them over the far-too-loud midi tracks. Our leading ladies, Theresa Burns and Gina Cucci … do a good job of making their characters distinct, and both have nice sets of pipes with which to relay the, at times, clumsy morals. … It’s hard to tell when the piece is being sincere or a parody of its own conventions; in consequence, the effects of both are muddled.

David A. Rosenberg (Back Stage): Grimm is a junior league Into the Woods. Despite occasional theatrical flourishes, this 50-minute foray into folk tales is likely to appeal mainly to tykes. … Unhelpful is the unintelligibility of the lyrics, thanks to a zealous sound system that elicited a number of overheard audience complaints. The eager cast features old-college-try ensemble performances. … Olivia Hartle’s direction gives truth to a line from the show: “Things are looking awfully grim.” Critic’s Score: C-

Hill-Bent: My Night with Hillary Clinton: Danny Visconti (book, lyrics), Adam Wachter (music)

David Fuller ( There is certainly a passion for Clinton and her political point of view here in the show, especially at the beginning. But Visconti doesn’t belabor any points and soon gets down to the events as he claims they unfolded. … It is a vivid and fun story with a fitting surprise ending. Now, it isn’t all just about Hillary; there are tangential digressions into Visconti’s time performing on cruise ships. … Somehow however Visconti ties it all together in this show about Hillary, and it works because he is a talented comedy writer.

Eric Haagensen (Back Stage): The increasingly outrageous fantasia starts at an event at the St. Regis Hotel and proceeds across a long New York night. … Interspersed are amateurish song parodies filled with misaccents, crammed-in extra syllables, and dodgy rhymes. … His hourlong scenario is not without its charms but gets increasingly desperate in its outlandishness. Ultimately, it only diminishes what I take to have been his admirable political commitment.

The Hills Are Alive!: Frankie Johnson (book, lyrics), Eric Thomas Johnson (music)

Chris Caggiano (Everything Musicals): It essentially wants to be a perversely madcap romp across the Alps. … What it winds up being … is a reasonably good idea trapped inside a book, score, and production that don’t fully do that idea justice. … There’s a decent amount of comic potential in the idea for The Hills Are Alive. With stronger comic direction, faster pace, and a few more tuneful songs, the show might have a future.

Brian Gillespie ( Parody is a tricky art to pull off and The Hills Are Alive! deftly and hilariously succeeds at it. … They’ve created songs that lovingly echo the style of the Rodgers & Hammerstein originals at which they are poking fun. The story moves along briskly and ridiculously. … The cast of nine were uniformly excellent and each had several moments to shine. … This show is well crafted, well executed and very funny. You don’t need to know The Sound of Music well to get it or enjoy it. However if you are a fan, this show is a special treat.

Brooke Pierce (Theater Mania): The Fringe show embraces a gleefully dark sense of humor while still remaining fairly wholesome. Yet, it does not manage to draw as many laughs out of its source material as one might hope. The songs are often too earnest to be very funny, and while Ashley Ball does a hilarious impression of Julie Andrews, the show’s focal point is the children, who spend most of their time whining about their circumstances. Nonetheless, The Hills Are Alive! is a pleasant lark for fans of The Sound of Music who have always wondered how that hike to Switzerland might have gone.

Independents: Marina Keegan (book), Mark Sonnenblick (lyrics), Stephen Feigenbaum (music)

Suzy Evans (Back Stage): Keegan and her collaborators, composer Stephen Feigenbaum and lyricist Mark Sonnenblick, bring a relevant and touching work to what will hopefully be a long life. … Feigenbaum and Sonnenblick’s score is catchy and poignant, while Keegan writes excellent character-specific dialogue within a beautifully crafted coming-of-age story. The large cast carries the show’s sail well, with Summer Broyhill, Christopher Burke, and Corey Desjardins delivering standout performances.

Claire Kiechel ( First things first … you should go. It’s a beautiful new musical; Marina Keegan’s book is funny and sad in all the right places, Stephen Feigenbaum and Mark Sonnenblicks’ songs are clever and heartfelt, and Charlie Polinger’s direction is flawless. Together with its excellent ensemble cast, jaunty onstage band, and innovative design, it’s a shame that there are so few chances to see Independents. Hopefully producers will take note, and this deserving production will be remounted again.

Inexperienced Love: Jacob Tischler (book, lyrics, music)

Naomi McDougall Jones ( Inexperienced Love is a delightful musical written. … The cast is filled with astoundingly good voices, and it is a pleasure to listen to them have fun as they play with Tischler’s floaty, flirty melodies. … The story material is not groundbreaking: young love. But I imagine most people would recognize a little of their college-age selves. … It’s practically a time machine back to the exuberance, delirium, insecurity, heartache, ecstasy, and awkwardness of inexperienced love.

Lolpera: Ellen Warkentine, Andrew Pedroza (book, lyrics, music)

Andy Propst (Back Stage): Lolcats … are the inspiration for Lolpera, a frequently hysterical but exceptionally uneven two-act opera. … Sadly, though, the good versus evil Faustian tale that emerges in Andrew Pedroza’s libretto proves to be too weighty for such “found lyrics” as “Can I has cheezburger?” Nevertheless, composer Ellen Warkentine uses a remarkable array of styles in her impressive score. Critic’s Score: B-

Love, Death, Brains: Sarah Mucek (book, lyrics), Meghan Rose (music)

Leslie Bramm ( This new musical … seems to want to capitalize on the current zombie and horror genres that are currently a la mode. Alas, they fall short of the mark in a number of aspects. … The lyrics aren’t as clever as the campy style of the piece needs them to be. … The music by Meghan Rose is adequate, but lacks imagination and punch. … Love, Death, Brains feels like a show that was put together quickly, with a lack of attention paid to the necessary details of craftsmanship.

Andy Propst (Back Stage): This show … derails on a number of levels, from Mucek’s curious inclusion of characters that are thinly veiled re-imaginings of ones from the cartoon Scooby-Doo to director Pete Rydberg’s staging, which lurches without any sense of tension from moment to moment. What emerges most successfully – beyond the show’s conceit – are utterly charming performances from Corianne Wilson and Stuart Mott. … Whenever these two are center stage, it feels as if love can indeed triumph over both death and flawed material.

Mike Hadge Trio’s 7th Reunion Concert: Mike Hadge (book, lyrics, music)

David Fuller ( Hadge comes to the fore with a band-fronting, guitar rocking show that is funny, fun and sometimes feverish in a good ol’ rockin’ way. … The songs are all entertaining, sometimes hilariously so, in a variety of styles and subject matter. … Sometimes you see a talent with a unique voice who just might be on the cusp of going somewhere. Mike Hadge has that certain something, with or without his trio. Okay, without. Go see the show, enjoy yourself and maybe one day you’ll say, “Hey! I saw that guy start out at FringeNYC!”

MisSpelled: D’Jamin Bartlett, Mark Bornfield (book, lyrics, music)

Case Aiken ( From start to finish, the show is a jumbled mess. … I think. I should point out that ninety percent of the lyrics of any song were completely inaudible. … The numbers come in at the most random of times, usually after a scene has had its natural end just to, near as I could tell, reiterate what was said in the scene. … It’s like no one took the time to edit the script after the jumble of scenes were put together for the first time, which is amazing when you note that it was staged before in a Florida production.

Andy Propst (Back Stage): If the show’s hoary jokes … don’t set our teeth on edge, then the hokey numbers … and rambling book which also contains tired gags about Hollywood … will. The uninspired quality of the material is only underscored by the performances, which range from grandiosely overblown to simply under-rehearsed. In fact, this less-than-magical evening even features one performer … who appears to be reading his lines from sides on a clipboard.

Non-Equity: Danielle Trzcinski (book, lyrics), Paul D. Mills (lyrics, music)

Kristin Skye Hoffmann ( Although there is a genuine effort to stay positive, the story borders on being exhaustingly whiney. … Still numbers like, “Living My Dream” help yank them back from the edge. … The ensemble as a whole seems to be having a blast showing off their chops and there are certainly some standouts. … Trzcinski herself … certainly deserves a showcase of her talents such as this. … A little editing on the book might be in order. … Still, Trzcinski’s play is a funny take on an honorable mission.

Oscar E. Moore (From the Rear Mezzanine): Non-Equity is a delight. … Ms. Trzcinski plays Wendy Gibson (her alter-ego) and there is not a bitter bone in her body. Well maybe one or two tiny ones but most of her bones are funny. … The cast seems to be reveling in performing this show, which surely will have an extraordinary future. If only they could cut about 15 minutes. I know it’s difficult when all the material is so good, but as they saying goes “leave them wanting more.”

Paper Plane: Nick Ryan (book, lyrics), Andrew Lynch (music)

Amy E. Witting ( Paper Plane is playful, poignant, and keeps you entertained throughout. … At the core is a simple story about a young boy following his dreams, a young boy longing to put the pieces of his past together while always keeping one eye on his own paper plane. The stagecraft of Paper Plane is innovative and whimsical. … While overall the show was beautiful to watch every step of the way, the story fell flat until the magical title number “Paper Plane.”

Panoramania: David Jackson (book, lyrics), Party Folk (music)

Alix Cohen (Woman Around Town): Dissapointingly, Panoramania … is a disjointed production with neither smooth through line nor point of view. Sometimes an amiable musical and at others the kind of broad, self-indulgent piece thrown together by unedited college kids, the evening doesn’t hold together. … Consistently buoyant music fares better than lyrics, which often push their way into phrasing and sound generic. … Brandon Zelman … is a standout playing extremely diverse roles … clearly in possession of skills outranking this production.

Quest for the West: Julie Congress, Ryan Emmons, Zachary Fithian, Jennifer Neads (book), Rebecca Greenstein, Danny Tieger (lyrics, music)

Sarah Lucie (Show Business): The show combines all the interactive fun of the now legendary video game with a catchy score and hilarious script to produce a theatrical jackpot. … The score is complete with eleven original songs, all of which are filled with clever puns voiced by high-caliber singers, most notably John Bambery and Scott Raymond Johnson. … Quest for the West’s combination of interactive games, witty yet poignant script, and music that can’t help but get stuck in your head makes it one of the most clever new musicals.

Nicole Villeneuve (Back Stage): Walking the fine line between gimmick and genuine comedy, the show, which follows five pioneers on a fraught trek to the West, offers ample opportunities for audience participation and frequent references to the original game. Some are gratuitous, but many are chuckle-worthy. … The cast features several strong singers, notably John Bambery as Jebediah and Scott Raymond Johnson as [Name 1].

Saharava: Fahad Siadat (book, lyrics, music), Andre Megerdichian (book)

Judith Jarosz ( Had I not gone to the website and read more about this piece, I would not have picked up on the basis for the story I watched. … That being said, the piece moves at a swift pace under Siadat’s direction and his modern choreography is executed with a wonderful expressiveness and athletic fierceness. … The music uses a lot of repeated droning type phrases and chants, with occasional gasping and shrieking, which alternately soothes or irritates, depending on your taste, and perhaps that was the composer’s intent.

Clifford Lee Johnson III (Back Stage): Andre Megerdichian and composer Fahad Siadat combine inventive choreography, Eastern-flavored music, and characters from the Tarot. … Inventive dances evoke wonder, desire, and terror in us, even though we often have only a vague idea about what’s going on in the bare-boned “story.” Siadat’s lyrics … are of no narrative use, but his hypnotic melodies occasionally rise to moments of droning beauty. … Those looking to the Fringe for unique, nontraditional theater need look no further than the frequently spellbinding Saharava.

Standby: Alfred Solis, Mark-Eugene Garcia (book, lyrics), Keith Robinson, Amy Baer (music)

Jason S. Grossman ( We can all relate to falling victim to infuriating flight delays. Unfortunately, that is essentially how much of this musical feels. … It is commendable to embrace subject matter that reaches beyond the typical themes of the traditional Broadway musical. The creative team is taking chances here. There are some tender moments between the characters, and there are some unexpected turns in the plot. But many of the revelations feel manufactured. Overall, the basic spine of the story is lacking.

Oscar E. Moore (From the Rear Mezzanine): With a slew of character-driven songs, sung dialogue and almost complete underscoring, Standby … is as interesting as it is odd. More a song cycle than a traditional book musical, it’s pleasing to the ear, while attempting to explain how these random five people are connected, which is a bit contrived but sometimes quite moving. … The performers are excellent and their musicianship superb. The arrangements and harmonies are extremely good. And the song “To Feel Alive” is as uplifting and life- affirming as anything can be.

Super Sidekick: Gregory Crafts (book), Michael Gordon Shapiro (lyrics, music)

Linnea Covington (Happiest Medium): The team behind Super Sidekick have perfected the art of live-action cartoon, mixed with a healthy dose of Glee. … With the fast pace, audience participation, and fun characters, if you have children, this play is right up their alley. But, even as a grown woman I found it humorous, saucy, and a lot of fun. Yes, it’s cheesy, but they do it so well.

Who Murdered Love?: Lissa Moira (book, lyrics), Richard West (book, music)

Naomi McDougall Jones ( Props to the creative team of Who Murdered Love? for going for the out-of-the-box: a surrealist musical about the death of Dadaism. Unfortunately, the musical never quite coalesces into the show it sets out to be. … The real trouble that the show finds itself in is a lack of cohesiveness. … Despite its problems, there is enough here that promises a show that could be a whole lot of fun. I hope that the team persists with it long enough to clarify their vision and shape it into all the joyful, nutty, whimsical Dada ride it has the potential to be.

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