Thursday, October 17, 2013

New Broadway Babies: Bound for Broadway XIV

When I got an invite to attend the 14th Bound for Broadway concert, I was dying to go after seeing a line-up that included new works by the likes of Dan Elish, Salzman and Cunningham, and Adam Overett. Unfortunately, work prevented me from attending, but I sent in my good friend and impeccably theatre-savvy friend John O'Connor to scope out the show and send back a full report. Below are his thoughts.

Constantly trying to keep abreast of new musical being developed, I was surprised I had never been aware of Bound for Broadway, this year presenting their 14th concert of new musicals. Looking over their roster of past years, it seems at least one musical from each presentation has gone on to a major production that year. While this year’s five musicals had no clear standout, it was certainly be interesting to see where each goes from here.

"It's Only a First Date" from a performance at Urban Stages

First, host Liz Callaway introduced the writers of Nine Wives: Dan Elish (book and lyrics) and Douglas J. Cohen (music and lyrics). The men talked about meeting in the mailroom of Lincoln Center Theater and how the musical is adapted from a novel Dan wrote of the same title. The musical tells of Henry Mann who must find a date to his best friend’s wedding and the nine girls he dates on that journey. Looking to have the cast be three people, Henry, his best friend, and an actress playing all of the women, the musicals sounds like It could be a very funny, touching piece. The songs we heard, “She’s My Wife” and “It’s Only a First Date” were enjoyable – fairly straightforward songs with a repetitive structure. The strong performances from Adam Kantor and Sarah Stiles really showed the comedic potential the material has.

Next, we met Andy Monroe who has written the books, music, and lyrics for Drive. Telling the story of a married man who has an affair with a high school boy, this seems to be the darkest of the musical’s shown. Inspired after reading Neil LaBute’s Autobahn and the unit set of A.R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, this was the darkest musical presented, and we saw the first two scenes of this mostly sung-through show that takes place in cars. While the setting might seem restricting, the first two scenes show great dramatic potential. In the first song, we meet the unhappy husband, driving through the night as he often does to escape. The second scene showed a teenage boy and girl on a date night out, with both songs having driving accompaniments and the repetitive melodies evoke a sense of urgency. This will certainly be an interesting project to keep an eye on.

AJ Shively and company sings "My Life Is a Musical" at Ars Nova

The last musical we were introduced to before intermission was My Life is a Musical by Adam Overett. While this musical is exactly what you might expect it to be about – an accountant whose life is literally a musical – could be campy, but inherently monotonous, Overett is using another device that leaves me with hope for this to become a really enjoyable musical. Other characters are utterly exasperated with the accountant who hears life as a musical and sing moments to him such as: “This is singing / This is talking / See how there’s a change?” when, hilariously, each line is sung exactly the same. Other songs with lyrics such as, “My life is a musical and you are the best song in the score.” are awfully earnest and obvious. However, the sung-through show has the possibility to mine its structure for lots of laughs.

After intermission, we learned about The Legend of New York a rather passively titled musical about the Blackout of ’77, with a book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman. A more modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah story, a man is given the task to find 3 good souls worth saving otherwise God will destroy the city of sin New York City has become. While the first song, “Cloud 54” was quite repetitive and seemed aimless, the other song we heard, “The Sun Also Rises” showed the potential this team had at effectively telling a story through song. Sung at the climax of the musical, when the man fails and must decide to go to Heaven alone or stay in New York City and be destroyed along with it, the song is anthemic and strongly conveys the musical’s aim of being a love letter to the city. While the rest of the plot and score need quite a bit of work, there is certainly the potential here for something good.

"Get Gone" from The Legend of New York, performed at the Larson Grant presentations

Finally, we heard from Leaving Home with its book writer and lyricist, Sean Hartley, and its composer Sam Davis. This is a collection of three one-act musicals about young girls becoming women. The first is based on the myth of Persephone and Demeter, the second on The Three Little Pigs, and the last on Hamlet. While we did not hear at all from the third piece, and its adaptation still seems murky, we heard a bit from the first two. The adaptation of the myth has a teenage girl go meet a man she met online. When she disappears, it is unknown if the man has abducted and killed her, or if his reclusiveness is simply an unfortunate coincidence. The song “The Land of the Dead” about him not wanting her to go and leave him in his own, sad, reality was quite strong and I think this one act could potentially be expanded to be a stand-alone piece. The two songs we heard from the adaptation of the fairy tale were both cute but inconsequential. Set in the world of apartment hunting, the wolf is a realtor in this story though what he wants is not entirely clear. While this evening of musicals might work well together, the team might do better just focusing on the first story.

All five of these very different musicals have the potential to be really interesting full works. As they continue to grow and develop, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of them, with my eye particularly on Drive, The Legend of New York, and Leaving Home.

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