Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Recently I saw four musicals in less than a week. Shades of London (actually on one trip to London, with the Theatre Guild, I believe I saw 14 shows in 7 days)!

These four musicals were entries in the 4th Annual New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) – included in my $105.00 Gold Membership.

The first show was THE BRAIN FROM PLANET X at the Acorn Theatre on 42nd Street, the largest of the venues in the Theatre Row complex off Ninth Avenue. It was a send-up of the black and white sci-fi films of the 50s, i.e. “The Brain from Planet Arous” and “Plan Nine From Outer Space”, similar to, but broader in its comedy (the brain sings and dances and has a horny female assistant) and with a larger cast than, IT CAME FROM BEYOND, which I had seen as part of the 2005 NYMF. Like IT CAME FROM BEYOND, sets and props were minimal.

The show was fun and the cast seemed to be enjoying the frivolity as much as the audience.
Next up was I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE: THE UNDERWEAR MUSICAL at the tiny TBG Theatre on 36th Street just off Eighth Avenue. Ad exec Gina, who has just turned 35 (or, demographically, 35-49) inherits the underwear campaign of her ex-boyfriend, who has run off to the tropics with the firm’s blonde receptionist after the success of his how-to book on “Nailing the Youth Market”, and falls for the weather-obsessed underwear model “big” Kenny. The show was sold out.

Of the four shows I saw this one has, in my opinion, the best chance of being picked up for an off-Broadway production after the festival (like ALTAR BOYS and THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK MUSICAL from previous festivals). It was smart, witty, well cast and well directed. The tiny stage was not a drawback – the director made excellent use of screens and projections to set the scenes. The chorus of imaginary bimbos, or in this case “Bunnys”, that haunted Gina was an effective touch. While the entire cast was good, the “Temp” stood out as an excellently written and equally well portrayed character.

My next outing was a double-header, with shows at 1:00 pm and 8:00 pm.

The matinee was SHERLOCK HOLMES (THE EARLY YEARS) at the Theatre at St Clements on 46th Street, where I had been to see a NYMF production last year. The book was co-written by Robert Hudson, who happened to post a comment to my earlier posting on NYMF promising me “as brilliant a night as you have ever had in your entire life”.

As the title would suggest, the story takes place early in the career of the famous London detective. It reports that Holmes met Watson, not in their teens as a fellow student in an elite boarding school as the 1985 film YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES proposes, but when he answered an ad for a “flatmate” placed by a weary Mrs. Hudson, tired to attending to Holmes on her own.

The villain in this entry in the Holmes saga is not Professor Moriarity but two larcenous nurses.
The mystery for which Holmes has been hired to solve is not the most taxing one, and its solution fairly obvious, at least to me, but the various plot lines are played out with humor. A trio of “bobbies” who would rather be dancing is just one of the comic touches, as is Inspector Lestrade’s amorous feelings towards Mrs. Hudson. The story plays up Holmes’ implied “alternative life-style”, with indications that his interest in Dr. Watson is more than just as a scholarly companion, without overdoing it.

This is not the first musical interpretation of the famed detective. I saw Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes, Peter Sallis as Dr Watson, Martin Gabel as Professor Moriarity and Inga Swenson as Irene Adler in the musical BAKER STREET as a youth in 1965. The show had a book by Jerome Coopersmith and music and lyrics by Marian Grudeff and Raymond Jessel, with some songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It was directed by Hal Prince.

In between shows I had an early dinner of my usual Caesar Salad and Meat Loaf at a surprisingly empty “Joe Allen” on Restaurant Row. I finally confirmed with the waiter what I had always suspected - that the theme of the restaurant’s theatre posters was famous flops.

The evening show brought me back to the small TBG Theatre on 36th Street for the musical review THE KIDS LEFT, THE DOG DIES, NOW WHAT? At least half the audience for this sold-out opening night performance was a friend or acquaintance of the producer, who held up “traffic” receiving congratulations from each of them on the way out of the theatre.

As described on the promotional post card left on every seat, along with a promotional sticky pad, the show “follows a group of baby boomers valiantly struggling with the effect of gravity on their bodies, divorce on their hard-won bank accounts, grandchildren on their self-images, and the dating scene on their egos.”

Five talented performers, three women and two men, portray about 20 of the 78 Million baby boomers that are currently “defiantly hanging on to their youth” (this writer included) in a variety of scenes and songs (accompanied by only a piano), similar in concept to the long-running review I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE, although with an older outlook.

While the music in each of these productions was “toe-tapping”, one did not leave the theatre humming the scores. It points out the fact that the most difficult part of any musical comedy is writing a score of a dozen or so unique melodies, each moving along the story but also able to stand alone as a potential “standard”. The Rodgers and Harts or Hammersteins, Frank Loessers, Lerners and Lowes or Lanes, Jerry Hermans, Julie Stynes, and Stephen Sondheims of the world are indeed few and far between.

All in all 4 entertaining offerings, certainly a bargain at the $20.00 per ticket price.

FYI, there is only one week left before the curtain closes on this year’s New York Musical Theater Festival.


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