This is the first year I have been in the city for the New York Music Theater Festival, a month-long presentation of simple productions of over two dozen new shows. Their creators all hope for a life past the festival and a number of Off-Broadway and Broadway shows have begin their lives at the festival. My sampling of productions began with STUCK, a ninety-minute musical with book, music and lyrics by Riley Thomas. The show's premise is simple -- 6 people are STUCK for ninety minutes on a New York subway train. Essentially, it's a mini disaster movie without the disaster -- a diverse group (homeless Black man; sassy, defensive Black woman; poor, bitter Latino man; middle-aged woman grieving over the suicide of her gay son; pretty Asian-American teenage girl being stalked by a troubled young man). By the end, after some squabbling, everyone has gotten a chance to express him/her self and the group realizes that everyone wants the same thing. The stalker even gets the girl. The book is a bit cliched and preachy, but the fifteen varied songs are quite strong. Thomas has shown that he has mastered just about every genre of show tune -- power ballads, Latin-inflected tunes, soulful hymns, haunting ensembles. And his lyrics seem natural, not the forced Hallmark-style lyrics one finds in many contemporary musicals.
The productions of these shows must, of necessity be simple, but I was impressed with Michael Berry's clever, fluid staging. The small band sounded good. Everyone in the cast acted and sang well and blended beautifully in the ensemble numbers. One could have small quibbles -- Tim Young was too good-looking to be the geeky stalker. Who would believe he had trouble getting dates? However, this is not to denigrate his committed performance. Even though the characters were stereotypes, the performances gave them life.
I enjoyed the show immensely even if the theater had minimal air conditioning (The producers kindly gave everyone a bottle of water before the show began. I wasn't sure if it was to drink or pour over ourselves.) A note if you go to one of the NYMF productions at the 45th Street Theatre -- sit toward the back. It's cooler.
If all the shows at NYMF are at least as good as STUCK, it's going to be a great festival.
STUCK. New York Music theatre festival at the 45th Street Theatre. July 14, 2012.