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Wendy R. Williams'
October 2007 Theatre Column


Greetings Theater Lovers,

October is here and the New York Musical Theater Festival is in full swing running September 17 – October 7, 2007. Now in its fourth year, the NYMTF offers up a three weeks of fledgling musicals, giving each one time in the “oven” to see if their “cake” will rise. According to the NYMTF press release, this year’s festival features more than thirty full productions and one hundred special events including “readings, workshops, concerts, parties, seminars and master classes.” Past New York Musical Theater Festival selections Gutenberg! The Musical and The Great American Trailer Park Musical have gone on to successful Off Broadway runs.

Stacey Sargeant, Stephen Bel Davies, Lisa Asher, Paul Wyatt,
Amy Goldberger, George Merrick,
and Stephanie D'Abruzzo in Austentatious

This year I only saw one of the musicals, Austentatious, a spoofy musical about a community theatre troupe staging a new production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; the play was advertised with the tagline, “WAITING FOR GUFFMAN MEETS JANE AUSTEN

Austentatious took on a tremendous task. Reinterpreting Jane Austen is an undertaking that is sure to rile up the myriad Austen fans. And this play took huge swipe at the purists. The first act consisted of one joke which was reinterpreted over and over again – a playwright writes a play that is supposedly about Jane Austen but in fact has no relation whatsoever to Austen’s book other than the fact that the characters have the same names. The playwright also hand-picks the director and insists on playing Elizabeth Bennett. This is a joke that is funny the first time it is told, but by the umpteenth reiteration in the hour-long first act (Hey, let’s move the tap dancing scene from Amsterdam to Times Square), it was “all right already, we get the joke - the girl can’t write and her show sucks.”

Stephanie D’Abruzzo (Avenue Q) did a great job playing the one truly sane person on the stage. But D’Abruzzo’s measured performance was steamrollered by Stacy Sargeant, who played the deluded playwright Emily as a one (strident) note wonder. Ms. Sargeant has a great voice and stage presence, but needed to be directed to trust the script and not to channel the performance of a jet-engine-in-take-off-mode.

In the Second Act, however, the actual story of Pride and Prejudice is juxtaposed against the silliness of the community theater’s companies’ play and the jokes suddenly start to work. For the audience had come to the play familiar with works of Jane Austen and the dialogue did not need to be dumbed down.

There were many things about this musical that really did work. The score is quite nice and there are some absolutely hysterical lines. Austentatious has great promise, it just needs a little more time in the incubator. The four members of the creative team who are credited with the book just need to get together and take a hard look at Act I with a willingness to “kill their darlings.” They also need to trust their audience and not be afraid to make their play about the book they are attempting to parody.

Austentatious has a stellar cast: Broadway star Stephanie D’Abruzzo of Avenue Q fame; Lisa Asher; Stephen Bell Davies; Amy Goldberger; George Merrick; Stacy Sargeant and Paul Wyatt. The production was directed by Mary Catherine Burke and the creative team included: Matt Board (Music, Lyrics, Book); Jane Caplow (Book); Kate Galvin (Book); Luisa Hinchliff (Book); and Joe Slabe (Music, Lyrics, Book). Austentatious played at the Julia Miles Theater (424 West 55th Street) from September 18th – 29th.

Log onto http://www.nymf.org/ for more information about the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Photo Credit Krisztina Fazekas

The next show I saw was the Billionaires Forever, a Spectacular Musical Romp Through the Crumbling Bush Empire which played September 4-9 at the 45th Street Theatre, 354 West 45th Street. The Billionaires are a street theater company who attend Republican gatherings and thank Republicans for making life easier for Billionaires. They also perform in theaters like when they performed Forever at the 45th Street Theater.

Billionaires Forever was filled with the usual hysterical musical numbers such as “Landmines are a Girls Best Friend” and “I’m a Texas Oilman.” This performance was fun just like all the Billionaires performances are for me (I am from Texas and I am a lifelong Democrat). I do like the Billionaires shows a bit better when they are in a cabaret space. Singing or not, the Billionaires are guerilla theater and there is just something about not knowing if the richly dressed couple sitting at the table next to you is another member of the audience or if they are part of the show. And oh my goodness, will I have to get involved? Will they pull me on the stage?

The talented cast included: Dave Bennett; David Case; Brandi Rhodes; Alex Mitchell; Melissa Collom; Jim Simon; Yvonne Willrich-Teague; Kellie Aiken; Raven Pease; and DJ McDonald. Book by Melody Bates and Dave Bennett Directed by Melody Bates

The Billionaires will be performing on Saturday, October 6, 2007 at 7:30pm at the South Presbyterian Church, 343 Broadway, Dobbs Ferry, New York. Tickets are $15 individuals - $30 families. Proceeds to benefit Military Families Speak Out. For more information: 914-478-3848.

For more information on the Billionaires for Bush, log onto: http://billionairesforbush.com/index.php.

I am appending my September and August Theater Columns which covered Broadway shows that are opening this fall:

Fall is upon us and there is a bevy of hot new shows and hot Hollywood stars hitting Broadway. In fact, if you look at the line up of Hollywood stars who will be gracing Broadway stages this fall, a thinking man or woman would surmise that SAG will strike in solidarity with the WGA when the Writers Guild of America's contract expires in October. Both unions are unhappy about the way they are being compensated by the new media world of DVD's and the internet.

But this rumbling out of California is only benefiting the fall theater line up. Chazz Palminteri is opening his one man show, A Bronx Tale, at the Walter Kerr Theater.
Kevin Kline and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner will star in a new production of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, running October 12th - December 23rd. Randy Quaid will be starring in his first Broadway show, Lone Star Love, which opens for preview on November 1, 2007 at the Belasco Theater.
And Claire Danes will star in Pygmalion, which will run October 11, 2007 - December 16, 2007 at the American Airlines Theatre.

Tom Stoppard's Rock & Roll

One other notable show that will be opening this fall is Tom Stoppard's Rock & Roll (rocknrolltheplay), starring Rufus Sewell, Sinead Cox and Brian Cox - all from the original London cast. Stoppard has always been a brilliantly subversive playwright. And his talents first shone on Broadway forty years ago with his first Broadway production when he turned Hamlet on its ear in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

One play that I am sure to catch is Tracy Lett's August: Osage County which begins previews on October 30th and opens November 20th for an open run at the Imperial Theatre after a sold out run at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater. Letts is the Pulitzer price nominated playwright (for Man from Nebraska) of Bug, which I reviewed when it ran three years ago at the Barrow Street Theater. Bug was subsequently made into a movie starring Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon (from the Off Broadway production). See my June theater column for more about Bug. Bug was wonderful so August: Osage County is definitely makes my short list.

Disney's The Little Mermaid

Also, believe it or not, The Little Mermaid (thelittlemermaid) is another not-to-be-missed show hitting Broadway. Mermaid has a book by Douglas Wright, the playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for I Am My Own Wife, a play about an East German transvestite. Just as playwright Douglas Carter Beane (The Little Dog Laughed) was able to turn Xanadu into a delicious campy feast, with Wright as the playwright, Mermaid should be truly enjoyable for the entire family and not just a treat for Brownie-troupes-on-a-field-trip.

And from my August Theater Column:

Fall will soon be here and there is a plethora of interesting new shows opening on Broadway. Here are three that caught my eye:

The Farnsworth Collection

Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing fame) has penned a new play, The Farnsworth Collection, which is opening on November 4, 2007 at the Music Box Theater. The show tells the story of the invention of television. Now I am a West Wing junkie (I have all the first four Sorkin years DVD's) and I really tried to love Studio 60, so I am truly psched to see this new play. Log onto farnsworthonbroadway.com for more information about the play.

Young Frankenstein

The Producers may have closed on Broadway but another one of Mel Brook’s campy movie classics, Young Frankenstein, is coming to Broadway, opening on November 8, 2007 at the Hilton Theatre. Now I just know this one is going to be fun and nothing like the other monster fiasco, Frank Wildhorn’s Dracula. Log onto
youngfrankensteinthemusical.com for more information about this show.

Lone Star Love

And last, Randy Quaid is starring in Lone Star Love, a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. Lone Star is opening December 2, 2007 at the Belasco Theater. I saw Lone Star Love when it played off-Broadway back in February of 2005 and featured it in this column. It was a lot of fun and has the potential to be a hit on Broadway (you certainly can’t fault the plot). Log onto lonestarlovethemusical.com for more information about the show.

For information on all the Broadway shows, log onto our Broadway theater listing section.

Rock on!



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