I hate when musicals are over produced. For example, though many critics had a good time at Nobody Loves You, I thought there was way too much set, lighting tricks and choreography and that those elements completely confused the sweet show underneath. While my readers know I'm a fan of Broadway pizazz, I think that sometimes the bells and whistles hurt smaller shows. So it's no surprise that every year I head to the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) looking to see a show before all the commercial elements are added. This year I saw less than in years past, only taking in Marry Harry, Volleygirls and Bend in the Road.
Marry Harry is one of those shows that is cute now, but would likely be overwhelmed by souped up production values. It's an endearing little tuner -- not amazing, but sweet. With some book (and maybe cast) trims, it could be one of those shows that is a hit at regional and community theaters. Off-Broadway is also a possibility.
Volleygirls has the most commercial potential of the three. It is a lot of fun and has some good songs. I wish it had been more focused -- for instance, a lesbian storyline that seemed thrown in for laughs could easily be removed -- but I think the foundation is there. Once stories are cut, the main characters can be better developed. Sadly, Volleygirls has a large cast and so could never feasibly play a commercial off-Broadway run. (See my But I'm a Cheerleader commentary from a couple of years ago.) And, of course, I wonder if it could make it on the Great White Way. Team spirit musicals Lysistrata Jones and Bring It On have bombed on Broadway in recent years. I hate to advise getting marketable stars, so my advice to the people behind Volleygirls would be to work out the show at a non-profit. It needs work before it is even an okay bet.
Highlighted by a strong starring turn from New York newbie Alison Woods, Bend in the Road is a tuneful take on Anne of Green Gables. The show seems suited for neither off-Broadway nor Broadway, my primary areas of knowledge, but rather venues across the country. It needs book work, especially in the episodic first act, as the other musicals did. The songs are nice however and the storyline obviously family friendly.
Bend in the Road highlights what we all know about the shows at NYMF -- they are not all made for New York City runs. I wrote a New York Times story about how Almost, Maine bombed off-Broadway but is extremely popular across the country and even internationally. Many of these shows are hoping for that sort of life (without the bombing part, of course). Yet New York journalists typically look at them with Big Apple slanted views. That is natural, just often not wise.
Every year, I enjoy my trip to NYMF, whether I like the musicals or not. For me, it's about seeing things in a form we don't normally see them, for better or worse.