La MaMa Puppet Festival Is Not The Lion King

Food for the Gods is about the killing of black men; Exodus addresses the current refugee crisis; Blind is a solo work about disability. These may not sound like typical subjects for puppet shows, but little about the La MaMa Puppet Festival fits most audiences’ preconceptions about the art form, as I explain in my article on the festival for TDF Stages, These Puppet Shows Aren’t For Kids. Below are photographs from some of the 27 puppet shows in the festival, some as short as five minutes, none longer than 75.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

Fringe Review James Franco and Me. The show Franco’s lawyers didn’t want.

Last year, James Franco’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to a theater that was going to present Kevin Broccoli’s play “James Franco and Me,” insisting they stop marketing the movie star’s name. The theater canceled the production. Yet here it is a year later, being presented at FringeNYC through Sunday with a slightly altered name: “James Franco and Me: An Unauthorized Satire.”

In the two-character play, Kevin Broccoli is in a waiting room of a hospital where his father is dying. James Franco sits down next to him, and they chat.
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Fringe Review: There Has Possibly Been An Incident. Heroes and Killers

Incident picA man stands in front of the army tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests. A woman helps topple a dictator, with surprising results. A man tries to rescue a child in a plane crash. Another man shoots and kills a group of children, in what he considers – just as much as the other actions — an act of  heroism.

These are the stories that three actors tell, in an unorthodox and largely self-defeating way, in “There Has Possibly Been An Incident,” an experimental theater piece written by Chris Thorpe presented as part of the New York Fringe Festival by Mind The Gap Theatre, which describes itself as “NYC’s premiere company for presenting and developing the best new plays from all over the UK.”
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Fringe Review Opening Night: Twin Divas Margo and Joan Feud On Stage

“Opening Night” begins with hilariously feuding twin sister Hollywood stars, who are brilliantly named Margo Nightingale and Joan de Tuileries, each presenting what they thought was a one-woman show. They hadn’t noticed the posters promoting the show as a “dual career retrospective.”

Kristina Grosspietsch and Devin O’Neill, the creators and cast of this funny hour-long Fringe show, aren’t content to present the sisters trading insults and trying to upstage one another at the two simultaneous one-woman shows — although I would certainly have been. They create six more characters who are also in the theater that night, in scenes that rapidly alternate with one another.
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Fringe Review The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley. A 1920’s Quack Tycoon Politician Not Unlike the 45th President

Edward Einhorn’s latest play is based on the jaw-dropping true story of a quack doctor who became rich and famous in the 1920s by implanting goat testicles as a cure for male impotence, and then in the 1930s ran for Governor of Kansas.  It seems apt that “The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley” was the first play in the first full day of the 21stannual New York International Fringe Festival, because it fully reflects both the promise and pitfalls of a Fringe show.
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2018 New York Musical Festival NYMF Awards for Excellence

Four musicals in the 2018 New York Musical Festival tied for the most awards, five apiece: Between the Sea and the Sky, Emojiland, Interstate and Pedro Pan. Below the list of winners and nominees.


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NYMF Review Sonata 1962: A Lesbian Daughter, A Mother’s Mistake

Margaret, a widow and well-meaning mother, is dressed in pearls while making her special buttermilk biscuits for her daughter Laura, who’s back home listless with severe memory loss after her mother sent her away to be tortured.

That of course is not how Margaret sees it in “Sonata 1962,” one of the last of the shows in the 15th annual New York Musical Festival. Written by Patricia Loughrey and Thomas Hodges, the musical takes us back to an era when suburban housewives baked with Crisco, watched Jackie Kennedy give a White House tour on a black and white set, shopped at the Green Stamp store in town, and believed the family doctor that their daughter’s lesbianism was a mental illness, but one that could be cured.
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NYMF Review Between the Sea and Sky: Two Sisters Lured and Trapped by a Mystery

“I am tall when I’m young but short when I’m old. What am I?”
That’s the first of the three riddles that Sam (short for Samantha) poses to the mysterious woman in white in order to free her sister Emily from the woman’s clutches.
“A candle,” the woman answers in triumph.
What’s not as easily solved is the riddle of “Between the Sea and Sky,” a musical written by an Australian named Luke Byrne being presented in a competently directed (and lovingly lit) production as part of the New York Musical Festival. Byrne’s music is impressive in its variety and appeal – from a classical-sounding art song to 1930s song-and-dance number to funky jazz to sea shanty, many suggesting the mysteries and allure of the sea. His lyrics are largely straightforward if undistinguished, except when he tries for the lyrical; then they’re incoherent. But his book is all over the place — an over-flavored stew of young adult novel, mystery, Grimm’s Fairy Tale, satire, even a primer on Shakespeare’s The Tempest – and winds up making no sense at all.
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Twelfth Night Review: Shakespeare as a Popcorn Musical

I compared Shaina Taub’s musical adaptation of “Twelfth Night” to a party and to a variety show when the Public Theater presented it in Central Park over Labor Day weekend in 2016. The unusual production featured a cast of professional actors mixed with some 200 New Yorkers from community groups from all five boroughs, as part of what the theater calls its Public Works project.
The show was evidently pleasing enough to enough people that the Public has brought it back as one of the Delacorte’s two major summer offerings, running now through August 19th. Read more of this post

NYMF Review ’68: A Musical about the 1968 Chicago Convention and the Limits of History


Before the musical “’68” begins, newspaper headlines are projected on the stage, marking some of the tumultuous events in the year 1968 — the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy, campus protests and city riots across the United States….and the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

But, despite the title of their musical,  which is an entry in the New York Musical Theater festival, librettist/lyricist Jamie Leo and composer Paul Leschen focus on just one of those events; the NYMF program bills “’68” as “inspired by the volatile events of the 1968 Democratic Convention and their place in history and our future.”
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