“Coming of Age” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Closed on Sunday July 13, 2014)

July 11, 2014 | NY Musical Theatre | Tags:
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jon Provan
Directed by Ryan Pifher
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A new song cycle entitled “Coming of Age” is being presented as part of NYMF at The Ford Foundation Studio Theatre and proves to be a good addition to the roster of the Festival’s developing musicals. It deals with the awkward transitional experience when one becomes aware of a problematic situation that affects his or her life; simply put, growing up and taking responsibility for life decisions. What resonates is the universal recognition that is put forth, always passionate and intelligent without being pretentious. The music is complicated and diverse, casting an intriguing veil over the well thought, inspired lyrics that tell each character’s story. It is new and fresh yet worn and comfortable; interesting and diverse yet simple and parallel; recognizing the importance to appeal to all ages, all cultures, all societies and all religions. Rarely does it falter and stray too far from its intent and when it does the cast manages to bring it back on track.

The entire cast is a fine ensemble with some connecting to the material better than others but possibly at no fault of their own. Maya Brettell gives a heartfelt interpretation of “Nebraska” telling the story of a young girl’s plight on the plains, with clear, precise emotion delivered with a sweet sound. She is talented beyond her years. Susanna Rizzo turns in an intriguing performance in her understanding of “Role of a Lifetime” using a strong, robust vocal that defines her character but never loses sight of the intent. Ryan Jesse is remarkable in his rendition of “Trees” creating a sensitive, intelligent character that is supported by a tender, emotional and beautiful vocal that was appreciated even more in a natural state since his mike was not working. Kudos!

Nothing is perfect of course or else it would not be a developing musical. The path taken in the direction of the musical is unnecessary and tragic. It was self indulgent and ostentatious to the point that sometimes it seemed to sabotage the actors. Unnecessary physical display by cast members to visualize the text of the vocalist was intrusive and juvenile, at times reducing the production to high school level or worse. Nothing is more powerful than diverse music, exceptional voice and explicit emotion to empower understanding. Less distraction creates more focus; more focus promotes better understanding. What became clear was there was the lack of trust in the material or the actor. These complicated issues need to be internalized by the actor rather than externalized to preach to the audience. One observation in the music composition is that sometimes the tempo changes within a song happen so quickly that the actor has no time to understand the change in emotion that was cued by the music. Lyrics are thoughts and emotions that need to be understood by the actor.

All said, this reviewer would certainly recommend giving it a chance purely to enjoy the music, the cast and the effort.