By David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
The National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) has been hard at work since 1989 introducing writers and their new musicals to significant theatre industry leaders. Now in its 28th year, NAMT attracts theatre producers from around the world for this industry-only event to discover eight new musicals presented in 45-minute concert presentations over two days. All production costs are underwritten by NAMT, at no cost to the writing teams. As a non-profit organization, NAMT funds the Festival entirely through donations, sponsorships and contributions. The eight new musicals introduced at this year’s Festival garnered overwhelming support from those leaders who packed Stages 2 and 3 at New World Stages in New York City to develop a working relationship with the new musicals and their writers.
The eight musicals that were seen in 45-minute stage readings were “Benny and Joon” (Book by Kirsten Guenther/Music by Nolan Gasser/Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein); “Joe Schmoe Saves the World” ( Book, Music, and Lyrics by Brett Ryback); “Lempicka” (Book and Lyrics by Carson Kreitzer/Music by Matt Gould); “The Loneliest Girl in the World” (Music by Julia Meinwald/Lyrics and Book by Gordon Leary); “Morality Play” (Book and Lyrics by Alana Jacoby/Music by Scotty Arnold); “Soho Cinders” (Music by George Stiles/Lyrics and Book by Anthony Drewe/Book by Elliot Davis); “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown” (Book, Music, and Lyrics by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk); and “We Live in Cairo” (Book and Lyrics by Patrick Lazour/Book and Music by Daniel Lazour).
NAMT officials introduced each team of writers who then introduced their new musical and how they chose to present their work: some used the 45-minute segments to run through an entire act while others used the time to showcase songs from the entire musical with a narrator filling in important details of exposition, setting, and story line. Each of the eight presentations featured outstanding casts of Broadway and Off-Broadway actors and musicians.
NAMT’s 2016 Festival selection process had three phases. Beginning in the first quarter of the year, the 193 submissions from around the world were evaluated first through 20-page excerpts and demos and then by the reading and evaluation of the full musicals. By the end of the third quarter of the year, the eight musicals were selected including shows at all stages of development and of all “shapes, sizes, styles, and topics.” This year’s young, diverse, and energetic teams tackled the relevant themes of refugees, the threat of fascism, and LTBTQ motifs using the conventions of retelling, rhetorical argument, and “front-page” realism.
The energy was high at this year’s Festival as industry leaders, NAMT members, and press lined up for each musical either anticipating what they were about to see or commenting on what they had previously seen. There was no doubt that the new musicals would garner support from not only New York producers but from the Regional Theatres in the United States and professional theatres from around the world.
Hosted by Kate Wetherhead, the Festival featured a “Songwriters Showcase” on Stage 2 on the first day with seasoned writers and newcomers sharing their thoughts (talk show style) on their most recent projects in progress: “The Family Resemblance” (by Masi Asare); “How I Paid for College (Book, Music, and Lyrics by Marc Acito); “What I Learned from People” (by Will Aronson and Hue Park); and “The White City” (By Avi Amon and Julia Gytri). Also featured were two “Songwriters Cabaret” sessions in the Green Room Lounge that presented works by the songwriters Michael Cooper, Hyeyoung Kim, Paulo K Tirol, and Kathleen Wrinn.