Off-Broadway Review: “A Scythe of Time” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “A Scythe of Time” at the New York Musical Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Closed Tuesday July 26, 2016)
Book by Alan Harris
Music and Lyrics by Mark Alan Swanson
Directed by David Alpert
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Creating a musical based on two Edgar Allen Poe short stories, “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament”, is no easy task given the subject matter and the genre. In this day and age competing with horror films, given the amazing special effects available, trying to frighten, shock or terrify an audience with a stage play, let alone a musical seems nearly impossible. The talented team of Alan Harris (book) and Mark Alan Swanson (music and lyrics) enlists the challenge and created “A Scythe Of Time”, skirting the issue mentioned above by incorporating some camp and comedy. The result as a whole might be considered unbalanced, lacking in character development and relationships, but the plot is certainly entertaining splattered with comedic overtures, absurd situations and exposing sensational, tabloid journalism. The skeleton of the story addresses themes of artistic integrity, business ethics, narcissism, power, allegiance and devotion. The music has a pop rock feel reminiscent of Frank Wildhorn which keeps the production moving at a good clip, but lacks a good solid anthem or ballad that is memorable and provides a climax. The dramatic arc lacks intensity.

This production is blessed with an incredible cast that discovers all the necessary elements bequeathed them by the deft direction of David Alpert. Lesli Margherita’s depiction of Zenobia is just plain remarkable, demonstrating her instinctive craft as an actor and an incomparable vocal that is striking in power and purity. P.J. Griffith is a perfect counterpart as Blackwood, developing a despicable character with a robust stride and vigorous vocal. Danny Rutigliano develops a stalwart character in Pompey, strong and vulnerable, but coaxing humor out of the most horrific situations. Matt Dengler creates an appealing Malachi with a soothing vocal and intentional determination. The ensemble is finely tuned and serves the product with undeniable commitment. Lighting by Nick Solyom is moody as it casts evil shadows. Costumes by Lindsey McWilliams are spot on and the scenic design by Starlet Jacobs uses the small stage to capture an eerie atmosphere.

At this stage of development it is clear that there is promise in this new musical. Sure it needs some major attention especially with the sketchy book and weak character motivation but nothing that cannot result in a successful product. Listening to the music one can imagine full, lush orchestrations and with the addition of more melodic and lyrical musical numbers there is a hopeful future. Catch the last performance if possible, it is certainly worth a look.