Off-Broadway Review: “Night Tide” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Off-Broadway Review: “Night Tide” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Saturday July 22, 2017)
Music by Nathania Wibowo
Book and Lyrics by Taylor Tash
Directed by Luis Villabon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,/In her sepulchre there by the sea—/In her tomb by the sounding sea.” – “Annabel Lee,” Edgar Allan Poe

Based on the 1963 B Movie of the same name, “Night Tide, currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, is a faithful retelling and a splendid riff of writer and director Curtis Harrington’s “creature feature” thriller. Nathania Wibowo and Taylor Tash have not only brought “Night Tide” to the stage – they have created a top-notch musical about on-shore-leave Johnny’s (Patrick Dunn) falling-in-love with Mora (Tara Martinez) the mysterious woman who dons a mermaid costume and works in Captain Murdock’s (played with a dastardly demeanor by Rick Roemer) sideshow act on the boardwalk. Local legend pins the death of two sailors on Mora who is rumored to be a mermaid-siren like those chronicled in Greek Mythology.

Despite warnings about Mora, Johnny falls deeper and deeper in love with the elusive woman. Repeated warnings come from Odd Sam (played with just enough mystery and bravado by Josh Sassanella), Stormy (played with an aggressive and alluring charm by Kissy Simmons) and Rocky (played with just the right elusive temptation by Ya Han Chang), carousel operator Ellen (played with a steely playful flirtatious exterior by Charly Dannis), and Madam Romanovich (played with a delightful looney respectability by Rebecca Hoodwin) the boardwalk’s “fortune teller” who rarely guesses a client’s zodiac sign. Undeterred, Johnny and Mora spiral deeper and deeper into a relationship that can only end in disaster. How their story ends cannot be revealed here except to say Johnny does not visit the Sherriff’s Office for a lie detector test as Dennis Hopper does in the movie.

Luis Villabon’s staging is over the top superb, landing just short of camp and stretching the bounds of film noir. His choreography sparkles with a variety of styles from the Broadway stage which he spins with his own stamp of authenticity. Watch for all the delectable dances from the 1960s and perfectly-timed backup routines provided by Odd Sam and the Sirens. Nathania Wibowo’s music captures the sounds of the 1960s (Rock and Roll, Doo-Wop) blended with high-energy Broadway belt numbers and soulful ballads. The production values here are exacting and of the highest quality – hand-held spotlight and all.

Under Mr. Villabon’s precise and inventive direction, the entire cast is remarkable. Each member delivers an authentic and believable performance of memorable characters ripped from a screenplay and successfully recreated for the New York stage. Patrick Dunn’s Johnny is deftly carved from the farmlands of the Midwest with a winning charm, a finely honed naivete, and a splendid voice. Tara Martinez knows how to bring a sultry sensuality to her Mora and succeeds in delivering her songs with a powerful and beautifully controlled instrument. Her duets with Mr. Dunn are highlights of the musical: “Man Overboard” and “The Lonely Ocean.”

Although the musical numbers are universally pleasant and appropriate to the staging, two might be reexamined: “Summertime Fling” and “The Stars.” Although they provide some comedic flair, they do not match up to the lyrics and music of the remaining numbers. The musicians, under Andy Peterson’s conducting, are precise and accomplished.

What happens to Mora when she is beckoned to return to the sea? Where did Mora come from? Who is the mysterious woman who beckons her? Did Mora kill the sailors? And why is Captain Murdock so enamored of this half-woman, half-fish? If you cannot make one of the remaining NYMF performances, it seems certain you will have another chance soon.