Growing younger

January 17, 2018

All I really wanted for my birthday was a website. In lieu of that, I’ll do the annual indulgent thing of talking about my musicals. There are so many, and so few of you have seen them. And – I don’t know this for sure – but I expect the word I use most on this here blog is “craft.” And that, like so much these days, leads me to thoughts of craft beer. It’s made in small batches by individual brewmasters and gets shared with select group of aficionados. I put a lot of care, time and love into my bubbly creations, and share them with a small but lucky few. O.K. Enough torturing the analogy. On to the shows.

At 14 I wrote a rather short two-act musical called How To Be Happy, about a kid who writes (alone) and stars in a Broadway show. That could never happen! (Right, Lin-Manuel?) Like a lot of things one does in adolescence, it’s pretty embarrassing now.

At 15 I adapted a play called Broadway into a musical called The Great White Way. I can still recall my composition teacher’s suggestion about a song called One of These Mornings. I’d set the title on quick notes, very much like St. Louis Woman. He got me to slow down, suggesting melissmas could extend the line. To this day I obsess a lot over the quickness with which new words hit the ear.

My first produced musical, Through the Wardrobe, contained the word “exultation.” Who talks like that? A teen with a thesaurus, I guess.

The first work of mine I saw produced, Pulley of the Yard, offered a justification for profuse rhyming and odd vocabulary, since it was a whodunit set backstage at a Gilbert & Sullivan troupe. I mimicked their style, which led to self-consciously clever bits like

The audience must be treated well
Don’t take secret glee in
The fact they’re plebian
Or act like Marie Antoinette

The show I created at 21 has seen more different productions than any other of mine, but with a different title, Murder at the Savoy.

The less said about A Diary, the better. But here’s what Lehman Engel said about the line that ended the title song, “Thirteen is a very good age to start to use a diary.” “I thought she was going to say ‘diaphragm.’”

The Heavenly Theatre: Hymns for Martyred Actors was such a difficult collaboration, I was barred from attending rehearsals. If this ever happens to you, take comfort in the fact that Bob Fosse forbade Stephen Schwartz from attending rehearsals of Pippin.

The New U. successfully skated a fine comic line in a way that’s hard to imagine today. The administration of an all-male college oversold the notion that going co-ed would bring about massive improvements. An excited chorus sings:

They’re rosy; they’re peachy
They understand Nietzsche
Those beautiful brainy girls

They write well; they work hard
They talk about Kierk’gaard
Those beautiful brainy girls

Each one is undeniably intellectual
And, thank God, they’re certifiably heterosexual

They know their Cervantes
Although they wear panties
Those beautiful brainy girls.

It’s supposed to be offensive, as the object of our satire was patently sexist promotion of coeducation as a panacea. And what better measure of success than a well-off person in the audience saying “I want to produce the next thing these writers write.”

This was On the Brink, the legendary revue I co-created when I was 25 and the oldest member of the writing team. I found room for feminist messages and a couple of songs that were poignant rather than funny. We turned a profit, which shouldn’t be one’s measure of success; but certainly a nice way to start my professional career.

When a well-established California theatre wanted to do Through the Wardrobe, a rights problem necessitated a massive overhaul, and what ran three or four months as Popsicle Palace then had to be retitled Not a Lion. A lot of musical writers tell very sad tales about rights problems. Beware!

So my next musical was based on a public domain story by Charles Dickens. We called it The Christmas Bride, and it’s a melodrama packed with plot turns, so I had to write passionate romantic music that wouldn’t derail the story train.

Stephen Sondheim attended and, without being asked, sent the producing organization a nice check; with being asked, he sent me a helpful and encouraging letter.

This inspired us to try something new and innovative, an overtly feminist musical developed through rap sessions, a la A Chorus Line, and also improvisations. I learned a lot, but, after many attempts and two utterly different librettists, could never get The Company of Women to a producer willing to put a celebration of female friendships on stage.

Many songs from that score found their way into subsequent trunk song revues: Spilt Milk, Lunatics & Lovers, and Things We Do For Love. An opera-for-kids entrepreneur saw the first of these and commissioned The Pirate Captains, inspired by actual female pirates, and it played for years.

My next two shows were also work-for-hire. Industrials are intended to be seen by specific folks in a business context – people who’ll get the jokes. For years, this was how Jason Robert Brown earned most of his income. But you haven’t heard those songs, or mine, because the material is owned by the clients.

An exceptionally funny fellow, the same age as me, proposed we write a musical because we were both turning 40. Now, by this point, I’d written a number of shows, but never a purely humorous book musical in the tradition of my favorite, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Area 51 was my opportunity to write the sort of big production numbers and hysterical comedy songs that hadn’t been seen in many an overly serious season. We knew a lot of clowns from New York’s improv community, and festooned many of the roles with things we knew they’d do well. In that sense, Area 51 revived the tradition of 1960s star vehicles (like Once Upon a Mattress and Little Me) where creators came up with wacky stuff with an awareness of the zaniness of well-loved wags. As I fashioned 18 varied and guffaw-producing numbers, I was collaborating with crazy quipsters I knew and loved. So turning 40 was the epitome of fun.

The people up on stage with me feel like a friendly family,” I once wrote.

But what if everybody involved in your musical was literally friends and family, including the audience? Seems like the wildest of fantasies, but – you could read about it in the Times – fantasies come true. Our Wedding – The Musical! involved writing for specific people again, but this time it was my mother, my mother-in-law, my father, my father-in-law, my sister, my 4-year-old niece and a bunch of our talented professional performing friends, one of whom has the credentials to matrimonify. (Sorry, another word from Gilbert & Sullivan snuck in there.)

Many years ago, some musical theatre experts used an intriguing phrase, “serious musical comedy” to describe basically tragic stories leavened with a whole heap of humor, such as Cabaret, Gypsy and Fiddler on the Roof. Creating one seemed a worthy challenge, unlike anything I’d done before, and I had a subject in mind. The McCarthy-era blacklisting affected the lives of many truly entertaining people, and there’d never been a musical about it. Since television was a brand-new technology, there’d be much mirth in the pressures to put on a live variety show, as well as in the on-air songs and sketches. Such Good Friends, which racked up a number of awards and raves at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, was the culmination of years of research, rewrites, and punch-ups. I got my audience to laugh and cry, tap their toes, and get truly invested in What Will Happen Next.

Thanks for reading this far. I consider it a birthday gift. Discussing eighteen musicals ain’t nothing like being there, in the audience, taking them in as they were meant to be taken in. Let’s hope What Will Happen Next is a production you can catch, somewhere near you.


Such good friends – part two

October 5, 2017

When The New York Musical Theatre Festival chose Such Good Friends as one of its Next Link “blind” selections for presentation, I could have frozen the script, leaned back, and watched what I’d written get produced. That’s what most NYMF writers do. They figure if the panel of professionals think it’s good enough to go in front of an audience, then it’s good enough to go in front of an audience, as is. I thought just the opposite: My God, this thing is going in front of an audience in a few months! I’ve such a short time to get it to where I want it to be!

And this is the main reason director Marc Bruni and I were such a perfect fit. When he first read the script – two meetings before I chose him to direct – he saw it as a work-in-progress with great potential to be truly entertaining by opening night. Neither of us ever felt it was perfect as is; it could always stand for improvement. As I said in Part One of this ten-year anniversary reminiscence, Marc hoped I could focus on script fixes and little else. There was also the odious task of begging people for money, but checks trickled in from surprising sources, including the Anna Sosenko trust, which supports musical theatre writers.

With our rather lean budget, we knew we’d need to streamline the storytelling, so only nine or ten actors would be used. That cut my cast size in half, including the sons and spouses of major characters. Marc had wonderful suggestions. (He’d shepherded at least two Broadway musicals before this as uncredited dramaturg.) We’d have long discussions on how the audience would experience every moment in the show. And if I could boil down this entire excellent experience into one bit of wisdom, it’s that: try to see your show as the audience will see it. The jokes, while plentiful, weren’t funny enough. The dramatic turns had to sucker punch the audience. A musical must surprise. Such Good Friends eventually startled.

I tend to do better inserting humor into my lyrics than I do in dialogue. So, under the genial guidance of Mike Bencivenga, we convened a roomful of funny people to punch up the script. I was aware that this is a common practice with television comedies. They do a read-through, and a table of wags keeps pitching better jokes until the show-runner bangs a figurative gavel to say “Yes, that line’s good enough.” Not all musicals undergo this process, but I’m sure glad such good friends of mine upped the yock-quotient that night.

I think Marc was particularly impressed by the new songs that I came up with as the result of our talks. While I recall we talked a lot more about the first act than the second, about half of the numbers that were heard in Act Two were late additions. Sondheim’s two best-known numbers, Send in the Clowns and Comedy Tonight, were eleventh hour creations, and he’s spoken about how it wasn’t the time pressure that got such good work out of him, it was knowing the characters really well, how they sounded, what the song should do.

On Such Good Friends, several of the songs I initially thought were the score’s best ended up on the cutting room floor. Whenever I hear of a writer digging in their heels, refusing to cut something (and the Dramatist Guild contract gives them that right), I think “Lord, what fools these songsmiths be!” Audiences at bad NYMF shows (and, one must admit, there are a lot) are suffering through any number of numbers that should have been excised.

The other thing about knowing your characters is that everything changes when you find your actors. And what actors we found! To the shock of many who know us, my wife Joy (more on her in the next post) didn’t cast Such Good Friends. There was a more experienced casting director in her office, Geoff Josselson, and she trusted him more than she trusted herself. Geoff and Marc worked together to generate lists of utterly fabulous people who’d be perfect for all of the roles. Offers went out, and I was amazed at the yeses that came back.

I remember when I saw Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in The Producers. I thought they were plenty funny, but there was someone else in the cast who was far funnier, Brad Oscar. I remember when I saw this utterly fantastic off-Broadway revue, Closer Than Ever, loving the brilliant acting-in-song of Lynne Wintersteller. Getting such high-caliber people in the cast was incredibly exciting to me. Just weeks earlier, remember, the faceless NYMF selection committee had decided my piece had value. Now, performers I’d adored on stage committed their time to this exploit. Quite an honor.

producer Kim Vasquez, me, Liz, Marc

Sometimes your lead breathes life into a character in unexpected ways, and your formerly-just-on-paper personage begins to soar. So, I’d loved Liz Larsen in A New Brain, where she created a far stronger impression than then-unknown Kristin Chenoweth. And I’d loved her Tony-nominated portrayal of Cleo in The Most Happy Fella (a particularly wonderful musical). I’d even liked her as the protagonist of the worst new musical I ever saw on Broadway. If she could enliven that mess, I knew she could do something fantastic for me.

And fantastic she was. Every beat fully acted, fully felt. She grabbed hold of the audience with comic timing, apt physical business, and that gorgeous clarion voice and made everyone care what happened to her character. This was a star turn of the first order, and of course she took home an award for her work. (Marc and I did, too.)

I’ve run out of time to mention everyone I’d like to mention. For now, let it suffice to say I was very lucky to get the people I got and the production I got. The critics (yes, critics came) were beside themselves with superlatives. Peter Filichia thought we “…delivered a production that could move to Broadway right now. Right now. RIGHT NOW!” Michael Dale found it “One of the best musical comedies I’ve seen in years”. Lisa Jo Sagolla’s Critic’s Pick review in Backstage said “The hard-hitting political message takes brilliant dramatic command” and called me “a wily wizard with words.”

So, of course, Such Good Friends stands out as the highlight of my career. And it couldn’t have been done without such good friends.

The Dottie Frances show

September 28, 2017

Ten years ago today, my musical Such Good Friends opened and thereby hangs a tale. And within that tale, there’s another tale. And within – Hey, you ever feel like, when starting a post, that it’s going to take several posts to cover it all? Yeah, neither do I.

Did you ever notice how many successful musical theatre book-writers wrote sketches for Sid Caesar’s television show in the 1950’s? Best of these were Michael Stewart (Bye Bye Birdie, Carnival, Hello Dolly!, Barnum, 42nd Street) and Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof, Take Me Along, Zorba). Theatre superstar Neil Simon was tapped to write a musical for Caesar to perform on Broadway, Little Me, and later penned Sweet Charity, Promises Promises, and others. Two far funnier books were by Larry Gelbart (A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum, City of Angels). And then there are national treasures Mel Brooks (The Producers, Young Frankenstein) and Woody Allen (Bullets Over Broadway). There was a time when my admiration for Caesar’s writers was such that I’d go see anything they did, and it was particularly interesting when their scripts reflected back on their experiences working on Your Show of Shows. I read Simon’s Laughter on the Twenty-Third Floor prior to its Broadway production. And Brooks’ recollection became a movie he produced, My Favorite Year.

The year of “Year” was 1954, and the film establishes this by having a stack of newspapers dropped off at a newsstand. The headline refers to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt, which would have severe implications for the entertainment industry. And then, for the rest of the movie, it’s not mentioned again. Young writer has to corral a drunken old movie star. Not a mention of McCarthyism after the opening shot. Strange, no?

Similarly, Laughter on the Twenty-Third Floor has the character based on Caesar punch a hole in the wall in anger over something McCarthy has done. But nobody in the play gets blacklisted, or is forced to testify before the HUAC. Surely, Brooks and Simon knew a lot of people who’d suffered. (Or was it just Shirley?) Their reminiscences were droll enough, but that, to me, is a curious omission, sweeping some ugly truth under the rug.

Woody Allen appeared in Walter Bernstein’s recollection of blacklisting, The Front, and here was a film that more successfully struck a balance between comedy and the grim reality of the scoundrel time. Bernstein’s later book about what he personally experienced was a chief inspiration to me. He didn’t sugarcoat a thing, and I was particularly taken with the tale of two good friends who had sons, maybe twelve years old, who were best friends. Both dads found themselves accused of being former communists, and the day came when, in desperation, one supplied names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. This upset his friend so much, he ordered his son to abandon his friendship with the name namer’s son.

Such an emotional event seemed to call out for musicalization. I’d long wanted to write about the McCarthy era, but the topic seemed too depressing to be a musical. Now, some of you might be thinking “How ridiculous! Nothing’s too depressing to be a musical. The Leo Frank tragedy became Parade.” And it’s here where we must agree to disagree. I think Parade’s a perfectly awful musical, a heap of sad events that garner a knee-jerk reaction. If I were going to create a musical about McCarthyism, it would have to be damn entertaining, not a depression fest.

But how? I thought about this for years, until it hit me: what’s entertaining about My Favorite Year and Laughter On the Twenty-Third Floor is that you have a bunch of funny people put under pressure, the pressure of creating live television in its earliest days. That’s an appealing milieu, filled with opportunities for humorous songs, and amid all the laughter, I’d have the opportunity to show what happened to so many hard-working talents in the entertainment industry back then. Oh, and I knew I could use the father-telling-son-to-give-up-his-best-friend bit.

The song for that scene went through more drafts than any other in the score. I was certain this was the centerpiece of the show, and if I perfected it, everything else would fly. But, at most points in the creative process, one can’t be sure what’s flying. At the time I sent Such Good Friends in for consideration by the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF is its spritely acronym), I’d never had any outsider tell me it was any good.

Imagine my elation when my blacklist musical was selected for production. It was, at long last, confirmation that someone else – a panel of professionals, no less – thought mine a worthy project. And on went a ticking clock. That is, there were now announced dates when the Festival would take place. That limited the remaining time for improving the thing. Little me, the sole writer, was now a funny person under tremendous pressure, just like the characters in my show.

Raising money, quickly, was just about the hardest thing I have ever been called upon to do. And how much to raise? Well, to answer that I needed an experienced producer. And how easy is it to find one of those? And I also knew I needed a director. An agent friend represented some up-and-comers who, she felt, ought to be showcasing their abilities at NYMF. I met with many, and sized up their strengths and weaknesses on a chart, and one hovered well above the rest, Marc Bruni.

Choosing Marc was the best decision I ever made. He had a passion for improving the show and an endless font of good ideas for doing so. He instantly led me to a producer with NYMF experience, and told her that the best use of my time was not to raise money but to fix the script. As a result, I raised far too little but the improvements made in the script, from the day I met Marc to opening night, were extraordinary. (More on this on my next post.)

A good director has vision, and a sense of what can work on stage. My cast size of 19 had to be halved. And wouldn’t include any children. That scene that I thought was so key, Marc convinced me, was a distraction from the main tale I wanted to tell. “It’s not called Such Good Fathers, after all; it’s Such Good Friends.”

After all these years

July 18, 2013

The New York Musical Theatre Festival, currently underway, is celebrating its tenth annual occurrence.  I think it’s old enough to countenance a little criticism, which you’ll find below, but, more than most people, I’m full of praise and gratitude for its existence.

For NYMF was a particularly great experience for me.  Just the other week, my baby girl climbed out of her high chair, on to a tall table, reached up to a counter, grabbed my NYMF Award and smashed it against the table.  So there are all these little pieces of plastic I keep finding.  And I think: It was always just a Xeroxed certificate in a cheap curved frame.

But these things are not meaningless.  I know both the runners-up for Best Lyrics, Sam Carner and Frank Evans, and I’m sure they’d rather have the prize, chipped plastic and all.  (Carner’s Best-of-the-Fest show, Unlock’d, is currently playing.)  I was one of three winners for Such Good Friends, along with director Marc Bruni and leading lady Liz Larsen.  Liz and the show also earned Talkin’ Broadway Citations, as best performance and best show in any festival that year.

And there’s another prize you can’t hold in your hand: Being selected as a Next LinkNext Link selections have been submitted blind: that is, the selectors don’t know the names of the authors.  They don’t know if the show has any previous performance history.  They won’t be considering whether a show might sell a lot of tickets.  Their only concern is quality.

So, when Such Good Friends got chosen, it meant that NYMF’s panel of industry professionals found it to be among the very best of hundreds of submissions.  It also meant that I’d have a slot.  I wished to go to the festival, and so I did.

However, for economic reasons, NYMF fills only half its slate of full productions with Next Link picks.  NYMF administrators let their friends have slots, or famous people, or people who’ve done admirable work in the past – even if the current work isn’t quite up to snuff.  If a production is likely to sell tickets, maybe because it has some intriguing title, or a star attached, on it goes.  It’s rather maddening that the audience can’t easily tell whether they’re seeing something that’s there because those blind readers thought it was good, or because the NYMF powers-that-be want it there.  This smacks of cronyism, and delegitimatizes the enterprise.

It’s said that NYMF had its best year its first year.  To understand why, think how things were before the Festival was born.  New shows were getting written, but not mounted.  Or, when they were mounted, the “right” people wouldn’t come to see them, or didn’t know about them, leading to many a stillborn enterprise.  There existed, ten years ago, a huge quantity of great unproduced musicals sitting around, waiting for – no, needing – a platform like NYMF to get them to the next level.  And so the witty boy band send-up, Altar Boyz was seen by young producer Ken Davenport.  He mounted the show off-Broadway and it was a huge hit, running for many years.

Also wowing the crowds that year was the ultimate meta experience, [title of show], a musical about two guys writing a show that they submit to the New York Musical Theatre Festival.  If you’re reading this blog, chances are you can relate to this hysterical little theatre piece.  And, if you’re writing a musical, I heartily suggest you listen to one of its songs, Die Vampire Die, every day.

Even more truthful was The Big Voice: God, Or Merman?, the dual autobiography of a couple who meet and deal with religious backgrounds and a greater love for musical theatre and each other.  More traditional musicals, based on solid, dying-to-be-musicalized sources, were Like You Like It and Meet John Doe.

As years went by, alas, the pool of really good unproduced musicals began to be depleted.  NYMF makes a key mistake by believing that festivals require a certain size in order to sustain themselves.  Each year, there are too many shows for any one fan to catch, and, honestly, a lot of shows that aren’t yet ready for public consumption.  This has led to a bad reputation: Many believe the average NYMF show simply isn’t very good.  (A major producer called Such Good Friends the best NYMF show she’d ever seen; I took that as something of a back-handed compliment.)

NYMF likes to think of itself as the musical theatre equivalent of what Sundance is to film.  They’ve pointed this out to me when I asked why the costs of putting these shows on are borne, usually, by the writers themselves.  Sundance screens films that have already been financed.  Now, admirably, NYMF does a host of things to keep the costs as low as possible.  They rent theatres, and stuff them full of several shows every day.  Shows sharing a theatre can split the fees for spotlights, synthesizers and curtains, if they decide to.  NYMF facilitates this, and provides box office, venue managers, a casting director, and some behind-the-scenes staff. But putting on a show for six performances often eats up twenty to thirty thousand dollars. This is not a meritocracy, also, because only the well-off can afford to play.

And yet they do manage to keep costs far lower than they’d otherwise be.  And sometimes a shoestring budget is a virtue.  Gutenburg had a cast of two (including the then-unknown Christopher Fitzgerald) and no set, and how they made an entertaining musical out of a backer’s audition for a not-entertaining musical about the inventor of movable type – well, it’s a little miraculous.  Speaking of miracles, I laughed my head off at The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun before it took itself seriously.  And speaking of that, Next To Normal, the last musical to win the Pulitzer Prize, was seen at NYMF under the title, Feeling Electric.  All of these shows arrived at the festival in years prior to my own.  Would it be too self-serving to point out Such Good Friends got better reviews than all of them?

Well, that’s not a note to end on, so instead I’ll leave you with a ride based on a song first heard at NYMF.

Carnival time

October 6, 2011

I can’t help noticing, from the tremendous onslaught on my electronic and snail mailboxes, that The New York Musical Festival is on again.  To paraphrase Chico Escuela: “NYMF been berry, berry good to me.”  It was four years ago – already! – that I had my greatest artistic success there, Marc Bruni’s shattering staging of Such Good Friends, which won all sorts of awards it couldn’t have won if not for NYMF.  Like a certain guy I went to college with, NYMF is best appreciated by considering what life would be like if it weren’t there.

NYMF began in 2004, so it’s not hard to recall the NYMF-free environment.  Dozens and dozens of new musicals played various venues, hoping to attract the interest of big-time producers, theatres and media.  Roughly 99% didn’t succeed in that goal of attention-grabbing and the reasons why are legion.  Let’s say you’re the Arts Editor of a newspaper and realize it’s been a while since you printed anything about a new musical.  Where to send a reporter or critic?  Well, there are a zillion postcards in your in-box and you’ve no time to go through them, so you send her to Elton John’s latest Broadway effort.  Or, say you’re an Artistic Director, and figure your theatre might want to do a new musical.  How will you choose among the postcards?  Some have wacky titles, or good graphics, but you’re a busy fellow and it’s hard to know which tuner to invest time in.  What show is worth your while?

Possibly, you’d flip through the cards to see if you spot a name you know.  If Terrence Mann and Kerry Butler are in a new musical, that would be one worth seeing, just for them.  Many of the musicals are self-produced or self-funded, so there’s no imprimatur saying they’re accomplished enough to deserve to be seen.  And you’re reading that newspaper where the damn Arts Editor has one “new musical” article and it’s about Elton John’s latest foray.  Might as well stay home.

New York is a loud and over-crowded marketplace.  If a hundred new shows are screaming to get noticed every year, well, that’s a lot of noise.  Are you going to scream louder than others?  Or, put less metaphorically, are you willing to shell out a couple of thousand to a publicist to get butts in your seats?  And let’s talk about the other costs.  Renting a theatre, and rehearsal space – extremely costly.  The Actors’ union is going to put you through hoops.  You’ll have to buy insurance, pay off the fire department, a trucker who’ll take your set away to a junkyard when it’s all done, and don’t forget the special lights you’ll have to rent.  All of this to put on a show those Arts Editors and Artistic Directors will likely opt not to see.

A group of young musical theatre people sat together and discussed the above.  It’s awfully hard for a musical writer to get her work seen.  What could be done?  They came up with the idea of a festival of new works, somewhat modeled on Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. Here are the basics:

  • NYMF would rent suitably-sized theatres in the Hell’s Kitchen area.
  • Into each theatre, they’d pack as many different shows as possible.  One show might play at one o’clock, another at 4:30, 8:00, midnight, etc.  Ergo, the shows would have to be compact, able to load out and load in quickly, with very limited space to store sets and props.
  • That special lighting fixture?  If six shows are sharing it, they’d each pay one sixth of the cost.
  • A special arrangement with the Actors’ union allows its membership to participate for a tiny fee.
  • Other unions, and designers, agreed to take the same tiny fee for their work.  (This is the so-called “Favored Nations” thing.)
  • Major Broadway stars could be coaxed to lend their talents, for the sake of new musicals in general, knowing that there’s a limited time commitment
  • A Blue Ribbon Panel of readers would pore over submitted scripts, hopefully ensuring that the best possible musicals, ones that are ready to be seen, fill the stages
  • The festival would handle publicity, ticketing, advertising and insurance.

One general principle should be emphasized: If you band together, as producers, you’re then a bigger consumer, and can haggle for a better price.  One show renting a light fixture won’t have the same economic clout as six shows sharing it.

Now that Arts Editor has something to cover!  What’s more, all NYMF shows generally get several reviews.  It was quite a thrill for me to get raves from Peter Filichia, Michael Dale, Lisa Jo Sagolla and others.  And a remarkable number of well-known Broadway veterans do these shows.  Indeed, I saw Terrence Mann and Kerry Butler in the hysterical Party Come Here.  But it’s not just “name” actors who get theatrical powers-that-be to come.  Being accepted into NYMF means that your show has been approved by that Blue Ribbon Panel (and NYMF publicizes the names, usually Tony-winners).  So, the postcard with the NYMF logo does carry a certain imprimatur.

I won’t bore you with specifics, but economics of the Bulk Buying and Favored Nations does result in shows being half as expensive to produce as they’d be outside of NYMF.

And yes, of course, there are problems.  But the good news is, they’re always seeking to improve.  I once sent them a detailed set of suggestions, and they responded appreciatively and then instituted some of the proffered alterations.  Someday, I might devote a post or two to how NYMF could do things better, but, here in their first week of their eighth season, this is not the time.

I just said “The good news is…” and let me take that back.  The real good news is that NYMF exists, providing a showplace for new musicals.  I wish every city had a new musical festival (Los Angeles, to the dismay of many, tried to copy NYMF but presented a majority of old – that is, previously produced – musicals.)  NYMF is one of the best options you have for getting your work out there.  I recommend it.  And, by all means, attend!  The more new shows you see, the more you learn.  And, the more you get entertained.