It wasn’t hard to select my favorite musicals of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival ( I’ll get to them in just a minute) because so many of this year’s so-called musicals sucked. The majority of them had poorly written scores, books, and lyrics, and casts that couldn’t sing in key if their lives depended on it.
I sat through actors screaming at the top of their lungs and throwing paper around. I listened to badly recorded tracks, watched bad acting, listened to numerous “shock the audience songs” which had nothing to with the show or the story, and saw so many missed opportunities to introduce the characters in song to the audience. I sat in bewilderment as sets were moved over and over again. It was insufferable – worse than the horrible humidity and sizzling heat that greeted me at many of the venues where these shows played. The paying audience deserved better and so did the actors who were in these shows.
Thank God there were some real gems this year. As many of you know, I write about young actors in our area in this column and my Scene Stealers articles, and this year, I wrote two “Favorite 2010 Fringe Musical Performances” articles, because I did find some wonderful performances. It really pained me that I had to pan some musicals that had many of my Scene Stealers in it because the show was not up to snuff.
Some actors called me after their shows were rated low by local reviewers and asked my advice. So here goes, “Choose wisely.”
And then there were the belligerent composers and/or producers that left immature rants in our comments sections that they received a low rating because our reviewers were racist or were intolerant of their sexual orientation. My advice to them? “Grow up – and have you ever considered taking up the clarinet?”
Before you all attack me with “That’s what the Fringe is about!” and “screw you!”- and “we didn’t have any money” and “this is the first time I have written a show” – let me tell you something. One thing I am proud about is that in the five years that the Capital Fringe Festival has graced our city, is that the quality of the plays and, at times, the musicals has greatly improved. If you take the risk of putting on a bad production, you risk getting called on it by the local reviews and Fringe-goers who leave comments. So learn from the reviews and comments.
Just look at DCTS’s reviews and ratings on our Fringe Page, and you’ll see that DCTS reviewers gave 35 shows a top rating. Only one original musical – When ET Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”- was given the top 5 rating and the other six “must see” ratings went to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, two new short operas, a revue, a improvised musical, and a cabaret. All of these wonderful productions deserved their top ratings.
So I am making an offer to all this year’s musical producers whose shows we and I didn’t like. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll call you back and let’s have a frank, civil, and constructive talk about your show.
Whew! Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the positives!
(1) The Poet Warriors: It was my favorite musical of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, and I am confident that it will find a wider audience in the future. With an intelligent and beautifully written book, score, and lyrics by George Purefoy Tilson, this show had a wondrous cast of extraordinary singers and actors – Jase Parker, Rachel Brook, Jonathan Henson, Ben Levine, Alan Naylor, and Jamie Ogden whose angelic harmonies and heart-felt performances earned a long standing ovation by the audience and this writer. Thanks, George, for bringing this amazing production to DC audiences. It was an honor to be part of the audience at the final performance. I saw a local Artistic Director in tears applauding wildly. I hope she will bring the show to her theatre. Two hours never moved so quickly and so elegantly
(2) Lysistrata … the musical! Now for those of you who want to write something silly and historical, this is a great show to learn from. Filled with a clever score and lyrics by Jeremy King and Vishal Vaidya, and a cast that consisted of funny actors and great singers, including Autumn Seavey, Chip Hewett, Katie Nigsch Fairfax, Tim Adams, Ali Hoxie, Mia Branco, Arden Moscati, and Chelsea Rae-Abbate, this is the Fringe show that made me smile and laugh the most. Sheer fun and lots of togas.
(3) Galactica in Irrelevant Acts of Entertainment: 90 minutes of classy and amazing lypsyncing by Jeffrey Johnson and “his three adorable boys”. The one show I wish I had time to go back and see again and again. I had a blast!
(4) When ET Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: Here’s an example of a “Fringy” off-the-wall plot that had a rocking live band and an amazing cast that sang the hell out of a wonderful score. It was rock heaven. And the best thing? I was introduced to the amazing Emily Webbe and Randall Holloway.
(5) Oblivion: A gorgeous, classy, beautifully sung new short opera by Kyle Gullings that has some of the most beautiful singing in the Fringe by James Rogers, Rachel Evangeline Barham, Alexander Wolniak, Melissa Kornacki, and Christine Gahagan.
(6) Super Claudio Brothers- the New Video Game Musical: Fringe Festival audiences were treated to a funny musical with great performances and sheer fun thanks to Signature favorites Stephen Gregory Smith, Harry Winter, Sam Ludwig, and Chris Sizemore playing eggplants on their knees and Gia Mora and Lauren Williams playing sibling princesses.. But it was Matthew Anderson as an insane Platypus that stole the show and made the audience howl with delight.
(7) H.M.S. Pinafore: Performed by a group of talented young singers from The G&S Youth Company, it was nice to be reminded how much great talent exists in our local high schools. What a relief to have had the opportunity to escape some of the mediocre offerings in this year’s Fringe and then slide into the Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church and be able to hear the great voices of Matt Satucci, Alexander Nicholas Bourzutschky, James Beans, Alissa Roca, Kelsey McDonell, Alfred Lawson, and a group of young enthusiastic singers that made up the ensemble.