rock musical

Fringe Roundup! Part 1: ‘Coming’ and ‘No One Asked Me’

It’s the New York City Fringe Festival, which is always a great time for the theater world. Fringe first started out in Edinburgh, Scotland and moved to international theater hubs to reproduce its success. New York Fringe is the largest theater festival in North America and features 200 theater companies at 19 different venues across Lower Manhattan. We at LMezz are seeing something like 25 shows over the next three weeks, and while it seems like a lot to us (bring it!), it’s only about an eighth of the shows out there to see! If you wish to ponder over the Fringe show listing for several hours on a slow work day while your boss is on vacation in Cozumel like we did, go forth and see what peaks your interest!

Glen North and Erik Ransom in Coming


Coming by Erik Ransom

Synopsis: Coming is a musical that puts a devilish, glam-rock edge on the second coming of Jesus Christ. Set in contemporary Manhattan, a “new Sodom,” we met Damien Salt (Erik Ransom), a Dr. Frank-N-Furter-esque rock star who also just happens to be the Anti-Christ. He sets out to corrupt Josh Crenshaw (Glen North) aka Jesus Christ’s second coming, an innocent, God-loving square from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Josh and his golden voice (cough and ripped abs cough) audition for a reality t.v. talent competition, and Salt snatches the opportunity to tarnish Josh’s Christian image and revise the story of Earth’s final days.

Why Go?: This is truly Erik Ransom’s musical and he does double (quadruple?) duty as the show’s composer, lyricist, book writer, and star. His other campy, satirical musical, Anthem, premiered Off-Broadway this year, and it’s easy to see Coming produced on a similarly successful, perhaps even better scale.

Stand-Out Bits: Coming is a glamorous satire packed with funny pop culture quips and clever lyrics. Coming also features excellent performances from Glen North, whose blue-eyed contemplative innocence never feels artificial (despite those abs!) and Courter Simmons, whose multiple roles as Cain and the angel Israfil are fabulously gripping.

There were tonal shifts that I felt needed to be smoothed out a bit more, such as when Damien’s lover Cain is killed in a hate crime. I could feel the audience indecisively cringe with confusion as to whether this scene was supposed to be taken seriously or not, because we were uproariously laughing not five seconds ago. Coming is at its best when loud, sarcastic, and blasphemous, which thankfully is most of the time.

Coming plays at Theatre 80 St. Marks Place on 8/10 at 4pm, 8/15 at 8:45pm, 8/20 at 8:45, and 8/22 at 2pm

Octavia Chavez-Richmond (Sophie) and Gary De Mattei (lawyer Isaac) in No One Asked Me
Octavia Chavez-Richmond (Sophie) and Gary De Mattei (lawyer Isaac) in No One Asked Me


No One Asked Me by Kate Ballen

Synopsis: Based on her experiences as a college counselor in NYC public schools, Kate Ballen’s No One Asked Me centers around the lives of three undocumented students preparing to graduate high school. Alyssa (Alaina Fragoso) is a straight-A student from Peru who hopes that hard work and dedication will get her through the immigration system and prepared for college. Daniel (Corneilus Franklin) is a bright and sensitive student from Uganda. His mother re-located her family to the U.S. on false promises made by her husband.  Sophie (Octavia Chavez-Richmond) came to New York from the Dominican Republic at the age of 5 and already expresses disillusionment with the system.

Why Go?: Anyone can tell you that immigration is a hot button issue in American politics, and No One Asked Me puts a very human face on the issues  that a lot of American citizens take for granted. Over 64,000 New York City graduates are illegal immigrants every year.

Stand-Out Bits:  No One Asked Me presents multiple facets of life under illegal status, and every scene of the show is uniquely intimate and deeply perceptive. Each of the main characters, as well as key figures like their school counselor, family members, and an emotionally-detached immigration lawyer, display rich and complex emotional lives that grip the audience with poetic energy. No One Asked Me is an eye-opening and culturally important work to witness, if only to learn to understand the struggle of millions of people in our country.


7 Awesome and Not-So-Awesome Things about MURDER BALLAD

murder ballad

Murder Ballad, a new rock musical currently enjoying a 2013 run at the Union Square Theatre (after playing with Manhattan Theatre Club last fall), is some good bloody fun. Here is LMezz’s killer rundown of the production:

Awesome: The space.

This was our first time in the Union Square Theatre, which is the perfect location for a rock musical. (Union Square! Hipsters! Street Bong Sellers!) The show is set in the round, with audience seating in all four sides of the theatre, along with additional lounge seating in the playing space. The upstage section is spanned by a bar, the stage-right portion by a pool table, and the stage-left section by the band. Just by entering the theatre, you can sense that some rock musical awesomeness was about to be had.

Awesome: There’s a working bar onstage!

The onstage bar is a working one during the pre-show, and audience members can order drinks. Closer to the start of the show, the actors enter in character and “blend in” with the surroundings. It is an effective way to establish the characters before the beginning of the show.

Not-So-Awesome: There’s a working bar onstage!

This is not a point against Murder Ballad per se, but to what I sense will be (is already?) a trend in shows that allow you to order drinks and drink them on stage. Both the off-Broadway and Broadway incarnations of Once feature the pre-show bar, and I’m sure many other productions will have doe-eyed audience members that are oh-so-surprised as they wander on stage to order the same bottle of beer they could have purchased in the lobby. Or maybe I’m just bitter that we had to wait so long to have an even readier access to booze in the theatre.

I could have used one of these for the Broadway production of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Awesome: Two ladies wrote this!

Julie Jordan came up with the concept and book for Murder Ballad and teamed up with Juliana Nash, who composed the music and co-wrote lyrics. This is the first rock musical (let alone musical) I’ve seen written only by women (If you know any others, leave a comment!), and I hope it’s not the last.

Awesome: The cast.

Most of the cast from MTC’s fall mounting of Murder Ballad have returned this spring. John Ellison Conlee, who reprises his role as Michael, is so believable as a loving husband and father that it’s exciting to see him finally snap. Will Swenson, playing bartender and scorned lover Tom, embodies everything moody and dangerous. After quitting acting this spring, original cast member Karen Olivo has been replaced by Caissie Levy. While I was sad to have missed Olivo last fall, Levy is fantastic in her own right as Sara, the troubled center of the love triangle.

But the definite show-stealer Rebecca Naomi Jones, who is equal parts scary and sexy as the Narrator. She plays the role with great comedic timing and a wicked gleam in her eye, and when she takes the stage, she owns it. By the time the final song has ended, you realize that she has been trolling you all along—and don’t even care.

U mad?

Not-So-Awesome: The Movement

Director Trip Cullman had the task of staging a sung-through rock musical—in the round. This wasn’t an easy one, and he was effective in having the actors playing to all four sides throughout the show.

But this wasn’t to say that there weren’t a few hiccups. Sometimes the choreography seemed unmotivated, with the actors thrashing and jumping about the stage even though their songs were already making their emotions clear. It was as if someone had seen the musical version of American Idiot too many times and said, “Yes! More of that stuff!”

With all the pushing, shaking, pulling, and running that was going on, it made you wonder how the characters had time to have affairs in the first place. Speaking of which…

Not-So-Awesome: Where’s the passion?

Murder Ballad is the story of a “love triangle gone wrong.” One way it goes wrong is in the lack of passion among the characters. All of the characters had chemistry with one another, and it definitely shows, as they make out on the pool table, the bar, and everywhere in between.

But it may be the abundance of physical contact that dampens the passion. David Mamet says that he doesn’t ever write explicit sex scenes because it will take people right out of the story. I’m not sure I totally agree with Mamet, but he has a point. Murder Ballad’s characters make out so much that I marveled on how they were able to sing afterwards instead of marveling about their story.

Another bit of marveling: Do they need understudies? I’m available.

The constant physical contact breaks the sexual—and dramatic—tension. It results in actions that are unearned, relationships that are undeveloped, and emotions that are expressed, but not felt. Which might be what Murder Ballad is about, after all.

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