NAMT – Talent, Talent Everywhere

After 25 years of doing it, NAMT sure knows how to put on a Festival! The National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s 25th Annual Festival of New Musicals was held last week in New York City for an audience of hundreds of producers and other theatre professionals.  For me, it was possibly the most fun I’ve ever had in two consecutive

Sutton Foster photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Sutton Foster
photo by
Laura Marie Duncan

days in New York.  A hard-working Festival committee of NAMT members (as a group, the committee members are heavily credentialed in what it takes to mount a successful musical) had spent months selecting, from a pool of close to 200 worthy submissions, the nine new musicals that would make 45 minute presentations (either the first act or a composite of their show) during the Festival. (See my earlier post  for a full list and brief description of all nine Festival musicals.)

There was a refreshingly diverse mix of subject matter and tone to the nine Festival musicals — from very serious to very funny to scary, from very adult to intended for children to something for the whole family (maybe); shows set in different time periods and different countries; written from different inspirations: based on truth, adaptations, totally made up — you get the picture. There was also a wide range of experience in the writers and writing teams. A majority of them had won or been nominated for various prestigious theatrical and musical awards and prizes,  including every one you can think of.  Several of the writers had been to prior NAMT Festivals with earlier works which had gone on to see commercial productions.  Some have written dozens of musicals; some have been part of a team who wrote at least one show you’ve heard of; others have never had a musical produced in the United States; one has been involved in theatre for many years but this is his first musical.  Whether they’re new at this or have been doing it for a while, all of these writers and composers proved they know how to do it very well.

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor
THE SANDMAN
(Book & Lyrics)

Richard Oberacker

Richard Oberacker
THE SANDMAN
(Book, Music & Lyrics)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The extraordinary talent of the actors and singers is worth some attention here. Even though I knew the Festival readings would be cast with Broadway and Off-Broadway actors, the caliber of the performers took my breath away. Working for little more than round-trip transportation and lunch money for their four or five days of rehearsals and readings (and maybe the chance to be in on the ground floor of the next great musical), and perhaps, the pure joy of it, the casts were amazing. Look at this cast list from The Astonishing Return of … the Protagonists!:

 

castlist namt

I generally tend to be more star-struck by playwrights and directors than actors, but finding myself on the periphery of a crowd conversation with Sutton Foster after that presentation was awesome.

It was also pretty amazing to see the charismatic and gifted Nick Choksi in the outstanding Festival musical Come From Away (more on that to come in a future post) and then seeing him the next night, at close quarters, perform in his featured role in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.  And after 11-year old Bailey Ryon stunned me with her talent in the creepy, delicious reading of The Sandman on Thursday morning, I was hoping she was slated to play the title role in Matilda in Friday night’s performance on Broadway when I had tickets. (She shares the role with three other young actresses; I saw another, who did a terrific job.)

Harriet Harris

Harriet Harris

And the hysterical Harriet Harris played The Devil in Paul Gordon’s wonderful Analog and Vinyl.  Harriet Harris!

Please note that these are not intended as reviews in violation of the no-review policy and arrangement between NAMT and Equity; these are  just a few examples of the many present and future stars who participated in the Festival; the performers were, truly, all terrific. Kudos to Michael Cassara Casting, to NAMT and to the actors; my personal thanks to you all for enhancing the wonderful work of the writers.

Everyone I spoke to who attended the Festival felt it was, in the words of one acclaimed theatre professional, a  “fascinating theatrical adventure”.  It was seamlessly hosted and organized by NAMT.  I am hopeful that I will have the opportunity to see full-length versions of many of the mini-musicals I experienced last week over the coming years.  In a very strong field, the standouts for me were Come From Away (based on the true story of the thousands of people whose 9/11  flights were grounded on Gander,  Newfoundland for international security purposes and the extraordinary welcome they received), the dark nightmare fairytale The Sandman, and the 60s music memories and sly humor of the hipster Faustian Analog and Vinyl.  But, there were so many others that were terrific too that it doesn’t even feel very important which ones I preferred.  Add another hour, some production values (maybe a bit of development in some cases), any of them might be a hit.  It will be interesting to see which ones may be picked up for further development or production.

David Hein COME FROM AWAY

David Hein
COME FROM AWAY

 

Irene Sankoff COME FROM AWAY

Irene Sankoff
COME FROM AWAY

In future posts, I will tell you more about the husband/wife writing team of David Hein and Irene Sankoff who wrote Come From Away, and the fabulous bonus event of the NAMT Songwriters Showcase.  After this wonderful trip, I am hoping to make the NAMT Festival of New Musicals an important part of my Fall 2014 travel schedule.

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