‘A Wall Apart’ at 2017 New York Musical Festival

A new show about the Berlin Wall debuted a few weeks ago at the 2017 New York Musical Festival.  A Wall Apart is the story of how the Berlin Wall affected the lives of an East German family, their spouses, and friends for nearly 30 years. Although it has been gone since 1989, the Berlin Wall stood solidly in place for years as a reminder of a government that had to fence its people in to keep them from leaving. This show provides a look back at that time and some situations and emotions that would have been a part of living behind the Wall.

With a book by Sam Goldstein and Craig Clyde, A Wall Apart begins as the Wall is being built.  People were able the cross over the border separating the east from the west. Family member Hans is a guard on the border. He does his best to keep his job to provide for his two younger brothers, Kurt and Mickey, and another family member, Tante. The story includes information about the family’s survival and losses during World War II. This information is important because it explains why Hans works as a guard despite the fact that he is not truly pleased with the direction life is headed.

Mickey is a singer with a rock band in a club in West Berlin. His devotion to the ideals of freedom is evident. His love for Suzanne leads to marriage and the birth of a son. The more complicated brother is Kurt who enjoys visiting the club where Mickey sings but eventually agrees to accept a position as a guard with his brother Hans. He meets Esther who lives in the western side of the city. As they fall in love, his life becomes split between loyalty to his family and his desire to be with Esther.

One dreadful day in 1961, the borders closed. The freedom to go to either side disappears. As someone who grew up during that time, that moment in the show was very emotional to watch. We would hear stories of families who had been left on one side or the other and were not able to get back together. One could barely imagine the sadness people were going through on either the eastern or western side. A Wall Apart tells stories of escape attempts, meetings at the Wall, and the frustrations people were feeling about not having their freedom to do and see who they pleased.

The music and lyrics are by Lord Graham Russell with direction and arrangement by Jonathan Ivie. The score features a rock sound. It has the right mix of strong, kicking sounds and several ballads that are beautiful.  Mickey and Suzanne sing “Do You Mind if I Adore You” when they marry. At the same event, Kurt and Esther sing the very touching “I Want To Be in Love With You.” We meet the next generation as Mickey Jr. sings the outstanding “Son of the Father.”

From a historical point of view, the Berlin Wall became more of a fact than a news story. Then came that miraculous night in 1989 when the first cracks were made and the Wall began to come down. That part of the show is marvelous. The audience went with the triumph that the cast and band/orchestra provided on stage. There was a feeling of unification and we all felt like we were citizens of Berlin. The closing song is powerful and full of hope just like that night in 1989 was.

With direction and choreography by Keith Andrews, a very fine cast brings the story and music together. The cast includes Maddie Shea Baldwin (Esther), Leslie Becker (Tante), Emily Behny (Suzanne), Jordan Bondurant (Kurt), Darren Ritchie (Hans), Matt Rosell (Les Misérables), Josh Tolle (Mickey), and Matt Rosell (Mickey Jr.).

Ensemble members include Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega.

Final Thoughts

The mission of the New York Musical Festival is “to provide an effective platform to introduce new shows, new perspectives, and new blood into the musical theater canon.” This platform gives new shows a chance to come out of the workshop phase and present to a live audience.   A Wall Apart may consider doing some more development and fine tuning.  However, there are so many fine aspects to this show that it should continue on.  A story of the Berlin Wall needs to be told so that people can remember what a political system that ranks party above people is like and what it can do.


‘My Dear Watson’ at NYMF Looks at the Holmes/Watson Relationship

Kyle Stonr, Justin Mousseau, John DiDonna working on “My Dear Watson”

The New York Musical Festival is in full swing this month through August 6, 2017. My Dear Watson played during the first week. The show is a musical look at Sherlock Holmes as told by his friend, Dr. John Watson. Impressive is the fact that the production is funded in part by The Conan Doyle Estate, the family estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories from 1887 to 1927. With some revision, My Dear Watson has good potential to go to another stage after this Festival and do a more extended run. It has some good music, including songs that  tell a story. Several of the songs are lovely ballads. The music covers an aspect of the Sherlock Holmes stories not usually seen.

The show’s book, music and lyrics are by Jami-Leigh Bartschi.  Bartschi is a long time Sherlock Holmes fan and her devotion to the famous fictitious detective shines through in this musical.  Working alongside this accomplished writer is John DiDonna as the director and the assistant director, Jaz Zepatos. The music for the show is played on a piano by Pati Sayers and violin played by Eri Park. These two instruments served the music well as they created an atmosphere that added both suspense and emotion to the play.

The Story

The musical opens as Holmes (John DiDonna) and Watson (Kyle Stone) are brought together for their first meeting by Inspector Lestrade (Justin Mousseau). Both men are down on their luck and need each other to help pay the bills of daily living. As things improve, they find that they have developed a bond which keeps them together with Holmes doing his amazing logical and analytic detective work and Watson recording all that the master detective does. Fans of the Holmes stories will be pleased to see Mrs. Hudson (Liz Curtis) tending the house where the pair room.

The tension in the story builds as Professor Moriarty’s (Jason Blackwater) presence becomes known. Holmes realizes this man is his equal and could be the end of him. After a well choreographed struggle between them, both are presumed dead. Watson is a broken man realizing his great friend is no longer on earth. However, the clue that he might still be alive comes as the final scene which ties in nicely with where the genre went with its own path.

The first half of the musical is a little slow in parts. However, the start of the second act takes on fabulous new life as Professor Moriarty’s character comes more into focus. The scenes between him and Holmes are among the best parts of the show. The songs in the second half are stronger as well. If some changes could be made to the first act, then this show could be well on its way.

Personally, I have never delved into Sherlock Holmes stories. However, I developed an interest in learning and seeing more of it from going to this show. When a musical does that for a viewer, it tells you that the show should continue on!

2017 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards

The 2017 Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards Presented by the Investors Foundation ceremony took place at Paper Mill Playhouse on Tuesday, June 6. The event featured presenters from Broadway and beyond. The ceremony was broadcast live on television and online through Paper Mill Playhouse video partner, Hometowne Television, of Summit, New Jersey.

Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees Township took home the top prize of Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical for their production of Les Misérables: School Edition, along with two other trophies. Union High School and Gloucester County Institute of Technology each took home three trophies at this year’s awards.

Other awards presented included:

  • Five $1,000 cash scholarships to outstanding individual students who plan to continue studying theater performance or technical theater in college.
  • A prize of $500 to Fair Lawn High School who received the 2017 Educational Impact Award. This award acknowledges a school that successfully connects the musical to the district’s curriculum, using the production as a teaching tool for the greater student body and local community.
  • The Rising Star “Theatre for Everyone” Inclusion and Access Award was presented to Morristown High School.  This cash award of $1,000 is provided in a partnership with The Cultural Access Network of New Jersey, a project of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. It recognizes excellence in the promotion and practice of creative inclusion of students and adults with disabilities as performers, designers, musicians and production staff. Additionally, this award seeks to recognize and reward a school that takes steps to ensure their performances are accessible to audiences with disabilities.
  • Students receiving final nominations in the lead and supporting acting categories receive a scholarship to Paper Mill Playhouse’s competitive Summer Musical Theatre Conservatory.  This professional training program, along with advanced classes in singing, acting and dance, offers the nominees an opportunity to perform onstage at Paper Mill Playhouse in the season finale concert, “New Voices of 2017: Everyone Loves an Underdog!” on July 28 and July 29.

For a complete list of recipients, consult the Paper Mill Playhouse website at their Rising Star page: http://papermill.org/education/rising-star-awards/award-recipients.html

Previous Nominees and Recipients

A number of past Rising Star nominees and recipients recently appeared on Broadway. The list includes: She Loves Me (Laura Benanti), Noises Off (Rob McClure), and  American Psycho (Morgan Weed).   Also, Aladdin (Josh Dela Cruz, Jonathan Schwartz, Kathryn Allison), Les Misérables (Nikki M. James), Disney’s The Lion King (Jelani Remy), Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Julia Knitel), Jersey Boys (Russell Fisher), and The Phantom of the Opera (Julia Udine).

The list continues with London’s West End production of The Book of Mormon (Jared Gertner); the Public Theater’s Grounded (Anne Hathaway). and Shanice Williams, star of NBC’s The Wiz Live.