Do you love musicals? More than that, do you love new musicals -- like, extremely new.
If so, then get yourself to the New York Musical Festival, which runs from July 10 - August 6. Every year, NYMF presents dozens of in-development shows, which the creators are tweaking every day. That means everyone is taking risks, and when they pay off, you can tell your friends you were there to see it. (Case in point: "Next to Normal" began at NYMF, and then it won a Pulitzer Prize.)
Plus, there are musicals for every possible mood. Do you want weird rock songs about aliens? They’ve got ‘em. Do you want thoughtful operas about sexuality and gender? You’re all set. Are you hungry for romantic ballads or catchy country ditties or experimental pop? No matter what, NYMF is the place for you.
But here’s the tricky part: The festival doesn’t run that long, and there are a lot of things to see. How do you decide which musicals are worth the risk?
To some extent, it’s all a crapshoot. That’s half the fun of attending a festival.
However, I have some pointers. Before coming to Show-Score, I wrote about NYMF in publications like Variety, and I learned how to navigate the offerings. This year, I’ve also spoken with several members of the NYMF team to get their take on everything from special events to recurring narrative themes.
Below, you’ll find a guide to everything I’ve learned, including a few shows that seem especially interesting. You should still dig around on your own, of course, but I hope these tips remove some of the guesswork.
And once you’ve seen a musical, let everyone know how you feel. As a Show-Score member, you can not only score select productions, but also vote for your favorites to win the Show-Score Best of Fest, the annual audience choice award. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. And until then… happy NYMFing!
1. How Do I Choose What To See?
Even though all these shows are in development, there are different types of performances, which you can see on the full festival calendar:
"Productions" are the most fully staged, and they take place in traditional theaters. Rachel Sussman, the festival’s Producing Artistic Director, says, "Productions are the easy entry point. You're seeing all the different elements of a musical. They really are the anchor of the festival.”
"Readings" and “Workshops” are presented in rehearsal spaces, and they typically feature actors behind music stands. These shows have had some development, but they're not quite ready for a full production. Access to tickets varies based on the type of ticket or festival pass you by, so double check availability.
"Events" range from master classes and special discussions to selections from in-the-works musicals that want to experiment with, say, sound design or projections for the first time.
"Concerts" are just that: Performances from singers, bands, and groups of actors who are connected to the world of musical theater. Some concerts also offer selections from particular shows-in-process.
2. What Looks Good?
NYMF provides this handy tool to search through its offerings. Like I said, make sure you dig around on your own. But based on my own hunches and research, these musicals seem especially promising:
"The Goree All-Girl String Band"
This country-inflected musical is based on the true story of Texas ladies who formed a band in the 1930s and became a sensation. They also happened to be convicted criminals. Colleagues who saw a section of this show performed at a special preview event were raving about it.
"A Wall Apart"
This rock musical follows a 30-year love story against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall. I’m particularly interested because the music and lyrics are by Lord Graham Russell of Air Supply. With any luck, he'll jump up and sing "All Out of Love" at the curtain call!
"The Body Politic"
Presented as a concert instead of a full production, this show uses boundary-pushing, operatic music to tell the story of a trans man who travels from Afghanistan to North Carolina. It's a great example of how NYMF supports a wide variety of stories and styles, and it sounds thrillingly ambitious. It’s just the kind of work that festivals should be supporting.
"Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil: An American Myth"
Musicals this cheeky are usually in the Fringe: The story is an adaptation of “Faust” that imagines Matthew McConaughey selling his soul to the devil in order to win an Oscar. But as silly as that sounds, the sample songs on the show’s NYMF page are surprisingly awesome. They’re funny, pop-rock ditties with lots of power notes. They’re also complex enough to suggest the writers have more than one joke.
The big news here is this show is co-written by Bekah Brunstetter, a fantastic playwright and a scribe for the TV shows “This Is Us” and “American Gods.” She contributed lyrics for this EDM (meaning “electronic dance music”) show about two girls who discover their sexuality at a Christian summer camp. It’s being presented as a concert but with a cast that includes actors from “Glee” and “Spring Awakening,” it’ll probably rock all the same. (Note: An earlier version of this showed played in New York in 2011.)
3. How Much Are Tickets?
That depends on what you buy. Individual tickets to all events are $27.50. However, there are festival passes that offer access to multiple shows and a variety of special events. Passes range from $119 to $559.
Tickets to individual shows are available on the show pages at the NYMF website.
NOTE: Individual tickets go on sale tomorrow (Thursday, June 15). Passes are on sale now.
4. How Long Do Shows Run?
Productions have six performances, while events, concerts, and readings have between one and three. The entire festival runs July 10 - August 6, but some shows only play in the early weeks and others only play in the final days.
5. Where Is This Happening?
All the festival's venues are near 42nd Street and 10th Avenue. Spaces include Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42 Street), Theatre Row (410 West 42 Street), and the Green Room 42 @ YOTEL (570-574 10th Avenue)
6. How Do I Vote for My Favorite Show?