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The New York Musical Festival Is Bigger and Better Than Ever

By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, July 7, 2017

In 2004, a new theatre festival came onto the scene with the idea that strength and vitality of musical theater lie in its ability to stay fresh and relevant. The New York Musical Festival (NYMF) created a platform to introduce new shows, new perspectives, and new blood into the musical theater canon.

More than 400 shows have premiered at NYMF featuring more than 8,000 artists and entertaining more than 300,000 audience members. And in 2017, that number will only increase with the festival’s 20 new musicals, 14 concerts and beta musicals, 10 readings and seven different academic and panel events.

NYMF 2016 Beta production of ‘Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical;’ photo: Blue Fairy Photography.

From a rock musical taking place in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, tributes to historical performers like Liberace and Errol Flynn, teen suicide, an alternative universe, and many others, this year’s musical lineup includes a wide range of settings, plots, and subjects. One particular show’s subject matter stands out in these elevated political times—Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical featuring a book by Richard Allen, and music and lyrics by Richard Allen and Taran Gray.

The show tells the story true story of activists who boldly challenged the legality and optics of the Jim Crow South by riding buses in mixed groups. Real life activists Diane Nash, John Seigenthaler, John Lewis, Congress of Racial Equality’s original 13 riders, and other activists of the Civil Rights Movement are portrayed with dignity and power, and shows how using violence may not always be the answer to solving injustices.

NYMF 2016 Beta production of ‘Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical;’ photo: Blue Fairy Photography.

The NYMF definition and criteria of a beta musical production is for new musicals that are further along in their development process than readings, but are not produced with all the elements of a full production. Other highlighted events this year include How the Light Gets In: An Evening of New American Micro-Musical Works and Women of Note.

How the Light Gets In, a program commissioned by NYMF with support from The ASCAP Foundation and Jan Brandt, is an effort to create more space for arts-based civic engagement, whereby 30 different micro-musicals take the stage in a concert presentation. A few of the highlighted cast members include Ty Defoe and Tidtaya Sinutoke with Water Is Life, Lelund Durond Thompson and Jason Michael Webb with Ilathi: The Gift, and Ryan Scott Oliver and Nessie Nankivell with Otherbody.

Cast of ‘The Goree All-Girl String Band;’ photo: Russ Rowland.

Women of Note celebrates female, queer, and trans* artists who are changing the landscape of musical theater. The concert has become a staple at NYMF throughout the years, and has now become so big that two line-ups will be presented this year. The featured artists include Lynn Ahrens, Carmel Dean, Maggie-Kate Coleman, Erato A. Kremmyda, Amanda Green, and Zoe Sarna.

As musical theatre tends to do, NYMF’s 2017 readings take audiences on a variety of adventures, but also makes them think. A new musical, Woody, which features a book, music, and lyrics by John Carden and Nolan Doran with additional book content by Nick Corley, is the story of a young man looking to find connection in a world that’s becoming increasingly disconnected. This retelling of the classic story of Pinocchio against a backdrop of modern characters like drag divas and wooden boys set to disco music.

Original cast of the “Shakespeare Jazz ,’ part of this year’s NYMF Festival; photo: Tripp Clemens.

Alongside its many musical premieres, readings, and concerts, NYMF also offers a selection of master classes and panel events. This year’s events are broken down into two categories, educational and panel. Educational will help audiences gain firsthand experience in an array of disciplines while panel which will feature a partnership with Honest Accomplice Theatre and offer a panel conversation aimed at providing more insight into current issues affecting the American theater.

Brian Charles Rooney in ‘Miss Blanche Tells It All;’ photo by Bjorn Bolinder.

The 2017 New York Musical Festival runs from July 10—August 6. To see musicals and attend events at NYMF, you will need to purchase a NYMF PASS, or an Individual Ticket. For a link to purchasing tickets click here. For more information on the festival click here.


Cover: Tara Martinez and Patrick Dunn in publicity photo for ‘Night Tide;’ photo: Rob Copeland Photography.


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