We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Addie Hamilton, Sarah Tupper Daniels, Marley Dove, Cameron Johnson, Christopher Lilley, Chelsea Nectow, Kendrick Pifer, Jacob Lewis Smith, Kim Johansen--photo by
Brian Hatton
Manhattan School of Music's American Musical Theater Ensemble has yet another hit to lure lovers of musical theater away from BROADWAY and up to 122nd and Broadway.  A treasure trove of songs by the terrifically talented Jeff Blumenkrantz has been shaped into a revue conceived and directed by Carolyn Marlow.  Although there isn't a "plot" there is definitely a story to tell since each of the characters has a relationship with the others. The show gets off to a rousing start with the ensemble singing the cleverest lyrics advising audience members how to behave.  Not only was it a clever number but it was effective.  Not a single phone rang and no one rummaged through a purse or unwrapped a cough drop!

Set and Lighting Designer Shawn Kaufman has set the first act in a coffee shop with a barista named Miles (Jody Hinkley) who appears to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and sings the very funny "Everything is Better When It's Clean".  This setting allows the characters to come and interact with each other and leave.  The action takes place over the course of a year with each month bringing new events.

Act II is set in a gay bar called 50 Shades of Gay.  The bartender Kevin (Piers Portfolio) reprises Miles' lovelorn ballad from Act I "Hold My Hand".  One wants to stand up and cheer that these two souls have found each other. Not everyone is romantically lucky but Alysha (Kendrick Pifer) who opens the show hilariously obsessing about her weight in "This Will Be the Year" winds up connecting with the lovelorn Paul (Christopher Lilley) at a wedding which she is trying to get through by getting drunk in "Drink My Way".

Devoted Maxime (Kim Johansen) is unable to get the time and attention he wants from author Becky (Chelsie Nectow) in "Steal Away" and by Act II, they have separated and she is exploring her potential in "I'm Free".  In a funny bit, she enlists members of the audience to help her overcome her slacker procrastination.

Meanwhile the very cheerful Mary (Sarah Tupper Daniels) leaves her dead end job as a toll collector and starts doing voice-overs for porn, earning enough money to furnish her apartment.  Her "Welcome to My Apartment" is one of the funniest songs in the show.

Her brother Kyle (Cameron Johnson) is the saddest character in the show since he is unable to get over the death of his partner in "It Can't Be".  Having just seen Mr. Johnson in a fine comedic role in Haydn's Orlando Paladino at MSM, we were astonished to see his dramatic range.  He bitterly mocks his sister's pollyana-ish attitude in "Choose Happy".  His is one of those angry depressions--the "mean reds", not the blues.

Sixteen-year-old Meg (Marley Dove) is not at all sweet and torments her mother Victoria (Addie Hamilton).  Her gay brother Jason is consistently hilarious as he sings about his new crush in "spencersgt@yahoo.com" and even more hilarious in the title song "Moving Right Along", a duet with Miles whom he has dragged to 50 Shades of Gay.  Who has observed a horde of potential partners without criticizing them mercilessly!?  One poor victim was "dorky, porky, not NewYorky".  That should give you some idea of the cleverness of Mr. Blumenkrantz' lyrics.

But words cannot convey the catchiness of his music which works beautifully with the lyrics.  Musical Direction for the show was by Shane Schag who played the piano.  Grace Ho performed the cello part with Connor Schultze on bass, Aaron Patterson on "reeds" and Guilhem Flouzat as percussionist.  The excellent orchestrations were done by Josh Freilich.

How surprising to read the program notes and to learn that the singers were all students--from a freshman to some graduate students!  It was surprising because they all performed with professional attention to vocal demands and were completely dramatically convincing. We have seen shows on and off-Broadway that were not half so wonderful as Moving Right Along.

What made this show even more special was the way it tapped into so many contemporary issues: parent-child stress, romantic disappointment, growing up, achieving independence, loss and finding the right partner.  The humor of the songs and the immense effectiveness of the cast made it easy to see oneself and one's friends represented onstage.  There is one more performance tonight.  You couldn't spend a better evening anywhere else.

© meche kroop

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