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Off Broadway Reviews

Williamsburg! The Musical

Lost: How a Certain TV Mega-Hunk Stole My Identity

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Williamsburg! The Musical

The Cast.
Photo by Jonathan Grey.

Think you're with it? Think again. You might as well not be living anywhere if you're not living in Brooklyn, New York, 11211. For the uninitiated, that's Williamsburg, or as its residents like to call it, "the coolest neighborhood in America." Is that true, or just the latest example of hipster overhype? It's hard to tell, but the world premiere of Williamsburg! The Musical, playing at the Village Theatre as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, could make an excellent case for either.

There's more than just a hint of satire about this show from Will Brumley (libretto), Kurt Gellersted (music), Brooke Fox (music and lyrics), and Nicola Barber (additional material), but there's also a fair amount of flair that demands you give the creators their due. So what if you never really care whether real estate black widow Amina Snatch (Barber) bleaches away the character of the area in favor of high-priced housing, or if little-rich-girl recent transplant Piper Paris (Allison Guinn) will ever fall in love with Hassidic Jew tailor Shlomo Zildenberg (Evan Shyer)? It's all a delivery vehicle for songs, style, and comedy, none of which will win any awards for incisiveness or originality, but which are just good enough to keep this paper-thin boat afloat.

The most memorable musical creations are sung by the ensemble: "One Stop (To Excitement" is a jittering jolt of fun about the unpredictability of existence on the L Train; "Craigslist Hook-Up/Missed Connections" makes for a strangely haunting, contrapuntal examination about the difficulties of finding love online; "The Burg Was Burning" is a hard-rock plaint led by Bodega superstar Jesus DeJesus (Roberto Carrasco) as a rant against the whitrification that's slowly robbing Williamsburg of its unique ethnic makeup; and "Bedford Avenue Look" is a zippy late-show entry about dressing for success, headed by a trendy town fashion plate (the spunky Maranda Barskey).

These songs, however, suggest more of a revue than a book musical, and as the character numbers (whether for Amina, Piper, Shlomo, or anyone else) are played invariably for laughs, it's unclear why the writers didn't just go that direction in the first place. There's a light undercurrent of acceptance and tolerance, and the show goes out of its way to portray this little corner of Brooklyn as the American melting pot in magnificent microcosm. But when Piper sings a ballad about Peter Luger Steak House backed by two dancing porterhouses, it's not especially easy to keep your mind on the book.

Director Deborah Wolfson has devised some devilishly clever choreography for her cast, making this one of the few Fringe musicals (and, sadly, one of the few musicals in general) that leaves you hankering for the next dance number. Many of the performers, too, are tip-top: Barber is a feisty dragon lady, Guinn is a darkly quirky comic, Shyer hides a surprisingly robust voice beneath his somewhat caricaturish fa├žade, and Colin Israel and Terry Palasz elicit more laughs than they should from their respective turns as Piper's gay roommate and the knish-loving Polish landlady.

Special mention must also be made of Jessica Crouch, who never emerges from the chorus, but bears a voice of such unusually piercing power and clarity that she tends to make the periphery of the action more interesting than center stage. It just goes to show you never know what you'll find in Williamsburg, or in Williamsburg! The Musical - and if the writers keep up their attempts to organize this messy near-miss (and they definitely should), hopefully they'll also hold on to Crouch and give her the featured spot she and the audience deserve.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
VENUE #6: The Village Theatre
Performances: Mon 13 @ 5:30, Sun 19 @ 4:45, Fri 24 @ 9:45
Tickets online FringeNYC

Lost: How a Certain TV Mega-Hunk Stole My Identity

What a difference an A makes!

That letter, which matters so much to most of us while we're in school but diminishes considerably in importance thereafter, will soon be experiencing a resurgence if there's any dramatic justice in this city. At the very least, you'll never think of it quite the same way again after seeing Lost: How a Certain TV Mega-Hunk Stole My Identity, the hilarious new autobio show at the New York International Fringe Festival that's been written by Josh Halloway.

No, the one you're thinking of is Holloway with an O. Leave him to Hollywood and that famous J.J. Abrams TV show, on which he plays a "sexy con man with a tortured past," thank you very much. Much more appropriate for New York theater is Halloway (with an A, and that's your last reminder), an actor, monologist, and the creator of the Fringe and Off-Broadway hit Movie Geek who's struggling not just with a stalling career but also with a name that's no longer his own.

He doesn't pine for a career in real estate or as a forest ranger, as Holloway once did, and he doesn't feel any particular need for pulsating pecs. (He did just pick up a membership to Crunch, though.) All he wants is to listen to James Horner soundtracks (not Braveheart, however - the Jewish Halloway doesn't quite trust Mel Gibson anymore), settle down with a nice girl, and become the next Eric Bogosian. But even modest dreams such as these threaten to wither in Holloway's shadow, as Halloway discovers that auditioning, eating in restaurants, and dating are considerably more treacherous when you're not who everyone thinks you are over the phone or the Internet.

Halloway, who cuts an extremely casual and diminutive stage presence, has razor-sharp timing and a burnished throwaway delivery capable of making even the most offhand lines send ripples of guffaws throughout the theater. (Perhaps he inherited these skills from his vaudevillian grandfather, who bestowed the troublesome name on his family in 1927.) Fine assistance is provided him by Dylan Dawson, who plays the clueless roommate determined to turn Halloway's ordeal into a Bravo reality show, and Victoria Freed, as the girlfriend he meets under predictably false pretenses. There are also superb video projections from Aaron Maurer that document the photo ablum of Halloway's life, other celebrities who've changed their names, and trips to destinations as diverse as London and Doppelganger's Anonymous (a therapy group led by Dr. Claire Huxtable). There are even cameo appearances from theatre director Jack O'Brien and opera director Peter Sellars (who has name issues of his own).

Under the rip-roaring direction of Andy Donald, everyone crams 90 minutes worth of laughs into the hour-long show, with what in ordinary hands would be a one-joke premise. Not everything here is gold: The end of the show, especially, feels more like a cop-out than a conclusion, as if Halloway is admitting that the end of the story hasn't yet been written. If it sends Lost: How a Certain TV Mega-Hunk Stole My Identity out on something of a low note, it only means that when the show resurfaces (and for it not to is unthinkable) you'll have to go back and see if it's been at last polished to perfection. That almost seems more like a reward than a punishment.

Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission
VENUE #2: The Cherry Lane Theatre
Performances: Wed 15 @ 9:15, Thu 16 @ 5:30, Sat 18 @ 9:15, Thu 23 @ 4:30
Tickets online FringeNYC

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