As with Forrest Gump's metaphorical box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get at the New York International Fringe Festival, or FringeNYC. Witness a "hipster satire meets Hamlet" catastrophe and it could put you off the theater for a while to come. The list of productions that started out at the FringeNYC and enjoyed illustrious stage lives, however, is long.
The greatest success story in the festival's nine-year history is "Urinetown," which made its debut in 1999, then had an extended Broadway run and captured three Tony Awards. Last year, FringeNYC originals "Dixie's Tupperware Party" and "Walmartopia" had off-Broadway runs. And the gay hip-hop musical "Bash'd" is still going strong at the Zipper Factory.
Only at FringeNYC would you find a play entitled "Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire," written and performed by Mark Sam Rosenthal, or Christopher Loar's comedy "Clone," which, in line with its duplication theme, alternates leading men each night. With productions by more than 200 theater companies, Fringe misses aren't exactly in short supply. But don't bet against a few of the picks below being hits in 2009.
Michael Small and BT McNicholl, who previously collaborated on the Jazz Age musical smash "The IT Girl," team up again for the sex and drugs satire "Kaboom!" Aaron Latham, who wrote the movie "Urban Cowboy," which starred John Travolta, is presenting his new musical, "Revolution on the Roof," with an original score by Dan Shay and Will Manning, supplemented by the songs of Joan Baez. Another premiere worth seeking out is Peter Barr Nickowitz's "The Alice Complex," a psychological thriller starring the Tony nominee Xanthe Elbrick and Lisa Banes. FringeNYC might be overwhelmingly constituted of adult-themed entertainment, but there are a few options for families. Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale "Thumbelina" receives a reworking, courtesy of the Elephant Ensemble Theater, while Ivan Faute's "The Darling Children" imagines what happens to Peter Pan's cohorts when they get left behind in Neverland.
Anyone who thinks FringeNYC's alternative credentials preclude attention to popular culture are in for an awakening: A host of works have been inspired by staples of E! Entertainment Television and reality TV show icons. Tara Schuster's "Be Brave, Anna!" transports the late model Anna Nicole Smith into a 19th-century France. Molly Bell and Daya Curley's "Becoming Britney" offers yet another take on the rise and fall of Ms. Spears. Jeffrey Lependorf's "Tim Gunn's Podcast" is a "reality television chamber opera" based on the acerbic musings of TV's fashion arbiter. And we have Allyn Bard Rathus and Connor Gallagher to thank for "Perez Hilton Saves the Universe," a musical tribute to the excitable show-business gossip hound.
More substantial biographical subjects include Andrea Graugnard and Daniel LeBlanc's "Ariel View," examining the legacy of Sylvia Plath, Frit and Frat Fuller's "Down Around Brown Town," commemorating the life and music of James Brown, and Liza Lentini's "Woodhull," portraying Victoria Woodhull, a prostitute and political radical, who, in 1872, became the first woman to run for president.
World War II stories
The war extensively features in the festival — World War II, that is, not the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts. Randall Jarrell's five-line poem "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," about the demise of a gunner on an American World War II bomber aircraft, is adapted for the stage and directed by Anna Moench. "Eagle Squadron GO!" written by Garet Scott with music by John Bauers, chronicles the exploits of the American flyboys who allied with the Royal Air Force. Two German students rebel against their enforced membership in the Hitler Youth in R.E Vickers's "Stars in a Dark Sky." The musical "Ripcords," with book and lyrics by Anne Berlin and music by Andy Cohen, is set in 1956, rather than 1939-45, but revolves around an office worker who discovers a dark family secret from World War II. John Fisher's "Schoenberg" uses the time period of World War II to study the friendship between the composer Arnold Schoenberg and the Hollywood comedian Oscar Levant.
New York narratives
Performance art and the MTA make for an unlikely alliance, but that's what's served up in "Radiotheatre Presents the Mole People," a multimedia history of the subway written and directed by Dan Bianchi. In Kari Bentley-Quinn's "The Permanent Night," the 2003 blackout provides the backdrop for a marriage in turmoil, while a bizarre love triangle in "Galatea," penned by Frank Tangredi, involves a retired New York fireman, his wife, and a neurotic sculptress. The increasingly popular burlesque entertainment gets showcased in the Hotsy Totsy group's "The Home for Wayward Girls and Fallen Women." Patrick Huguenin, a former gossip columnist for the Daily News, fictionalizes his party-circuit days for "Paper Dolls," about a gossip hack who finds herself at the center of a New York sex scandal.
Writer Tim Collins can't be accused of lacking vision. His "A Fire as Bright as Heaven" spans "the invasion of Iraq, to the NRA national convention, to the looming 2008 election [as] forty explosive, sublime characters confront America's uncertain future." "The Deciders" covers similar terrain in rock-musical format. "The Legislative Process," by Clarence Coo, places Capitol Hill under scrutiny.
Director Scott Ebersold and writer Alejandro Morales, both honored at previous FringeNYC festivals, collaborate on "the october crisis (to laura)" concerning a torch singer in a Havana nightclub on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis. Russia is the subject of two works — Victoria Nikiforova's "Hidden Fees," a critique of Moscow capitalism, and "A Nasty Story," loosely adapted from Dostoevsky's satirical tale by Sara Jeanne Asselin. Mark Brown's "China — The Whole Enchilada" irreverently seeks to condense 4,000 years of Chinese history into 90 minutes. The show commences on the same day as the Beijing Olympics; let's hope the global sports fest doesn't prove as farcical.