- Musical Theatre at the Ninth Annual New York International Fringe Festival
Ever since the startling success of Urinetown, musicals are garnering greater attention at the New York International Fringe Festival. The ninth annual festival included the premieres of thirty-seven works of musical theatre in its program of more than two hundred productions. The performances took place in venues below Fourteenth Street that ranged from loft-space theatre labs with a few dozen seats to the Lucille Lortel Theatre, a historic, traditional Off-Broadway theatre in Greenwich Village. In each of these venues, audiences had opportunities to attend edgy, controversial, political, and sexually charged material performed without censorship. Yet, a trend toward provocation at the expense of experimentation with words, music, and structure has led to an increase in lowbrow, gratuitous sociopolitical and sexual humor. Coupled with Urinetown's success, this trend has added to a growing commercial interest in Fringe musicals. These musicals now have more established actors, directors, and designers joining the emerging artists who have traditionally participated in the festival. The Fringe's musical theatre recipe for success appears to require profit-making aspirations that push the envelope of acceptability by shocking audiences with extreme dialogue and stage action.
Musicals in this category included Beautiful,boasting veteran artists David Anders from television's Aliasand Rodney Hicks from the original cast of Rent. Shakedown Streetincluded a sampling of the music of The Grateful Dead. Fleet Weekfeatured Tony-nominated actress Melissa Hart. Treaty 321!capitalized on the antiwar movement. Christopher Gattelli directed and choreographed Silence! the Musicalfollowing his successes with Altar Boyz, Hair,and Bat Boy: the Musical!These productions all enjoyed long lines of expectant patrons thanks to advance buzz about their casts, directors, or source material.
Following in the steps of Urinetown, Treaty 321!playfully bulldozed over today's political and social issues while paying musical homage to trademark musicals like Les Miserables, Little Shop of Horrors,and Blood Brothers,often seeming like an extended, uncensored, and unedited Saturday Night Live. Despite its run-on jokes and scenes, by not taking itself seriously, Treaty 321!achieved modest success. This parody's spirit and upbeat atmosphere, with its bright, pastel Disneyesque Main Street USA design, rolled back the clock on musical theatre form. The production's press release described the show as an "absurdist, satiric, sociopolitical comedy of war-strained life and love." With all of its promise, however, Treaty 321!succumbed to sophomoric humor that included stereotypical sexual and gay jokes, while incorporating the use of adult sex toys for props.
One musical particularly embodied the irreverent spirit of the 2005 Fringe while capitalizing on the abundance of theatrical veterans: Silence! the Musical,a parody of the Oscar Award–winning film The Silence of the Lambs, played atthe Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street. The venue's location in Greenwich Village, the August heat, and the audience—appearing to have committed the film's screenplay to memory—provided Silence!with a super-charged environment of expectation. The program described Silence!as an unauthorized parody of the original film (in fact, brothers Jon and Al Kaplan, the composer and lyricist, respectively, had originally intended to produce a film). This theatrical version took the audience through ninety minutes of fully staged and choreographed, sexually graphic, and sadistic musical theatre. Tony Award–winning set designer Scott Pask created a stark and fluid environment that seamlessly served the proceedings. An array of portable rolling garment racks, covered in a quilt of women's clothing constructed from military camouflage, evoked serial killer Buffalo Bill's psychotic depersonalization of his victims. By moving the portable racks between scenes, the cast set up suggestive locales for the play. For the scene in which Buffalo Bill prepares to take Catherine's life, a circular section of the quilting was removed to create the well that serves as Catherine's prison.
From the outset of the piece, director Gattelli let the audience know that he fondly views Silence!as one big joke. Just as Urinetown's score paid musical homage...