New York International Fringe Festival
To see a show at the Fringe is pretty hit or miss. If you walk into a theatre that actually has air conditioning and the roof doesn’t leak onto the heads of sweaty actors, there is an instant rush of elation. You have somehow lucked out. Once you survive the curtain speech (really, we don’t want to volunteer, so please stop asking), the lights go down, you chug some Pepto and hold your breath for whatever is about to transpire. “Williamsburg! The Musical” is like a great concept album that hasn’t yet had enough time to percolate (or find a captain to steer it). Its premise spins on the lives of the various “types” of the trendy Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. There’s the trust fund hipster (our leading lady, played with fierce commitment and comedy by Allison Gunn), the Hasidic dry cleaner that she falls for (exquisitely done by Evan Shyer) the villainous real estate broker (co-creator Nicola Barber, who takes it way past the realm of comedy or commentary), the tree-hugger (an even-keeled Maranda Barskey), Jesus, the bodega owner, the Polish Landlady, and a slew of ensemble members who tackle everything in between (among that ensemble, Jesse Teeters is the most engaging of the lot – an actor so funny and agile, he could be on a sitcom tomorrow). There’s the love story of a hipster who tries to throw herself of the bridge and the Jewish fella who can’t touch her but saves her anyway, which offers up the clever number, “We Can’t Look (And We Can’t Touch”). Then there’s the villain, which is funny for a song or two, but goes past the good times of spoof when she starts turning the locals into her zombies to choreography borrowed from Michael Jackson. Despite making comments so insider-y, the target demo narrows to a few very specific city blocks, the material is there. Writers / creators, Barber, Will Brumley, Brooke Fox and Kurt Gellersted have concocted songs that show us the goings-on of the ‘hood (the subway rock tune, “One Stop [To Excitement] and “The Bedford Avenue Look”), the yearnings of a generation (“Craigslist Hookup / Missed Connections”) and a story that has the basic ingredients of a well-made tale (romance, villains, and that ‘it takes a village’ thing). Judging from the audience Monday night, a cult following is revving up. And the music, with its pop/rock stylings already has me wanting a recording. This show could go to great places, unfortunately, its director/choreographer for this incarnation (Deborah Wolfson) wasn’t able to pare it down for the Fringe. Instead, she lets it wander and holds onto songs that have more musical weight than narrative or dramatic movement. “Williamsburg” is still trying to find its way. Maybe it’s an ensemble comedy like “Friends” (but dirtier) and maybe it’s a kooky love story. Either way, the music is smart and catchy, and so are the quick quips about life in that neighborhood right now. Like all great heroes, this show needs to choose its path (and choose wisely), so it can grow into the fun lovin’ rock-omedy it has the potential to become.