BWW Reviews: NYMF's BAYONETS OF ANGST is Raucous Revelry
Set in the present day on the porch of a swamp house in Mississippi, BAYONETS OF ANGST introduces audiences to a handful of old codgers who are partaking in their annual reunion. In fact, this is their 149th gathering, and each year the shrinking group gets together to relive their experiences during the American Civil War. As an audience, we are told to forget what we learned in history because these men were there. Over the next two hours, we are treated to a dizzying array of madcap, behind-the-scenes hilarity that turns history on its head.
Once a finalist in the Ken Davenport 10 min Play Festival, Rick Kunzi's now full-length BAYONETS OF ANGST is just the kind of project that New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) is famous for launching into a successful New York run. Featuring a waggishly witty book by Rick Kunzi and Justin Zeppa, hysterical lyrics by Rick Kunzi, and a brilliantly catchy bluegrass score by Rick Kunzi and Adam Barnosky, BAYONETS OF ANGST is simultaneously everything and nothing you'd expect from a musicalizied account of the Civil War. Its tongue-in-cheek humor and sexual innuendos keep audiences rolling in the aisles and thoroughly entertained from beginning to end.
Whimsically directed by Michael Lluberes, the audience finds themselves easily transported to the early 1860s. However, riddled by anachronisms, we find ourselves in a take on the 1860s that is entirely fresh and novel in performance. Moreover, he has perfectly coached the cast to amp up the zany handful of caricatures that each plays.
The sheer talent possessed by the versatile cast is astounding in performance as well. J. Robert Spencer's spacey Lincoln amuses with ease. Brian Charles Rooney steals the show as Lincoln's main adversaries, both Mary Todd Lincoln and General George B. McClellan. As Mary Todd he astounds audiences with his impressive vocal range, easily landing soprano pitches, and his deftly uproarious rendition of coy feminine sexuality. As McClellan, his dandy foppery is simply sidesplitting. Narrating the production, Herndon Lackey masterfully connects with the audience. Ryan Andes' Lee delightfully maintains a façade of the masculine ideal while he comically exposes what truly hides underneath. He also impresses with a rich bass voice and an uncanny ability to sustain a rumbling low note. The bromantically homoerotic subtext in Michael Abbott, Jr.'s portrayal of Sherman and Paul Whitty's portrayal of Grant is a true highlight of the evening. Also, Ian Lowe's Seward charms the audience with his tangible enthusiasm.
Even in the cramped Ford Foundation Studio Theater at The Pershing Square Signature Center, Seth Easter's detailed Scenic Design aided in transporting audiences to the Civil War era. Likewise, Candida Nichols Costume Design perfectly recreated fashions of the era and iconic ensembles worn by these historical figures.
Despite having its closing performance at NYMF last night, I feel certain this is not the last we have heard of BAYONETS OF ANGST. This clever little show has Off-Broadway transfer written all over it. It's also ripe for regional productions in the various Off-Broadway like houses that dot all theater markets around the globe. With a tag line that reads, "It ain't ya' great-great-great-grandpappy's kinda musical" there really is no better way to define the raucous revelry of this rollicking romp through history. Simply put, BAYONETS OF ANGST is the kind of original and imaginative musical that theatergoers are craving and will cherish.
For more information and tickets to the remaining performances in the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival, please visit http://www.nymf.org.
All photos by Russ Rowland.