BWW Reviews: NYMF's HELD MOMENTARILY is an Interesting Work in Progress
When I think of The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), I typically think of quirky musicals that would otherwise slip through the cracks of mainstream theatre. Something about the presentations at NYMF, from content to performance, is unusual, adventurous, and working to broaden the tropes of musical theater as a whole. HELD MOMENTARILY: A NEW MUSICAL, with book, music, and lyrics by Oliver Houser, fits perfectly into this box, and given its previous performance history at 2014's New York International Fringe Festival, that is no surprise.
NYMF is a playground for musicals in progress, and this festival allows works to be shown to an audience while still being in development. HELD MOMENTARILY is an admirable effort and overall an enjoyable show. As I saw it on a day when the air conditioner at PTC Performance Space seemed to not be working, the fact that the show managed to entertain anyone at all is a true testament to the show's ability to captivate. As our sweat soaked into the seat cushions, Houser's cast found a way to enthrall the audience in spite of the multitude of programs flapping back and forth through the air.
During the performance I saw, I found the show's most interesting character to be the one the book seemed the most unsure how to utilize. India Carney, who you may recognize from The Voice, breathes invigorating life into the homeless woman Asherah. As the plot unfolds, it is unclear if Asherah is a mysticAl Clairvoyant, the all-knowing fool ala a Shakespearean play, or the dregs of society meant to help the other characters find that spark of humanity within. With the device behind Asherah's purpose muddled, Yael Rizowy's unassuming Sam, who just happens to be pregnant, unintentionally battles Carney's Asherah for which character actually should bring about the positive change in the other characters.
Across the board characterization in HELD MOMENTAIRLY is moving in the right direction. The presentation at NYMF introduced the audiences to broadly painted stereotypes that could be refined and tightened if the writer wants to play with our heartstrings. If something more irreverent is his aim, then he needs to elevate the stereotypes into being completely laughable caricatures and up the ante in the humor. No matter which route he picks, based on what I saw at NYMF, I am fairly confident he and his team be able to find their legs. Until then, Stan's (Jordan Barrow) acceptance of his boyfriend's cheating on him on his birthday simply as being part of an open relationship that wasn't discussed between both partners as a standard rule in a gay relationships is rather offensive. Likewise, the creatives may want to look into exposing audiences to why Asherah is a black female. What does her ethnicity and gender bring to her role? How do they inform her arc?
As a Texas transplant to New York, I definitely understand the premise of the show. We all hate when MTA leaves us stranded en route on a train that is being held momentarily. When those moments creep on ad infinitum we get more and more frustrated, and why not make a musical about all the crazy things that can happen in these well-known subterranean tunnels once the train stops? The concept is clever. The music, while not infectious earwigs, is fun theatrical pop. I have no doubt that we'll see more of HELD MOMENTARILY in the future.