Wednesday, February 10, 2010

24 Hour Party People

Posted by David

Monday night I had the great fortune to attend the Third(?) Annual 24 Hour Musicals, hosted by the eXchange (yes, that is how they write it) to benefit The Orchard Project. This yearly event pulls together writers, composers, lyricists, directors and actors and gives them 24 hours to create and perform a completely original musical set-piece.

The event was held at the Gramercy Theater on Lexington Ave and 23rd Street. My friend Blossom brought the event to my attention (or re-brought it, as I had been aware of it but had yet to attend) and we scored some tickets on the TDF discount ticket website.

Here's how the whole things shakes down: at 8PM on Sunday evening, the organizers call in a bunch of actors, ranging from folks you've never heard of to Broadway vets like Cady Huffman, Darius DeHaas and Nancy Opel. They audition for four teams of librettist, composer, director and musical director, including such luminaries as Moisés Kaufman and Kathleen Turner. The teams select the performers they want and then go off for the remainder of the night to write the musical, a brief 15 minute set-piece. Early the next morning, the actors return and begin to rehearse, learning the lines, the music and lyrics and then learning the staging and choreography. By 8PM the following night, the audience arrives and the performances are shot out of a cannon onto the stage with each musical director on keyboard and a set pit of guitar and percussion.

The results?  Delirious good fun.

There were four pieces this year: You Can See the East River From Here, Too; Anti-Valentines; The First of His Heart; and What's Wrong With Twinkie?

Before any of the musical madness began, the evening started with a brief documentary by Elisabeth Sperling that showed the audience snippets of the process, giving a fuller picture of the effort that went into this, and the delightfully madcap spirits of the various artists involved.  The auditions were a riot.  Since all the actors were already going to be performing regardless, they had a lot of fun showing their vocal chops.  My favorite was the actress who sang a torchy rendition of "On Top of Spaghetti."  They were also apparently instructed to bring oddball props for incorporation into the shows.  Items included a neck brace and a zebra-print snuggie.

After the auditions, the actors were sent home and the creative teams gathered with polaroids of the potential cast members and, by drawing numbers from a bag to indicate their order of selection, chose their performers.  It had the feel of a less-steroidal NFL draft pick.  The creative teams then set off to begin the work.  Throughout the night, scenes of feverish creation ensued as names of characters were bandied about and ideas were proposed and discarded.  Early the next morning the casts arrived and began to rehearse the work with the directors and musical directors.  And then sooner than any of them probably would have like, it was evening and show time.

All four shows were enjoyable and, quite remarkably, two of the casts were completely off book.  The first work was You Can See the East River From Here, Too, a bittersweet three-person piece.  A recently divorced couple find themselves as the only attendees at a speed-dating event, much to their dismay.  Then another woman arrives whose outward brassiness hides a vulnerable soul.  A lovely snapshot of three lonely New Yorkers.
You Can See the East River From Here, Too
book by Jonathan Bernstein
music and lyrics by Jeanine Tesori
directed by Ted Sperling
musical director Alex Lacamoire
Cast: John Ellison Conlee, Dee Roscioli, Katie Thompson

Next up was Anti-Valentines.  It is the evening of Valentines Day and, as is often the case, two people meet unexpectedly and fall in love.  On the Brooklyn Bridge.  As they are preparing to leap to their deaths.  They are interrupted by another couple who are nauseatingly in love.  Need I say hilarity ensues?
book by Julia Jordan
music and lyrics by Jeff Blumenkrantz
directed by Moisés Kaufman
musical director Martyn Axe
Cast: Celia Keenan-Bolger, Michael Winther, Marnie Schulenburg, Zachary Prince

After the intermission we were treated to The First of His Heart in which a doctor of broken hearts (are you starting to see a theme here?) treats an actor playing Romeo who had fallen in love with his Juliet, only to find out she was a hard-core Method actor who then killed herself at the opening night performance.  An unorthodox treatment of the patient, including the use of a zebra-print snuggie provides a cure.
The First of His Heart
book by Jonathan Marc Sherman
music and lyrics by Adam Gwon (a former colleague of mine!!)
directed by Trip Cullman
musical director Oran Eldor
Cast: Julian Fleisher, Nancy Opel, Darius DeHaas

The evening concluded with What's Wrong With Twinkie? a story of a vet, her assistant and a client who is wildly devoted to her dog.  Or is he really just a homeless man with a fake dog head?  Shocking revelations ensue, ending in - what else - a kick-line.
What's Wrong With Twinkie?
book by Josh Koenigsberg
music and lyrics by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler
directed by Kathleen Turner
musical director Dan Riddle
Cast: Alicia Witt, Cady Huffman, Raven-Symoné, Mo Rocca

Thanks to an acquaintance of Blossom's and mine, a fellow named Lane, we scored passes to the after-party nearby.  BTW, Lane is one of the head people at Broadway Impact, the grassroots group started by the Theater community to push for national marriage equality!

It was a great night, a long but fantastic Monday, and a cool way to start the week.


  1. Wow David, that sounds so cool and exhausting for everyone. I suppose the adrenalin keeps you going near the end. Even included some of my fave Iron Chef judges. :-D

  2. Damn, David, you get to do the neatest things!!