Musical theater festival pushes boundaries in NYC

By Mark Kennedy

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 23 2011 8:15 a.m. MDT

"Even if you were to mount on your own in New York City a small production of your musical, it would get lost in the shuffle," says Dobrish, a co-founder of the Midtown Direct Rep company in New Jersey who has helmed four shows at the festival in recent years. "NYMF already has a curating body. So if you've made it to NYMF, presumably somebody who knows what they're doing has selected the show and said, 'This show has merit.'"

That's happily what happened to "Outlaws: The Ballad of Billy the Kid," which makes its world premiere at the festival. The show explores the gunslinger through the lens of America's love of fame, and stars Corey Boardman as the title character. Boardman eagerly returns to the festival after having been in a show a few years ago that was invited to South Korea.

"There's nothing like being able to originate a part," says Boardman, who, as an added bonus this year, has been trained in gun spinning. "I'm praying I don't drop my gun on stage and lose my cool factor for the entire show," he adds, laughing.

While the festival has carved out a spot over the past eight years in the busy New York calendar, change is coming. This will be the last festival in the fall: Hurwitz is moving the festival to July, when empty theaters are more plentiful and his shows don't have to compete with the start of Broadway's season.

"I'm really excited about that change," he says. "I think it's going to move our event to the next level and give it a greater profile and allow us to be more impactful for the artists who are taking part."

Hurwitz's office during a recent visit was a buzz of excitement. He and his five-person team have secured five main theaters — including The Theater at St. Clements, The Signature Theatre's Peter Norton Space and New World Stages — sharing productions. Some shows have only one cast member (Ennio Marchetto's origami show, for example), while the Jane Austen musical has a 20-person cast and a band. Organizing all this is not easy.

"The schedule itself is like a huge Sudoku," says Hurwitz.

One playwright and musician who credits the festival with nurturing his career is Marcus Hummon, a Grammy Award-winner who lives in Nashville, Tenn. "Tut," his show with director and choreographer Abdel Salaam, interweaves the story of the pharaoh with Howard Carter, the man credited with discovering King Tutankhamun's tomb. It's Hummon's third entry at the festival and is billed as an "entirely unique oratorio-dance hybrid."

"I consider myself to be an example of what makes the NYMF really so great," Hummon says by phone from Tennessee. "It's designed for those of us ... who maybe can't move to New York, but are very, very involved in musical theater. It gives us a chance at a showcase."

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Online:

http:www.NYMF.org

Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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