“An Unfinished Symphony”***
By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)
From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side posts reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter
I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or a criticism to say that the New York Musical Festival production of Overture, which takes place in Kansas City, looks like it takes place in, well, Kansas City. The cast emulates a definitive Midwestern vibe—not the most polished, but charming and earnest. Overture tells the true story, set in 1953, of the flailing Kansas City Philharmonic through a fictional romance that falls flat. If Krista Eyler sought simply to write an old-fashioned musical comedy from the 50s, then she succeeded. The production that, reportedly, was successful in the 2018 Kansas City Fringe Festival lacks the modern perspective to appeal to a savvy New York City audience. (For numerous production photos, click here.)
The leading lady is Lily (Eyler, who wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the book with director Barbara Nichols), whose passion for classical music is encapsulated in a beautiful ballad about “her favorite sounds in the world.” Because she is gradually going deaf, she long ago gave up a career in music and resigned herself to ticket sales in the box office; she is happy being on the street where the orchestra lives. That is, until she meets Christopher (Joel Morrison), who is disenchanted with the music biz because he can’t seem to advance beyond assistant conductor.
The two begin at odds with each other but get over it pretty quickly and begin to fall in love. Lily resists the romance, terrified that Christopher will learn she is losing her hearing. The spunky woman who snuck off to orchestra rehearsals earlier in the show is now mainly concerned about disappointing the guy she’s into. Spoiler alert: when Christopher finally learns the truth, he’s pretty meh about it and even hands her the baton to lead the KC Philharmonic with zero rehearsal.
The subplot more successfully strikes a chord, telling the true story of how the community came together to save the KC Phil from going under, largely thanks to the Women’s Committee, whose cookbook sales brought in much of the needed funds. Though real-life figures Inda Mae Beaseley, Marie McCune, and Clara Hockaday (Kay Noonan, Erica Baruth, and Stasha Case, respectively) draw the bulk of the show’s laughs (Baruth is especially funny), their goofy characterizations undermine the weight of the tremendous efforts of these women to rescue the KC Phil through creative fundraising tactics.
Eyler delivers a colorful score laden with clever classical musical references in the lyrics. Also colorful are the women’s shoes, which I found myself staring at a whole lot, along with the elegant dresses of the period (costume design by Joanna Windler).
Full of heart, Overture is chock full of enthusiastic performances from the original Kansas City cast. If the script gets the tune-up it needs, perhaps the production will orchestrate a second movement.
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 W42nd st., NYC
[Closed July 28]
Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. firstname.lastname@example.org @elyseorecchio