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Festival Review: Broadway’s Next Hit Musical

[Written by Vejay Steede]

“You had to be there.” It’s a phrase designed to describe the indescribable. If you hear it, you know that whatever is being talked about was, in a word, unique. Well, that’s really the only way that Broadway’s Next Hit Musical can be described; unique as all get out, with a dash of … “You had to be there.”

Broadway’s Next Hit Musical [BNHM] landed at the Fairmont Southampton like a strutting New York City pigeon on Saturday night. The show, which was running for its second consecutive night, was an eclectic mix of song, dance, and slapstick that had the audience in stitches at times, and in awe at other times.

The luxurious Mid Ocean Amphitheater was the venue, and hilarity was on the menu. From the appetizer, a quick witted and often hysterically self-deprecating Rob Shiffmann, to the dessert, a twenty-or-so-minute musical prepared before our very eyes, this was a meal well worth fasting for.

The proceedings were kicked off a bit after 7.30pm with a warm welcome from Bermuda Festival Director T.J. Armand. Within minutes we were being showered with sweet, but sometimes clunky, local references from Rob Shiffmann. The sentiment was there though, and the audience certainly appreciated the effort. Mr. Shiffmann and the show’s Musical Director, Gary Adler set the stage expertly, describing the show we were about to enjoy with considerable showmanship and flair.

Introducing the BNHM players as a veritable “Who’s THAT?! of the entertainment industry” [a hilarious riff on the familiar, and often smug, “Who’s WHO …”], Rob had our laugh reflexes well-oiled and ready to flex.

The premise of the show was simple; the audience had been asked to write a suggested song title on small cards prior to entering the amphitheater. The title had to be completely original and as wacky as possible. The cards were then put in a large bowl and taken to the stage, where the players would choose a card from the bowl and compose a completely original, improvised song from the title on the card they picked.

Furthermore, each player would create a musical title from the song title, and present the scene that the song came from with help from the other players. This was all part of the prestigious “Phony Award,” [instead of Tony Awards … get it?] which each song had been nominated for. So, if you don’t understand my outline of this premise, well, you had to be there.

Robert Z. Grant was the first player to present a nominated song. Mr. Grant was instantly charming, greeting the audience with a humble, “Can you see me?” in all of his 6 foot 6 inch glory. After that tongue-in-cheek salutation, Robert picked a card from the bowl and read out the irreverent song title, “I Have a Banana in My Ear.”

Within seconds Mr. Grant was presenting “I Have a Banana in My Ear” as the hit song from the musical “Doing It Wrong.” Five minutes of improvised tomfoolery ensued, as the other three cast members joined Robert onstage to present the scene that made “I Have a Banana in My Ear” famous. The first nominee for the Phony Award was thusly rendered, and we were all the more wise for it.

Daniel Tepper was the next presenter. Mr. Tepper delivered a competent rendition of the upbeat “French Philly,” from the musical “Great Britain, Great Times,” a period piece. The idea that this piece was made up on the spot made it quite impressive, but it was still the most forgettable piece of the four nominees.

Next up was Deborah Rabbai, who wowed the audience with impressive vocals and an irresistible charm during her rendition of “Unicorn Tears and Butterfly Hearts,” from the musical “The One in Tights.” This sketch was easily the most memorable of the night, as it featured an uproarious supporting turn from Robert Z. Grant as the titular “One in Tights.”

Ms. Rabbai heaped on the skill as she not only picked a random, and very wacky, song title from the bowl, but she also went back in and picked another card to use as the featured lyric from the nominated song. The lyric? “My wife left me, my dog died.”

Yeah; she composed a completely fresh, freestyled Broadway musical style song using the title “Unicorn Tears and Butterfly Hearts,” featuring the lyric “My wife left me, my dog died.” Yeah; you had to be there.

Katie Hammond rounded out the nominations with the affable “Glossy Lips,” from the musical “Because Mommy Said So.” This was a story about the often sickening lengths that some parents go to for baby and child beauty pageant glory. The sketch was well rendered, and hilarity was present, but the subject matter was quite heavy, even though the song was considerably light hearted. The male members of the cast ramped up the slapstick during this one by playing catch with their pretend babies in the background. Imagining it doesn’t do the hilarity justice; you definitely had to be there for this one.

Once all the nominees had been presented, each cast member stood before the audience to garner approval and thereby gauge a winner. Based on crowd noise alone, Deborah Rabbai was the unanimous winner. It’s fair to suggest here, that Robert Z. Grant’s role in her piece probably had a bit to do with “Unicorn Tears and Butterfly Hearts” winning the prestigious Phoney Award on Saturday night.

After an approximately 15 minute break, the cast returned to the stage in full costumes to deliver a surprisingly satisfying rendition of the completely improvised and freshly rendered musical, “The One in Tights.”

Deborah Rabbai was enchanting as the love-struck Princess; torn between an arranged marriage to a pompous Prince and her strong love for a humble gardener. Daniel Tepper was mirthful as the hyper-materialistic Prince, who was preparing to marry the Princess. Katie Hammond was delightfully apathetic as the witch who enchanted the One in Tights to prevent him from destroying the Prince’s [who, turns out, was also her son] planned marriage to the Princess. But Robert Z. Grant … he was simply riotous as the ridiculously long-legged One in Tights: a humble gardener who loved a Princess.

I’m pretty sure that if Mr. Grant did one of those online DNA screenings, he’d find that he might have some giraffe in his DNA. Funny stuff. And all improvised. Musical Director Gary Adler was impeccable throughout the evening, adding a seamless musical backdrop for all the improvised shenanigans the players presented. What an absolutely gleeful night! You really should’ve been there.

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