Seamus Mulcahy, left, and John Patrick Doherty "Billy Witch."
Lust, Longing and Lanyards: Ah, Camp
‘Billy Witch,’ Onstage in Queens
By ANDY WEBSTER
Published: November 13, 2012
In his gleeful romp “Billy Witch,” Gregory S. Moss (“punkplay”) takes familiar ingredients of high school horror — summer camp, a lake, a forest, ghost stories — and hurls them into a whirlwind of comic sexual awakening.
The audience at the Astoria Performing Arts Center gathers before a curtain to meet Counselor Becky (Dawn Luebbe) and Counselor James (Nicholas Urda) and hear opening remarks from the camp’s imperious director, P D Lockwood (John Patrick Doherty). Then we are admitted to Camp Blue Triangle, nicely rendered in Tim Brown’s tree-laden set. (Chris Barlow, the sound designer, provides unobtrusively effective cricket chirps and owl hoots.)
The campers include the 14-year-old Oliver (Seamus Mulcahy), a shy outsider seeking to change his life. Change certainly arrives, thanks to puberty, not to mention Oliver’s fair-weather friend Arden (a petulant and amusing Eric Bryant), a boy of drastically arbitrary moods and sexual preferences; the mysterious Kid (Andy Phelan), who strikes a bargain with Oliver; Sandy (Liz Wisan), a garrulous gossip and flirt; and Miranda (Aimee Howard), a shy girl with eyes (and tentacles) for Oliver. We also learn about Billy Witch, a camper who in 1982 vanished in suspicious circumstances and has haunted the premises ever since.
As directed by Erik Pearson, the show pursues strange tangents — Lockwood’s comically terrifying lecture about women, the counselors’ unsettling arts-and-crafts presentation on the preparation and meaning of God’s-eyes— but doesn’t lag. (Nor does the buoyant cast.) And you may never again see the first tentative kiss of adolescence exchanged between a boy and a bespectacled she-squid.
“Billy Witch” continues through Saturday at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 30-44 Crescent Street, at 30th Road, Astoria, Queens; (866) 811-4111, apacny.org.
Astoria Performing Arts Center Presents Galt MacDermot's THE HUMAN COMEDY 5/5-5/21
Wednesday, February 16, 2011;
Posted: 07:02 PM - by BWW News Desk
The Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) announces the reunion of their award-winning Children of Eden team with their upcoming production of Galt MacDermot's (HAIR) musical, The Human Comedy. With libretto by William Dumaresq based on the story by William Saroyan, the production will be directed by APAC Artistic Director Tom Wojtunik and music directed by Jeffrey Campos, reuniting IT Award Nominee Christine O'Grady as choreographer, IT Award Recipient Michael P. Kramer as set designer, Hunter Kaczorowski as costume designer and casting by wojcik|seay casting.
"The Human Comedy has one of the best scores ever written for a musical," remarks Wojtunik. "When it opened on Broadway in 1984, its intimate story was no match for the trend of over-the-top spectacle musicals. APAC will bring this deserving and gorgeous piece back to New York City in a thrilling new production, as we did with our critically-acclaimed revivals of Ragtime and Children of Eden."
The coming-of-age tale focuses on young Homer Macauley, a telegram messenger who is exposed to the sorrows and joys experienced by his family and the residents of his small California town during World War II. Homer's mother Kate is struggling to support her children following the death of her husband, his older brother Marcus is in the Army, his teenaged sister Bess daydreams about romance, and his younger brother Ulysses divides his attention between the passing trains and an unrequited desire to know why his father had to die. An ode to "home," The Human Comedy is one of the most enjoyable and moving musicals to have fallen into relative obscurity.
William Dumaresq (Libretto) Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1930, Dumaresq original set out to be an English teacher. In 1962 he moved to England to attend the University of London, where he was sidetracked when he met Galt MacDermot, another Canadian ex-pat with whom he began writing and producing songs. Together they wrote the screenplay and music for Duffer (1971), a film based on Dumaresq's yet-to-be-published novel of the same title. Their final collaboration was an adaptation of The Human Comedy, based on a story by William Saroyan, for which Dumaresq contributed the libretto. The two also collaborated on a British musical, Isabel's a Jezebel, loosely based on a Grimm's fairy tale, it premiered on London's West End in 1970. After suffering a non-fatal stroke at the door of his workplace in 1992, Dumaresq was diagnosed with cancer. He died in England in 1998.
Galt MacDermot (Composer) A Grammy and Tony-award winning composer, MacDermot is best known for the music he wrote for the Broadway scores of HAIR and Two Gentlemen of Verona. His work spans the gamut of performing arts: musicals, ballet scores, film scores, chamber music, the Anglican liturgy, orchestral, poetry, drama accompaniments, band repertory and opera. Film scores include Rhinoceros, Cotton Comes to Harlem, Mistress and HAIR. He draws inspiration from a wealth of musical styles, crossing the boundaries of jazz, folk, funk, gospel, reggae, and classical styles. Galt was inducted into the 2009 Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
The Human Comedy at the Young Vic
Photograph by Keith Pattison
Galt trip: MacDermot's masterful Human Comedy gets revived in QueensPosted in Upstaged by Adam Feldman on Feb 15, 2011 at 3:25pm
Manhattanites in search of good theater have grown accustomed to traveling to Brooklyn more than they used to. But recently, the Off-Off Broadway scene has started to get a foothold in Queens. For example, Long Island Theatre's Secret Theatre, home to the Queens Players, has earned notice for its wide range of new and classical productions. And then there is the Astoria Performing Arts Center, a modest outfit distinguished by its excellent taste in material. "I’m not coming at it from a ‘safe’ point of view," APAC artistic director Tom Wojtunik told an interviewer last year. "I start with the biggest vision and look for the story I want to tell." That ambition shines through in the company's programming choices, which are only getting bolder. APAC's tenth-anniversary season began in the fall with a revival of MilkMilkLemonade, Joshua Conkel's 2009 Off-Off Broadway sissy-farmboy parable. And now TONY has learned that the troupe will return in May with an ambitious staging of one of the greatest musicals you've probably never heard: Hair composer Galt MacDermot's deeply underrated The Human Comedy, a sweeping, homespun everyman epic that show-tune authority Ken Mandelbaum has called "the great American pop opera."
Adapted from William Saroyan's neomythic novel, MacDermot's nearly through-sung musical debuted at the Public Theater in 1983, to mixed but generally appreciative reviews. Writing for the Times, Frank Rich noted that Saroyan and MacDermot shared "a rhapsodic, Whitmanesque vision of this country"; praising Wilford Leach's lean production, which unfolded on a nearly bare stage, he compared the production to Thornton Wilder's Our Town. "But Mr. MacDermot's music is far more sophisticated than the ambience suggests," Rich continued. "What usually prevents Saroyan's novel from becoming saccharine is its style: the riffs of language and the edgy, eccentric narrative events. The composer preserves that tone in his score, which is written in the true operatic manner, recitatives included. As befits Saroyan's pantheistic sense of community, the music is also highly eclectic: it encompasses gospel, jazz, swing, hymns, barbershop harmonies, blues and plaintive lullabies that almost might have been written by Woody Guthrie."
Eight years later, in his indispensable Not Since Carrie, theater historian Mandelbaum seconded Rich's appreciation. "MacDermot's music, one of the most sophisticated scores of the last decade, combined country, forties swing, and classical lyricism into a wholly unique, original mixture," he wrote. "Saroyan's novel was a rich subject for American opera, and its musical version not only captured Saroyan's tone of sentimental sweetness perfectly, but actually gave the story more weight and made it more moving than it was in the novel or film. If [Bill] Dumaresq's lyrics were occasionally primitive, they lay well on MacDermot's finest score. Stylistically in a class by itself, it was a beautifully executed adaptation but probably too special a show to have ever succeeded on Broadway."
And succeed on Broadway it did not. When the musical transferred from the Public to the Royale Theatre in the spring of 1984, it did not get the critical support that it deserved, and—lost in the shuffle of a busy season that also included Sunday in the Park with George, La Cage Aux Folles, The Rink, The Tap Dance Kid and Baby—it closed after just 13 performances. It was, in short, theCaroline, or Change of its day, and it received only a single Tony nomination: for Stephen Geoffreys as its central character, Homer. (Geoffreys's life since then has been an epic unto itself: After going on to star in the 1985 vampire flick Fright Night, he began a career slide that bottomed out in the mid-1990s when he appeared, under the pseudonym Sam Ritter, in a number of ultrashabby hardcore gay-porn videos.)
In the past few years, however, The Human Comedy has been staging a comeback. After more than a decade on the shelf, a two-disk, two-hour cast album of the original production—whose cast included Rex Smith, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Olga Merediz (plus Donna Murphy and Cass Morgan in the chorus)—was finally released in 1997, correcting an injustice that Mandelbaum had lamented in print. MacDermot has been the subject of sustained renewed interest, with major recent revivals not only of 1967's Hair but also of his Tony-winning 1971 Two Gentlemen of Verona. And London's Young Vic mounted a full production of The Human Comedy in September, with 100 people in the cast, to launch its 40th season.
Astoria Performing Arts Center's revival, directed by Wojtunik, runs from May 5 through May 21, and tickets are now on sale for just $18. Is The Human Comedy a show whose time has come? Take time to go to Queens and find out.