Capital Fringe Review: ‘LOVE, NY’ by Tobias Franzén

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Theater professionals have a love/hate relationship with the Big Apple. It is the upper echelon of the theater world, and so many attempt to make way there, but so few actually achieve their dreams. This love/hate relationship of New York City is at the center of Robert Rokicki and Michael Ruby’s new musical, LOVE, NY, produced at the 2013 Capital Fringe festival by La-Ti-Do. The plot revolves around an ensemble cast, as they try to make their way in the city that you love to hate.

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At curtain, we’re introduced to Benji (Robert Mueller) on his first day in the city in “Hello New York.” He has just graduated from college, and is starting a new job on Madison Ave. as an advertising intern. Through the opening number, we meet Daniel (Lou Steele), Benji’s boss, a man who wants to make films, but feels stuck at his job just to get by, Laura (Robyn Swirling), Daniel’s long time girlfriend who is trying to make it as a dancer/actor, Hailey (Caroline Mahoney), a grad student at NYU, and Emily (Samantha Keogh), a second grade teacher in the Bronx who just can’t keep a guy. The opening number swirls from the streets to a train car and back again, as the audience gets to know what living in New York is like through these characters’ eyes.

I admit, I am a sucker for a good musical, and this production got me into a good place. The songs were upbeat and lively; there were laughs throughout, and as in many musicals, when the story got a bit grim it bounced back with a song to put things into perspective. This is particularly true about Robert Mueller’s performance, who plays an over eager and spirited Benji, who is excited about all the things he sees in New York and the people he meets.

In my favorite song of the show, Benji and Daniel have both just had experiences that have rocked their worlds, and so they sing a song about “Freaking the Fuck Out.” It is Mueller’s extremely manic portrayal that has stuck with me, as his character has such highs and lows that the only way to render it is to go to those extremes. His voice made such interesting noises as he goes through his feelings that you have to laugh when he laughs, and especially laugh when he cries.

It would also be amiss of me if I did not mention the extraordinary versatility of the ensemble members, particularly David Carter, who portrayed a variety of New York staples, such as the kabob kiosk vendor, the coffee shop barista, the occupy movement girl, and salon girls. David Carter’s many characters were as diverse as they were funny, bringing own the house with his one-liners.

I’d like to give special praise to the design of the show. I can’t imagine the horror of putting on a musical at Fringe with low storage space and fifteen minute put up and breakdown times, but with a very minimalist set design, the world of New York was created. A bare black bench could be used as a bed, a park bench, and cinema seats, while rehearsal cubes could just as easily represent chairs as a shop counter. This minimalistic design allowed for the characters to mold the world for the audience, instead of having the design distinclty represent a specific time and place.

If you’re looking for a good time and to have fun at a Fringe show, consider LOVE, NY. It’ll make you want to try out New York City for yourself.

Running Time: 85 minutes.

LOVE, NY plays through July 26, 2013 at Mountain – at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.

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