Here's a few reviews with links....
There’s a special little show happening deep in the East Village over the course of the next week. Rock concert meets cabaret meets musical, Love is Like Mud is bursting with so much infectious joy it’s practically impossible to stop from tapping your foot along to the music. Nearly ten years in the making, this rock operetta from Benjamin Folstein, accompanied with electric energy by his band Level II, is a simple love story about two young people trying to navigate the tricky waters of dating in New York City.
Fresh off another breakup, much to his parents’ dismay, Jon (Gavin Rohrer) is eager to get back out in the dating world when he asks for a beautiful girl’s number on the subway. Of course both parties want to keep their options open, but as life would have it, they end up falling for each other. What follows are wonderful snippets, in rock music form, of all the firsts of the new relationship between Jon and Anne (Taylor Kate Manns). The first awkward phone conversation, the first date at the way too expensive restaurant navigating which bottle of wine to order, the first invitation to come up to his apartment, and the first vulnerable “I love you,” full of the fear of not hearing it back. It’s familiar territory, especially for those of us who have had to navigate the New York City dating scene, and it paints a beautiful picture of a big bad city where it’s tough to find love but an amazing place to be in it when you find it.
Folstein’s score is the real star of the evening. Somehow evoking RENT, The Last 5 Years, and Avenue Q meets jazz-rock, it’s original, catchy, and diverse. Songs in a rock operetta tend to blend together per the style of the composer, but Love is Like Mudfeatures a myriad of different numbers to fit each situation, and most importantly, it is clear that time and effort have been spent on every song. Add to the mix Alex Koch’s innovative and incredibly entertaining projections and it’s clear that time and effort is the theme of the evening. In a sort of stop motion, Sesame Street style design, Jon and Anne’s world comes to life behind them in a video feed of cardboard buildings and dollhouse furniture that is charming and absolutely hilarious. Folstein has staged the piece around the use of hand microphones, furthering the feeling of being present at a rock concert more than a musical, in a way that still allows characters to interact as necessary and tell the story.
The cast of Love is Like Mud is fantastic. Jay Liebowitz and Elise Reynard are hysterical and completely uninhibited as Jon’s overbearing parents, the couple’s best friends, and a number of other bit parts throughout the show. Gavin Rohrer’s man bun sporting millennial is the epitome of every young guy playing the dating game in the city. He seems completely at ease on the small stage, charming and cool with a bit of a wandering eye, and he has a rock timbre to his voice that is perfectly suited for this show. Taylor Kate Manns has a strong, sultry voice and a wonderfully transparent quality to her performance. Every emotion she experiences is clearly etched across her face and her earnest smiles as she falls in love with Jon are delightful to behold.
The most attractive quality in Love is Like Mud is the lack of pretension throughout the entire evening. It’s very clear that every person involved is just having the time of their lives getting to tell a great story and sing the heck out of some really catchy songs. Folstein has written a piece that isn’t based on a movie or a huge life-changing event, instead it celebrates normalcy in a beautiful way and introduces characters that are recognizable from our own lives.Love is Like Mud is a labor of love and sitting around a little table with a drink in my hand, I found myself completely at ease and really rooting both for Jon and Anne and for the future of this great little show.
Victoria Teague is an actress, writer, and administrator with a degree in theatre performance and a concentration in arts and entertainment marketing from Baylor University. She currently works with Random Access Theatre and Urban Stages and has worked with the Public Theater, Greyman Theatre Company, and Flavorpill in the past.
Monday, August 17, 2015
Review: Adult Swim the Musical
Fringe festivals are notorious for turning any space or venue into a temple of performance. Walking into DROM, you can't help but wonder how the hell a piece of theater could happen on that awkward stage, let alone a musical. But then you have Love Is Like Mud, a show that defies the odds. Written by Benjamin Folstein, Love Is Like Mud is a love story at its core. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl fall out if love. Boy and girl discover they need each other. Boy and girl fall back in love. But Love Is Like Mud is different. It's a high of a musical. With a score infused with alternative rock and ska, among other styles, Love Is Like Mud is like that show on Cartoon Network you turn on at midnight. It's weird and incoherent but completely makes sense. It's like nothing you've seen before. Folstein's piece is concert theater at its finest. It belongs in a rock venue. If you tried to do it in a classic theater, it will get decimated. The music Folstein has written is genius. The songs live in this world, yet they could be given to a rock band for their next album. Or his own. I'm sure many people would buy it. The lyrics are a perfect blend of crass, witty, and sentimental. And the music, with two of the most incredible sax players you can find, is worthy of a repeat listen.
Folstein ends his show with a song that is not a typical closer. In any other musical, "Chemistry" would be that mid show number you forget about. But it's quite fitting that this song exists because the two leads of this show sure got some chemistry! As John and Anne, Gavin Rohrer and Taylor Kate Manns are effervescent. The story they have to act is nothing new. Yet they manage to do something new with it. Manns has a pure vocal. And she happens to blend with her leading man well. And then there is Gavin Rohrer. It's criminal that Gavin Rohrer isn't a star. The kid's got talent with a voice that transcends styles. Sure John is a bit of a douche, but Rohrer makes him loveable. As the ensemble players, Jay Liebowitz and Elise Reynard provide great support, emotionally and vocally.
It's pretty rare for a writer to put on the director hat and succeed. Folstein does that. And it's all in part because he knows what this show is. And has four brilliant actors. He used the microphone device consistently. And he used the space to his advantage. It was tight but it worked. The comparison to that odd late night TV programming is partially due to the stop motion created and designed by Alex Koch and Birdhouse Studios projected during the show. How Folstein and his team expertly timed the movie with the action in the limited world of Fringe is amazing. Without this element, it's possible the show would not have been as strong. Kudos to Folstein and his brilliant work.
Love Is Like Mud knows what it is and where it wants to go. Throw it in a seedy bar in the village for a late night engagement and it will run for years. Guaranteed. Folstein did his homework and it paid off immensely.
Over the years, musical theater has certainly seen its fair share of romantic comedies—from 1970′s Company to 2011′s First Date—the concept of young people finding love onstage seems almost as ancient and time-honored a ritual as love itself. However, none seem to match the irreverent and brashy style of Level II Theatre’s Love is Like Mud. Presented as part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival, at intimate downtown venue Drom, Mud sets itself apart as a delightful, fizzy romantic comedy “cocktail”—heavy on the comedy.
At the show’s open, we meet lovelorn Jon (Gavin Rohrer), as he, following a recent breakup, laments to his parents about the merits of love. In an attempt to comfort his son, Marshal (Jay Liebowitz) memorably dispenses this piece of wisdom: “It’s pliable, dirty. Love isn’t like a diamond. It’s more like…mud.” With this thought in mind, Jon enters once more into the breach, braving the city streets alone in search of that messy thing called love—until, like a clod of dirt in the face, it finds him. In what could only be described as a “Missed Connections” advertisement come to life and set to music, Jon meets Anne (Taylor Kate Manns) after recognizing her from their regular commute home (“Same Spot Again”). He asks her out, and after the success of their first date (“Excellent Choice”), they embark on a relationship together. For a while, all is well and at the height of their time together, even Jon’s parents get in on the act, prodding them about taking that “next step” in their relationship (“Grandkids”).
Soon afterward, the “honeymoon goggles” come off and their seemingly-blissful phase starts to wane. In a complete turnaround, Anne begins to recount Jon’s faults (“The Little Things”) and Jon, for his part, soon develops that ever-dreaded roving eye (“Wanderlust”). The two eventually part ways, and at the instruction of their friends, drunken metal-head Angelo and yoga health-nut Maya (also played by Liebowitz and Elise Raynard, respectively), try playing the field (“Revolving Doors”). But as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after bumping into one another at a farmer’s market, Jon and Anna both realize that they’re only stronger together (“Other Girls [The Only One Ever]“).
As far as romantic comedies go, Mud doesn’t stray too far from the pack, plot-wise. However, its clever coupling of onstage antics—particularly those concerning plush genitalia—and campy song lyrics provide a much-needed offbeat kick. Writer-director Benjamin Folstein’s band, Level II, lends much of Mud‘s comedic flair through its catalog of original songs, which references influences from jazz to 90s pop-rock. Both lyrically and structurally, the songs do not follow the traditional musical theater format, presenting a unique take on the genre that is ultimately much fresher than the show’s “dirty” name implies.
It is the aforementioned performances of the actors, however, which certainly add the “oomph” to the music’s kick. As the two twenty-somethings at the center of the show, Rohrer and Manns demonstrate great chemistry with one another, both vocally and physically. The latter’s solo performance in the middle of the show (“There You Are”)—reminiscent of Karessa’s solo in Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, another off-Broadway hit— definitely brought the house down. For their part, Liebowitz and Raynard are the perfect foils to the more even-tempered lead duo, providing much of the show’s comedic relief.
Love is patient, love is kind; but what they never tell you is that it’s also kind of a hot mess. Folstein and Level II Theatre’s Love is Like Mud gets down to the nitty-gritty of it all, while also gettin’ down to some good, ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. The music may not always feature pretty little love songs, but they still get to the heart of the matter. That is, after all, what love’s about.
Level II Theatre’s production of Love is Like Mud ran at the DROM (85 Avenue A between 5th and 6th Street) in Manhattan from August 15-29 at the New York International Fringe Festival. For more information about this production, visit www.loveislikemud.com.