By Marilyn Lester
One beauty of a democracy is the right of free speech and artistic expression. The world premiere of the new musical, America’s Favorite Newscaster, illustrates this fact in its very existence as a stage work and in its content. One of its several themes tackles the responsibilities of journalistic integrity. Other lines of inquiry examine personal integrity, the meaning of truth, and the balance of work and family, as well as current world crises. The goals of America’s Favorite Newscaster are thus lofty, but the end result is a mixed bag of what works and what doesn’t.
With book and lyrics by Tom Attea and music by Arthur Abrams, America’s Favorite Newscaster simply tries to do too much, and in its over-reach muddies the salient points at its core. Broadly, the story is about a young, highly rated TV anchorman who hits the wall reporting the challenges of today’s news cycle. His own journalistic conflict is abetted by an ultimatum from his heavily pregnant wife to, in essence, get a grip, or be banished from home and hearth. Isaac Miller as Evan Fury, the anchorman, is an appealing presence, with a serviceable voice, and enough charm and skill to put his character solidly across. Alexandra Schwartz, as his wife, Cheryl, proves unsympathetic as a self-involved, whiny spouse. It’s a one-note interpretation that could use some layering. Supporting characters, including Matt Gorsky as Evan’s boss, Richard, and Juan Villegas as fellow newsman, Brent, add to the production with solid acting skills and believability. At the philosophical center of the piece is “The President” – never to be named, and never named, but clearly “you-know-who.” Playing the character, in dark suit and red tie, with a wig crafted to get the laughs, is David O. Friedman, whose imitation of the currently sitting occupant of the White House is fine-tuned and hilarious.
America’s Favorite Newscaster, in its two acts, would be better served with some judicious cutting and dramaturgy. Played on a large stage with areas designated as sets for action, the piece is rangy and gives the appearance of being scattershot. Tightening would benefit it. Billed as a musical, the music is another element that could benefit from reworking or even elimination. The melodies are pleasant, but the lyrics are banal and don’t move the story forward in any significant way. The exception is “Floating Above the Facts,” delivered by The President, and nailing the current dilemma of “fake news.” It’s quite possible that America’s Favorite Newscaster would actually play more effectively as a play with music. Pedestrian and sometimes silly choreography by Angela Harriell and lackluster direction by Mark Marcante also don’t help to elevate the work.
By and large, the cast is to be commended for striving to give America’s Favorite Newscaster a leg up. Gabrielle Sarrubo, Robert Homeyer, Justin Rodriguez and Kate McMorran as various characters and ensemble players comport themselves well in their roles. A short but effective turn by David F. Slone, Esq. is notable for its authenticity and capacity to delight. High marks also go to Alex Santullo for Costume Design. Additional credits go to Lighting Designer Alexander Bartenieff, Sound Designer Desiree Conston, and Stage Manager Clay West. Musicians Melody Fader (piano), Ralph Hamperian (bass) and Art Lilliard (drums) provided solid musical support.
America’s Favorite Newscaster, Thursday, January 4, 2018 through Sunday, January 28, 2018, to be performed on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00PM. (Opening Night is Thursday, January 18, 2018, at 7PM, an hour earlier than all other evening performances.)
Photos: Glenna Friedman Public Relations
Theater For the New City, 155 1st Avenue, between East 9th and East 10th Streets, 212-254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min with intermission