Shows & Reviews

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Jody Williams, Theater Review, Zeal NYC
Anyone even remotely aware of current American politics has at one point thought, “is this really happening?” Whether you are conservative, liberal, a little of both, or nothing at all, it’s likely that a person you have thought about supporting has done something odd or downright unbelievable. Clearly Tom Attea, the playwright and lyricist of Heather Smiley For Presidentwas smart enough to capitalize on this idea.
Picture your favorite Saturday Night Live political sketches and add music, which I personally believe makes everything a little easier to understand, and you have Heather Smiley For President. Unafraid to draw liberally from real life and incorporate things that have only been whispered in your inner circles, the candidates in this play are outrageous and hilarious. Heather Smiley, played by Rebecca Holt, is a former Secretary of State and First Lady hoping to become the nation’s first female president. Sound familiar? Oh, and her husband Bob, played by Joris Stuyck has a lazy southern drawl and is a little too friendly with his wife’s speech-writer (played by Nellesa Walthour). Are you laughing yet? Heather is an overly confident woman hoping to get voters’ support by reminding them how much she and her husband were struggling financially after leaving the White House. Her opponent George Worthington, played by Todd Lewis, is the Republican senate majority leader and a former preacher married to a beautiful but constantly intoxicated woman, played by Carol Tammen. Let me also mention him beating out republican opponents like Donald Rump, Ben Incarcerated, and Jeb Cushy.
Attea and composer Arthur Abrams have managed to improve upon something already amazing, what I would call a MUCH lighter episode of House of Cards, and infused it with catchy songs that will be pleasantly stuck in your head for a couple of days. They, with genius of director Mark Marcante and choreographer Angela Harriel keep the audience eager and excited to see the election results. Every piece of the stage was smartly used, without too many set changes between scenes but still encompassing more than a handful of locations. The play has the feel of a large ensemble cast but with only a fraction of the actors, which makes it fun and intimate. Whether you’re well-versed in politics or not, Heather Smiley For President will keep you entertained.

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A new musical drama about the closure of a steel mill in a small Pennsylvania town and how the workers and their families struggle to cope with the disaster. “…compelling … good story telling … good singing voices … beautiful love song …” – Merrie L. David, Theater Pizzazz

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The Villiage Voice
Living in a Musical Hoofs Into TNC
By Leslie Minora 
Living in a Musical — the sixth collaboration by Mark Marcante (director), Tom Attea (book and lyrics), and Arthur Abrams (score) — is as appealing and enjoyable as the vintage glass bottles of Coca Cola in its lead character’s fridge.
Nine years after college, struggling actor Frank (Kyle Fowler) is stuck: stuck waiting tables, stuck in a love triangle with a heavy-metal couple, and stuck in the musical traditions of the early 20th century. He emulates Fred Astaire, dressing in a gray argyle sweater-vest as he serenades his lady, Angel (Alexandra Grossi), a rock-and-roll druggie and Juilliard graduate, whom he has rescued from her abusive bandmate boyfriend. Angel, clad in jean-colored leggings and beat-up leather jacket, makes a stark contrast to Frank’s living room, with its dark-wood record player and mauve couch with fluffed pillows.
An audition to star in the Broadway revival of Top Hat is Frank’s long-awaited break. But he’s jerked around by Angel in their budding romance and by his old college buddy, a regular restaurant customer who continually pressures him to set aside his dream to enter the corporate world. Propelled by the spirit of Gene Kelly’s can-do era, though, Frank perseveres in melding his old-fashioned ideals into modern-day reality.
He and Angel make an odd, but oddly convincing, couple. Their voices mingle instrumentally and they dance smoothly “cheek to cheek,” suggesting that she may enjoy his version of an alternative lifestyle more than her own. Naturally wholesome but nonetheless hilarious, Living in a Musical is plain and simply charming.

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“… standout performances by the two leads … an interesting take on the fashion industry that is sometimes not thought about … broke the glass ceiling – it’s a smash!” – Harper’s Bazaara
“… a show for the modern “lean in” career woman. A lingerie designer named Samantha … learns how to maintain her feminine identity and still rise to the top of the corporate ladder.”
-Theatermania.com”

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Review in Theater Pizzazz by Peter Haas:
There is a collection of talent downtown on the East Side that is well worth a visit. Your destination is the Theater for the New City, on First Avenue at 10th Street. The attraction is a new musical titled “The Folk Singer.”
One element of the talent lies behind the scenes: the musical’s writers: Tom Attea (book and lyrics) and music (composed by Arthur Abrams). Their contemporary story focuses on a group of young folk singers who — inspired by the relevant songs that were created and made popular decades ago by such singer/writers as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan — decide to mount their own folk-song festival to spotlight up-to-date concerns.
Says Attea: “I wanted to create a work that would comment on today’s times, using new folk songs with contemporary substance.” Directing “The Folk Singer,” including its musical show-within-a -show, is Mark Marcante.
The performance begins in a small café, where five young folksingers decide to create their own new songs and perform them. As they prepare, the walls of the café part to reveal a raised stage representing a park bandstand, where their performances – augmented with a fine four-piece band – then take place. As the principals sing, images representing the subjects of the songs appear on a screen above the stage, enhancing the power of the lyrics. For several numbers as well, the cast’s own performances are projected overhead, for added intimacy with the singers.
The cast is a talented group. They are Mary Adams, Matthew Angel, Larry Fleishman, Olivia A. Griffin, Micha Lazare, Andy Striph and Nick McGuinnness. The park band consists of Arthur Abrams on piano, Ralph Hamperian on bass, Art Lilliard on drums, and, on lilting violin, Susan Mitchel.

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Digital Dilemmas shines the spotlight on a modern American family totally addicted to computers, iPads, iPhones, Androids and gaming consoles, just when they receive a visit from their eloquent and witty grandmother, who insists her smartphone is the dumbest thing she ever owned and prefers to remain in the analog age. As the confrontation heightens, she dares them to a challenge that any touchscreen age family might never recover from – going without their beloved devices for one full day.Let the withdrawal pains begin!
The musical brings laughter and insight to our obsession with digital devices and our struggle to tear ourselves away from them long enough to preserve our personal space, thoughts and sanity. It also explores romance in the digital age – with the story of a young man so addicted to online dating that he has totally lost interest in any of the women he knows personally, including the woman who’s perfect for him.

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Play About a Pope Resigning Heading Off-Broadway
By MARK KENNEDY, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The debut of Tom Attea’s new play is likely to benefit from some holy timing — he’s written a play about a pope resigning.
The off-Broadway company Theater for the New City said Friday it will produce Attea’s “Benedictus,” a play written two years about a pope who steps down.
It is slated to run from May 30 to June 16 at the company’s home in lower Manhattan. Mark Mercante will direct the production with incidental music by Arthur Abrams.
According to producers, the play is about the fictional Pope Benedictus, who has visions that command him to follow a new calling. Top cardinals must then decide what to do with him.
Attea, a playwright and lyricist, has had eight musicals and one play produced off-Broadway.     Art Imitates Life in Theater for the New City Play, ‘Benedictus,’ Which Focuses on a Pope who Resigns
Nancy Dillon, New York Daily News
Pope Benedict has left the world stage — but playwright Tom Attea hopes his resignation will bring his flock to the theater.
Attea has written “Benedictus,” an Off-Broadway show about a fictional pope who tries to retire after having a series of visions directing him to liberalize the Catholic Church.
In reality, of course, Pope Benedict XVI retired claiming exhaustion — and amid new reports of sex scandal coverups.
“The exterior parallels are remarkable,” Attea told the Daily News.
Attea actually wrote the play two years ago, but stashed it in a drawer thinking it was “too controversial.”
Then life imitated art.
So when Benedict made history as the first pontiff to step down in 600 years, Attea dusted off the work and got it booked at the Theater for the New City on the lower East Side in a matter of days.
The uncanny storyline includes Vatican intrigue, a cavalcade of cardinals and questions of mental fitness. The action really begins when Attea’s fictional Pope is visited by Jesus, Mary, God and the Holy Ghost, who urge him to abandon his conservative theology in favor of humanistic fulfillment.
“This play delivers the drama audiences are looking for but also an uplifting reason for a Pope to retire, rather than this regrettably sordid stuff going on in Rome right now,” Attea said.
“The position of this play is that it’s time for a historic change — to see that true holiness consists of true commitment to this life as a gift from the ultimate source,” he said. “We need to stop the destruction of life with war, pollution, whatever.”
Attea, who grew up Catholic, said devout parishioners might find some of his material unsettling but it is never offensive.
“I hope they sit back and think a little about their own lives. It’s spiritually nourishing,” said Attea, whose most recent play, “Living in a Musical” earned raves three years ago.
“Benedictus” opens May 30 for three weekends. The theater’s artistic director couldn’t stop praising the play.
“He writes about this man as a human being with all kinds of inner turmoil and questioning. And that is wonderful,” said Crystal Field, executive director at Theater for the New City. “It’s really the way we need to see people who have great power.”

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“The Capitalist Ventriloquist” is a timely and delightful new musical comedy about dynastic hedge funds, the demands of billionaire investors, misguided parental expectations, and the struggle of the son of an imperious hedge fund owner for self-determination. He’s a mathematical whiz-kid whose father expects him to report directly to work after graduate school and create a trading algorithm that will protect the firm against lightning-fast computer trades, which sway the market to perplexing and perilous extremes. But the son’s inner voice since childhood tells him he’d rather be a ventriloquist – specifically, a singing ventriloquist.
The son’s alter ego is his dummy, Randy, who longs to be in show business but whose acerbic quips prompt the son to say, “Sometimes you sound just like my father.”
After graduation, the son dutifully takes his place at the fund. But instead of crunching numbers, he engages in stealth rehearsals with Randy behind closed doors. His father is in an especially touchy spot, because the boy is engaged to the daughter of his biggest investor, who only keeps his money in the losing fund for her sake.
The girl loves our hero, but she’s not too keen to walk down the aisle with a ventriloquist. Worst of all, the dummy is awfully easy to kidnap or maybe sell on line. The son’s only allies are his father’s secretary, who secretly admires him, and a wily talent agent who, remarkably, can’t exactly be bought.
ERIC
I KNOW YOUR RETURNS HAVEN’T BEEN
QUITE WHAT WE HOPED THEY’D BE.
BUT STICK WITH ME AND SOON
THEY’LL GROW LIKE A RED INK TREE —
(spoken) Excuse me. Of course, I meant to say “like a red oak tree” — a giant red oak tree!  
HOW FORTUNATE YOU ARE
THAT MY INVESTMENT ADVICE
MAKES TRUSTING ANYONE ELSE
AS RISKY AS THROWING DICE.
I’M THE MASTER OF WALL STREET —
SO ADEPT AT HIGH FINANCE
I ALWAYS LAND ON MY FEET
AND SELDOM LOSE MY PANTS.
                                                                                                                                                                                 I KNOW THE RED AND GREEN
STOCK QUOTES THAT FLASH ALL DAY
ACROSS MY TRADING SCREEN
SEEM LIKE A CASINO IN PLAY.
BUT DON’T YOU WORRY.  DESPITE                  
THE OCCASIONAL SHORTFALL,
MY EXPERIENCE AND FORESIGHT
CAN EARN BILLIONS FOR US ALL.
(spoken) Oh, yes
I’M THE MASTER OF WALL STREET —
SO ADEPT AT HIGH FINANCE
I ALWAYS LAND ON MY FEET
AND SELDOM LOSE MY PANTS.
                                                                                                                                                                              DON’T WORRY ABOUT A THING.
IF A BET GOES SOUTH, MY FRIEND,
OR WE GET A MARGIN CALL, 
WE’LL COME OUT AHEAD IN THE END!
WHY, DUE TO OUR DEEP RESEARCH
AND UNCANNY INVESTMENT STYLE,
WE HAVE SOME CLIENTS WHO PURCH-
ASE THEIR OWN BAHAMIAN ISLE.
                                                                                                                                                                            YES, THE OUTLOOK WILL ALWAYS BE SUNNY
IF YOU TRUST ME WITH YOUR MONEY,
YOUR RETURNS WILL BE ROBUST
AND, OF COURSE, YOU WON’T GO BUST
IF YOU TRUST ME WITH YOU MONEY — 
TRUST ME WITH YOUR MONEY.
(spoken) Ah, yes!
I’M THE MASTER OF WALL STREET —
SO ADEPT AT HIGH FINANCE
I ALWAYS LAND ON MY FEET
AND SELDOM LOSE MY PANTS.
                                                                                                                                                                                  AND, AS YOU KNOW, MY SON,
WHO’S A MATHEMATICAL WHIZ
AND YOUR DAUGHTER’S FIANCE’,
WILL SOON BE JOINING THE BIZ. 
THEN YOU CAN REST ASSURED
WE’LL HAVE THE SMARTS TO OUT TRADE
EVER FIRMS LIKE GOLDMAN SACHS. 
SO YOU, MY FRIEND, WILL HAVE IT MADE.
(spoken) Yes, yes, my friend!
THE OUTLOOK WILL ALWAYS BE SUNNY
IF YOU TRUST ME WITH YOUR MONEY,
YOUR RETURNS WILL BE ROBUST
AND, OF COURSE, YOU’LL NEVER GO BUST
IF YOU TRUST ME WITH YOU MONEY — 
TRUST ME, TRUST ME, I URGE YOU,
AS A FRIEND, WHATEVER YOU DO,
TRUST ME WITH YOUR MONEY!

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“Great humor and ebullience ,,, good, genuine laughs … lively performance … Attea’s talent as a playwright is evident.” — Kesa De Santis, Punch In International.
The play is about a screenwriter of action adventure movies who is haunted by the high-body count in his movies and, when he is drunk, imagines that he receives visits from a character called “Happiola,” who encourages him to reclaim his talent and turn to writing about life-enhancing subjects.

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“Witty! In the tradition of The Fantasticks, but with a nineties twist.” — Greenwich Village Press
Abstinence is a timely musical comedy about false answers to teenage pregnancy, the spread of STD’s, and a professor who finally learns his silly approach will not deter his daughter, Melanie, his prize student, from falling in love with the campus football star who pretends to want to study the professor’s method so he can prove that he can even seduce Melanie. But, in the process, he falls in love with her, too.

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This was the first show produced at Theater for the New City that I was the sole author of the sketches and songs. Children loved it, and it ran for 19 weeks. The Villager gave it a rave review, dedicating a spread to the show and calling it “Delightfully funny.” Some of the songs were quite heady, especially Albert & Al Bert, a song featuring Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, and Bertrand Russell. Curiously, children listened to it with rapture.

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Lincoln Plaza is a modern interpretation of the story of La Traviata, which in turn is based on the novel The Lady of the Camellias by Alexander Dumas, fils. The rewrite is based on a young tenor who meets a hooker who occasionally wanders up to the Lincoln Center area from her usual haunts in Manhattan’s West 50’s. They fall in love, and, as in the novel, the tenor’s father begs her to leave his son. She does, and when the son is heartbroken and the father realizes he has erred, they go in search of her, to find that she is ill and, with them looking on, dies.
The show closed a week early, because the woman who was cast in the lead was offered a part in a film that required her departure. It went unreviewed.

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Brief Chronicles of the Time was the first produced show I contributed to and was presented in showcase at The Actors Studio, where I was a member of the Playwrights Unit for ten years. It also marked the period of my collaboration with my theatrical mentor, Charles Friedman, who was the director of such landmark shows as the original production of the revue Pins and Needles, as well as Sing out the New, and the musical version of Street Scene. He went on to direct film musicals at 20th Century Fox under Zanuck, was the original director of The Colgate Comedy Hour, and directed the Sergeant Bilko show for seven years. He was a great theatrical craftsman, who was a show doctor during the 30’s. I learned many valuable things from him, such as all stories are based on an emergency, which gets worse, and the conflict springs from the pressure created by the emergency. In other words, conflict is an effect. It can’t be controlled. But the emergency that precipitates it can. Or, as Charlie used to say, when the curtain goes up, the question is, “Where’s the fire?” He also taught me principles of lyric writing; for instance, that each song has a form that begins with the first word and creates a line of tension that is not released until the last word. I met Charlie when he took the idea of a revue to Lee Strassberg that would be based on how actors represent their times through the roles they take. Lee loved the idea, and Charlie went looking for a comedy writer to work with. He asked the head of the Directors Unit, who told him, “The only funny writer at the Studio is Tom Attea.” We met over lunch, laughed a lot, and began our collaboration. He always wore a fedora and a wristwatch that was given to him by Abbott & Costello. I wish everyone could have such a wonderful apprenticeship as I did with Charlie. At the time, I was a copywriter at Young & Rubicam, writing commercials for Dr Pepper and Jello-O.

 

(c) 2017 Tom Attea