The New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), now in it’s 9th year, is always a highly anticipated theater event of the summer, especially for anyone that loves theater. Featuring work created by new artists fresh-out-of-school and Broadway veterans alike, NYMF usually offers something for everyone. NYMF is widely known as the birthplace of several wildly successful musicals, including 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, Next to Normal musical, and Chaplin the musical, which is set to begin Broadway previews August 21st at the Barrymore Theatre. Every year, audiences attend the festival, hoping to find the next new hit and see it before everyone else does. So is Shelter, a new rock/pop musical from Salt Lake City, the next big hit?
Unfortunately, no. Or at least, not yet.
Overall, the musical felt a little under-developed. Despite the use of only a few set items to imply location – a powerful choice for several of the numbers – the transitions often lagged, making the piece feel unnecessarily long. In addition, where large cast sizes can often be an asset in musical theater, they seemed to hinder Shelter in places. The sheer number of characters on stage, coupled with simplistic and repetitive choreography, made some of the scenes feel a little messy and claustrophobic.
Furthermore, given that Shelter sought to portray itself as a political piece, designed, in the words of Shelter book & lyric writer Brittany Bullen, to remind us that “if everyone did a small thing, there’d be big change”, the musical fell short of its stated mission. It never fully delved into the issue of homelessness and the struggles faced when rehabilitating. Instead, it got distracted by the romantic subplot and employed contrived resolutions to solve the problem in order to finish with a “hopeful” and uplifting ending. The implication that one woman could quickly solve her homelessness problem by ‘fixing her face’ and becoming a ‘Mary Kay”-like beauty consultant is simply unrealistic and implausible.
Nevertheless, Shelter did show promise. Many of the songs, including “Shelter” and “Hope” were phenomenal. There was a lot of heart and energy on stage, and several of the cast members delivered stellar performances. In particular, Latoya Rhodes (playing Jeanine) delivered a very solid, nuanced performance and Brittany Bullen, in the role of Gloria, had by far the strongest voice, leaving us wishing she could sing more than one ballad and not be mute for most of the production. Most importantly, the “Shelter Reprise”, at the end of Act I, was one the most beautiful, powerful, and ultimately devastating, stage pictures I have ever seen.
Shelter has three remaining performances at the PTC Performance Space on 555 W. 42nd St: today at 5pm & 9pm and Sunday the 29th at 5pm. In keeping with the production’s efforts to raise awareness, for every ticker sold, Shelter will donate $3 to local women’s shelters. In Murray, Utah, the show raised $10,000.00 for participating shelters after a 2 week run.