NEW YORK — NYMF? NAMT? The Gotham musical theater community has been mired in alphabet soup lately, as two seemingly like-minded festivals converged on the city back-to-back.

In substance, the fests are distinctly different. The 16th annual National Alliance of Musical Theater offers 45-minute staged readings of eight musicals Oct. 3-4, including Frank Wildhorn‘s “Camille Claudel.” All are for industry folks, many from NAMT’s 144 member orgs.

The more consumer-oriented inaugural New York Musical Theater Festival, running Sept. 13-Oct. 3, is three weeks of 31 new musical productions, plus seminars, cabarets, film screenings and other events.

So what does the established NAMT think about an upstart muscling in on its slot?

“I was surprised,” says NAMT exec director Kathy Evans. “As it’s turned out, it has not negatively affected us.”

NYMF exec director Kris Stewart wanted to position the fest after the summer, when many people are out of town, but before the fall season gears up.

“Hopefully, there is a lot of synchronicity with NAMT,” Stewart says. “An awful lot of NAMT members have taken advantage of seeing works at (our) festival.”

One producer of musicals said the fledgling event had been successful in finding young, hip shows to present, that are perhaps riskier and edgier than those showcased at its respected counterpart fest.

Stewart, exec producer Geoff Cohen, and others conceived NYMF as a way to consolidate a number of small productions under one umbrella, to more efficiently pay for venues, tech costs, marketing and publicity.

Fest is progressing toward its goal of serving as a springboard for transfers. “Altar Boyz,” about a Christian boy band whose songs include “Girl, You Make Me Want to Wait,” will get an $800,000 Off Broadway production in early 2005, according to producers Robyn Goodman and Ken Davenport. Goodman says the sold-out eight-perf run at the fest helped lure investors.

Victoria Lang says the NYMF staging of her 1960s-set mod feminist tuner “Shout!” helped secure funds for the $750,000 production she plans to produce in the spring.

According to Stewart, fest will recoup its cost of around half a million dollars: a third each from private donations, corporate sponsorships and philanthropy and the 17,500-20,000 tickets sold.

While it attracted customers through ads, emails and posters plastered across the city, Stewart acknowledged the NYMF hasn’t gotten the press attention he had hoped. Perhaps Gotham is weary of the format, after the recent New York Fringe Festival, Summer Play Festival and Midtown Theater Festival, among others, with the inaugural Tribeca Theater Festival coming Oct. 19.

Busman’s holiday
Going legit

Michael Imperioli just won an Emmy for supporting actor in a drama for his role on “The Sopranos.” So why is he hanging out in a 60-seat theater on West 29th Street?

With the HBO drama on hiatus until spring, Imperioli will devote much of the interim to Studio Dante, the venue he owns with his wife, Victoria Imperioli.

The company, which debuted last spring with John Dapolito‘s “Baptism by Fire,” has announced a new slate of plays. Mike Batistick‘s “Ponies,” previously produced at the 2003 New York Fringe Festival and in London, runs Oct. 12-Nov. 6. “Late Fragments,” by the org’s literary manager Francine Volpe, goes up in January, followed by John Belluso‘s “Henry Flamethrowa” in the spring.

Imperioli wants the theater to be a gathering place for the people close to him. “Ponies” will star his old friend John Ventimiglia, who plays restaurant owner Artie Bucco on “The Sopranos.” Interior designer Victoria Imperioli will do sets and costumes. She and her father, Ryczard Chlebowski designed and renovated the theater themselves.

Despite the family feel, Imperioli resists the idea of creating an acting company. “I’ve been in companies before,” he says. “A benevolent dictatorship is the best way to run a theater.”

America: Tillinger’s Own Jewtopia

Do they make Jewish jokes in England?

“Absolutely not,” says director John Tillinger, who is Jewish and has a British accent. In the U.S. “people like to make fun of how we are, and in England it’s just much more private.”

Despite growing up in this Jewish humor-deprived environment, Tillinger is helming the stereotype-ridden play “Jewtopia,” the L.A. hit that began previews Sept. 28 at the Westside Theater.

The Sukkot and Purim celebrations in the play are much wilder than what he experienced in England, where he spent most of his childhood as one of only three Jews boarding at Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. In his 20s, he came to the U.S. to meet his relatives, and eventually settled here. One day his uncle reached across the table for some butter, and Tillinger spotted the numbers on his wrist.

“That was a watershed moment in my life,” recalls Tillinger. “I felt I was always a little peculiar in England. Here I fit in very quickly. I really didn’t realize how Jewish I was until I came to America – emotionally, culturally and the humor, particularly the humor.”

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