Big-money hits from “Wicked” to “The Book of Mormon” to such performance-oriented TV shows as “Glee” and the upcoming “Smash” keep motivating producers to develop new musicals. But before those shows can land an extended run, they have to walk. And that’s where, for some of them, the New York Musical Theater Festival (running Sept. 26-Oct. 16) comes in.
“Over the years, NYMF has been identified as a place where projects that don’t have connections in the industry can get in front of an audience and go on to the next step,” says fest exec director Isaac Robert Hurwitz. “It’s also a place where projects from well-known people that maybe haven’t found traction yet can be seen and developed.”
The eighth annual fest’s slate of about 30 shows includes names that run the gamut from little-known up-and-comers to Rialto vets, including Lonny Price (“Master Harold and the Boys”), David Shire (“Big”) and Andrea McArdle (“Annie”). Notable past fest output includes “Next to Normal” and “[title of show],” both of which eventually went on to Broadway, as well as Off Broadway vets “Yank!” and long-runner “Altar Boyz.”
The curated lineup reps a combination of tuners invited to appear in the fest through industry networking plus the “Next Link” roster of musicals that land at the festival via its open submissions policy. Event averages about 40,000 attendees per year.
A slot in the fest is far from a free ride. Although Hurwitz estimates NYMF provides about $30,000 in marketing, production and other support for each show, additional budget costs per project run from $15,000 on up — and all of it needs to be raised by the creatives or an attached producer.
, about 25% of which is generated by ticket salesTor Hyams and Adam LeBow’s tuner “Greenwood,” for instance, has a cast of 22 and five musicians. The creatives say the NYMF production, funded largely by “people who love the project and people who love us,” is running a pricetag in the high five figures.
“Greenwood” had earlier readings in L.A., “but to take a project to the next level, you’ve got to get musical theater industry people to see it in New York,” says Hyams of the show, a semi-autobiographical look at a group of adults reuniting at a performance-oriented summer camp. “When NYMF came up as a possibility, it seemed like the best platform for us.”
For Price, who’s co-directing Jenn Colella-toplined black comedy “Kiki Baby,” his second show at NYMF, one of the key advantages to the fest is that the theater biz runs through the lifeblood of the city.
“To go out of town, I couldn’t get the caliber of performers I have now,” he says. “And I’ll have really smart people in the audience watching it and giving notes.”
The festival initially had to carve out a profile for itself separate from another fall event, the National Alliance for Musical Theater’s festival, which presents a more focused collection of tuners seen in 45-minute staged readings by an industry-only aud. With that largely accomplished, next year’s NYMF will shift to midsummer, running July 9-29 in a timeslot when real estate demands and legit scheduling should prove calmer than the new-season rush of autumn.
No matter when the fest happens, however, it’s become clear over the years that a stop at NYMF can put a project on the road to the Rialto — eventually.
“What we do at NYMF is not the final stage of any of these shows,” Hurwitz says. ” ‘Next to Normal’ took four years to reach Broadway, and so did ‘[title of show].’ “