If life came with a baggage check, the end result would be this year’s NYMF show, Standby. Asking many of life’s hard-hitting questions, audiences enter the Linney Theatre expecting a musical about five struggling travelers and leave pondering what it is we’re meant to do in life. Proceeding with “forward motion” as Richard (played by Darren Ritchie) continuously reminds us, there’s only one direction in which life moves and there’s no way out. Having to deal with the baggage life places in our hands, is it our responsibility to find the logic within the chaos, or were we placed here by design?
Book and lyrics by Alfred Solis and Mark-Eugene Garcia, music by Amy Baer and Keith Robinson and directed by Carlos Armesto, Standby delves into the interconnectivity of the world - how one act can ripple and affect the choices of others. By making our own choices in life, it’s irrefutable that someone somewhere, whether they are family or a stranger, will feel the impact of our decisions. Handling the precious gravity that is life, Standby takes its audience on this psychological and philosophical journey treading through our darkest moments and reveling in our brightest. Quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samantha (played by Eryn Murman) emphasizes to her fellow cast, “Men love to wonder,” and that is certainly the case with this production.
Wondering how they’ve all come upon each other in the airport in which this musical is set, the audience observes how the cast handles the dilemma of getting onto the next flight with limited seats. Understanding that without working together to make a unanimous decision on who gets the seat, this enlightened yet exhausted crew of five learns that in order to move on you can’t regret the decision you’ve made, but you must face the consequences from the people who deserve an answer the most. Confronting the resentment they’ve all encountered, high drama is brought to the stage as each character locates the source of their pain and mistakes. Asking the age-old question “Why?” - “Why this? Why that?” - the atmosphere of resentment created becomes palpable, and the audience is left asking, “What in life defines us?”
Living a life that is built to move us by any means necessary, the audience is alongside the cast of Standby as they try to decipher the truth about living. Have our decisions in life preceded us? Is our fate by design, and if so, who’s responsible for having created it? Why should we accept this fate in which we may or may not have helped to construct? And as if these questions aren’t laborious enough for us to handle, we’re given one more: What do we deserve in life? - A question that even Jonathan the Marine (played by Matt Shingledecker) struggles with as he goes to war not only on the front but with himself as well. “Traveling on,” as Shingledecker sings may be a direction in which to head, but when it comes to surviving, we undoubtedly sympathize with a man who doesn’t know how to slow down.
Thankfully, Peter (played by Dwelvan David), who plays the role of flight attendant, arrives just in time to sit his five rowdy passengers down for a pep talk on the key to departure. Much like RuPaul giving a lesson to his contenders, David works the stage with a fierceness any diva would be proud of. All the while, he manages to get his audience moving to the groove of his soul and the passion of his spirit, not to mention the fabulous array of capes and suits David dons. However, as commendable of a performance David displays, his high-comedic routine forces Standby to tread the fine line between drama and comedy. With a show that manages to produce more than a few tears from the audience, an interlude in the seriousness appears almost ill-timed. Nonetheless David successfully gets his message across to audience and the show concludes in a manner that is most fitting.
Since seeing Standby, more than once I have reflected on my own life and pondered what it means to put the past behind me and face the future. Resulting in a mixture of emotions and set goals, it’s apropos that this show brings forth the theorist in all of us and helps us handle those rough patches in life.
If there is one choice that you have to make today, it should be to buy a one-way ticket to Standby at this year’s NYMF. This is a trip you’ll never regret.