My New York
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
November 19, 2006
My New York is a charming new musical by Carla Jablonski and Rick Hip-Flores that tells the story of grade school classmates engaged in an art class competition: who can draw a mural that best exemplifies their New York? Since this is the Big Apple, the class is represented by multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds: Chinese, Indian, Dominican, Jewish, and African American. Each kid has a different, and equally fascinating, background to draw upon. But only one can win. Who will it be, and how far will they go to achieve it? Vital Children's Theatre's new production addresses childhood concerns such as friendship, loyalty, and teamwork with skill and humanity, and a welcome lack of condescension.
When substitute teacher Miss Sunshine suggests the competition, her young charges jump at the opportunity. JT wants to feature his meringue-dancing grandmother in his. Wendy thinks the Chinese New Year, her favorite day of the year, would be a good subject for hers. Ray talks about "Little India," the Queens neighborhood he lives in, as a possibility for his mural. Sophie doesn't think her boring life is so special, though—all she does is go to Hebrew school. Clarisse, a churchgoing, gospel-singing, straight-A student, is so confident she'll win that she starts bullying her classmates about it, thereby testing their friendship. Alliances are formed and dissolved before all five kids come up with a unique solution to the question of who will win and who will lose.
My New York works because it's simple enough for kids to understand, but never talks down to them. The ideas Jablonski and Hip-Flores put forth are universal enough for people of all ages to appreciate. And, as written, the show is just plain fun. Both kids and their parents can relate to the awkward attempts of these characters to connect with each other, just as I'm pretty sure there will always be someone in the audience who can relate to a grandparent passing on something to a grandchild (like JT's grandma teaching him how to dance), friends showing each other a new trick (just as Wendy shows her friends her to twirl ribbons), or a confidante disclosing an embarrassing secret (as when Sophie reveals her Hebrew school crush). My New York's open-heartedness is infectious.
Jablonski's book is solidly constructed and adept at handling exposition and character growth. Hip-Flores's score is bouncy and likable, giving each character a fun song filled with some clever lyrics. Director Linda Ames Key and choreographer Dax Valdes keep My New York thematically focused and vibrantly moving ahead. And, the cast is really great. Barret Doss, Sarah Levine, Paul Pino, Dilhya Ross, EJ Zimmerman, and Valdes himself (doing double duty on stage) all deliver endearing performances that never once wink knowingly at the audience.
My New York is a delight for both kids and adults: at the performance I attended I think I heard the grown-ups laughing at least as much as the young'uns. Vital Children's Theatre scores nicely with this production, which overflows with positivity and good will. It's rare to find a show that everyone really can enjoy, but this is one of them. If you want to expose the kids in your life to something new, you couldn't do much better than to introduce them to My New York.