The Cadaver Synod
The Cadaver Synod is based on the bizarre and compellingly fascinating true story of Pope Stephen VII who, in 897, conducted a posthumous ecclesiastical trial of a former predecessor, Pope Formosus. Stephen ordered the corpse be exhumed nine months after burial and brought to the papal court for judgment. With the corpse propped up and dressed on a throne, a deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff. Crazy shit for sure, but a musical? At NYMF, thankfully, the answer is “yes, let’s do it.”
Act I takes us to medieval Rome and the Catholic Church. With a rock music score, we are immersed in a world that had “25 Popes in 100 years; eight in the last nine years.” Plotting, scheming, fake news, abuse of power … check, it’s all here. After the trial ends, Act II attempts to explain why it happened. No spoiler alert needed. The authors concocted an unlikely but not impossible scenario, aided by the abundant freedoms afforded in musical theater. Let’s just say heresy of the most overwrought kind.
The book was stronger for me than the score. The trial scene was clearly a commentary on our times where facts are less relevant than our desired outcomes. At the center of all of this macabre mayhem in the role of Pope Stephen was David Larsen (Billy Elliot, American Idiot and the best song in Hands on a Hardbody) who played the role as a psychotic Robert Plant (lead singer of Led Zeppelin). Mr. Larsen fully committed to every inch of the role no matter what turns the show took – good, bad, or wildly off the rails, especially at the end.
If The Cadaver Synod has a next life, Act II needs more heft and, like what happened to Pope Stephen VII in the histories, a strangulation scene to end it all.
Temple of the Souls
When Columbus discovered the Americas, the Taino were the native people living in the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. Temple of the Souls takes place after the Spanish have conquered, killed or enslaved the majority of the locals (although in reality disease was also a big factor). The “temple” of the title refers to the caves and contained paintings where the deceased souls of the Taino people keep watch over their tribes.
Our hero and heroine are Guario, a Taino boy, and Amada, the daughter of a conquistador. We are in Romeo and Juliet territory here, with a significant dose of Disney thrown in (the villain is a darker version of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast). As the leads, Andres Quintero and Noellia Hernandez have the best moments in the show and their chemistry is effortless and heartfelt.
To be honest, it took me a little time to settle into this show. But I did because the melodies of the score were strong throughout. Kudos to the Projection Designer (Jan Hartley) whose back screen projections were excellent, from the town fiesta party to the mountains, caves and stars transporting the show into the heavens. Overall, the most complete story arc so far for me this NYMF.
The Fourth Messenger
What if Buddha were a woman, living in our times? That’s the tag line for The Fourth Messenger, written by two women, one of whom had the spark of an idea on a meditation retreat sixteen years ago. Mama Sid (Nancy Anderson, ethereal and fantastic) is a modern day “awakened one” with a worldwide following and a Time magazine cover story. A determined young journalist decides to unearth and expose Mama Sid’s secrets to make her own career.
The Fourth Messenger explores Mama Sid’s followers, her past, her present and the complexities of life that is the human experience. With a strong score, interesting book and thoughtful lyrics combined with committed, almost mystical central performances, I was totally captivated and emotionally invested. Nicely done.