Tiffan Borelli, Paul Amodeo and Amber A. Harris in Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical
BOTTOM LINE: An inspiring new musical that will make you want to do important things with your life.
Essentially, Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical is a story about overcoming obstacles and continuing to pursue one's dreams regardless of how difficult it may be. This musical tells the autobiographical story of composer Jay Alan Zimmerman, who devotes his life to music but then becomes deaf and is no longer able to hear the one thing that gives him the most pleasure. Zimmerman wrote the music, lyrics, and book for the show, which is directed by Kristin McLaughlin. The two of them create enough nuggets of joy throughout the piece to overshadow any shortcomings, making for a very entertaining original musical.
The character of Jay is played by three different actors at three different stages of his life. As present day Jay, Paul Amodeo grounds the show with an honesty and sincerity that makes for a very appealing central character. Amodeo is at times funny and charming, but equally anguished and awkward, as he deals with the growing loss of his hearing. Young Jay is played by Jason Reiff, who brings youthfulness and hope to the role of the Jay who begins his journey to become the next great composer. Reiff is particularly funny in "Go, Go, Go," quickly singing through an entire musical in order to impress his potential manager, played by a very funny Howard Kaye. Kid Jay is played by Pierce Gidez, who is very impressive when he sits at the piano and accompanies himself on "Beh-toe-zart." Tiffan Borelli, Amber A. Harris, Casey Erin Clark and Emily Otto make up the rest of the cast.
The music of the show runs the gamut from soft lyrical ballads to pseudo rap and pop. The rap numbers seem uncomfortable for some of the performers; it is almost as if these numbers were inserted into the musical to make it more contemporary. The ballads are the most effortless for the composer and the actors. Clark, who plays Jay's wife Lisa, sings my favorite: "Fall" is about the Jay she met and married, and the man this Jay has become. It tells of the passing of time and learning to accept what is given to us. "Fall" is very well written, and sung beautifully. "Building a Life" and "I Don't Need a Picture," sung by Reiff and Clark respectively, are two more ballads that again touch on the theme of time, and on how things change and we persevere nonetheless.
The book of Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical has a few issues, and maybe some of the jokes don't land where they should. I found the references to 9/11 to be unnecessary, since I found Jay's loss of hearing more profound and important to the show. There were a few technical issues that surely will be ironed out, but this show resonated with me. Perhaps it's because it so succinctly put into two and a half hours the same emotions that I myself have often grappled with: how do you follow your dreams when it seems like the world wants you to change course? Zimmerman knew what he wanted to do with his life and followed that path: he is a musician, so he does music. Despite setbacks, he found the fine line between eternal optimism and reality.
That the show was written at all says a lot about the composer and the musical itself. It teaches a lesson: if you know what you are meant to do with your life, then do it. Maybe it's cliché, but we have to follow our bliss, right? If Jay Alan Zimmerman can dream a dream and make it come true then that should make us all want to do it. Not just because he's deaf and wrote a musical, but because everyone should aspire to do something that makes them happy. The last song is called "Dance in Your Heart." Watching the cast interact with the audience as they sing may well light your own fire and make you believe that you too are capable of greatness. Let Jay Alan Zimmerman inspire you as he inspired me.
(Jay Alan Zimmerman's Incredibly Deaf Musical plays at The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, through October 10, 2010. Remaining performances are Friday 10/8 and Saturday 10/9 at 9pm, and Sunday 10/10 at 1pm. Tickets are $20 and are available at www.ovationtix.com or by calling 212.352.3101. For more information about the show, visit www.deafmusical.com. For more on the New York Musical Theatre Festival, visit www.nymf.org.)