Last year's "Summer Shorts" presented two musicals, but this year the musical-short genre got a bigger boost with a Southeastern premiere by Broadway's current composer du jour.
Programmed to perfection by the new artistic director of the festival, Margaret M. Ledford, whose appointment was announced only a few weeks before this edition of "Shorts," she directed the night's highlight, which opened the second act. Lin-Manuel Miranda's "21 Chump Street," a 14-minute musical, about a high schooler in Boca Raton who will do anything to get a date with the new girl. The idea for "Chump" came from yet another genre-busting program, the public radio and podcast "This American Life," (if you haven't listed to it and it's companion podcast "S-Town," subscribe and download now. I am addicted.).
Miranda took the plot from Atlanta-based reporter Robbie Brown's story about a Palm Beach County's cops-in-school program, which was reported on "This American Life." I'm still humming the through tune from the short, "What The Heck I Gotta Do." (listen to the soundtrack recording from when it was performed in New York. https://www.youtube.com/v_LrnWWhch8).?rel=0&controls=0&showinfo=0"
Don't be surprised if this mini-musical becomes something bigger.
The musicals in "Shorts" really did take the cake, including the first act's "Missing Karma," with book, music and lyrics by Timothy Huang. Young couple, Ted and Honey, return to their favorite park to bury their dog named Karma. They discover that the only glue holding them together for their multi-year relationship was, in fact, the dog. Huang's tunes have some Jonathan Larson ("Rent") influence, but he intersperses the music with some dialogue, and brilliantly. Brian Reiff as Ted and Lindsay Lavin as Honey are sheer perfection.
Continuing the discussion of musicals in this year's "Shorts," the show's closer, "Baked Goods," was cheeky fun. Written by Charlie Cohen, Helen Park, and Christyn Budyzna during New York's 2014 BMI Lehman Engle Musical Theater Workshop, "Goods" calls for the casting of adults as little tykes caught up in performance anxiety over selling Girl Scout cookies. Gertie, hilariously and authentically portrayed by Irene Adjian, doesn't want to be a girl scout, and doesn't care if she gets any badges, but her mother (the always excellent Karen Stephens as mom and trooper leader) won't have it. No daughter of hers isn't going to be the best girl scout in the troop. By gosh, Gertie is going to sell 100 boxes of cookies. Gertie's savior arrives in the form of boy scout, Maxwell, played by Brian Reiff. Maxwell would rather be a girl scout anyway than a boy scout. Reiff stays away from turning this kid into a caricature and, instead, inhabits little Maxwell. You'll cheer Gertie and Maxwell's innovative ways to get the cookies sold, including a visit to a marijuana medical dispensary, where everyone, of course, has the munchies.
Non musicals in "Shorts" included the Southeastern premiere of "Choosing Love" by Chisa Hutchinson, directed by Jessica Farr. and starring Phillip Andrew Santiago as Jason, a guy whose visits psychic Kadian (Thianna Berrick) with unexpected results. Susan Westfall's world premiere of "The Bestseller" about a writer who settles for less and the author she's jealous of. Directed by Jessica Farr, the cast of A-list actors included Irene Adjan, Karen Stephens, Lindsay Lavin, and Robert Strain. Then there's "Just Desserts," about a group of office workers who plot to figure out what co-worker is stealing lunches, and one of the highlights of the night. Louise Wigglesworth's "Real Art" starred Lavin as Abigail Bolton, an artist whose just won a prestigious art competition, and lottery winner Loretta Faggle (Karen Stephens), who wanted to spend her new money on Bolton's prize painting. Trouble was the artist wasn't selling. "Adorable Kitten Image Collapse" by Steve Yockey ventured into Internet territory where a social media troll (Reiff) takes on cat lady, played by Adjan, but he's picked the wrong media maven to troll. Directed by Paul Tei, large still shots projected upstage intermittently of cute kitten pictures from Ann Marie's Twitter account were a most-riotous addition.
Jodi Dellaventura did the wildly imaginative different sets for eight plays. Ellis Tillman costumed the group. Musical direction was by Caryl Fantel with choreography by Sandra Portal-Andreu. Sound design credit goes to Steve Shapiro with lighting design by Eric Nelson.
Summer Shorts runs through July 2 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Performances 7:30 Thursdays and Fridays; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays except July 1 (no 2 p.m. show); 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $39-$54. Call (305) 949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org.