The 24 Hour Plays company teamed with the Exchange to produce the one-night-only benefit at Joe's Pub, Jan. 21, to a packed crowd in the already-intimate downtown venue.
The evening began with an introduction by producer Ari Edelson, who also endured the full 24-hour experience but noted his job was perhaps the easiest of anyone involved. He then passed the focus over to "A 24 Hour Film," a documentary short by Elizabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton (also filmed and edited in the 24-hour time frame).
The film chronicled the meeting of the minds behind the event — actors giving prospective creators a taste of their musical range, the creators then toiling overnight, directors choosing their scripts and heading across the street to 440 Studios to rehearse.
David Yazbek and Jonathan Bernstein's Pinwheeling Freestyle began the evening. Michael Longoria and Gavin Creel, as stadium concessionaires, set the scene of a baseball game (slyly using their beer trays to mask the wordy opening-number lyrics). Steven Pasquale then took centerstage as a pitcher who had held out on pitching the final ball of a complete game for more than 17 minutes. Celia Keenan-Bolger, as his wife in a surrealistic moment, visited the mound (suitcase in tow) to announce to the major league prospect that she was leaving him. Moises Kaufman directed with musical direction by James Sampliner.
Nellie McKay — who gave over to the day completely as both composer and later an actor — penned the second short musical, Partners, with Warren Leight. The duo set their scene at a "Tommy's Kids" telethon. Denis O'Hare opened the mini-musical revue as one-half of a former songwriting duo behind the Russian-set "A Tsar is Born." The fading star-emcee welcomed his contemporary, another writing duo played by Mo Rocca and Tracie Thoms, who were "back together" following a prior break-up. Following their number (an up-tempo disco reprise to show the kids they are still "with it"), they brought to the stage the estranged other half of the "Tsar"-writing team played — to a boozy, cigarette-smoking tee — by Brooks Ashmanskas. Once "off the air," the on-air reunion proves fleeting, and the emcee is left with only his friends. Ted Sperling, who was creative director for the entire evening, directed this work. Musical director was Wendy Cavett. The third musical, which opened the second act, began with Victoria Clark seated between Cheyenne Jackson and John Ellison Conlee, all tied together with rope. As the men caress and hold Clark, she sang a sultry song of how she was in love with both men "secretly." With the help of an ethereal narrator (played by Claudia Shear), the audience soon learns Todd Almond and Adam Bock's The Song of the Falling Man is set on a mountain-climbing trek (hence the rope), and the threesome are two brothers who both share a love for one woman. The taut-but-tragic tale follows the shattered relationships, both physically and emotionally, when the woman is literally forced to cut loose one of the brothers lest they all fall down the mountainside. Jonathan Butterel directed and Chris Fenwick was musical director.
Ending the evening, Joe Iconis and Jonathan Marc Sherman's The Saddest Bar in the World cast Nellie McKay as an overseer/narrator at the titular dive in New York City. She introduces the "regular" Kerry, a one-legged tap dancer, played by Kerry Butler, who longs for "someone to spoon with." In comes a sailor on shore leave, played in an purposefully hammy way by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Kerry is soon lovestruck. When her friend enters, a heavily accented Russian played by Ashlie Atkinson, the sailor is soon struck by her. Completing the bizarre love triangle, the Russian professes her love for the one-legged girl. In a very "Wizard of Oz"-type ending, McKay's waitress gives each a reason why he or she should, despite their unrequited love, be happy. Then, she leads the group (and the audience, who were provided lyrics via television screen) in a rousing drinking song-style tune about the greatness of feeling sad. Peter Ellenstein directed with musical direction by Vadim Fetchner.
Chase Brock (for Pinwheeling and Saddest Bar) and Warren Carlyle (for Partners) provided choreography — the little allowed by the small playing space on stage. Gene Lewin served as the evening's drummer.
For more information, visit 24hourplays.com and exchangenyc.org.