I Got ‘Fringe’ In Low Places

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Image of Bruce Vilanch from Facebook
Image of Bruce Vilanch

New York Post
Fringe in low places
August 12, 2010

How does a drama about the massacre in Mumbai and “Hip Hop High: The Musical” sell out without ad campaigns or a single premiere?

When they play the Fringe, folks.

The 14th annual New York International Fringe Festival kicks off tomorrow with 197 shows — a few of which have already commanded enough word-of-mouth to make them instant hits.

“It’s the only show from India this year, and they reached out to the Indian community, which really responded,” says Fringe artistic director Elana K. Holy of that hot ticket, “A Personal War: Stories of the Mumbai Terror Attacks.”

As far as “Hip Hop High” is concerned, she credits its cast of energetic teenagers, “tweeting and Facebooking,” with getting the word out.

With tweets or without, there’s always the hope of another “Urinetown,” the only Fringe show so far to make it all the way to Broadway.

This year’s fest, running through Aug. 29, offers the usual: a sprinkling of Shakespeare (a streamlined “As You Like It,” the teen-friendly “Hamlettes”); oodles of camp (“Friends of Dorothy: An Oz Cabaret”) and titles that might have come from Max Bialystock himself — take “Jew Wish” and “Invader? I Hardly Know Her!” Please.

New this year: posh digs for Fringe Central, where you can buy tix and see trailers (1 E. Eighth St., off Fifth Avenue, across the street from Otto), plus a show-finding app you can download for free from iTunes.

With $15 tickets and all the free A/C you can soak up, it’s worth a gamble. Here are a few of the more promising contenders:

* Bruce Vilanch, who’s written for the Oscars, the Tonys and the Emmys, is no quitter. He’s retooled his 1978 flop musical “Platinum,” about a comeback-hungry Hollywood climber named Lila Halliday, and cast it with Broadway stalwarts Liz Larsen (“Hairspray”) and Sarah Litzsinger (“Beauty and the Beast”).

* A real Hollywood cutie’s the centerpiece of “Just in Time: The Judy Holliday Story.” Billed as “a fast-paced romp through the life of the Original Dumb Blonde,” it’s full of songs and the starry crew Holliday hung with: Orson Welles, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Durante among them.

* Ah, Michelle Dessler: “24” diehards still mourn her passing. So it’s nice to discover the woman who played her, Reiko Aylesworth, in “Lost and Found,” one of the fest’s few dramas, this one about a cop’s dysfunctional family. Another familiar face: Geraldine Librandi, who played Patty Leotardo in “The Sopranos.”

* Cinephiles should turn out in force for “Burning in China,” directed as it is by Caleb Deschanel, the cinematographer better known these days as the dad of Zooey and Emily Deschanel. Gary Moore’s show is about an American professor in China who follows his students into that pre-Twitter showdown at Tiananmen Square.

Can the Fringe be serious? This year, it just might.