Written and directed by Curtis Harrington, Night Tide was filmed in 1960, opened theatrically in 1961, and went into wide release in 1963. It’s a minor, black and white film that pops up on Turner Classic Movies.
U.S. Navy seaman Johnny is on shore leave at a seaside town. He hangs out at the boardwalk and meets and falls in love with Mora. She is a troubled young woman who was born in Greece, and was the sole survivor of a shipwreck that wiped out her family.
Mora works as a mermaid in a tank at the sideshow owned by the crusty, old Captain Murdock who rescued and raised her. As her romance with Johnny blossoms, there are complications. Her previous two boyfriends died under mysterious circumstances. An ominous woman in black mills about and there’s a fortuneteller looming over the action, as the plot builds to a tragic finale. There is also the possibility that Mora is a real mermaid.
The creators of this show obviously believed that the gloomy and atmospheric film could be the source material for a musical. Their ambition is commendable but their execution is misbegotten.
Taylor Tash’s book is an unsuccessful mélange in the style of a Charles Busch-type spoof crossed with sincerity. The jokes aren’t funny and the seriousness is stilted.
Nathania Wibowo’s music is a derivative amalgam of the pop tune melodies of Grease, Little Shop of Horrors and Hairspray with some over-long power ballads. Mr. Tash’s lyrics are serviceable at best.
Luis Villabon’s choreography is a wan series of underwhelming routine moves. Mr. Villabon’s direction is somewhat better, though it never really rises above the mode of conducting traffic. Villabon’s work with the cast is a sensibly freewheeling approach, allowing the actors to run with the faulty material the best that they can, with mixed results.
Wearing a gleaming white sailor suit including a cap, and often shirtless, the very athletic and boyish Patrick Dunn is an appealing Johnny. In tandem with his exceptional singing and dancing skills, Mr. Dunn offers an engaging portrayal that fulfills the artificiality of the material while being realistic.
Though she goes overboard with pauses and staring out into space as if to italicize the dialogue and self-consciously wait for laughs, Tara Martinez gives a solid characterization as Mora. Ms. Martinez also acquits herself well with a number of dirge-like arias that reveal her character’s inner conflicts.
Charly Dannis also overplays her hard-boiled carousel operator with a heart of gold, but is quite charming. Rebecca Hoodwin’s fortuneteller is a fine comic vehicle for this old pro. With a Snidely Whiplash manner and his booming voice, Rick Roemer adds razzle dazzle as Captain Murdock.
There’s a Greek chorus-like device that has a trio of performers wafting through the events. Extravagantly bewigged Kissy Simmons and Ya Han Chang succeed with their tough talking sorority sister-style roles. The animated Josh Sassanella joins them with his triple threat talents, performing as if he were in A Chorus Line.
The inspired scenic design by David Starr elevates the production with its artful simplicity. Rectangular flats on wheels with gorgeous paintings depicting the boardwalk milieu are moved about, perfectly evoking the locale on the relatively bare stage.
Bill Smith’s special effects are proficient, though Jessa-Raye Court’s costume design of the mermaid’s tail is a rather basic assemblage of plush blue cloth with glitter. The lighting design by Chris Steckel is a fine assortment of straightforward brightness with dramatic flourishes.
Night Tide is presented as part of the 2017 New York Musical Festival. This annual event showcases a wide selection of emerging works that are given small-scale productions as a testing ground for the future.
Even if a future production of it had a multi-million dollar budget, Jerry Mitchell at the helm and a starry cast, it is unlikely that Night Tide would find favor with audiences due to its kooky narrative and its creators’ disjointed vision.
Night Tide (July 17-22, 2017)
The New York Musical Festival & Magic Venture LLC
Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.nymf.org
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with one intermission