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CurtainUp Guest Review:
Street Corner Symphony

by Joan Eshkenazi

American pie has many recipes, street corners exist in all districts and symphonies have different composers. Street Corner Symphony offers a slice of American popular musical life from the 60's and 70's. If you are from thirty to fifty years of age and were "with it" during these years of anti-war, pro- psychedelic movements, you will recognize most of these numbers. The only problem is that you, by this time, would have problems hearing them! However, the theater has solved that problem by bringing the decibel level up to the point where my partially deaf husband felt that the sound system was perfect. I was grateful to be sitting in the mezzanine.

The entire cast, led by Carol Dennis (Narrator/Mrs.Cynthia), is excellent. Each performer can belt out arousing notes making it impossible for audience members to stay seated or quiet. Welcomed audience responses only added to the general excitement. The action begins on a street corner in Gainesville, Florida where a talented group of hopefuls dream of performing at the Mercury Theater. The pace starts gently enough with "Dancing in the Street," performed admirably by the Company. Carol Dennis sets the tone with a beautiful "Try to Remember" and "The Way We Were." Ms. Dennis was the singing voice of Josephine Baker on HBO's "The Josephine Baker Story." In "Good Old Acapella" we are introduced to the harmonizing talents of this group and feel the Persuasions could not have done any better. I was moved by Victor Trent Cook's singing of "I Want to Know your Name," as he played Chip falling in love.

Sukki, played by an energetic Catherine Morin as the only white girl in the cast is good naturedly teased by the others: "Your boyfriend's black and there's gonna be trouble!" Sukki's boyfriend, C.J. played by C.E. Smith presents us with a most sensitive "Unchained Melody." The action continues through the time of the Viet- War, war protesters, the drug induced psychedelic culture and the whirl of disco rock. Eugene Fleming (Clarence), Jose Llana (Jessie-lee), Debra Walton (Debbie) and Stacy Francis (Susan) all sing and dance with remarkable talent and enthusiasm.

Jonathan Bixby does a stunning job with the costumes - especially with the color purple in the second part. The set design by Neil Peter Jampolis was a perfect accouterment to this type of production. Having the musicians on top of the action rather than below added to the freshness of the performance.

It would be hard to escape comparison with Smokey Joe's Cafe. The two are similar in genre - not being Broadway shows with drama plots but rather musical statements using small, highly talented casts. Street Corner Symphony departs from the former by using a definite time line in depicting this slice of Americana. Don McLean's "American Pie" sung by Carol Davis is enthusiastically received by the audience, but before you decide to go, make sure this is the recipe you crave!

Conceived and staged by Marian J. Caffey
With Carol Dennis, Victor Cook, Jose Llana, Stacy Francis, Catherine Morin, C.E. Smith, Debra Walton and Eugene Fleming
Atkinson, 256 W. 47th St. (307-4100)
10/28/97; Opened 11/24/97 
Closed 2/01!
Reviewed 11/24/97 by Joan Eshkenazi

© November 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

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