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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Small musicals that rely on the zest of the songs and the singers to carry the day are among my favorite things. This week I had a chance to see two such shows, both set around the turn of the century and well-timed to tap into our nostalgic longing to recall the good times when our country was undergoing monumental growth and optimism.
Roadside is a book musical that Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt played with years ago but only recently brought to fruition (CurtainUp's review. Tintypes is a revival of a revue that had a long Off-Broadway run (at the same St. Peter's Church theater where Roadside is now playing) and a considerably shorter one at the Golden on Broadway, but long enough for a young Lynne Thigpen to nab a Tony nomination.
The show is now, as it was twenty years ago, a chamber piece with a cast of five representing several well-known historical figures of the era from 1897 to the first World War -- Theodore Roosevelt, Emma Goldman and the glamorous performer Anna Held, as well as an array of archetypal strivers and achievers. It was an eventful and colorful time that brought electricity, industrialization and its attendant strife between rich and poor, and America's love affair with the automobile. Theaters were alive with operettas and vaudeville. The music world turned out a steady parade of patriotic and romantic songs and, as Tintypes illustrates, the beat of ragtime was heard everywhere.
Given its arrangement of the songs into thematic segments, you might call this show a musical history lesson illustrated by an assemblage of musical voices, from anonymous to lesser and well-known songs by the period's top tunesmiths. The cast assembled for this one-month revival is excellent. Michele Ragusa, the leading lady, Anna (as in Anna Held), is as lovely as she sounds. In "It's Delightful to be Married " she also proves herself to be a fine comedienne, as is her partner in this duet, Christine Rea who plays Emma (as in Emma Goldman). Mark Lotito is the most adept at slipping into a variety of roles. His pivotal persona is that of Teddy Roosevelt which includes a rousing rendition of Victor Herbert's "I Want What I Want When I Want It" to depict his ambitions vis-a-vis the Panama Canal. His show-stopping turn is as an Italian vaudevillian doing "Teddy De Roose" in the penultimate and liveliest Vaudeville section. Josh Alexander, who loses his Russian immigrant's accent to play various other American types, and Johmaalya Adelekan as the sole representative of the African-American experience, round out the ensemble.
Greg Pliska is an able and energetic one-man band at the side of the appropriately simple seet design by. Michael Brown. Jennifer Paulson Lee, overcomes the confines of the handkerchief-sized stage to provide some nice choreographic touches. While there aren't many costume changes, Daryl A. Stone makes everyone look great.
Tintypes is obviously more a musically driven survey of this period in our history than an in-depth course, so that it may seem unwise to suggest even further condensation. However, some extensive tightening of the first act might eliminate some of the show's weaknesses, including a certain amount of confusion about who the characters are t (a failing of Nick Corley's otherwise solid direction). There are also a number of songs which no longer resonate and many sluggish moments. The second act has none of these problems. It t starts off with a lively dance number, Scott Joplin's "A Ragtime Dance" and keeps moving forward without a dull moment, ending with a rousing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" finale. Anyone reading this who has a short attention span, should take it as a caveat: If the first act feels a bit too much like an only intermittently fascinating lesson, hang in there and remember that the best is yet to come.
This is very definitely a family show -- no nudity, no off-color language. Lots to talk about afterwards.
LINKS TO OTHER MELTING POT THEATRE PRODUCTIONS REVIEWED AT CurtainUp:
Portable Pioneer & Prairie Show
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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