The Siegel Column

Irish Rep Takes You Along

Jackie Gleason won a Tony Award for his performance as Sid Davis, the reluctant bridegroom in Take Me Along when it opened on Broadway in 1959. The show ran well over 400 performances and received a raft of Tony nominations, including one for Best Musical. Despite a disastrous attempt at a Broadway revival in the mid-1980s that resulted in seven preview performances and a shuttered theatre after opening night, the Irish Rep is producing this show on its small Off-Broadway stage with sweet and satisfying results.

Take Me Along (music/lyrics by Bob Merrill, book by Joseph Stein and Robert Russell) was a nostalgic piece of musical theater even when it made its initial bow. Set in a small Connecticut town circa 1920, it is based on O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness which the playwright conjured up as the family life he wished he had had. The new production, endearingly directed by Charlotte Moore, embraces that nostalgia with a warmly picturesque set design by James Morgan and vintage costume design by Linda Fisher. More to the point, Moore approaches the book and its score with a light and breezy hand, which enhances the show's unaffected innocence.

A charming cast is anchored by musical theater veteran William Parry as Nat Miller, with Don Stephenson in the Jackie Gleason role of Sid Davis, the man who loves Nat's sister Essie (Beth Glover) but cannot commit. The second act duet of "But Yours" by Stephenson and Glover is a highlight of the show. In this production, though, the ultimate scene-stealer is young Teddy Eck who plays Richard, the passionate teenage boy who, believing himself betrayed by his girlfriend, goes to a roadhouse and meets up with a prostitute (Anastasia Barzee). This being a musical comedy, instead of sex she delivers a song, and a good one called "If Jesus Don't Love Ya." Meanwhile, Eck's performances of "The Hurt They Write About" and "I Would Die" (the latter a duet with Emily Skeggs) are terrific moments of musical theater.

This winsome and winning production of Take Me Along will be at the Irish Rep through April 13th.

Show Adds Up to a Hit!

How wonderfully radical it is that the dark and subversive new musical Adding Machine is, like Take Me Along, also set in the 1920s. One difference, besides the fact that this show is new and the other is a revival, is that Adding Machine is set in an American city rather than a bucolic country village. Based on the play of the same name by Elmer Rice, the musical is the brainchild of Joshua Schmidt (music), Jason Loewith (music and libretto) and Joshua Schmidt (libretto). Falling somewhere between a metaphor and a nightmare, this startling new work vaults over its avant-garde ambiance to become a more universal tale of failure in the first degree. It may not be everyone's cup of poison tea, but it's mighty potent.

Once you get past the heavy-handed conceit of our protagonist's name, Mr. Zero (Joel Hatch), and navigate through a grim and somewhat slow opening sequence, the musical opens up to be part Death of a Salesman and part "Twilight Zone." When faced with a boss much like Willy Loman's, Mr. Zero does something that Willy would never do. And therein hangs the tale. Except this one is largely told through an inspired score that owes much to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

In its own dark and downtown way, this is a sumptuous production at the Minetta Lane, complete with foreboding set design by Takeshi Kata matched by insidiously gothic lighting design by Keith Parham, and menacing sound design by Tony Smolenski IV. All of this works in tandem with Peter Flaherty's ominous video design. Kristine Knanishu's costume design captures the rag-tag look of the working poor and provides a visual grounding against the more high-end theatricality of the piece.

The strong ensemble cast is led by the powerful performance of Mr. Hatch as Zero, and the extraordinary performance of Daisy, the clerk who loves him, played and sung to the hilt by Amy Warren. It's the kind of performance that makes you look up her name in the program because you don't want to forget it.

Adding Machine is as harsh and unforgiving as Take Me Along is sweet and extremely forgiving. Some might say "pick your poison"; we say take a swig of both.

A chance to witness the future right now

The typical musical theatergoer may not know the writing team of Chris Miller (music) and Nathan Tysen (lyrics). But they will. Over the last several years they have won just about every prestigious musical theatre prize or grant that one could hope to garner on their way to getting a show produced in New York. Next season you can look for their first book musical, The Burnt Part Boys, at the Vineyard Theatre. We happen to have seen that show up at the Barrington Stage Company where it was being developed, which gave us a very good reason to check out a new revue of their work called Fugitive Songs that just opened at the 45th Street Theatre.

Fugitive Songs is a fluid, artfully directed (Joe Calarco) song cycle that centers on the theme of flight: specifically, running away ... from home, from lovers, from troubles, from whatever. The show, therefore, has a picaresque quality akin to a modern musical rendition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Both the theme and your introduction to these songwriters begins with a thrilling opening number called "Reasons to Run" that builds both emotionally and musically as all five members of the cast eventually sing it in gorgeously orchestrated vocal harmonies.

Not every song is a stunner, but that's to be expected. Think of the show as a gold mine loaded with valuable nuggets. That doesn't mean that every rock you pick up will be worth a fortune, but work that mine and you'll come out richer for the experience. Consider, for instance, "Subway Song," a number about much more than the subway, performed by Ben Roseberry with a deep emotional connection. "Spring Cleaning" is performed by the next generation Mary Testa, a young woman named Lucia Spina, who sings a song about getting rid of all her junk, including her boyfriend. Songs about Patty Hearst, botched holdups, and going home are just some of the richly detailed songs in this engaging revue that sounds like pop music but is nonetheless firmly rooted in musical theater traditions.

Another bonus to the evening is the discovery of talents like Ben Roseberry, Lucia Spina, and confirmation of talent already admired like D. B. Bonds (just recently seen in the Craig Carnelia revue Life on Earth) and Halle Petro (seen in The Burnt Part Boys at The Barrington Stage Company). The fifth member of the company, Todd E. Pettiford, also displayed a good voice but didn't quite standout like the others. Too bad for him, but he didn't get one of the nuggets.

The smartly titled revue - no doubt most of the tunes are fugitives from musicals Miller and Tysen are writing - plays through March 30th.

-- Barbara and Scott Siegel

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