By Myra Chanin
Friday night, as I was strolling toward Don’t Tell Mama for the latest edition of the multi-annual-award-winning Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway, I spied Madame R. catching a pre-performance breath on the stairs of an adjacent brownstone. Ricky was not attired in his usual, could-use-a-bit-more-ironing Elaine Stritch-ish open-collar white Oxford, but in a fashionable black over-blouse with an exotic silver design. As soon as he saw me, he advised me he’d just realized that all three of the musicals he’d be dissecting that evening were Jewish!
“Oy vey is meer! Pooh, Pooh, Pooh, Kinnahora!” I immediately cried, the time-tested Yiddish incantation for averting the evil eye and hopefully diverting any idle pogromchiks waiting to run amuck back to Anatevka on 42nd Street. The spell worked! However, I’m certain that even they would have been opened-mouthed with wonder when Ricky’s More Than Ready for Prime-Time Players opened their lips to sing.
First musical up was I Can Get It for You Wholesale, score by Harold Rome, book by Jerome Weidman, set in the 1930’s in New York City’s Garment District. It’s the story of Harry Bogen, an unscrupulous businessman who embezzles, betrays and gasp! even lies to his mother to get ahead but goes bankrupt instead. Wholesale introduced 19-year-old Barbra Streisand to Broadway as Miss Marmelstein as well as to the Tony Awards and Elliott Gould who she respectively won and married.
Bistro and MAC Award winner, Amy Wolk, a Ricky rookie, co-stopped the show in the “Not a Well Man,” duet with a properly seedy Mr. Pulvermacher—the former Norma Desmond ne Sidney Myer. Sidney described the tsouris he had with his health in detail and gave everyone heart failure when he toppled off his stool. Who knew it was rehearsed?
Subsequently, the excellent Ms. Wolk as Miss Marmelstein made Mrs. Brolin on the original cast LP sound like a lassie from St. Louis who’d changed her name from Smith to Streisand in order to get ahead. Aaron Morishita, that no-goodnick Bogen, and Tanya Moberly, his under-appreciated girlfriend Ruthie Rivkin, made two third-rate songs sound only second-rate. Ultimately, another goofy, charming, RRB newcomer Linda Rodolitz, as Bogen’s subtly manipulative mother, convinced Sonny to conquer his depression and “Eat A Little Something,” because she’d “worked all day making it, didn’t want to waste it, because it would be a sin to throw it out.”
Falsettos, a collaboration between James Lapine (book) and William Finn (book and score) is an undisputable, extraordinarily honest masterpiece, set in the 80’s when AIDS was destroying gay life in New York. On Mama’s stage, the play’s glory, love, confusion, passion and pain shows its effect on Marvin’s extended family—two gay and two straight adults
Brian Kalinowski is paterfamilias Marvin, a slightly plump, prosperous, formerly married Jewish professional who leaves his wife Trina, a role shared by Alison Nusbaum and Amy Wolk, for Jon Satrom’s now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t capricious, irresistible and sexy Christian Whizzer, Alison, as Trina #1, displayed an amazing wifely emotional collapse in “I’m Breaking Down,” when she admits catching her husband Marvin in their bed grabbing Whizzer’s ass. Jon Satrom’s Whizzer seems more sexual than emotional:
I don’t look for trouble, I don’t accept blame,
I have a good and a bad side but they’re one and the same,
Ask me to arouse you, I will rise and obey, these are the games that I play
Brian Kalinowski’s Marvin is much more emotional and romantic:
When he sparkles the earth begins to sway.
What more can I say?
The performance level rose from outstanding to incomparable when Brian and Jon, like regular people who’ve been through the ups and downs of love and life together, mesmerized everyone with the glorious melodies of what I consider the greatest, deepest and most real love song ever written:
What would I do if I hadn’t met you? What would I be if you had not been my friend?
What would I be if I had not loved you, how would I know what love is.
I don’t believe there was an unmoved heart or a dry cheek in the room.
They’re Playing Our Song, book by Neil Simon, music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carole Bayer Singer, starring Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein had good and bad luck. It was based on Hamlisch and Singer’s actual romance. It ran about three years on Broadway and was nominated for 9 Tony and Drama Desk awards. It won nothing because Sweeney Todd opened three weeks after it did.
It’s about a neurotic; i.e. afraid of flying, young, focused and aloof Jewish tunesmith and a guilty, wants to make everything perfect, Jewish lady lyricist trying to work together while falling in love. Marvin Hamlisch never wrote a non-memorable tune, and Carole Bayer Singer was no slouch with words either. The love songs are tender and the upbeat duets actually make you bounce on your chair. Tara Martinez looked and sang “I Still Believe in Love,” exquisitely. I still can’t believe she isn’t starring on Broadway. Ricky was right in his element as composer Vernon Gersch, rocking at the Steinway, singing out with total gusto and Kathy Kaefer’s Sonia Walsk following suit. Their rollicking closing number, an anthem to narcissism, was singularly delightful. And rightly so. After all, “They’re Playing My Song!”
Kudos once again for Jay Rogers and Aaron Morishita’s deft direction.
So, what’s waiting in the wings for next month? Milk and Honey, Minnie’s Boys and Once Upon a Mattress. One might well wonder, will Sidney Myer play Groucho or Margaret Dumont?
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Add the upcoming time and date on your calendar: July 19 at 7 pm, Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th Street, www.donttellmamanyc.com
It’s the right night to be out on the town.