By Bart Greenberg . . .
The Irish Repertory Theatre have revived The Streets of New York by Dion Boucicault in an adaptation by Charlotte Moore, who also contributed the songs that decorate the melodrama and directed the entire production in a consistent light touch. If you are inclined to embrace an auteur approach, this is clearly her show. However, she has been careful to follow the work of the original playwright, tightly following the plot and using great amounts of the dialogue.
Of course, the underlying play, originally entitled The Poor of New York, is pure melodrama, with very good people (the recently poor) and very bad people (the nouveau riche), coincidences galore, lost documents, purchased husbands, social climbers, sacrificial virgins and a happy ending of course. All of which seem highly improbable, but then they come from a man whose parenthood was somewhat questionable, who was born in Ireland, raised in England and spent vital years in both the United States and Australia, had a variety of marriages of questionable legality, faced financial ruin with some regularity and wrote some of the most popular theater pieces of the 19th Century.
As the handsome, proud but poverty stricken hero, Ben Jacoby offers a strong golden tenor and a manly profile. Opposite him, the lovely patrician, DeLaney Westfall matches him with a strong soprano of her own. Saddled with characters who are alarmingly noble despite their overwhelming travails, they carefully avoid turning into plaster saints. On the other hand, the riotous Amanda Jane Cooper shows no hesitation in diving full into camp right up to her golden curls as the spoiled heiress, landing somewhere between Madeleine Kahn and Kristen Chenoweth.
As the older generation, Amy Bodnar brings a lovely dignity to the heroine’s mother (the audience can see where the finer qualities of the younger woman came from). David Hess makes a fine villain, greedy and corrupt, trapped by his only weakness as a doting father. Polly McKie and Richard Henry offer fine portrayals as a joyful, loving couple of the lowest class, like something out of a Dickens’ novel. Daniel J. Maldonado as a dancing Duke of limited funds and Price Waldman as a long suffering butler contributed greatly to the fun. And Justin Keyes as the schemer turn reformer captures the constantly shifting character with ease.
But the big surprise of the afternoon among the cast was an understudy: Kerry Conte as Dixie Puffy, a robust young tomboyish woman of great courage but limited funds. Conte seem to have the soul of musical comedy with her, born to play Annie Oakley, Reno Sweeney, and in a few years, even Mame Dennis. With only a duet and a trio and bits and pieces elsewhere, she centers the production every time she appears. Ryan Vona, as her nerdy vis-à-vis, balances her well in their duet.
Music director and arranger Mark Hartman (backed up by Ed Goldschneider at the particular performance) has balanced the voices of the company beautifully, especially since the production is microphone-free, and what a pleasure it is to hear the unmanufactured human voices. Moore’s songs are in a wide range of styles, from echoes of Sondheim in the opening to operetta for the lovers to pure vaudeville for the scheming villains. Each song is highly appropriate and fitting for the moment it is placed in, as well as quite entertaining. And while there is not a great deal of dancing, what there is is delightfully designed by Barry McNabb.
The outstanding design team of Hugh Landwehr (sets), Linda Fisher (costumes), and Michael Gottlieb (lighting) create an entire theatrical world for the story to take place in, whether it entails a sweet Christmas Eve complete with snow or a tenement fire, a sorry hovel or a grand rococo reception room. On a small space and with limited resources, each moment is brought to life. Bravo to all.
The Streets of New York plays through January 30, 2002 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St., New York City. Tickets may be purchased via www.Irishrep.org or at the theatre’s box office. The now standard Covid restrictions apply.
Photos: Carol Rosegg