Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Theater: The Streets of New York

The Streets of New York (c) Carol Rosegg

Theater: The Streets of New York 
At Irish Repertory Theater 

Premise: It’s 1837, and the banks are about to fail (an event that seems to happen at least once a century in the US). Evil banker Gideon Bloodgood (David Hess) is planning to leave New York and ensconce with all the bank’s cash when a clerk named Badger (Justin Keyes) tells him he has figured out his plan and wants in, or he’ll report Bloodgood to the police. Fast forward 20 years, Bloodgood and his bank are thriving while the Fairweather family (yes, subtlety is not this play’s strong point), whose money Bloodgood stole, is on the brink of financial ruin, not knowing that Badger might have some evidence that could save them. Add to this mix, a gentle family named the Puffys who are trying to help the Fairweathers, as well as the nobleman Mark Livingstone (Ben Jacoby), who has also fallen onto hard times. He loves Lucy Fairweather (DeLaney Westfall) but is being pursued by Bloodgood’s spoiled daughter Alida (Amanda Jane Cooper), who is looking to marry Livingstone for his title. Oh, and by the way, this is a musical! 

My Take: After her enjoyable production of Dion Boucicault’s 1841’s “London Assurance” before the pandemic, director (and Irish Rep Artistic Director) Charlotte Moore has made her post-theater lockdown reemergence a revival of her musical adaptation of Boucicault’s later play, “The Streets of New York,” and it is in many ways an even bigger triumph. Last seen in New York in 2002, Moore knows the play’s tone is creaky and dated but she always gives us a knowing wink in her adaptation when the plot gets too thorny. Her presentation style takes a little bit for the audience to identify, especially with a “Les Miserables”-style opening that may be a tad bit earnest. But the minute Cooper appears as the spoiled daughter Alida and sings her “Mean Girls”-worthy song, “Oh I How I Love to be Rich,” Moore firmly has us on her wavelength – while we can laugh at the melodrama of it all, the play’s themes about the hypocrisy of the rich and plight of the poor are still relevant today. The mustache twirling of the villains (they even have a song called “Villains”) and the goodness and self-sacrifice of our heroes (their song is called “Poor Wounded Heart”) are all housed in this consistently enjoyable production. When we get to a very important building fire plot point, Moore has the entire cast run off stage just to run back on stage again in almost a farcical way that tickles the audience. The fire, by the way, is perfectly rendered on Hugh Landwehr’s versatile set. How all this is possible on the Irish Rep’s small stage, which also has to house a small, talented ensemble of musicians (including an extravagant but vital inclusion of a harp), is beyond me. It appears the cast is having just as much fun as the audience in this beautifully wrapped gift for the holiday season. 

VIP: Amanda Jane Cooper. It’s hard to single out one person in a talented ensemble of 12, but as the least evil (but still dastardly) villain of the show, she has the best songs, best jokes and has us in the palm of her hand from minute one. It is no surprise that Cooper has played Glinda on Broadway in “Wicked” as she has the same charm and innate comedic chops of Kristin Chenoweth when she made her Broadway debut in “Steel Pier.” Cooper is essentially playing a variation on “Les Miserables’” Eponine but with just enough self-knowledge of her spoiled personality to make her more fun than villainous.

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