Corrections or additions?

This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the November 21, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `Tintypes’

Sing out for liberty and light, Sing out for freedom and

the right, Sing out for Union and its might, O patriotic sons.

"Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa.

Most Americans first heard "Yankee Doodle Boy,"

"You’re a Grand Old Flag," and "Stars and Stripes

Forever"

in kindergarten, and for many, that was where these songs seemed to

belong. Perhaps because they were written in a bygone era their

relevance

to day-to-day American life seemed, at best, negligible. Built around

a naive sentimentality that became dated over the decades, they

appeared

to celebrate an America willfully ignorant of such thorny issues as

the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, or Watergate. They remained the

treacly offerings of school assemblies and Fourth of July parades.

But times have changed. A by-product of the current national terrorism

crisis is the wave of unabashed patriotism sweeping through everyday

life. Little American flags, conveniently designed to attach to car

widows and antennas, now adorn the parking lots of shopping malls

everywhere. Rap singers are seen on TV waving the red, white, and

blue, and "The Star Spangled Banner" is routinely played at

noon by rock ‘n’ roll radio stations across the country.

The decision to kick off the Off-Broadstreet Theater’s 2001-2002

season

with the 1980 Broadway hit "Tintypes," a feel-good patriotic

musical revue, was made last June. At first glance it seems to be

the perfect show to fit these times of renewed patriotism.

Conceived by Mary Kyte with Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle, it is

chock-full

of old-time flag-waving patriotic tunes mixed in with such familiar

toe-tappers as "She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain," "A

Bird In A Gilded Cage," and "Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay." A bit

of pathos, as well as a nod to the more complicated issues of the

American experience, is offered with the inclusion of songs like

"Sometimes

I Feel Like A Motherless Child" and "Nobody."

But watching "Tintypes" is a lot like watching reruns of the

"Lawrence Welk Show" or "Ozzie and Harriet." There

is a syrupy glaze over the entire show that one can’t escape. This

glaze goes beyond the songs themselves, seeping into the performances.

Although everyone in the cast are accomplished performers and can

certainly carry a tune, the general tone of the show is too

self-consciously

cute, as if everything were bedecked with ribbons and curls.

"Tintypes" has just a mere shadow of a story. A young

immigrant

man arrives in America at the turn of the 20th century and experiences

American life in song and dance. There are brief, blowsy appearances

by such historical figures as Teddy Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, and

Fannie

Brice to help sketch out the times. There is also a strained

re-enactment

of several vintage vaudeville sketches, filled with lame jokes and

slow-moving physical comedy.

But the backbone of "Tintypes" is its program of almost 40

pre-World War I songs, performed by its cast of five, and assisted

by a five piece band. Cuteness aside, the cast does provide some nice

moments.

Denise Mihalik is a fine and confident singer. She performs "Meet

Me in St. Louis" with a flair that betrays her operatic background

as she daintily clutches the string of a purple helium-filled balloon.

Her rendition of "If I Were On The Stage (Kiss Me Again),"

performed as she gracefully glides on a flowered swing over the front

edge of the stage is one of the show’s high points.

Arthur Hochman, who steps in and out of the role of Teddy Roosevelt,

has a knack for some of the hepped-up comedy routines. Geoffrey

Barber,

as the young immigrant, exudes a nice airiness about him, and is

particularly

fun with "Then I’d Be Satisfied For Life."

Esther H. Cohen also sings with a lovely voice and performs her one

big solo, "Jonah Man," while competently wielding a push

broom.

Radia Funna’s performance of "Ragtime Dance" is nicely loose

and provides a particularly fun moment.

The set design is bland, dominated by pale pink with a white bandstand

at the back of the stage. The decision to project early 20th century

era photographs (but not Civil War tintypes) onto the stage wall,

seems to have been an afterthought. The wall doesn’t make for an

adequate

screen; it has a hook jutting out from the middle of it and half the

audience facing away from it.

Despite some musical high points, "Tintypes" is a trifle of

a show. In an odd way the times work against it, as it seems

particularly

out of place during these difficult times. The current increased

fervor

in patriotism shines a brighter spotlight in our consciousness than

on anything red, white, and blue. But with the country in crisis,

one looks for signs of inspiration and strength. "Tintypes"

comes out looking sillier than it should.

— Jack Florek

Tintypes, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood

Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $22.50 & $24. Fridays through Sunday,

to December 1.


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