nytheatre.com review by Lisa Ferber
November 12, 2006
Musicals Tonight! presents a revival of Shinbone Alley, the 1957 musical based on the "archy & mehitabel" stories by Don Marquis. The book is co-written by Mel Brooks and Joe Darion, with lyrics by Joe Darion and music by George Kleinsinger.
This is a story about schnooky cockroach, Archy (played by a very sincere Lee Zarrett, who seems completely weakened by the object of his desire), who is desperately in love with Mehitabel the cat (played by the fierce Allyson Tucker). Tucker's Mehitabel is so in-your-face that she's hardly anyone's idea of a little kitten. This is a sassy lady and Tucker works it; every single move she makes sends out a message of "you know you want some of this...and you can't have it." Even walking across the stage, Tucker appears to be dancing and making a statement. Her flirtation with the character of Big Bill—played by Trent Armand Kendall, who has quite a tremendous presence and a voice to match—is sizzling.
Mehitabel has a weakness for bad-boy tomcats and pals around with other up-to-no-good street cats. The play is narrated by a newspaperman played by Gene Jones, whose calm, Garrison Keillor-like manner takes a person straight back in time to when things might have been a little simpler—except of course, in the world of hot-to-trot street cats and desirous cockroaches.
This whole experience is a delight. One thing I will say is that it's not big on "so what happens next" tension, but there's enough entertainment throughout to keep a person happily amused.
Archy repeatedly tries to encourage Mehitabel to clean up her act and get a job as a nice house kitten where she can be taken care of. On to the scene comes acting trainer Tyrone T. Tattersall, who promises he can show Mehitabel a better life. Justin Sayre had me (and everyone else) cracking up from the moment he showed up with a sparkling green Eccentric Theater Person scarf around his neck; he delivers the evening's most over-the-top hilarious performance. His operatic singing is both melodic and funny. He speaks in the Very Important Continental Accent, savoring every syllable of it, as he tells Mehitabel he wants to make her a star of "the THE-a-tahhh." Sayre is so good in his main scene that when he finishes his song about how nobody feels it in their heart for theatre anymore and then refuses Mehitabel's offer of water with "Water? How about some applause?" the audience (including myself) treated him to a second round of applause for his song. He then delivered another laugh-inducing response which I honestly don't know if it was scripted or improvised, but suffice to say I hope to see more of this actor on stage.
As expected with a script co-written by Brooks, the dialogue includes many funnies: "Let's face it, I ain't a lady's bug, I'm a lemon bug. With me even a katydid...didn't"; "...and so it is of newspaper men who know that their words today serve to wrap tomorrow's fish"; and a nice little philosophy: "a mosquito told me just the other day that millionaires and bums taste exactly the same."
Standout lyrics include: "He got a brand of lovin' that tears you right apart / if you survive a kiss from us you get a purple heart"; "If she don't take your dough, tease you, please you, make you go / a woman wouldn't be a woman"; and "The years I have poured down the drain / have sparkled like fine champagne."
Going to see a show at Musicals Tonight! is a delightful experience. Both times I've been there, I've been treated to trivia bits about the original productions as well as brief mentions of what else was going on in the world at the time. They specialize in reviving "forgotten musicals," and I for one am grateful to them for keeping these musicals alive.