Irish Rep directors Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly note this year’s holiday themes are “Family. Lost Loves. And for good or bad, money.” Originally titled The Poor of New York, playwright Dion Boucicault’s 1857 comic melodrama encompasses these themes with wink-wink gusto, vaudeville choreography, and songs.
The financial panic of 1857 is sweeping New York. Railroad stock values nose-dive due to embezzlement. N. H. Wolfe and Company, the oldest flour and grain concern in the city and the New York Branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust both fail. The steamship S. S. Central America carrying over $1 million dollars in commercial gold and a shipment of 15 tons of federal gold (valued at $20 an ounce) sinks near South Carolina. People lose their shirts. Results would be disastrous and long term.
As performed by a cloaked company, “The Streets of New York” (song) sets a Sweeny Todd-like tone- forbidding, hopeless. “Every man has a right to a job/A room for his children away from the mob…”
Pompous, corrupt bank president Gideon Bloodgood (David Hess, solid if unoriginal) is aware his institution must shut its doors. The widower resolves to take his baby daughter and misappropriated funds to England where they’ll resettle until the smoke clears. In anticipation of leaving, he’s sent everyone home. Watchful clerk Brendan Badger (Justin Keyes) remains. He knows what the boss plans. (Keyes excels in the second act imagining himself wealthy; enduring suffocation.)
When sea Captain Patrick Fairweather (Daniel J. Maldonato) bursts into the president’s office to leave $100,000 in cash at the only bank he trusts to get through the crisis, Bloodgood practically goes “cha-ching!” Badger says nothing to prevent the transaction and is offered a small bribe to stay quiet.
Fairweather catches a whiff of what’s going on, however, and comes storming back to retrieve his money. In a poorly acted apoplectic death, he promptly expires of a heart attack. Bloodgood and Badger drag the corpse to the street, the latter purloining the deposit receipt for future use. The captain’s family knows nothing of what occurred. Without income, they sink into penury.
Twenty years later, never having left the city, Bloodgood is fabulously wealthy off the backs of the poor. His daughter Alida (Amanda Jane Cooper) has grown up a crass, spoiled, giggly, flibberty-gibbit, no less treasured for her lack of character. “Oh How I Love Being Rich” she rhapsodizes wide-eyed and whirling, sniggering at those beneath her. Cooper makes a meal of this and, in fact, every moment on stage. The audience eats it up.
Badger returns from itinerant travel and confronts Bloodgood only to be arrested and imprisoned on trumped up charges. He would in any case have to locate the Fairviews to bring suit.
Meanwhile, Mark Livingston (Ben Jacoby), once wealthy, now penniless, accidentally finds ex-fiancé Lucy Fairweather (DeLaney Westfall) whom he left upon going bust. The Captain’s widow Mrs. Fairweather (Amy Bodnar), her son Paul (Ryan Vona), and daughter Lucy subsist in the rough tenement neighborhood Five Points. The family is befriended/ aided by kindly street vendors Mr. Puffy (Richard Henry), wife Dolly (Polly McKie) and daughter Dixie (Jordan Tyson) who, though equally poor, have more experience in how to get by.
Both Amy Bodnar and Polly McKie are maternally warm and credible in veteran less-is-more mode. McKie’s accent adds color. As Paul, Ryan Vona’s plausibility ebbs and flows; innocent brightness is effective. Richard Henry (Mr. Puffy) emerges perhaps a tad too jolly through no fault of his own but is also sympathetic. Jordan Tyson (Dixie) doesn’t seem to have internally settled on a character.
The rest of the pinball story involves Bloodgood’s trying nefariously and repeatedly to retrieve the receipt, Badger’s naïve attempts at blackmail, star-crossed lovers Mark and Lucy & Paul and Dixie- “He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive”, and Alida’s affair with Valentino-like gigolo Duke Vlad (Daniel J. Maltonado- droll dance, terrible facial expressions) conducted at the same time as she blackmails Mark into marriage in order to gain position.
There are love songs, comedy turns, attempted suicides, a fire, blundered murders, unexpected heroism, considerable miscommunication, forgiveness, self sacrifice, and changes in circumstance. Needless to say it all comes out fine at the end.
Standouts Ben Jacoby (Mark Livingston) and DeLaney Westfall (Lucy) sing well and draw us in. Whenever either or both are on stage, reality rears its otherwise hooded head. Chemistry and harmony are lovely.
Charlotte Moore wears many hats with this production. The Artistic Director of Irish Rep, she here knits story and song into a coherent musical. The former is deftly convoluted, holding attention and fostering anticipation; the latter unmemorable, though ably serving chosen moments. A scene with two tenants unaware they’re living back to back is staged wonderfully.
Choreography by Barry McNabb is jaunty; adroitly contained on the small stage. “Villains”, a music hall routine featuring Bloodgood and Badger is particular fun.
Hugh Landwehr’s old style newsprint set is clean and apt, morphing easily from room into room. Flickering lamps, snow, and a modest theatrical fire contribute.
Linda Fisher’s costumes are excellent throughout, Alida’s dresses as tacky and tasteless as the girl might select.
Also featuring Price Waldman making little of the role of Bloodgood’s servant. Where’s Jules Munchin when you need him?
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening Photo: The Company
The Streets of New York by Dion Boucicault (1820-1890)
Adaptation, Songs, & Direction by Charlotte Moore
Music Director tonight Ed Goldschneider
Through January 30, 2022
Irish Repertory Theatre 132 West 22nd Street