New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

"Tin Pan Alley"
Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford

Stamford Theatre Works closes its season with a charming little revue, which pays tribute to Tin Pan Alley, offering up a history of this country’s pop music from 1890 to 1930. Mostly the music tells the story, with occasional appropriate commentary sandwiched between songs.

(The name, incidentally, was given to that New York City area—West 28th Street off Broadway—where many of the early composers worked. The cacophony of many pianos working at the same time created a sound of tin pans—hence, the label.)

But this is not history with a heavy-handed treatment. David Bishop and Shawn Churchman depicts the era with a light and playful touch. Yet they have mined the material conscientiously, with an astounding number of tunes from such composers as Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George M. Cohan. And that’s for starters. Also represented are W. C. Handy, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields, Vincent Youmans.

“Tin Pan Alley” is like a homecoming. The songs are not only familiar to us, but ingrained into our very souls. Is there any one born this past century who has not heard “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here”? Not likely.

One is immediately caught up in the spirit, with four players on four pianos, banging out a Scott Joplin rag. It is lively, upbeat, irresistible. Bishop himself is at one piano, and serves as accompanist throughout the show. The others are the three multi-talented performers—Jonas Cohen, Chris Murrah, and Doug Trapp.

The show is off and running with the Scott Joplin rag, but soon the singers take over—individually or in groups. Two women—Inga Ballard and Lindsay K. Northen join the men, to become an effective ensemble, harmonizing beautifully in several numbers. Each song which tells its own story is nicely enacted with song, dance, and character sketch. Of the memorable solo and duet numbers, Chris Murrah and Lindsay Northen turn “Tea for Two” into a delightful soft-shoe routine, and Jonas Cohen offers a dynamite version of “Bei Mir Bistu She’n,” Yiddish comments and all.

If this very likeable show falters in any respect, it is the awkward attempts to pantomime the Tin Pan Alley story—with the sale of sheet music, for example. Nor is the show enhanced by large scrolls which drop from the ceiling with added information.

But, all told, the hard-working performers, under the Bishop/Churchman guidance, do justice to this piece of American history—and provide a good evening’s entertainment as well.

-- Irene Backalenick
June 17, 2006

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