Friday, July 3, 2015

REVIEW: PENDRAGON’S TINTYPES IS FLAWLESS

Tintypes at Pendragon highlights snapshots of
history through song and dance. 
What: The Tony nominated play, Tintypes, a musical conceived by Mary Kyte with Mel Marvin and Gary Pearl, is a turn-of-the-century musical revue that provides a series of vignettes into America’s immigrant experience at the onset of World War I. The cast of five actors documents the end of an era through a series of songs and a poignant understory.
Where: Pendragon Theatre, 15 Brandy Brook Ave, Saranac Lake, 518-891-1854, www.pendragontheatre.org
Advanced tickets price: $30/adult, $25/senior, $15/student with ID, $20/matinee
At Door ticket price: $35/adult/senior, $25/student, $20/matinee
When: Saranac Lake: July 2, 3,7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 at 8 pm with matinees at 2 pm on July 4,11,18. VIEW in Old Forge: July 6 at 8 pm.
Tintypes: A fun play for all ages. 

By, Diane Chase, AdirondackFamilyTime.com
(Saranac Lake) Tintypes, now playing at Pendragon Theatre until July 18, is a fast-paced musical that hits all the high notes with over 40 songs from the turn of the century. 

I sit amongst an audience that ranges in age from a three-year-old to the senior set for this family-friendly show. This musical has enough depth and history to allow an older audience to peel back the layers from its glossy surface and see the pain and suffering underneath while the younger set will gladly sit back and listen to pitch-perfect songs, vignettes and dance routines. 

This musical is more a series of skits woven together through song with this ensemble evoking just the right touch of emotion to bring the audience to its feet. The quest for the American Dream is questioned through social class represented through the eyes of an immigrant, a person of race, a social elite, a celebrity and a human rights advocate. Like the diverse characters, the sketches are a melding of period appropriate events, politics and inventions. With very little dialog the understory is given a high coat of shine through its charming, upbeat score and pantomimes, pulling us back to an era of optimism and “can do attitude.”  
  
Tyler Nye as Teddy Roosevelt and Sam Balzac as a reporter.
I recognize right away the set design from Tijana Bjelajac. I am a huge fan of Bjelajac’s theatre work. She has previously designed sets for Pendragon’s productions of Red and Man of La Mancha. Bjelajac transforms the stage to late 1800s New York City with minimal elements and props. The brick wall backdrop allows the audience to imagine the action from city streets to a factory or the vaudeville stage while also serving as a flickering silent movie screen. A lone piano in the corner has accompanist Kim Weems providing the diverse and complicated score. Bonnie B. Brewer washes the stage in a light that conjures up images of sepia tone prints and innocent times. 

Director Karen Lordi-Kirkham, also Pendragon’s Executive/Artistic Director, coaxes a perfect performance from this standout ensemble cast. Not a pause is missed or a cue forgotten. With 43 songs in two acts, these song and dance troopers don’t miss a beat or look out of breath. They may have sung for their supper, but it’s the audience that walks away full.  Working with an ensemble is a delicate balance that can sometimes highlight a weak link rather than showcase the collaborative effort. Lordi-Kirkman chooses the best for this ensemble of five, as they transition from solo to harmony with ease. 

Kent Streed’s costumes place the actors at the turn of the century. Streed makes simple additions to each actor’s costume changes, from Emma’s and TR’s glasses, a parasol or fringed jacket that easily alters the focus between the various characters each actor portrays.

Sam Balzac as Charlie mimes   
There are some familiar faces in the cast when Sam Balzac (Charlie), last seen in Pendragon’s Man of La Mancha and Harvey, enters the stage as newly arrived immigrant and easily shifts to hungry factory worker just by widening his eyes.  Tyler Nye (TR), previously seen in Red, shape shifts from a dapper man about town to embody Teddy Roosevelt and Cassidy Dermott’s (Emma), last seen in Man of La Mancha and Harvey, small stature doesn’t hold her back from filling the stage with swagger and an expressive face.

Jessica Gruver (Anna) and Christina D. Eskridge (Susannah) may be new to the Pendragon stage, but their vast professional experience adds depth and charm to the already top heavy with talent cast.  

Tintypes: TR's historic climb up the Adirondack
High Peak Mt. Marcy to learn about his presidency.
The vignettes are fast pace and fun. There are snippets of Emma Goldman’s human rights speeches, snapshots into Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and flashes into Held’s obsession with milk baths. All are skillfully layered over the drudgery of the lower class questioning the validity of the American Dream.

Though each time capsule is entertaining, a few standout moments are anytime Nye becomes Teddy Roosevelt, either during the Rough Riders stage or accepting the Vice-Presidential nomination, he pulls off the iconic figure with the perfect amount of “bully” and bluster. Other moments are really whenever Balzac and Dermott do anything together. The two add the perfect amount of comedic relief with their facial contortions and high-energy shenanigans. 

Gruver’s delicate features play well as the flirtatious Ziegfeld Follies Anna Held. Don’t be deceived, while Held may have been more a publicity stunt, Gruver is all talent and graceful moves whether singing a solo or harmonizing with her cast mates.  

Tintypes: Christina D Eskridge as Susannah. 
Eskridge is the only cast member that is not playing a character based on a real character. Her Susannah is maid, underdog, factory worker and representative of all ethnicities in this turn of the century melting pot. Her physical approach to each character transforms her from one role to the next, but it’s when she sings that she carries all the emotions of how the American Dream doesn’t come to all. Eskridge adds depth to the performance whether she sings a spiritual or jaunty tune. 

Even though the play’s setting is New York City, Lordi-Kirkham adds a gentle nod to the Adirondacks. She pulls in Roosevelt’s historic Mt. Marcy climb when he discovered that McKinley had been shot as well as music from Lake Placid summer resident composer Victor Herbert.

As I exit the theatre I ask a few audience members what they felt. Their words echo my thoughts, “Listening and watching Tintypes was pure joy. They were flawless.” I would highly recommend that everyone make Tintypes a summertime must. Pendragon Theatre’s Tintypes is a romping good time for all ages, from the tall to the small. Enjoy it while you can. It’s gone after July 18th.

Cast/Crew:
Director: Karen Lordi-Kirkman
TR (Teddy Roosevelt): Tyler Nye
Charlie (based on Charlie Chaplin): Sam Balzac
Susannah: Christina D. Eskridge
Emma (based on Emma Goldman): Cassidy Dermott
Anna (based on Anna Held): Jessica Gruver 
Set Design: Tijana Bjelajac
Costume Design: Kent Streed
Light Design: Bonnie B. Brewer
Technical Director: Sabra Wilson
Stage Manager: Dalton Maltz
Accompanist: Kim Weems

The song list:
Act I
"The Yankee Doodle Boy"
"Ta-Ra-Ra- Boom-De-Ay!"
"I Don't Care"
"Come Take A Trip in my Airship"
"Kentucky Babe"
"A Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight"
"Stars and Stripes Forever”
"Electricity"
“Wabash Cannonball”
“Pastime Rag”
"El Capitan"
“Meet Me In St. Louis”
"Waltz Me Around Again, Willie"
"In My Merry Oldsmobile"
"Wayfaring Stranger"
"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"
"Ay, Lye, Lyu Lye"
"I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen"
"What It Takes to Make Me Love You"
"America The Beautiful"
"The Maiden with the Dreamy Eyes"
"If I Were On The Stage"
"Shortnin' Bread"
“Elite Syncopations”
"Nobody"
"I'm Gonna Live Anyhow"

Act II
"Ragtime Dance"
"Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight"
"I Want What I Want"
"It's Delightful to Be Married"
"Fifty-Fifty"
"Then I’d Be Satisfied with Life"
"Jonah Man"
"When It's All Goin' Out and Nothin’ Comin"
“Hello, Ma Baby”
"We Shall Not Be Moved"
"Teddy Da Roose"
"Bill Bailey"
"You're a Grand Old Flag/The Yankee Doodle Boy - Reprise"
"Toyland"
"Smiles"

* No payment was received for the writing of this review. This review is based solely on the opinion of the author. 
© Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities™ guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time™. 

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