Holiday musicals are often cheery but don’t quite leave an imprint. So when one does, it sticks like a wet candy cane. The Streets of New York, a musical revival adapted from Dion Boucicault’s 1857 play The Poor of New York, is a festive production full of melodramatic storytelling and poppy tunes delivered with merriment by an unforgettable cast.
The award-winning musical, previously staged in 2001 at Irish Repertory Theatre, has returned to the Off-Broadway house this winter. The classic holiday story, beautifully adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore who also writes the original music, begins during frightfully hard times of The Panic of 1837, when banks across the nation began to fail and triggered a multi-year economic depression. (At this point, every Christmas story begins in a bank. Hello, Ebenezer Scrooge!) In a more robust and tighter book than its senior, the story blends the stories of a rich and deceptive banker, Gideon Bloodgood (the bold David Hess); his entitled daughter, Alida Bloodgood (exquisite Amanda Jane Cooper); and his vindictive employee, Badger (a hilarious Justin Keyes) with the poor Fairweather family he stole money from, and the rest of the barely surviving, always hustling, townspeople. The story is amusing and thoughtful, filled with anecdotal metaphors of kindness and generosity — you know, your classic Christmas narrative. The text leaves little to be desired, but it’s the music that’s at the heart of this yuletide tale.
The score brings out the best moments of the plot. It feels wrong to focus on standout numbers, as every song is like a decadent cup of frothy hot chocolate. For the sake of this review, “Oh How I love Being Rich,” serves as the show’s pièce de résistance. A former Glinda, Cooper (Wicked) delightfully and annoyingly executes a spoiled brat in this number and sets the tone for the remainder of the production. “Villains,” beautifully performed by the talented company (Amy Bodnar, Richard Henry, David Hess, Ben Jacoby, Justin Keyes, Daniel J. Maldonado, Polly McKie, Jordan Tyson, Ryan Vona, Price Waldman, DeLaney Westfall, and Cooper) gives nuance and depth that expands on the previous production staged 20 years ago.
Eye-catching set design by Hugh Landwehr lusciously reinforces that American currency — more or less — is at the nucleus of this story. Upon entry into the theatre, audiences are met by the $100 bill standing center stage. During intervals of the show the cash board transforms into the inside of Gideon Bloodgood’s mansion and also the slums that the poor reside in. Be with that as you will. Linda Fisher’s extraordinary costume design gives context to the time period of the 1800s and offers a vast distinction between the rich and the poor with dignified pomp and circumstance versus tattered rags and makeshift coats.
In a sensitive time where it feels like live theatre is escaping us right in the midst of what should be a robust holiday season, Moore’s glorious adaptation wraps the year to remind us that heartbreak over time morphs into a joyful song and dance in the streets of New York.
Photo credit: The company of The Streets of New York. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)