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IF EVER THERE was a Broadway musical revue that’s ripe for revival these days, it’s Tintypes.
The Tintypes revue was originally produced by the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. It opened off-Broadway on April 17, 1980, and ran for 137 performances. The Broadway production, opening on October 23, 1980, ran for 93 more. Having a cast of only five and modest orchestral requirements, the revue has been popular with regional and little theater groups since then.
In its CD notes, Steve Lawson writes, “The world of Tintypes is the curious half-century between the Civil War and the Roaring Twenties, one of the most tumultuous eras in American history.… It was a time of explosive growth: America’s population doubled in thirty years, and one-third of the leap came from abroad. A million Irish after the potato famine; three million Germans fleeing Bismarck’s ‘blood and iron,’ nine million Jews, Slavs, and Italians between 1900 and World War I.”
Mary Kyte, who conceived Tintypes with Mel Marvin and pianist Gary Pearle, has included familiar songs from the era (the traditional “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” 1876, and “America, the Beautiful,” 1910). Others are less known (the traditional “Wait for the Wagon,” “When It’s All Goin’ Out and Nothin’ Comin’ In,” 1902, and “She’s Gettin’ More Like the White Folks Every Day,” 1901).
Yes, there’s biting satire in Tintypes, with its cast playing various roles encountering challenges not unfamiliar to many today.
For example, “Wait for the Wagon” has counterpoint between two cast members, one portraying radical Emma Goldman; the other, a Wall Street tycoon: Goldman argues, “You put your trust in your political leaders. Fifth Avenue is laid in gold, every mansion a citadel of money and power. And there you stand, a giant starved and fettered.”
The tycoon responds, “It is not true that the poor have grown poorer but that some of the rich have grown so much richer that the contrast strikes the onlooker as more violent than before.”
This stirring encounter begins at about 30:33 in the following video.
Lawson cites in the CD notes, “On the average workday, Andrew Carnegie’s pension was $44,000—and two million children earned 25 cents. (‘The most beautiful sight we see anywhere,’ rhapsodized the founder of Coca-Cola, ‘is the child at labor.’ ”
Another Lawson citation comes from a Slav immigrant: “My people do not live in America. They live beneath it.”
However, don’t think that Tintype is in any sense a downer. Its 15 scenes in two acts also celebrate ingenuity and inventions in song (“Electricity,” 1905; “Come Take a Trip in My Airship,” 1904; and “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” 1905); and Ragtime (Scott Joplin’s “Elite Syncopations” and “Ragtime Dance,” both from 1902, and “Solace: a Mexican Serenade,” 1909). Teddy Roosevelt is a recurring character in the musical, sharing his aspirations for a Panama Canal.
Our 26th president is celebrated in a rousing “Teddy Da Roose,” 1910. And “I Want What I Want When I Want It,” 1905, has repartee by Roosevelt and his newly created Panamanian Republic pal: “Canal?” “Canal.” “And You?” “I Can!” It begins around 58:30 in the video.
The Finale is wistfully upbeat with Victor Herbert’s “Toyland,” 1903, and Callahan and Roberts’ “Smiles,” 1918.
It’s good to smile again. I hope you enjoy Tintype as much as I do. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018