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The Streets of New York

Theatre Review by David Hurst - December 14, 2021

Amanda Jane Cooper, Ben Jacoby and DeLaney Westfall
Photo by Carol Rosegg
With its themes of wealth inequality, unrepentant criminality, and man's inhumanity to man, it's easy to see why the Irish Repertory Theatre felt the time was right for a revival of their melodrama The Streets of New York, which was first staged in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But despite a talented cast who throw themselves into the story with grit and gusto, audiences may have a hard time buying into an old-fashioned production that's more sigh-inducing than charming.

The Rep's Artistic Director, Charlotte Moore, has adapted Irish playwright Dion Boucicault's 1857 work, The Poor of New York, which itself was based on Brisbarre and Nus's Les Pauvres de Paris. It became The Streets of New York when it was set to music. But not the music in this production, whose songs were composed by, you guessed it, multitasker Moore. Sadly, it's Moore's score that is the weak link in what becomes a long evening of evildoers breaking the fourth wall.

Anyone who's seen The Drunkard or Ten Nights in a Barroom (not to mention A Bad Day at Gopher's Breath) is familiar with the classic structure of a stage melodrama, and The Streets of New York is no exception. Beginning during the financial panic of 1837, our villain, Gideon Bloodgood (David Hess), an unscrupulous banker, is about to skip town leaving his investors in the lurch when sea captain Patrick Fairweather (Daniel J. Maldonado) shows up to entrust Bloodgood with his lifesavings of $100,000. Fairweather conveniently falls to the floor dead, and Bloodgood and his clerk Brendan Badger (Justin Keyes) dump Fairweather's body on the sidewalk before going on with their lives.

Twenty years later, Fairweather's widow Susan (Amy Bodnar) and children Paul (Ryan Vona) and Lucy (DeLaney Westfall) are living a life of destitution, having been taken in by the kindly Puffy family: Dermot (Richard Henry), Dolly (Polly McKie) and Dixie (Jordan Tyson), who are penniless, too. Former gentleman Mark Livingston (Ben Jacoby) still loves Lucy, despite falling on hard times, and Paul Fairweather and Dixie Puffy clearly have eyes for each other. The rest of the plot turns on a receipt the sea captain and Bloodgood both signed back in 1937 which, if discovered, would restore the Fairweathers' fortunes. Meanwhile, Bloodgood's vainglorious daughter Alida (Amanda Jane Cooper) busily schemes to make Mark Livingston her husband, which will ruin Mark and Lucy's only chance of happiness.

Moore's direction moves things along on Hugh Landwehr's clever and effective sets, but the pacing is often sluggish and there are vacillations in tone which are problematic. Everyone isn't working in the same style, which can spell disaster for a melodrama. Fortunately, the cast sings quite well and the seven-piece orchestra, under the musical direction of Mark Hartman (as it was twenty years ago), is excellent, particularly harpist Karen Lindquist. As our ingenue leads, Ben Jacoby and DeLaney Westfall both have lovely voices, and they make the most of ballads like "We Must Never Say Goodbye" and "Poor Wounded Heart." But at two and a half hours, The Streets of New York may be too melodramatic by half.

The Streets of New York
Irish Repertory Theatre
Through January 30, 2022
132 West 22nd Street, New York NY
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