Newyorkers, the Manhattan-themed new musical revue that began Feb. 27 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II, opens March 27, offering a traffic jam of comedy songs meant to poke fun at the people and foibles of the city that never sleeps.
Christopher Ashley (Rocky Horror Show, Communicating Doors) directs the material by songwriters Stephen Weiner (composer) and Glenn Slater (lyricist). In 22 songs, the company of six manages to have fun with cops, pretentious rich folk, Starbucks employees, the leather-jacketed downtown crowd, co-op boards, the club set, Chelsea boys, the Statue of Liberty, cab drivers and more.
Comedy songs being how they are, the punchlines are often found in their titles. To not give away the best lines, some songs listed on the insert given to media have such benign titles as "La Vie," "Celebrity Samba," "Officers" and "Seventh Avenue Salsa." The preview audiences consistently howled as the numbers revealed themselves. The score also includes "That's How We Relax," "No Hurry at All," "Today's Special," "My Child," "Deli," "I'll Wait," "Down With It," "I Look Great" and "Manhattan 4 A.M.," among others.
The show is billed as "a musical collage," and was slated to open March 20, but was delayed to allow the inclusion of three new numbers during previews. The run is scheduled through April 8.
The company includes Stephen DeRosa (Irma Vep, The Man Who Came to Dinner), Jerry Dixon (Once On This Island), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (On the Town), Pamela Isaacs (The Life), Liz Larsen (The Most Happy Fella) and Priscilla Lopez (A Chorus Line). Lyricist Slater, 33, told Playbill On-Line that he and composer Weiner, 47, were developing a musical version of "Tom Jones" but hadn't found a librettist when the call came from MTC that the troupe was looking for songs about New York for a fundraising revue. Slater and Weiner, who had met in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in 1992, were among various composers who had submitted work. Slater was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, Weiner is a Bucks County, PA, native.
The collaborators couldn't settle on just one song about New York City (a vast world), so they submitted several, and MTC's associate artistic director, Michael Bush, told the team perhaps a Weiner-Slater evening should be developed and presented.
That was five years ago. Following a couple of readings over the years, MTC held a workshop of the material in May 2000, directed by Christopher Ashley. The show was greenlighted for the 2001-2002 season.
About 50 songs were written for the piece, Slater said. Of the 22 songs in the current show, half were not in the 2000 workshop — they are newly written. And three new songs went into the show as late as March 9. (One song about the stock market required adjusting when the Dow plummeted.)
Was it always a comic show?
"It was always meant to be a largely comic show," Slater said. "There have been non-comic songs written for it, things that were meant to be more poignant. They slowly got stripped out over the workshopping process. We pushed back the opening to take out the songs that were more poignant and added more comic..."
After all the comic songs, "you don't want to go to the sentimental place, because it would feel fake."
The show does, however, end with a straight, blusesy ballad, "Manhattan 4 A.M.," sung by Jerry Dixon. Slater said it was their way of addressing the reason why people stay in the city, despite all the issues the other songs bring up.
Slater said it was Ashley who was responsible for underlining what the tone of Newyorkers was — "comic and dark," and not a cabaret show, but one that moved.
"Not 'cute comic,' and not 'the lighter side of New York,'" said Slater, "but trying to find the dark twists. [And] this should not look like cabaret, it needs to feel like theatre, like an actual revue. One of the great things [Ashley] did was to find a theatrical life for what was there. A lot of the stuff has a physical life to it."
Newyorkers is not to be confused with the 1930 Cole Porter musical, The New Yorkers, but is a cousin to such modern-life revues as Maltby and Shire's Closer Than Ever. The city and its personalities have been addressed in such revues as Urban Blight (seen at MTC in 1988) and Mayor (about New York City major Ed Koch).
Composer Weiner received the ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award. He wrote the musical, Spittin' Image, with Laura Szabo-Cohen and Karin Kasdin, and is working on a new musical with Susan DiLallo called Once Upon a Time in New Jersey.
Lyricist Slater received the 1996 Kleban Award for lyrics, and, with Weiner, earned the 2000 ASCAP Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award. He is working on Disney animated film, writing with composer Alan Menken. He is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop and is a resident writer with Musical Theatreworks. Slater also contributed additional lyrics to Broadway's A Class Act.
Tickets are $50. MTC Stage II in at City Center, 131 W. 55th Street. For tickets, call (212) 581-1212. Visit MTC on the web at www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.
— By Kenneth Jones