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A CurtainUp Review
The Talk of the Town

The Algonquin Welcomes the Pecadillo Theater's Musical Round Table Crowd
by Elyse Sommer

Talk  of the Town
Pictured (clockwise) Jared Bradshaw as Robert Benchley, Kristen Maloney as Dorothy Parker and Rob Seitelman as Alexander Woolcot. (Photo: Tom Dawes)
Last season the eleven-year-old Pecadillo Theater Company, which has built its reputation by producing forgotten American classics, scored two major successes. The company's revival of Elmer Rice's Counsellor-at-Law (our review) fit their mission of restoring rarely revived gems. With John Rubinstein heading a bracingly large cast, the play drew savvy theater goers to the small West Village theater the Pecadillo calls home. After several extensions, the play moved to a larger theater closer to the theater district and collected a raft of rewards.

On a somewhat different note, Pecadillo also ventured into new territory with an original musical about the famous wits who for ten years met for lunch and witty talk at the Algonquin Hotel. The Talk of the Town proved to be a winner. Audiences loved the perky book, music and lyrics by Ginny Reddington & Tom Dawes and director Dan Wackerman brought out the best in the 7-member ensemble. Good reviews (including mine below) and word of mouth prompted several extensions.

I wasn't surprised to hear that there were plans afoot for this show too to another theater. When that new location turned out to be, not a conventional theater, but the very place where the Roundtablers actually met -- the Algonquin Hotel -- it seemed like a splendid idea. Unfortunately, while this site-specific location sounds like a failsafe match between show and venue, the authentic aura comes at a price. The show has adapted itself admirably to the Oak Room's space (the Roundtablers actually met in the hotel's Rose Room) which provides a much tighter and harder to navigate playing area than the West Bank Theater. The music works well with piano and keyboard rather than the fuller accompaniment used originally. However, the nips and cuts made as part of this transfer diminish the overall pleasure considerably.

All the original songs are there, but -- the Round Table has lost two characters. These cuts adversely affect the book's coherence. Neysa McMein, the glamorous magazine cover illustrator isn't essential but her presence made Alexander Woolcott, who was smitten with her, a much more interesting character than he is now and turned the second act's now rather forced and ordinary Doin' the Breakaway into a full-bodied show tune -- complete with a gown for the sexually ambiguous Woolcott. More crucial and less understandable is the excision of Harold Ross, the founder of The New Yorker which served to give a sense of unity to the piece since all these people ended up writing for it.

Unlike the Elmer Rice play which transferred with its cast intact, this new production has just three of the original performers. The new cast is okay, but only Kristin Maloney's Dorothy Parker is outstanding.

I should add that while I found this Talk of the Town disappointing, most of the people (out-of-towners predominated) who were at the Oak Room last Monday seemed to be having a fine time. While having a meal is an option but not a requirement (like the two drink minimum), most people were there in time to partake of the Oak Rooms 3-course $50 dinner which made for more of a dinner theater than literary ambience.

TALK OF THE TOWN plays trhough August 22, 2005, Monday nights only at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 W. 44th St. 212-840-6800. Tickets are $55 with a 2 drink minimum. Performance starts at 8:30 pm.

Book, music, lyrics are as before by Ginny Reddington & Tom Dawes and direction by Pecadillo's artistic director Dan Wackerman. Mercedes Ellington, previously listed as choreographer is now movement consultant

Current Cast (*indicates reprise of original performance): Kristin Maloney (Dorothy Parker), Jared Bradshawl (Robert Benchley), *Rob Seitelman (Alexander Woolcott, Adam MacDonald (Robert Sherwood), *Donna Coney Island (Edna Ferber), Stephen Wilde (Marc Connelly), *Jeffrey Biering (George S. Kaufman).
Set Design & Lighting Design: Chris Jones (formerly only sets)
Costume Design: Amy C. Bradshaw
Musicians: music director/piano/conductor -- Mark Janas; keyboard -- Justin Depuidt
Running time: 2 hours with an intermission

-- The review of the show during it's world premiere run, also by Elyse Sommer
We make our jokes. We take our pokes
It's such a spicy hour
It's not the food. It's more the Mood
We're nourished by our power
Still we don't know
If words will flow
And fame will grow
untile we go
Bask in the glow of restorative lunch

---the Talk of the Town ensemble
Talk of  the Town's Round Table
Caroline McMahon as Dorothy Parker, Chris Weikel as Robert Benchley, Rob Seitelman as Alexander Woolcott (Photo: Dick Larson)
Type Algonquin Round Table into a Google query blank and over 30,000 items will pop up. This group of New York literatti who gathered daily in the Algonquin Hotel's Rose Room to eat, drink and make merry bouncing bon mots around a large round table, is as legendary as London's Bloomsbury group. Their long and very liquid lunches notwithstanding they turned out a hit parade of books and plays --some like Edna Ferber, Marc Connelly, George S. Kaufman, and Robert Sherwood, nabbing Pulitzers. And as their work continues to be read and produced, so the Round Table's ten year existence continues to be written about.

The Ten Year Lunch, a 1987 documentary about the Algonquin wits, won an Oscar. A 1996 film, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as the Algonquin preeminent female wit, Dorothy Parker. And now, the Peccadillo Theater Company, which specializes in reviving rarely produced dramatic treasures, has resurrected the Algonquin group as the characters in a somewhat different for them venture, a brand-new musical. It takes its title from the The Talk of the Town column which remains a popular feature in The New Yorker, whose founder and editor Harold Ross, was an Algonguin regular.

Ginny Reddington and Tom Dawes have created a book that resourcefully and enjoyably brings most of these fascinating personalities to life. They've woven generous doses of well-known quips and critique excerpts into the lively table talk and moved the individual and group portraits forward with a tuneful score that captures the group's buoyant highs as well as the inevitable lows with lyrics that honor the characters' spirit and wit.

The group's gaiety is personified by the four -part "Restorative Lunch" that begins with five Roundabouters and finally features the full 9-member ensemble. Dorothy Parker's singing about her many disastrous love affairs, including her unrealized passion for humorist Robert Benchley, leavens the bounciness with soulful ballads like "What Am I Doin’ Wrong" and "The Faces That We Wear." Benchley stops being funnly long enough to sing the plaintive "The Man I Might Have Been."

While the actors chosen to play the Roundtablers aren't dead ringers for their characters, viewers familiar with the role models will see that they bear a close enough resemblance for hair styles and manerisms to evoke the real personas. All sing well and clearly and are fun to watch.

Caroline McMahon and Chris Weikel are probably more attractive than the real Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, but they interact most appealingly as the show's most fully realized characters. Redington and Dawes have cleverly paired up some of the other Roundtablers. Rob Seitelman's deliciously mean-spirited Alexander Woollcott gets to express his yearnings for the magazine cover illustrator Neysa McMein (Kellie Drinkhahn); Edna Ferber (an amusing no-nonsense Donna Coney Island) helps a blocked Robert Sherwood (Matthew Tweardy a singing and dancing Jimmy Stewart type) to find his writer's voice. George S. Kaufman (Jeffrey Biering) and Marc Connelly (Aaron Kaburick) extoll the virtues of collaboration in "Two Heads Are Better Than One" ("It takes one to shape it and one to set it/one to ramble and one to edit"). It's fitting that Harold Ross (Nicholas Belton) is the only lone wolf since for much of the play he's still an outsider determined to launch the magazine that would make him the ultimate insider.

With seventeen scenes and over a dozen song, plus as much choreography as the West Bank Theater's small playing area can accommodate, Dan Wackerman has his hands full steering the cast smoothly through the spoken, sung and choreographed scenes. He does so with nary a bump.

Amy C. Bradshaw has seen to it that everyone is stylishly attired to reflect the passing decade. Her red outfits (including a gown for Alexander Woolcott) add to the fun of a rollicking ensemble revue number. The round table Chris Jones has tucked into an alcove at the rear of the stage is simple but effective and choreographer Mercedes Ellington cleverly employs the white folding chairs all around it to enliven the "Restorative Lunch" scenes.

As the Pecadillo Company has rescued many plays from the theatrical Great Beyond, one can only hope someone will prevent this engaging little musical from fading into oblivion when its scheduled run ends. In the meantime, catch The Talk of the Town before December 5th. The tickets are priced so that you don't need another Bush tax cut to be able to pay for them.

Book, lyrics and music by Ginny Redington and Tom Dawes.
Directed by Dan Wackerman
Choreographed by Mercedes Ellington
Cast: Caroline McMahon (Dorothy Parker-poet, critic, short story writer), Chris Weikel (Robert Benchley-humorist, actor, critic), Rob Seitelman (Alexander Woolcott -columnist, critic, radio personality), Nicholas Belton (Harold Ross-New Yorker founder), Matthew Tweardy (Robert Sherwood-playwright), Donna Coney Island (Edna Ferber-novelist, playwright), Aaron Kaburick (Marc Connelly-playwright), Jeffrey Biering (George S. Kaufman-playwright, critic), Kellie Drinkhahn (Neysa McMein-magzine cover illustrator).
Set Design: Chris Jones
Costume Design: Amy C. Bradshaw
Lighting Design: Dana Sterling
Music Director/Arrangements/Orchestrations & Saxophone: Jeffrey Biering; other musicians: Keyboard/conductor, Mark Janas; keyboard/associate conductor, John Fischer; keyboards, Justin Depuydt; Bass, Benjamin Campbell
Dramaturge: William M. Peterson, Ph.D.
Running time: 2 hours with an intermission
The Peccadillo Theater Company, in association with William Repicci at Bank Street Theatre, 155 Bank Street (between Washington and West Streets) 212-868-4444
10/28, 04 through 12/05/04 opens 11/08/04.
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 3:00pm.
Tickets, $19.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 7th press performance
Extended to 12/12/04-- and again to 12/21/04
Tues-Sat at 8pm, Sun @ 3pm; tickets, $29.
Final performance at Algonquin 8/07/06
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • The Restorative Lunch . . .  Five Roundtablers
  • Work is a Four-Letter Word . . . Parker, Benchley and Sherwood
  • The Restorative Lunch II . . . Six Roundtablers
  • Because It~ There . . . Edna Ferber
  • The Restorative Lunch III . . .  Eight Roundtablers
  • Two Heads are Better than One. . .  Kaufman and Connelly
  • The Restorative Lunch IV . . .  Nine Roundtablers
  • All For One . . . Parker, Benchley & Sherwood
  • Never Tell the One You Love . . .  Parker and Benchley
  • The Talk of the Town . . . Harold Ross and the Roundtablers
  • Through a Writer ~ Eyes . . . Sherwood and Ferber
  • The Eye of the Hurricane . . .  Neysa McMein
  • The Critic . . .  Alexander Woolcott
  • Robert, It Should Have Been You . . .  Dorothy Parker
  • Robbie Sherwood's Merrie Band of Friends . . .  Sherwood and the Roundtablers
Act Two
  • And the Circle Goes Round and Round . . .  The Roundtablers
  • Behind the Velvet Rope . . . Sherwood and the Roundtablers
  • Say Something Funny . . . Parker, Benchley and Woolcott
  • What Am I Doin' Wrong . . . Dorothy Parker
  • Sink or Swim . . .  Edna Ferber
  • I'm All Out of Words . . . Woolcott, Ross, Connelly, and Kaufman
  • The Man I Might Have Been . . . Robert Benchley
  • Doin'the Breakaway . . .  Sherwood and the Roundtablers
  • The Faces That We Wear . . . Dorothy Parker
  • The Restorative Lunch Reprise . . . The Roundtablers
  • The Toast . . .  The Roundtablers
  • And The Circle Goes Round and Round-- Reprise . . . The Roundtablers
  • The Talk of the Town-- Reprise . . . The Roundtablers
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