`Tintypes' a flag-waving winner

Critic's Corner//Theater

November 09, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

Rep Stage has journeyed back 100 years to inaugurate its new Black Box Theatre at Howard Community College. Director/choreographer Carole Graham Lehan's lively production of Tintypes fills the flexible, multilevel space with songs, dances and sketches from the turn of the 20th century in this musical revue, conceived by Mary Kyte, Mel Marvin and Gary Pearle.

The cast of five actors performs nearly four dozen songs (in many cases, just excerpts) ranging from George M. Cohan's "The Yankee Doodle Boy," which frames the evening, to the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child." The patriotic tone of many of the numbers makes the show a good choice for election season. It's topical for another reason as well -- seeing Gary Hiel portray Teddy Roosevelt singing "To arms, to arms for liberty," from Sousa's "El Capitan," calls to mind a much more recent militaristic fervor.

Like Hiel, who makes a bully Teddy, each of the actors takes on a primary persona. Shannon Wollman is brash but sympathetic as socialist Emma Goldman. Kate Briante is silver voiced as vaudeville star Anna Held. Evan Casey radiates affability as a newly arrived immigrant. And Felicia Curry, as a young working- class woman, unfurls a powerful singing voice that lends majesty to her humble character.

One of the cleverest choreographic bits comes in "When It's All Goin' Out and Nothin' Comin' In," which is staged like a game of musical chairs, leaving all but one actor with "nothin'" at the end. The ethnic humor in the show's subsequent vaudeville section, however, suggests that sometimes political correctness is actually welcome.

Kyte, Marvin and Pearle put Tintypes together two decades before songwriters Lynn Ahren and Stephen Flaherty and librettist Terrence McNally turned E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime into a Broadway musical. Besides the coincidence of Goldman appearing in both shows, Tintypes demonstrates how true Ragtime is to its era. Indeed, watching this revue is a little like seeing Ahrens and Flaherty's musical research come to life on stage. It would be a pleasure to see these actors, especially Curry, have a go at Tintypes' more ambitious successor.

A slice of American musical history, Tintypes also happens to be a slice of area theater history. The revue got its start at Washington's Arena Stage in 1979, then transferred to Broadway. It's nice to have Tintypes back in the neighborhood, and it's a rousing way to launch Howard County's newest performing space.

Tintypes continues through Nov. 19 at Rep Stage, the theater in residence at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $16-$24. Call 410-772-4900 or visit repstage.org.

Fellowships to three

Three playwrights whose work has been produced locally -- primarily at Center Stage -- are among the first recipients of the Lucille Lortel Foundation's fellowships for playwrights. Lisa Kron (2.5 Minute Ride, Well), Lynn Nottage (Intimate Apparel, Crumbs from the Table of Joy) and Dael Orlandersmith (The Gimmick, Yellowman) will each receive a $50,000 unrestricted fellowship.

Endowed by the late actress, producer and theater owner who was known as "the queen of off-Broadway," the fellowships recognize "the excellence of [the recipients'] work, their potential for continued artistic achievement as playwrights, and their strong commitment to working in the theater."

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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