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Off-Broadway Review

The Rink (in Concert)

The Rink (in Concert)
Photo Source: Michael Portantiere
The staged concert readings of Musicals Tonight! have long served two important corollary functions for those of us who love musical theater. Most of the time, they give us a chance to see what excellence we missed the first time around, by reviving worthy but largely forgotten Broadway shows. Less often, the series allows us not to regret what we missed the first time around, by reviving bad and deservedly forgotten musicals. "The Rink" unfortunately belongs in the latter category.

This 1984 flop for composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb, and book writer Terrence McNally is remembered for providing Chita Rivera with the role for which she won her first, long-overdue Tony Award. Rivera played the tough and foulmouthed owner of a rundown roller-skating facility on the boardwalk of a rundown seashore town. Liza Minnelli played her estranged 30-year-old daughter, returning home after seven years just as her mother is giving the order to a wrecking crew to demolish the rink, which has been sold. Even with this star power, the show ran for only 204 regular performances, in part because Minnelli had to leave due to substance-abuse issues and was replaced by Stockard Channing.

Mary Jo Mecca convincingly plays the Rivera role, and Stacie Perlman is the daughter, who, it turns out, co-owns the rink and wants to keep it as is. (Her mother has forged her signature on the sales contract.) The two women rehash their old battles in nonsequential flashbacks, interspersed with their new battle over the fate of the rink. The actors playing the six-man wrecking crew, which is awaiting the outcome, double and triple as other characters, including the long-ago-fled husband and father; his father, the founder of the rink; biddies of the neighborhood; the women's former boyfriends; local boardwalk toughs; and a nun. McNally's book is even more uninteresting and less engaging than it sounds. Although the show was revised by its creators in 1995, it remains set in the early 1980s, an era of selfishness, drugs, violence, and greed. The unsympathetic characters largely reflect their times.

Kander and Ebb's songs understandably have been lost in the mists of time, even to the more esoteric fringes of the cabaret world. Ebb's lyrics in particular are so plot-specific ("Under the roller coaster/Next to the jungle ride") as to seem plucked from a college revue. A song such as "Don't 'Ah, Ma' Me" was doomed to have no life outside this show—and not much in it. Even the title tune, artfully staged by director Thomas Sabella-Mills and using the full resources of the male wrecking-crew sextet, could work nowhere else.

To their extreme credit, Sabella-Mills, music director Paul L. Johnson and his piano, and a vocally strong cast are treating "The Rink" as if it were a gem from the golden age of musicals.

Presented by Musicals Tonight! at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, NYC. March 9–21. Tue.–Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Wed. and Fri., 2 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (212) 579-4230 or Casting by Stephen DeAngelis.

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