Pins and Needles
Cock Tavern Theatre November-December 2010
Harold Rome's musical revue (with sketches and the occasional song by various others) began life at a Garment Workers Union rally in 1937 and then moved to Broadway, where it played, with topical updates as needed, well into the 1940s.
Joseph Finlay and Rachel Grunwald assembled this 'Best Of' version from various manuscripts and recordings, and the result is both a fascinating historical document and a delightful piece of light entertainment.
A mix of songs,sketches and sketches-that-turn-into-songs, Pins and Needles inevitably has a mildly left-wing bent, whether it is in parodies of overly-rich bankers (nothing new there, then) or in the melodic assurance that 'It's Better With A Union Man,' Harold Rome's lyrics wittily making clear just what 'It' is.
While some of it is dated - Mussolini jokes and pro-union marching songs – it is striking how little of it is.
A sketch by Mark Blitzstein satirising the cowardice and hypocrisy of the then-current Federal Theatre Project would take very little rewriting to skewer the Arts Council today, and the cartoon figures of bloated bankers and wrap-themselves-in-the-flag conservatives have a very current ring to them.
(And just to show that the satire wasn't one-sided, a sketch by Emanuel Eisenberg gives Bertold Brecht's didactic dramaturgy what it deserves.)
The selection of Rome's songs that we get here is a testament to the Tin Pan Alley stalwart's wide range, melodic smoothness and lyrical cleverness.
Every mode from bluesy torch songs through gospel, jive, English music hall and hummable pop is represented, the amiable and frequently clever lyrics all the more impressive by slipping in an overt or subtle political subtext.
So 'Sunday In The Park' anticipates Sondheim with its hint that the only relief allowed working people is an imperfect one, while 'What Good Is Love?' sees it as a luxury few can afford.
Director Rachel Grunwald, musical director Joseph Finlay and choreographers Nicola Martin and Josephine Kiernan are to be credited for bringing all this to life on the tiny Cock Tavern stage.
Sure, it could all use a bit more snap and polish, and some of the singers aren't really up to the level of the songs they've been given (or to making their voices heard over a single piano).
But Elain Lloyd finds all the fun in the Miss Marmelstein-ish 'Nobody Makes A Pass At Me' and later belts out the mock-gospel 'Mene Mene Tekel.'
Elizabeth Pruett captures the sweet humour and sharp edge of 'Chain Store Daisy,' and Josephine Kiernan comes close to stopping the show with the jive-jumping history lesson 'Sitting On Your Status Quo.'
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Pins And Needles - Cock Tavern 2010