"The Rink" is a High Roller at Cape Playhouse

Skate through the musical on eight wheels
Leslie Uggams stars in Terrence McNally's ignored musical

By Libby Hughes

cplayhouse7406_400 The Cape Playhouse in Dennis pulled Terence McNally’s “The Rink” out of mothballs to give it a fresh new look—shorter and tighter than its Broadway run in 1984. The New York Times’ critic at the time, Frank Rich, said in ’84 that the show went on “forever and a day.” Guess what, Mr. Rich? It goes on for two hours without anyone yawning. So, put that in your pen and rewrite the review in 2006!

 Breaking News on Opening Night

Artistic director Evans Haile has become quite a celebrity to his Cape patrons. As he made his greeting before the show on opening night, he broke some news to the audience. Playwright Terence McNally and composer John Kander had been present at rehearsals to give “The Rink” a modern facelift. They were updating some of the lines and making timely cuts. It paid off for a sharper production and put the Playhouse in the role of premiere.

 Playwright’s Messages

The Texas-born Terence McNally is no stranger to the American theatre scene. His oeuvre is impressive, including Kiss of the Spider Woman and Master Class(McNally is an opera buff by inclination). His messages, discreetly implanted, are intended to break down walls of prejudice whether they concern homosexuality, race, or relationships. In “The Rink,” it is a tortured and fractured relationship between mother and daughter. The mother’s skating rink is about to be demolished by the wrecking ball. The return of the Prodigal Daughter puts a temporary stop to it. The ending will reveal McNally’s symbolism in Shakespeare’s quote, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Kander’s music and the late Fred Ebb’s lyrics are like a twist of Coney Island (where the rink is located) in a glass full of jazz. They are mostly remembered for their collaboration in Chicago and Cabaret.

Performers Skate to Success

jantemetzuggam300_400Chita Rivera captured a Tony Award in 1984 for her part as Anna in “The Rink.” That’s a hard act to follow for Leslie Uggams (on right with Janet Metz), but 22 years later she does it on the Cape stage with finesse. The seasoned actress/singer delivers the goods vocally and artistically. Janet Metz , as Angel the daughter (played by Liza Minelli in the original production), has a dynamite voice that can hold a note till the cows come home.

Her hippie character starts out low-keyed and builds to a credible finale. She has crafted many nuances, creating an interesting and multi-faceted portrayal of the daughter. We see her as five, twelve, and sixteen. Ten-year-old Mariah Burns from Yarmouth gives a winning spin on roller skates, plus a short acting role at the end.

 The Men Were Hot, Hot, Hot

The six men win the prize. They play so many different characters that it is hard to count. They are hot dancers, Koreans vets, soldiers in Cambodia, high school prom dates, a wrecking team, boom boxers, and muggers. The two guys who play two old women, sitting on a boardwalk bench in Coney Island, reminiscing about the “good ole days” practically steal the show in their half-mast stockings and pocketbooks. Michael Minarik makes Dino (Anna’s husband and Angel’s father) into a believable dreamer, who has wanderlust in his bones. He punches out a mean song, too. Who are the other five actors/singers/ dancers? Bill Kocis (a wonderful, pathetic Lenny), Jesse Swimm, Eric Morris, Maurice E. Parent, and Stephen Berger.

Minor Lighting Glitch

Director Mark Unger takes a real bite out of the word “challenge.” The Cape Playhouse has a small stage and he maneuvered the actors amazingly. The only shortcoming was in the strained mugging scene where it was too close to the lip of the stage, making the audience feel uncomfortable as they watched. But the pacing never lagged. Jennifer Paulson Lee deserves a huge bouquet for her brilliant choreography (especially when the guys were roller-skating). Christopher Chambers’ lighting had a few glitches in spotlighting. Janine Marie McCabe was right on with her costuming, and Daniel Meeker created a workable set design. Music Director Andrew Gerle’s little orchestra functioned efficiently behind the scrim upstage center.

Celebrate the Playhouse’s 80th season by a trip to “The Rink.” You won’t be sorry.

The show runs July 3-July 15 Mondays through Saturdays. Starting time is 8:00 p.m. Box office 508-385-3911. Matinees on Wed. at 2:00 p.m.: July 8 at 4:00 p.m. and July 13 at 2:00 p.m. Located at 820 Main. St. (Route 6A) in Dennis.

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