An Evening at the Carlyle

August 6, 2009

Algonquin Theatre 123 East 24th Street

currently running open-ended

It’s in a theater. So is it a theater piece? It takes place in the Hotel Carlyle’s Bemelmans Bar and even features set designer John McDermott’s adaptations of Ludwig Bemelmans’s famous murals. So is it a cabaret revue? The unfortunate conclusion is that however Al Tapper’s “An Evening at the Carlyle” is categorized, one thing it isn’t is genuinely entertaining.

Like the old jokes, it starts with the premise that a couple of people walk into a bar. These habitues and one-timers include, but aren’t limited to, an unhappy uptown girl, an alcoholic songwriter, a repugnant CEO. a tourist, a showgirl, a guy who models himself after Frank Sinatra down to (or up to) the fedora and skinny tie, a pair of lovers, a jilted swain, Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli.

These characters are portrayed by quick-costume-and-expression-changing Kelli Maguire, Michael F. McGuirk, Jason Rowland and Amanda Gabbard. Long-faced Gabbard is the one doing the Coulter, Streisand and Minnelli impersonations and none too well at that. Dennis Holland, who has the best voice of the lot, stays in costume as the long-suffering and ever-smiling bartender. Rachelle Rak, whose grin looks as if it’s been manipulated surgically, plays herself in one dizzying number. Rak did the musical staging, Tom Herman the rest of the skedaddling and skulking that goes at and in front of the upstage bar.

The 18 songs the huffing-and-puffing players sing-some of them ostensibly topical, some of them having to do with nothing pertinent and perhaps plucked from the trunk, some of them reprised-are all by Tapper. Even played well at the piano by David Wolfson, the prolific tunesmith doesn’t evidence much talent for the kind of wit, sophistication, irony and polish that were once the hallmark of these kinds of Manhattan pastimes.

Nope, it’s unlikely revue mavens like Julius Monk or Rod Warren would have included any of these blandies in something with which they were preparing to delight the boite-loving crowd. Tapper even calls one of the entries “I Hate Sondheim,” which is a bad idea, even if the imbibing lady chanting it doesn’t really mean what she’s espousing. Bringing up the songwriting master in the midst of all this mediocrity benefits no one-certainly not auditors who are then abruptly urged to think they’d be much better off hearing the scores from “Sweeney Todd” or “Company” or even just a soupcon of “Send in the Clowns.” And speaking of clowns, the love song, a duet, contains the seriously-offered lyric, “We are two flowers in the garden of life.”

The most intriguing aspect of “An Evening at the Carlyle” is that it’s presented by Algonquin Theater Productions. Unlikely that the producing outfit has any connection to the Algonquin Hotel, but under the sobering circumstances, the implication is that the Algonquin moguls have contrived to have a competitive nose-thumb at the Carlyle nabobs.


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