The Rink: The title doesn’t exactly roar down memory lane, does it? When The Rink opened on Broadway in February 1984, it was widely seen as a flop and flippantly referred to by critics as “The Rank.” Even so, the musical had first-rate talents in co-stars Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli, and skated on for 204 performances, including 29 previews. Rivera won her first Tony Award playing the Italian mom, and the Kander-Ebb music, if not the team’s best effort, had some likable melodies.
A quarter century later, one can only have positive feelings about the revival of The Rink at the McGinn/Cazale. As part of the Musicals Tonight! series, the show gets a second chance to ply its theatrical wares and prove detractors wrong. To be sure, you won’t get a fully staged production here with all the razzmatazz. But this show runs more on imagination than money. And the price (at $25) won’t hurt anybody’s wallet.
While one shouldn’t make The Rink into anything more than it is, it is delicious fun to follow this rollercoaster of a work. Set on a decaying boardwalk along the Eastern coastline, the story is about a mother (Anna) and her grown-up daughter (Angel) squabbling over the disposal of a family-owned skating rink. In a series of flashbacks, we learn of how their estrangement arose.
The book is by Terrence McNally, and if the story lacks the authority of his other works, the dialogue is flecked with some biting wit and sassy intelligence.
“That’s an outfit you could wear on a sanitation truck,” says Anna, sharply criticizing her daughter Angel’s ratty-looking clothes in Act 1.
The 30-year-old Angel has just returned from her seven-year California exile, but Anna wastes no time in establishing the family hierarchy.
What gives the show its spin is the Kander-Ebb music. The first number of Act 1, “Chief Cook & Bottle Washer,” is belted out by Mary Jo Mecca, and it firmly establishes the tone of the piece. This is followed by the duet, “Don’t Ah Ma Me,” smartly sung by Mecca and Stacie Perlman. The original speech patterns are endearing, and totally put you into the minds of the two main characters. The coup de theatre, however, comes in Act 2 with “The Rink.” This title song turns into a toast and a last dance. Performed by the male chorus, it will melt you with its romantic lines and deep nostalgia.
There is fine acting by Mecca in the role of the proprietor, Anna. She has been handed a plummy part, and she gets her laughs by hook and crook. Only in the simulated gang-rape scene do we see her character as victim. Otherwise, she is all fire and ice, and the epitome of a survivor. In the less-rewarding role of the hippie daughter, Perlman admirably manages to hold her own. Rounding out the cast is David Garry, as the deadbeat husband Dino, abetted by a strapping male chorus. A perky Paige Simunovich, introduced in a late scene, delivers in the role of the Little Girl.
But surely the most crucial factor of the evening is Thomas Sabella-Mills, the director and choreographer. He is always a step ahead of the audience, and gives the long-dormant musical fresh and unexpected life. Happily, he has pared-down some scenes from the 1984 version. And though the show still clocks in at more than two hours, you won’t be shifting in your seat or eyeing the exit.
Ironically, one can sometimes savor an old Broadway musical more when it is mounted Off-Broadway. There’s less commercialism involved, and more sincerity exuding from the faces of the actors. The Rink remains slight stuff. But this revival proves an occasion not just for laughter, but for genuine tears.
Through March 21, McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway (betw. 76th and 77th steets), 212-579-4230; $25.
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