Dates and Venue 23 - 26 April 2008, 8pm | Studio Theatre, Shadbolt Centre
Director Ian Farthing Music Direction Christopher King
Reviewer John Jane
Tenderloin, the nearly-obscure musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick is the last presentation by APPLAUSE! Musicals Society for the 2007- 2008 season. In this instance, Tenderloin does not refer to filet mignon, but to the former red light district just south of New York City’s Midtown, now known as Chelsea.
As founder, Scott Ashton-Swan informed the audience in his pre-show talk, Tenderloin opened on Broadway in October, 1960. It ran for just 200 performances and has rarely been seen since; hardly surprising, because Bye Bye Birdie and Camelot also opened on Broadway the same year.
The APPLAUSE! mounting offers a curious mix of a concert style performance and a punctilious stage reading, with the entire cast of twenty-six performers on stage throughout. Despite occasionally seeming to be minimally rehearsed, the songs are performed with exuberance and spirit. With the exception of only two Equity players the cast is mostly made up of enthusiastic amateurs and semi professionals who typically work regular “9-til-5” jobs.
Tenderloin is set in 1890 New York and is centred around a crusading minister, the Reverend Brock. He is attempting to close down the whore-houses and gambling dens in his neighbourhood, but gets little support from city leaders who are themselves in for some of the action.
David Adams is righteous as Rev. Brock without coming across as pompous. He also gets to sing two of the show’s best songs, “Dear Friend” and “Good Clean Fun” in true musical-hall vein.
The first act though, genuinely belongs to the gaggle of women who play the dozen or so harmonious strumpets that give this production both its sugar and its spice. They collectively carry the show with ragtime-styled tunes like (Keep your hands off) “Little Old New York” and “The Money Changes Hands” - a gleeful commentary on “good old” payola.
Particularly of note in this group is Linda Leong Sum who delivers a saucy performance as “Flirty” Gertie. Other stand-outs are Steve Dotto who plays phlegmatic parishoner, Joe Kovack and Randy McCormick in the role of Schmidt, the corrupt police chief who displays a pretty authentic sounding Bronx accent. Also worthy of special mention is Christopher King for tinkling the ivories in heroic accompaniment throughout the show
The set is a typical “Black box” with seven music stands positioned at centre stage that accommodate the performer’s songbooks.
APPLAUSE! is non-profit, charitable society run by volunteers who take pride in bringing us these all-but-forgotten gems from the American musical theatre.
© 2008 John Jane