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Paulanne Simmons

"The Street" Is Pleasing but Not Perfect

"The Street"
Directed by Heidi Lauren Duke
Workshop Theatre "Mainstage"
312 West 36th St. 4th Floor
Opened July 25, 2007
Schedule Varies
$18, $15 seniors/students (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Closes Aug. 5, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 27, 2007.

Cast of "The Street." Photo by Penny Landau.

Powerful women in business have been the subject of many books, plays and films. Most of theses creative efforts end with the same message: even the most ambitious and successful women are best off with a good man. "The Street," a new musical at Workshop Theatre "Mainstage," is no different.

With book, music and lyrics by Ronnie Cohen, the musical tells the story of two women, who, after experiencing stymied careers working for other people, decide to establish their own brokerage firm. Whitney (Leslie Anne Friedman) is a hard-working, hard-driving WASP, with a vulnerable spot she tries to hide. Tiki (the beautifully voiced Fiona Choi) is an Asian, and once that has been established, there are no surprises.

The two entrepreneurs plan a meteoric rise to fame in their new office and over lunches at Achilles Greek Restaurant. The waiter/chef at Achilles is an amiable Greek Jew named Nick, played with effervescence and perfect timing by Jason Adamo. Nick falls in love with Tiki and woos her with mouth-watering dishes.

Whiney and Tiki plot some shady dealings that concern selling short the stock of Chill Spas, a beauty products company owned by Jill (Theresa Rose), a fast-talking, wise-cracking lesbian Jew with four-year-old twins she is raising with her partner, a Latin American named Carmen. Jill faces two crises: she wants to get her kids into the prestigious Harvard Country Day School, and she needs to get product out to her client, something rendered difficult by her company's failure to produce on time.

Cast members of "The Street." Photo by Penny Landau.

Jill has a lackey named Brighton (Ryan Hilliard, who gives the show a professional tone whenever he appears), a fussy Englishman with a quick mind and an ironic sense of humor. She soon acquires another devotee, the skinny, bespectacled Hamilton (Jonathan Whitton), an employee of Harvard Country Day School, who comes to interview Jill in her office. Hamilton is supposed to be an awkward, repressed nerd, but Whitton adds a gay element that produces the improbable match of a lesbian and gay man.

Everyone courts and almost gets caught in disaster but in the end most of the problems are solved or well on the way to resolution. And, of course, love triumphs.

"The Street" is one of those shows that is undeniably entertaining and engaging, to a great extent thanks to all the energy director and choreographer Heidi Lauren Duke gets out of her actors. But the show doesn't do so well under critical scrutiny. The characters are at best stereotypes, at worst cartoon figures. Cohen's music is only memorable on occasion ("That's Marketing" hits the mark beautifully). And she sacrifices depth and meaning for a clever rhyme time after time ("Here's to chapter two, my life with a Hebrew" or "I'm tossing aside my foolish pride").

Even more important, Cohen can't quite make up her mind what she's trying to tell the audience. After an hour and a half of mindless fun, she tacks on a moral and conventional ending, and ties up all the lose ends with an alacrity that is breathtaking.

Still, many people may not mind these technical problems. They will be carried along with the jokes and the action. And why not? For every stale joke and worn-out character there are two belly laughs that keep this play bounding along like a red rubber ball. Catch it.



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