The TheatreguideLondon Review
Pins and Needles
Rome's musical revue (with sketches and the occasional song by various
others) began life at a Garment Workers Union rally in 1937 and then
moved to Broadway, where it played, with topical updates as needed,
well into the 1940s.
Joseph Finlay and
Rachel Grunwald assembled this 'Best Of' version from various
manuscripts and recordings, and the result is both a fascinating
historical document and a delightful piece of light entertainment.
A mix of songs,
sketches and sketches-that-turn-into-songs, Pins and Needles
inevitably has a mildly left-wing bent, whether it is in parodies of
overly-rich bankers (nothing new there, then) or in the melodic
assurance that 'It's Better With A Union Man,' Harold Rome's lyrics
wittily making clear just what 'It' is.
While some of it is dated - Mussolini jokes and pro-union marching songs - it is striking how little of it is.
A sketch by Mark
Blitzstein satirising the cowardice and hypocrisy of the then-current
Federal Theatre Project would take very little rewriting to skewer the
Arts Council today, and the cartoon figures of bloated bankers and
wrap-themselves-in-the-flag conservatives have a very current ring to
them. (And just to show that the satire wasn't one-sided, a sketch by
Emanuel Eisenberg gives Bertold Brecht's didactic dramaturgy what it
The selection of
Rome's songs that we get here is a testament to the Tin Pan Alley
stalwart's wide range, melodic smoothness and lyrical cleverness. Every
mode from bluesy torch songs through gospel, jive, English music hall
and hummable pop is represented, the amiable and frequently clever
lyrics all the more impressive by slipping in an overt or subtle
So 'Sunday In The
Park' anticipates Sondheim with its hint that the only relief allowed
working people is an imperfect one, while 'What Good Is Love?' sees it
as a luxury few can afford.
Grunwald, musical director Joseph Finlay and choreographers Nicola
Martin and Josephine Kiernan are to be credited for bringing all this
to life on the tiny Cock Tavern stage.
Sure, it could all
use a bit more snap and polish, and some of the singers aren't really
up to the level of the songs they've been given (or to making their
voices heard over a single piano).
But Elain Lloyd
finds all the fun in the Miss Marmelstein-ish 'Nobody Makes A Pass At
Me' and later belts out the mock-gospel 'Mene Mene Tekel,' Elizabeth
Pruett captures the sweet humour and sharp edge of 'Chain Store Daisy,'
and Josephine Kiernan comes close to stopping the show with the
jive-jumping history lesson 'Sitting On Your Status Quo.'
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Review - Pins And Needles - Cock Tavern 2010