nytheatre.com review by Lynn Berg
March 11, 2010
Musicals Tonight!'s staged reading of Kander and Ebb's The Rink, which originally ran on Broadway in 1984, is an interesting glimpse at a middling musical by the team that created Chicago and the currently running The Scottsboro Boys. The show was also Terrence McNally's first Broadway musical. McNally later teamed with Kander and Ebb on Kiss of the Spider Woman and some of the interest in this presentation comes from experiencing this great team's earlier, less successful creation performed by the strong cast.
At the beginning of the evening the producer, Mel Miller, shares some of the highlights of '84 such as contemporary movies (Amadeus, Indiana Jones), theatre (a revival of Zorba, Dustin Hoffman in Death of a Salesman), and news (Mondale's defeat, Dolly the sheep clone). Miller also significantly notes the original stars of The Rink were Chita Rivera as Anna and Liza Minnelli as her daughter, Angel. Imagining such a powerhouse creative team on the original production is fun and makes appreciation of this nearly forgotten musical make sense.
The Rink is about Anna's last day at the roller skating rink that she took over years before from her husband. She's sold the run-down rink on the desolate boardwalk to developers and a crew of wreckers arrives to tear the place down. Just as the men begin work, Angel shows up to try to reconnect with her mother who she hasn't spoken to in years. When Angel finds out Anna has sold the rink she challenges her mother and tensions between the two are renewed.
Mary Jo Mecca as Anna and Stacie Perlman as Angel handle the core roles with grit and vulnerability. They're ably supported by the Wreckers, a six-man crew convincingly and sometimes comically portraying various roles in the rink's past and present. The entire cast is musically talented and there's not a weak portrayal throughout.
Despite the persuasive performances, the reason The Rink is rarely revived becomes clear. The stakes of the conflict between Anna and Angel never seem to engage. Most of the stage time is spent in wistful, melancholic, and sometimes creepily unsettling memories. While those vignettes are performed with conviction, they rarely explain the tension between the two women and seem to slow the momentum of the story.
Also, setting The Rink in a closed skating rink on a boardwalk where all the fun was over years ago seems perversely dreary. Celebrating the good times that could be had in such a place, the Wreckers sing the title song late in the second act. It's a fun song, performed well, but by the time it arrives it just further stalls the main plot. There are many intriguing stories set in abandoned amusements but The Rink doesn't seem to realize much of the potential of its setting.
Unrealized potential seems the point of Musical Tonight!'s production and there is some intrigue to that. If you're interested in such musical artifacts, The Rink is a fascinating misfire from the undeniably powerful team of Kander, Ebb, and McNally. It's also an enjoyable showcase for the excellent cast who mine the show for all its musical and dramatic potential.