Tally Ho!, or Navigating the Future
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
August 1, 2009
During the traditional theatre season, it is an easy argument to make that current ticket prices keep more than a few from supporting the many wonderful productions our fair city has to offer. The same cannot, however, be said of New York in the summer. Even as "Back to School"sales begin popping up, the hot season still abounds with numerous free shows, from The Public's star-studded efforts in Central Park to a recent production of Measure for Measure I stumbled across featuring a guy in a cow suit. Thankfully adding their name to this list is Theatre for the New City's current production of Crystal Field's Tally Ho, Or Navigating the Future. While built upon a script that at times struggles with clarity, Tally Ho is a thoughtful, funny, and energetic musical that is well-worth an afternoon spent baking in the sun.
In the very first number, in which Gatsby-era flappers sing "AIG and JP Morgan have got it right, no oversight," the play tells its audience exactly where the aim of this work is directed. The plot for this contemporary morality play, which is Tally Ho's sole weak point, centers on two accountants, both working the books for a large corporation. As the opportunity for unfettered personal gain shows itself, the men chart their courses along two very different lines. The frugal accountant, who bypasses the sweet life that he may support his elderly mother, sings about the importance of saving, while his co-worker's head is filled with "caviar dreams."The greedy accountant, here representative of not only places like AIG but green-eyed citizens as well, is helped down his dark path by the cigar-chomping Mephistopheles-like figure hilariously named Bernie Tradeoff. Mr. Tradeoff, fueled by his love of investment dividends and toxic assets, is more than happy to show our misled accountant how to cheat the system using speculation. Relishing in a complete lack of oversight, the accountant and Tradeoff gleefully swim in their newfound abundance. The fat life is only nice for a moment, however, until finally the house of cards, as it did in real-life, begins to crumble.
Tally Ho does not, however, excessively rely upon the negative actions of a "stuff"-obsessed culture for the foundation of its message. It stops itself before becoming overly moralizing, and in doing so, makes for a much more effective work. In the play's most touching moment, the greedy accountant is transported back to the Great Depression. There, he is told of the suffering, hunger, and eventual resurgence of a nation led by Roosevelt's New Deal and a people dedicated to rising again. The scene comes as somewhat of a jarring shift in tone, but no doubt an earned one. It is a moving portrayal of a time that our current culture should be learning a lot more from, and serves as the play's most important, and instructive, moment.
That Tally Ho is a sophisticated bit of theatre should come as no surprise, as this year marks the 33rd tour of Theatre for the New City's Street Theatre Company. This well-earned expertise in political, yet entertaining, street theatre is abundantly clear in Tally Ho, which is filled with magical stage tricks, a tight live band, and a set design that is as fun to watch shift between scenes as it is a useful backdrop for the play's world. If the play's story itself is never expressed clearly enough so as to initiate in its audience the radical reaction it desires, it is a shortcoming worth forgiveness. Tally Ho, or Navigating the Future, with its solid chorus numbers, sideshow aesthetic, and stirring tribute to the people of The Great Depression, rises way above what most have come to expect from outdoor summer theatre. More importantly though, it both teaches, and practices, the ever-important lesson that some of the best things in life really are free.