Broadway’s gain is Six Flags’ loss, or is it the other way around? “Street Corner Symphony” is a sloppily conceived oldies revue that doesn’t even bother to play by its own lax rules. Note to director: Characters who mention “Superfly” won’t be watching “Shindig.” Different decades.
Performed with the faux soul of a Las Vegas casino act and only the barest hint of a superimposed book, “Symphony” runs through 90 minutes of overly familiar pop and R&B oldies of the 1960s and ’70s, from “Dancing in the Street” to “Soul Man,” digressing along the way for some real howlers. A highly emotional mod guy in a psychedelic Nehru jacket, surrounded by grim-faced protesters and backed by a large American flag, turns Neil Young’s “Ohio” into a comic tour de force, though not intentionally.
Conceived and directed by Marion J. Caffrey, “Symphony” is loosely structured as the nostalgic reverie of a woman named Cynthia (Carol Dennis), who is remembering the Gainesville, Fla., neighborhood where she and her friends would sing on street corners and in the local juke joint. Between-song snippets of dialogue occasionally suggest some character differentiation and plot, but pre-opening cuts (from two acts to one) apparently turned what little book there was to little more than another memory.
As it stands, the corny patter merely sets up the songs. A go-go-booted white girl expresses her love for a black man, prompting her friends to break into “Your boyfriend’s black and you’re gonna be in trouble, hey la, hey la, your boyfriend’s black.” Later, when the boyfriend, C.J. (C.E. Smith), is drafted, he performs an “Unchained Melody” overwrought even by that song’s considerable standard.
For the most part, though, the songs are performed without an attempt at plot, the book abandoned altogether in the show’s second half when the cast re-creates amateur night at the old Gainesville nightclub. The songs themselves (“Oh Girl,” “Betcha by Golly Wow,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” etc.) benefit from recognition — familiarity breeds applause — and generally are performed with vocal competence.The mostly black cast is generally good, though the two non-black performers compensate by mugging and using excessive street affectations. (Jose Llana has the busiest eyebrows on Broadway.) The patent-leathered Catherine Morin, despite the worst costume in a badly dressed show, latches onto an infomercial smile and won’t let go.
As the narrator, Dennis is saddled with the bad dialogue load (“Those were some of our memories — maybe we stirred up some of yours. Can I get a witness?”), and even her powerful voice can’t turn an over-serious (and blessedly abridged) “American Pie” into anything but a kitschy hoot. Best not to ponder how she works in a Boyz 2 Men hit.
Tech credits are as low in imagination as they are in budget, with Jonathan Bixby’s mishmash of costumes paying no particular heed to history, and the Jules Fisher-Peggy Eisenhauer lighting design relying heavily on a bank of blinding yellow spots that are less roadhouse than road accident.
Lacking the spirit and polish of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” and even with heavy discounting (preview audiences have been paying an average $15 a ticket for this $70-top show), “Street Corner Symphony” is unlikely to cash in on Boomer nostalgia. No matter how hard or blatantly it tries.