review by ken coughlin
A cozy little, rustic bar, just steps away from the Brooklyn Museum, seems an odd venue to find such a spirited and talented, musical take-off, of Rip Van Winkle. One walks in to find a small bar, with a smattering of tables, some already set with Reserved signs, mainly due to staging needs. There were 2 TVs on, behind the bar, and though they remained on throughout the performance, they didn’t seem to be much of a distraction. Still, it would be better if they weren’t on. It is somewhat jarring to be watching Impossible But True, with a hockey game and Independence Day playing behind it.
One couldn’t be blamed for having low expectations, given the setting, but one would be happily mistaken. This is a thoroughly delightful cast, in a very well staged production. Introductions are made by Nicolaus Vedder, energetically and enthusiastically portrayed by Jerome Harmann-Hardeman, who will later be seen as Reverend Gansevoort & Henrick Hudson. While introducing the play and cast, we are informed by Rebecca (Daniella Erin Rhodes), that they will be making a departure from Washington Irving’s original short story. I’ll let her explain the departure.
From the very beginning, it’s obvious that the cast is packed with singers, experienced singers. The vocal gymnastics people have come to expect from a Broadway Musical, are all handled with ease by this cast, though it is necessary to point out that Rip (Rob Langeder) and Rebecca, do stand out above the rest. Our first real exposure to Rip’s vocal talent, comes during the song Women Love to Dance, with Ben (James Schneider), who also takes on the role of James Dolittle, in Act II. If there’s is one minor critique here, it’s that Ben, who sings very well, needs to work a little more on his projection. His voice sometimes gets lost behind Rip’s. Dame Rachel (Stephanie Lynn Mason) also doubles as Jenny, her own daughter, and though you know in your mind, they are one and the same, she will make you believe you are seeing two different people.
The first act is ended with a boisterous singalong called Nip of Flip. The song ends with an encouragement to ask the barmen for a drink of the same name. It’s a very cute device, but in my humble opinion, the drink takes too long to make, and causes the table dwellers, to spend too much time at the bar waiting for this drink.
Act II, some 20 years hence, introduces some new characters, some additional history, and brings back some of the other characters, who have survived the passage of time, In the middle of Act II, there is a song, We Believed in You, which will tug at the heart strings of the most hardhearted in the audience. Tears were seen, being wiped away, from more than one pair of eyes.
The music is performed masterfully by Dan Furman, in what has to be a very uncomfortable space, a loft above the bar, without enough room for him to stand up.
There are only 3 more performances, and it’s a delightful way to spend a Monday evening, or any evening, but it is only being performed on Mondays. The show is free, so when they pass the hat at intermission, be generous. The venue is small, so get there early.