On Broadway, Tintypes received three Tony nominations including Best Musical
of 1981, but it ran only 93 performances.  Had Marsha Moode directed it, it
might very well have run 993 performances and won all those Tonys. That’s
how sensational Moode’s Tintypes “revisal,” the current production of the
Downey Civic Light opera, is.  Moode, following numerous accomplishments as
DCLO’s director extraordinare, now has her biggest artistic success so far.  

Broadway’s Tintypes was a near bookless 5-performer musical revue of popular
songs circa 1890 to 1919.  Moode has reconceived it as a major production (7
lead performers head a cast of 29), and revised Mary Kyte’s original
“conception” so that Tintypes now features not only the music (and it is
glorious music indeed) but also the stories of the performers behind the songs
and of the era in which the songs became hits.

Moode’s Tintypes is narrated by J.P. Morgan, the American financier, banker,
philanthropist, and art collector who dominated corporate finance and
industrial consolidation during the pre-Roaring 20s era. Through his narration,
we meet President Teddy Roosevelt, stage stars Eva Tanguay, Anna Held and
Vernon & Irene Castle, African American entertainer Bert Williams, anarchist
Emma Goldman (also featured in Broadway’s Ragtime), and a host of
supporting players.  

An especially lovely overture, under Eddy Clement’s expert direction, sets the
mood of a bygone era, an era captured in sepia toned photographs called
tintypes.  Throughout the evening, these tintypes come alive on the mini-
stages to the left and right of the Downey Theater’s main stage. Human
tableaux depict Teddy R. and family, Tanguay (the “I Don’t Care” girl), the
Wright Brothers, and other famous figures of the time. Moode has turned
Tintypes into a history lesson of the most fascinating sort, a musical one.

This Tintypes marks a family reunion of its seven lead performers, all Downey
CLO veterans and favorites.  Bill Lewis (Oliver!, Hello, Dolly!) is “Charlie,” an
Eastern European immigrant, Susan Dohan (The Roar of the Greasepaint) is
Emma Goldman, Ed Krieger (Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof) is T.R., Charlotte
Carpenter (Cabaret, Guys and Dolls) is Anna Held, Ann Peck McBride (Aunt
Eller in the recent Oklahoma) is Eva Tanguay, John F. Briganti (Oklahoma, Guys
and Dolls) is J.P. Morgan, and Robin LaValley (Oliver!, Nunsense) is a pint-sized
bundle of energy named “Susannah.” All give impeccable performances with
many moments to shine.

One especially moving section of Tintypes deals with immigrants to a new land
whose dreams are expressed by Lewis (as Charlie), who wishes for “a house
with a closed door so I can say ‘Come in’ or ‘Stay out.’”  As Charlie speaks, the
stage fills with shabbily dressed immigrants of all ages telling and singing of
their sometimes inspiring, often heartbreaking experiences as new Americans,
including that of a young girl sexually harassed by her factory boss, who fears
losing the job so necessary to support her family.

Another segment revolves around the era of Ragtime, when “people wanted
to dance” to the music of Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin.

We learn of the era of the Railroad, when fully one half of the world’s train
tracks were in the U.S., and of birth of the Automobile age, when cars raced
along at the amazing speed of 10 miles per hour to the tune of “In My Merry

We see an America still innocent in its hopes and dreams in a gorgeous choral
rendition of “America The Beautiful” which evokes tears. We also see that
radically diverse political opinions go back at least as far as anarchist Goldman
and expansionist Teddy Roosevelt, to the musical accompaniment of “Wait
For The Wagon.”  

McBride scintillates with “I Don’t Care” and vivacious LaValley sings a bouncy
“Electricity,” backed by three adorable teens. Lewis charms as he recounts
Charlie’s concerns about marrying a woman with a dimple in her chin, a sure
sign that she will lose her first husband. Later, he morphs into a Vaudeville song
and dance man opposite LaValley performing “What It Takes To Make Me
Love You—You’ve Got It.” Garbed all in white, Carpenter brings her lovely
soprano to “Meet Me In St. Louis” and “It’s Delightful To Be Married.” (Her
Anna Held, being interviewed by reporters about her print-worthy habits such
as bathing in milk, proves that tabloid-ready divas go back much farther than
Cher and Madonna.) Dohan, as a young Russian woman from St. Petersberg,
tells the tale of her journey to America and belts out tunes with more than a
bit of Merman in her voice. Courtney Burfeind and Gavin Hall are both fine
dancers, performing the Castles’ “Waltz Me Around Again, Willie.” Ronald
Holliday Hills entertains as Bert Williams with “A Hot Time In The Old Town
Tonight” and proves that he knows how to sell a tune (while dressed in rags) in
“Nobody.” Kit Wilson and Glen Edward are other standouts in the large
ensemble cast.

One of the most surprising discoveries of Tintypes is just how contemporary
many of the songs seem, and how many of them might just as easily have
come from recent Broadway shows. Equally surprising is to hear political points
of view as diverse as any expressed today in “We Shall Not Be Moved,” proving
that in many ways things aren’t that different now from the way they were a
hundred years ago.

Casey Garritano, so excellent as Will Parker and Dream Curly in Oklahoma, has
taken over the choreographic reins here, and done so splendidly, with waltzes
and foxtrots and other turn of the century dances performed by a talented

For this production, the Downey Theatre’s stage remains bare but for steps
leading up to an upstage platform, but Kim Killingsworth’s colorful lighting and
Debbie La Franchi’s gorgeous costumes (dozens and dozens of them) make
one hardly aware that there are no “sets” per se.  

The evening ends with a quintet of tunes, beginning with the haunting waltz
rhythms of “After The Ball” and its back story—a sad tale of lost love, followed
by a pair of patriotic production numbers (“You’re A Grand Old Flag” and
“The Yankee Doodle Boy”) led by immigrant Charlie and President Teddy R. A
lovely “Toyland” is sung by Carpenter surrounded by young children.  At last
comes the grand finale, the infectious “Smiles,” performed by the entire cast to
audience cheers.

Tintypes may be less well known than most DCLO productions like the recent
Oklahoma and the upcoming A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To
The Forum, but it is every bit as entertaining.  Marsha Moode has put together
a show which everyone who loves musical theater should see, and one which
may well outshine any other production of Tintypes yet staged. 

Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey.

–Steven Stanley
March 1, 2008

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