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Mayor (10/23/1985 - 01/05/1986)


 

New York Daily News: "Gracie Mansion melody"

"Mayor" transferred from the off-Broadway Village Gate Upstairs to the Latin Quarter on October 23, 1985.

"Mayor," a bouncy topical revue about the American possession known as New York City and the man in charge, opened last night at the Top of the Gate. Customers should really carry city ID cards, for it's such an in show that a program insert contains a glossary of names and terms for the benefit of any outlanders unwittingly dropping by.

Inspired by Hizzoner's book, "Mayor," its central character is naturally Edward I. Koch, breezily set forth by Lenny Wolpe, an actor who doesn't resemble Koch at all, except for the bald and tufted headpiece he wears, but who fields opponents' charges with the chutzpah characteristic of the squire of Gracie Mansion.

Warren Leight's "book" consists of a series of sketches involving public figures from City Council President Carol Bellamy to Cardinal-designate John O'Connor. The closest it ever comes to savagery is in its depiction of the real-estate entrepreneurs the Helmsleys - particularly in a song, sung by Ilene Kristen as Leona Helmsley, about the reshaping of the city, especially Times Square. The jokes about Bellamy, Controller Harrison J. Goldin ("I Want to Be Mayor") and other city familiars, including former mayors Lindsay and Beame, are more good-humored than cutting.

Strouse has composed some attractive jingly tunes and lyrics to match, and has even managed to work in an alto sax solo of his big "Annie" hit, "Tomorrow," in a subway number ("The Last 'I Love New York' Song"). One of the smartest numbers comes near the start when a local businessman (Keith Curran) instructs an out-of-towner (Douglas Bernstein) in New Yorkese with a string of rude expressions. A near-closing "We Are One," in which the Helmsleys, leaving a $2,500-a-plate dinner for the Koch campaign fund, find themselves inextricably joined to two of the homeless, might be considered maudlin were it not for the effective staging. A Central Park love ballad (Kristen and Curran), in which the pair question city life, is also both funny and appealing. And there is, inevitably, a "How'm I Doin'" solo by Wolpe.

Praise to Kathryn McAteer's feisty Bellamy, Nancy Giles in, among other numbers, "March of the Yuppies," and to the pint-sized Ken Jennings who, besides portraying Beame, does a spirited LaGuardia in a Koch dream.

Jeffrey B. Moss has staged the band-box revue vivaciously with the help of Barbara Siman's sprightly dance routines, and Randy Barcelo's set encloses us in a nighttime cityscape enhanced by Richard Winkler's lighting.

This engaging show about a city that, as Saul Steinberg's famous drawing suggests, is bounded by the Atlantic and Pacific, may not be of the slightest help in the mayoral campaign. But as Koch himself might say, it couldn't hurt.


New York Daily News
05/14/1985

New York Post: "How's 'Mayor' Doing? It's Worth Koch-ing"

"Mayor" transferred from the off-Broadway Village Gate Upstairs to the Latin Quarter on October 23, 1985.

A musical about Mayor Koch? They'll be naming an airport after him next!

The obvious question to ask of any show dealing with the Life and Times of New York City under Edward I. Koch is simply: "How's it doin'?"

And the answer, loud and clear, is surprisingly well. At present, perhaps better than the mayor himself. And - when it arrives - the record could eventually prove far more acceptable, even if it is not as long-playing!

The show, which opened last night at the Top of the Gate, is very loosely based on, and titled similarly, to the best-selling autobiography, "Mayor!"

It builds upon the most beguiling and sprightly music and wittily-turned lyrics by Charles Strouse, who is at the top of his considerable form, and a resourceful and adaptable book by Warren Leight.

"Mayor!" is somewhere between a political cabaret and a testimonial eulogy, a soft-burning roast and a soft-sell campaign, a political cartoon and a New York tourist poster - difficult terrain for a musical!

Yet the blackouts and sketches are funny and often aggressively pointed.

The songs are concise, tuneful and occasionally contain an agreeably devilish turn of phrase not usually associated with Strouse.

Sensibly, the revue - for such it is - seeks to place the mayor against the backdrop of his city.

Quite a few of the numbers, such as "You Can Be a New Yorker, Too!" or "The Last 'I Love New York' Song," have infinitely less to do with the mayor than with the Gotham he has come to symbolize.

And, of course, they are all redolent of that narcissistic, sado-masochistic affection and awe with which New Yorkers fondly affect regard for their urban catacomb.

There is, at the beginning, the thread of a story, soon abandoned, about animals escaping from the Bronx Zoo.

But the show's emphasis soon shifts to The Business of the Day, which is taking the mayor from pillory to pedestal and squirting off a few odd shots at such now-conventional targets as Yuppies, the homing instincts of Police Commissioner Ward and parking regulations.

Most conscientiously, "Mayor!" avoids a sustained note of even mocking eulogy and, in two passages, even hits hard at what in context seems almost a false note.

The builders come in for some fairly rough passages - particularly Leona and Harry Helmsley - who, in a social conscience number, "We Are One," literally are grabbed by the poverty-stricken and homeless in a satirical bite that has unexpected teeth.

Similarly out of key with the general air of naughty criticism mixed with self-congratulation is an unexpectedly acid attack on Koch by his avowed idol, Mayor La Guardia, savaging him with unanswerable and unanswered rhetoric that is not at all graceful to the present incumbent of Gracie Mansion.

Such boat-rocking is rare and, for the most part, mayoral aides will find the lampooning perfectly acceptable.

This is particularly true because other figures, such as Carol Bellamy, Harrison Goldin, the almost-absent Herman Badillo, and even Cardinal-designate John O'Connor, come off rather worse.

Songs extolling (to some purpose) the mayor's chutzpah - particularly in comparison with Lindsay and Beame - or his amiably arrogant attitude, "What You See Is What You Get," all could prove grist to the re-election mill.

Of course, such amiability is partly inevitable. There has never been any specific scandal pinned on this administration and no one presently concerned with city government seems to enjoy much of a private life.

One cannot make too much of Koch's culinary predilections for Chinatown and Little Italy, nor the fact that, among the few things that they seem to have in common, neither the mayor nor Miss Bellamy ever has a date for Saturday night. At least not on society's calendar.

So the show is good-humored and good-natured rather than cutting, and as the mayor is apparently getting 1 percent of the gross takings (La Guardia's estate should have been so lucky with "Fiorello!"), this is just as well. No one enjoys bleeding to the bank.

Where the show has been most happily blessed is in the brilliance of its cast, largely of unknowns.

This is particularly true of Lenny Wolpe as the mayor in living color. Mr. Wolpe does not try to impersonate Koch - Who could? - for the mayor already has made a virtual industry out of impersonating himself. But Wolpe does offer a very shrewd impression.

Here is the mayor's self-effacing, almost shy conceit and smugness; that naughty-boy, shock-the-proles arrogance and his wistful, uncertain charm.

Wolpe catches Koch's special, strangled-chicken, startled look - the "Who, me?" expression and the "I-wuz-robbed!" glance.

Vocally, he is very good at that high-pitched, slightly strangulated hesitation that rises sometimes in exhortation, sometimes in pain, sometimes in self-justification, always, at least, by an octave.

The rest of the cast is just as good.

Kathryn McAteer is wonderfully prissy in Miss Bellamy's best "how-to-lose-an-election-without-really-trying" manner.

Douglas Bernstein does Harrison Goldin and soon-to-be Cardinal O'Connor to a crisp, and Marion Caffey, Keith Curran, Nancy Giles, Ken Jennings and Ilene Kristen - a handsomely unctuous Princess Helmsley - all add notably to the gaiety of the city.

Jeffrey B. Moss's staging proves neat; Barbara Siman's choreography, compact; and the whole show has a most winning and fetching New York air to it.

I went skeptical - having read the book - and returned conquered, even entranced and definitely highly amused.

Vote for "Mayor!" The musical, that is.


New York Post
05/14/1985

New York Times: "'Mayor,' Koch In a Cabaret Version"

"Mayor" transferred from the off-Broadway Village Gate Upstairs to the Latin Quarter on October 23, 1985.

While Mayor Koch has been called many things by his fans and detractors, adjectives like ''genial,'' ''mild'' and ''sweet'' have generally not been among them. It's those words, however, that most accurately describe both ''Mayor,'' the modest new cabaret musical adapted from Mr. Koch's memoirs, and the character it places center stage. Although lightly critical of the Mayor - and lightly sprinkled with amusing segments - this 90-minute show does transform New York's brash, archetypal political street fighter into a cuddly, if egocentric, hero (Lenny Wolpe) with a sparkling white smile that could rival that of Bert Parks.

Unlike its source, a no-holds-barred collection of raucous back-room tales, the pleasant musical ''Mayor'' will offend no one (with the possible exceptions of Harry and Leona Helmsley). Most of Mr. Koch's favorite antagonists - such as Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo, Charles Rangel, Herman Badillo, Jimmy Carter and Basil Paterson - are either fleetingly mentioned or omitted entirely in the theatrical version. Carol Bellamy - played by the appealing Kathryn McAteer, who looks more like Bess Myerson - does not break into tears on stage, as she did in print, although she does don boxing trunks and gloves to challenge the Mayor at the polls.

''Mayor,'' which can be found at the Village Gate Upstairs, is essentially a grab bag of hit-and-miss revue songs by Charles Strouse. Vignettes dealing with dump-Koch movements and racial tensions notwithstanding, the songs are less about politics than the exigencies of living in Manhattan. If there's a story to Warren Leight's minimal script, it has to do with the Mayor's attempts to join Mrs. Helmsley in redeveloping Times Square as a theme park (''Manhabitat'') featuring state-run three-card monte games and Joffrey-trained break dancers. But the Mayor re-evaluates the plan shortly after he receives a nocturnal visitation from Fiorello La Guardia (the handily diminutive Ken Jennings, who also impersonates Abraham Beame).

With or without a cameo appearance by La Guardia, ''Mayor'' is no ''Fiorello!'' In the sharper segments, most of them in Act II, Mr. Strouse and Mr. Leight make some funny (if rarely rude) observations about their hero and his city. In a Central Park number, a young couple (Ilene Kristen and Keith Curran) ask the everyday questions that plague New Yorkers - such as ''Why doesn't Brooklyn have cable TV?'' or ''Who is Meade Esposito?'' We also eavesdrop on the Mayor and Miss Bellamy as they decry one another in overlapping phone calls. The evening's wittiest performer, Douglas Bernstein, has a standout turn as a Harrison Goldin desperately searching for charisma; at a testimonial dinner a bit later, Mr. Bernstein appears as a vain Archbishop O'Connor, who introduces the Mayor as New York's ''second most eligible bachelor.''

Mr. Strouse's serviceable score has a peppy show-biz lilt to it, but the lyrics to songs like ''March of the Yuppies,'' ''How'm I Doin'?'' and ''Hootspa'' (for ''chutzpah'') are often as predictable as their titles. A somber musical exercise in social-consciousness raising - in which the moneyed Helmsleys are forced to confront the city's underclass - is more sincere than biting. Mr. Strouse, who wrote ''N.Y.C.'' for ''Annie,'' also provides a sardonic subway lament that promises to put an end to all ''I Love New York'' songs. But, for a finale, he goes ahead and offers a New York anthem anyway. It's called ''My City'' - a title it coincidentally shares with a livelier Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields New York tribute from ''Seesaw,'' the musical best remembered for having once coaxed another Mayor, John V. Lindsay, onto a Broadway stage.

Both the director of ''Mayor,'' Jeffrey B. Moss, and choreographer, Barbara Siman, have staged the show spiffily on a simple, vest-pocket set. The cast, which also includes Marion J. Caffey and Nancy Giles, is unfailingly agreeable, but it would be hard to say that Mr. Wolpe is an ideal candidate for the title role. In his book, Mr. Koch describes himself as ''a hair shirt'' who doesn't get ulcers but ''gives them'': Mr. Wolpe, a crinkly-eyed tenor wearing a head covering disconcertingly reminiscent of Emmett Kelly's, seems benign even when wielding the epithet ''wacko.'' When the time comes, as perhaps inevitably it must, for a movie version of ''Mayor,'' Hollywood may find itself searching for a star who combines the regal bark and gleaming pate of Yul Brynner with the uninhibited comic gusto of Mel Brooks.


New York Times
05/14/1985

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