New York has a great capacity for surviving misfortunes, but it might have difficulty outliving many shows like "Inner City". At least, as an entertainment center. This so-called "street cantata", with music by Helen Miller and lyrics by Eve Merriam, which opened last night at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, is trying to be humorous about the woes of living here, and it certainly demonstrates that it can be a boring and unpleasant experience for its luckless citizens.
I should say at once that the first audience clearly didn't agree with me about the boredom. The applause was vociferous. But a critic learns to be suspicious of opening-night enthusiasm, and the way in which every number and performer was greeted with an ecstasy of hand clapping and shouts of wild approval had what seemed to me more the expression of a clique than genuine admiration for something wonderful. But I must admit it was a very large clique.
"Inner City" is done almost entirely in songs and all of the numbers have to do with the same subject, how terrible it is to be a New Yorker. Based on a book by Miss Merriam called "The Inner City Mother Goose" it modernizes nursery rhymes to tell us that everyone here is out to put something over on somebody else and remind us that the schools are badly run, dope pushing is on the increase, purse-snatching is prevalent, and the cops are incompetent and often corrupt.
No one is likely to dispute the basic truth of the charges, and Miss Merriam does score a couple of good points. One of them was when they sang about the man who was "wondrous wise" and added quickly that he moved out of town. The other was when a housewife drew up a long list of indictments against the city and then sid "and the prices have gone up." But there weren't many such entertaining moments, and for most of the time the evening seemed to me flat.
One other compliment. Miss Miller has composed several attractive songs and they are put over skillfully. But now my kind words come to an abrupt end. There is a singular lack of wit in the satirical thrusts, and, when the end is approaching, and the show appears to think it is time to say something good about poor New York, the best it can devise is to comfort us by noting that things aren't going to well in other parts of the country.
The cast of nine is diligent, but i couldn't share the audience enthusiasm for it. The show has been staged by Tom O'Horgan, who also directed "Hair," "Jesus Christ Superstar," and "Lenny." Obviously Mr. O'Horgan has a gift for bringing in hits, although "Hair" is the only one I have any liking for. Conceivably he has another prospective smash in "Inner City" but, despite the applause of that first-night audience, I am inclined to doubt it.
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