by Alyssa Simon · August 15, 2014
What makes New York City, New York City? Is it the history of the buildings and neighborhoods, the actual architecture, or is it people’s personal and collective memories about lives led and events, which occurred within the city and its structures? And what happens to those memories when the buildings and businesses are destroyed in the names of progress and commerce? These are some of the questions raised in Skyline: A Mid-Century Musical in a production as frequently fascinating as it is frustrating.
Allison (Katie Lee Hill) and Paul (Joseph Spieldenner) meet cute in 1962, Manhattan. They literally bump into each other. She’s a young assistant at Skyline magazine, with dreams of becoming an editor. He’s a fervent activist passing out flyers to get passerby to attend a meeting to organize against the destruction of Pennsylvania Station.
Allison convinces her boss (the delightfully smarmy Peter Reardon) to let her go to the meeting and cover the story. The only problem is that her fiancé (Peter Gosik) and his co-worker Rory (Katie Bruestle) are now working for the company that will erect the new Madison Square Garden in the old Pennsylvania Station’s place.
That’s the main plot and it’s a little thin at this point in the musical’s development, especially compared to the really interesting and thought-provoking questions that book and lyric writer Maureen Fitzgerald raises like to whom does a city belong and if buildings have souls. It almost makes the love angle between the protagonists and other personal complications with secondary characters superfluous.
But it could be that on the day I saw the show, one of the first, each performer was crystal-clear about their character’s point of view and had an extremely solid grasp on the play’s ideas. What I missed, however, was a greater chemistry between the leads and a raising of the emotional stakes that could possibly make the plot as captivating as the themes.
Another barrier to my feeling emotionally invested, unfortunately, is that I had a hard time hearing and understanding the song lyrics. In festival situations, performers have very little time to work in the space before a first performance, so I’m sure adjustments will be made to improve volume and clarity.
Strong secondary characters benefit from wonderful turns by Lisha McKoy with her dead-on comic timing as Ann, Paul’s fellow activist, and Franca Vercelloni in an empathetic and warmly funny portrayal of Mrs. Goldman, a preservation committee member.
Even though Skyline is set in 1962, what it has to say about the price of progress and market-driven capitalism is extremely relevant. Daily we are reminded how quickly our city is changing and we wonder for whose benefit. For that alone, I applaud the Skyline team for bringing this important show to life.