Don Arrington and Camille Tibaldeo
in If This Ain't It
(© Alissa Stahler)
Don Arrington and Camille Tibaldeo
in If This Ain't It
(© Alissa Stahler)
From its opening moments, the purpose of the new musical revue If This Ain't It, now at the Theatre for the New City, seems more or less clear: the show is meant to recall and revive the spirit of biting classics that bemoaned the Great Depression like As Thousands Cheer, Americana, and Harold Rome's Pins and Needles. Unfortunately, the production doesn't add up to much of anything.

What's doubly confusing about the piece is that the press material states that the work concerns "what happens when a theater company that has lost its funding and its home joins forces with a homeless transsexual Lady Liberty (played by Michael Lynch), who helps the colorful characters in the troupe round up an audience for their performance in a bid for publicity and a new home for their work." It's true that Lady Liberty leads the waiting-in-the-lobby audience to the Theater for a New City's downstairs cabaret space, but nothing that fits the rest of the above description is made manifest.

Instead, the action begins when Lady Liberty, gussied up in an army-green muu-muu, sings "Honey, Honey" about "hard times." What follows includes gossipy Selma Russo (played by co-author Camille Tibaldeo), delivering several lame local news-station stories, and the ensemble singing over 15 of Don Arrington's songs, with titles like "Cardboard Box" (about the strain of living in one), "Rats in the Room" (where four puppet rats appear and wiggle) and "Starving But Dancing."

Sadly, Arrington's melodies -- played by a hard-working four-member band -- are quickly forgettable and his lyrics simply aren't on the witty and darkly memorable level of Berlin and Rome. True, some of them would probably be more memorable if they could actually be heard over the uncooperative sound system.

Meanwhile, the ensemble behaves as if they were in a community theater production. In a sense they are, since Arrington's main focus is on the difficult lives led by denizens of Manhattan's Lower East Side, which is where the theater is located. Still, they ain't got what it takes to make this severely flawed show worth watching.