Immigrant Songs

A fine kettle of all nations, steaming like relations

Mick Moloney starts McNally's Row of Flats with a tip o' the top hat to politician-landlord Timothy McNally, "beloved" of his tenants. Speaking of whom, hurrah for them all, fresh off the boat: "And it's Ireland and Italy, Jerusalem and Germany, Chinese and Africans (originally ‘Negars'), and a paradise for rats. All jumbled up together, in the snow and rainy weather." It was a familiar NY sight in 1882, as described by Ned Harrigan, then at the peak of his fame as an innovative playwright, lyricist, actor, director, and designer. He keeps stepping briskly, past "hungry cats, lyin' on the benches, dyin' there by inches, from the open ventilation," not just for irony's sake, but because the people he's tracking are moving so quickly too. Third-generation (and scrupulously secular) Irish American Harrigan's tirelessly telescopic perspective on his characters' clamor can seem further distanced by veteran performer and folklorist Moloney's mild-mannered lucidity. But the songs, like the people rolling through them, still have plenty of potential.

Mick Moloney plays CUNY Graduate Center and Bowery Poetry Club May 6.

 
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