Theater archives

Bitter Street Symphony


Poetic cockroach Archy and worldly-wise alley cat Mehitabel began their lives in a 1916 newspaper column that used them to present a fresh angle on life’s foibles and failures. They were recast a half-century ago in Shinbone Alley, an improbable love-story musical in which Archy pined for Mehitabel’s affection. One major drawback to the musical was the shift of Archy’s character from a cynical social critic to a clod alternately sententious and moon-eyed with love. Lee Zarrett does the roach no favors in this revival, lacking comic timing, wryness in delivery, and chemistry with Mehitabel (Allyson Tucker, offering shades of the sassy feline charisma of Eartha Kitt, who originated the role). Archy is rendered a sad sack whose poetry is subservient to his junkyard fever. The rest of the cast is forgettable, with the exceptions of large-voiced theater cat Tyrone (Justin Sayre) and Big Bill (Trent Armand Kendall), a blustery tomcat played as a full-on Jackie Gleason type.

Most aggravating is the stale score; there aren’t enough syllables in “dreadful” to describe such tuneless tunes as “Flotsam and Jetsam.” Some libretto liberties might have helped, as would a cast unbound from their script binders; in this state, despite a few game performances, the mild Shinbone Alley misfires in nearly every way.