BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The York Theatre Company has been developing new musicals and dusting off old ones for more than 40 years. True fans of musical theater know well the York’s comfy habitat on the East Side, so let’s spare the credits and get on with their show, which opened on Thursday.
The York’s latest archival dig into forgotten tuners unearths “Ionescopade,” a little-known musical revue drawn from the absurdist writings of Eugene Ionesco. Conceived and directed by Robert Allen Ackerman with music and lyrics created by Mildred Kayden, the show appeared off-Broadway in 1974.
Brightly directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino for the York, “Ionescopade” is a two-act medley of quirky sketches and songs that view the world from Ionesco’s warped angle.
Samples: A much-adored leader eventually is revealed to have no head. A man sings passionately about “Josette,” his three-breasted sweetie. Generals argue in a double-talking peace conference. A couple squabbles beneath their bed as a battle rages around them. People drop dead for no good reason.
There is a droll apache dance, an upbeat gospel number that proclaims “The Best is Yet to Be” and a mocking torch song that sets fire to everything.
A daffy highlight that features the entire seven-member company introduces the Bobby Watsons, the unseen folk mentioned in “The Bald Soprano.” Wittily clad in black and white 1930s styles by designer Nicole Wee, the eccentric Watsons provide a madcap musicale that concludes in a giddy tap dance.
Scarcely a cheeseburger entertainment aimed for the masses, the silly-serious “Ionescopade” registers more twee than brilliantly oddball in its humor. Still, the whimsical show is likely to tickle viewers willing to go along with its absurd flow. Certainly Ionesco devotees (all six of them) will find it to be heady fun, although they may idly wonder why none of the choreography references “The Chairs.”
Performed by three musicians, Kayden’s antic, jazzy songs are clownish in mood and agreeable to hear.
Castellino’s nimble staging of it all rolls along within an elegant, gray-shaded setting from James Morgan accented by a fractured red proscenium framing Ionesco’s skewed viewpoint.
Led by a mute, affable Samuel Cohen as the bowler-hatted guide to the amusement, the ensemble handles the rarified material with ease. Nancy Anderson, so cunning when purring a “Ginger Wildcat” song drawn from “Exit the King,” may be the best-known among the players, but Paul Binotto, David Edwards, Leo Ash Evens, Susan J. Jacks and Tina Stafford are individually and collectively engaging.
“Ionescopade” continues through Feb. 26 at The York Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, New York. Call (212) 935-5820 or visit www.yorktheatre.org.