Judged by its title, "Sidewalkin'" might suitably commemorate the triumphs and tribulations of New Yorkers during the recent 11-day transit strike. Not so. Composer-lyricist-performer Jake Holmes turns his eye on wider cityscapes and attunes his ear to the melange of sounds and rhythms of the Gotham tone poem. The result, at the Manhattan Theater Club's upstage Cabaret, is a choice little divertissement whose catchy tunes and sophisticated lyrics recall the lively tradition of the intimate revue.
Amid Douglas W. Schmidt's ingenious setting of corrugated-paper cartons and cardboard boxes, seven able and willing entertainers give out with Mr. Holmes's odes to joy, songs of sadness and lyrics for varios other occasions. In the well-established manner of such exercises, the songs are mostly character sketches. Donna Lee Marshall's would-be pop star naively proclaims ". . . the music business is my line." Larry Riley boasts of a con man's prowess and proves more than equal assorted other demands. Miss Marshall, Mr. Riley, and Marcelino Sanchez celebrate with a boogie beat those two-speaker portable radio that can drown out traffic for a city block.
Janie Sell, an experienced and beguiling trouper, can satirize or sympathize, depending on the mood of the moment. The multitalented Mr. Holmes participates as both vocalist and accompanist in ditties ranging from the lampoonish "Monica's a Moonie" to the plaintive "Marguerita." Timothy Meyers, a redoubtable comic, reveals the lowdown on the conspicuous consumption of guru-dom, while Mr. Sanchez, as a graffitist, exclaims how he would blazon the sky with the name of "Angelita." And so it swings melodically along, using the musical idioms of soft rock, gospel, calypso, reggae, etc.
East Side or West Side, "Sidewalkin'" picks its way among the most typical sights and scenes from the sidewalks of New York. In contrast to the prevailing comic spirit, some numbers touch on darker themes: the plight of a young prostitute, the menace of the "Night Wolf," the dehumanizing tawdriness of the porn show.
Besides singing and dancing, the versatile cast members all seem to play an instrument or two -- thus occasionally augmenting the splendid accompaniment of a four-man onstage combo. Patricia Birch has directed and choreographed the material with the kind of wit and adroitness that makes the whole affair seem casual, effortless, and impromptu. If Mr. Holmes were to expand the content somewhat and extend its variety, "Sidewalkin'" might keep on struttin' for a term beyond its limited engagement on East 73rd Street.