One of the things Off-Broadway does best is the intimate musical. And one of the best of current examples is "Tinytypes," a cleverly designed patchwork of musical memories, which opened earlier this spring at the Theater of St. Peter's Church. Mary Kyte has assembled some 50 tunes written over a period of more than four decades (1876-1918) and arranged them to create an authentic, lively, and thoroughly enjoyable piece of Americana. With five talented performers onstage, accompanied by musical director and coarranger Mel Marvin at the grand piano, "Tinytypes" proves consistently diverting as it turns back the clock.
Beginning with Jerry Zaks's Jewish immigrant rendition of "The Yankee Doodle Boy," the show works its way through typical socio-historic sequences -- all commemorated in one way or another by song. Miss Kyte's catalog covers such topics as America on wheels, the factory, the Panama Canal, the ladies, rich and poor, and vaudeville. Teddy Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, and Anna Held are portrayed in speech and song.
The mood of "Tintypes" varies as widely as the songs themselves. Miss Kyte's use of them is fresh and inventive. The factory medley ranges from "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" to "Wait for the Wagon," incorporating along the way "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" and "America the Beautiful." The well-remembered somehow becomes the newly discovered. Dialog inserts include soap box speeches, campaign oratory, letters to the editor, and old-timely vaudeville gags.
"Tintypes" demonstrates again that five talented people plus a wealth of melody plus an imaginative directorial concept can fill a stage and captivate an audience. The previously mentioned Mr. Zaks adds a poignant reminder of silent-movie clowns to his immigrant Everyman. Carolyn Mignini graces two Anna Held songs. Tery Wilson struts and orates as T. R., Mary Catherine Wright embraces Emma Goldman and vaudeville quips with equal facility. Lynne Thigpen sings her own version of "Nobody," the Alex Rogers-Bert Williams classic, and this merely hints at the versatility of the "Tintypes" quintet.
Among the better-remembered composers in Miss Kyte's medley are Sousa, Herbert, Cohan, Joplin, and Nevin -- not to mention "Traditional." To borrow Teddy Roosevelt's favorite word, "Tintypes" is bully.