With the state of Regional theaters and smaller Off-Broadway companies in such a fragile, perilous state, it’s worth looking at the York theater for inspiration. For over five decades, they’ve been the incubator of new works and are known for putting a fresh spin on dusty classics.
In January 2021, a flood washed them from their St. Peter’s Church home of 30 years. Amidst a still raging pandemic, they soldiered on and found a new home at the Theater at St. Jeans’ Catholic church.
After four years, they’ve brought back one of their most beloved series: Musicals in Mufti- works that are performed with minimal rehearsal and regular street clothes.
The York opened their season with How to Steal an Election: A Dirty Politics Musical and it’s been well worth the wait. The show dates back to 1968 and had a successful, well reviewed run Off Broadway. It was slated to move to Broadway, but when composer and lyricist Oscar Brand heard that the financing was backed with mafia money, he refused and the show closed Off-Broadway.
Set during the 1968 Republican convention, it imagines Calvin Coolidge (Jason Graae), our nation’s 30th president returning to the event as his 97-year-old self to impart his wisdom and insight into the state of “dirty politics”—an irrefutably redundant phrase- to Jerry (Alex Joseph Grayson) and April (Emma Degerstedt), two young idealists who are fighting the system.
It seems an odd choice to have chosen Coolidge to return to the affair. He was known to be a man of few words and earned the nickname “Silent Cal”. Here, a rather ebullient Graae chews the scenery as he charms his way through this revue. He is truly magnetic.
A hopeful April explains what she wants in a candidate, “If the right man came along…it’ll be someone I won’t have to think much about… somebody you feel you can trust…you can put your whole future in his hands.” She then launches into a lovely ballad, “Comes the Right Man.” Degerstedt has a beautiful voice and delivers the tune with earnest heart and sensitivity.
Her friend Jerry sees things in a more cynical manner during a stirring song, “Nobody’s Listening.”: “The men up there, are deaf and blind, to anything down below. They’re old and sick, but you wouldn’t mind, except you know they run the show.” Grayson’s excellent delivery is also worth noticing.
Change some of the references of names and events and the show could well have been written in 2023. Sadly, not much has changed with the state of politics except that misinformation runs more rampant and spreads faster given our technological access to news.
With such a limited time for rehearsal, Director Joseph Hayward, Musical Director Miles Plant, and this fine ensemble have pulled off quite an impressive feat with this delightful satire that’s as American as apple pie- laced with arsenic.
York Theater Company’s How to Steal an Election runs through September 3rd at the Theater at St. Jeans (76th and Lexington, NYC). For tickets and information, click here