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Larry Litt

The Devil and Tom Walker

The Devil and Tom Walker
Washington's Irving's Tale
Conceived and Directed by Yvonne Opffer Conybeare
Adapted by Anthony P. Pennino
Original and adapted music and lyrics by Rob Kendt
Metropolitan Playhouse
220 East 4th St., NYC
April 18-May 18, 2008
Reviewed May 4, 2008

If you're looking to spend a couple of enjoyable hours with delightful songs, storytelling and capable acting about The Devil conning a ne'er-do-well into lending money to greedy colonial New Englanders, then watch him justify foreclosing on their properties and shrug at their ruined lives, then this very timely show is just the ticket for a lively Springtime entertainment.

The Devil is this wonderful little musical's metaphor for the all important and eminently current carping about rapacious American greed in the guise of helping people through usury. Under Yvonne Opffer Conyeare's lyrical direction we are witnessing the Ur story of mortgage banking, hope ending with declining fortunes, alongside the acquisition of massive wealth for the lender. Doesn't sound like much fun, but it is. Because it's our story, ultimately American and hits very close to home.

Michael Jerome Johnson as The Devil gleefully tells his tale. He wittily and honestly plays Old Scratch as a businessman seeking other businessmen to carry on his nefarious work. Kind of a successful brokerage or franchise deal for those willing to sell their souls. He has no trouble getting clients until he meets Tom Walker, the laziest man in colonial Massachusetts, played both indolently and energetically by by Erik Gratton.

By contrast Rebecca Hart as Tom's shrewish wife Abigail is ready willing and able to be bought. In fact she craves wealth so much she bakes griddle cakes for her Satanic would be mentor. But alas wealth is not her destiny. Perhaps she burned in Hell from a kiss on the Hot One's lips.

However it's Michael Durkin's many characterizations that bring the show it's biggest laughs and it's inherent morality. His humanity comes through in every role as he criticizes, guides and supports the demonically enmeshed Tom. Durkin is a fine character actor who adds wisdom to the otherwise seedy state of financial and social relations in 18th century Boston. Has much changed?

Perky Sarah Hund is a wonderful comedienne who shows us the ridiculous and the pathos of colonial manners. She's a bad girl, a good girl, a victim and a wonderful dancer. Her elastic expressions transport her emotions directly to us in the intimate Metropolitan Playhouse environment.

The most diverse character requirements were met by Justin Flagg in his New York debut. His age range, accents and ability to convince were superlative. He was at differing moments masking many inner secrets, especially while playing the religious hypocrite.

Adapter Anthony P. Pennino knows this is a pertinent story and gave it language that could be understood by anyone, even those without an American history background. Along with composer-lyricist Rob Kendt this team provided both an educational and moral message in song and story. A story well worth examining in light of the times in which we live.



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