Evening-1910, a new musical at the Axis Theater, poetically intertwines moments of New York history from the turn of the last century with softly drawn portraits of characters seeking their dreams and discovering their paths have many bends and curves. In this sung-through 70-minute musical co-written by former Blondie musical director and guitarist Paul Carbonara and Axis Theater artistic director Randy Sharp, who also directs the piece, the city of New York is in a state of great flux: cinema in the form of kinetoscopes encroaches upon the vaudeville theaters; young women, eager to explore their independence, flock to the city to work in factories; immigrants arrive daily hoping for a new life; and the rich keep getting richer.
Although there is a slight narrative, Evening-1910 is more of a tone poem, as if someone had gathered up little moments of life on snippets of sepia-toned celluloid and woven them together with a lush score evoking the early 1900s. Mr. Carbonara’s score, which includes some fragments of Tin Pan Alley songs like She’s Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage, possesses an ethereal sound, one of longing and broken hearts. Lighting designer David Zeffern evokes a city still partly lit by gas lamps by keeping the lighting low and shadowy. Ms. Sharp’s staging contributes to this gentle old movie ambience; it feels at times like we are watching old grainy footage of people walking down the Bowery.
The cast are all exquisite singers, and as an ensemble their sound is gorgeous. They are supported by a quartet of equally fine musicians; the excellent Mr. Carbonara on guitar, pianist Nick Stubblefield, cellist Samuel Quiggins and violinist Frederika Krier, who plays some marvelous jazz licks, a few of which have a Yiddish feel.
As an heiress, Emily Kratter reveals that the rich too have longings and James Scheider, as her entrepreneurial brother, exudes the right amount of entitlement that money brings and ably embodies the time period. Sweet voiced Michael Sheehy creates a winning, fresh-off-the-boat Irish immigrant, Shira Averbuch plays factory girl/chorus girl Louise with spunk and vulnerability, and Justin McEllroy’s versatility shines as he paints portraits both of a man yearning for love and a brutal factory foreman. Lynn Mancinelli, Stephanie Lynne Mason and Katie Rose Summerfield sing beautifully and etch out distinct characters as workers in a shirtwaist factory and weary show girls performing for a disinterested audience.
Watching Evening-1910 is like peering through a kinetoscope and being touched by the solitary sadness of each character’s flickering image.