Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical
By: Eugene Paul
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Catalina Sandino Moreno and Merwin Goldsmith
Photo by Monique Carboni

One of the most ambitious, certainly the most populous and elaborate of the frenetic outpouring the New York Musical Theatre Festival pours into the current theater season, Shine!, The Horatio Alger Musical, is devoutly old fashioned and determined to make that a virtue. Virtue, in fact, is the message and the thrust of the show, as the Horatio Alger name in the subtitle should inform you and once you know Shine! Is based on Horatio Alger’s uplifting books for boys you’ve pretty much got the gist, the feel, the esthetic of what is being mounted on St. Clement’s welcoming stage. You know what you’re in for, you’re there because you want to be. And in my case, having read every single volume in the Horatio Alger oeuvre and been inspired by them each and every time the hero won out, I couldn’t wait to see Shine!. Because the musicals of the New York Musical Theater Festival have such a crowded schedule -– NYMF has turned out 232 musical in six years! – there was a stampede for Shine!. Who knew so many Horatio Alger fans had grown up in Manhattan? Of course, there is also the fact that Shine! has been trying to put its best foot forward for more than fifteen years.

Well, darn it, Shine! needs more than a dab of spit and polish to shine, best foot or no. It’s got dozens of pleasant numbers, dapperly produced, as polished as director Peter Flynn and his talented, eager cast can deliver, loads of energy nicely supported with mikes and lights and clever, thrifty settings and setting suggestions – and not a single surprise in the whole shebang. Or a single cliché left undisturbed. Which, in its way, may be the whole point: that the good old days of 1876, when a nickel was really a nickel and you could rent a room for seventy-five cents a week, maybe those good old days are what we’re looking for these far from halcyon days. And then again, maybe not.

Our hero, Ragged Dick, (Andy Mientus) down on his hands and knees in the bowels of an effervescent Wall Street with a cheery word and a cheery smile – and, of course, a cheery song -- for every customer he can get, is building his way to fame and fortune a nickel at a time, a shine at a time. He is dimly aware that this is going to be a long and slow process so when he hears opportunity knocking in Snobdens’ haberdashery shop – there’s a spot for an office boy! – he leaps at the opportunity. He’s on his way! Only to fall into the toils of his wicked stepfather, Luke Gerrish (Michael Halling), freshly out of prison and looking for the odd chance to make a killing. And not a nickel at a time. Dick sidesteps potential peril, avoids Luke like the plague and continues his way to the top, making friends right and left, picking up market tips, making up market tips, busy, busy, busy. But everything comes crashing down when the darling son of a noble banker who has befriended Dick is kidnapped by none other than his stepfather, Luke. Suspicion and hatred, none of which Dick deserves, force him out of his job, back into the streets, back to his shine box. If you want to know how Dick overcomes these tribulations -– but then, you already know, don’t you. There is always a happy ending in Horatio Alger’s stories.

There are splendid voices aplenty amid the vigorous performances and Michael Halling’s is one of the best. William Ryall as haberdashery proprietor Silas Snobden is also fine. A collection of biddies, not all of them Irish, have a grand old time swigging beer to the tune of “ A Handful of Hops”, and the non taxing choreography they engage in hints at possibilities cheerfully. Well, it’s a nice thing to be cheerful these days, isn’t it. Or in 1876.

Theater at St. Clement’s. 423 West 46th Street. Tickets: $20. Call 212-3101 or nymf.org/shine for times and dates.

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