Village Song 3: Nostalgia for Ellen Stewart, Kenny’s Castaways and Bob Dylan, Contempt for Zero Irving.

In this third and final episode of Rattlestick Theater’s Village Song, the young songwriting students from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts illustrate once again the paradox of Greenwich Village: In a city that’s always changing, the Village excites nostalgia for what stays the same. (But nothing really does stay the same.)

These seven new musical numbers lament what’s lost, condemn what’s new, savor what’s condemned, and consider the future through the past.

Nine Windows
Lyrics by Alstrael Evans
Music by Bela Kawalec

This gentle folk song is narrated by an old building: 

Nine windows and two doorways, that is all they see of me
Nine windows and two doorways, and echoes of lost melodies

She (for it’s Bela Kawalec’s voice) sings on behalf of her friends, the “fallen buildings…lost to the community.”  This song may reflect the partnership of Village Song with the Village Preservation (aka Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.) All well and good, but the song is undercut by the mostly random-feeling video of street scenes and storefronts that accompanies it. The apparently vintage video needs to be replaced, which can be accomplished by a visit to the library for photographs of interesting buildings that were razed or that remain empty and unused (such as The Northern Dispensary, built in 1831, that sits empty on Waverly Place.)

“Welcome to La MaMa”
Book and Lyrics by Alex Becker
Music by Zane Bridwell

Anastasia Dextrene S. Johnson portrays Ellen Stewart, who tells the story, half in monologue, half in jazz-flavored bursts of song, how she  founded La MaMa ETC.  

I knew nothing about the theater
I knew nothing of lights and sound
But I set my feet on the hot concrete with the theater, the new underground.

The lyrics offer some insight into what makes La MaMa tick – “Here’s where you start/Turn your living hell into an art” – but I wonder whether it would have worked better to supplement the details of Stewart’s biography that are in the song with more specifics about the theater itself, culled from its history.  

“Kenny’s Castaways”
Book and Lyrics by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm
Music by Eliza Randall

This is another appealing exercise in nostalgia, which shares an homage to rousing Irish music (with terrific fiddling by Sinan Uster), a lively bonhomie, and several of the same performers as “McSorley’s Stays the Same”  in Episode 2.. Carrie Caffrey, who co-wrote and performed the McSorley’s song, here portrays Maria Kenney, daughter of the original owner of Kenny’s Castaways, a bar and music club on Bleecker Street, on its last day.  (Unlike McSorley’s, it closed almost a decade ago.)

You’ve got to love a song whose refrain pairs “Kenny’s Castaways” with “at last a way.” 

(I wonder whether the McSorley’s and Kenny’s Castaways songwriters could collaborate on a full evening of odes to Village landmarks.)

“Zero Irving” 
Lyrics and Book by Amber Delaluz
Music, Book, and Lyrics by Sinan Usta

The songwriters bill this piece as “a tasteful, cultured protest song” against Zero Irving, a new 22-story building that gets it name, I assume, because it’s on 14th Street at the foot of Irving Place.  But Usta’s presentation is too eccentric to register as anything other than possibly an effort at satirizing a protest song, Usta performing  a mix of odd spoken entreaties  (“Villages, peasants, oh never mind…”) and a punk-influenced ditty  that mainly compares the building unfavorably to yoghurt    (“Zero Irving is a cast of culture vultures/but all yoghurt must have real life cultures”)  The song doesn’t even clearly say what Zero Irving is (it’s intended as a tech hub), nor any specific reasons why preservationists should be concerned about it.  Still, the song let me know about something happening in the neighborhood that I did not know about, and should have, so I’m grateful.

Lyrics by Andrew Strano
Music by Erika Ji

“Space” is inspired by a tiny basement café called “ad hoc collective” at 13 Christopher Street, based on an interview with the owner/operator Mariquit Ingalla, apparently nicknamed Keet. This is a Village place I REALLY should have known about. Sung by Xiaoqing Zhang with an eight-member chorus, the song has simple lyrics, but I was intrigued by the insight that people seek out New York to make their own space, even though that literal space is likely to be far smaller than what anyplace else can offer.

“Gay Icon” 
Lyrics by Erica Molfetto
Music by Yuriko Shibata

The songwriters play themselves (or facsimiles of themselves) itching to perform after so much time in lockdown, so they create a pretend cabaret show, in which Shibata plays bouncy music while Molfetto sings of struggling to get recognized until she started singing in downtown cabarets:

If you want to change the world
You know it starts downtown
And now I’m a gay icon

Amusing and occasionally confusing, “Gay Icon” offers a reasonable impersonation, and spoof, of an in-your-face performance artist, especially when she sits in her bathtub, drinking champagne, and reciting some of her “poems.”

“Heart(beat) of New York”
Music and Lyrics by Mikey Rosenbaum

In a nostalgic nod to Bob Dylan, Mikey Rosenbaum strums his guitar in front of a series of backgrounds from the Village — Washington Square Park, Cornelia Street, in front of Tisch –while a bandmate on either side of him holds up placards with the lyrics he’s singing. 

We are the future of the city
We are the past and present too
We are the broken and the hurting
We are the ones who carry through

It’s sappy and touching and funny and true.

Village Song 3, Village Song 2 and Village Song 1, are all available through March 6, 2021.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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