… a good idea but … 

The idea of The Folk Singer is intriguing:  a new musical about a young folk singer and composer who, wanting to revitalize people’s interest in folk singing, gathers a group of his folk singer friends to write new folk songs about current issues. These are to be as relevant for our time as those of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were back when….  The five singers put on an evening featuring their new songs, with Don’s girlfriend Kim videotaping it, hoping the video will go viral and spread their messages about the value of folk singing and their takes on the contemporary issues via YouTube and perhaps beyond.

The songs they come up with do range through contemporary issues such as depersonalization through social media, climate change, terrorism, redefinitions of gender roles, and others.  The problem is that the songs are over-simple and undistinguished.  They don’t take up these issues with any bite or particular insight, the rhymes lack wit or pungency (one song hammers on the rhyme “Terror is error” which is, among other things, a simplistic view of the problem to say the least) and in general the vision is unimaginative.  The music is derivative without bringing anything fresh or newly vibrant to the great tradition of folk music.

Above the stage photographs and videos pertaining to the subject matter are projected:  some of these are fascinating, illuminating, and much more powerful than what takes place on the stage directly below.

The fine four-person band does all it can to draw the most possible from the music and they’re so excellent that at times they make for really good listening – transcending the music they have to work with.

Mark Mercante directs the cast that includes Andy Striph as Don, the folk singer and organizer, Micha Lazare as Kim, Don’s girlfriend, Matthew Angel, Mary Adams, Nick McGuiness and Oliva A. Griffen as folk singers, and Larry Fleischman as Frank, who owns the bar.

The band – and thanks to them! — consists of Arthur Abrams (Piano), Susan Mitchel (Violin), Ralph Hamperian (Bass) Art Lilliard (Drums).

The Folk Singer plays at Theater For The New City in Manhattan’s East Village Thursdays through Sundays through October 23, 2016.  For more information and tickets, click here.