You can mail a package at the 1935 post office in downtown Minneapolis, and you can see Lil Pump do his thing at the nearby Armory, but the theatrical legacy of the New Deal era isn't as visible.
Theatre Elision will change that for the next couple of weekends with a charming production of Remembering Pins & Needles.
The show is a semi-revival of Pins & Needles, which originally ran from 1937 to 1940 as the only successful Broadway show produced by a labor union with non-professional actors. It was the commercial peak of unions' forays onto the stage, an entertaining exception to a genre that was generally about as much fun as reading Das Kapital.
Although Harold Rome's songs survive, the show's script was a series of satirical skits that evolved to keep up with the times; most have been lost, although writer Cindy Polich incorporated one original skit into Remembering Pins & Needles, a 75-minute show in which four actors tell the story of the original Pins & Needles while performing the songs.
That skit mocks plutocrats, with actor Paul Coate affecting unmistakably Trump-like mannerisms to underline just how precisely the era's concerns map onto those of our own. One of the original show's paradoxes, the script repeatedly notes, was that the box office boomed in part because the bourgeois butts of the play's jokes wanted to see the production as much as the proles did.
Performed with rock-solid precision under the direction of Lindsay Fitzgerald, Remembering Pins & Needles is an amiable tribute staged in the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center's cozy theater. (Leave some extra time if you're not familiar with the space, because finding your way through the winding complex attached to the Plymouth Congregational Church is no mean feat.)
All four actors are seasoned pros, backed by Harrison Wade's tight and unassuming four-piece band. The set is minimal: a table laden with sewing tasks, a nod to the fact that Pins & Needles was produced by the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union. The production is fundamentally a showcase for the artists' interpretive skills, and the historical numbers are such fun that the show would be better-served in a looser cabaret setting.
Every cast member has memorable moments. Kenyai O'Neal and Christine Wade spoof the AFL and CIO flirting with a merger in "One Big Union for Two," while Coate rolls smoothly through the hit ballad "Sunday in the Park." The whole ensemble winks along in "It's Better with a Union Man" (replete with stitchery-themed pun on "sowing her wild oats") and the climactic "Doing the Reactionary."
The show's highlights, though, are Elena Glass' solo numbers "Vassar Girl Finds a Job" and "Nobody Makes a Pass at Me." Her comic skills shine with Rome's witty lyrics, providing perhaps the production's truest glimpse of what kept pre-war audiences coming back for more. Remembering Pins & Needles is apt to leave you whistling a "Song of Social Significance" and looking for a union card to sign.
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