The Talk of the Town sets the saga of the Algonquin Round Table to music, and in the process, turns a fascinating chapter of America’s cultural history into a trite sideshow.
The play is staged in the Algonquin Hotel itself, if not at the actual table frequented by the literary luminaries depicted on stage, then quite close to it. But rather than lending an air of authenticity, the space, with its colored lights and dimmers, highlights the frivolity of the production. After a synthesized jazz intro, the writers take the stage. They then proceed to sing themselves through a decade of artistic triumph and tragedy, with the inevitable heartbreak (Dorothy Parker’s a character, remember) thrown in on the side.
My respect for the people the play is based on made it impossible for me to enjoy the show. Songs like, ‘Through A Writer’s Eyes’ and ‘Say Something Funny’ make a mockery of the intelligence that is to be found in these writers’ actual work. If it’s wit you want, you’d do better to pick up a vintage copy of The New Yorker.
Even the actors, with their beautiful voices and marvelous energy, cannot save this musical from its songbook. And that, ironically, is the fault of the writers. At one point, Dorothy Parker’s character asks, “Why are all these people watching us? Don’t they have anything better to do?” It got a laugh from the audience, but, unfortunately, the joke was on us.