‘Rink’ glides over its former rough spots

October 2, 2001.By Jaime Meyer, Pioneer Press.

Remember the first time you strapped on roller skates? You wobbled, then lurched, then jerked and then quivered some more. But that moment came when a sudden glorious balance overtook you, and you were gliding serenely along – until the next cycle of jerks and lurches. That experience is exactly like sitting through Theater Latté Da’s splendid production of the 1984 musical “The Rink,” which opened at the Loring Playhouse last weekend.

Director Peter Rothstein has assembled a brilliant cast of singers, musicians and designers for his ambitious resurrection of a deeply flawed but entertaining musical originally written for Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera. The action takes place of the course of a few hours when 30-year-old Angel returns to her family’s roller-skating rink after a seven-year absence and finds that Anna, her mother, has sold it, and it’s about to be demolished. Through a series of flashbacks, a history of heartbreak swirls around the rink – all traced back to Angel’s father abandoning the family – Forcing mother and daughter to confront the bitterness and the love ever present between them.

“The Rink” originally played for only 204 performances on Broadway after opening to mostly negative reviews. It enjoyed a brief reincarnation in London and then vanished into theatrical history. The songs are always pleasant and sometimes gorgeous. However, the book, writeten by Terrence McNally (who would later gain much deserved fame for “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Ragtime”), flounders and flails from one forced dramatic moment to the next. In the final moments, the skates fly out from beneath the show, and it crashes gracelessly rint on its sentiment.

The triumph of Theater Latté Da’s production has everything to do with local phenom-director Peter Rothstein. Along with music director Denise Prosek and choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell, Rothstein has breathed a mysterious, revivifying lightheartedness into this problematic musical, fashioning an evening overflowing with charm. Each of the dozen charismatic singers finds superb moments individually and as a group. Erin Schwab (Angel) is irresistible when she sings or giggles. Denise Tabot (Anna) commands the stage with caustic earthiness, David A. Anderson (Angel’s father) offers a hounting portrait of a man who feels something is missing and abandons the family to find it.

If you are able to keep your balance during the frequent lurches in the script, you’ll have a great evening at “The Rink.”