Theater Review by Adam Feldman. Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). Music and lyrics by Johnny Burke. Book by Robert E. McEnroe. Dir. Charlotte Moore. With James Barbour, Jenny Powers. 1hr 50mins. One intermission.
For the past decade, the Irish Rep has striven to include musicals in its seasons, and it seems to be running out of options. That’s the best explanation I can offer for its revival of Donnybrook!, a four-leaf snoozer that played Broadway for two months in 1961. Adapted from the film The Quiet Man, Donnybrook! tells of an American boxer, Sean (Barbour), who returns to his Irish hometown of Innisfree after killing a man in the ring; there he promptly falls in love song with a hardheaded lass named Mary Kate (Powers)—only to be thwarted by her belligerent brother (Ted Koch), whom he refuses to fight. Dramatic potential is all but excised in Robert E. McEnroe’s threadbare book, at least as adapted by director Charlotte Moore. What remains is a bus-and-truckload of quaint-misbehavin’ blarney.
Donnybrook! ’s main asset is its score by Johnny Burke, the lyricist of such standards as “Misty.” Here he has written the music as well, which is pleasant and instantly forgettable. Barbour sings in a commanding baritone but otherwise shrugs through his role; Kathy Fitzgerald and Samuel Cohen inject hints of comic relief. The rest of the cast strains to convey a sense of rural Irish cheer, whether stumbling through brogues, rooting for fistfights (“I’d love to see a donnybrook!!!!”) or essaying a few mandatory step dances. It would be unfair to blame them for failing to deliver a show that has no punch to pack.—Adam Feldman
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