BY CLAUDE SOLNIK | Climate change hit Coney Island on Fri., Aug. 18 — and it felt a lot like a celebration as Heidi Siegfried, dressed in blue and white, complete with blue toenail polish, watched along with a crowd of nearly 70. She sat on a milk crate on the Boardwalk near 21st Street as Theater for the New City’s street theater presented its mobile musical.
“They addressed climate change. They brought COVID in,” she said of the show, which lasted a little more than an hour. “There’s a lot going on.”
Theater for the New City performed its new free musical about climate change, “Life on The Third Rail or a Subway Delay to the Future,” on the Coney Island boardwalk. Crystal Field wrote the book and lyrics (as she does every year) and directed, while Joseph Vernon Banks composed the music.
The show then returned to the East Village that Sunday at St. Mark’s Church, at E. 10th Street and Second Avenue, continuing its run on the road, both literally and figuratively.
TNC, which for decades has presented a new, mobile musical each year, performs on a portable stage with a large “cranky” — a 9-foot-by-12-foot scrolling screen for scenery — in parks and other outdoor locations. The show a day earlier had performed at the Central Park Bandshell, before heading to Brooklyn and the East Village.
“We have to get permits to close streets down,” Emily Pezzella, TNC’s executive assistant and volunteer coordinator, said of some performances literally in the street. “It’s a lot of work.”
TNC’s traveling production pulls up at various locations, such as the boardwalk and St. Mark’s Place, before unloading not just the set, but the stage for outdoor performances, assembling it like pieces in a puzzle.
Scenery scrolls past on the back of the stage on the cranky — so-called because it needs to be hand cranked — showing Coney Island, the subway and New York City.
The musical itself, being presented from Aug. 5 to Sept. 17, was developed in-house at TNC, before TNC co-founder and artistic director Crystal Field went off and wrote it, as she does every year. TNC has been presenting its annual summer musical since 1976, live-streaming it in 2020 during the pandemic.
“We had two weeks of workshop,” Dan Kelley, TNC’s house manager and a performer in the show, said of the script, which includes some subway lingo. “People from the subway came in.”
A cross section of New York City life danced and acted across the stage, with much of the action unfurling on a painted subway. There is a lot of singing, dancing and a virtual explosion of costumes and New York City characters, including a woman giving birth on this Brooklyn-bound train with the next stop Atlantic Avenue.
“There’s a flood on the tracks,” Kelley, portraying an M.T.A. employee clad in glow-in-the-dark train attire, proclaims.
Climate change, in other words, has arrived. And soon the climate change monster, a cross between the Loch Ness Monster and a refugee from the Toxic Avengers, arrives.
A woman portraying a pregnant mother puts it bluntly, proclaiming, “This cannot be. We need a world for the baby and me.”
Pezzella acts and sings, reassuring the mother, before and after she gives birth. Alexander Bartenieff, lighting director and member of TNC’s board of directors, takes the stage as a gruff New Yorker.
And Mark Marcante, TNC’s production manager, dons a purple costume and later engages in some vaudeville patter with Field. Marcante asks the theater’s artistic director, dressed in gold as a fortune teller, to predict the future.
“They have to write the future,” Field said, gesturing toward the audience. “History will be written on the sands of Coney Island,” she added before listing some other at-risk locations.
The show’s run still has a half-dozen performances left, including in Washington Square Park this Sat., Aug. 26, at 2 p.m., followed by four more in the boroughs — one in Queens, two in Brooklyn and one on Staten Island — with its finale in the East Village in Tompkins Square Park on Sun., Sept. 17, at 2 p.m. For more information, visit theaterforthenewcity.net.