Monday, November 3, 2008

New York Post Review of Adam Langer's "Ellington Boulevard"

Gentrification, the Musical

(Originally appeared in the New York Post, February 2008)

by Dylan Foley

After burying his mother in his hometown of Chicago, jazzman Ike Morphy comes home with his dog Herbie Mann to New York to find a real estate broker and two buyers standing in his battered rental apartment on West 106th Street in Manhattan. Ike's whole life is being sold out from under him. He starts a fight with the realtor and thus begins "Ellington Boulevard: A Novel in B-Flat," Adam Langer's glorious comedy of gentrification, rent control and love.

Langer's witty novel is an ode to a gritty stretch of Manhattan real estate on the Upper West Side. Like the old Broadway musical comedies, like "Wonderful Town' he introduces the readers to his cast: There is the buyer, Rebecca Sugarman, an earnest literary editor; her husband, Darrell Schiff, a snide grad student; the renter Ike, an embattled jazz musician ; Josh Dybnick, a realtor with musical theater dreams, and the seller, Mark Masler, an ex-cocaine, ex-sex addict who wants to open a high-end restaurant/car wash. Like all musicals, there are the lead characters’ trials and cliffhangers: Will Rebecca's marriage survive? Will Ike and Herbie Mann find a new home? Will Mark find a nice Jewish girl? Can Josh realize his dream of becoming a theater impresario?

In the novel, Langer excels at digging into the nitty gritty of West 106th Street, which he calls by the obscure moniker of Duke Ellington Boulevard, where the novelist actually lives. He chronicles the loss of local bodegas, replaced by breakfast nooks and nail salons.

Langer is gleeful in using the plot tools of chance, coincidence and happy endings that were the backbone of old Broadway musicals. Rebecca's boss, who is gutting the venerable literary magazine Rebecca works at, once abused the dog Herbie Mann, but the pup will get his revenge. Darrell's lover Gigi is the writer of bad, angst-ridden short stories, brilliant children's books and is writing a real estate musical with the boyfriend of Josh, the realtor that is selling Ike's apartment. And who is the mystery woman that Josh's boss is screwing and what is her relationship to Rebecca?

With much of the action in the book framed in the three-month closing on the apartment and its tumultuous aftermath, Langer’s chapter have titles like “An Offer is Made” and “Closing Costs Are Assessed.” Herbie Mann runs afoul of the law and the NYPD is in hot pursuit. Ike Morphy must chose between his new, surprise romantic interest and the city he loves and the dog that he promised always to protect.

On the musical stage that “Ellington Boulevard” becomes, New York City itself plays a starring role, with its name above the title. Langer’s characters, like Ike and Rebecca, and even the once-sour Darrell, are mostly outsiders who came to the Big City to follow their dreams. The City can be a cold brutal place at first, but when the spotlight picks them up and they start to sing, the audience knows that everything is going to be all right, that the girl will get the boy, and the dog Herbie Mann will find a new home.