DENNIS -- Nothing says nostalgia like an old-fashioned roller-skating rink, right? So you might guess that ``The Rink" -- a lesser-known 1984 Kander/Ebb musical, enjoying a rare revival at the Cape Playhouse -- would tend toward the schmaltzy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Newly tweaked by playwright Terrence McNally, the script is surprisingly gritty, and more timeless than retro. Spanning three tumultuous decades when the generation gap yawned like a fault line transecting society, ``The Rink" takes a hard look at a conflict-ridden mother-daughter relationship. It's as striking as a slap in the face -- of which the feuding dyad in question, played to perfection by Broadway stars Leslie Uggams and Janet Metz, exchange a matching pair.
The setting -- a decaying seaside arcade -- would be almost beside the point if it didn't offer an unusual and ideal means to evoke the lost enchantments of childhood. The derelict family-owned rink provides the impetus for a plot (a real-estate tussle) and a flow of atmospheric songs. But this could be any mother, anywhere, and any daughter determined not to follow in her footsteps. The magic of the script lies in its universality, bolstered by a richly layered specificity.
The scales have long since fallen from daughter Angela's eyes, or so she thinks. Scarred as a child by the decampment of her moody, malcontent father, Dino (Michael Minarik deftly captures his volatility), Angela -- as we see in a series of seamless flashbacks -- skulked through adolescence and lit out as soon as she was able. She has been engaged in one form of protest or another ever since. She returns home after a seven-year absence, just as her mother, Anna, is preparing to bring on the wrecking ball. After decades of sustaining this crumbling pleasure palace, Anna is ready to move on to a more carefree existence: `` `Working My Ass Off' should be the title of the story of my life" goes one line in Uggams's knockout opening number, ``Chief Cook and Bottle Washer."
Given Angela's absenteeism, her determination to hold on to the rink would seem odd were it not for our natural tendency to grow attached to familiar things -- those physical touchpoints that here summon a little girl's fierce adoration for a charismatic dad. A heartrending undercurrent begins to insinuate itself into the women's amusingly fractious interactions. That bittersweet thread persists right through to the gentle shocker of an ending.
Along the way we get to savor soul-baring solos by the two women -- phenomenal singers both -- and comic numbers by ``The Wreckers," a corps of six talented men who fill out all the other roles (some of them female). When's the last time you saw a production number involving power tools? There's even a caroming ballet performed on roller skates.
Director Michael Unger (who's married to Metz) has delivered a musical with quirky, captivating charm that is reminiscent of the debut of ``The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at Barrington Stage two summers ago, which he also helmed. That offbeat phenomenon quickly found a home on Broadway. This show has the potential to make a comparable leap.