‘Bike Shop’ Sings Cycling’s Praises on the Stage

Elizabeth Barkan in Bike ShopTheater For The New City Elizabeth Barkan as Bobby in “Bike Shop.”

Who knew cycling could be so liberating — and devoid of controversy?

In “Bike Shop,” a one-woman musical showing at The Theater for the New City, Bobby, a bike messenger and mechanic, sings odes to the freedom of the streets. For her, the bicycle is an escape — even a vehicle for feminine liberation.

Set in 1993, this bit of cycling nostalgia takes place in a purer time, before every hipster had a neglected fixed gear hanging in his loft, new bike lanes led to lawsuits, business owners blamed cycling for declining customers and passersby won’t even stop a brazen bike thief.

The songs are campy and catchy, and the writing often amusing to the biker-friendly audience. However, non-cyclists likely won’t find the storyline of two-wheeled redemption as touching.

A charming Elizabeth Barkan, the show’s creator and star, plays Bobby, who works at her family’s bike store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her grandmother, also played by Ms. Barkan, opened the store 30 years prior. The final character onstage is an Uncle Rabbi, and at times the exertion required of the multiple rolls and onstage cycling while singing seems to wear the star of the show down. Occasionally Ms. Barkan would start a song strongly, but by the end had lost her momentum.

Life puts a stick in Bobby’s spokes when she swerves on her bike, causing a driver to go up the curb. The driver kills a tourist, and Bobby is so traumatized by the incident that she puts her bike away and focuses on fixing them. Only by reading her grandmother’s diary and, of course, falling for a fellow cyclist, is she able to re-embrace the “emancipation” of riding. While wrestling with the tragedy, Bobby takes comfort in Susan B. Anthony, who famously said a woman on a bike is “the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Elizabeth Barkan Fixing BikeTheater For The New City Bobby works on a bike.

Ms. Barkan sings the tunes about the cycling life with authentic enthusiasm — she repairs real bikes on stage — though at times she was off-key. The campy song “Streetwise,” riffs off of the conflict between cyclists and pedestrians. “Most people they don’t even notice us / If they do it’s because they think we’re trying to run them over, we are!” and “There they are, the pedestrians, lined up like bowling pins / The question is, do I have the balls to go for the strike?”

This musical preaches to the choir. Audience members can even park their bikes onstage if they they like. (No need to worry about bike thieves!) If you ever find yourself riding the city while listening to show tunes, then this musical is for you.

“Bike Shop,” through March 18. Theater For The New City, 155 First Avenue, (212) 254-1109. Showtimes Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. $15.