Oh, Maureen! Ms. McVerry revisits the Gershwins

Maureen McVerry 1
Above: Maureen McVerry makes her San Francisco directorial debut with 42nd Street Moon’s Oh, Kay! Below: Cast members of Oh, Kay! include (from left) Lisa-Marie Newton as Constance, Teressa Byrne as Kay, Skye Violet Wilson as Gilda Grant, Amie Shapiro as Molly and Erica Kimble as Billie. Photo by DavidAllenStudio.com

In 1993, an ebullient comedienne with a head full of red curls, danced and sang her way across the stage of the Gershwin Theatre (aka the Presentation Theatre) as the bubbly title character in Oh, Kay! a giddy 1926 musical with a score by George and Ira Gershwin.

Maureen McVerry, long one of the Bay Area’s most reliable musical comedy stars, appeared to have a grand time playing a Jazz Age baby wriggling her way through Prohibition and attempting to win the affections of the handsome Jimmy Winter.

McVerry (seen in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production below) made a memorable entrance with a boat on her back. “’Are you sure this is how Gertrude Lawrence got her start,’ I remember thinking,” McVerry says on the phone from her Potrero Hill home.Maureen McVerry 2

McVerry is back in the land of Oh, Kay!, this time as the director. She’s helming a slightly revised version for 42nd Street Moon, which begins previews today (Nov. 2) and opens this weekend.

“Our Kay does not enter with a boat on her back,” McVerry says.

It may be news to San Franciscans that McVerry is directing shows and not just starring in them. But for the last few years she has had what she calls “a secret other life.”

“I was the drama queen of Redwood City,” she says. “I got roped into directing shows at the middle school and found it quite satisfying.”

A few shows ago, she needed a musical director, so she turned to her friend and frequent 42nd Street Moon collaborator Dave Dobrusky, who then reported back to 42nd Street HQ that McVerry was a director with whom to reckon.

McVerry got the call to direct Oh, Kay! and is happily back in Gershwin land (with added merriment from P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote the book).

Oh Kay

“I don’t remember the show being such a farce, but it’s really a farce,” McVerry says. “What I remember is that we were all supposed to be drinking all the time. These characters were lit – made the third day at Woodstock look like a cakewalk.”

McVerry says she’s attracted to the lightness of the show – there’s a problem, and it’s solved in a day. The whole thing takes place on a Long Island estate, and everyone’s rich and gorgeous. Then there are the stunning songs – “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Fidgety Feet,” “Clap Yo’ Hands” among them.

So what kind of director is McVerry? Well, since she’s been working with children so much in recent years, she says she doesn’t cuss near as much as she used to.

“I hope I’m the kind of director who makes it a joy to put on a show and who makes each actor feel like they’re contributing something important to that show,” McVerry says. “I’ve worked with so many great directors in my life, and the best directors make sure their actors feel involved.”

She has also worked with directors who were terribly stingy with praise, making the actors feel like they were on the verge of being fired at any moment. McVerry learned from those experiences.

“I’m very clear on this: more praise, more praise,” she says. “It’s not false praise. Actors flourish with genuine praise.”

Next month, after Oh, Kay!,, McVerry will be involved in the opening of a theater space in Redwood City that she raised money to help refurbish. After that, who knows?

“I’d like to do my cabaret act, Very McVerry again,” she says. “The name stays the same, but the show is always changing. Other than that, I don’t know. But as Bette Davis used to say, you should never talk about the future.”

42nd Street Moon’s Oh, Kay! is in previews and opens Saturday (Nov. 5). The show continues through Nov. 20 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $20-$50. Call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.

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