Hot Babes! Even hotter tunes!

Babes 2
Alexandra Kaprielian, left, is Billie Smith, Zachary Franczak, center, is French aviator René Flambeau) and Michael Scott Wells is Val LaMar in 42nd Street Moon’s production of Rodgers & Hart’s Babes in Arms. Below: The kids jump for joy at the very thought of putting on a show in a barn! Photos by

Let it be said that Babes in Arms is one of the weirdest musicals with the greatest scores ever written. There have been weirder musicals and greater scores, but never in such striking combination.

You can see for yourself as 42nd Street Moon unfurls all the daffy delirium that is Babes in Arms on stage at the Eureka Theatre. Go for the weirdness but stay for the sheer pleasure of hearing “Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “Way Out West,” “Johnny One-Note” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” in their original context.

This is the second time that 42nd Street Moon has resurrected Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 show. The first time was in November of 1999, when the cast included Darren Criss, the newest cast member on the phenomenon known as Glee.

In fact, Glee and Babes in Arms have several things in common. For one, they’re both full of talented kids crazy about putting shows. For another, they both traffic in some terrific songs. And finally, they’re both about as reality-based as Santa Claus.

In Babes, whose book was written by its composers, a bunch of kids (we have to assume they’re younger than 18) are essentially abandoned by their vaudeville performer parents for six months with no money or means of support. The welfare department (in the form of the local Long Island sheriff) decides the kids should be shipped off to a work farm for their own protection.

The kids fight back! They’re not babes in arms. They’re babes in armor! And there’s work to be done to be done. In their youthful wisdom, they declare that putting on a show in the old barn will solve all their problems. If only President Obama went to the theater more often – he’d know that teenagers putting on shows in barns would surely end troubles in North Korea, the Middle East and Alaska.

Babes 1Not to give too much of the plot away, but when the show idea doesn’t work (aw, heck), the kids expect a solution for their troubles to drop from the sky. Which actually happens in the form a French aviator who crash lands in a nearby field. After being pummeled into unconsciousness, the pilot is imprisoned in a basement and impersonated by one of the kids. All in good fun.

Rather than being angry about the violence and abduction, the pilot is an incredibly good sport because – and you can feel this coming – the kids put on a show for him!

Richard Rodgers, in all his wisdom, feared that Babes, in spite of its extraordinary score, had not aged well, so in 1959, he commissioned George Oppenheimer to revise it. Characters and songs were cut, as was a subplot about performers of color being discriminated against (much to the disgust of the kids).

This 42nd Street Moon version goes back to the original (with a re-write assist by playwright John Guare, who spiffed it up for New York’s Encores! Series in 1999), so the preposterous plot is here in all its glory.

Director Dyan McBride knows just how to keep the action moving and the tone light so that the absurdity of the plot bumping up the richness of the songs isn’t quite as head-scratching as it might be. It’s already bizarre enough to have teenagers singing sophisticated, worldly songs like “Where or When” and “The Lady Is a Tramp,” so McBride’s deft touch, with a choreographic lift fromZack Thomas Wilde, is welcome.

McBride’s cast is merry and bright, and they receive sturdy support from musical director Dave Dobrusky (who also has a cameo as Fiorello LaGuardia). Michael Scott Wells and Alexandra Kaprielian are front and center as (funny) Valentine and charming Billie, the gang leaders, as it were, and Zachary Franczak is enjoyably villainous as Southern bigot Beauregard Calhoun.

A weird highlight of an already weird show comes in Act 2 as one of the minor characters, Peter (played sweetly by Jonathan Shue), gets his own dream ballet. It involves $500, communism and a trip around the world, and it has to be seen to be believed. Kinda like the show itself.

Here’s the trailer for the 1939 Busby Berkeley spectacular that shares the name Babes in Arms a shred of the plot and only two of the songs (“Babes in Arms” and “Where or When”).


42nd Street Moon’s Babes in Arms continues through Dec. 19 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $24-$44. Call 415 255-8207 or visit for information.

John Guare gets `Rich and Famous’ again

For ACT’s `Rich and Famous, all’s fair in love and Guare

The cast for American Conservatory Theater’s Rich and Famous, a 1974 satirical comedy by John Guare (pictured a left, photo by Paul Kolnik) that is being significantly re-written for this revival, has been announced, and it’s fantastic.

Anyone who saw Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me when it had its pre-Broadway run at San Francisco’s Curran will be delighted to hear that two of that show’s supporting cast, Brooks Ashmanskas and Mary Birdsong, will be starring in Rich and Famous, which features a handful of songs written by Guare.

Also in the cast is Broadway veteran Stephen DeRosa (Hairspray, Into the Woods) and ACT core company member Gregory Wallace. The production is directed by John Rando, the Tony Award-winning director of Urinetown both on Broadway and on the national tour that kicked off at ACT.

Ashmanskas, who plays struggling playwright Bing Ringling, says: “John Guare’s work has the unique ability to simultaneously exist on many different planes of reality that are disparate, fully realized, and by definition dramatic – and `Rich and Famous’ is a perfect example of this. It is Guare’s fantastic bravery and honesty that keeps me hysterical with laughter. To get a chance to tackle this sincere, sophisticated and adorably desperate role in a brilliantly revised version of this terrific play directed by the genius John Rando alongside a stellar cast, including my old pals Mary Birdsong and Stephen DeRosa, is almost too good to be true. I would be thrilled to work at ACT under any circumstances, but this is truly exciting and an honor.”

Rich and Famous plays Jan. 8 through Feb. 8 at 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $14-$82. Call 415-749-228 or visit

Playwright Guare (Six Degrees of Separation, The House of Blue Leaves) will be in town this week and will be the guest of ACT’s Koret Visiting Artist Series at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 at ACT.

The event, moderated by ACT dramaturg and director of humanities Michael Paller, is free. Reservations are required. Call 415-749-2ACT or visit

Here’s Mary Birdsong singing her original composition “99 Cent Store” (it’s for adult audiences and not work appropriate):

ACT announces 2008-09 season

There’s some juicy-good stuff in American Conservatory Theater’s newly announced 2008-09 season.

Here’s the rundown:

Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard (Sept. 11-Oct. 12) — Surprising no one, especially after Stoppard’s visit to ACT in January, the West Coast premiere of this London and New York hit will be directed by ACT artistic director Carey Perloff. The drama, Stoppard’s most autobiographical, follows a Czech man in England drawn back to the fight against the Soviets in his native Prague — and it’s all set to a suitably rocky soundtrack full of the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

The Quality of Life by Jane Anderson (Oct. 24-Nov. 23) — Celebrity casting makes this already intriguing play even more so. Laurie Metcalf (worth seeing in just about anything) and JoBeth Williams (gone too long from movie screens) play cousins, one from the Midwest, one from the liberal Bay Area. When serious illness and the ravages of the Oakland hills fire bring them together, it turns out family and ideology aren’t such a good mix. A co-production with the Geffen Theatre and Jonathan Reinis Productions.

Rich and Famous by John Guare (Jan. 8-Feb. 8, 2009) — This marks the first major revival of Guare’s comedy about a playwright sruggling toward fame and fortune since its 1976 New York premiere.

Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins by Stephen Temperly (Feb. 13-March 15, 2009) — If you want a sneak peek at this off-kilter musical biography, head down to San Jose Repertory Theatre, where the regional premiere of Souvenir opens this week starring Patti Cohenour. The ACT production will star Judy Kaye, right, (Mrs. Lovett in the Sweeney Todd that stopped at ACT last fall), who was nominated for the role in 2006. She plays Jenkins, a New York socialite who fancied herself an opera diva though she could hardly carry a tune.

War Music by Lillian Groag (March 26-April 26, 2009) — Poet Christopher Logue’s translation of Homer’s Iliad is adapted for the stage and directed by Groag, a regular player in the Bay Area theater scene (especially at California Shakespeare Theater of late). This world-premiere production re-tells the story of Achilles and his rival Agamemnon.

Boleros for the Disenchanted by Jose Rivera (May 7-June 7, 2009) — Rivera, the Academy Award-nominated screenwriter (The Motorcyle Diaries) pens the tale of four decades in the life of a Puerto Rican girl whose life ranges from her native land to American shores.

Peter and Jerry by Edward Albee (June 12-July 12, 2009) — Albee’s one-act The Zoo Story, his first play, written in 1958, is revisited and appended with a new first act, called Homelife. Rebecca Taichman directs the West Coast premiere of this revised version.

Also on the ACT stage, it almost goes without saying, is A Christmas Carol (Dec. 4-27). James Carpenter returns in the role of Scrooge.

Season subscriptions range start at $101 for all seven plays. Single tickets go on sale in August.
Call 415-749-2250 or visit for information.