Meghann Reynolds and Jeff Horst croon “Embraceable You” in 42nd Street Moon’s revival of the George and Ira Gershwin musical Girl Crazy at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco. Photos by David Allen
42nd Street Moon revives loveable, embraceable `Girl’
There’s nothing quite like a Gershwin revival to brighten the musical scene.
Ten years ago, 42nd Street Moon presented a staged concert version of Girl Crazy, the 1930 hit with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin and a book by Guy Bolton and John McGowan.
Dyan McBride played feisty cowgirl Molly Gray, who tangles with a visiting New Yorker who’s turning his family’s ranch in dusty Custerville, Ariz., into a dude ranch.
Now McBride is directing a revival of Girl Crazy for 42nd Street Moon, only this time around it’s a fully staged production – no more actors holding scripts and putting them down for the big musical numbers.
These days, a 42nd Street Moon show is a real show with a bit of a set (this one’s by Tom Orr) and not much else. You could say, from the looks of things, that the shows resemble high school or community theater productions, and on the surface that might be true.
But the difference is in the quality of presentation. You get high-quality performances – they sing! they act! they dance! – that more than make up for the lack of production frills. Like the staged concerts of yesteryear, these full productions give modern audiences a chance to genuinely experience shows that probably wouldn’t be done by anyone else. For instance, local theaters probably wouldn’t choose to do “Girl Crazy” when they can do the re-tooled 1992 Broadway version, Crazy for You.
Whether they’re lost, forgotten or just outdated, these musicals certainly have their charms, and McBride and her team certainly find much to burnish in Girl Crazy.
The best thing about the show is the tone –it’s exactly right. No one’s apologizing for the slightness of the book or the flimsiness of the characters. They play it as it is, never forcing the comedy or arching the schmaltziness. When slapstick is called for, slapstick is performed. But it’s all completely straightforward – confident, good humored and charmingly relaxed.
Dave Dobrusky, who played the show and served as musical director 10 years ago, is back behind the piano, and he’s marvelous – he even plays a maraca (just one) at the top of Act 2 when the action shifts to San Luz, Mexico.
Staci Arriaga choreographs some high-energy, high-stepping moves for her lanky cowboys (the flashiest moves come from Andrew Willis-Woodward and Nicholas Yenson) and keeps the action on the small Eureka Theatre stage lively without ever crowding it.
Romantic leads Jeff Horst and Meghann Reynolds are delightful and never smarmy. They duet beautifully on “Could You Use Me?” and “Embraceable You.”
The comic romantics – Kalon Thibodeaux as cab driver Gieber Goldfarb and Lisa Hensley as the smitten Patsy – feel like they’re right out of the 1930s. Thibodeaux is a fantastic physical comedian, and he shines on “Goldfarb, That’s I’m” and does some memorable imitations – Jolson, Durante, Chevalier, Cantor – when he chimes in after Reynolds croons a lilting “But Not for Me.”
In the role made famous by Ethel Merman in her Broadway debut is Cami Thompson, who imbues Frisco Kate with Mae West sass and a voice West could only dream of and Merman would have to envy.
Thompson’s “Sam and Delilah” is a showstopper followed quickly by yet another showstopper, “I Got Rhythm.” In Act 2, which is short on memorable tunes, she saves the day with the ballad “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!”
As Kate’s gambling hubby, Slick, Peter Sroka is another one of those reliable character actors who seems to have been delivered directly from 1930.
In Act 1, we’re treated to multiple reprises of “Bidin’ My Time” crooned by an appealing quartet – Peter Budinger, Benjamin Pither, Justin Torres and Willis-Woodward – but the boys’ gentle crooning is absent from Act 2, which could use some help.
The silliness overtakes the story –hypnotism becomes a key plot point – and songs such as “Land of the Gay Caballero” and “When It’s Cactus Time in Arizona” just don’t do it.
But that was musical theater in the ‘30s, sincerity overtaken by silliness mixed in with tunes both great and no-so great. The charm of seeing a show like Girl Crazy from our vantage point is that we can appreciate it from both a historical perspective as well as one of pure enjoyment.
Pictured above right are Kalon Thibodeaux as Gieber Goldfarb and Lisa Hensley as Patsy West. Photo by David Allen.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Girl Crazy continues through Nov. 16 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $24-$42. Call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.