Much to love in Moon’s charming Scrooge

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Jacob Marley (Ryan Drummond, left) pays a reluctant Ebenezer Scrooge (Jason Graae) another ghostly visit in 42nd Street Moon’s world premiere of Scrooge in Love, running now through Dec. 13 at the Eureka Theatre. Below: Graae’s Scrooge is surrounded by friends and family who are now rooting for the once curmudgeonly miser to fall in love. Photos by Patrick O’Connor

Just when you thought there was not a breath of life left in the seasonal cash cow known as A Christmas Carol, along comes Scrooge in Love! to remind us that there’s still a lot of life and heart and holiday spirit left in old Ebenezer Scrooge.

San Francisco’s venerable 42nd Street Moon, formed 23 years ago to present neglected or forgotten musicals, has been shaking things up of late, with the company’s latest coup being the world premiere of this sequel to Dickens’ Carol with music by Larry Grossman (Minnie’s Boys, Snoopy!!!), lyrics by Kellen Blair (Murder for Two) and a book by Duane Poole (A Christmas Memory). It’s an absolute gem of a musical – fresh, clever, spirited and a welcome addition to the canon of holiday perennials.

Most sequels are a doomed enterprise from the start. They assume you know (and care) what has come before and are excited about continuing. In movies, that is often true, but in musicals (Annie 2, Bring Back Birdie, the Phantom disaster known as Love Never Dies) it’s more like the kiss of death. But Dickens’ Carol is so ubiquitous in so many forms (movies, musicals, cartoons, plays) it seems odd that so few have picked up the story of Scrooge after his transformational night with the four ghosts.

That’s what this Scrooge does and does beautifully. We meet Scrooge a year later. Once again, it’s Christmas Eve, and a familiar, chain-wearing specter appears. It’s Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner, and Scrooge has to wonder if this is going to become an annual visitation. This time around, however, Marley is less interested in terrifying Scrooge into changing his misanthropic ways and more into finishing Scrooge’s evolution into a loving pillar of the community by encouraging him to find someone to love.

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The first act takes us on a familiar journey as the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future reappear to help Scrooge reconnect with Belle, the woman who stole his heart as a young man but who slipped away when he valued work and profit more than love and human connection. In Act 2, an even more enlivened Scrooge embarks on a Christmas Day quest to find and woo Belle in a hurry. Not to give anything away, but this being a warmhearted Christmas tale, there’s a happy ending.

I’ve said this before, but in the good old days of musical theater, composers would be tripping over themselves to write shows for Jason Graae the effervescent performer who perviously dazzled in Moon’s Little Me. Possessed of a beautiful, emotional voice and perfect comic timing, Graae is one of our best musical comedy actors, and Scrooge in Love! is a sensational fit for his talents. He seems a little young to be playing Scrooge, but this is the transformed Scrooge, after all, and do we really want to see a crotchety old crank fall in love? Not really, but we do root for Graae’s sweet Scrooge to finish off his transformation in the most romantic way possible. Graae steals hearts (and the show) with his Act 1 ballad “The Things You Should Have Done” and again in Act 2 with a wonderful song called “A Kitchen Built for Twenty” (but a place set for one – a lament for those who realize living alone is not the best option for them). Graae is so good – seemingly effortlessly – in this show he should clear his holiday calendar for the next 30 years or as long as he wants to continue playing Scrooge.

Graae gives a star turn here, but director Dyan McBride’s top-notch production provides abundant pleasures. Music Director Dave Dobrusky with Ken Brill on synthesizer and Ami Nashimoto on cello bering a full, rich sound to the Grossman-Blair score, which has to be one of the most charming and tuneful new scores in recent memory. There’s an old-fashioned, Golden Age feel to the songs, but they’re also infused with intelligence and solid craftsmanship, which makes the evening that much more effervescent. Just try to resist Scrooge’s “Happier” or the ghostly quartet “You Can’t Put a Price on Love.”

McBride and choreographer Staci Arriaga seamlessly blend dance and movement into the action so that the entire two hours feels lively and merry without ever feeling forced. The ghosts are all marvelous, especially the high-energy Elise Youssef as Christmas Past. Ryan Drummond is also wonderful as Marley, who gets his own shot at redemption this time out.

One nice surprise of Scrooge is that it’s actually moving without ever being corny. Scrooge’s connection with Belle (Melissa Reinertson) feels genuine, so it’s easy to feel invested in their love story, and Scrooge’s struggle to find value in life minus the dollar signs is a nice echo of the original and a nod to what makes the Scrooge story so powerful, even in its many and varied forms.

This is a joyous world premiere, an utterly delightful and disarming holiday treat, and you don’t need to be the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be to see that this show is going to have a long, happy life.

Scrooge in Love! continues through Dec. 13 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$75. Call 415-255-8207 or visit

Moon’s Carnival: midway between comedy, drama

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Optimistic orphan Lili Daurier (Ashley Jarrett) makes friends with the carnival puppets, unaware that puppeteer Paul Berthalet (Ryan Drummond, left) and his assistant Jacquot (Michael Doppe, center) are the people pulling the strings in the 1961 musical Carnival revived by 42nd Street Moon. Below: Rosalie (Dyan McBride, left) eyes Jarrett’s Lili as she watches the magic of Marco the Magnificent (Bill Olson). Photos by David Allen

Watching the 1961 musical Carnival, a hit on Broadway, it’s fairly easy to see why the show was never a candidate for major Broadway revival or a staple of community theaters. The score, by Bob Merrill, has real charm and beauty mixed with pleasant mediocrity. The standout song, “Love Makes the World Go Round,” is used to great effect, although the most poignant song in the score is a longing-for-home number called “Mira” that perfectly captures what the show wants to be: a sweet, melodic story with melancholy and pain running not too far under the surface. And therein lies the tricky part. This musical, with a book by Michael Stewart, looks like a happy mainstream musical, but it’s much more complex than that. In many ways, it succeeds in being musical comedy and drama, but the creators didn’t have quite the sophistication to pull it off – or maybe they felt they were offering as much sophistication or complexity as an early ’60s Broadway audience could handle.

Whatever the reason, Carnival Remains a curiosity, and thanks to 42nd Street Moon, the great reviver of Broadway curiosities, treasures and castoffs, we get to explore Carnival games in a production that lets us experience what the show does best. Director Greg MacKellan and choreographer Jayne Zaban guide a spirited cast through a bright 2 1/2 hours filled with some lively moves and some gorgeous voices.


In its two key roles, Carnival requires performers who can really sing and really act with an almost operatic intensity. Leading lady Lili Daurier (Ashley Jarrett) is freshly orphaned and just off the bus looking for a friend of her late father’s who sells souvenirs in a second-rate French carnival. The man she’s looking for is dead, and she quickly learns that carnies who offer a helping hand may have other body parts in mind. Lili, who is described later in the show as a “grown-up girl with the mind of a child,” is a tricky character. Is she simply a country bumpkin so naive to the ways of the world she might as well be 9 years old? Or is this more of a Light in the Piazza situation in which her simplemindedness is more complex? Hard to know, but Lili’s sweetness and sincerity are never in question, and those qualities are the primary reason she bonds with the puppets in the carnival’s rag-tag puppet show and helps turn the struggling act into the hit of the midway.

The primary puppeteer, Paul Berthalet (Ryan Drummond) is a disillusioned former dancer dealing with war injuries and a life he neither expected nor likes. He’s immediately skeptical of Lili and her infatuation with the rakish magician Marco the Magnificent (Bill Olson), but at some point, he falls for her and is only able to express himself when he’s performing as one of the puppets. When he’s just himself, he’s downright cruel to Lili, much to the disgust of his assistant, Jacquot (an affecting Michael Doppe).

Both Drummond and Jarrett have powerful voices and give convincing performances, especially Jarrett, whose interaction with the rather disappointing (but well performed) puppets is filled with childlike glee.

With such interesting central characters, it’s too bad that the secondary love story, between Marco and his assistant, the Incomparable Rosalie (Dyan McBride) relies more on comedy than complexity, and the introduction of a potential fiancé for Rosalie, a goofy vet from Zurich, doesn’t really add much to the overall story, although McBride’s number, “Humming,” is performed with her customary aplomb and crack comic timing.

Carnival, in the end, plays it safely down the middle, trying to be a family-friendly musical with darker undertones. There’s a gentle charm to the show, and this production’s musical director, Dave Dobrusky, makes a melodic case for the best of Merrill’s score, but there seems to be an impulse on the part of the creators to make something more significant here. The songless final stretch of the musical is all about drama and character and not at all about fulfilling musical comedy expectations.


42nd Street Moon’s Carnival continues through April 21 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $25-$75. Call 415-255-8207 or visit

Xanadu the right thing

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Brittany Danielle (center) is Kira in the Center Repertory Company production of Xanadu. Her phalanx includes (from left) Catherine Gloria as Euterpe, Maureen McVerry as Calliope, Evan Boomer as Terpsicore, Mark Farrell as Thalia, Dyan McBride as Melpomene and Sharon Rietkerk as Erato. Below: Tom Reardon (left) as Danny and Tim Homsley as Sonny. Photos by

Summer camp has started early this year, but not to worry. This is some high quality high camp.

We’ve had a few Bay Area productions of Xanadu, the Broadway musical version of the notorious 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton-John as a roller-skating light bulb, er, sorry, roller-skating Muse (you know, from Mt. Olympus kind of muse). The Retro Dome in San Jose and New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco both did the show last year, but having missed the show during its 2007/08, I was waiting for the Center Repertory Company production that just opened.

I’m so glad I waited.

Before I tell you how fabulous this production is – and fabulous really is the operative word on so many levels – I have to confess to being a Xanadu fan. There’s a joke in the show about this being “children’s theater for 40-year-old gays,” and it’s like book writer Douglas Carter Beane was talking directly to me. I was 13 when, at the grocery store, I bought the soundtrack album to Xanadu (yes, on vinyl) before seeing the film. I was completely enthralled with Side 1 as the Olivia Newton-John side and Side 2 as the Electric Light Orchestra. There were guest appearances by the rock band The Tubes (“Dancin'”), Cliff Richard (“Suddenly”) and Gene Kelly (“Whenever You’re Away from Me”), and then ON-J herself appeared on the ELO side to sing the synth-happy title song. It was bliss.

Then I saw the movie, and even at 13 I knew it was crap. Sure I liked it, but it wasn’t nearly as good as what I had imagined looking at the production photos on the album cover while I memorized the songs.

I must say I was doubtful about the joke-laden Broadway translation of the movie as a glorified jukebox musical, especially because I never warmed to the Broadway cast recording. But now, having seen an exuberant and very funny production of the show, I’ve come closer to seeing that original version in my 13-year-old head.

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Director Jeff Collister and a cast of stalwart comedians make great use of the three essential “S’s”: silliness, sassiness and sincerity. Everybody gets the joke that they’re in an intentionally campy, in-joke send-up of the original movie, the “stinkaroo” movie as someone on the show describes it. But there’s also some sweetness in between the abundant laughs. Beane has gone a long way toward making sense of the movie by actually giving it a plot, and now the title song, sung in full-tilt, rainbow-flag waving glory at the end, actually makes a modicum of sense. No mean feat.

When a Venice Beach (California) chalk artist meets his muse, he’s inspired to open up a palace that infuses all art forms with something athletic. “I want to open a roller disco,” says Sonny the (very) blond artist (Tim Homsley). “How timeless,” responds Kira, the muse in disguise (Brittany Danielle). It’s amazing her wheels aren’t slipping in the puddles of irony filling the stage.

The goal for both Sonny and Kira (who’s actually the Muse Clio, born of Zeus) is to be granted the “state of Xanadu.” What that is, who can say, but every time the word is uttered, someone pops up to repeat it as if it’s really, really, really important (not unlike the show itself). It’s all ridiculous but in a mostly sublime way. Smart without being overly so and stupid in just the right measure.

And then there are all those songs, most from the original soundtrack with a few ON-J and ELO songs thrown in for good jukebox-y measure. Whether or not these are good songs, I cannot say. They’re my songs. I love them and I still know all the words. So hearing musical director Brandon Adams’ crack quartet spinning out these peppy, poppy tunes is a nostalgic delight.

Enough cannot be said about leading lady Danielle, who sings, jokes and ROLLERSKATES like a dream. Olivia Newton-John wishes she could be so funny and so graceful. And the supporting cast is filled with marvelous moments, large and small. Dyan McBride costumed by Victoria Livingston-Hall and bewigged by Judy Disbrow looks like a cross between Cher and Heart’s Ann Wilson with some Endora from “Bewitched” thrown in for good measure. She’s Melpomene, the oldest Muse, who cackles and giggles because she’s the bad guy along with her sister Calliope, played by the invaluable Maureen McVerry, who behaves as if she’s channeling one of Carol Burnett’s old addled characters. In fact, this whole show reminded me a little of a finale from the old “Carol Burnett Show” – a lot of singing, dancing and expert comedy thrown together by smart people in a hurry. Cheers to choreographer Jennifer Perry for all her knowing winks to the disco era and to set designer Kelly Tighe and lighting designer Kurt Landisman for drawing a thin, thin line between fun and tacky. A million lights are dancing and there you are, a shooting star…

Comic gold is also dispensed by the two cross-dressing Muses, Mark Farrell as Thalia and Evan Boomer as Terpsicore, and Sharon Rietkerk needs an entire show for her nipple-pinching Muse, Erato. And in that show, there should be a showcase for the vocal talents of Caterine Gloria, who plays Muse Euterpe.

Tom Reardon is a hoot as real estate mogul Danny (who once had a fling with a Muse himself), but he brings down the house as Zeus when the action shifts to Mt. Olympus (and Farrell makes such a good Maggie Smith that the “Downton Abbey” folks should be in touch).

This is such an enjoyable production, filled with broad comedy, charming pop and some wonderful calibrated little details that reward the careful observer (and fans of the movie). If, as this show tells us, the theater is going down the toilet with recycled movie mush like this, I’m happy to take the trip in such colorful company.

[bonus interview]
I talked to Xanadu book writer Douglas Carter Beane last December when the show opened at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Read the feature here.

Center Repertory Company’s Xanadu continues through June 23 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. Tickets are $40-$47. Call 925-943-7469 or visit

Russian dressing: The vintage charms of Silk Stockings

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Ninotchka (Lee Ann Payne) explains the Communist theory of romance to a skeptical Steve Canfield (Ian Simpson) in the song “It’s a Chemical Reaction, That’s All” from the 42nd Street Moon production of Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings. Below: Simpson resists the charms of Hollywood bathing beauty Janice Dayton, played with relish by Dyan McBride. Photos by

How in the world do you follow Strike Up the Band? 42nd Street Moon’s last outing was a spectacularly charming and tuneful production of a Gershwin show that has been unjustly sidelined by musical theater history.

The problem with doing such a bang-up job with Band is that there’s still a final show in the season with which to contend.

And may I say, the finale is no Strike Up the Band. But it’s Cole Porter, so all is not lost.

Silk Stockings, a 1955 musical adaptation of the Greta Garbo film Ninotchka, is a minor work with a wildly unfocused book and a hit-and-miss Porter score.

You don’t see a lot of Silk Stockings revivals, so we have yet another reason to celebrate 42nd Street Moon’s dedication to dusting off shows that we’d never otherwise get to experience.

Director Greg MacKellan’s production certainly has style, which is important when you’re basking the capitalist and romantic decadence of Paris in the ‘50s. Sarah Phykitt’s set introduces a nifty little proscenium that allows the stage, with just a few adjustments, to be a fancy Parisian hotel, a private salon for fashion shows or a movie musical set. It’s one of the more involves sets we’ve seen in a Moon show, and it’s lovely.

But loveliest of all are the glamorous ‘50s fashions put together by costumer Louise Jarmilowicz. The leading ladies look stunning – like they just stepped off the pages of 1955 Vogue.

As ever, the score is ably handled by music director/pianist Dave Dobrusky and invaluable saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Nick DiScala.

I only wish the score they were playing was more rewarding.

There are some fun songs in the score, but even some of the better tunes don’t make a whole lot of sense in context of the story. For instance, the ebullient “Stereophonic Sound” is performed by a former bathing beauty of the cinema (think Esther Williams) who has fled the Hollywood studio system to make an independent French film.

When she sings “Stereophonic,” which lists all the latest widescreen crazes like Cinemascope and Todd A-O sound, it’s never quite clear if she’s overwhelmed by all that technical gimmickry, delighted by it, railing against it or happy just to be in the mix at all (perhaps it’s all of the above). One certainly didn’t make movies in France in the 1950s to revel in Hollywood dazzle (even though that’s exactly what the bathing beauty ends up doing), so the purpose of the song doesn’t really come across.

The same is true for a song added to the 1957 movie (with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse), “The Ritz Roll and Rock.” The song is a lot of fun (and the choreography by Jayne Zaban is snappy), but as performed by Russian artists who would rather be back in Paris, this Porter twist on rock and roll seems more of a novelty than a number integrated into the story.

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Ah, the story, the pesky story. Part of the problem with Silk Stockings is the muddled book by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath and Abe Burrows. It takes too long to figure out whose story this is. First it seems to be the tale of a defecting Russian composer, then it seems to shift to a Russian bureaucrat who falls under the spell of capitalism (and a handsome American) while in Paris. Then it seems maybe we’re shifting to the swimming Hollywood star.

But no, the story really is about Ninotchka, the stern Russian lady whose Communist resolve is no match for decadence and delight.

Though nicely performed by Lee Ann Payne, Ninotchka isn’t all that interesting a character, and neither is her paramour, slick agent Steven Canfield (charmingly played by Ian Simpson).

Far more interesting is Dyan McBride as Janice Dayton, the actress aspiring to roles that don’t leave her waterlogged. McBride has great fun with “Stereophonic Sound” and does her best with the limp “Satin and Silk.” Even her goofy musical number “Josephine” (the result of turning a serious take on War and Peace into a musical bio of Napoleon’s wife), as fun as it is, goes nowhere.

The title song, sung by the lovestruck agent, has to be one of Porter’s weakest, and the duet “As on Through the Seasons We Sail” aims for poetry but just tanks.

The love song “All of You” is still performed with some regularity, though it sounds like Porter recycling himself.

Functioning in this show much the way “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” functioned in Kiss Me Kate is the song “Siberia,” an old-fashioned vaudevillian shuffle. In this production, Porter’s ode to Russia’s punishing frozen wasteland is performed with gusto by Jeremy Vik, Michael Rhone and Jackson Davis.

I would have liked to just relax and enjoy the production, but certain things kept niggling at me.

For instance, late in the show, the action shifts to a Moscow apartment building, where Russians in Russia, we assume, are speaking Russian to each other. Through the willing suspension of disbelief required for musical theater (or any theater, for that matter) the Russian is magically translated to English for our monolingual ears. That’s why “The Red Blues” bothered me so much. If they’re speaking Russian to each other, chances are good that the Russian equivalent of feeling sad and bummed out is not the same word as the color blue. It’s just a convenient (and rather lazy) attempt on Porter’s part to be clever.

And that’s my basic problem with Silk Stockings. Porter is, in many respects, phoning it in. But Porter on a bad day tends to be better than a lot of other composers on their best day, so at the very least, the score is consistently interesting if not exactly silky.

42nd Street Moon’s Silk Stockings continues through May 22 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $24-$44. Call 415-255-8207 or visit for information.

Hot Babes! Even hotter tunes!

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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.

Theater review: `High Spirits’

Spirits are blithe in Moon’s `High Spirits’
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What’s the point of reviewing a show just a few days before it closes? Not much from a commercial point of view.

But given the sudden interest in all things Noel Coward, I had to check out 42nd Street Moon’s production of High Spirits, a 1964 musical based on Coward’s play Blithe Spirit. And I’m certainly glad I did – the show turned out to be one of Moon’s can’t-miss productions.

The show itself, with music, lyrics and book by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, has some snappy (and forgettable) tunes and adheres closely to Coward’s original blueprint. But what makes this musical event stand or fall is its core quartet of actors.

If you happen to be in New York these days, you can pop in on the revival of Blithe Spirit and see Rupert Everett, Jayne Atkinson, Christine Ebersole and the redoubtable Angela Lansbury in the roles, and lucky you. But it’s hard to imagine that starry foursome being funnier or more charming than the 42nd Street Moon crew.

Michael Patrick Gaffney (above, photo by Robert Millard) is Charles Condomine, a writer and widower working on a new book that involves a séance. To assure accuracy, he invites a medium named Madame Aracati to his home for an evening’s ghostly entertainment. On Broadway, Lansbury is said to be divine in the role, but 42nd Street Moon has a real secret weapon here: Megan Cavanagh, in her second Moon outing. Cavanagh is a seasoned comic who knows better than to simply put on a kooky show as the bicycle-riding spiritualist.

Cavanagh is hilarious and heartfelt. Her big numbers, “The Bicycle Song” (cleverly choreographed by Tom Segal), “Go Into Your Trance” and “Talking to You” (an ode to a Ouija board) and “Something Is Coming to Tea,” are all show highlights simply because Cavanagh’s Arcati is so much fun to watch. We don’t believe for a minute that Arcati, as eccentric as she is, could be a phony. She’s much too sincere and has too much belief in her own gifts.

That’s a key to making sense of the silly plot. During the séance, much to the dismay of Charles’ second wife, Ruth (a droll Maureen McVerry, funny in a starched British way, pictured above with Gaffney), Arcati conjures the fleshy ghost of Charles’ first wife, the dashing Elvira, played with pizzazz by Dyan McBride.

These four performers, under the loving direction of Greg MacKellan are a joy. They have chemistry together; they sing, dance and act effortlessly; and they seem genuinely to be enjoying their time on stage.

McBride gets the show’s two standout numbers – “You’d Better Love Me” and “Home Sweet Heaven” – and she swirls around the stage in a lovely, flowy blue dress (Louise Jarmilowicz gets credit for the costumes). She even infuses a less interesting song, “Faster Than Sound,” with style and humor.

Musical director Dave Dobrusky lets the feel of the early ’60s strike a groove in his playing, and he gets stalwart support from Nick DiScala on saxophone, clarinet and flute. With only two players, Dobrusky and DiScala manage to provide varied and pleasant arrangements that go a long way in selling the songs.

In recent shows, 42nd Street Moon, now in its 16th year, has evolved from straightforward concert productions, with actors holding their scripts, to more fully staged, though still minimalist, presentations. The great thing is that the transition seems to be working. These aren’t big, splashy set- and costume-heavy shows, but the strengths of the shows themselves shine through and provide a showcase for some of our talented local musical theater performers.

Something to look forward to: The just-announced 2009-10 42nd Street Moon season begins in September with Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam starring New York cabaret star Klea Blackhurst. Harold Rome and Leonard Gershe’s musical western, Destry Rides Again, will star local light Connie Champagne and run Oct. 28-Nov. 15. Cole Porter’s Jubilee returns Nov. 25-Dec. 13 starring High Spirits cohorts Megan Cavanagh and Michael Patrick Gaffney. The Gershwins’ Lady, Be Good! Runs March 31-April 25 and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s Very Warm for May runs, appropriately, May 6-24.

The new season kicks of the beginning of a multi-year celebration of composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Ira Gershwin. The new season will also introduce “salon evenings” honoring lyricists Dorothy Fields (Oct. 13) and Ira Gershwin (Jan. 28).

For information visit

Review: `Girl Crazy’

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’
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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.


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