Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Sail Away"

Sail Away
Noel Coward

Nathaniel Rothrock, Khalia Davis, Allison F. Rich, Jordan Martin & Darlene Popovic
Looking for love in the next ten days?  Or, do you just want to have a merry ol’ time with people you’ll probably never want to see again?  Got your bags all packed?  Then head to 42nd Street Moon Theatre to Sail Away on the oh-so-fun-and-funny S.S. Coronia, a boat full of quirky Americans (and a couple of fuddy-duddy Brits); a happy-go-lucky captain’s crew; and one saluting, brassy, snappy-happy Cruise Director.  Oh, and behind all those wide smiles, quick answers, and down-to-the-minute tours, she is divorced; a failed actress (“I retired from the stage due to popular demand”); and bored with her life of shuffleboard, Bingo, and picky tourists (and especially with snotty, precocious kids).  With a witty book, tongue-twisting lyrics, and both gorgeous and top-tapping music, Sail Away is the last musical by the great and prolific Noel Coward where he created all three elements.  A bit like a stage version of T.V.’s Love Boat, there is nothing serious or deep about this Coward gem but a lot to sit back and enjoy as the 42nd Street Moon cast sing, dance, and joke away for a fast-paced two hours, twenty-five minutes.

Allison F. Rich is the red-haired, high-strung Mimi Paragon, the cruise “hostess with the mostest,” who commands full attention with darting eyes as big as silver dollars and long-fingered hands always in motion to match her non-stop, announcer-like voice.  She saddles up to each passenger with gooey niceness, hilariously showing her true feelings of mild disgust whenever their backs are turned. (“It feels like I have spent my entire life in a super market,” she bemoans.)  All goes according to her own plan until a tall, handsome guy (several years her late-30s junior) starts coming on like gangbusters to conquer her heart.  Ms. Rich brings a strong singing voice that can belt in time to her wildly funny gestures; can rattle off Coward’s crazy lyrics with ease and sparkle; and then can settle into a moving, reflective mood in tones both smooth and romantic. 

The tall, tanned Lucas Coleman is her pursuing Johnny Van Mier, who must overcome both Mimi’s reluctance to get too involved in a cruise-fling as well as his hovering, over-protective mother’s disapproval (the haughty but silly Evelyn Van Mier played by Lucinda Hitchcock Cone).  Mr. Coleman makes many of the right moves to convince us and eventually Mimi that his Johnny is the real thing, and he gets many chances to shine in solos opining about his love and determination.  While his tenor voice has the needed power and a crisp edge that at times works, there is an overall nasal quality and a difficulty in delivering soft passages with tonal clarity that keep his performance from reaching the full potential of what Coward provides him.

But Mimi and Johnny are not the only couple in the making aboard the Coronia. Nathaniel Rothrock and Khalia Davis come close to stealing the show as Barnaby Slade and Nancy Foyle.  He, like Johnny, sets his eyes early on the woman he wants and goes after her with full gusto, while she is more interested at first in flinging her barely twenty-year-old self onto any ship’s uniformed crew who will give her a second look.  Individually, both of these actors are good; but put in a scene together, they alone fill the entire stage with electric energy, sense of great mutual timing in varied dance routines, and ability to play off each other’s every move and look.  In both song and dance, they sparkle and spin in a winning combination.

This boat is full of the peculiar, not the least of which is the Keats and Shelley spouting, always-dramatic, looking-for-attention author of romantic novels, Elinor Spencer-Bollard (Nancy’s god-mother and ticket to this cruise).  Darlene Popovic is a stitch as she rattles off in dictation to Nancy as if on stage (which of course she is) her latest, steamy story soon due to her publisher and adoring public.  Others roam the ship decks like the never-still, always-finding-trouble youngster Alvin Lush (played to a ‘t’ with gleeful gusto by 11-year-old Jordan Martin) and his chasing-after-him and quick-to-spoil mom Mrs. Lush (Ashley Garlick).   Michael Patrick Gaffney is a nose-upturned British senior (Sir Gerald Nutley) who hates loud children (and will gladly poke them with his cane) almost as much as he does anyone and anything American and who grumbles continuously about this awful cruise to his equally aristocratic, but less demonstrative wife (Maria Mikheyenko as Lady Millicent).  Katherine Cooper is a cackling, overly excitable Mamie Candijack whose timing is always just a bit off in any conversation she seeks to enter, while her barely responsive, bored-out-of-his-mind husband Edgar (Davern Wright) slinks along beside her. 

Steering all these merry folk through their journey is a crew of four who sing with fun spirit and dance in a male chorus line that “The Passenger’s Always Right,” adding in a ‘goddamned’ before the word ‘passenger’ as the song progresses in verses.  Returning as Moroccan merchants, this time crooning with French accents about the (goddamned) customers, Andy Collins, Stephen Vaught, Davern Wright, and Michael Patrick Gaffney (the latter two doubling in parts) prove to be sure salesmen of song and silliness.

The small stage of the Eureka Theatre setting is a challenge for a cast this size, but long-time Artistic Director Greg MacKellan solves with no problem the comings and goings and interplays as he directs the show.  Brittany Danielle pieces together snazzy choreography (especially hitting the mark with the Nancy and Barnaby combos); and Jocelyn Leiser Herndon pulls out all stops in creating an array of winning costumes.  (Just how many smartly fitting outfits does Mimi really wear?)  And of course as always at 42nd Street Moon, Dave Dobrusky is fleet with his flying fingers on the keyboard and masterful in his direction of overall music.

Sail Away is a 42nd Street journey full enough of laughs and good sounds and sights to satisfy any stage musical lover’s dream vacation to an evening of revival theatre. 

Rating: 4 E’s

42nd Street Moon Theatre’s season-opening Sail Away will continue through November 15, 2015, at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at or by calling 415-255-8207.

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