Sunday, March 27, 2016

"The Boys from Syracuse"

The Boys from Syracuse
Richard Rodgers (Music); Lorenz Hart (Lyrics); George Abbott (Book)

Elise Youssef, Lucas Coleman, David Naughton & Abby Haug
Don’t feel like tapping your toes, humming along without realizing it, grinning in the dark until your jaws ache, or suddenly guffawing so loudly the person in front of you turns around startled?  Then I suggest you don’t head to 42nd Street Moon for their revival of the Rodgers and Hart slapstick-hilarious and fabulously melodic The Boys from Syracuse.  I dare you to sit through even a minute without chuckling or five minutes without turning to your neighbor to whisper, “That’s such a favorite song of mine.”  The Boys from Syracuse -- as directed by the Moon’s retiring Artistic Director and co-founder, Greg MacKellan -- never misses a beat to draw upon the antics from the likes of vaudeville, the Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, Lewis and Martin, and the great silver screen comedies of past eras in order to elicit another laugh from somewhere in the audience.  When combined with some of yesteryear’s best Broadway songs sung to near perfection and when accompanied by full-of-fun-and-frolic choreography danced without a hitch, how can we not say that Greg MacKellan’s swan song production may be one of his best-ever undertakings at his (and our) much-loved 42nd Street Moon?

Based on and staying true (via George Abbott’s book) to William Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, The Boys from Syracuse plops unexpectedly into the streets of ancient Ephesus two sets of identical twins separated in a ship wreck at birth, one half of each set who has arrived from the arch-enemy city of Syracuse.  As the aristocratic Antipholus of Syracuse and his loyal servant Dromio roam the same streets as do their duplicates, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, mix-ups and misidentifications by the dozens ensue.  Wives end up in beds with the wrong husband.  A sister-in-law falls heads over heels in love with whom she knows (or does she?) she shouldn’t.  A courtesan tempts one twin to bed and demands, with threat of a scandal, a promised gold chain from a bewildered other twin. The town’s unpaid goldsmith seeks an arrest of the wrong man, which the police sergeant is ready to do if he can keep his eyes (and hands) off the nearby ladies of the night.  Even a sorcerer gets in the act, unable to make heads or tails of the resulting chaos, but fully willing to try a few tricks of his own.  In the meantime, unbeknownst to either Antipholus of S or of E, his never-seen-since-birth father is about to be executed, and his long-lost mother is the town’s head priestess hidden away in the main square’s temple.  With its streets full of mad-dash chases, madcap mix-ups, and a lot of mad and maddening citizens and visitors, Ephesus is a mess – which is all good news for us, the audience.  Further hilarity comes for us in that we have as difficult time telling the twins apart as does all of Ephesus.  The two Dromios on stage are actually identical twins in real life while the two playing Antipholus could quite easily be mistaken as such through their matching hair, beard, and build.

But it is really the music of Richard Rodgers and the lyrics of Lorenz Hart that provide the potential for The Boys from Syracuse to be a memorable outing, and this cast ensures that is the case.  Most impressive is how singer after singer refuses, even with all the surrounding shenanigans, not to fall in the trap of over-singing.  Antipholus of Ephesus (David Naughton) and his wife Adriana (Abby Haug) sing the beautiful “The Shortest Day of the Year” as if in true conversation with notes coming out naturally and easily as they tell us that the shortest day “has the longest night of the year.”  When Adriana’s sister, Luciana (Elise Youssef), employs her soprano voice and always-expressive countenance to sing in reprise “This Can’t Be Love,” the words float with grace as she shows great restraint in controlling and contrasting her dynamics.  And when Adriana’s crystal-clear soprano voice is joined in the second half with the more sharp-edged voice of Antipholus of Syracuse (Lucas Coleman) as they sit on the stage’s edge singing “You Have Cast Your Shadow on the Sea,” the two voices blend beautifully in almost whisper as they promise, “You will be with me.” 

One who does bring full voice again and again, always without strain or blast, is Heather Orth as Luce -- handmaiden to Adriana, wife to the sometimes-not-interested Dromio of E, and mistaken bedmate of the you-bet-I’m-interested Dromio of S.  In “What Can You Do with a Man,” she counters the cute, high voice of her curly-haired husband Dromio of E (Paul Rescigno) -- whose eyes often widen to perfect circles to reveal pupils that pop with pizzazz – with her strong, reverberating contralto as she sings, “He eats me out of house and home.”  Later with Dromio of S (Robbie Rescigno), the two engage in a mimicked minuet while singing the very fun “He and She,” mixing with success his sharp tenor with her more broad, deep, and mature vocals. 

Michael Rhone takes a mostly background part of the Police Sergeant and turns it time and again into gold with a rich voice that can rise in volume with absolutely no distortion.  He is hilarious in “I Had Twins,” giving full voice to the pantomimes (over done for comedic effect) of the foreigner who does not speak the Ephesus tongue, Aegeon (Stephen Vaught), the father from Syracuse of the Antipholus twins.  Later, he leads the goldsmith Angelo (Nikita Burtshteyn, full of fun-faced expressions) and a town merchant (Stephen Vaught’s other role) in a hammed-up-to-the-hilt chorus line, singing “Come with Me” as they convince Antipholus of E all the many positives of life in jail (“ your own little room ... where the food is free, where the landlord never comes”).

Elise Youssef, Abby Haug & Heather Orth
The three lead women (Adriana, Luciana, and Luce) by far acquire the night’s biggest, most sustained applause for their harmonic, well-choreographed “Sing for Your Supper.”  Mixing even some scat in, the three individually and collectively beam and bounce with aplomb as they rattle off the familiar lyrics that more than just a few women in the audience were singing along by the called-for encore.

Time and again, Jayne Zaban’s choreography hits that mark in large and small group numbers from the high jumps and kicks of the opening “I Had Twins” to a mix of many dance types in “Oh, Diogenes,” a saucy number led by the sassy and sexy Courtesan (Dyan McBride, also bringing good vocals).  An amazingly choreographed “Big Brother” duo is performed by the two Dromios, in which each mirrors with near exactness the dancing, tumbling antics, and clever clowning of the other.  (Recall, those of us of a certain age, the famous scene of Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx doing the same sixty years ago).

Much of the fun of this production is reflected in the both stunning and silly costumes designed by Stephen Smith.  Bright colors abound, class distinctions are properly differentiated tongue-in-cheek, and separated twins are conveniently tailored by the same guy in town to look exactly alike.    Andrew Custer’s lighting shows all the many-hued combinations in full luster and glitter.

The production’s absolute success comes not just from Greg MacKellan’s fine-tuned, yet cheeky direction, but also from the incredible musical direction of Dave Dobrusky.  As always, he not only prepares and leads this large singing ensemble in its musical prowess, but he also transforms the keyboard into sounds worthy of a full orchestra.  Together with this excellent cast and crew, MacKellan and Dobrusky have teamed up one more time to bring to San Francisco a stellar revival of a long-ago hit to an appreciative and loyal audience of admirers of 42nd Street Moon.

Rating: 5 E

42nd Street Moon Theatre’s The Boys from Syracuse will continue through April 17, 2016, at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at  or by calling 415-255-8207.

Photos by David Allen

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful evening! Many people found themselves singing along, and not just the women! Definitely 5 stars!