Monday, December 17, 2018

"The Eddys": Theatre Eddys' Top Bay Area Play, Musicals & Solo Show of 2018"

Theatre Eddys Presents
“The Eddys 2018”

Theatre Eddys’
 San Francisco Bay Area Top Theatre Productions, 2018

This year, Theatre Eddys attended and reviewed 125 shows locally along with nine shows in Ashland, Oregon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 

Of the 125 local productions that were plays, musicals, and solo performances, a top “5 E” rating was awarded to productions of 26 different companies.  The most “5 E” ratings for locally produced shows (versus touring productions) went this year to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, a company that had a particularly stellar year with seven 5 E’s, the most by far ever awarded by this reviewer in one year to one company.

Choosing “Top Lists of the Year” is made complicated by so many outstanding productions in a region blessed with so many phenomenal companies of all sizes (over 300 stages in the SF Bay Area).  Even more distressing are all the outstanding productions I did not get to see and are thus not represented in the following lists – this year particularly so because I was traveling outside the Bay Area for a total of more than three months. 

In 2018, one production in two parts stood out as so extraordinarily significant in so many dimensions to receive a one-time designation of

Most Outstanding Bay Area Production of the Year 2018:

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
Part One: Millennium Approaches
Part Two: Perestroika
Tony Kushner

Into our current, uncertain, and troubling atmosphere of 2018, Berkeley Repertory Company opened in April its production of Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America in a production whose messages once again spoke truths relevant to our current circumstances. And, the production did so in ways magnificently stunning in every respect. Visually, aurally, intellectually, emotionally – no matter the dimension – Tony Taccone directed an Angels that soared to the heavens and back, plunging us into the depths of a hell that plagued the plays’ years of 1985-1990 but
leaving us with a message more relevant today than ever: 

“We are not going away ... More Life, the great work begins.”

And now for “The Eddys.” Theatre Eddys selects as the best of the best among the 125 local productions seen in 2018:

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Plays in 2018,

San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  OsloJ.T. Rogers, Marin Theatre Company
How a series of secret talks between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were initiated in 1993 and how they proceeded is the subject of one of the most celebrated plays of the new century, Oslo by J.T. Rogers. Marin Theatre Company opened its 2018-19 season with a West Coast premiere of the 2017 Tony-winning Best Play in a tension-filled production that in every respect imaginable was stunning, engrossing, and eye-opening while at the same time was genuinely heart-warming and continually surprising with its laugh-aloud humor.

2.  Detroit ’67 -- Dominique Morisseau, Aurora Theatre
Directed with uncanny timing, bold touches, and much humanity by Darryl V. Jones, Aurora Theatre Company's Detroit ’67 (by Dominque Morisseau) rocked with Motown sounds that soothed and soared, teased with humor both rich and raw, and shook to the core with historical events serious and shattering. And all along, Mr. Jones and the incredibly talented cast ensured that we knew and remembered that headline-grabbing, street-filled events like the Detroit riots are in the end really about the individuals who were safe and happy one day in their homes -- until suddenly they were not.

3.  The Resting Place -- Ashlin Halfnight, Magic Theatre (World Premiere)
Live theater has the potential to bring together a group of strangers to experience an event that will impact each of our separate lives in ways we never dreamed upon entering. In a gripping, heart-pounding, and emotionally arresting world premiere, Magic Theatre presented Ashlin Halfnight’s The Resting Place – a play that forces us to ask ourselves, “What would we do if our son or brother committed a heinous crime?”

4.  Sweat – Lynn Nottage, American Conservatory Theatre
For San Franciscans still scratching their heads and wondering how in the world Donald Trump was able to win the last election (and why he seems still to be so popular in so many places other than San Francisco), all they needed to do is spend an evening at the American Conservatory Theatre back in October. After witnessing the stories so grippingly, honestly, and heartbreakingly relayed in Lynn Nottage’s new play, Sweat, (the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), who could not exit the theatre without saying, “Now I know why”?

5.  Skeleton Crew -- Dominique Morisseau, Marin Theatre and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Jade King Carroll directed a magnificent cast with an ability to take everyday life in a factory where lives are potentially falling apart and show how there are moments the day is still boring; moments, somehow funny; and moments totally lonely and scary. Taking the brilliant script of Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, he, the cast, and the creative team gave in this shared, regional premiere production both the Marin Theatre and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley audiences a realistic, thought-provoking, and emotional glimpse of what Detroit and many other cities and towns of America endured during what we now call the Great Recession of 2007.

6.  Timon of AthensWilliam Shakespeare, Cutting Ball Theatre
Rare it is to hear of a local staging of Timon of Athens. In my own thirty-five or so annual visits to Ashland, I have only seen it once. Not only to be able to see a live production but to have the opportunity to see one that was so timely and wondrously conceived as the edgy, electric, and eye-popping version by Cutting Ball Theater was a gift earlier in this year to the Bay Area audiences of all ages.

7.  Reel to Reel -- John Kolvenbach, Magic Theatre (World Premiere)
A play that is meant to be heard and not just seen, John Kolvenbach’s Reel to Reel is an aural delight, several laughs every of its eighty minutes, and yes, sigh-producing with its heart-touching story of a marriage so ordinary to be nothing short of extraordinary.  Receiving its world premiere at Magic Theatre, Reel to Reel was wondrously directed by the playwright himself.

8.  You Mean to Do Me Harm -- Christopher Chen, San Francisco Playhouse
Bill English masterfully directed the San Francisco Playhouse main-stage production of last year’s Sandbox Series world premiere of You Mean to Do Me Harm with a tantalizing edge bordering somewhere between a who-done-it mystery, a spy thriller, and a psychological drama. If ever I have seen a play recently that my immediate reaction was “I need to see this one again,” it was this one!

 9.  All the Way -- Robert Schenkkan, Palo Alto Players
In the Palo Alto Players’ magnificently produced, regional premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s 2014 Tony winning Best Play, All the Way, we as an audience were challenged to ask ourselves if questionable tactics of a nation’s leader are ever acceptable if the desired outcomes match our own sense of social and economic justice. Is this in fact “the way things are done,” and is it in fact ‘the ends’ that truly matter and not so much ‘the means’? 

10.  fairview, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Berkeley Repertory Theatre (Joint World  Premiere with Soho Rep)
All was predictable in what we (i.e., the mostly white, as usual, theatre audience at Berkeley Repertory Theatre) expected from the kind of family comedy fairview appeared at first to be (i.e., one about a modern-day, black family in the U.S.). That is, all was going as we expected until it definitely was not; and then the joint world premiere between the Rep and Soho Rep of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s fairview took us into territories not yet crossed by many, if any, prior premieres on this or any other American Stage.

Five Theatre Eddys Honorable Mention Plays in 2018

(In Alphabetical Order of the Producing Company)

--> A Doll’s House, Part 2, Lucas Hnath, Berkeley Repertory Company

--> Making God Laugh, Sean Grennan, City Lights Theater Company

--> Still at Risk, Tim Pinckney, New Conservatory Theatre Center

--> The Road to Mecca, Athol Fugard, Pear Theatre

--> Finks, Joe Gilford, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Musicals in 2018,

San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Soft Power. David Henry Hwang (Play & Lyrics); Jeanine Tesori (Music & Additional Lyrics).  Curran Theatre
David Henry Hwang’s (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori’s (music and additional lyrics) Soft Power is a category-busting “play within a musical.” Beginning as a politically charged comedy, Soft Power suddenly explodes into a full-blown musical, complete with a twenty-two-person orchestra. That the rib-tickling play opens in early November 2016 in the U.S. and then jumps one hundred years into the future to become a fiftieth anniversary, full staging of Soft Power, “the world’s most beloved musical” (produced in now globally dominant China) is just one of the many brilliant, unexpected delights of this new musical that opened in June on San Francisco’s Curran Theatre stage.

2.  A Walk on the Moon.  Pamela Gray (Book); Paul Scott Goodman (Music & Lyrics with Additional Lyrics by Pamela Gray), American Conservatory Theatre  (World Premiere)
In the summer of '69 just as a man is about to walk on the moon, a Jewish family of four do what New York and New Jersey Jewish families had been doing for several decades – escape the heat of the City and head to tiny cabins in the Catskills for fun with friends in the so-called Borscht Belt. Pamela Gray captures their own exploratory, scary, and transformative first steps into new territories of life in her A Walk on the Moon -- a visually, musically, and emotionally exuberant slice-of-summer-life that had its world premiere at American Conservatory Theatre this past June.

3.  Man of La Mancha. Dale Wasserman (Book); Mitch Leigh (Music); Joe Darion (Lyrics).  Custom Made Theatre
“How lovely life would seem if every man could weave a dream to keep him from despair.”  It is that message that made Custom Made’s funny, touching, and impactful January 2018 production of Man of La Mancha so timely and relevant for an audience in which many are surely wondering how do we keep hope alive and remain to any degree optimistic when daily Tweets, threats, and executive edicts seem to be undoing everything that many of us believe to be sacred.

4.  Me and My Girl.  Noel Gray (Music); Douglas Furber & L. Arthur Rose (Book & Lyrics); Stephen Fry (Book Revisions); Mike Ockrent (Further Book Contributions).  42nd Street Moon
The music of Noel Gray and the lyrics of Douglas Furber & L. Arthur Rose have made this 1937 musical an audience favorite since it debuted in London; and even though it took one year short of fifty to make it to Broadway, once there, it remained three years.  At 42nd Street Moon, every number of Me and My Girl seemed better than the one previous, with the stellar voices truly outstanding to a person -- maybe the best show (among many memorable shows) that 42nd Street Moon has done in years!

5.  The Bridges of Madison County.  Marsha Norman (Book); Jason Robert Brown (Music & Lyrics).  Based on the Novel by Robert James Waller.  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Anyone who came in April to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s The Bridges of Madison County fearing the evening could drip with sappiness certainly left thinking anything but. The soaring score with haunting melodies that linger long after final curtain call combined with a director, creative team, and cast who together wove a story that captured and held full attention, stirred many, sometimes conflicting emotions that were to be deeply felt and long remembered.

6.  West Side Story.  Arthur Laurents (Book); Leonard Bernstein (Music);
Stephen Sondheim (Lyrics).  Hillbarn Theatre
Among the myriad of inspired choices Director Erica Wyman Abrahamson made for the Hillbarn September production of West Side Story was the casting of Ana Paula Malagón as Maria and of Jeffrey Brian Adams as Tony. Never was there any doubt of the immediate, magnetic attraction between the two – each initially glowing in innocence and naivete when it comes to love and each pulled in locked eyes to the other in a bond that even a brother’s murder cannot break.  With a cast of thirty and an orchestra of fourteen, Hillbarn Theatre proved that the sixty-plus-year-old musical is as current, relevant, and impactful today as it was in 1957. 

7.  Mary Poppins.  Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (Music & Lyrics); Julian Fellowes (Book) with Additional Songs/Lyrics by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe.  Based on the Stories of P.L. Travers and the Film by Walt Disney.  San Francisco Playhouse
In an eye-popping, toe-tapping, big-smile-producing Mary Poppins that also has an edgier, darker undertone than most of its predecessors, San Francisco Playhouse places under the Bay Area’s holiday tree a gift that should enchant both fans and newcomers to this fifty-five-year-old favorite (a production that can still be seen through January 12, 2019).

8.  Elton John + Tim Rice’s AIDA.  Elton John (Music); Tim Rice (Lyrics); Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls & David Henry Hwang (Book).  Broadway by the Bay.
In 2000, a star-studded team of Elton John (music), Tim Rice (lyrics) along with Linda Wolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang (book) took the Verdi opera AIDA and transformed it into a four-plus-year run on Broadway with music that had that distinct Elton John, rock-and-ballad style.  Broadway by the Bay -- under the masterfully conceived and beautifully inspired direction of Jason Jeffrey -- opened its own version in November that was a big-stage, big-sounding Elton John + Tim Rice’s AIDA that looked and felt Great White Way in every respect.

9.  Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  John Cameron Mitchell (Book); Stephen Trask (Music & Lyrics).  The Stage
In full fury on the compact floor arena of San Jose’s The Stage, Hedwig and the Angry Inch exploded this past summer. Bay Area favorites Keith Pinto and Ashley Garlick played gender-fluid Hedwig and her back-up singing husband, Yitzhak, a former drag queen, as they each took John Cameron Mitchell’s book and Stephen Trask’s music/lyrics and brought their own electric, ecstatic, and erotic interpretations to this 1998 Off-Broadway, 2014 Broadway hit.

10.  Jesus Christ Superstar.  Andrew Lloyd Webber (Music); Tim Rice (Lyrics).  Ray of Light Theatre
In a moment of history where young women are stepping forth to be the leadership voices of  #metoo, Black Lives Matter, #NeverAgain, and Time’s Up, Ray of Light Theatre once again proved that this is the Bay Area company that puts on the musical stage what most other companies would never risk, probably not even consider. Giving the female voice to the hero, the lover, the villain, the zealots, the government leaders, and even the angry mobs of Jesus Christ Superstar brought a new strength, relevance, and insight into this age-old story. We soon forgot that we were looking at something from the past and instead were peering into a new reality where young women are forcibly taking their place as the movers and shakers of our future’s history.

Five Theatre Eddys Honorable Mention Musicals in 2018
(In Alphabetical Order of the Producing Company)

--> The People in the Picture, Iris Rainer Dart (Book & Lyrics); Mike Stoller & Artie Butler (Music), 3 Below Theatres and Lounge

--> Head Over Heels, The Go-Gos (Songs); Jeff Whitty (Book); James Magruder (Adapter of Book).  Inspired by The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney.  Curran Theatre  (World Premiere)

--> Pippin, Stephen Schwartz (Music & Lyrics); Roger O. Hirson (Book), Los Altos Stage Company

--> Tuck Everlasting, Chris Miller (Music); Nathan Tysen (Lyrics); Claudia Shear & Tim Federle (Book).  Based on the Novel by Natalie Babbitt.  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

--> Weightless, The Kilbanes (Music, Lyrics & Book).  Z Space  (World Premiere)

Theatre Eddys Top 5 Solo Shows in 2018,

San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
A child of Japanese internees herself, playwright Jeanne Sakata ran across a story so incredible for its audacious and persistent gumption of one man’s stand against the wartime edict – Order 9066 signed by President Franklin Roosevelt – that her resulting play, Hold These Truths, could be at first glance thought to be a work of pure fiction. But the story that Hold These Truths tells of one young Japanese American -- born and bred in Seattle, Washington – is very much true, as the playwright herself learned in interviewing Gordon Hirabayashi before his death in 2012. 

2.  A Fatal Step, Jill Vice, The Marsh
The sixty minutes of The Marsh's A Fatal Step were so packed in the spring with characters, twists and turns as well as screen-worthy moments of drama that in the end, it was difficult to believe that all that could be done in just one hour. The length is perfect as is Jill Vice’s satirical, but loving homage to the femme fatale.

3.  Our Great Tchaikovsky.  Hershey Felder (Book); Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Music).  TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (World Premiere)
The musical chameleon Hershey Felder, who has transformed himself at the keyboard body and soul from Bernstein to Beethoven to Berlin and has at least annually for the past several years taken the Bay Area by storm, returned in January to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in maybe his most emotionally gripping portrayal yet, that of Piotr Ilyich (anglicized to Peter Ilich) Tchaikovsky – a portrayal he both singly writes and performs entitled Our Great Tchaikovsky.

4.  Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?  Irma Herrera, The Marsh
Public interest lawyer and Bay Area social justice activist, Irma Herrera, has spent much of her life educating friends, teachers, and colleagues how to pronounce correctly her name. Along the way, she has learned first-hand how engrained social prejudice is against people of darker skin, even among people who would be shocked if told they had such prejudice. In her highly entertaining, highly eye-opening solo show Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name at The Marsh, San Francisco, this past autumn, Irma Herrera walked us through the years of her life using a map of ‘name’ incidents as her guideposts.

5.  The Obligation, Roger Grunwald, The Mitzvah Project in association with Playground and Potrero Stage
Roger Grunwald, himself the son of a Holocaust survivor, is dedicating much of his creative talents and his time to ensure the collective memory of what happened does not continue to fade until hardly anyone in future generations remembers “a world gone mad.” Taking a story he first told in a short play, The Mitzvah, and turning it into a fuller, one-man show in which he stars, Mr. Grunwald returned to the Potrero Stage in order for the Mitzvah Project in association with Playground once again to stage the 2017, much-lauded, world premiere, The Obligation.


- Angels in America: Pictured, Francesca Faridany & Randy Harrison; photo by Ken Levin
- Oslo: ;Pictured, J Paul Nicolas, Ashkon Davaran, Ryan Tasker, Brian Herndon & Paris Hunter Paul photo by Kevin Berne
- The Resting Place: Pictured, James Carpenter and Cast; photo by Kevin Berne
- Sweat: Pictured, The Cast; photo by Kevin Berne
- Skeleton Crew: Pictured, Margo Hall, Lance Gardner & Christian Thompson; photo by Kevin Berne
- Timon of Athens: Pictured, David Sinaiko & Cast; photo by Liz Olson
- Reel to Reel: Pictured, Will Marchetti & Carla Spindt, photo by Julie Haber
- You Mean to Do Me Harm: Pictured, Katie Rubin, Jomar Tagatac, Charisse Loriaux & Cassidy Brown; photo by Ken Levin
- All the Way: Pictured, The Cast; photo by Joyce Goldschmid
- Fairview: Pictured, Natalie Venetia Belcon, Monique Robinson & Charles Browing, photo by Kevin Berne and Berkeley Repertory Company
- Soft Power:  Pictured, Conrad Ricamora & Ensemble Members; photo by Craig Schwartz Photography
- A Walk on the Moon: Pictured, The Cast; photo by Kevin Berne
- Man of La Mancha: Pictured, Edward Hightower; photo by Jay Yamada
- Me and My Girl: Pictured, Keith Pinto and Melissa WolfKlain; photo by Ben Krantz Studio
- West Side Story: Pictured, Jeffrey Brian Adams & Ana Paula Malagón; photo: Mark and Tracy Photography
- Mary Poppins: Pictured, El Beh; photo by Jessica Palopoli
- Elton John + Tim Rice’s AIDA: Pictured, Raquel Nicole Jeté and Shaun Leslie Thomas; photo by Mark & Tracy Photography
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch: Pictured, Keith Pinto; photo by Dave Lepori
- Jesus Christ Superstar: Pictured, Janelle Lasalle with Apostles; photo by Ray of Light
- Hold These Truths: Pictured, Joel de la Fuente; photo, Kevin Berne
- A Fatal Step: Pictured, Jill Vice: photo by Jill Vice
- Our Great Tchaikovsky, Pictured, Hershey Felder; photo by Hershey Felder Presents
- Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?: Pictured, Irma Herrera; photo by Chuck Revell
- The Obligation: Pictured, Roger Grunwald; photo by Leo Correa

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Dames at Sea
George Haimsohn & Robin Miller (Book & Lyrics); Jim Wise (Music)

The Cast of Dames at Sea
While parodies sometimes aim to make fun to the point that the satire digs deep and hurts, a parody can also be a love letter where laughs are fond remembrances of the original -- beauty marks, warts, and all.  Such is the case for the 1968 Off-Broadway (and later, 2015 Broadway) musical, Dames at Sea – a big-tongue-in-cheek, eyes-twinkling-in-full-delight spin-off of the many 1930 musical extravaganzas of choreographer/director, Busby Berkeley.  George Haimsohn and Robin Miller have created a story about a small-town girl arriving one morning with tattered suitcase on the Great White Way and becoming a talk-of-the-town (and in this case, also of the sea) star by nightfall – becoming as well, of course, a bride.  Their lyrics and the music of Jim Wise cleverly mimic and echo well-known numbers from some of those most famous, Busby Berkeley films, with just enough similar words and notes that one keeps asking self, “Isn’t that the ‘30s song from ...?”

In a year where a number of theatre companies are placing well-done, well-received staged gifts under the Bay Area’s musical, holiday tree, 42nd Street Moon adds a beautifully packaged parody with a Dames at Sea brimming with scenes that elicit laughs galore, with voices that soar and sizzle, and with dance numbers that recall numbers that once filled the silver screens of a bygone era.  And while the film musicals being imitated often had casts of hundreds with full orchestras on multi-leveled stages, the fun of 42nd Street’s poke-in-the-ribs is that there are only six in this cast, two grand pianos as the orchestra, and a stage barely large enough for the ferocious toe-tapping, high-step kicking, and twirling bodies it is asked to accommodate.  

Ashley Cowl
As our story opens, a troupe on Broadway’s 42nd Street is about to premiere its new show – called none other than Dames at Sea – starring its mezzo-soprano diva, Mona Kent.  We meet her in sparkling silver tails, top hat, and bow tie as she is practicing her big number, “Wall Street.”  Mona (Ashley Cowl) immediately gives us a glimpse of what we will later see much more:  a big voice with ability to belt even bigger, the overdone emotions and exaggerated everything of a true Drama Queen, and an ability to tap at speeds that should be against the law.  Add ruby red lips that work with her perfectly puffed cheeks to leave big impressions along with fluttering, black eye lashes that almost brush against those sitting on the front row; and we have a Mona Kent who will show us a bigger-than-life satire of everything we remember and love about big stars like Busby’s Carman Miranda, Ginger Rogers, and Judy Garland.

Jeffrey Scott Parson & Lauren Meyer
Arriving from Centerville, Utah with nothing but a red pair of glittering shoes (sound familiar?) is who else but a red-haired girl named Ruby (a beautifully voiced Lauren Meyer with just the required amount of gingham-cotton innocence).  When she faints from the long trip’s bus-ride hunger into the arms of a sailor named Dick, their rendition of “It’s You” is a hilarious, love-at-first-sight spoof of all such starry-eyed, movie meetings.  As they soft shoe with ever-more exaggerated facials and body moves, their lips come ever so close to that first kiss but never quite touch.  When Dick asks Ruby where she is from and he answers, “You, too” to her “Utah,” we know that we are in for two hours of silly puns and clichés ... and we are more than ready for the ride.

Jeffrey Scott Parson plays the aspiring songwriter, Dick, who is now serving in Uncle Sam’s Navy.  With starry eyes that turn to grinning slits every times he offers us one of his contagious smiles, he sings with pop, zing, and zest about finding his “Broadway Baby.”  While crooning over meeting Ruby, he leaves us in stitches pretending to play a piano that suddenly appears, using any number of his body parts to pound the keys. 

His instantaneously conceived song (along with his glowing cuteness) attracts a watching Mona.  With full flair and fling, she plops her high-hemline, leg-showing self onto Dick’s piano (and as much on Dick as she can) to sing a vocally reverberating, physically seductive “That Mister Man of Mine.”  She has designs on Dick -- his music and his body – that suddenly shatter the five-minute-old dreams of matrimony that the sideline-watching Ruby already has built for herself.

Love is also in the air for Dick’s sailor friend, Lucky (Chaz Feuerstine), and his girlfriend, Joan -- a chorus dancer who has no love for Mona and who has already befriended the just-arriving Ruby.  Amidst a perfectly timed, twinkly-toed tap number, they sing with voices stunningly cute and coy about their planned “Choo-Choo Honeymoon.”  Joan (Melissa WolfKlain) will later truly wow the audience as she provides an electrically exciting lead voice to the company’s Act One finale, “Good Times Are Here to Stay” – a number with all the looks and moves of the big, big dance numbers of the 30s musicals, but one performed with only a total of six on this stage.

As opening night looms large, so does the doom of a theatre that is suddenly being demolished to make way for new development, leading the company to premiere its Dames at Sea where the musical most belongs -- on a ship (Uncle Sam’s) at sea.  The move is thanks to a past affair Mona had with its Captain – the Captain being played by Keith Pinto who has switched personas and added a mustache from his first-act role of being the manically impatient, always barking and screaming theatre producer/director, Harry Hennesey.  (That added mustache, by the way, becomes one of the evening’s funniest threads as he continues to play both roles back and forth.)

Keith Pinto & Cast
Playing the Captain that Mona still calls her “Kewpie Doll,” Keith Pinto is like a live, animated cartoon character as he seeks to reignite the love spark with Mona.  As Mona and the Captain satire in their duet “The Beguine” every hot, tango-love number ever performed on screen, the Captain woos with panting passion his old flame.  Keith Pinto employs hysterically quivering lips, eyes that open as large as full moons, and a mouth that distorts into an uproariously funny shape while he sustains seemingly forever a final, sung note of love.

Chaz Feuerstine, Melissa WolkKlain, Lauren Meyer & Jeffrey Scott Parsons
What a hoot Nicole Helfer must have had in planning and executing her dozens of directorial jabs and jokes that are especially fun for anyone who is still a fan (as am I) of the big ‘30s musicals.  As choreographer, she has excelled in leading us down memory lane to enjoy frenetic tap dancing, easy-going soft-shoe side-steps, gal/guy numbers full of lifts and twirls, and of course those prop-pretty circular dances around a singing starlet (props like opening and closing umbrellas).  Lucky for her in both roles as director and choreographer, this cast of six performs flawlessly all that she has asked -- and more.

Designing period, stage costumes that glitter, dazzle, and often amuse, Ashley Garlick adds her own contribution in both jabbing some fun and clearly admiring with respect all the many changes of dress made in each of those big productions of the ‘30s.  Brian Watson’s set design is simple in nature but high in humor, doing its best also to pay some homage to the Art Deco looks of the period.  Michael Palumbo’s well-positioned, well-timed lighting cues focus well the full-stage and the singular-spot numbers of the evening.

Music Director extraordinaire, Dave Dobrusky -- in his thirty-eighth time reigning at the keyboards of a Moon production -- is joined by a second baby-grand player, Ken Brill.  Their incredibly sounding duet of Jim Wise’s score is well worth an evening concert on its own. 

No fault of the two talented musicians, their joint, piano mastery is also where lies the one big issue of the evening (along with the spirited hammering of tapping shoes):  The decision not to use either individual or stage microphones for the six, singing performers means that in too many numbers, some lyrics are completely lost – especially when both pianos are in crescendo mode and up to a half-dozen pairs of tapping feet are hitting the wooden boards with all the might they can muster.  From Mona’s opening “Wall Street” to Ruby’s fabulously rendered “Star Tar,” too many lyrics simply can not be ascertained – even by this reviewer sitting on the first row.  Hopefully, this is a problem soon to be corrected by a company that has historically prided itself (or so it seems) in presenting musicals without any use of mikes.

That said, enough is understood that makes 42nd Street Moon’s song-and-dance love-parody to the outrageously wonderful 1930s musicals an evening to be relished and remembered.  For sure, “Good Times Are Here to Stay” at the Moon’s Gateway Theatre – at least through the musical’s December 16th closing.

Rating: 4.5 E

Dames at Sea continues through December 16, 2018 in production by 42nd Street Moon’s Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at or by calling the box office at 415-255-8207.

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio