Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Last Session Comes to San Francisco
Steve Schalchlin and Jim Brochu's The Last Session finally came to San Francisco and as Old Man of our forum said, "It's a hell of a show". This is my second time seeing this powerful musical. I loved it in Los Angeles and I love it here. Steve's emotional score blends gospel and rock, and even though the songs speak of AIDS they have an upbeat tempo that is never depressing.
The Last Session opened to enthusiastic audiences in New York first Off-Off Broadway and then Off Broadway. It had a successful run at the 47th Street Theatre in 1997. Reviews were great from all the newspapers. The musical played at the Moulton Theatre in Laguna Beach in 1998 to sell-out audiences. It moved to Los Angeles where it had a long run. It took over two years for it to reach our city, but it is well worth the wait.
In The Last Session, songwriter and singer Gideon Wells is making a final album for his life partner Jack. Wells is HIV positive and the latest AIDS miracle drug has failed him. Having given up hope and wanting to die, he calls together three singers to record his last will and testament. It is to be a suicide note and love letter to Jack, who is never seen on the stage.
The vocalists begin to arrive for back up. There is Tryshia, a robust singer who refers to herself as "the diva"; Vickie, who is a hellcat and who was once Gideon's wife; and Buddy, a born again Christian who is steeped in evangelical religion. Buddy, who is great fan of Gideon, has been on the gospel circuit but wants to cross over to rock.
Buddy is unaware that Gideon is a homosexual at first but when he learns that his idol is gay, he expresses disgust and betrayal and insists that a person can't be both Christian and homosexual. Gideon and Buddy debate their opposing views throughout the rest of the musical. Gideon's songs are fresh and resonant with succulent harmonies. They are about love, bigotry and rage. Steve Schalchlin has produced an exuberant score with wonderful and biting lyrics.
The acting of the company is a delight also. The friends camp with one another and Jim Brochu's book is bright and funny. There are some vicious lines between Vicki and Tryshia, almost like Mame and Vera Charles only rougher.
George Quick gives a great performance as Gideon. He gives the role depth and integrity. He is outstanding in the song "Save Me a Seat" and his duet "Going It Alone" with Buddy is a heartbreaker. His two songs "At Least I know What's Killing Me" and "Connected" in the second act are right on the mark.
Shirley Smallwood as Tryshia has a forceful voice that comes over like gangbusters. She is marvelous in the song "The Singer and the Song." She belts out that song like Carol Woods. Michelle Starrs almost steals the show as Vicki. Her dialogue is priceless and she has a great singing voice. Her voice is strong in the chorus.
Joe Settineri as Buddy has finally found his mark. He played Henrik last year in the Limelight's production of A Little Night Music and I could see an upcoming talent. He played some light roles in several 42nd Street Moon Productions, but here he comes into his own. He plays Buddy with a Forest Gump Texas accent and he particularly shines in "Friendly Fire" and "The Preacher and the Nurse."
Randel Hart plays Jim, hidden away in the recording control booth, appearing occasionally to deliver lines. The set ia a recording studio that had been a bomb shelter 40 years prior and it looks it. Direction by Stephen Rupsch is fast and crisp. If you want to see a "hell of a musical" I highly recommend The Last Session.
The Last Session runs through December 9, 2001 at the New Conservatory Theatre at 25 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets prices are $18 to $28. All tickets are available through the box office at 415-861-8971 and on line at www.ticketweb.com. The West Coast premier of The Crumple Zone in NCT's other theatre begins on October 31 and it runs through January 12, 2002.