Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Senior Class is for the Golden Agers
Also see Richard's review of Book of Liz
Senior Class is performed by six veteran actors of the Bay Area, four of them more actors than singers and two senior actor/singers (Kelly Houston and Alma Sayles). Kelly has been performing in musicals in the Bay Area for over 30 years, including the recent Paint Your Wagon at 42nd Street Moon. Sayles has been doing her one woman show for several years. The other four very talented seniors are Phoebe Moyer, Linda Paplow, Paul Boesing and Ron Evans.
Director Dianna Shuster, formerly the artistic director of American Musical Theatre of San Jose, says that Senior Class is "a celebration of graduating and not having to find a job. It is a shout in the face of life's uncertainties." Saul Ilson wrote the book, music and lyrics for this revue of two dozen songs and some old jokes between the songs. Ilson wrote for television over a span of 40 years, including The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and later became Vice President of NBC Television Variety programs. He also wrote the score for Rich Little's Christmas Carol which aired on HBO.
Saul Ilson's songs appeal to the senior citizens which make up well over 60% of today's theater audience in the Bay Area. These are songs about surviving longtime marriages, "senior moments" (now where did I put my car keys or what did I come into this room for?), arthritis and living on a fixed income. Many of the melodies are ordinary with a certain Sinatra flare about them (Ilson did two Sinatra television specials) and are played by a quartet on stage. The one hour 50 minute show with intermission moves along smoothly, thanks to the direction of Ms. Shuster.
Senior Class starts on a high note with the group singing "Welcome to the Senior Class." They welcome such celebrities as Goldie Hawn, Robert Redford, Michael Douglas and even the "Beaver," Jerry Mathers. They advise these celebrities that they can get senior prices on municipal busses, and special percentages off dinners, air flights and hotels. This is a fast paced song that reminds me of some of Jerry Herman's songs in 70 Girls 70.
There are good performance pieces, such as Phoebe Moyer's song-monologue about a messed up ash spreading ceremony, and her shock at seeing a roomful of "old people" at her 50th high school reunion. Kelly Houston still has a great baritone voice, and he is heartfelt in his song about the death of a spouse called "I Wasn't Prepared." Ron Evans and Linda Paplow are pleasurable in "The Rest of My Life Belongs to Me." Evans is particularly good in "I've Had a Wonderful Life," in which he describes a list of disappointments in his life. Alma Sayles is brassy in the torch song "Another Wrinkle." Paul Boesing has a certain elegance that reminds me of an English music hall actor in his songs. The "Senior Class Test" songs #1 and #2 are fun, especially for us "old timers," when we hear such things as Look Magazine, LSMFT (I wonder how many people knows what that means), the Hit Parade, Elvis on The Ed Sullivan show, etc.
Senior Class still seems like a work in progress and it is a little flat in spots. Ilson has been working on his revue since he did a version of it in the '90s in Bear Lake in Southern California with a larger cast.
Kelly Tighe's staging has a nice looking twin staircase that I have seen in other revues. There is some soft shoe dancing choreographed by director Dianne Shuster. The cast wears smart evening wear and casual outfits designed by Michael Berg. Musical director Joe Barrett is very upbeat on the piano while directing his highly skilled onstage quartet. It has that certain "ring a ding" beat about it.
Senior Class runs through November 22 at the Center Repertory Company theater located at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets call 925-943-7469 or visit www.dllrca.org.
The next production will be Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, opening on December 11 and running through December 21.