Regional Reviews: San Francisco
42nd Street Moon Resurrects the 1958 Musical Oh Captain!
Also see Richard's review of On the Twentieth Century
The 42nd Street Moon Company, known for presenting "lost musicals," really dug into their bag of forgotten musicals to resurrect Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Al Morgan and José Ferrer's 1958 musical Oh Captain!. Livingston and Evans, best known for their songs in film musicals ("Button and Bows," "Mona Lisa," "Tammy") collaborated with José Ferrer to present a musical version of the Alec Guinness 1953 film The Captain's Paradise. They decided to change the locale, which was Gibraltar and Tangiers, to London and Paris.
Oh Captain! opened at the Alvin Theatre on February 4, 1958, to good reviews. The Daily Mirror called it "a gold mine of frolic and fun," and the World Telegram said the show was "unbelievably entertaining and splendiferous, songful and comical." The production had a great cast, with Tony Randall playing the two-faced captain of a channel crossing ship. He was supported by Abbe Lane as Bobo, Jacquelyn McKeever as Maud, and Susan Johnson as Mae; ballet dancer Alexandra Danilova played Lisa and Dorothy Lamour made her Broadway debut when she came in later to replace Abbe Lane. Oh Captain! garnered six Tony Award nominations that year, including one for Best Musical. Unfortunately, the musical ran only 162 performances followed by a very short touring season.
I saw the musical in March, 1958, and I especially enjoyed the excellent dancing of the very large cast. Tony Randall and Susan Johnson were the highlights of the show, but I found the music more Hollywood than New York. I could not see anyone replacing Tony since he had a special spin on the role. When the star left the musical, it disappeared and was never revived. There was one exception as far as I know, a student production at Stanford in the early 1960s with Laurence Guittard as the Captain.
Oh Captain! is primarily an old fashioned song and dance show that employs the standard ingredients of the musicals of the '50s. The story is about Captain Henry St. James (Steve Rhyne) who commands a vessel that crosses the English Channel between England and France. Henry leads dual lives, with a wife in each country. His English wife Maud (Susan Powers) is his homemaking spouse, and the captain is a stodgy family man who looks forward to his smoking jacket, boiled beef, fish and veggies. However, in Paris he is a dashing Don Juan with his Parisian "wife" Bobo (Eryka Raines), a glamorous nightclub singer. The captain has the best of all possible worlds; of course, that must come to a halt in order to make an interesting musical. Maud wins a baking contest and her reward is a free trip to Paris. Unbeknownst to her husband, she flies to Paris and there finds the other side of Henry. Needless to say, sparks fly and the poor captain's world comes crashing down. Our captain learns the bitter lesson that you can't have everything.
42nd Street Moon does a nice concert style of Oh Captain! under the able direction of Greg MacKellan. MacKellan has assembled a large cast of singers and dancers with Steve Rhyne taking over the role of the stuffy captain. Steve is usually cast as an all-American boy or the lad next door, so this is a big change for this young singer/actor. He is a little too pompous in the first act, and he tends to protest too much. Rhyne's captain is almost a caricature of the stuffy Englishman. However, he loosens up in the second act. The actor still has good vocal chops, especially in "Life Does a Man a Favor."
Susan Himes Powers is excellent as Maud, who turns from a straight laced English lady to one hot tomato in the second act. She has a wonderful bell clear voice in all of her numbers. Eryka Raines is outstanding as Bobo, the Parisian wife. She is especially sexy in the song "Femininity" (the song became a pop hit in the late '50s). Raines has a sensuous voice with some sexy acting thrown in. Meg Mackay is personable as Mae, the American nightclub singer from Kentucky. She plays the role like a Texas Guinan character of the '20s. Mackay gives the song "Give It All You Got" a rousing Merman touch and becomes very sublime in the lovely song, "The Morning Music of Montmartre."
Robert Rossman, a popular Bay Area actor/singer, makes his 42nd Street debut playing the ship's second officer, Manzoni. He gives the role a lovely philosophical touch when he talks and sings "I've Been There and I'm Back" and "It's Never Quite the Same." Rossman also shows his dancing talents in the big 11 o'clock number, "You're So Right for Me."
Rising young singer/actor Jason Winfield makes his second appearance with the company as a very hunky, sexy Spaniard in one of the highlights of the musical. He does a showstopping performance of the torrid number "We're Not Children" with Susan Himes Power. Jayne Zaban has assembled some semi-professional dancers in several of the dance scenes. They are very good in the second act with the jazzy number "You're So Right For Me."
Oh Captain! runs through November 16 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, Ca. For tickets call 415-978-2787 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org.
The company concludes the 2003 season with Cole Porter's Fifty Million Frenchmen, starting November 26.