Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty
Irving Berlin was flying high after his huge hit Annie Get Your Gun had premiered at the Imperial in May 1946, and everyone was looking to see what this great composer would do next. It was announced that he was writing a new patriotic musical based on the presentation of the Statue of Liberty to the American people by the citizens of France. Jerome Robbins was doing the dance numbers and Moss Hart was directing the show, which would contain many new Irving Berlin songs. The book would be by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert E. Sherwood. The cast looked exciting, with Eddie Albert playing Horace Miller; Allyn McLerie fresh from Where's Charlie playing Monique; Mary McCarthy playing Maisie; and Ethel Griffies playing The Countess. Also in the cast was a young unknown dancer named Tommy Rall. The show had a $400,000 advance box office.
Miss Liberty opened to tepid reviews. The New York Times critic called it "disappointing without sparkle or originality." The audience loved it but the production played for only 308 performances based on the advance box office. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opened soon after and this sealed the show's fate. There was a brief tour and then it disappeared from view. However, the melodies and lyrics are still some of Berlin's best. Songs such as "Let's Take an Old-Fashioned Walk", "Paris Wakes Up and Smiles" and "Just One Way to Say I Love You" are enchanting. The composer even goes back to his ragtime roots with "The Policemen's Ball," with its jaunting melody, and the old time music hall number "Me and My Bundle" which was strictly out of early 20th century music.
42nd Street Moon's production of Miss Liberty is a must see for theatre aficionados. The flimsy story devised by Sherwood can be ignored since the dialog and storylines are just short periods between the wonderful Berlin songs.
The time is 1885 and Horace (David Curley), a press photographer, is fired from the New York Herald when he bungles the covering of the Statue of Liberty ceremonies. At his girlfriend Maisie's (Lisa Peers) urging, he goes to Paris in pursuit of the ultimate scoop to find the model who posed for the statue. In Paris, Horace wanders into the studio of original sculpture of the statue where he finds a young maiden Monique (Nina Josephs), who he assumes is the original model. Back home, Maisie persuades the Herald's publisher James Gordon Bennett (Craig Jessup) to fund a United States tour for the model. We find that Monique is not the model and in fact lives under the bridges of Paris with her aunt The Countess (Chris Macomber) who has a rap sheet with the Paris police a mile long. Unfortunately, Horace falls in love with Monique before he realizes the mistake. The three continue with an elaborate scam and they arrive in New York. Some complications arise in the second act with Bennett finding out about the hoax. However, like a good old roadway musical, all the characters have a happy ending - even poor Maisie, who is left out in the cold. The last scene shows Irving Berlin's unabashed patriotism with choral work set to the poem by Emma Lazarus found at the base of the statue.
Director Greg MacKellan has assembled a great cast of singers and actors for this rarely seen musical. David Curley (The Haunting of Winchester, Hooray for What, The Goodbye Girl) once again shows that he has splendid vocal chops and gives a polished performance as Horace from Fenders Fall, Indiana, who wants to go big time in the big city. Nina Josephs (Once Upon a Mattress at Ross Valley Players) as Monique is a major find in the singing field with her svelte looks and her melodious tonal voice. She looks like a young Jeanne Crain from those Fox films in the '50s. Their duets of "Let's Take an Old-Fashioned Walk" and "Just One Way to Say I Love You" are crowd pleasing. Curley shows the many sides of his character, even when he sings the jaunty "Little Fish in a Big Pond" with the delightful Lisa Piers joining him in the duet.
Lisa Peers (returns for her 12th Moon show) is still pitch perfect in the songs "Homework" and "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun." She is wonderful in the rousing "Policemen's Ball," with the ensemble coming in for a great backup. Chris Macomber (fourth show for Moon productions plus many Lamplighter productions) sports a wonderful lyrical French accent. She is excellent with her cunning disdain in her rendition of "Only for Americans." Craig Jessup (Broadway by the Bay's Joseph and the Moon's production of Cabaret Girl, Finian's Rainbow) gives an all-around good performance as the nasty editor of the New York Herald. Brendan Simon (recently seen in Holes as X-Ray) as Pulitzer is effective in a small role. Mark D. Messersmith is first-rate in playing the flamboyant French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The choral work is melodious, especially in the beautiful rendition of "Paris Wakes Up and Smiles."
Newcomers Greg Lucas and Paul Ziller display fine voices in various roles of the two act musical. Rounding out the cast are Kathleen Dederian, Jennifer Martin, Carly Ozard and Kristen Sharpley - all very good in their various roles.
Jayne Zaban has devised some nice choreography for the small stage, especially in the "... Old-Fashioned Walk" and "Policeman's Ball" numbers. Musical director Brandon Adams at the piano gives the production a quiet, laid-back presence. Even the overture with Chris Macomber on violin is lovely. Greg MacKellan helms a great production with smooth transitions into each scene. Miss Liberty shows the more quiet side of America's favorite composers.
Miss Liberty runs through November 13th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-978-2787 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org.
Their next production is The Roar of the Greaspaint, The Smell of the Crowd by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. It opens on November 25 and runs through December 11th.