Señor Discretion Himself
Also see Tracy's review of Far Away
Washington’s Arena Stage has presented the public with a much anticipated piece of theater. It is the premiere of Frank Loesser’s Señor Discretion Himself. The beloved composer and lyricist of favorites that include Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying started work on this piece during the final years of his life. Señor Discretion Himself is adapted from Budd Schulberg’s short story of the same name.
While working on the show, Loesser spent time exploring Mexican culture and music. He became ill and eventually he stopped working on the piece in 1968. Sadly, Mr. Loesser passed away in 1969. He left behind an unfinished libretto and close to twenty songs.
Mr. Loesser’s work did not die with him. After seeing Charles Randolph-Wright’s 2000 production of Guys and Dolls, Loesser’s widow Jo approached the director about producing the uncompleted show. He enlisted the help of Culture Clash for the book. The Chicano/Latino performance artist group may be familiar to theater audiences through their productions of Anthems: Culture Clash in the District and Radio Mambo. For the musical portion of the piece, Mrs. Loesser turned to Maury Yeston. Yeston led her to Orchestrator Larry Hochman and Music Director Brian Cimmet, who brought the score up to date.
It is a great challenge to complete an unfinished work and make it cohesive. The creative team for this show has worked hard to meet this challenge, but it doesn’t completely succeed despite it having some very fine moments.
In center: John Bolton & Shawn Elliott;
surrounded by (clockwise from left): Lynnette Marrero,
Rayanne Gonzales, Deanna Harris, and Laura-Lisa
Señor Discretion Himself is the story of Pancito and his two daughters. They live in the little town of Tepancingo, and Pancito is the town drunk. Life is pretty boring in this rural town. Even the town clergy complain about the lack of excitement in the confessions they receive. This all changes when the new baker in town confesses his desire for Pancito’s fifteen-year-old daughter, sparking a number of events that lead the townspeople to think that a miracle has occurred and Pancito is the embodiment of that miracle.
The book by Loesser and Culture Clash contains some very strong moments. It even pays Loesser a slight tribute. Those familiar with Culture Clash’s work will recognize their distinct style of humor. Nonetheless, the book has some flaws and in the end the first act is more solid than the second. Taken as a whole, the score is a bit inconsistent. However, taken individually, there are songs that are quite wonderful, and the choreography by Doriana Sanchez only serves to heighten the experience. “Padre, I Have Sinned” and “What is Life?” are Loesser through and through. “I Love Him, I Think” and “I Cannot Let You Go” are also lovely numbers.
All of the songs are performed expertly by an outstanding cast. The aforementioned “I Love Him, I Think” is sung beautifully by Elena Shaddow. As the younger daughter Lupita, Shaddow possesses all of the awkwardness of a young teen. As the show progresses, Ms. Shaddow conveys Lupita’s growing maturity as she becomes a young woman. Her father Pancito is played skillfully by Shawn Elliott. Mr. Elliott is quite convincing as the heartbroken widower. As the baker Hilario, John Bolton is deliciously over the top and makes a great comic foil.
Señor Discretion Himself is an admirable effort that provides a pleasant theatrical experience. It may not be a perfect show, but one can’t help but smile when watching it. This last gift from Frank Loesser may be a flawed one, but it is a gift all the same. Señor Discretion Himself runs through May 23rd in the Fichlander Theatre.
Arena Stage – The Fichlander Theatre
Curandera: Doreen Montalvo