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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Leave it to Me!

Also see Richard's review of A Christmas Carol


42nd Street Moon is currently resurrecting Cole Porter's sharp 1938 musical Leave It to Me. The original opened at the Imperial Theatre in New York on November 9, 1938, where it ran for 291 performances. It starred the legendary comedy team of William Gaxton and Victor Moore, with brassy Sophie Tucker and demure Tamara thrown in for good measure. It also introduced a young cabaret singer by the name of Mary Martin and a brash upcoming dancer named Gene Kelly. This is the show that put Ms. Martin on the road to fame by her singing "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

The musical features some dandy songs such as "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love" (they just kick it around), "Get Out of Town" (before it's too late, my love) and the uptempo "Tomorrow." These songs are still being sung by cabaret artists everywhere.

There was a brief revival of Leave it to Me! on September 4, 1939, just after World War II started. It played only 36 performances at the Imperial Theatre. A road show of the revival started on October 16, 1939, and I believe the RKO character actor Eric Blore took over the Victor Moore role.

This show is rarely revived because of its loosely strung, cartoon like story. However, in 1938 it was considered a gutsy and topical play kidding the Soviets, the Germans and the United States Department of State. Bella and Samuel Spewack wrote some marvelous political dialogue for the musical.

Leave it to Me! was recently revived at the 14th Street Y in New York for their Musical Tonight series and received good reviews in the New York press. Artistic director Greg MacKellan decided to present this little known musical to the west coast and he cast many of the regulars of 42nd Street Moon. He kept all of the songs intact, and everyone should be applauded for their singing, dancing and acting abilities.

The plot is a little silly and somewhat complicated with sub-plots coming in and out rapidly. A lot happens in the 2 hour plus musical and some of it does come out of left field. The play follows Leona Goodhue, an ambitious wife from Topeka, Kansas, who masterminds her reluctant husband Alonzo into a position as the US Ambassador to Russia. Mr. Goodhue just wants to stay at home and keep manufacturing bathtubs for the world. He is a simple and meek man who knows nothing about politics or world affairs. However, his wife has contributed a great deal of money to Franklin D. Roosevelt's re-election as President and so he is being rewarded. Of course, there are complications. There is the powerhouse publisher, J.H. Brody, who wants the appointment for himself but is unable to obtain this prize because he was found contributing to the Republican party. Mr. Brody, who is probably patterned after William Randolph Hearst, sends his malicious and somewhat charming newspaper reporter Buckley Thomas to secretly discredit the unassuming Alonzo. However, I told you this was complicated; Alonzo, who wants to get out of the job in Moscow, aligns himself with the reporter so the State Department will dismiss him.

There are more sub-plots that I won't go into making this very loosely based story even more confusing. Cole Porter managed to write 16 songs for Leave it to Me! with some hardly recognized songs such as "I'm Taking the Steps to Russia", "Vite, Vite, Vite" and "I Want to Go Home."

Local cabaret favorite Darlene Popovic steals the show with her great professionalism. She portrays the determined Mrs. Goodhue, who wishes that those "sneaky Kennedys hadn't grabbed England first," and how she would love for her four unmarried daughters to meet those darling Kennedy boys. Ms. Popovic plays the role more softly then the honky tonk performance of Sophie Tucker who originated the role. In fact, Darlene sings her big number, "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love," in a slower tempo then belts the last chorus with the four daughters.

Popular star Steve Rhyne returns to the 42nd Street Moon company to play the brash reporter. He is good in the role, but not as brazen as William Gaxton; Steve is more sly. He is in good voice in the lesser-known numbers, "From Now On" and "When All's Said and Done." Richard Pardini, another regular of the company, finally comes into his own in the role of Alonzo. He has a lot of Victor Moore in his portrayal of the meekly mannered man and he is very good in the catchy tune about the doting delights of Topeka, "I Want to Go Home." He is excellent in the role.

A new actress joins the company for this production. Murphy Hart plays Dolly and she does an agreeable rendition of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." I could have done with less pawing of her body by the four man chorus; it becomes almost ludicrous. Murphy uses a '20s "flapper" voice throughout the performance and it works. It is not a parody of actresses who have tried this voice.

Once again Bill Fahrner uses his many talented accents and plays various characters in the musical including a misguided Russian revolutionary. Other regulars, Caroline Altman and Lisa Peers, are, as usual, first rate in their roles. Ms. Altman is particularly good in the song "Get Out of Town." Her lyric style is quiet and heartfelt.

The company has a 19 year-old newcomer, Matthew Brandon Hutchens, and he has been dancing since age 5 in both ballet and chorus. He has a good future in theatre as a dancer; however, he needs to tone down his facial expressions. They are great for a large stage like the Orpheum or Golden Gate Theatres but overpowering on a small intimate stage. The chorus does a powerful rendition of the upbeat song "Tomorrow" and "From the U.S.A. to the U.S.S.R." at the end of the musical. They have great counterpoint in both songs.

Leave it to Me! plays through December 23rd at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Call (415)255-8207 for tickets. The cast is also recording this musical and the CD should be available in January 2002.

The Richard Rodgers season starts on April 19, 2002. The shows to be presented are By Jupiter, Pipe Dream, A Connecticut Yankee, Peggy Ann, and the American premier of Evergreen. Tickets for these productions are also on sale at (415)255-8207.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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