Peggy-Ann Is A Charming Musical
Also see Richard's review of Miss Saigon
The 42nd Street Moon Company continues its 10th anniversary season with a stage concert version of Peggy-Ann, a groundbreaking work from Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, and Herbert Fields in 1926. At the time Rodgers was only 24 and Hart was 32, and they had an exceptionally busy year with five of their shows being produced and the sixth one on the way. If a composer in today’s musical theatre had six new musicals being produced he would be worth millions of dollars.
Peggy-Ann opened at the Vanderbilt Theatre on December 27, 1926, and ran for 333 performance, which was very amazing for its day. It starred favorite musical comedy stars of the '20s Helen Ford and Lulu McConnell. Greg MacKellen, the 42nd Street Moon artistic director, decided to revive the delightful musical for the Richard Rodgers Celebration and he has added some wonderful touches, including some fun choreography by Cindy Goldfield.
At the beginning of the production, MacKellen tells us we will be seeing one of the strangest shows they have presented. He is proved right, and I agree with what Alan Dale, the critic of the New York American, said when it was first presented in 1926. He said “it was fruity, frisky, frolicsome, festive, funny, fantastic and fascinating.” The musical violated every musical-comedy tradition at the time, borrowing from other art forms like Gilbert and Sullivan, romantic operettas and chorus girl review shows. Rodgers and Hart make fun of of all of these forms. Most of the show is a dream of Peggy-Ann (Sorsha Miles) so there are no holds barred in presenting a structured or a plot driven show.
Peggy-Ann is just an ordinary girl with an ordinary life in Glen Falls, New York. She wants to go to New York City to experience a more exciting life. After 15 minutes of no songs or dancing, she falls asleep and dreams the most madcap dream adventures which include a rather effeminate talking fish, prudish pirates from Weehawken who are fugitives from Penzance, a wicked stepsister who must have come from Cinderella, and a poppy-induced sleeping pill which was ahead of its time. We also see all traffic stop on Fifth Avenue while the policemen go out to lunch (before the avenue had traffic lights).
This Freudian dream musical was a daring show of its time with sexual innuendos and references to poppy seeds. We see that even those morality notable sailors mutinied because the Peggy-Ann and her lover are not married. However, our heroine tries to save the situation by getting married. At the end of the dream she finds herself at the ceremony dressed only in her slip with her mother officiating, using a telephone book as a Bible. Of course, she wakes up and finds she is back in the mundane world of no excitement.
Peggy-Ann has no big standard songs. The only song that is sometimes heard is “Where Is That Rainbow?”. It is featured in the MGM film Words and Music which was the fictional life story of the composers. Lorenz Hart, who was a sophisticated perfectionist as a wordsmith, had wonderful lyrics for some of the songs. This was a young Hart whose later lyrics became very biting; however, during this period he was a romantic. In the number “A Tree in the Park,” his lyrics are simple but brilliant:
When the noisy town
Simple but elegant. He was also risqué for the times when he wrote in the lyrics for “Give This Little Girl a Hand,” sung by Jeanette Manor in this production:
She reads her bible every night at curfew’s knell
42nd Street Moon’s production opens up with the fun cast playing musical chairs with Peggy-Ann trying to find a place to sit. The cast goes into a zany introduction with the chorus dancing in a sort of planned chaos. They open their binders to read the dialogue only to discover the pages are missing. All disappear off stage. It is a clever opening and it shows we are in for a wacky evening. The cast is fun and they camp up the dream sequences.
Sorsha Miles as Peggy-Ann is pert and petite with a great singing voice. She adds a new spin on the song “Where’s That Rainbow?”. Bill Fahrner also is great in his comedy bit as the lover and owner of a department store in the dream. He particularly shines in the duet with Sorsha, “A Tree in the Park.” Jeannette Manor belts out Texas Guinan style the song “Give This Little Girl a Hand,” while Joshua Powell and Laura LeBlue make perfect villains. They are reminiscent of Boris and Natasha in the "Rocky and Bullwinkle television series.
Tarek Khan is excellent as the perennial college freshman, and Cindy Goldfield as his girlfriend makes the most of her role. Michael Cronin does a superb talking fish, sounding very much like Alfred Hitchcock announcing his television series. Musical director David Dobrusky once again shows he is one of the best musical accompanists in the Bay Area. He devised the three-part '20s style harmony for the three male voices in the song “Havana,” which is right on the mark.
Peggy-Ann is clever and the cast has unbounded enthusiasm. It runs through November 17th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org. The company will be presenting the Richard Rodgers celebration grand finale, Too Many Girls, starting November 27th.