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San Francisco by Richard Connema & Reed Brown

My Fair Lady and
Sitting Pretty

The Lamplighters of San Francisco has been presenting their summer musical My Fair Lady at the new Yerba Buena Theatre in our city’s newest tourist attraction the Metreon Center. The theatre is a state of the art complex with excellent seating, deep stage and good sight lines. The sound system could be a little better since the actors can be heard quite clearly in the back of the theatre while the audience in the front sections have problems hearing the voices. The Lamplights used a 21 piece orchestra that was excellent. Very professional.

The Lamplighters have been in San Francisco for 47 years. They are one of the few companies in the United State that specialize in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas during the fall and winter season. They have produced the entire Gilbert and Sullivan canon.

During the summer months they produce Broadway musicals. Some have been excellent and some have failed. Seven years ago they presented My Fair Lady and it was an excellent production. This season they decided to revive the Lerner and Loewe musical. It was a perfect choice for their new home at the Gardens.

I can’t say that the musical is an unqualified success Henry Higgins would have liked. However the company did enough in the production to merit a bit of smugness in itself. They used the flats and sets from the American Musical Theatre, but they are getting a little threadbare. The elaborately painted canvas created an unfortunate diversion, with the contraptions seemingly swaying along with the music for minutes after some one opened or closed a door. The costumes were lovely. They added a genuine sense of the poverty or wealth of their wearers surroundings.

The chorus was excellent. The production number at the Ball was beautifully done. The dancers were great in the waltz number. The Ascot number was superb and the gentlemen's and ladies' attire were true of the period. It was charmingly orchestrated also.

Much credit for this above average Regional production has to go to Frank Coppola the director. He has directed and choreographed at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, the Houston Theatre Under the Stars, Long Beach Playhouse, Arena Stage, 5th Ave. Theatre in Seattle and the San Diego Starlight. He is an excellent director and he got great performances out of his cast.

Heather Ullsvik played Eliza Doolittle. She is only 23 years old and she has a thrilling voice. It was a little weak on Friday night and she should have been more properly miked. However my friends in the rear of the theatre said they could hear her quite well. She is also a very talented actress. Rick Williams was perfect as Higgins, rigidly maintaining the professor’s pompous demeanor as he sang and danced his way through numerous social diatribes.

Norman Hall also gave an enjoyable performance as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's verbose, if rather unmotivated, father. His numbers with the ensemble, “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church On Time”, were a delight. Good choreography on the part of all the group. Henry Carrey as Col. Pickerting was good in his role but I have always thought it a throw away role.

I think the production's biggest problem was the lack of consistency. Many scenes were bursting with energy while some others played out as curiously tepid. Of course the big song is “I Could Have Danced A Night” and it was sung beautifully by Ms. Ullsvik. However, it is not one of my favorite songs since it was played to death when the musical first opened with Ms. Andrews. I loved it when I saw Ms. Andrews in the production but as time went by, I began to dislike the song.

The production moves to the Walnut Creek Civic Center for one week beginning August 28th.


Sitting Pretty

42nd Street Moon Company dug back into their truck of old musicals of the 20s and came up with the Jerome Kern/P.G.Woodhouse 1924 musical Sitting Pretty. This musical represented the final reunion of the fabled “Princess Theatre” trio of Bolton, Woodhouse and Kern. Historians Stanley Green and Ethan Mordden felt that Sitting Pretty represents the “missing link” between Kern’s light hearted work and the more mature, harmonically, adventurous music that he wrote for shows such as Show Boat, The Cat & The Fiddle and Music In the Air.

The show opened in 1924 with Dwight Frye and Queenie Smith. Mr .Frye was later known as Reinfield in the film of Dracula. I am sure most of you remember this was a crazy person who loved flies. Queenie Smith as Dixie became a Broadway star following her performance. The musical got good reviews. However it contained no hit songs to generate interest in the show and it lasted only 3 months on Broadway. There was a national tour and it stayed on the road for over a year.

The musical disappeared until it was discovered by Warner Bros. music. Conductor John McGlinn put the show back together for a 1989 concert at Carnegie Hall starring Davis Gains, Paige O'Hara and Jason Graae. It was then recorded for prosperity. I had purchased the two cassette album during the early 90’s and I discovered the very charming melodies of this Kern’s musical. The lyrics by Woodhouse were particularly good.

The 42nd Street Moon people gave a splendid concert reading of the musical. The story was coherent if frequently silly. The plot is so silly that it is almost impossible to describe, but most early 20s musicals had silly plots. Martin Lewis who recently completed a 5 year run with the San Francisco company of Phantom of the Opera did a superb job as Bill. He was the most professional of the large group of young singers. He had the grace and charm not only in his singing but in his dancing as well. He had served as Assistant Dance Captain in Phantom. It was a joy to watch him. He was particularly good in the song called “The Magic Train” with Caroline Altman, a regular of the company. Once again she shined in voice and demeanor. Steve Rhyne gave a smart performance as Horace. He has a wonderful voice. However, he needed to tone down his facial expressions. He is playing to only a small audience and not in a large auditorium.

The supporting cast was great and the chorus was excellent in their backing of the principals. All in all Sitting Pretty is a hoot. The musical closes on Sunday August 22. Their next production is On A Clear Day You Can See Forever with Andrea Marcovicci and Michael DeVriers. It will run one week only at the Gershwin Theatre beginning September 9th.



- Richard Connema



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