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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Cabaret Girl

Also see Richard's reviews of Dirty Blonde and Hairspray

Cabaret Girl
Susan Himes Powers and Edward Staudenmayer
42nd Street Moon, San Francisco's acclaimed company, is presenting a real "lost musical" with the American premiere of Jerome Kern and P.G. Wodehouse's merry 1922 farce The Cabaret Girl. There is scant information on this British musical that opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in London on September 10, 1922, where it ran for more than a year. There was a lengthy tour of the provinces following its West End run. The British audience thought it was "the berries" and they loved how P.G. Wodehouse poked gentle fun at the British Mayfair set.

P.G. Wodehouse's witty one liners were the "cat's pajamas" during those early years. Lines like "I'm as broke as the Ten Commandments" drew chuckles from the West End audiences. The lines between Mr. Horace Gripps and Mr. Virgil Gravvins remind me of an English version of Smith and Dale. Even the songs have that Smith and Dale patter.

American musical comedy actress Dorothy Dickson had come to London to star in the West End production of Sally and she proved a huge hit in London. Kern and Wodehouse specifically built Cabaret Girl around her for her first appearance in an original musical. She was the toast of the town after the opening. Ms. Dickson continued to stay in England where she appeared in many musicals. (She later became a confidant of the Queen Mother.)

Cabaret Girl is a simple story of the trials and tribulations of our heroine, Marilynn Morgan (Susan Himes Powers), who is an unemployed musical comedy actress looking for work in London. She says, "I will wear out my shoes auditioning until I can stand on my feet again." Jim Paradene (Edward Staudenmayer), son of a wealthy up-market family, is madly in love with Marilynn. All he wants is for her to be a "country girl" (raise a family and live a dull life in the country). Marilynn is her own woman and she wants fame on the London stage. The character's name was a tribune to Marilynn Miller who was at that time starring in Sunny in America.

Horace Gripps (Michael Patrick Gaffney) and Virgil Gravvins (Craig Jessup), the comedy relief duo, are partners in the music business in London. Gravvins also has "an all night cabaret" on the side. Things get complicated, and the cabaret cast members dress up like lords and ladies of the manor to impress Jim's uppity mother in the second act. We all know everything will turn out alright in the end.

Greg MacKellen, 42nd Street Moon artistic director and director of this musical, wisely did not go the camp route. The very large and talented cast play these roles straight and this audience gets to see what it would have been like to be sitting in the Winter Garden Theatre in 1922 watching this charming musical.

The melodies of Jerome Kern show influences of British song smith Ivar Novello and I even get a touch of early Noel Coward in some of the songs. You can hear the link between European operetta and new Broadway melodies in many of the songs. The ballads have a timeless appeal. The melodic sweep of his love songs are wonderful, especially sung by Susan Himes Powers. She is one of our better singers in the Bay Area and winner of several Bay Area Theatre Critic Circle Awards over the past few years. Michael Patrick Gaffney (Fifty Million Frenchmen and Finian's Rainbow) as Gripps and Craig Jessup (Finian's Rainbow) as Gravvins are a pure delight with their droll English humor that is right on the spot. The comedy patter of their songs is completely enjoyable.

Edward Staudenmayer (Beauty and the Beast, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Cats and Forbidden Broadway in New York, The Great Ostrovsky in Philadelphia and On the 20th Century at the AMT) plays the up-market Jim Paradene. He has a magnificent voice in one of the hits of the '20s, "Journey End." The duet with Susan is captivating. His manner and movements about the stage are great, and he does not attempt to camp up the role. Alexandra Kapielian (42nd Street Moon regular) is a real hoot as Ada Little who seems to have "very little on the brain." Her '20s British flapper voice is priceless and she shines in the song "Nerves."

Cabaret Girl's cast plays the British musical right on key. Everyone is excellent, especially in the choral and dancing numbers to "Whoop-De-Oddle-Do" (they don't make them like that anymore) or the big Hawaiian number in the second act called "Ka-Lu-A." This song was featured in the MGM film "Till the Clouds Roll By." And who can forget "London, Dear Old London," a typical British musical hall song of the '20s.

Cabaret Girl is a charming show. For any musical theatre aficionado, it's a treat to see what a British musical of the early 1920s was like. Greg and company have done a wonderful job in giving us the feeling of seeing a true authentic West End musical.

Cabaret Girl runs through May 16th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-978-2787 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org.

The special one night Gala featuring Frederica von Stade in All the Things You are: the Music of Jerome Kern will be at the Herbst Theatre on Monday, June 28th. The company's next production will be Cole Porter's Can Can opening on October 6th.


Photo: Sven Wiederholt


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


- Richard Connema



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