Rodgers and Hart's The Boys from Syracuse Has a 1930s Feel
It's hard to believe that I first saw this musical in the summer of 1939 at the Alvin Theatre, toward the end of its run with Eddie Albert and Ronald Graham as the Antipholus twin brothers, and the wonderful Jimmy Savo and Larry Hart's brother Teddy playing the slaves Dromio, who are also suppose to look alike. Based on Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, the show tells of two twins accidentally reunited after years of separation. The New York World Telegram cited the show as having "the most captivating, thrilling, humorous music and lyrics in the long and honorable history of Messer. Rodgers and Hart." While I am not wild about the story, since it is just a group of gags and stock situations slapped together, the melodies and lyrics are some of the best that these two geniuses of Broadway musical theatre composed.
The musical was the hit of New York, and the critics went wild over the antics of the comedy actors and the great score. A national tour starring Martha Raye was a hit across America, and Universal rather than MGM rushed to pick up the movie rights. It was filmed in 1940 with Allan Jones playing both of the Antipholus twins while radio comedian Joe Penner played both Dromios. Six songs were used from the stage version. However, the film was not a success due to the over-the-top ham acting of Joe Penner which eventually ended his carrier in radio and film.
Colleges and community theatres in the '60s and early '70s produced the farcical musical to appreciative audiences. I saw a superb production in London's West End in 1963 with Dennis Quilley, Ronnie Corbett and Bob Monkhouse. I will never forget Monkhouse singing the big hit song as "This Cahhn't be Love" in his British accent. Suddenly the musical disappeared from the repertories because it the book was becoming very dated. In 1997, Encores! did a great concert version with an all-star cast including Davis Gaines, Rebecca Luker, Malcolm Gets, Marian Seldes and Mario Cantone. During the summer of 2002, Nicky Silver, known for writing cutting edge comedies, rewrote the book and rearranged the score for a Roundabout production that opened at the American Airlines Theatre. It ran only 73 performances and received very negative reviews. Variety critic Charles Isherwood said of this revival, "It's champagne served in a Dixie cup - make that flat champagne."
The Boys from Syracuse score contains some Rodgers and Hart's best known songs, including "This Can't Be Love," "You Have Cast Your Shadow on the Sea," "Falling In Love with Love" and "Ladies of the Evening." This is a flaming good score with clever lyrics.
Artistic Director Greg MacKellan has brought the Encores! adaptation to the Eureka stage with a nice cast of young actors and singers. Though the sparkling score has always been one of my favorites, I never really cared much for the book unless it was done with top flight Dromios who know comic shtick (the same always is true when I watch Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors). It needs veteran slap stick actors who can really ham it up.
This Boys from Syracuse cast is good, with some members getting into the spirit of a good old fashioned '30s musical. Will Giammona (Twelfth Night) and John Patrick Moore (Beggars' Holiday, Me and My Girl and Wonderful Town at Marin Theatre) give creditable performances as the Antipholus twins. However, they need to loosen up and have fun with the part. John Patrick Moore is excellent in the beautifully sung duet with Tielle Baker (she has appeared in over 50 productions in companies in the U.S. and Europe), who makes a very pleasing Luciana. The two Dromios, played by Kalon Thibodeaux (Harpo in Minnie's Boys) and Ron Lytle (Jester in Once Upon a Mattress), are excellent. Kalon really gets into the '30s zinger mood and uses a terrific Brooklyn-type accent that is a pure delight. His movements are somewhat like the role he played as Harpo. Ron tends to be a little more subdued as the slave to Antipholus of Ephesus, but he has a great voice in the songs "What Can You Do with a Man?" and the soulful song, "Big Brother."
Stephanie Rhoads (Silk Stockings, One Touch of Venus, High Spirits) gives a polished performance as Adriana. She has golden vocal cords in "Falling in Love with Love" with Tielle Baker and the Ladies of the Chorus. Rhoads, Baker and Kathleen Dederian (Hooray for What, Leave It to Me) have great musical dexterity in the song "Sing for Your Supper."
Alexandra Kaprielian (Paint Your Wagon, Oh Captain!), usually relegated to small roles, gets a chance to show her vocal talents in "Ladies of the Evening" and the upbeat "Oh, Diogenes." Nancy Dobbs Owen (who was wonderful as a dancer in Can-Can) is first-rate as one of the Ladies of the Evening. This dancer displays great professional moves. Austin Ku (Anthony in Sweeney Todd at Foothill Music Service) has only small non-singing roles as the Tailor and Angelo the Goldsmith. Anil Margsahayam (Chico Marx in Minnie's Boys) does a wonderful cameo of the sorcerer. He gets into the performance with a great '30s feel that breaks up the audience at just the moments when comedy is needed. The rest of the cast - Brandy Collazo, Curt Dedham, Mike Figueira, TJ Kuster and Kristen Sharpley - in various small roles and members of the chorus are first rate in both singing and dancing.
The Boys from Syracuse ran through May 15 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, Ca. Their 2005-2006 season opens with Irving Berlin's Red Hot and Blue with a special appearance of Klea Blackhurst, opening on September 22nd. The company presents a Cole Porter Fundraising Gala called A Trip to the Moon on Gossamer Wings on May 23rd. Broadway stars Brent Barrett, Lea DeLario, Klea Blackhurst and Andrea Marcovicci will be guest stars.