Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's Sugar is a
Sugar faithfully follows Billy Wilder's film Some Like it Hot, taking place during the big depression of the '30s as musicians Joe (Michael Kern Cassidy) and Jerry (Tony Panighetti) inadvertently witness the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago. They scurry for cover, don women's dresses, and join an all-girl band heading for Miami and led by Sweet Sue (Darlene Popovic). They meet the sexy airhead Sugar (Riley Krull), who has a slight drinking problem. Of course the guys have to change their names to Josephine and Daphne and they stay in drag. A lot of hijinks occur, including Joe (still in drag as Josephine) falling in love with Sugar and Daphne getting chased by "dirty old man" Osgood Fielding (Scott Hayes).
Jule Styne's tuneful melodies include "Doing It for Sugar," "Penniless Bums" and the ballad "It's Always Love." Bob Merrill's lyrics are fine and help move the story along at a rapid pace. Tom Segal's choreography is refreshing and visually exciting, especially with the three gangsters (Zach Thomas Wilde, Caleb Haven Draper and David Visini) constantly tap dancing when appearing on stage. Nineteen-year-old David Visini excels in his snappy, jazzy tapping role.
The ensemble is a hard working group of actors who can dance, sing and act with great determination and attention. They earn the audience's admiration and even assist in changing the scenery.
Riley Krull is totally luscious as Sugar, doing just enough of "Marilyn" to give Sugar the Monroe flavor without being a slave to it. Her voice is sweet and strong, and she is a better singer than Miss Monroe ever was. Tony Panighetti is hilarious with the reinstated dialogue from the film with his own classic delivery. He captures the madcap physicality of the character. Michael Kern Cassidy does not attempt to play drag, even when in drag. He is macho and suave as Joe the sax player and has a very funny, crisp accent when impersonating the Shell Oil millionaire in order to win Sugar. He has great vocal chops singing "Doing It for Sugar" and "I'm Naive." Both Krull and Cassidy have pitch perfect resonance in their rendition of "We Could Be Close."
Darlene Popovic is sassy and brassy as Sweet Sue, leader of band, which is exceedingly well played by Erica Kimble, Emily Morris and Michael Drexler. Zack Thomas Wilde is nicely intimidating as the tap dancing Spats who kills his enemies with his tapping feet. His thug accent works like a charm for his gangster characterization. David Visini and Caleb Haven Draper provide some very lively tap dance routines as part of Spat's mob. A wonderful surprise in this production is the terrific tap number "Tear the Town Apart" performed by these three dynamic dancers. I was most impressed on how the taps are in unison.
Scott Hayes is perfect as Osgood Fielding Jr. He reminds me of Bobby Clark who played this type of role in 1930s and '40s musicals. Hayes speaks in a clipped, upper crust accent that gets great laughs from even the simplest lines. A highlight is Scott Hayes singing "Dirty Old Men" with old men in fake white beards hobbling about the stage with canes. Tyler Costin as Knuckles Norton, Grant "Buzz" Halsing as Bienstock, and R.J. Castaneda as Vermilli give good performances in their respective roles.
Saif Eddin on piano is faultless while Nick Di Scala on reeds seems a tad too loud in several numbers. The choral work is fine, particularly in "Dirty Old Men," "When You Meet a Man in Chicago" and "Some Like It Hot." Felicia Lilienthal's costumes are festive in the design of 1920s flapper dresses, accessories, tuxes and gangster suits. Ellen Brook's lighting design is concise and adds a lovely glimmer to the small stage. Direction by Dyan McBride is crisp and fast paced.
Sugar plays through April 22nd at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-255-8205 or on line at www.42ndstreetmoon.org. Coming up next as their final production of season will be Zorba which opens on May 2 and runs through May 20th.