Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Starting Here, Starting Now
San Francisco Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's reviews of Gala and Ripcord

Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Rinabeth Apostol,
Keith Pinto, and Melissa Wolfklain

Photo by Jessica Palopoli
"Only love can break your heart." Or so the song goes. Of course, the song also goes "Your love is liftin' me higher and higher." And "Love me do." And "Love will keep us together." And ... well, you get the idea. Love—in all its glory, joy, heartache and wonder—is the subject of approximately 67.3% of Top 40 songs released, according to one study. That figure jumps to 100% in the charming production of Starting Here, Starting Now that opened this past weekend at San Francisco Playhouse. Starting Here, Starting Now, written by composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr., who met while students at Yale, is almost encyclopedic in its coverage of all the aspects of love: infatuation, attraction, longing, jealousy—the full gamut of that "crazy little thing called love."

Starting Here, Starting Now, first produced in 1976 (under the title Theater Songs by Maltby and Shire), still feels remarkably fresh and up to date. And why shouldn't it? Love is timeless and so are its themes. But credit must be given to co-directors Susi Damilano and Nicole Helfer for finding ways to help the show resonate even more strongly with today's audiences. By altering who sings to whom, or to whom a song might refer, they have opened the revue up to love in all its forms: straight, gay, polyamorous ... it's all here, but delivered in ways both subtle and side-splitting.

Damilano and Helfer have assembled a terrific cast of four, with mostly strong voices (Melissa Wolfklain is a little breathy and hard to hear in her lower range, but impressive when she's belting) and solid comic chops. Rinabeth Apostol is especially delightful delivering the lyric of "Beautiful," and Keith Pinto strikes just the right tone with all his characters. Wilson Jermaine Heredia has deep eyes that glisten when he smiles and soften beautifully in more romantic moments.

Music director Dave Dobrusky has led the orchestra for many SF Playhouse productions, but here, in a trio (Amanda Wu on bass and Russ Gold on percussion, including some sweet xylophone) in full view of the audience, he shines more brightly than ever. The three pieces keep a driving, compelling rhythm going all night, and Dobrusky's piano playing is both delicate and powerful, depending on the song. I felt my foot tapping along through most of the score.

With a solid cast and stellar musicians playing an excellent score, Damilano/Helfer could probably have slept through rehearsals and put on a great show. But they didn't, and you can see their skilled hands at work throughout the nearly two hours of the show. They let their cast embrace the occasional silliness/absurdity of love, as well as the quiet joy of more intimate moments. The love the cast feel for each other—and for the performance they create each night—is almost palpable, a further testament to Damilano's and Helfer's leadership. The choreography by Nicole Helfer has a touch of Fosse in it, but with a personality all its own—and features a wonderful tap sequence that is fun without trying to be flashy.

Anyone who has ever been truly in love—or even grasped after that rare brass ring—will find themselves nodding along and smiling (or tearing up) at all the emotions that come through in Shire and Maltby's songs: infatuation, jealousy, anger, confusion, lust, hope. Each performer is alive in every moment, paying full attention to their characters' emotions at each precise point in time.

This focus on the here and now is brought most clearly into view in the second act number "What About Today," which Melissa Wolfklain delivers with sincerity and passion. "While I wait around for tomorrow, watching life drift away, what about yes? What about today?" Don't you wait until tomorrow to get your tickets for this delightful evening's entertainment—what about today?

Starting Here, Starting Now runs through October 2, 2021, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The show is also available to be streamed. Tickets are $15-$100, available at or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.