Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Starting Here, Starting Now
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 otherand for the performance they create each nightis 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 ownand features a wonderful tap sequence that is fun without trying to be flashy.
Anyone who has ever been truly in loveor even grasped after that rare brass ringwill 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 entertainmentwhat 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 www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.