Friday, June 27, 2008
Gods Behaving Badly
Two bizarrely complementary musical theatre pieces have been playing all June in San Francisco, one being the Wagner opera "Das Rheingold," which is all about Gods behaving badly, and Cole Porter's brilliant, rarely seen 1950 musical, "Out of This World," which is also about Gods behaving badly.
"Das Rheingold" at the San Francisco Opera is in a new Francesca Zambello production that's lively and colorful. The cast is uniformly good, and in Stefan Margita's case as Loge the Fire God, he's just plain great, as is the orchestra under Donald Runnicles. I don't have anything interesting to say about the opera, since truth be told, Wagner leaves me cold (it tends to remind me of bad sex, for some reason), but click here for an interesting essay by Patrick Vaz who actually saw this production in its slightly different, previous incarnation in Washington, D.C.
Across the street from the Opera House are the offices of the 42nd Street Moon organization, who have been presenting rare 20th century musicals in concert for the last 15 years. Their current performing location is at the Eureka Theatre in the Embarcadero Center, and their final production of the season is one of the finest I have seen from them.
"Out of This World" is Cole Porter's follow-up to his masterpiece, "Kiss Me Kate," and the musical score is comparably great. The problem has always been with its book, which mixes up up Jupiter, who wants to commit adultery with a mortal (again), his jealous wife Juno, and their wild, sexy children ranging from Mercury to Venus. There have been various attempts at rewriting the book, a la Bernstein's "Candide," and this production uses artistic director Greg MacKellan's pastiche of a number of earlier attempts that is almost completely successful. His use of a 1950s movie star as the mortal Helen adds an extra layer of humor that is beautifully exploited, and it works well with music and lyrics that stretch the concept of "risque" to its very limits. The same-sex episodes are also very well done and even manage not to feel anachronistic.
The cast in "Out of This World" is also uniformly good, with a wonderful star turn by Darlene Popovic as Juno (it was originally written for Charlotte Greenwood). The music director Dave Dobrusky on piano is joined by the wonderful musician Nick DiScala who plays the flute, clarinet, and alto sax on various songs, and manages to make it feel as if there is an entire orchestra onstage.
The show is in its final weekend and I'd actually recommend it over "Das Rheingold," which you can see when it returns as part of Wagner's complete "Ring" cycle in a few years. This is the final weekend for "Out of This World," and though the houses are pretty well sold, you can call (415) 255-8207 to see if there are any tickets for tonight, Saturday or the final Sunday matinee.