Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cole Porter's "Jubilee" at 42nd Street Moon

The most interesting theatrical presentation in San Francisco right now is playing for two more weeks at the Eureka Theatre in the Embarcadero Center. It's a revival/reconstruction of a 1935 Cole Porter and Moss Hart musical called "Jubilee," detailing what happens when the fictional King and Queen and Prince and Princess of England decide to escape from their confines and kick up their heels for a couple of weeks before the Royal Jubilee.

The production is being presented by 42nd Street Moon, a San Francisco theatrical group in its 16th year that specializes in rare musicals. The company started with bare-bones productions that featured actors and chairs on a blank stage, delivering their lines from a script. Though they are still producing huge musicals on a tiny stage, they are now featuring fully choreographed productions with costumes and all the actors off book.

The score is a major wonder, almost the "Gotterdamerung" of frivolous musicals, with famous songs like "Begin the Beguine" and "Just One of Those Things" sprinkled among about 25 other musical numbers. The first weekend sold out so you might want to click here to see if there are tickets available for this weekend or next.

The cast of 15, playing close to 50 different characters, is surprisingly even. The standouts are CJ Blankenship as Mowgli (Johnny Weissmuller), Megan Cavanaugh as The Queen, Dyan McBride as Eva Standing (Elsa Maxwell), and the singing dancers Benjamin Pither (below) and Andrew Willis Woodward as Prince James. The direction by Greg MacKellan, the company's co-founder, is also superb.

The musical was written by Hart and Porter during a 5-month worldwide cruise where they were joined by Porter's wife Linda and his rat pack of gay friends, including Monty Woolley ("The Man Who Came to Dinner"). For fans of gay and lesbian double entendres, the musical is something of a gold mine. Plus, it's a fascinating early look at the lure of international celebrity. And did I mention the score? The musical director Dave Dobrusky on piano is joined on various reed instruments by Nick Di Scala and they conjure up a whole orchestra. Highly recommended.

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