Director Dyan McBride’s light and whimsical touch elevates the 1892 story of “Where’s Charley” to a delightful level of sophistication, from casting to costumes to collegiate British English and a wacky sense of propriety setting off winks and hijinks. Frank Loesser, who wrote the play based on the 1892 book, went on to write ‘Guys & Dolls’. Patrons saw McBride’s direction with last season’s high flying “It’s a Bird . . . It’s a Plane . . . It’s Superman!”, one of the funniest and silliest productions to date in 42nd Street Moon’s repertoire full of camp. McBride seems to have a penchant for bringing to life dutiful males with dual identities, one of whom comes to save the day.
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McBride could have performed in this historic cross-dressing farce herself and with 20 years at 42nd Street Moon directing education, McBride most likely makes an actor’s director. This is one of those 42nd Street Moon productions to see again. McBride shows her casting talent throughout the production but particularly with a strong lead in character actor Keith Pinto. Oddly he played Charlie Brown awhile back but this Charley has a flip side never explored in the Peanuts world. Pinto springs into full on drag as Charley’s rich aunt from Brazil whose delay in arrival at Oxford to visit her nephew puts a kink in the young man’s romance, which requires a chaperone.
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Charley as his aunt would make a formidable escort, as she looks akin to the queen in Alice in Wonderland, fat, homely, pompous and prone to declaring ‘Off with her head’. Pinto has some great comic expressions and comic timing. He even plays with the music and connects with the audience. Lauren Mayer, dressed for spring in English cotillion white, directs the music and Nancy Dobbs Owen choreographed. Patrons will enjoy the comic relief to the comic relief, a choreographed play within the play.
Charley’s aunt nevertheless becomes the prey as older gentlemen catch her in their crosshairs. Scott Hayes plays a student’s well dressed but financially pressed father, visiting Oxford because of his daughter. He says he will never remarry but makes a dapper gentleman in his British upper crust regalia. The gentleman Spettigue comes unraveled by the thought of the madam’s purse, the strings of which Charley underneath will hold as tight as a corset or at least chastity belt.
The real ladies in question would be a pair of pretty students. It’s Amy Spettigue, played by the ebullient Abby Sammons with her exquisite Betty Boopian/Drew Barrymoresque speaking voice. It’s petite Jennifer Mitchell as Kitty Verdune, with a pure and demure countenance worthy of a Snow White or a Belle. The pair create something larger than the sum of their parts with their girlish and shy giggles, that alone worth the price of admission. Their ruffled, pinned and buttoned wardrobe of spring pastels is as much fun as watching Mary Poppins. Stephen Vaught makes a great satire of a theatrical director, dressed in a jacket worthy of a golf game along with a beret and an ascot.
Ticket info/parking/dinner possibilities
Tickets range from $25 to $75. The theater hosts a couple of post-performance chats with the cast and director. The special family and student matinee will be at 1 p.m. May 9. ‘Where’s Charley’ runs to May 17, 2015. Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 6 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m..
The Eureka Theater is at 215 Jackson Street off Jackson Square. Street parking is possible after six and on Sundays. Bicyclists and pedestrians have an easy commute from Embarcadero BART. North Beach is a few blocks away for dining or drinks, before and/or after. Togos is next door and so is Starbucks and Safeway.
For more information: 42nd Street Moon Theater