Reviewed by Judy Richter
This classic of musical comedy features such memorable songs a "I Get a Kick out of You," "Easy to Love," "Friendship," "It's De-Lovely," "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" and of course the title song.
It also has likable characters, who are brought to life by a first-rate group of performers directed by Michael Ryken. Ryken is using the 1987 revised book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman rather than the 1934 original by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The revision is said to pay closer attention to character development.
The standout performer is Katie Jaime as Reno Sweeney, the role originally played by Ethel Merman. Jaime makes no effort to imitate Merman. That's impossible.
Instead she unabashedly rules the stage with her commanding stage presence, fine singing and great dancing, perhaps better than Merman herself could have done.
Reno is a nightclub evangelist who's supposed to perform on a Europe-bound ship from New York. A late arrival, actually a stowaway, is her friend Billy Crocker (Adam Cotugno). He's in love with another passenger, Hope Harcourt (Samantha Cardenas), but she's engaged to a feather-brained but pleasant Englishman, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Tomas Theriot).
Aided by Reno and a genial gangster, Moonface Martin (Ray D'Ambrosio), Billy overcomes several complications to achieve his goal. It's all quite amusing and upbeat.
Choreographer Robyn Tribuzi has come up with some show-stopping routines, especially the tap-dancing for the title song, ending Act 1 on a decidedly upbeat note. "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" in the second act is another show stopper. Both feature Reno and the entire company.
Besides Jaime as Reno, outstanding performances come from Cotugno as Billy, D'Ambrosio as Moonface and Theriot as Lord Evelyn. As Hope, Cardenas has a lovely voice, but she needs a stronger stage presence.
Musical director Sean Kana conducts the fine orchestra. The serviceable set is by Fred Sharkey with sound by Jon Hayward. Margaret Toomey has designed some eye-catching costumes, especially for Reno.
However, the lighting by Michael Ramsaur had problems on opening night with numerous instances of performers left in shadows. Since Ramsaur is normally such an accomplished lighting designer, the problem may have been that either the light crew wasn't on the ball or some of the lights weren't working properly.
That minor quibble aside, though, this is a thoroughly enjoyable production of a musical theater gem.
After the Redwood City run, the production will move to the Golden State Theatre in Monterey from Nov. 29 to Dec. 7.
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