It’s amazing what 42nd Street Moon Theater does on a small set with just a pianist. “Do I Hear a Waltz” plays currently, a quiet musical rather than a big song and dance number. The lead character, an American spinster in Venice on vacation alone, has this notion that when she finally falls in love she will hear a waltz. She arrives with a song in her heart but a lot of emotional baggage, which unfolds but succinctly in a sentence or two. Emily Skinner who played Billy Elliot’s teacher performs with spunk and stage presence and basically carries the production.
Director Greg MacKellan seems to have them play it straight though rather than gayer or comedic ala Carol Burnett in the video so it could have been more lighthearted. However, MacKellan advises me “this is an earlier song that Sondheim wrote for a musical that never happened (which was not titled the same as the song). It is neither lyrically nor musically the same as the title song Rodgers and Sondheim wrote for the show we’re doing now. . . . What it’s specifically from is an unproduced TV musical called ‘Do You Hear a Waltz?’ – (yes, “you” not “I”) – that was written for Judy Holliday.” Note Joe Madder points out that the Burnett version is not the version performed in this production.
David Naughton and Gregory Peck
Several locals perform colorfully including David Naughton, a UC Berkeley grad who makes films. He was a varsity rower just like Gregory Peck and Naughton became a national champion. The two even resemble each other, tall and lean with dark hair. Peck stood 6’3” and Naughton probably 6’4”. Peck came from humble beginnings and was raised by his father, Peck later being heralded for his humanitarianism which he credits to UC Berkeley. Note Peck starred in “Roman Holiday”. Peck donated to the rowing team in honor of his coach.
But back to our heroine, the cockswain of the production. “Do I Hear a Waltz” remains a relatively dance-free musical while tourist Leona’s married Italian suitor gives her the old song and dance routine. It’s another characteristic uncommon musical for the little theater, by Rodgers and Sondheim based on the Arthur Laurents book and his play “The Time of the Cuckoo”.
Tony winner Emily Skinner actually plays the lead role Leona Samish with all-American pluck although not to the point of going cuckoo. She sings with perfection. Her character, a spinster secretary who seems world weary nevertheless, raised her siblings after their parents died yet goes to Italy alone in search of beauty. She even dares to believe she could fall into romance like everybody around her.
Yet, her constant companion would be a little boy constantly hustling for some coin. That’s charmer Johan Broscow as Mauro, who does come to be fond of the crazy American lady as he adopts her use of the term “Cookie”. Would be lover Renato di Rossi really hates that term. Tyler McKenna plays the married Italian suitor. He owns an antique shop where Leona meets him and they flirt over a red antique glass. He uses the delivery of a set as an excuse to visit her.
Somehow, Leona Samish speaks a little tourist Italian too and she is no birdbrain. She’s a bit tough, calling man, woman and child alike “Cookie” while she likes to prepare martinis not for the boss but for herself. One has to admire her independence and the poor girl does deserve a break. It’s just that the romantic shenanigans at the Italian inn seem to push and pull her sensibilities between submitting to the seduction and putting up her defenses. Stephanie Rhoads plays the mature and worldly inn keeper at Pensione Fioria.
Taylor Bartololucci, the only performer with an Italian-sounding name, adds some goofy comic relief in her debut on this stage. She seems to have a sense of humor about her own culture’s stereotypes. She’s Giovanna the waitress who doesn’t speak English but does capisce.
David Naughton’s character a young husband in Italy on a painting fellowship gets to sing a wry song about open marriage with his clingy and rightfully insecure wife. That’s Abby Sammons with a charming and innocent Drew Barrymoresque expressions and demeanor. Eddie Yaeger and Jennifer Yaeger.
A senior married couple from America adopts the carefree European attitudes and it rejuvenates them into fun young lovers again, the wife more so than the hubby with his aching back. That’s Michael Rhone and Lucinda Hitchcock Cone as the McInhennys.
Tickets range from $25 to $75. The Eureka Theater is on Jackson Square, near Togo’s, Safeway and Starbucks. One could get a picnic and spread out at the park.
The Eureka has started allowing beverages inside the theater itself. They even started selling a new coffee mug. It’s black with a white 42nd Street Moon logo and a blue sky interior. Ten dollars supports the non-profit and there is no tax.
The theater sells distinctive treats such as a lemon lavender shortbread cookie dipped in white chocolate. The teas are divine, the Earl Grey especially fragrant if not perfumed.
The theater is an easy walk or bike ride from Embarcadero BART.
“Do I Hear a Waltz” only runs to October 19.
215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, California. (415) 255-8207. www.42ndStreetMoon.org..