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"Fiorello" in San Francisco

Theatre Review: Fiorello by 42nd Street Moon of San Francisco

It's rather unusual that a musical wins a Pulitzer Prize. But then, "Fiorello" is a rather unusual musical. The first successful collaboration for composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick, "Fiorello" tackles the story of Fiorello LaGuardia's challenge to the vice-ridden Tammany Hall political gang and his rise to become mayor of New York City.

Bock's score has several memorable moments including "Little Tin Box" and a couple of melting ballads, but the book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott is what makes "Fiorello" such a strong work. Not content with writing bits of dialogue to connect the songs, the authors wrote a script that could stand on it own. It features sharply written characters, well-developed relationships and intelligent dialogue. Though several scenes have virtually no music in them, the show never seems excessively talky.

42nd Street Moon takes "Fiorello" seriously, giving full value to the serious aspects of the show. In casting Bob Greene in the title role, the production was off to an excellent start. Greene exudes the tough, confident and fiery temperament that brings to life the charismatic future mayor. Greene's committed performance matched the character's own passionate commitment.

"Fiorello" provides three strong female roles and all three actresses made the most of their respective roles with well realized performances. First among them was Susan Himes Powers as Dora, the factory worker who comes to Fiorello's law office for help when a strike organizer is arrested on trumped up charges. Dora is a fascinating combination of strength and vulnerability, street smarts and naivete. Powers capably unifies these elements in a moving performance topped with sterling vocal abilities.

Stephanie Rhoads finds plenty of variety to make Thea an interesting, vital character as well. She smoothly manages the transformation from light-hearted flirt to devoted wife and gave a heartfelt performance of "When Did I Fall in Love?"

Robin Steeves, as the faithful secretary Marie, comes close on occasion to overplaying her hand, but every time manages to pull back with impeccable finesse. As Marie goes on an emotional roller coaster over her feelings for "Fiorello", Steeves conveyes the underlying tensions without playing the obvious.

Richard Pardini's Morris, Bill Fahrner's Neil and Steve Patterson's Ben Marino were all less well developed characters in the script, but each actor give his role distinctive qualities to flesh out what the creators sketched in. Patterson's Ben was especially fine and his rendition of the show's big number, "Little Tin Box" was a big highlight.

The supporting cast, especially Amy Cole's brassy Mitzi, displayed the depth and quality of talent the company has nurtured. All made uniformly strong contributions.

Frank Coppola served as both director and choreographer for "Fiorello" and neatly captured the gritty honesty of the show. The dancing flowed organically into the staging and the darker emotional intensity of the show was given full value. Coppola kept to a more naturalistic staging in keeping with nature of the show. "Fiorello" is not your basic musical comedy and Coppola's respect of the show and the audience showed in his intelligent approach.

In his usual self-effacing manner, David Dobrusky provided solid musical accompaniment for the well-prepared production.

The current season will pick up again in August with Jerome Kern's Sitting Pretty and continue through the end of the year with On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Let's Face It, The Grass Harp, and Babes in Arms.

San Francisco's 42nd St. Moon is a theater company dedicated to digging up, dusting off and re-presenting those rarely performed musicals. The folks at 42nd St. Moon want to make certain that the lost treasures of the musical theater history don't stay buried forever. From the troupe's website comes this description of "Fiorello": "Written in 1959 by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott, the show originally starred Tom Bosley as "Fiorello", and explored that decade's new musical theater horizons with tremendous success. The Herald Tribune called it a song-and-dance jamboree with a curious streak of honest journalism and a strong strain of rugged sobriety. In addition to the Pulitzer, "FIORELLO"! won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and six Tony Awards including Best Musical. Jerry Bock's music and Sheldon Harnick's lyrics produce such lovely songs as Till Tomorrow, (I Will Marry), The Very Next Man, Gentleman Jimmy, When Did I Fall in Love?, Politics and Poker, and I Love a Cop."

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