Musical comedy of errors

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday April 6, 2016
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Robbie and Paul Rescigno, twins in real life, play twin<br>characters in 42nd Street Moon's production of <i>The Boys from<br>Syracuse.</i> Photo: Dominic Colacchio
Robbie and Paul Rescigno, twins in real life, play twin
characters in 42nd Street Moon's production of The Boys from
Syracuse.
Photo: Dominic Colacchio

The first act opens with the townsfolk singing with morbid excitement about an upcoming public execution, while the second act opens with a group of well-worn prostitutes singing dejectedly about their work as dawn breaks. This is not a Sondheim musical set in some Industrial Age-hellhole, but rather a chipper Rodgers and Hart creation that first amused audiences in 1938, and that 42nd Street Moon is presenting for the second time. The Boys from Syracuse remains chipper, but whatever comedic vein that librettist George Abbott was mining 78 years ago has lost much of its luster.

Watching 42nd Street Moon's production at the Eureka Theatre, you can get some idea how the hijinks may have worked in their day with their anachronisms, rim-shot jokes, bawdy humor, and physical slapstick, if delivered by a comedically astute case. That's not quite the case in director Greg MacKellan's production, his final show for the company he helped found 23 years ago. It's a genial staging of material that theater critics from 1938 tell us indeed had big laughs. But it needs savvier bluster than it gets here to suggest what were meant as the big laughs.

The Boys from Syracuse has the distinction of being the first Broadway musical based on a Shakespeare play. The Comedy of Errors was the source material, and while the major characters and the mechanics of the plot have been retained, Abbott's adaptation eschews most anything approaching Shakespearean dialogue. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's songs are an oddly mixed lot, veering from instant classics to lumpy curiosities, from "This Can't Be Love" and "Falling In Love with Love" to "Let Antipholus In" and "Oh, Diogenes."

It turns out there are two Antipholuses (Antipholi?), long-separated twins, which no one realizes. And it also turns out that each Antipholus has a servant named Dromio, also long-separated twins, which again no one realizes. Hence, the comedy of errors. And compounding those errors, the Antipholus and Dromio who are visiting from Syracuse " not the city west of Schenectady, but part of the Roman Empire " are unmarried, while their Ephesus counterparts each have wives who wind up cavorting at times with the wrong man.

In the original Broadway production, look-alike actors were cast in the twinned master and servant roles, and a dismally received 1940 screen version used just one actor for each sets of twins and film trickery to create the pairs. 42nd Street Moon's production has an actual set of twins as the Dromios, the sprightly Robbie and Paul Rescigno, but they look less alike than David Naughton and Lucas Coleman in the Antipholus roles. A bit of a tattoo poking out from his costume helps identify Coleman as the Syracusian, with both actors bringing leading-man stature.

A good portion of the female characters are courtesans, and even the three leading ladies metaphorically suggest in their big number that whoring is sound life advice. But "Sing for Your Supper" is a good song, bringing in a fresh swing rhythm, and Abby Haug, Elise Youssef, and Heather Orth make it one of the highlights of this production. Choreographer Jayne Zaban's steps emphasize composer Rodgers' occasional moves in swing styles, with touches of jitterbug and such, that the cast performs enthusiastically. Music director Dave Dobrusky, outfitted in toga and sandals, provides on-point accompaniment from the piano on stage.

And so MacKellan takes his leave from the company he co-created with Stephanie Rhoads, a 23-year mission that has always been rooted in a deep love for American musical comedy, and especially for the many shows you'd never likely get to see otherwise. A big thank-you goes out to MacKellan, as well as a wish that 42nd Street Moon will continue under leadership with the same passion that MacKellan brought to his effervescent little troupe.

 

The Boys from Syracuse will run at the Eureka Theatre through April 17. Tickets are $25-$75. Call (415) 255-8207 or go to 42ndstmoon.org.