Closing out the San Francisco Playhouse’s 2020-2021 season is Starting Here, Starting Now, comprised of 24 songs with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and music by David Shire. The lively and upbeat musical review was originally created to save the Manhattan Theater Club’s then-new nightclub space. The songs are taken from shows that either never got produced or closed prematurely, so they have that familiar-yet-not feel. Maltby directed the original production while Shire shored up the work with newly created connective tissue. Performed in this instance by a cast of four (one more than the original production) the show is an often humorous exploration of relationships of various dimensions, some made modern with a gender-bending twist. Each piece is sung in character — though those change throughout — so they require solid actors to make them work. Equally important to their success is the jazzy trio, placed behind them right on the stage.
Directed by Susi Damilano with choreography by Nicole Helfer, this incarnation moves breezily along for 90 minutes not including intermission. Though the cast members are all seasoned performers, it is Keith Pinto who demonstrates the most strength from his perfect articulation of rapid lyrics to his physical antics and sincere engagement with the audience. He elicits laughs in We Can Talk to Each Other and knowing nods in I Don’t Remember Christmas. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won the Tony Award for his turn as Angel in Rent, provides a gentler and more touching tone in solos including A Girl Should Know. Rinabeth Apostol adds bad ass energy in I’m Going to Make You Beautiful and several duets. Melissa Wolfklain rounds out the ensemble with quick wit, though she sometimes missed a note. (She sings my favorite in the line-up, Crossword Puzzle.)
Costume designer Rachael Heiman has wisely outfitted the cast elegantly in pure white, the better to project whatever is needed as they move swiftly from character to character. The set designed by Heather Kenyon has a touch of nightclub flair, especially as lit by Kurt Landisman in an array of rainbow shades. The musical trio, under the musical direction of David Dobrusky on piano with Amanda Wu on bass and Russ Gold handling percussion, is top notch and well suited to sharing the spotlight.
Like aural chicken soup for your tired soul, Starting Here, Starting Now goes down easy and leaves a warm feeling behind. There is no twisted plot to follow or deep roles to keep straight, just pleasing harmonies, light movement, and plenty of charm. It is playing at the San Francisco Playhouse at 450 Post Street in San Francisco with strict COVID-19 protocols in place ( https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/covid-safety/. ) It is also available to stream online, which is how I was able to enjoy it all the way in New York City. Tickets are available for either format at sfplayhouse.org for performances though October 2. In-person tickets are $30-$100; with access to the On Demand video starting at $15.
There is a great deal of heart — and other select body parts — in Broad Comedy, the way way left of center review currently running on Mondays at the Soho Playhouse. If the concept of a senior talking vagina giving dating advice to a teenage model of the same makes you laugh, this one’s for you. The program is heavy on the sex jokes plus witty cultural observations and of-the-moment politics. It’s distinctly “blue” in both the moral definition and also in the sense that the work is definitely not for the ears of anyone who voted Republican in 2016.
Musical comic, actress, author, speaker, and social activist Katie Goodman stars, delivering a high octane series of sketches, songs, and musical bumpers co-written and directed by her husband, Soren Kisiel. Her chatty rapport with the audience is genuine and delightful. She is flanked by a talented all-female ensemble, which in New York consists of Danielle Cohn, Molly Kelleher, Tana Sirois and Carlita Victoria. All have big smiles, strong voices and perfect articulation. The acting is at an early student level, but this isn’t intended to be Ibsen.
The lyrics rely heavily on the use of the F-word. There are also long asides recited over a single note in almost every song. These devices seem lazy given Goodman’s clear and strong opinions. Most non-musical sections bring a smile and several are big-laugh worthy. At a few intervals, Goodman asks the audience to participate, though mine was decidedly shy. Gags include the aforementioned wise vaginas and a team of uncooperative dancing boobs. Of the routines that stem from higher chakras, the right wing cheerleaders (pictured here) are among the most fully drawn. The modern twist on Vanilla Ice’s theme is genius. Another skit in which characters speak in Siri is just right. The only bit that fell completely flat featured two literal empty nesters who contemplate getting hooked on painkillers. This is one topic for which no amount of distance is enough.
The production values are stronger than one would expect in a stripped down vehicle. The show moves speedily, with the players making so many quick changes into cleverly designed costumes that at one point Katie had to check to make sure she was wearing a skirt. <She was.> The cute choreography is skillfully executed with the cast handily managing everything from baby carriages to guns. Only the scene changing soundtrack featuring Ariana Grande, Kay Boutilier and others of that ilk is ill-conceived given its glaring contrast to the style of the main event.
When you get tied of yelling along with Rachel Maddow, get out of the house and over to Broad Comedy. $35 tickets for performances Mondays at 7:30 are available now through March 26 and can be purchased at www.sohoplayhouse.com. After its current New York engagement, Broad Comedy will continue touring nationally, and at some stops will be raising money for feminist causes including Planned Parenthood. For more information on their ongoing adventures, please visit www.broadcomedy.com