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.