A robust FIORELLO! by 42nd Street Moon

Colin Thompson as Fiorello with cast at 42nd Street Moon singing “The Name’s La Guardia’

FIORELLO!: Musical. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Music by Jerry Bock. Book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott. Directed by Karen Altree Piemme. 42nd Street Moon, Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Box Office:  415/255-8207 or www.42ndstmoon.org.  February 27 – March 17, 2019

A robust FIORELLO! by 42nd Street Moon.Rating: ★★★★☆

Have you ever thought what politics were like before the age of TV and mass media? To be educated and entertained take a trip to the Gateway Theater to see 42nd Street Moon’s production of the 60 year old musical Fiorello! Newspapers flourished and people gathered around their Philco Radios to get the immediate news. Back-room stratagems were de rigor and the name “Tammany Hall” entered our lexicon . “The Little Tin Box” where the guys in Tammany Hall stored there ill-gotten gains have been replaced with off-shore accounts. But that is getting ahead of the story.

The hero of this musical that won the Pulitzer and Tony Awards in 1959 is the real life Fiorello LaGuardia whose  fame as a champion for the underdog and being the best ever New York City Mayor earned him  the honor of having an airport (La Guardia) named after him. This musical unabashedly is honoring that great man told in words and music. It made a star of Tom Bosley  and the versatile Colin Thompson is equally as great in the role of Fiorello.  

It all begins on a relatively empty stage with Fiorello sitting in front of a microphone reading the comics to a Sunday night audience because of a strike there are no newspaper deliveries. It is a charming introduction to Colin Thompson’s pitch perfect portrayal of Fiorello that carries the show muting minor production and casting flaws.

The story is told in flashbacks with projections on a large screen center/rear stage used to add physical/temporal background to the downstage action.  That first scene is set in 1915 with the striking women workers from the shirt factories marching with placards setting the tone describing Fiorello as “Being on the Side of the Angels.” He does not disappoint.

Fiorello’s foray into politics begins when he cons Ben Marino (Chris Vettel) and his cronies to give Fiorello the nomination as their congressional representative with the rousing “Politics and Poker.” The stage comes alive with “The Name’s LaGuardia.” He wins the election and while in congress he backs the need for a military draft. To prove his sincerity he enlists in the Navy bragging he will win the war. Guess what? “The Bum Won” with a movie clip flashing across the screen and the entire cast rejoices with “Home Again.”.

The love angle begins in the first act when union leader Thea (Amanda Johnson) is bailed out of jail after being falsely accused of solicitation. One of the memorable songs in the show is Thea’s beautiful “Til Tomorrow.” Marie (Katrina Lauren McGraw) his faithful secretary who is in love with our hero accepts her secondary role and vows late in the show that she will marry “The Very Next Man” who asks her. (That song will not sit very well with the #MeToo movement).

Fiorello loses his next mayoral election and Jimmy Walker wins re-establishing the crooked Tammany Hall politics. This allows the writers to inset a production number complete with scantily clad dancing girls extolling “Gentleman Jimmy.” Our not to be kept down hero reestablishes his moxie gaining the mayoral job and Thompson nails his title song “The Name’s LaGuardia.”

It’s been a long wait for the memorable satirical song “The Little Tin Cup” sung by Ben Marino and the politicians. Chris Vettel’s fine singing voice and stage presence again carries the day. Although it is Colin Thompson’s show he shares accolades with his on-stage staff Neil (Sean Fenton), Morris (Matt Hammons) and Marie.

The lesser characters and the ensemble are energetic and competent under Jayne Zaban’s choreographic control and Karen Altree Piemme’s “by the numbers” direction that is sometimes hampered by confines of a very attractive serviceable set by Brian Watson. Running time is two hours 30 minutes including the intermission. All in All, it is a “should see” production for this 1959 winner of the Tony for Best Musical. It is even more enjoyable sitting in the comfortable new seats.

CAST: Colin Thomson as “Fiorello,” Amanda Johnson as “Thea,” Katrina McGraw as “Marie,” Marisa Cozart as “Dora,” Christopher M. Nelson as “Floyd,” Matt Hammons as “Morris,” Catrina Manahan as “Mitzi,” Chris Vettel as “Ben” and Sean Fenton as “Neal.” ENSEMBLE: Danielle Cheiken, Lee Ann Payne, Amy Pierce Alvino, Cameron La Brie, Mario Mazzetti , John Brown and Elliott Hanson.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director Karen Altree Piemme; Choreography by Jayne Zaban; Music Direction by Daniel Thomas; Scenic Designer, Brian Watson;  Lighting Designer, Welsey Rou; Costume Designer, Merissa Mann; Stage Manager Alicia Lerner; Assistant Stage Manager, Lauren Howry.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theathreworldim2.com.