I was barely out of short pants when Ray Bolger starred in Broadway’s “Where’s Charley?” in 1948.
But I remember bouncing around the neighborhood singing “Once in Love with Amy,” the biggest hit from the musical, for anyone who’d listen — even though I knew no one with that name and had no real concept of boy-girl passions.
I just saw the show again, a 42nd St. Moon production at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco.
It was deliciously quaint.
Keith Pinto, who takes on the title role with phenomenal gusto, is no Bolger — especially when it comes to soft-shoe dancing.
But his comic chops are superlative.
And his mock tango’s priceless.
Director Dyan McBride makes sure the other 13 cast members keep up with Pinto — particularly when it comes to wide-eyed, cartoon-like antics or outlandish melodrama.
The impossible-to-believe but amusing storyline was lifted from a popular 1892 play, “Charley’s Aunt.” What I watched, therefore, was a revival of a farce from the last century that referenced a play from the century before that.
England’s Oxford University is the setting. Chaperones are required for a proper woman to be in a man’s presence.
Charley Wykeham and Jack Chesney (James Bock) want to entertain the women they’re smitten with but Charley’s aunt, who could be the go-between, is late arriving from Brazil (“where the nuts come from”).
Jack convinces his buddy to impersonate the mega-rich relative, Dona Lucia D’Alvadorez (Stephanie Rhoads).
And two elderly male gold-diggers fall for her/him.
Soon afterwards, the real auntie shows up to complicate things.
The show, whose melodies and lyrics were penned by Frank Loesser, who later composed “Guys and Dolls,” tips its musical top hat to Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.
“Charley’s Aunt,” though men had filled female roles for eons, was credited with being the first staging of explicit drag in Western theater. It worked, too, as precursor to such cross-dressers as RuPaul, Dame Edna, Bruce Jenner — and, I guess, J. Edgar Hoover.
Not to mention drag performances in “La Cage aux Folles,” “Pink Flamingos,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Tootsie,” “Mrs. Doubtfire”— and a slew of mediocre movies with Tyler Perry as Madea.
The sweet spot of this revival, however, is the clowning.
Scott Hayes supplements Pinto’s tour de farce via an over-the-top performance as lecherous Mr. Spettigue.
The character repeatedly chases Charley, not unlike the silliness of a Road Runner episode.
An appreciative audience titters.
The crowd laughs even louder at set pieces — Charley awkwardly serving tea, his removing Spettigue’s wandering hands from his knees, and Amy (Abby Sammons) screeching “The Woman in His Room” (with timing as extraordinary as Lucille Ball could have delivered).
A trio singing “The Gossips” provides yet another great comic turn: Rosamund (Noelani Neal), Doretta (Katherine Leyva) and Violet (Marie Mikheyenko).
Musically over all, female voices are exceptional, males not so much.
I particularly enjoyed hearing two women in duets — Kitty Verdun (Jennifer Mitchell) with Jack, her suitor, on “My Darling, My Darling,” and Dona with Jack’s father, Sir Francis Chesney (John-Elliott Kirk) on “Lovelier Than Ever.”
Pleasurable, also, is when Charley breaks the fourth wall, asking the audience to sing along with him on “Amy,” a throwback to what Bolger, who won a Tony for his performance, originally improvised.
And colorfully subdued costumes by Rebecca Valentino are fetching.
Weaknesses, regrettably, appear as well.
The dancing, though mostly precision-like, lacks spark. I suspect the original Broadway movements by George Balanchine were slightly better.
And while accompaniment by pianist Lauren Mayer is appropriately invisible, her choppy overtures aren’t.
British accents rise and disappear with frequency.
And Act 1 feels drawn out (it runs 80 minutes) — like a Carol Burnett sketch that was extended — and extended, and extended.
Ticket-buyers, despite such negatives, expect 42nd St. Moon shows to be positive experiences over all.
They are (and this is).
And they should be: The troupe’s been doing classic musical theater for decades.
And doing it well.
“Where’s Charley?” will play at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. (at Front and Battery streets), San Francisco, through May 17. Evening performances, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays. Matinees, 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $21 to $75 (subject to change). Information: www.42ndst.moon.org or 415-255-8207.