Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Sail Away
42nd Street Moon
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's review of Once, and Eddie's review of The Rover


Davern Wright, Andy Collins, Mimi Paragon, Stephen Vaught, and Michael Patrick Gaffney
Photo by Patrick O'Connor
42nd Street Moon, San Francisco's oldest resident professional musical theatre company and a company that celebrates lost musicals, opens its 23rd season with Noël Coward's 1961 musical Sail Away. This brought back memories for me, since I saw the show at the Broadhurst Theatre during the Christmas season of 1961 starring the incomparable Elaine Stritch as the cruise director Mimi. Unfortunately, the show got mixed reviews and was dismissed as old fashioned compared to other shows that were playing at the time, such as Camelot, Carnival! and Milk and Honey. Sail Away played only 167 performances on Broadway. Coward brought the musical, and Stritch, to London where it played in 1962 for 252 performances at the Savoy Theatre. It is interesting to note that Noël Coward not only wrote the words, music, and book but directed both versions in New York and London. There has not been a fully stage production here on the West Coast until now.

Sail Away is set almost entirely on the ocean liner Carolonia, heading from New York to Europe, and it centers on Mimi Paragon (Allison F. Rich), a middle-aged divorcee who works as a hostess on the ship. She finds romance with the much younger Johnny Van Miler (Lucas Coleman) who is controlled by his mother Evelyn Van Mier (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone). You might say he is a "mamma's boy." There are of course a lot of diverse characters on this cruise ship, including the very stuffy British couple Sir Gerald Nutfield (Michael Patrick Gaffney) and his wife Lady Millicent Nutfield (Maria Mikheyenko); Barnaby Slade (Nathaniel Rothrock), a wide-eyed young man seeking romance on the high seas, and looking for Nancy Foyle (Khalia Davis), who is secretary and "Girl Friday" to eccentric author Elinor Spencer-Bollard (Darlene Popovic); and Mr. and Mrs. Candijack (Davern Wright and Katherine Cooper), who conceal mutual loathing for each other. Of course, a cruise would not be complete without an obnoxious child, and here it is 11-year-old Alvin (Jordan Martin) with his mother Mrs. Lush (Ashley Garlick), who lets him get away with all kinds of shenanigans.

With a scarcity of plot and indifference for character (though the dialogue does sparkle with wit throughout), the emphasis of Sail Away is on the songs. These are not the best songs that Noël Coward ever wrote but they are full of professional charm. "The Passenger's Always Right," "Useful Phrases," and "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" have abundant wit that only Noël Coward could write. Allison F. Rich dazzlingly sings the latter song, which is an agonized list of the sins of tourist flocks ("What explains this mass mania/ to leave Pennsylvania/and clack around like flocks of geese/Demanding dry martinis on the Isles of Greece?"), as the 11 o'clock number and it brings down the house.

Allison F. Rich is outstanding as Mimi and she has made the role her own. Her Mimi is flamboyant rather than coarse. Lucas Coleman radiates appeal as Johnny Van Mier and he has a mellifluous voice singing "Sail Away," Later Than Spring," and "Don't Turn Away From Love."

Nathaniel Rothrock and Khalia Davis are delightful singing and dancing to a calypso beat "Beatnik Love Affair" and they reminded me of a young Fred and Ginger singing and dancing to "When You Want Me." Darlene Popovic is exceptional as the unconventional author Elinor Spencer-Bollard, singing with uniquely fetching vocal chops on her special song. Andy Collins gives a polished performance as Joe the Purser and he has a lively voice on "The Passenger's Always Right." A special mention to young Jordan Martin who plays the obnoxious kid—he is so good you want to thrash him for all of his pranks.

Stephen Vaught, Michael Patrick Gaffney, and Davern Wright play many parts, Linda Hitchcock Cone plays Johnny's mother, Maria Mikheyenko is Lady Millicent Nutfield, and Ashley Garlick is Mrs. Lush—all look like they're are having a blast in this very witty musical.

Brittany Danielle has devised some splendid choreography for the group, especially the dances of Nathaniel Rothrock and Khalia Davis. Dave Dobrusky on piano and Nick Di Scala provide excellent backup for the singers. Set designer Kate Cardinalli has devised a simple ship board set and costumes by Jocelyn Leiser Herdon have that 1960s look. Greg MacKellan's direction is fast paced and spot on.

Sail Away runs through November 15th, 2015, at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndStMoon.org. Coming up next is the world premiere of Larry Grossman, Kellen Blair, and Duane Poole's Scrooge in Love starring Jason Graae opening on November 25 and running through December 13.


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