Review: ‘Boys from Syracuse’ presented by 42nd Street Moon (****)

by Victor Cordell
Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)  

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This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Start with two sets of identical twins – one of young masters, the other servants. Mix in a shipwreck with one master and servant swept safely home to Syracuse (that’s the Sicily of Magna Grecia, not New York state!) and the other, feared drowned, to far away Ephesus. Stir in an odyssey in which the boys who were saved to Syracuse search for their lost siblings for several years, reaching Ephesus, the mortal enemy of Syracuse. Complicate the plot by having the father of the masters scour the Mediterranean for both sets of boys and his missing wife, only to be arrested and doomed to execution simply for being a Syracusan in Ephesus. Finally, give the master twins the same name of Antipholus and the servants the same name of Dromio (you have to suspend your disbelief on brothers having the same first name).

So what do you have? An unending and hilarious series of mistaken identities known as Shakespeare’s “A Comedy of Errors.” Stir in a revised book by George Abbott, some music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and you have the 1938 Broadway hit, “The Boys from Syracuse.” Twist in a few anachronistic elements and a high energy level from the creative folks involved in this version, and you have a lively and highly entertaining evening.

The musical’s script is compact with nary a dull moment, and the delivery is rapid fire from start to finish. Pity the poor viewer who doesn’t know the basic premise of the play, because it could be hard to follow at the beginning. The musical score doesn’t compete with some of the great ones that have one memorable song after another, but the music and dance promote a buoyant feeling throughout. Yet the most memorable songs are from romantic interludes that reveal conflicting feelings. The signature song is certainly “Falling in love with love,” which is a beautiful, classic melody, but is actually a cynic’s take on falling in love. Conversely, “This can’t be love” is about the incredulity of the wonderful feelings that love brings, while “He and she” is a clever and witty exchange between husband and wife about the differences that couples inevitably deal with in marriage.

Greg MacKellan, co-founder of 42nd Street Moon Theatre, celebrates his departure from the company by directing the production. His first great move in this swan song was casting. He wisely induced LA-based Lucas Coleman, who had played the title role in “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s Superman” for the Moon, to return as Antipholus of Syracuse. He is a wonderful comic actor and a great physical match with the also talented David Naughton who plays his twin, Antipholus of Ephesus. In another coup, the director paired two Dromios who are a lock cinch to appear as identical twins, because Paul and Robbie Rescigno are just that in real life. They also happen to be gifted physical comedians with BFAs from (you’re not going to believe this!) Syracuse University.

The remaining casting may have been less challenging than finding actors suitable to playing identical twins, but MacKellan went for quality, including seven Actors’ Equity performers. All of the players are outstanding, but in addition to the twins, shout outs are particularly in order for Heather Orth as the brassy Luce and Elise Youssef as the squeaky but sexy Luciana.

What’s impressive is the unbridled enthusiasm of all of the actors. Almost every one is in full-tooth smile the whole time except for the occasional punctuation of looks of amazement or mock chagrin. The singing is powerful and accurate, with delightful harmonies in the ensemble pieces, and Jayne Zaban’s choreography is fun-filled and delivered with rompin’-stompin’ vigor.

For those unfamiliar with the Moon’s niche, it concentrates on classic Broadway musicals from the 1920s though the 1970s which are performed in natural voice, thus attracting singers with strong voices. This production, typical of the Moon, does sacrifice other production values, specifically by having a simple set and limited instrumental support. In this case, musical director Dave Dobrusky’s piano is the only accompaniment. But if you accept those limitations, you can appreciate the fine and frenetic production on offer and have a fun time.

“The Boys from Syracuse” plays at The Eureka Theatre through April 17. For further information, click here.

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“The Boys from Syracuse,” music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and book by George Abbott is produced by 42nd Street Moon. Director: Greg MacKellan. Set Designer: Leanna Keyes &Danny Maher. Light Designer: Andrew Custer. Props Designer: Leanna Deyes. Costume Designer: Stephen Smith. Music Director: Dave Dobrusky. Choreographer: Jayne Zaban.

Cast:

Antipholus of Syracuse: Lucas Coleman. Antipholus of Ephesus: David Naughton. Dromio of Syracuse: Robbie Recigno. Dromio of Ephesus: Paul Recigno. Adriana: Abby Haug. Luciana: Elise Youssef. Luce: Heather Orth. Policeman: Michael Rhone. Courtesan: Dyan McBride. Tailor, Sorcerer: Kyle Stoner. Syracuse Merchant, Ephesus Merchant: Nikita Burtshteyn. Artemis, Fatima: Ashley Garlick. Demeter, Zenobia: Erin Yvette. Orythia, Cybele, Seeress: Dianne Fraser.

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