‘STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW’ EXPLORES THE TRIALS OF LOVE, RELATIONSHIPS AND SELF-DISCOVERY
ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS COME FULL CIRCLE IN THIS ENTERTAINING MUSICAL
The San Francisco Playhouse’s rousing production of “Starting Here, Starting Now” is a stellar musical revue based on the songs of Richard Maltby, Jr., and David Shire (Big, Baby, Closer Than Ever). The musical is now live on stage or streamed through October 2nd at the SFPH. Directed by Susi Damilano and Nicole Helfer with Music Direction by Dave Dobrusky and Choreographed by Nicole Helfer. “Starting Here, Starting Now” is a very entertaining piece of theatre that is funny, witty, and charming. We see ourselves, past and present” says Bill English, Artistic Director of SFPH. The cast features Rinabeth Apostol, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Keith Pinto, and Melissa WolfKlain. This 90 minute cabaret style musical was first produced at the Manhattan Theater Club back in 1976.
Maltby, Jr., and Shire have just two Broadway musicals Baby (1983), a favorite among regional theaters, and Big (1996), which made history as one of the most expensive fails in American theater history. Both men have scored big on their own. Maltby wrote and directed Tony-winners Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Fosse, while Shire has scored films: Coppola’s The Conversation, and won an Oscar for the song “It Goes Like It Goes” from Norma Rae.
The show features 24 songs based on love and relationships. But the two composers have many songs that never made it to the stage, “Starting Here, Starting Now,” features many of these catchy tunes. The song list offers a tender inventory of love and loss and a look at how love can go right, wrong or nowhere. Maltby has the ability to make his songs a story with revealing lyrics that allow the singer to hit their emotional moment. I could compare this to an optimistic Sondheim pop version of “Company”.
There is not much dialogue and no real storyline. Yet the subtext of these great lyrics is definitely romance. More specifically the ups and downs of relationships with more downs than ups. The songs are presented by a tight ensemble of two women and two men. The females have the advantage in numbers, we hear more of their experiences in love. The ladies are not happy in seeking meaningful connections with the opposite sex. They are usually either seeking a new relationship or being reflective after a breakup. What is important in this staging is adding the fourth singer that was not part of the original staging. The fourth male Wilson Jermaine Heredia brings she/he pronouns to many of the songs including “A Girl You Should Know”.
The order of the songs has no real continuity except that all the songs in the short first Act reveal relationships and Act two is all about self-awareness. Damilano’s direction allows the songs to flow easily from one to the next. Many of the numbers are humorous, some are deep, and some steer from the topic like the enthusiastic “Crossword Puzzle” performed by the flawless Melissa WolfKlain. The cast of four are terrific and superb as they create characters for each of their musical stories, proving familiar feelings of fear, regret, joy, delight and disappointment.
The cast is backed up by a lively three piece on stage band that includes Music Director Dave Dobrusky on keys, Amanda Wu on bass and Russ Gold on percussion. WolfKlain also provides a strong Broadway belt to “What about Today” with emotional control. The elegant Rinabeth Apostol adds her confident vocals to “Autumn” and “Barbara” while adding her charm to “I’m Going to Make You Beautiful.” Local favorite Keith Pinto provides a dramatic interpretation of “I Don’t Remember Christmas,” and an easy, pleasing vulnerability in “Flair” alongside the accomplished Wilson Jermaine Heredia. These four are terrific performers and understand collaboration as they fuse their individual skills to become a theatrical force.
Shire’s music works well as the subtext that carries Maltby words, yet I didn’t leave the theater with any ear worms or melodies. But my guess is that the live performances the audience will remember is the showstopper “Crossword Puzzle.” Another hit is “I Don’t Remember Christmas” it portrays a young man unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that he’s wiped his slate clean of his ex-girlfriend.
There is limited dancing but a jazzy tap performance in the second act choreographed by the honored Nicole Helfer who keeps the cast busy and moving. The set designed by Heather Kenyon has a deep cabaret feel with the onstage band and platforms for the cast to perform. Keyon’s set highlights Kurt Landisman's wonderful lighting design that changes its mood for each of the 24 songs.
Rachael Heiman’s costumes use a white theme with capes, white shoes and warm dresses including on Wilson. The highlight is the clown colors for Pinto’s second act number “Hey There Fans”. Props are few but important crafted by Stephanie Dittbern, including sparking ribbons, eye popping fans and movable screens. Directed by the clever team Susi Damilano and stage movement of Helfer, the 90 minute show moves well and is a delight until the final bows.
The two writers don¹t have the résumés of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and other musical teams, but based on the clever songs of “Starting Here, Starting Now”, they are the polished Broadway vets. The two songwriters allow the performers to shine in their performances. This is a marvelous cast who knowingly presents the human heart from the first beat. “Starting Here, Starting Now” runs through October 2, 2021 at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 3:00 p.m. The show is also available to be streamed. Tickets are $15-$100, available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.
THE SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
Starting Here, Starting Now
Music by David Shire | Lyrics by Richa, Jr.
Directed by Susi Damilano and Nicole Helfer
Music Direction by Dave Dobrusky
Choreography by Nicole Helfer
FEATURING; Rinabeth Apostol*, Wilson Jermaine Heredia*, Keith Pinto*, and Melissa WolfKlain*
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post St., San Francisco CA 94102
90 minutes with one intermission
In-person performances through October 2nd 2021
On-demand video production available to view
Photos by Jessica Palopoli