Shire & Maltby Create a Collage of Musical Delights
by Patricia L. Morin
San Francisco Playhouse, under the innovative direction of Susi Damilano and Choreographer Nicole Helfer, offers us a refreshing “Welcome Back” from the horrors of the pandemic.
Although “Starting Here, Starting Now” goes easy on storyline, the show leans heavily on the ups and downs of romance. Composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. evoke touching experiences that we have all shared.
Happiness is fragile in this musical, but optimism is its binding golden thread. Maltby’s heart-felt lyrics are ingenious, backed by the Shire’s diverse musical skills.
We are immediately drawn in by consummate music director and pianist David Dubrosky’s onstage orchestra. Dubrosky sits backstage center at his piano and rhythm section, with Amanda Wu on bass and Russ Rold at percussions.
The front stage, with two small platforms on the sides, features creative movement designed by choreographer Nicole Helfer. Bright lights frame the stage as they dance to vivacious vaudeville tunes.
Excitement fills the air as the audience settled in for live entertainment. I was exhilarated again with a sense of the “We” as I watched people whispering to each other in anticipation.
Rinabeth Apostol and Melissa WolfKlain, as well as Wilson Jermaine Heredia and Keith Pinto, sing and dance with verve. I was amazed by their syncopation and tightly coordinated rhythm. Each ensemble member’s solo performance shines.
Standouts for me include a humorous and cunning song, “Crossword Puzzle,” sung by talented WolfKlain. A dejected woman works on a Sunday New York Times puzzle, and laments that she drove her boyfriend away by knowing all the answers first.
“I Don’t Remember Christmas,” sung by versatile Pinto, depicts a bitter, wounded man who tries to convince himself that he has forgotten all the good times with his ex-lover.
During speedy costume changes behind a screen, the company sings, “I don’t believe it … one bit,” demonstrating the facades that people hide behind. Two gay men furtively love each other; a Texas wife endures a cold husband; and Pinto extols couple-swapping to please his wife.
Shire and Maltby cover emotions ranging from joy to disappointment, from bitterness to resentment and confusion. But they mostly explore the same theme: finding the right person, being able to live with them, and keeping them. They also question: “What could I have done differently?”
This musical is inspiring. The various scores, new for these pieces, also adopt a new style for each story. Pieces like “Autumn,” a beautiful Ballad sung by Apostol, recalls the emptiness of the season when her love left. “Flair,” with flashing lights aglow, feels like a 60s revival. And “One Step,” with singing and complex coordinated tap-dancing, offers us an old Broadway thrill.
The songs go full circle from “Love” to “A New Life Coming,” leaving audience members jumping out of their seats at the end.
For a respite from this crazy world, see “Starting Here, Starting Now” and feel renewed.
“Starting Here, Starting Now” –music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., directed by Susi Damilano and Nicole Helfer, set design by Heather Kenyon, music directed by Dave Dobrusky, choreography by Nicole Helfer. at San Francisco Playhouse. Info: SFPlayhouse.org– Live & Online – to October 2, 2021.
Cast: Rinabeth Apostol, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Keith Pinto, and Melissa WolfKlain.
Banner photo: Rinabeth Apostol, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Melissa WolfKlain. Photos by Jessica Palopoli.