Wednesday 11 April 2012


Courtesy 42nd Street Moon       Photo
Everyone I know has seen, or at least heard about a somewhat equivoke movie with the above name. Considerably less known is the fact that there exists a musical that is based on the script of that movie. Its name is Sugar, which has an interesting Swedish angle to it. The actress first planned for the title role was Ann Margret. Unfortunately, she backed out of the project, but the title stayed.

You may have guessed by now that I was once again on my way to San Francisco last Sunday, to witness yet another performance of the splendid company 42nd Street Moon. And you would have guessed right, at least those of you who remember my blog post All the Things You Are. I begin to realize that I am more and more drawn into a new nostalgic undertaking, being nostalgic about the nostalgy, so to speak, by reliving experiences from only two years ago. Where will this end, will I eventually get nostalgic about things I experienced only yesterday?

Be that as it may, with the show starting at 3 pm, I took BART early on, so as to shove in some serious photographing before the play. Eureka Theatre, the venue of the performance, lies smack in the middle of San Francisco's Commercial District, with all its high risers, and I wanted to catch at least some of them on my little toy camera. Debarking at Embarcadero Station (sounds funny, doesn't it?) there was half an hour's walk to the theatre, which is located on Jackson Street. Ambling along Davis Street in that general direction, with my eyes in the sky, something strange suddenly caught my attention at street level. An unexpected green light shone from my right, as if emanating from a salt sea aquarium illuminated from below with a green spotlight.

This I just had to investigate further. Getting closer, the whole arrangement looked more like a staircase leading straight to a gardener's heaven. I ran up the stairs to see what this was all about and, to my surprise, stepped out onto a wide expanse of a promenade, one floor removed from the street level. You could walk several blocks here above the fray, with bridges spanning the streets in between and there were restaurants aplenty to sample for the hungry wanderer. Even a movie theatre was placed on this unusual platform, called Embarcadero Center.

But that was not all. My favorite among the sky-scrapers in San Francisco is the Transamerica Pyramid, a needlelike shape as made for sticking holes in the always present clouds of this elegant city. Even if I have some views of this pyramid on film (in the book as well), I was still looking for the picture that puts the needle against an appropriate foreground. And, lo and behold, suddenly all elements of an elegant view clicked into place and I had only to push the button. Of course, as photographer you are never satisfied, always looking for a better view waiting around the corner; but I have to admit that I am rather pleased with this one.

After taking this and several other pictures I reached the northern end of this elegant promenade and it was time to descend back down to reality. This turned out to be Battery Street and from there it was only  five minutes' walk to the theatre. So let the show begin!

In contrast to the earlier musical I had seen at this theatre, Sugar is not a forgotten relic from the past. It is very much alive and kicking; in fact, I am looking forward to the show to be staged in Stockholm soon after my return home. So to me this play seemed a bit out of the ordinary for 42nd Street Moon, whose mission I understand is to keep the musical tradition alive by presenting more rarely played specimen from the golden past. But I guess it doesn't hurt to alternate with more recent and popular pieces; variety of that kind will certainly keep the faithful audience happy and returning to the theatre.

The audience sure enough was bubbling with glad anticipation, when the show began and soon we lost ourselves in the funky tale unwrapping before our admiring eyes. It is not easy for a theatre production to compete with a classic movie with actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, but the company held its own formidably. I was glad that there was no effort to imitate the postures and idiosyncrasies of those great actors; instead, the players used their own personalities to the full in their interpretation of the tale. 

Let me just single out some shining details from this entertaining show. We can start with the apparition of the gangsters in the piece, hunting the two male musicians, in Chicago as well as in Florida. In an extraordinary show of creativity, they did not walk or run on scene, but were consistently step dancing through their roles. I am not sure whether this was a genial idea of the director, or was already conceived by the writers of the musical; either way, it was highly entertaining to watch. Secondly, the main female character (see title picture) gave an impressive performance, developing her own style in a way that could let us even forget that there was a great forerunner. In a similar manner, one of the main male characters  (on the left in the title picture) developed his feminine side with bravour, especially in the scenes were he/she was being wooed by a love craving millionaire. 

Last, but not least, I could not help noticing that the ladies in the chorus were all well-nourished and well-built. A bit anachronistic maybe, considering that the story is placed in the early depression years; but I was not complaining, far from it! Could it be that I am now getting to that age where ladies start to sing after me "dirty old men, dirty old men" as the Chorus did in the show? ;-)

Pleasantly satiated by this amusing experience I slowly ambled back towards BART, even choosing to prolong the walk and enter the tube first on Powell Station. This proved to be an excellent idea. The late evening sun shone its warm rays on the skyscrapers, old and new, adorning that station and I hurried to say "Goodbye" to San Francisco by documenting the scene with my toy camera.


Anonymous said...

Another lovely post! I just wanted to mention that, although a new production of Sugar was created in Denmark last year (and appears from your blog to be heading to Sweden now!) it actually is very rarely produced here in the states.

After the initial Broadway run in 1972, it didn't have a major revival until the 1992 London run and wasn't seen in the U.S. until a national tour in 2002.

This is the first production in San Francisco in 10 years!

I believe the renewed interest in Sugar is likely because of the recently renewed interest in Marilyn Monroe. But as a lover of musical and of having people see these older gems, I'm excited that the Marilyn craze has led to renewed interest in this beautiful score and hilarious show!

Anonymous said...

Another great blog post, Emil. Thanks for sharing your experiences of a city I know well, but more as a nostalgic memory by now. Incidentally, the modern looking skyscraper in the last photo is on 44 Montgomery Street. I used to work there - on the 24th floor - while living in SF in the second half of the 1980s. Th.Th.

Anonymous said...

Dear E, You sure do know how to get the most out of your little camera. An inspiration! Thanks. KC