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A CurtainUp San Diego Review
Robin and the 7 Hoods
This is the Rat Pack jukebox musical that the late musical team of Jimmy Van Heusen (composer) and Sammy Cahn (lyricist) had never known they had written. Still, thanks to bookwriter Rupert Holmes, storywise at leas.t it's a few cuts above Mamma Mia. In fact, the musical adaptation of Robin and the 7 Hoods is, like the song says, "a kick in the head."
Director Casey Nicholaw (of Drowsy Chaperone fame) deserves much of the credit. His cast is aces, and the Van Heusen/Cahn songs are, well, kind of period-defining. For this Broadway-aimed production debuting at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, Nicholaw has broken out the muscle dances. Even when they're holding martinis or cigarettes &mdash which, truthfully isn't so very often &mdash the 7 Hoods ensemble is in perpetual, joyous and frenetic motion. Case in point: late in the first act, as the deputized Willie Scarlatti starts spreading stolen cash around to needy Chicagoans, the company goes tap happy to the strains of "Walkin' Happy."
Leading the way is the very nimble Jeffrey Schecter, and the number practically brings the house down. "Come Blow Your Horn" in the second act has close to the same energy quotient.
Holmes and Nicholaw have also built a certain get ready for it song recognition factor. "What do you want me to do, John" demands an exasperated Alana O'Dell (Amy Spanger) of her feckless fiancé, Little John Dante (Will Chase). After draining his drink and milking a dramatic pause for a few drops more, Little John sings his reply, and the audience goes nuts.
Intricate this story ain't. Gangster turned "legit"club owner Robbo Ortona (played by Eric Schneider) is perpetually having his establishments shut down by crime kingpin P.J. Sullivan (Rick Holmes). Lieutenant Nottingham is sympathetic; he likes Robbo (Everybody likes Robbo!), but P.J. pays for protection. With a not so enthusiastic Little John along for the ride, Robbo and his hoods hit P.J. safe, and start anonymously spreading it around to the needy, loudly and vocally making it clear that it's P.J.'s loot. Radio talk show hostess Marian Archer (Kelly Sullivan) starts championing this anonymous Robin Hood even as she's falling for the real Robbo (and he for her). But nasty P.J. won't go nicely, and Alana, who could give Miss Adelaide a run for her patience, wants a ring from her skirt-chasing, scam-loving Little John.
I am, truthfully, growing a little weary of the expanding and shrinking window stage design that makes every locale look like a prison (which 7 Hoods does use), a bus terminal (which it does not) or a makeshift studio for The Hollywood Squares. It may be less costly than a lot of flats and neon signs, and set designer Robert Brill does use the window effect to show off the ensemble all decked out (at your heart out,Mad Men!) in the show opening number "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)."
On the clothing front, the narrow and slickly cut suits of 1962 designed by Gregg Barnes are a treat, and Sullivan's Marian gets the clingiest and sultriest outfits (although the Jetsetter dancers of Robbo's Club Flamingo are pretty fetching as well). Barnes does no favors by Spanger's Alana O'Dell, giving her a couple of real eyesores. In fact, why the talented Spanger (the high kicking star of Kiss me Kate and Rock of Ages) took this gig at all is a mystery. Her character is a doormat who exists mostly to croon famous songs at strategic moments. This Spanger accomplishes with plenty of skill, but you can't help wishing the story and production alike served her better.
Schneider and Sullivan have some decent power-play chemistry. They turn "I Like to Lead When I Dance" into a sexy duet while Sullivan vamps solo in the anything but subtle number "Come on Strong." Schneider's Robbo isn't trying to do a Sinatra impersonation. In fact, even with a cigarette and some slightly gray haired, he's a little boyish. The Rat Packers may have been too cool for the room. The 7 Hoods team doesn't have that problem. They'd rather "walk happy." Globe audiences will find the sentiment infectious.
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