“Chances” are this is a winner!

Review by Evan Meena

The Fresh Fruit Festival this year sported one musical. But after seeing it, that’s enough. How can you top Chance: A Musical Play About Love, Risk & Getting It Right (I think just “Chance” would have sufficed.)

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With touches of Boheme (not Rent), Falsettos and Kiss of the Spider Woman, along with some impressive dramatic touches, along with stunning performances, the evening was sure to please.

We meet Gregory, a lonely man who came to San Francisco to be free and found the exact opposite to be true. The death of his lover, decades ago, has left him empty and broken; scared to venture farther than his front door. Into his life walks – more like – appears … the Lady. This hallucination of the old movie sirens Greg so adores coerces him into meeting a young hustler named (you guessed it) Chance. Their tennis match romance becomes the two hours traffic of the stage. Each bringing fears and desires that seem to serve as bitter medicine to the other. Bitter medicine as each seems to recoil before enveloping and blossoming.

When things got too deep, in walks the Lady with a stunning movie musical-style number.

Craig Sculli was spot-on as Gregory. His tense posture filled the stage with angst and then his lovely voice showed us his soul; running apace was Matt ZanFagna as Chance. His humorous take on the rentboy made us feel for him as we see he was too good for his profession. Maybe he played his hand too soon in showing us his vulnerable side but that worked as he became aptly sympathetic. He too, did justice to the musical numbers.

But then there was Courter Simmons as “The Lady.” Mr. Simmons gave as near a perfect performance as the movie vixen from out of Greg’s mind. It would have been easy and permissible for Simmons to play campy and over the top drag-ish for the role and be totally entertaining, but his was not a drag performance, but a real woman. His wo-mannerisms were flawless for the role, his powerful voice fooled us into thinking he was a she, and his natural stage presence was worth the price of admission alone. At intermission, one patron turned to his friend who obviously brought him there and said “you mean that’s a man?”

Calli McCrae & Casey Bagnall made a refreshing Greek chorus zinging the crowd with the occasional outrageous one liner.

Richard Isen’s book could stand on its own for plot movement and pathos, with a spiritual reveal at the end that was inspired, but his music and lyrics, while they fit beautifully with his prose was almost too integral to the plot. Humming a familiar tune after the performance became a difficulty. But that’s getting ahead of things. What he gave us here was a perfect night in the musical theater.

Jonathan Cerullo’s use of stage was subtle and intimate and gave us a panorama of locations quite well and the lighting and imaginative projections were the right touch as if they gave birth to the Lady.

Produced by Anne Nygren Doherty and the New Musical Theatre of San Francisco, Chance was a joyous and romantic event that forced more than a few tears from its onlookers. Hopefully she’ll take another “chance” and bring back to these shores again … soon.

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