About the Moon-a and the June-a


Show #23: As Always, Verismo Productions, March 13.

No no, not THAT dreamer.

By Sam Hurwitt

Songwriter Peter W. Tucker’s independently produced musical benefitting San Francisco Parks Trust’s Music in Parks program, As Always has caused a bit of confusion around the Theatre Bay Area office. The designer for our magazine is also named Peter Tucker, so whenever Peter W. calls or emails the office about his show, some wacky mistaken identity hijinks ensue. In addition to writing and composing all the songs, he also performs in the three-person cast as the Dreamer.

As Always is billed as a new musical, but it’s one without a book. It’s not that the dialogue is sung; there is no dialogue, just Tucker’s songs strung together with a little bit of story implied in the way the songs are emoted and staged. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make any sense of this implicit storyline.

In the beginning is a melodramatic, wordless scene in which a woman (Jessica Fisher) is leaving, her bag packed, and a guy in his jammies (Tucker) turns away angrily. She leaves, clearly tormented about it, and he goes to bed and sings a delightfully clever, Sondheim-like song about not being able to sleep (“Waiting for Sleep”). When he finally does nod off, the woman visits him in dreams singing to him “Don’t Forget” (a song reprised a bit too often throughout the show).

So far so comprehensible. But then Nephi Speer comes in as a man in a dark suit with a yellow shirt, singing about an ocean voyage and discovering the verdant land of California. Is he some sort of conquistador? In a later number Speer appears to be Fisher’s husband or boyfriend who catches her canoodling with Tucker and sings a maudlin done-me-wrong song (“Come as You Are”). It’s unclear if Speer is really supposed to be her ex or if he’s somehow some the same person as Tucker’s Dreamer character.  Fisher sometimes sings about Tucker leaving her, but we just saw her leave him at the beginning of the show, so it’s hard to guess what the story is actually supposed to be. Or maybe we’re overthinking it and there’s not really a narrative or ongoing characters there at all and they’re just acting out the emotions on a song-by-song basis. Fisher’s role is called Luna in the program, and Speer’s is Solis, so maybe there’s nothing more to them than night and day.

Then too, the whole thing is a dream, so all bets are off. Long white sheets hang in the background of Catalina Niño’s spare set, also featuring a dresser and tilted bed, both painted blue and white like a cloudy sky, and a few low steps into nowhere. Luna often perches on the dresser as she sings, and Solis typically hangs out on the steps.

There is, of course, a fine operatic tradition of sung-through drama without spoken dialogue, but As Always feels more like a musical revue of self-contained songs strung together with a bit of dramatic staging (directed by Tracy Ward). Rather than telling a story, the songs stick to abstractions and universal emotions: love and the moon, pain and lust and loss and striving.

One trouble with the songs stuck back-to-back like this is that fatigue sets in after a while. When Tucker sings a dramatic song about how nothing’s going to keep him down and he’ll rise like a phoenix and whatnot, it’s hard to get caught up in it because there’s no buildup and you don’t know what he’s striving against, really.  Also in that particular case, although Tucker’s vocal part is dramatic in “Phoenix,” his music for it is more placid and meandering, not lending it much oomph.

The show works best if thought of as a showcase for Tucker’s songwriting, and the songs are strong enough that it largely succeeds on that level. The cast’s voices are lovely, although Fisher’s sounds a little ragged on the quieter, more placid numbers and fares better with the playful jazzy songs like the saucy “They Love Me” and “Slide” or singing forcefully in her ballad “Where You Are.”  The live accompaniment by musical director Frederick Harris on piano and Cornelia Leuthold or Severin Suter on cello gives the performance an especially intimate quality. At only 75 minutes, the show feels like a promising songbook in search of a musical.

As Always plays through March 27 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. http://asalwaystickets.com

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