With a surprisingly well-written book and a fun, familiar plot, 42nd Street Moon's production of the rare musical, "Carmelina," stands out against its more recent cousin, the Abba-inspired "Mamma Mia!" While it does not have the peppy energy and catchy music of "Mamma Mia!," "Carmelina" has unique stories and charming characters that make it just as enjoyable, especially when performed by a fabulous cast on the intimate Eureka Theatre stage.
Based on the film "Buona Sera, Mrs. Cambell," perhaps the original "Mamma Mia!," "Carmelina" follows a "widowed" woman who must catch up with lies told when her daughter makes a surprise visit and the three men who could be the father – each under the impression that he is the father – return to Carmelina's small Italian village. A small teaser toward the end will satisfy the curiosity of some and frustrate others who prefer ambiguity.
Caroline Altman plays the independent Carmelina Campbell, wrestling with her past and future. Altman gives Carmelina a fragile strength as the character wrestles with her past, attempts to make a future and considers how a woman should act. Bill Fahrner has a geeky appeal as the adorable Vittorio, Carmelina's admirer. If Fahrner's endearing and awkward mannerisms aren't enough, his smooth and wide-ranging voice will win any girl over, including Carmelina.
Michael Doppe, Stewart Kramar and Bill Olson add comedic sides throughout the show as the townspeople, but Darlene Popovic provides the standout humor of the musical. Popovic plays the distraught servant caught in the middle of everything. Audiences will love to see her suffer as she exaggerates every word and movement. Will Springhorn Jr, Trevor Faust Marcom and Rudy Guerrero play the three fathers – all far too young to match Carmelina's age, but still all clearly talented and a joy to watch perform. Emily Kristen Morris complements the rest of the cast with her youthful joy as Gia Campbell, Carmelina's daughter. Much like her peers, Morris delights with a beautiful voice and leaves audiences wanting more. Her one major solo only teases her full capabilities. Janine Burgener finishes out the cast as a townswoman and American wife with a lovely voice.
Hector Zavala's simple designs set the scene perfectly, Brittany Danielle provides playful choreography, and Dave Dobrusky accompanies the cast on a gorgeous piano. Director Greg MacKellan makes good use of the small space, and although the first act drags a bit too long, MacKellan's able cast brings Alan Jay Lerner and Joseph Stein's book and lyrics to life while taking less than memorable music by Burton Lane and making it memorable with consistent vocals and plenty of energy and life.
"Carmelina" last played in the United States for a brief run on Broadway in 1979. The worthy musical never found its place in the musical canon, but it has found its way into the heart of 42nd Street Moon. Don't miss the San Francisco-based company's production. It may be your last and only chance to see it.
Through November 18
42nd Street Moon at Eureka Theatre