Destry rides one more time at 42nd Street Moon
By Bruce Bellingham
When most of us recall Destry Rides Again, we think of the 1939 movie with Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart about Frenchy, a big-hearted dance hall girl who falls for Tom Destry, the peace-loving sheriff in the rambunctious frontier town of Bottleneck.
Amid the shooting, the brawling, the drinking, and the carousing, Destry chooses to employ nonviolence as the town’s new peace officer. That’s right. It’s as if Mahatma Ghandi rolled into Angels Camp during the Gold Rush. When it comes to Frenchy, well, all you need is love.
The current production of 42nd Moon at the Eureka Theater sticks closely to the 1959 musical that opened on Broadway with Dolores Gray as Frenchy and Andy Griffith as Destry. Oddly, Griffith was about to begin his iconic TV show where he played a small-town sheriff
who chose not to wear a gun. Unlike the film, everybody sings in the stage production. But no one sings the famed Dietrich number, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have.” That was not included in the stage version.
“42nd Moon stays true to the authenticity of the original productions,” says Connie Champagne, who stars as Frenchy. “There are plenty of other wonderful songs in the show.”
Champagne is well known to Bay Area audiences as a cabaret performer who can impersonate Judy Garland better than Judy Garland. She took time out from rehearsal to say she’s having the time of her life.
“I love calling on the spirit of Dietrich and the wonderful Dolores Gray,” says Champagne. “Lipsyncha turned me onto her. Amid the great music, there’s a powerful story here: Guns are bad; there are better ways to solve problems between people. This is a different sort of story.”
Champagne says her rapport with the cast and crew is so good, she can’t wait to get to work. Steve Rhyne plays Destry, Robbie Cowan plays Gyp Watson, and Cindy Goldfield is Rose Lovejoy. Dianna Shuster, of Pocket Opera fame, directs. Carl Pantle is the music director.
The music and lyrics are by Harold Rome. The book is by Leonard Gershe.
One of Champagne’s favorite songs in the show is an ensemble number, “Are You Ready, Gyp Watson?”
“You have to look at this piece as [if] it were a fairy tale, with a moral, with Destry as a redemptive force,” says Champagne. “This is a charming show for all sorts of reasons. It’s quite different. For example, Tom Orr (whose one-man show was called I Feel A Thong Coming On) even keeps his clothes on.”
Destry Rides Again: 42nd Street Moon, Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street (near Front); through Nov. 15; tickets $8–$44 at the box office, www.42ndstreetmoon.com, or 415-255-8207