Take a couple dozen songs written by multiple Oscar winners Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, hire a couple dozen Broadway and regional theater triple-threats to perform them to Tony-winning director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw’s fancy footwork, string them together with a plot suggested by a 1962 Frank Sinatra flick, call the confection Robin And The 7 Hoods—and you’ve got the thoroughly enjoyable World Premiere (and possibly Broadway-bound) new musical now delighting audiences at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater.

Yes, Robin And The 7 Hoods is a jukebox musical, and the snootier of musical theater critics will doubtless dismiss it for no reason other than that, but theatergoers in search of two and a half hours of sensational singing and dancing—and considerable laughter to boot—will likely award Robin And The 7 Hoods the cheers and standing ovation that Sunday’s matinee audience greeted it with.

A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that little more than the title and cast of characters remains from the Sinatra flick. Like the original film, Robin And The 7 Hoods (The Musical) still centers on a 20th Century Robin Hood, but the 1930s setting has been moved forward to the early ‘60s, the era when the movie was made and Sinatra and his Rat Pack reigned as the Kings of Vegas (and the rest of the rest of show biz as well).  

Lead character Robbo (Eric Schneider) is now the owner of Robbo’s, a popular Chicago nightclub, constantly being shut down by Lieutenant Nottingham of the CPD (Adam Heller) on trumped up charges like violating City Ordinance #35—no water trough for horse drawn carriages. Nottingham is squarely in the pocket of mob boss P.J. Sullivan (Rick Holmes), who tells Robin in no uncertain terms, “Nobody operates independent in my town.”

Robbo decides it’s time for a counsel of war, so he visits best friend Little John (Will Chase) whose current job is helping his girlfriend Alana O’Dell (Amy Spanger) run Robbo’s Colony Club—that is when he’s not flirting with the club’s leggy showgirls. Robbo explains his plan to Little John.  They’re going to break into P.J.’s vault and “relieve P.J. of the money he takes from us.”

Meanwhile, beautiful Marian Archer (Kelly Sullivan), host of TV’s Target Chicago, has as her current target none other than P.J. himself.  She visits the mob boss in his high-rise office, accuses him of racketeering and extortion, then invites him to be a guest on her afternoon chat program.  When Robbo arrives to complain about P.J.’s taking over the Flamingo Nightclub next door to the Colony (“You’re on my turf now.”), Marian is happy to see that she’s not the only one with P.J. as her target. She invites Robbo to join her on her show to help “get P.J. a prison cell with his name on the door,”, and promises Robbo to use her connections to get his club reopened if he agrees to the appearance.

Robbo’s plan is for his seven hoods to break into the Flamingo vault while he and Little John are making their nightclub singing debut (a la Ol’ Blue Eyes and perennial sidekick Dean Martin, cocktails and cigarettes in hand). “It’s so wonderful to have been here all night,” he tells the SRO crowd at the end of their first song, “where you could see us.”

The money now safely in Robbo’s hands, Robbo instructs one of his hoods, Willie Scarlatti (Jeffrey Schecter), to spread it around and “tell folks it came courtesy of a crook named P.J. Sullivan.” Despite orders not to reveal the actual source of the money, Willie blurts out, “I work for Rob…,” then corrects himself, “…bin Hood,” and the legend of this modern thief who steals from the rich and gives to the poor is born.

Soon everybody’s got loads of dough and Marian, who’s “gone after hoods, but never gone out with one,” is dating Robbo. Unfortunately, Robbo’s secret comes out on Target Chicago, and next thing you know, Robin Hood circa ‘62, finds himself wearing stripes in the Chicago City Jail.  Act One Curtain.

Book writer Rupert Holmes has constructed this wisp of a plot with the primary goal of stringing twenty plus Cahn/Van Heusen tunes together, and it does its job quite nicely indeed, seguewaying cleverly from dialog to song cue to song. Here are few examples:

•When Robbo accuses Little John of spending more time with the Colony Club showgirls than running the club, his best friend protests, telling his buddy that having finally found the right girl, his hands are tied. After all, in the immortal words of Sammy Cahn, “You Can’t Love ‘Em All”—but you can try.

•Little John, who seem to be carrying on his long-term unmarried relationship with Alana in the tradition of Guys And Dolls’ Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, assures her that he’s available to her anytime. “Anytime you can pick up the phone and call me …” he begins, only to have Alana complete his sentence with, “Irresponsible,” and the pair are soon duetting to the fourth of Cahn/Van Heusen’s Oscar winners.

•When Marian shows up at Robbo’s club in a sexy slinky evening dress and Robbo gets all flirty with her, she informs him in song that “I Like To Lead When I Dance.”

With a cast headed sexy, smoky-eyed Schneider (one of Broadway’s Frankie Vallis), Robin And The 7 Hoods scores high on the triple threat performance chart. Schneider’s costars Chase, Heller, Holmes, Schecter, Spanger, and Sullivan simply could not be better, and the same goes for the hugely talented song-and-dance ensemble—Timothy J. Alex, Clyde Alves, Graham Bowen, Andrew Cao, Cara Cooper, Paige Faure, Lisa Gajda, Stephanie Gibson, Carissa Lopez, Vasthy Mompoint, Beth Johnson Nicely, Aleks Pevek, Sam Prince, Tally Sessions, Brian Shepard, and Anthony Wayne.  (It should be particularly satisfying for Angelinos to see stellar UCLA grad Pevek in his biggest assignment yet.)

Nicholaw’s direction is snappy and his choreography has just the right ‘60s flair. The production’s standout number is the show-stopping “Walking Happy,” which has Schecter and the indefatigable ensemble tap, tap, tapping to the beat of a song inspired by Robbo’s generosity with the greenbacks.

Speaking of songs, Holmes’ book adroitly fits in three of Cahn/Van Heusen’s four Oscar-winners—“All The Way,” “High Hopes,” and “Call Me Irresponsible” (guess he couldn’t figure out a way to include “Three Coins In A Fountain”) in addition to Oscar-nominated Sinatra hits like “(Love Is) The Tender Trap” and “My Kind Of Town” (the latter from the original Robin And The 7 Hoods).  And what would a Cahn/Van Heusen show be without Frankie’s “Come Fly With Me,” sung here by Schneider surrounded by a bevy of sexy PanAm stewardesses?

Robin And The 7 Hoods gets its big band ‘50s/’60s Nelson Riddle-style zing from the talented team of of John McDaniel (music supervision, vocal and incidental music arrangements), David Patridge and John H Shivers (sound design), Bill Elliott (orchestrator), Mark Hummel (music director), and David Chase (dance music arranger). It looks terrific too. Robert Brill’s scenic design captures the granite high rise look of mid-20th Century Chicago, gorgeously lit by lighting designer Kenneth Posner. Gregg Barnes has designed hundreds of flashy period costumes, from street wear to mobster chic to glamorous evening wear to night club pizzazz.  Thumbs up too to Josh Marquette’s hair and wig design.  Peter Wolf is stage manager, and Brian Bogin and Jess Slocum are assistant stage managers.

The last time Casey Nicholaw directed and choreographed a Broadway musical, it was The Drowsy Chaperone, which went on to win five Tonys and score Nicholaw nominations for both direction and choreography.  While Robin And The 7 Hoods is not at that show’s groundbreaking level, its entertainment value is high indeed.  If Sunday’s audience reaction was any indication, the show’s cast and creative team may well be justified in their “high apple pie in the sky hopes” for Robin and his septet of hoods.

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.

–Steven Stanley
August 8, 2010
                                                                       Photos: Craig Schwartz

Comments are closed.