Monday, August 2, 2010

Robin and the 7 Hoods Hits San Diego

Robin and the 7 Hoods
Eric Schneider and the cast of Robin and the 7 Hoods

Robin and the 7 Hoods has just opened at the venerable Old Globe in San Diego and has already extended its run due to packed houses and high demand. The twist on the traditional Robin Hood story (which takes none of its plot from the Rat Pack film of the same name) is that bookwriter Rupert Holmes has now set the action in 1960s Chicago with rival mob bosses fighting to control the city…a perfect fit for the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen catalogue of songs featured in the show.

Following a slick 1960s Runyonland opening we learn that mobster Robbo Ortona (Eric Schneider) has a problem. Now that he’s running a “legitimate” night club, his rival PJ (Rick Holmes) keeps paying off the cops to shut him down. Determined to end it, Robbo, Little John (Will Chase) and the rest of the hoods stage a robbery at PJ’s, spreading the rumor that it's been done by a secret third party who gives away all the money...a modern day Robin Hood of sorts. Word gets out that it was actually Robbo, however, and he soon falls into the reluctant role of bad guy turned good guy hero.

The women in the story are Little John’s girlfriend Alana O’Dell (Amy Spanger) who runs one of Robbo’s nightclubs for him and wants nothing more than to marry Little John, and TV crusader Marian Archer (Kelly Sullivan), the gorgeous blonde who initially knocks heads with Robbo but eventually falls for him anyway. (No, Alana doesn’t develop a cold and Marian doesn’t end up in Cuba, but one of them does fly the friendly skies to a warmer destination).

Amy Spanger - Robin and the 7 Hoods
Amy Spanger as Alana O'Dell

Spanger has great pipes and an earthy way with a torch song that always leaves us wanting more. It’s no surprise that she’s appeared on Broadway in a long list of shows that includes Rock of Ages, The Wedding Singer, Kiss Me Kate, Urinetown and Sunset Boulevard.

Charismatic bad boy
Eric Schneider is smooth, sexy and cool as can be, oozing sophistication in his starched white shirt and designer threads. (The outstanding costume design for the show is by Gregg Barnes). Schneider has appeared on Broadway as Franki Valli in Jersey Boys and proves once again that he can command the stage with his polished vocals.

Robin and the 7 Hoods
Will Chase and Eric Schneider

Will Chase plays lovable cad Little John, who always seems to sidestep the question of marriage as only a rogue can. Also no stranger to Broadway (his credits include Billy Elliot, The Story of My Life, The Full Monty and Miss Saigon) Chase has a never-ending supply of boyish charm and even his own set of “gold diggers.” With a gleam in his eye, he’s irresistible.

Put them together with a fantastic ensemble of dancers, singers and character actors, and this is one great good time for the audience.

Go for the music – because with Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen you’re already starting with the best. Songs like “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is),” “Call Me Irresponsible,” “(Love Is) The Tender Trap” and “Come Fly With Me” soar to life in the hands of musical director/conductor Mark Hummel and his orchestra, with lush vocals from the cast.

Go for the dance – because once director/choreographer
Casey Nicholaw has his way with the musical numbers, you’re hooked. Whether it’s Willie (Jeffrey Schecter) doling out stolen cash to the street folk of Chicago during tap extravaganza “Walkin’ Happy” or Little John and the Hoods featured in the testosterone pumping showstopper “Come Blow Your Horn, the sheer amount of energy and athleticism alone will make your blood race.

I always find it interesting how an original musical comes to be and in an article by North County Times writer Pam Kragen, director Casey Nicholaw talks about how he became involved with the musical, “…three years ago when Cahn’s widow Virgina, began shopping around his songbook to producers for a jukebox musical. Nicholaw -- a Tony nominee for directing/choreographing The Drowsy Chaperone and choreographing Spamalot -- was tracked down, and producers mailed him four CDs of Cahn’s music.

Nicholaw decided to narrow the canon to just those songs Cahn wrote with composer Van Heusen, and then work with Holmes to craft a musical around the numbers they liked best.

Nicholaw says, ‘We listened to all the songs and picked the ones we wanted in the show. I told Rupert, ‘These are the ones I really liked and could picture as dance numbers,’ and he wedged them in. Then we went looking for songs that the characters needed for certain moments in the story. At that point there was nothing left but love songs, so it was a tall order, but we did it.”

By limiting the show to a particular set of songs (and believe me, they’re terrific) it makes the book writer’s job that much more difficult to construct a story that pulls them all together. Holmes has done it, although it’s the music that really makes this show spring to life.

Robert Brill’s smart set and Kenneth Posner’s seductive lighting complete the sleek, stylish look of the 60s.

Robin and the 7 Hoods runs through August 29th at The Old Globe in San Diego. Tickets are available at

Photos by
Craig Schwartz

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