Some fine performances — particularly by the leads — boost 42nd Street Moon’s production of “Silk Stockings,” a musical based on the 1939 film classic “Ninotchka,” which showcased Greta Garbo in one of her few comic roles.
Making her debut with the troupe known for its attention to lost and undiscovered musicals is Lee Ann Payne as Ninotchka, a lively presence who illustrates the show’s primary theme with her wholehearted transformation from stern Soviet official to lighthearted lady in love.
Yet there’s a reason why this 1954 Cole Porter show, among the composer’s later works, is not performed as much as “Anything Goes” or “Kiss Me, Kate.” Its big numbers and romantic melodies get lost in the verbose book (by George S. Kaufman, Leueen MacGrath and Abe Burrows) stalling the pace and often making the production not seem like a musical at all.
At the same time, the jokes, while timely during the Cold War era when they were written, don’t hold up today — unlike the case with 42nd Street Moon’s last production, the Gershwins’ “Strike Up the Band,” a 1927 show that parodied the absurdity of war with a timeless wit.
Still, “Silk Stockings,” which is set in Paris, displays some vibrant work under direction by Greg MacKellan.
Ian Simpson is smooth as Steve Canfield, the American talent agent who falls in love with Ninotchka, the comrade who comes to Paris to investigate the possible defection of a Russian composer, Peter Ilyitch Boroff (Daniel Epstein).
Things are further complicated when another of Canfield’s clients, ditzy American actress Janice Dayton (a delightfully wacky Dyan McBride), shows up in Paris to make a movie, and in the process makes theatrical mincemeat of Boroff’s serious music.
The plot, which veers significantly from that of the classic movie, doesn’t really add up, but that doesn’t spoil the fun of a couple of amusing big production numbers: “Stereophonic Sound,” in which Janice sets up her plan, and “The Ritz Roll and Rock,” in which Ninotchka’s comrades get excited about the prospect of America.
Dave Dobrusky on piano and Nick Di Scala on reeds provide terrific musical accompaniment.
Presented by 42nd Street Moon
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, closes April 24
Tickets: $24 to $44
Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org