Based on a 1946 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and filmed in 1964 as “Zorba the Greek” with Anthony Quinn, the 1968 musical “Zorba,” onstage in a revival at the Eureka Theatre, has excellent credentials.
Songs are by John Kander and Fred Ebb, then basking in “Cabaret” glow. The book is by Joseph Stein, lauded for adapting Sholom Aleichem’s stories into “Fiddler on the Roof.” If you squint, you just might imagine you are seeing a mish-mashup of those two better shows in “Zorba.”
It’s common, when dealing with older musicals, to saddle the book with all a show’s flaws, and Stein can indeed shoulder the blame here. Told in flashback, overlapping sub-plots substitute for a cohesive story or point of view.
However, Kander and Ebb cannot emerge unscathed. Opening strong with “Life Is,” an irresistibly infectious melody that instantly establishes Greek allure, the rest of the score comes up wanting with only “The Butterfly” and the juxtaposed “Why Can’t I Speak” and “That’s a Beginning” among the remaining pleasures.
Burdened with these shortcomings, 42nd Street Moon’s production can’t do much to mitigate matters, though it tries.
In the title role, Michael Stevenson oozes rakish charm and incorrigible craftiness, making his Zorba a lovable schemer and dreamer. Alas, as a singer, Stevenson delivers fewer happy returns.
Part of the problem is that Moon performers work without amplification, and the Eureka has a tendency to swallow sound. The normally powerful singer Alexandra Kaprielian’s opening number was lyrically unintelligible, leaving her character — a mysterious Greek chorus of one — undefined for the rest of the show.
As Niko, the character who actually drives the action, Ian Leonard is delightful. You feel his emotionally cramped frustration, his drunken giddiness, and his wary acceptance of love and the pain that follows.
Leonard pairs well with the regal grace of Teressa Byrne as an unnamed, much maligned widow, and their vocals and scenes of discovery are the highlight of the evening. Stephanie Rhoads is fluttery as Mme. Hortense, the courtesan turned innkeeper with an eye for Zorba.
The often-roused rabble of an ensemble includes Janine Burgener, Ben Euphrat, Gayle Dawn Hill, Stewart Kramar, Chris Macomber, Bill Olson, Ray Renati, Michael Rhone, Anna Smith and Kyle Stoner, who, with the principals, attempt Staci Arriaga’s choreography, including iterations of the sirtaki.
Moon Artistic Director Greg MacKellan helmed the show. Musical direction is by the ever-redoubtable Dave Dobrusky, who added the welcome aural variety of a bouzouki-impersonating electronic keyboard, but still employs the too-often-reedy reeds of Nick Di Scala. Sets, costumes and props are by zavalayoung productions.
Presented by 42nd Street Moon
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes May 20
Tickets: $20 to $50
Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org