‘Coraline’ is a pleasant but not magical diversion

The talent is top-notch in SF Playhouse’s West Coast premiere of the new, family-friendly minimusical “Coraline.”

For starters, there is Neil Gaiman’s dark, “Alice in Wonderland”-ish children’s book upon which the show is based. In it, an adventurous English schoolgirl — with distracted, workaholic parents — wanders through a mysterious door in her house to find herself in a parallel universe.

There, she encounters a devoted (or so it seems at first) Other Mother, an eager Other Father and slightly off-kilter incarnations of the neighbors (and animals and things) in her life, such as the dotty, elderly sisters who are retired actresses, the crazy old man upstairs who claims to train mice to do tricks, a black cat, animated toys and so on.

Danger, of course, lurks. Coraline must eventually embark upon a hero’s journey to destroy evil and save the innocent.

Then, there is comedic playwright David Greenspan’s adaptation, which hews close to Gaiman’s clever and spooky book, and the lilting score of composer/lyricist Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields) — about two dozen little ditties, including the creepy, the comically wistful, the cheerily philosophical, the satirical, the poignant and so on.

Most are accompanied by a backstage “prepared” piano — objects inserted between the strings to produce an eerie sound. Music direction is by Robert Moreno. Puppets (by Christopher W. Wright), toy pianos and other toy instruments are involved as well.

And the cast features some of the Bay Area’s best talents, most in multiple roles — Susi Damilano and Maureen McVerry as the sisters, Jackson Davis as the Scottish-accented Other Father, Brian Degan Scott as the nutty Mr. Bobo, Brian Yates Sharber as the slinky-talking cat (Erika Chong Shuch choreographed the production) and the marvelous Stacy Ross, increasingly unhinged as the demented Other Mother with her slow-growing red Fu Manchu fingernails (playfully colorful costumes by Valera Coble).

The role of Coraline alternates at different performances; I saw Maya Donato, who charmed with her sweet voice and natural quality.

Still, under Bill English’s usual carefully calibrated direction, the show does not cast the magical spell it is meant to.

The pacing lags in spots — the low-tech, small-stage production attempts to do too much with too little, resulting in an awkwardly cluttered set (despite some imaginative efforts by set designers English and Matt Vuolo). And the promising young Donato, while endearingly unflappable, does not have the palette of emotional colors to make her girlish adventure palpable.

THEATER REVIEW
Coraline

Where: SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Jan. 15
Tickets: $30 to $50
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

artsCoralineentertainmentSF Playhouse

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A construction worker watches a load for a crane operator at the site of the future Chinatown Muni station for the Central Subway on Tuesday, March 3, 2021. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli / Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Major construction on Central Subway to end by March 31

SFMTA board approves renegotiated contract with new deadline, more contractor payments

Neighbors and environmental advocates have found the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park noisy and inappropriate for its natural setting. <ins>(</ins>
Golden Gate Park wheel wins extension, but for how long?

Supervisors move to limit contract under City Charter provision requiring two-thirds approval

San Francisco school teachers and staff will be able to get vaccinations without delay with the recent distribution of priority codes. 
Shutterstock
SF distributes vaccine priority codes to city schools

San Francisco has received its first vaccine priority access codes from the… Continue reading

Charles Joseph, who is represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, is facing deportation to Fiji. <ins>(Courtesy photo)</ins>
Giving immigrants a second chance after incarceration

Legislation would allow some faced with deportation a chance to challenge their old convictions

The San Francisco Police Department released body camera footage of the alleged assault on Dacari Spiers. (Via SFPD Body Cam)
SF police officer to stand trial for assault over baton beating

A San Francisco police officer who prosecutors say unnecessarily beat a man… Continue reading

Most Read