O’Neill resonates in 42nd Street Moon’s ‘New Girl’

“New Girl in Town” is an often chipper 95-minute musical based on Eugene O’Neill’s brooding Pulitzer Prize-winning 1921 drama “Anna Christie,” about a seafaring man’s troubled relationship with his troubled daughter.

Amazingly, it works.

San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon, a troupe known for producing lesser-known musicals, stepped a bit outside of its mission with its version of the award-winning show by George Abbott (book) and Bob Merrill (music and lyrics).

Created as a vehicle for Gwen Verdon in the title role (who went on to share a best actress Tony with her costar Thelma Ritter), “New Girl” debuted on Broadway in 1957, featuring choreography by Bob Fosse.

While Moon’s compact production doesn’t draw on or copy Fosse’s moves, its nimble ensemble provides a sprightly backdrop to the more moody (and effective) proceedings between the primary characters: Chris, an old man who abandoned his young daughter for the sea; Marthy, his common law wife; Anna, his mysterious daughter he hasn’t seen in 15 years, who unexpectedly arrives in town; and Matt, a drunken sailor Chris saves from a shipwreck, who falls for Anna.

Pianist-music director Dave Dobrusky provides solo accompaniment to the shining performers, particularly Joshua Marx as Matt, whose emotions for Anna come through clearly in evocative love ballads (“Look at Er”).

Likewise, Allison F. Rich displays Anna’s changing range of feelings: from anger and distrust, to love, and back again in complex interactions with her father, lover and new acquaintances; she has one of the best tunes in “It’s Good to be Alive.”

Chris Vettel nicely nails Chris’ conflicting emotions, from guilt to propriety (regarding Anna) to love and friendship (regarding Marthy) to anger and jealously (regarding Matt) and masters a Swedish accent in the spirit of 0’Neill’s original character.

Judith Miller is terrific as Marthy, the “good ol’ boy” pal who undergoes changes as Anna takes up space in Chris’ heart.

Director Daren A.C. Carollo does a great job bringing out O’Neill’s themes in the show, emphasizing the characters’ inner lives amid some of the lightweight, less compelling songs (though executed with conviction).

Wood, crates, beams and ropes comprising the set (by Mark Mendelson) and period costumes (by Bethany Deal) set a vivid scene, evoking life on the waterfront in the first decade of the 20th century.

New Girl in Town
Presented by 42nd Street Moon
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 6 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes April 16
Tickets: $28 to $75
Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstmoon.org

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