Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Seal does Standards

Out There

Seal appeared with the San Francisco Symphony in Davies Symphony Hall. Photo: Steven Underhill
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The English singer-songwriter Seal is known for his international pop music and his smooth, mellifluous voice. He hasn't been known until now for his way with a jazz standard, but that will all change with the release of his new album, "Standards," from Decca. Last week Seal, born class=st>Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel, brought his act to Davies Hall to sing with the San Francisco Symphony , Edwin Outwater conducting. Turns out he's quite a crooner of the old-school style.

He began with "Lady Luck," and one could sense he was still a bit tentative with this material. He confided that, except for a small club date in LA, this SF appearance was his first show in a concert hall essaying the songbook set. But by the time he launched into "Can't Take That Away from Me," "I Put a Spell on You" and "Autumn Leaves," the Seal was set: he was clearly born to live and love through these songs.

Inhabit them he did, in "Love for Sale" and "I've Got You Under My Skin"; in "the happiest sad song there is," "Smile"; in a brief Christmas set of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and "Let It Snow"; and in the rousing finale "That's Life." He said it was great to sing with real musicians, playing real instruments. Though he never thanked the orchestra, the conductor, or the three back-up singers by name, he did give props to his record company. Seal came, Seal sang, Seal properly sold the standards.


Ralphie (Jonah Broscow) dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas in San Francisco Playhouse's "A Christmas Story: The Musical." Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Christmas fear

Truth be told, Out There is about the least Christmassy person you know. This time of year, even our usual refuge in the halls of culture feels inundated with Xmas cheer: "A Christmas Carol" at the theatre, endless holiday programming at the concert hall, "Nutcracker" at the opera house. So over the years we've had to learn how to come to terms with the annual Yuletime onslaught.

"A Christmas Story: The Musical" at San Francisco Playhouse felt like a good chance for us to learn how to enjoy seasonal entertainment without being overwhelmed by the Xmas overload. Based on the movie of the same name, itself based on author Jean Shepherd 's "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash," there's no religious component to this musical at all. Instead, it's all about the true meaning of Xmas: the consumerist impulse.

The story is set in 1940s Indiana, so it's no surprise that it's so retrograde in sensibility and subject matter. What Ralphie (Jonah Broscow) wants most for Xmas is – a gun! Specifically, and celebrated in its very own song, he wants a "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun." Ralphie's yearning to possess this weapon is illustrated by a fantasy sequence in which he imagines armed gunmen storming his classroom ("Ralphie to the Rescue!"), which really is not so charming, post-Sandy Hook.

The show's "Ozzie & Harriet" mindset is best exemplified in Mother's (Abby Haug) big number "What a Mother Does," which could be summarized as, "A woman's place is in the kitchen." It's not just the treacly sentiment of this musical that's outdated, but also its conformist subtext.

Still, a spirited cast of kids and adults under the direction of SF Playhouse co-founder Susi Damilano , and kick-ass live music by a backstage band under music director Dave Dobrusky, manage to sell the nostalgic proceedings and bring "A Christmas Story" to full theatrical life. And there's not a blessed child away in a manger, or the arrival of Three Magi to be found. So bring on the season's greetings!


Through Jan. 13.


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