Those not familiar with “Little Me,” the final show in 42nd Street Moon’s current season, could be surprised to discover that the title character is a lady named Belle Poitrine who, much like Lorelei Lee, comes from “the other side of the tracks” in search of a little fame, a lotta fortune and, of course, true love.
It’s an irony not lost on Los Angeles-based actor Jason Graae, who headlines the revival of the Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh musical opening Saturday; it originally starred Sid Caesar in 1962 and was revived in 1999 with Martin Short.
“It’s very sketchlike,” Graae says, “which played to Caesar’s strengths. I saw the revival and that was very tailored to Martin’s talents. Belle is definitely the rock of the show and we’re working on keeping a balance, but there are a lot of hijinks going on all around her.”
He refers to the fact that, like his predecessors, he plays seven characters. (Short actually played one extra.) “I get to go past my normal emotional gamut of A to B,” he jokes. “I think I go to C on this one! I get to play a 16-year-old, which is a stretch, and I get to play a 90-year-old, which,” he adds quickly, “is also a stretch!”
Other characters include a World War II doughboy, a Russian prince and a German director, all men in Belle’s life.
“It’s really fun,” Graae says. “It’s the biggest part I’ve ever played, but one of the easiest scripts to learn. Neil Simon’s book just makes such great sense. There’s no fat in any of the sentences.”
The role of Belle is shared, as originally written, between two women: Bay Area actresses Sharon Rietkerk and Teressa Byrne.
“Sharon is the cutest thing, she’s a sassy Belle,” Graae says. “Then there’s Tessa, who is wise beyond her years and pithy and Gertrude Lawrence-y. I love them both!”
Graae, whose extensive résumé includes Broadway and off-Broadway shows, television, opera and cross-country cabaret and concert stage appearances, also feels well-guided by director Eric Inman.
“Eric definitely ‘gets’ the show, and he’s got this wild and crazy energy and a plethora of ideas.
He also makes it very easy to try new things. He doesn’t micro-
The happy collaboration has reinforced Graae’s initial motivation for doing this show: a strong belief in 42nd Street Moon’s commitment to presenting rarely performed musicals.
“This is what they live for,” he says. “This is their specialty. I’m always a fan of paring things down and letting the piece be the star. It’s a great mission!”
If You Go
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 19
Tickets: $21 to $75
Contact: (415) 255-8207, www.42ndstreetmoon.org