Robin and the 7 Hoods, which is currently playing at the Old Globe in San Diego, is really just a good excuse to showcase the marvelous songs of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Mamma Mia! was successful so why not Robin and the 7 Hoods? Well for one thing, Mamma Mia! was based on a really good movie, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, and somehow it all worked out. Like Mamma Mia! the fit between the story and the music seems a little awkward at times but the music keeps it focused and moving.
Trouble is that this new musical is based, very loosely, on a rather trite and silly movie that showcased the Rat Pack. What kept the movie alive was the work of those superstars that made up the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin as well as Bing Crosby, Peter Falk, Edward G. Robinson, and Barbara Rush. The musical at the Globe has a talented cast but they aren’t superstars and they only use a couple of songs from the film. The rest of the music is borrowed from a bunch of other movies like Come Blow Your Horn, Tender Trap, and Walking Happy.
The story is set in Chicago when, as the program says, “Mad Men reigned supreme and martinis flowed freely.” The fact is all that smoking and drinking was really overdone and it is tiresome when it is going on all the time. Robin or Robbo (Eric Schneider) is a sophisticated nightclub owner who is trying to play it straight but still has his hands in the underworld where his chief rival P. J. Sullivan (Rick Holmes) is trying to run him out of business with the help of the corrupt but cuddly policeman Lieutenant Nottingham (Sam Prince, who manages to steal the show when he sings “High Hopes”). Robbo enlists the help of his best friend Little John Dante, the very talented Will Chase who is still listed as currently appearing on Broadway as Tony in Billy Elliot. Along the way Robbo meets up with a determined reporter Alan O’Dell who is played the extraordinary Amy Spangler.
A musical is in trouble when the secondary characters are more interesting than the lead. I found myself more involved with Little John and his girlfriend Marion Archer (Kelly Sullivan). But even these two characters are involved in a sort of second-rate story very much like Nathan and Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. In any case most of the time the characters just break into song whether or not it furthers the action. But again, what really great songs!
Robin and the 7 Hoods is claiming to be on the way to Broadway but I am not sure it can be fixed. The writer, the talented Rupert Holmes of Drood and Curtains fame, does his best to compose a story that can encompass all that great music. Casey Nicolaw is both the director and the choreographer and does the best he can to keep things alive. If you can overlook a sort of soggy plot you will no doubt love hearing those songs again. Robin and the 7 Hoods plays at the Old Globe Theatre until August 29.