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Why a musical about a Depression-era New York mayor still charms

The 1959 musical “Fiorello!,” which San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon is reviving, should arouse historical interest for multiple reasons. For starters, it’s a playful portrait of charismatic reformer Fiorello La Guardia, New York’s mayor during the Great Depression and World War II.
Also, posterity has left “Fiorello!” with a lot to prove. It won a Tony Award for best musical in that prize’s only tie ever, along with “The Sound of Music” (“Gypsy” was one of the other nominees). It is also one of only nine musicals ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
The thorny part today is that the now largely forgotten musical won the Pulitzer over Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” the first play by a black woman to be produced by Broadway, now considered an American classic. (“Clybourne Park,” a quasi-sequel to “Raisin” by white male playwright Bruce Norris, did win a Pulitzer.)
Some of the sexual politics in “Fiorello!” have aged poorly, but the show is a charmer in its own right, with amusing songs by the future “Fiddler on the Roof” team of lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock and a book by Jerome Weidman (“I Can Get It for You Wholesale”) and George Abbott (“Damn Yankees”).
Details: Through March 17; Gateway Theatre, San Francisco; $30-$75; 415-255-8207, 42ndstmoon.org.

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