Never let it be said that the Cadillac Hotel's lobby is a stranger to people in need of a do-over in life. Muhammed Ali sparred in the gym that once stood here, Jerry Garcia slept upstairs, but nowadays the historic Tenderloin hotel is home to poor, single adults. On Friday afternoon, a collection of residents, neighbors, and opera were assembled for a tale of redemption, fall from grace, redemption, fall from grace.
No, not a biblical sermon – try a performance of Porgy and Bess.
“If you didn't start out right you can hit reset. That's what we believe in. Everything we're giving to you right now, you're giving right back to us.” San Francisco Recovery Theatre director Geoffery Grier stood in front of the Cadillac's pride and joy – an 1884 Steinway grand piano, donated in the name of Western Addition neighborhood activist Patricia Walkup.
The show was part of a series that was inaugurated in 2007 to utilize the Steinway and bring art into the classically beautiful lobby of the Cadillac, where SRO residents shuffle about past crystal chandeliers, fake spiral topiaries, and a massive fireplace. The hotel's founder, Leroy Looper, passed away two months ago. His wife Katherine is pushing on with the concert series, and next month will host former member of the Supremes Susave Green in the space.
Of course, it wasn't the whole Gershwin opera (four hours!) What Grier emceed was a one-hour rendition of Porgy and Bess' most well-known songs: “Summertime,” “Ain't Necessarily So,” “A Red Haired Woman.” The performers vamped their way through multiple characters – at one point Eric Ward (who changed from a red dress shirt-vest combo to a blue dress shirt-vest combo halfway through the show) took the stage two songs in a row, a different role for both. The multiracial cast may have stumbled through Gershwin's heavy-handed use of ebonics, sure -- but there was no denying that the motivation behind the performance was heartfelt.
The whole thing was cheer-worthy really. By the time the cast (minus a regal, leonine woman bedecked in pearls that sang a R&B-afied version of “Summertime”) was performing a sing-a-long rendition of “O Lawd, I'm On My Way,” I was already feeling separation anxiety.
Of course, as Grier reminded us, the end of the show just means we can do it all over again.
Next month's Cadillac performance will mark an extra-special milestone: the piano's turning 127 years old. There will be birthday cake.
Susave Green feat. the Jeffery Chin Trio
Dec. 2 12:30-1:30 p.m., free