Thursday, July 12, 2018

Newsies


Who says that one young, insignificant poor kid living in the slums can’t change history?
That’s the story, based on true events, which is the subject of the Broadway at Music Circus current production, Disney’s “Newsies.”

At the turn of the 20th century, some 10,000 boys sold newspapers on the streets of New York, many of them orphaned and homeless. The boys paid to get the newspapers, and if they did not sell, the publishers would not buy them back.

During the Spanish-American war, when the desire for news was high, the publishers raised the price charged to the boys from 50 cents per hundred to 60 cents per hundred. But at the end of the war, when the interest dropped, publishers Pulitzer and Hearst did not reduce the price the boys paid, even though other publishers did. The boys demanded a return to the price that their peers at other papers were paying.

Under the leadership of a 15-year-old boy named Kid Blink, the “newsies” organized, held massive outdoor meetings and after two weeks, the publishers and the newsies compromised — they would keep the higher price, but would buy back any unsold papers. The stand-off was considered a major step in the child-labor movement.

In 1992, the story was made into a Disney movie, and in 2014 an award-winning musical with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by Harvey Fierstein. It is now a premier for Broadway at Music Circus.

Entering the Wells Fargo Pavilion is like walking into a Brooklyn tenement, with apartments over each doorway, all joined together in a spiderweb of clothes lines, each with laundry hanging from them.

“Kid Blink” (decidedly not the best name for the hero of this tale) is now Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), an older teen (so he can have a love interest), but the basics of the story are still there.

For “heart” there is “Crutchie” (Blake Stadnik), who has been crippled and walks with a crutch and is a perfect victim for the goons of the publishers trying to squelch the boys.

There is a love interest, Katherine (Laurie Veldheer), a reporter trying to make it in a male-dominated world, and hiding a surprising secret.

There is Davey (John Krause) and his little brother Les (Josh Davis) who, unlike the others, have a home and parents, but who join the others in selling the papers and protesting the fee increase.

But this show belongs to the newsies themselves (if you look closely you can see Davis High’s Jimin Moon). The dancing is amazing and you do get the feel of their camaraderie as well as their desperation.

Paul Schoeffler is powerful as Joseph Pulitzer, who only cares about money and doesn’t have a bit of compassion for the kids (gee … where have we heard that lately?).

Music Circus’ ubiquitous Ron Wisniski has a short but outstanding appearance as a bombastic Teddy Roosevelt (then governor of New York), which earned him well-deserved applause as he left the stage.

The high-energy physicality and enthusiasm of the cast make this an engaging production — and of course the David vs. Goliath struggle is always good to keep an audience entertained!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

7 Brides for 7 Brothers

Broadway At Music Circus is presenting a lively production of the 1954 Jane Powell/Howard Keel musical. While it is short on story, its strength is in the powerful dance numbers, of which there are many. The production’s book is by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, music by Gene de Paul, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.

There is little “plot” in this adaptation of the 1954 MGM musical. Seven brothers, the Pontipees — mountain men living in the Oregon wilderness — realize that if they had a woman around the place, she could cook and clean for them and keep the place tidy.

Since they’ve been unsuccessful in keeping a housekeeper, it is decided that one of them should find a woman to marry. It falls to Adam, the eldest, to go to town and bring back a wife, along with the other supplies he needs to pick up.

Edward Watts is an imposing Adam with a strong baritone giving a lusty performance.

Adam goes to town and finds Milly (Paige Faure), a fiesty waitress in a local eatery, who is tired of the pressure of serving food to demanding men all day long. What Adam lacks in wooing ability he makes up for in persuasion and Milly agrees to marry him that day and return with him to his wilderness cabin. (Adam just kinda forgot to mention the six brothers who share his home!)

Milly begins to civilize the brothers to the point where they are ready to get their own brides. However, after an altercation at a local dance hall, the brothers are banned from the town,
Lovesick and lonely, and with Adam’s urging, they sneak back to town at night and kidnap their would-be brides. An avalanche closes off the only road to the Pontipees’ spread, preventing the townsfolk from rescuing the kidnaped women, who are forced to wait out the winter with the men, though Milly runs a tight ship and makes sure that no hanky panky goes on until a preacher can come and marry them.

The production is directed by Glenn Casale and choreographed by Patti Colombo, whose numbers are so lively as to leave the audience breathless. “Social Dance,” where the Pontipee brothers begin to win the women away from the townsmen at the monthly town social, needs to be seen to be really appreciated. It stopped the show as the audience could not stop applauding.

Colombo has assembled a core of top-notch dancers in both the Pontipee brothers — Watts, Eric Stretch, Graham Keen, Brian Steven Shaw, Joshua Michael Burrage, Eric Sciotto and KC Fredericks — and their town rivals — Jordan Beall, Devin Neilson, Daniel Kermidas, Mateo Melendez, Eric Anthony Johnson and Cameron Edris.

The dance numbers were vigorously athletic and made this a daring, dazzling choreographic extravaganza.

The brides — Faure, Olivia Rene Sharber, Keely Beirne, Jaimie Pfaff, Elyse Niederee, Ashley Arcement and Rose Iannaccone — often acted as actual props to be tossed through the air by the men.

This is another winner for the second Music Circus offering.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Thanksgiving Play


Larissa FastHorse is a Native American playwright, a member the Rosebud Sioux tribe, Sicangu Lakota Nation. She has been involved with most prominent projects involving indigenous artists. She is most noted as a playwright-activist, having found many ways to bring indigenous stories to the American theater.

FastHorse explains, “I have again and again heard that my plays, after they are produced once, don’t get additional productions … because of casting. Theaters claim they don’t know any indigenous actors or they cannot afford to bring in indigenous actors …

“I would rather get the stories out there to give non-indigenous people the chance to learn about us, and to show indigenous people that there is a place for them in theater.”

And so FastHorse decided to write a play that would mock the attempts of theaters to deal with indigenous characters.

The result is the wickedly funny “The Thanksgiving Play,” now filling Capital Stage with laughter. FastHorse describes its success as “an opportunity to satirize one of the insidious problems in American theater: the fear of making mistakes or offending someone unintentionally.” In this ultra-PC era, its success is indeed both heartbreaking and bittersweet.

Logan (Jennifer LeBlanc) is a high school drama teacher trying to create a Thanksgiving play without an indigenous character. She is joined in this endeavor by her yoga friend Jaxton (Cassidy Brown), politically correct to a fault, who does street performances about composting. Logan is also vegan, and the very thought of a turkey dinner makes her ill.

Jaxton’s idea of how they are going to create the play is to “start with this pile of jagged facts and misguided governmental policies and historical stereotypes about race and turn that all into something beautiful and dramatic and educational for the kids.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Logan is proud of herself for getting a “Native American Heritage Month Awareness through Art” grant, which gives her funding to hire a professional actor. Based on a headshot, she hires Alicia (Gabby Battista) who, as it turns out, is an “ethnic looking” American who can play several cultures depending on how she is photographed. Her braids, a headband and turquoise jewelry led Logan to assume she was Native American.

The group is rounded out by Caden (Jouni Kirjola), an elementary school history teacher with Broadway dreams. He has lots of research, but no experience. He wants to start this play 4,000 years before the present, when European farmers held Harvest Home Festivals.

This well-intentioned quartet brainstorm ideas for the play, their discussion only showing how completely clueless they are about what they hope to accomplish. “Do you know how hard it is for a straight white male to feel less-than in this world?”

Interspersed throughout the play are four different videos of children from very young to high school performing some kind of Thanksgiving play. As I suspect these are not scripted, but real plays, each is funnier than the other.

Director Michael Stevenson keeps the action moving and the laughter constant. It may not yet be the Fourth of July, but this Thanksgiving gift is a wonderful crowd-pleaser.


Monday, June 18, 2018

The Little Mermaid


There was no one who enjoyed the opening night performance of Davis Musical Theatre’s (DMTC) “The Little Mermaid” more than the 2 year old girl who sat in front of us.  She paid attention to the whole show, danced all the dances, waved her arms whenever the chorus did, tried to mouth the words to songs and applauded at the end of each, all without being disruptive.  Watching her joy was almost as much fun was watching the show itself.

There were a lot of children in the opening night performance and those I talked with after the show all said they loved it.

But don’t get the idea that this is a children’s show.  Though based on a Hans Christian Anderson fable and a Disney movie, this show has enough fantasy to keep the attention of a 2 year old and enough “meat” to entertain adults as well.

Arial is a mermaid princess who longs to go to the outside world, especially after she saves the life of a sailor who falls overboard and falls in love with him.  The sailor doesn’t remember what she looks like, but is haunted by her beautiful voice.

With the dubious help of her aunt the evil Ursula, the octopus, Arial agrees to exchange her voice for feet and goes to the surface, where she finds the object of her affections preparing to choose a wife, based on who has the best singing voice.

How this is all resolved, leaving only questions of  biological incompatibilities, is the plot of this show, and it is enchanting.

If you were asked to draw a picture of the Arial in your mind, chances are your picture would look at lot like Julia Hixon, who could not possibly be better.  She is charming and witty and never loses the subtle “treading water” hand motions throughout the show.  She also has the kind of beautiful voice that would enchant a man.

Prince Eric (Hugo Figueroa) exhibits a gentleness as he meets Arial but does not remember her, and realizes she has no voice, yet is strangely attracted to her.  He teaches her how to communicate through dance.

In the “Jiminy Cricket” role of Arial’s protector is Amaralyn Ewey, as Sebastian the crab.  Ewey’s performance is amazing, especially when I learned that this 9th grader only stepped into the role 2 weeks ago, when her father, originally cast, had an accident and was unable to continue. Her performance is so polished that you would never know she only had two weeks to rehearse...or that she was only a 9th grader.  Her “Under the Sea,” the show’s signature song, was delightful.

Arial’s buddy is Scuttle, a sea gull, the expert on all things “above” and teaches Arial, for example, that the strange thing she found (a fork) is used by humans to comb their hair.    

King Triton, father of Arial and her many sisters, is payed by Scott Minor, who is a towering, powerful and somewhat frightening figure.  Arial is obviously his favorite, and he makes allowances for her, though this latest obsession of hers may have gone too far.

Arial’s sisters, Morgan Bartoe, Rebekah Milhoan, Katie Krasnansky, Noah Patterson, Sierra Winter and Lorin Torbitt work as a single unit, though each girl has her own personality and all of them are competing with Arial for their father’s attention.

Gavin Mark is Ariel’s friend Flounder, who often adds comic touches to various scenes, and though his performance is quite good, he is so young, it’s difficult to believe his romantic feelings toward Arial.

As far as comedy is concerned, Cullen Smith is just great as Chef Louis, chasing Sebastian around trying to catch him to cook for dinner (“Les Poisson”).  Smith is a wonderful comedienne and her scene is a highlight of the show.

Cyndi Wall is the evil Ursula.  She is a commanding presence with evil oozing from her tentacles.  She is a perfect addition to the Disney catalog of villains.  She is aided in her evilness by Flotsam (Katherine Fio) and Jetsam (Brittany Owings).


Monica Reeve’s costumes run the gauntlet from the gentle, feminine dress for Arial to the realistic octopus costume for Ursula and everything from plain to very ornate costumes for the sea creatures.


Directed by Steve Isaacson and choreographed by Allison Weaver, this is a delightful production from DMTC, enjoyable for all ages.  Some performances are already sold out and tickets are going fast.


Take Grandma, take the kids.  This a family show that everyone will enjoy.

(And thank you, thank you, thank you, DMTC and program designer Danette Vasser for the bios and photos in the program!)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Twelfth Night





The enthusiastic crew of Acme Theatre Company are once again giving their yearly gift to the city of Davis in thanks for all the support they receive from everyone throughout the year.  Each year the actors perform a comedy on the outdoor Art Center stage.  The audience is invited to pack a picnic and sit on the grass to enjoy the show (and if it’s too, cold blankets are available to rent and you can even buy socks!)


This year’s play is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” that wonderful world of ridiculousness, where there are separated twins, mixed up lovers, cross dressing, and lots and lots of chasing and fighting

In fact, there is no special credit given for choreographing the fight scenes, but they were masterful.

This production is set in the Vaudeville circuit 1920s, though the setting is fairly irrelevant to the production, other than the great 20s music that is played before and after the show and during intermission, the show posters on the walls, and the costume choices.  (Note the marquee change for Act 2, which is wonderful)

“Twelfth Night” tells the story of Viola (Fiona Ross), shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria with her brother Sebastian (Braeden Ingram), whom she believes to have drowned.  Viola decides to dress in her brother’s clothes and pass herself off as a page named Cesario, under which guise she enters the service of Duke Orsino (Cory McCutcheon). She finds herself attracted to her new boss.  Ross has a hefty role and does it well.

Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia (Annie Oberholtzer), shining star of stage and screen, who is grieving the death of her father and brothers. Orsino sends Cesario with messages of love to Olivia, who wants nothing to do with Orsino, but finds herself attracted to the young page, who awakens her adolescent hormones and, forgetting her grief, turns her into a horny teenager.  Oberholtzer’s transformation from the stern black-clad, grieving sister into a woman who has rediscovered love is wonderful...and very funny.

(One of the problems with most Acme shows is that there are so few men in the company that women fill in many of the male roles.  They do it well, but it makes trying to figure out who is who difficult, especially when many characters are dressed alike and the names of the actors are also gender neutral!)

Jordan Hayakawa opens the show with comments to the audience and then steps into the action as Maria, Olivia’s personal assistant.  There is something magical about Hayakawa and in no obvious way, she commands attention when she is on stage.

Brother James Hayakawa is Malvolio, Olivia’s loyal, if pompously righteous steward. He is outstanding and displays a talent for tap dancing after he has been played a fiendish trick by Maria.

Toby Belch, a kinsman of Olivia, is one of Shakespeare’s best loved buffoons and Dezla Dawkins does well by him.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Gavin Pinnow), is a buddy of Malvolio who puts up with a lot in the hope of an opportunity to woo the fair Olivia.

Irish Harshaw is the clown Feste, Olivia’s fool.  She is petite and appealing and sparkles in each of her scenes.  She also has a lovely singing voice.

Patrick Foraker has appeared in several Acme shows, and has his first speaking role as Curio, one of the Duke’s attendants, which he does very well.

The final performance of this gem is Sunday at 2 p.m.  Do yourself a favor and get down to the Art Center to catch it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Airness

From left, John Lamb, Same Kebede, Peter Story and Josh Bonzie
are air-guitar rockers in B Street Theatre's “Airness.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

How much, if anything, do you know about the art of the air guitar? You have probably seen someone pretending to play the guitar, without an instrument, but is it really “air guitar.”

Chelsea Marcantel, the author of a play called “Airness,” now at B Street Theatre’s “The Sofia,” is not an air guitarist and admits that she had no idea such a thing existed, and when she learned of it thought, “This is the dumbest thing in the world.” As she learned more, she began to appreciate the performance art and “fell in love with that world.”

So don’t discount this fun play out of hand because you think you know what it will be like. I, too, thought this was “the dumbest thing in the world,” but feel like I had a master class in that world watching “Airness.” I won’t say I’m a convert, but I certainly have a new appreciation for the art than I did before seeing this show.

U.S. Air Guitar is the national association of air-guitar artists, whose mission is to send American representation to the International Air Guitar Competition in Finland each year. Competitions are held in a dozen or so cities around the country, each of which picks a winner to join with the other winners and travel to Finland to compete in the final. (Why Finland? Who knows?!)

We meet Nina (Stephanie Altholz), a real guitarist trying to get over a broken heart, who decides to compete in the Chicago competition and figures she has an edge because she already knows how to play the guitar, but she learns from Shreddy Eddy (Peter Story), Golden Thunder (Sam Kebede), Facebender (John Lamb) and Cannibal Queen (Tara Sissom) that air guitar is much more than just pretending to play a guitar. It’s the ability to translate your dreams of becoming a rock star, in 60 seconds, into something that the audience can see and rock out to.

What may seem ridiculous on the surface has real depth and artistry and Nina is having a difficult time grasping that. But she begins to bond with the little community. “We are all each other’s biggest fans.”

Kebede sparkles as Golden Thunder, in his shopworn golden cape and unfailing bravado. His acts get grander and grander, most memorable in his salute to the American flag. Try to forget that!

Lamb is perhaps the heart of the story, the oldest of the group who gets his personal self-worth from what he does, be-wigged, on the air-guitar stage, since he doesn’t get it in his off-stage life.

In his Facebender persona, he speaks in sonnets, which disappear when the costume comes off. His daughter has never seen him perform and the thought of her coming is enough to send him into an apoplexy of anxiety.

Sissom delivers a sizzling performance as Cannibal Queen. She has fought to be considered an equal among these men — and she has. Her performances ooze power.

She and Nina are oil and water from the start, since she is now dating the man who broke Nina’s heart, and what she teaches Nina about that relationship will shape her future as an air guitarist.

Peter Story’s Shreddy Eddy is fairly low-key, as he becomes a mentor for Nina but when he lets rip on stage, he’s unstoppable. “We share the common dedication of the air guitar world: to share world peace.”

Josh Bonzie is David D’Vicious, the reigning king of the air-guitar world, and Nina’s ex. He strides on stage with bravado, knowing he is the king and will be the king. Bonzie delivers a powerful performance and shows how brutal competition can be.

A search through the program reveals that Wade McKenzie-Bahr and Dylan Ballesteros are the theater technicians, who made the many scene changes so much fun and really were almost as much a part of the play as the actors themselves.

They say that we can keep our brains active by learning a new thing every day. Do yourself a favor by heading to The Sofia and learning about air guitar. You’ll have great fun in the process.

On June 9, B Street is hosting an official US Air Guitar Qualifier in Upstairs at the B. The winner will head to Brooklyn, N.Y., and attempt to win the national championship.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Marjorie Prime


Brock D. Vickers and Janis Stevens are spot-on in their compelling roles in
Capital Stage's “Marjorie Prime,” running through June 3. Courtesy photo

 As we all age, and the threat of dementia or Alzheimer’s looms, we fear losing all of our precious memories. What if science could ensure that we could keep those memories?

“Marjorie Prime,” a play by Jordan Harrison now at Capital Stage, deals with just such fears and how future science can help. It is science fiction and reality mixed with humor, but not really a comedy.

This production is directed by Stephanie Gularte, co-founder of Capital Stage, who left Sacramento in 2014 to become producing artistic director of American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is the first ever co-production with American Stage, which ended its run of this show on April 1 before moving the show, actors and all, to Sacramento (two of the cast are from Florida and two from Sacramento).

The audience greeted Gularte with a standing ovation when she came onto the stage with Michael Stevenson, Capital Stage producing artistic director, to give an introduction to the production.

Marjorie is a widow in her mid-80s who is in the middle stages of dementia. Her new companion is “Walter Prime,” a holographic creation that looks and speaks like her late husband, Walter. He helps Marjorie cope, in part by gradually erasing some details of her past and adding more pleasant memories.

Janis Stevens is Marjorie and has perfected the persona of an older woman who still has a thin grasp on her memories, but realizes they are slipping away. Her body language, the way she holds her hands, the way she speaks is spot-on.

As the play begins, Marjorie is talking with a handsome young man named Walter (Brock D. Vickers). As the action progresses, we learn that this is really “Walter Prime,” a holographic version of her husband when he was young and handsome. He is there to remind her of the past and tell her stories of their life together. It is difficult to tell holographic Walter from real Walter until he hits a bit of information that he has not learned yet, and then you can see him processing it and adding it to his database.

When Walter Prime can’t answer a question because that bit of data hasn’t been programmed yet, Marjorie complains and he responds, “I sound like whoever I talk to.” This is, perhaps, the most important message of this play — remembering the past is not the same as reliving it and the Primes can only share memories that they have been programmed to remember.

Marjorie lives with her daughter Tess (Jamie Jones) and her husband Jon (Steven Sean Garland). Tess struggles with “losing” her mother as more and more of her memory disappears and jealousy of Walter Prime, who is more important to Marjorie than Tess is. Jones gives a wonderful performance as the daughter on the edge, loving her mother, but hating her for not being the mother that she was.

Garland plays Jon as the calming influence between supporting his wife and comforting his mother-in-law.

We then see Marjorie looking younger and brighter, and sitting on the couch chatting with Tess. As the conversation progresses, we realize that Marjorie has died and this is Marjorie Prime, who is there to hold the memories for Tess, who hasn’t been in favor of the holograms, but now finds comfort in being able to speak with her mother’s Prime even though she’s angry that it’s not really her mother.

The final scene is one of those that leaves lots of questions, lots of “what happens next?” And isn’t that the sign of a great play — one that makes you want to dissect it long after it has ended?