Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jekyll and Hyde

Why should you attend the Davis Musical Theater productions?

Well, it’s not for the sets, which are often utilitarian, sometimes nonexistent. Funding is always a problem.  But when you have a cast of the caliber of the musical-horror, “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which opened this past weekend, who needs sets?

This may well be the very best cast I have seen in 33 years of DMTC productions.  Every single member is outstanding.“It’s Jan’s dream cast,” says Steve Isaacson, justifiably proud of his wife’s accomplishments as director for this show, described as a “gothic-pop musical.”

 J. Sing, as Jekyll could easily perform on any professional stage.  Apparently he performed with DMTC in two shows back in the 1990s and then left Davis.  That he has returned is Davis’ gain.  He plays the brilliant, but tortured Dr. Jekyll, determined to find a cure for his comatose father, lying in an insane asylum.  It is his belief that it was the evil in his father’s soul which caused his illness and if he can find a cure, a way to separate the good from the evil within a person, he can cure his father.

While every number is a stunner for Sing, “This is the Moment,” in which the scientist, his proposal to perform this experiment having been rejected by the Board of Governors, decides to do the experiment on himself is outstanding, as is his later “Confrontation,” a battle between his two personalities.

As good as Sing in, he is supported by a superb cast.

Rachael Sherman-Shockley is Jekyll’s virtuous and loyal fiancee, who doesn’t understand his obsession, but is willing to put up with anything because she loves and believes in him.  She has several wonderful duets, but none as beautiful as “In His Eyes,” sung with Lucy (Nicole King), a prostitute with a heart of gold and the only one who has seen both sides of Jekyll/Hyde.  King is amazing, a soaring voice giving full throat to “Someone Like You” and  “A New Life.” 

Richard Spierto is sir Danvers Carew, Emma’s father, who grows increasingly uncomfortable, to downright frightened at Emma’s resolve to marry Jekyll, despite evidence of his increasing mental derangement.

Scott Minor is Jeckyll’s attorney, John Utterson, who doesn’t understand what Jekyll is doing and resists some of his client’s requests because they make no sense to him.

Brian McCann also comports himself well as Rupert, Bishop of Basingstoke, another eventual victim of Hyde’s murderous rampage.

The show, by Leslie Bircusse with music by Frank Wildhorn had mixed reviews when it opened in 1997.  It was crticized for the discordant music, the loud rock sound, and “extreme vocal pyrotechnics,” but under the expert hands of director Jan Isaacson, it all comes together into an impressive, if frightening look at a man whose devotion to his father has driven himself to the point of madness.

Jean Henderson’s costume designs are appropriate, as always, but special kudos to whoever was in charge of wigs, which are amazing.

Isaacson also choreographed the show and has created some wonderful numbers.

This isn’t a light and frothy musical, but give this show a chance.  It’s one you aren’t likely to see on any other local stage, and it’s well worth it!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sister Act


As a product of 12 years of Catholic school, all taught by nuns in habits, it did my recovering Catholic soul proud to see habited nuns singing and cavorting on stage.

“Sister Act,” with music by Alan Menken, brings to an end the successful 2017 Music Circus season, and director Glenn Casale pulled out all the stops to guarantee that patrons will leave the Wells Fargo Pavilion in good spirits and eager for the 2018 season to begin.

The musical is based on the 1992 film, starring Whoopi Goldberg, but it takes it over the top, losing the more personal, poignant pieces of the story — so flashy it’s like the nuns had moved from a low-income parish to the Vegas stage.

I did miss the heart of the movie, but you can’t help but love the glitz and the glitter. (Heck, even the pope loved it.) This is not to say it is without poignancy — just not in the same way that the smaller movie showed.

Zonya Love, who appeared as Celie in the original Broadway production of “The Color Purple,” is Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer whose career is going nowhere, who accidentally witnesses her criminal boyfriend Curtis (Rufus Bonds Jr.) commit a murder. Her life is in danger and she runs to the police to ask for protection.

Bonds is tall and menacing and you don’t want to mess with him.

Alan Wiggins is Eddie, an old school friend of Deloris, now a police officer who decides to hide Deloris in a local convent.

Wiggins is outstanding as the guy who has been in love with Deloris for most of his life. His poignant “I Could Be That Guy” built and built until it was a full-fledged stage number with the most incredible costume change of the night.

Love is extraordinary, a square peg trying (not very hard) to fit into a rigid round hole, but ultimately finding her place among the other sisters. She has a voice that will knock your socks off. And her costume for the finale is spectacular!

Lynne Wintersteller plays the Mother Superior, an old-school nun determined not to let the temptations of the world reach inside her convent. (You can imagine she was one of those ruler-carrying teachers in her day!) Wintersteller played this role in the show’s first national tour. Her anguished “I Haven’t Got a Prayer,” trying to ask God for guidance, was a stand-out.

Mother Superior assigns Deloris the task of helping with the convent choir which, under the direction of Mary Lazarus (Audrie Neenan), can barely hit a note that is not sour and is part of the reason why the church is about to be foreclosed. Neenan originated this role on Broadway, so it’s no surprise that she has perfected it.

Jeanna de Waal plays the postulant, Mary Robert, a mousy thing afraid to speak or sing out, whose life is completely transformed by her experiences in the choir.

Nikki Switzer is Mary Patrick, whose role is sadly not nearly as big as in the movie, and I missed that since she was one of my favorite characters. But Switzer is big and enthusiastic and you love her anyway.

Under the direction of Sister Mary Clarence (the name Mother Superior gives to Deloris), the choir is transformed into a show choir, going from black habits to black habits with sequins, and then white with sparkles lining the flowing robes.

They sing, they dance, they raise their arms to God as they sing “Take Me to Heaven” and “Sister Act.” Simple church songs become big glitzy show stoppers, but also the Donna Summer-like number at the beginning becomes a religious hymn by the end.

(This is where I had trouble with the show, it being too over-the-top and un-nun-like for me, but as an audience-pleaser, you could not ask for better!)

This has been a strong season for Music Circus and each show seems to be better than the last. “Sister Act” is definitely a crowd-pleaser.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

Rich Hebert plays multiple characters in
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” on stage now at B Street Theatre.
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo


It was a sad irony that we saw B Street Theatre’s B3 production of “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” on the horrible day of the Charlottesville violence.

The James Lecesne play tells the story of the murder of a gentle young gay man whose life made an impact on many people in the small town where he lived, but who had long been a victim of bullying in school.

It is described as “an affecting and entertaining treatment to the beauty of a world in which difference is celebrated rather than denigrated” — a lesson we would all do well to remember.

“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is a stunning solo performance by Rich Hebert, who tells of the disappearance, investigation and eventual murder of a 14-year-old boy known as much for his gentleness and kindness as he was for his “difference.”

Hebert starts the play as Chuck DeSantis, the world-weary detective in charge of the investigation, remembering that time 10 years ago when he worked on the Pelkey case. DeSantis is your stereotypical New Jersey cop, right off the pages of a “Law and Order” script.

In a flash he is no longer the cop, but the boy’s aunt, a beautician, who took him in when he was orphaned and raised him.

Leonard was an individualist, his aunt explains, who insisted on making his own shoes by gluing multi-colored flip-flop soles to his Converse high tops to give a rainbow effect and wearing eye shadow — though he knew it would make him the object of ridicule and bullying. He wanted to live life on his own terms and was willing to pay the price for that.

“He told me that if he stopped being himself, the terrorists would win.”

Then Hebert is her daughter, bitter over Leonard’s intrusion into their lives, but obviously tormented by his disappearance.

Throughout the play, Hebert plays many characters, male and female, young and old, whose statements, when put together, give us a pretty clear picture of Leonard, perhaps more clear than the only available photo him, which is quite blurry and shows only a hint of who he really is.

Hebert’s many character changes, including a British drama and dance teacher and a widowed moll, are amazing, as with only simple body language and voice modulation, he becomes a completely new character.

While the story centers around a tragedy that will bring a tear to the eye, there is a lot of joy, too, as we enter a world many of us may not be familiar with. Leonard, who works in his aunt’s salon, has many friends among the clientele, who try to help him fit in better.

“Tone it down, honey. The nail polish, the mascara — maybe not so much.”

As we look back on the events in Charlottesville and the hate that spawned it, we could all do well to think of Leonard and how much one “different” person can make an impact on those around him.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Damn Yankees

From left, Dennis O’Bannion as Vernon, Dallas Padoven as Rocky,
Justin Keyes as Smokey and Stephen Berger as Van Buren
sing a number in “Damn Yankees,” produced by Music Circus
at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through Sunday, Aug. 13.
Charr Crail/Courtesy photo

The Music Circus has hit a home run with its current production of “Damn Yankees,” the modern-day version of “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” set in the dugout. While this is the seventh time Music Circus has presented this show, it is only the second time in the Wells Fargo Pavilion.

This Richard Adler/Jerry Ross musical, directed by Charles Repole, features Jason Graae as the devilish “Mr. Applegate,” who enters from beneath the stage in a cloud of red smoke and carries his own smoke with him, in case you forget from whence he came. (How did they do that? Kudos to costume designer Heather Lockard.)

For a production of “Damn Yankees” to really soar, one must have a terrific Mr. Applegate, the role made famous on both stage and screen by Ray Walston. Applegate should steal the show, and steal it Graae does. His signature song, “Those Were the Good Old Days,” was an all-out production number using all of the Music Circus raised platforms. It was a high point of the evening.

Applegate has been summoned unwittingly by Joe Boyd (Jeff Howell), a lifelong baseball fanatic, who dreams of a winning season for his beloved Washington Senators. After a particularly painful loss, he cries that he would sell his soul for a winning season.

Enter Mr. Applegate, gleam in his eye and a contract for Joe’s soul in his hand. Not only will he give him a winning season, but he himself can become the player who saves the team. Naive Joe makes sure he has an escape clause in case he decides this life is not for him and agrees, singing a bittersweet farewell to his beloved wife Meg (Lynne Wintersteller, last season’s Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly”).

The transformation from middle-aged, balding, pudgy Joe to tall, young, virile Joe (now called Joe Hardy, played by Zach Trimmer) is pretty impressive.

Meanwhile, the team is suffering the depression that comes with yet another loss and gets a pep talk from manager Benny Van Buren (Stephen Berger), who reminds them that all a team needs is “Heart.”

Applegate, in the guise of Joe’s agent, coerces Van Buren to give his client an audition. Joe, of course, impresses everyone with both his batting and fielding and is signed immediately to the team.

A reporter sent to get a story on the team (Danette Holden), is fascinated by Joe and determined to make him a star. She sees him trying to find shoes that will fit him and dubs him “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.” Holden’s role is small, but she’s fun to watch.

With Joe at the helm, the Senators make a big turn-around and are on top of the league, heading into the World Series, but Joe finds he misses his wife and his old life and even manages to rent a room in his old house so he can be around her (“A Man Doesn’t Know”).

As Applegate realizes Joe is about to exercise his escape clause, he summons Lola from Hades to be a seductress. Lindsay Roginski slithers and shimmies and does all she can to seduce Joe, who is only centered on his memories of his wife. It may be true that “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,” but not in this instance. Instead, she and Joe become friends.

Applegate sets up more roadblocks to keep Joe from returning home, but in the end, true love wins out over evil and Applegate must return to Hades.

If you love dancing, this is the show for you. Choreographer Michael Lichtefeld has created some great numbers, including “The Game,” a raunchy reminder of what players give up in order to focus on playing the game.

“Damn Yankees” is a fun show that should appeal to baseball fans, their long-suffering spouses and anybody who just enjoys spending an evening watching a bunch of talented actors give it their all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

My Fair Lady


“My Fair Lady” has been called “the perfect musical.” The Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” opened on Broadway in 1956 and set the record for the longest run on Broadway up to that time.

It was followed by a hit London production, a popular film version and numerous revivals. It has won countless awards for the show itself and for many of the performers.

Over its 60-plus-year history, “My Fair Lady” has been a staple of community theaters around the world.

The Woodland Opera House production, which opened last week under the direction of Andrea St. Clair (who also choreographs), can add its name to the list of outstanding versions of this theater classic. With an exceptional cast, amazing costumes by Denise Miles, and a skeleton, but competent six-piece orchestra directed by Lori Jarvey, this show is a definite audience-pleaser.

Over the years, I have seen Rodger McDonald play numerous roles and have the impression there is nothing he can’t do well. Henry Higgins is certainly a role that seems made for him. He’s no Rex Harrison, of course, but as the stern taskmaster who takes the cockney flower girl under his wing, intending to turn her into a “princess,” he’s excellent.

In the light-hearted moments (like “The Rain in Spain”) it’s fun to see Professor Higgins let down his hair, and his “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” will break your heart.

David Cross is solid as Higgins’ colleague, Col. Pickering, who agrees to pay for Eliza’s lessons as part of a bet between himself and Higgins. Pickering is the man who makes Eliza realize how a lady should be treated.

Jori Gonzales, as Eliza Doolittle, is simply loverly. I loved watching not only her cockney and her “lady” but also the midway point, which took perhaps more acting.

Her best acting may be in the scene where she says nothing at all. As Higgins, his staff, and Col. Pickering are dancing and celebrating the triumph of the ball, totally ignoring Eliza, the look on her face was poignant and heartbreaking.

But stopping the show — twice — is the bombastic Brian McCann, as Eliza’s profligate father, Alfred P. Doolittle. He brings down the house in both acts, with “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Freddy Eynsford-Hill is a thankless role. He’s a lovelorn nebbish whose real job is to serve as distraction while the crew is changing the set. However, Alex Grambow has a beautiful voice and is so hopelessly in love with Eliza that you can’t help but love him.

Charlotte French has not been seen on the local stage in a long time and even in the small role of Mrs. Higgins, she reminds us of what a force she has always been. Her “Bravo, Eliza” was a short line but definitely memorable.

There are wonderful moments throughout the show, but everyone’s favorite is always at the Ascot races. The costumes are fabulous and the hats alone are worth the price of admission.

The production is a real winner for the Woodland Opera House and if you have never seen it — or haven’t seen it in a long time — by all means get tickets and give yourself a real treat.


Friday, August 04, 2017

The Odyssey


Acme Theatre Company opened one of its stronger productions this week.

“The Odyssey,” an irreverent and witty version of Homer’s classic tale by Mary Zimmerman, is directed by Alicia Hunt, former Acme member, who made an amazing impression in her one-woman show, “Grounded” at B Street Theater two years ago.

“I’ve worked them very hard,” Hunt said, and it shows. This is a strong cast and other than the vocal projection problems in some of the actors, always an issue with Acme, the production is very good.
Don’t expect any help from the program, though. The names appear to have been printed in reverse alphabetical order with no rhyme or reason as to who comes on stage when. Unless a character is called out by name (by someone who can project), it is impossible to know who is who, especially in a dark theater.

And it doesn’t help that there is a typo in the program. Two are listed as Zeus/drummer, when Giancarlo Gilbert-Igelsrud is the only drummer. His drumming is essential to creating many of the scenes. He’s a treasure, with the very best costume of the night. All percussionists should wear flashy gold.

But enough of the complaints. The show opens when McKella van Boxtel walks on stage as a tourist trying to get the history straight and is transformed by two muses (Cassidy Smith and Emma Larson) into the character of Athena, who will help Odysseus (Ryan Johnson) through his travels home from the Trojan War, which ended 10 years ago.

Van Boxtel does a wonderful job, a master of disguise who becomes the ever-present being in Odysseus’ journey.

Smith provides vocals in several spots and displays a beautiful voice.

Odysseus is eager to get home to his wife, the patient and wise Penelope (Garnet Phinney), but Poseidon (Mez) is holding a grudge and refuses to let the hero return home. Penelope spends the show fending off suitors.

Johnson gives a powerful performance as the tortured Odysseus, whose return home involves encounters with characters like the enchantress Circe, the goddess Calypso and the Sirens, beautiful creatures who lure sailors to their death by their singing (Gracelyn Watkins plays both Circe and Calypso as well as one of the Sirens).

Waiting at home with mama Penelope in Ithaca is Odysseus’ son Telemachus, played by the Chris Colfer look-alike Grey Turner. At only 14, Turner is one of the youngest in the cast, yet gives one of the strongest and most memorable performances. This young actor is going to be a pleasure to watch as he moves through his time with Acme.

There is also an absolutely fabulous Cyclops eye for which the tech crew gets high praise.

Odysseus takes this journey home with his BFF Eumaeus (Rocket Drew) who is there at the end to get rid of Penelope’s many would-be suitors and convince her that Odysseus is, indeed, finally home.
This is a perfect show for high school-age actors. As director Hunt says “they are enduring experiences that high schoolers viscerally understand: loss, isolation, searching, adventure and, above all, the pain and beauty of love.

We are very fortunate in Davis that we have such an organization as Acme, which can get high school kids excited about learning the classics and working so hard to bring them to life.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

9 to 5

Doralee Rhodes (Tricia Paoluccio) gives some payback to Franklin Hart Jr. (Paul Schoeffler),
with help from co-workers, in “9 to 5 The Musical,”
produced by Music Circus at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through July 30.
Kevin Graft/Courtesy photo

 Audiences are going to love the Music Circus’s new production of the Dolly Parton/Patricia Resnick musical, “9 to 5, the Musical.” Based on the popular 1980 movie, featuring Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, the story involves sexual harassment in the workplace of the 1970s, and how three women manage to get revenge on their boss.

This is a splashy, wonderfully choreographed (by Mara Newbery Greer) bit of fluff, directed by Glenn Casale. All the plot points are there, the fun is there, but the intensity and heart of the movie are not. Except for the title song, there are no songs you will remember (and with the continuing ear-shattering level of Music Circus sound, you probably will miss a lot of the lyrics). But that’s all irrelevant to the fun the opening night audience was having.

Judy Bernly (Anne Brummel) is a newly divorced woman with no office skills and no self-esteem who joins the staff of the company. She is taken under the wing of Violet Newstead (Vicki Lewis), who has worked for the company for years and is hoping to be given a promotion.

Doralee Rhodes (Tricia Paoluccio, the Dolly Parton role) is accepted to be the office slut and everyone thinks she is having an affair with the boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Paul Schoeffler).

“We don’t like her,” Violet tells Judy, though Doralee is actually happily married and is constantly fighting the advances of her boss in order to keep her job.

The production makes wonderful use of the Music Circus movable stage and all those various platform levels and the tech crew does yeoman duty running sets in and out of the stage while many scenes take place in the aisles.

The show belongs to the women. Lewis is a force of nature, a bold, brassy, under-appreciated Violet who is trying to raise a teenager as a single mother and convinced that if she works hard enough, she can break through the glass ceiling. When the coveted position is given, instead, to a young man she herself trained, hell hath no fury like this woman scorned.

Paoluccio is a wonderful Doralee, making the role her own, while still echoing Parton. Her “Backwoods Barbie” was wonderful.

Brummel, in the least notable role of Bernly, has the show-stopping number “Get Out and Stay Out,” which is reminiscent of a song Elphaba sings in “Wicked.” That’s interesting because the actress has played that role all over the country in touring shows.

Kristine Zbornik has the small role of frumpy Roz, Hart’s sycophantic assistant, who has a secret crush on her boss and whose song “Heart to Hart” brings down the house.

When Violet accidentally puts rat poison in Hart’s coffee, the girls get the idea of kidnapping him and holding him hostage in his own home while his wife is on vacation to prevent him from reporting Violet to the police.

While Hart is tied up, the girls take over running the office, reversing his cruel policies, and turning the office into a pleasant place to work. At the same time, a little research uncovers a double set of books showing Hart has been stealing from the company for years.

Parton herself makes an appearance. When this show played the Broadway series in the Community Center, a huge projection on the back of the stage gave Parton the opportunity to introduce and end the show. The same technique is used here, to lesser effect.

While the video shows Parton turning to her left or right to indicate a character, in the round, often she is turning to the opposite of where the character really is. Again, the enhanced audio made her comments difficult to understand.

“9 to 5″ had a disappointing run on Broadway, but it has more than made up for it in the popularity of productions around the country, and the Music Circus Production is no exception.