Saturday, February 26, 2005


If you were to run an electroencephalogram (EEG) on the Davis Musical Theater Company’s new production of "Annie," directed by Steve Isaacson, it would look like your typical strip--squiggles across the page, with peaks and valleys of varying heights.

You can’t really go wrong with a show that features a bunch of cute little girls and an adorable dog, but there are some aspects of this production which are better than others.

Heading the list of good things is Kaylynn Rothleder in the title role of America’s favorite orphan. Kaylynn is quite a belter, but she’s actually even better when not singing quite at full volume. She has a more controlled voice than one would expect from one so young. Her duet, "I don’t need anything but you," with her mentor, Oliver Warbucks (Mike Jones) is adorable and both performers sparkle.

Also worthy of praise is the group of orphans. It’s a given that they are cute, but they have learned the choreography of Ron Cisneros beautifully and are consistently better drilled and more precise than some adult choruses in community theater.

Seven year old Leona Craig as Molly, the youngest orphan, and Camille Totah as Tessie (the orphan who keeps saying "oh my goodness!" over and over again) are particularly noteworthy. Leona shows a real affinity for the stage and looks like she was enjoying every minute of it. At 11, Camille is already a theater pro, having done roles at both DMTC and Music Circus. She is perfectly at home on stage.

Claire Lawrence was outstanding as Grace Farrell, the assistant to Warbucks, as was Lauren Miller in the role of Lily, the gum-chewing girlfriend of Rooster Hannigan (Arthur Vassar), the nefarious brother of Miss Hannigan (Monique McKisson), the little girl-hating alcoholic who runs the orphanage.

Vasser gave a solid performance as Rooster, as did McKisson as Miss Hannigan. Mike Jones likewise gave an energetic interpretation of Oliver Warbucks, at his best in his duet with Annie.

Ben Brunning appears in several roles (Bundles McCloskey, the butler Drake, the radio announce Bert Healy and Harold Ickes). He handles each very well. Brunning’s acting talents have developed over the years and he’s turning into quite a good supporting actor.

Mark Valdez, seen early in the show as the police officer, Lt. Ward, appears later as Franklin Roosevelt and gives a believable imitation of the president.

Midas Vanderford, as the dog, Sandy, briefly stole the show when he stopped to investigate a few errant fleas during Annie’s signature song, "Tomorrow." It is a little unfortunate that either he was unable to be on stage off leash or that the dialog was not changed to reflect the rope Annie was holding. It seemed kind of ludicrous for Lt. Ward to threaten to lock the dog up if Annie didn’t get him on a leash, when she was clearly standing there with the dog on a leash!

Jean Henderson’s costume designs were fine, but couldn’t they please do something about that wig of Annie’s? It looked like it belonged to her mother. The curls came down in front and covered her eyes so that for the entire last half of the show she is really visible only from the nose down. She’s too good a performer to be sabotaged by an ill-fitting wig.

Danette Vassar should also rethink her lighting design. Many scenes were too dimly lit. Annie sings her first song, "Maybe" in a dim light. I realize it’s the middle of the night, but in this poignant song about a young girl’s wish to be reunited with the family that abandoned her, she should at least have some sort of pin spot on her face. Many other scenes either had the lighting offset or the actors missed their mark. Annie sits at Warbucks’ desk in one scene and only half of her face is lit. There is something seriously wrong either with the lighting, or with the placement of the set pieces.

The 13 piece orchestra is competent, though the trumpets were unfortunately not quite in tune some of the time, especially in the overture.

The audience, full of the DMTC faithful, was enthusiastic and gave a partial standing ovation at the conclusion of the show. It’s hard to do a bad "Annie" because there is so much human interest stuff going on on stage, and so this is a fun show that children (and relatives of the cast) will love. But though there are many good things about this "Annie," it is not one of DMTC’s better productions.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Rocky Horror Show

Director Glen Walford promised a “cosmic event” and judging by the reaction to opening night of Rocky Horror Show at the Mondavi Center, she has succeeded handsomely.

The fun begins even before entering Jackson Hall. The audience was an interesting mix of very normal looking people of all ages (I even saw more than a couple of grandmotherly types who looked to be in their 70s), along with those who came prepared to be participants in the show, dressed in various types of costumes, from wigs to bustiers to capes and spike heel boots. They were obviously ready to do the Time Warp again.

In the lobby one can purchase a bag of items, such as rice, which allow the patron to more fully participate in the action.

As the lights go down, the entire hall becomes a gigantic movie screen for a film of clips from various sci fi movies, while Jennifer Nelson (a “cinema groupie”) sings “Science Fiction,” accompanied by the rest of the cast and the “phantoms,” positioned all over the hall. You know that this isn’t going to be your run of the mill show.

For the few who may not be familiar with the cult classic movie, the plot itself is probably incidental the spectacle, but basically it’s the story of two clean cut kids, Brad (James Egisto Ratti) and Janet (Carter Mills) who have a flat tire on a deserted road in a rainstorm and end up going to the convenient nearby creepy mansion where they find an assortment of weirdos and their host, the transvestite Frank N Furter (Martin McKellan), who occasionally looks like he’s been shopping at Cher’s latest garage sale..

Once the kids are inside the mansion, the plot begins to disintegrate until by Act 2 there’s hardly any plot at all, but who cares? Everyone on stage and in the audience was having too good a time to think of such mundane things as “plot.”

Walford has a strong cast, every one of them. There were a few technical glitches on opening night, but the cast took them in stride and found ways around them. Ratti and Mills are perfect as Brad and Janet, he a rather nerdy type and she blonde, perky and innocent. The costumes by Elizabeth Galindo accentuated their wholesomeness and Brad’s pink polkadot tie, matching Janet’s dress was a nice touch.

McKellan is simply delicious. Campy, over the top, and perfectly at home in his silver platform shoes and fishnet stockings. One could not find better.

As Riff Raff, the butler, R. Andrew Hess was wonderfully weird with a powerful voice and a fabulous second act costume.

Dyan McBride as the housekeeper Magenta, and Natasha Tavakoli as the maid Columbia each gave fun performances. McBride has great facial expressions and both are very funny together.

Robert Bruce Broadhurst IV is Frank’s creation, Rocky. Broadhurst is that all-around guy who can act, sing, do pushups and play the piano. He also has the build of an athlete, as befits the role.

As the hapless delivery boy, Eddie, David Sawyer bursts on the stage, literally, and does a rousing rendition of “Hot Patootie.”

Holding it all together is the Narrator, Travis Dukelow who handled audience heckling (de rigueur for Rocky Horror) with aplomb.

The six member orchestra, under the baton of music director Peter Nowlen, were all in costume and guitarist David Rehman was particularly fetching in his long silver wig, as he leaped on stage for one of the numbers.

Rocky Horror is crazy, it’s sensual, it’s just downright fun. The audience of over 500, many of whom rose to sing and dance to “Time Warp” seemed to be having a glorious time.

There are only three more performances. Tonight’s performance, which is nearly sold out, will begin at 11 p.m, Saturday at 8 p.m. and the 2 p.m. closing performance on Sunday.