Saturday, December 14, 2013

Santaland Diaries

What does a newly arrived wannabe actor do in New York when he can’t find a job, when his dreams of being on “One Life to Live” don’t pan out?
Well, Aaron Wilton as David — using the journal of David Sedaris as adapted by Joe Mantello — is going to tell you in Capital Stage’s funny, irreverent production of the one-act, one-man show, “The Santaland Diaries,” directed by Janis Stevens.

Despite its name, this is not a show for the kiddies, so don’t bring them along, but prepare yourself for a rollicking good time.

Wilton is likeable and energetic, and he uses the entire theater for his stage, bouncing around the actual stage, and then bounding out into the audience to lounge on the stairs, or direct a comment to a member of the audience. He brings everyone into his world as he describes how he came to be Crumpet, the Elf in Macy’s Santaland, during one December.

He describes the interview process, his thrill at being hired and then the intensive training that he goes through, following regulations contained in the “Elfin Guide,” a very thick binder. He explains that “most of the managers are former elves who have worked their way up the candy-cane ladder, but retain vivid memories of their days in uniform.”

Then comes a tour of Santaland, which is described for us in glowing detail, including the “Oh, my God” corner, where people first see Santa and the long line ahead of them, and the “vomit corner,” where nauseous children lose it all.

The next day is elf dress rehearsal and David receives his costume. “My costume is green. I wear red-and-white striped tights, a yellow turtleneck, forest green velvet smock, and a perky stocking cap decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.” (The costume is based on a design by Gail Russell.)

The set by Olivia McGiff is a surprise, because you wonder how they are going to dress up the very bland stage on which David begins his monologue, and suddenly the wall opens to reveal a dazzling set, festooned with all the Christmas trappings and a chair for Santa.

The diary continues through the experiences dealing with children and their parents. “It’s not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything, but the parents’ idea of a world they cannot make work for them.”

There is one unfortunate section of this play that bothered me a lot. It is Sedaris’ description of the day the special-needs kids come to see Santa. It’s very funny and the audience laughed uproariously, but the playwright makes a lot of use of the “R-word,” a word that can be very painful and offensive to parents of special-needs kids.
I tried imagining how the audience would have reacted if he had used the “N-word” instead and decided I could not let that pass without comment, as I know parents of special-needs kids who are very upset about the common usage of that offensive word. It tainted, for me, what had been a very enjoyable comedy.

The moment passes, however, and “David” makes it through the rest of his stint at Macy’s, turns in his Crumpet costume and goes to say goodbye to the manager. “Suddenly I loved this woman … I felt certain … together we would share a special moment.”

Uh. Not so much.

Do yourself a favor and take in this comedy. It will put you in good spirits for the coming holiday. There’s even an elf called Dreidle, an attempt to appeal to everyone!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life: The Musical

Unless you have been living under a rock since 1946, you are familiar with the beloved holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

It’s the show that proves that we may not know what impact we make on the lives of others, but suicidal George Bailey — with the help of an angel, Clarence — gets to find out how his life changed his hometown of Bedford Falls.

By way of disclaimer, I have to admit that this was never my favorite Christmas movie, and I’m not sure that music improves it, but the Sacramento Theatre Company has a winner in its production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: the Musical,” this year’s holiday offering.

The show — with book and lyrics by Keith Ferguson and music by Bruce Greer — was first performed at the University of Michigan in 1986. Performances followed in Warsaw, Ind., in 1988; Milburn, N.J., in 1990; and Washington, D.C., in 1992. In 2005, a staged reading was held at the Shubert Theater in New York, as a benefit for the Actors’ Fund of America.

The show was the holiday choice for the Majestic Theater in Dallas in 1998 and became its annual holiday production for five consecutive years.

Now “It’s a Wonderful Life: the Musical” is making its Northern California premiere, directed by executive producing director Michael Laun.

The original music for this show is rather odd, reminiscent of “The Music Man,” lots of popular music of the 1940s, and “Les Mis” all rolled into one. The choreography is lively and done well, the voices are for the most part quite good and yet the show drags a bit, which is really due not to the production or the performances, but to the nature of the story, which takes forever to do the set-up to George’s emotional breakdown.

It’s a wonderful cast of 27, some of whom are double-cast and alternate within roles. Jerry Lee is George, who, as a young man, had grand plans to see the world, then go to college and become a famous architect. Instead, being the good son, he gives up his plans in order to save the Bailey Building and Loan Association, following his father’s death.

It is brother Harry (Sean Patrick Nill) who gets to have the opportunities George hoped to have, while George stays in Bedford Falls and marries Mary Hatch (Jackie Vanderbeck), with whom he has four children. Vanderbeck is spectacular, the perfect wife to George, as self-sacrificing as he is, and the actress has a gorgeous voice to boot.
George’s nemesis, Mr. Potter, the richest man in town, is played by Gary Martinez. I have seen Martinez in the role of the angel, Clarence, several times and it’s odd to see him be such a mean old man, but he is perfect in that role.
As for Clarence, the second-class angel hoping to win his wings, Jim Lane is endearing and, though bumbling, eventually finds his footing … and earns his wings.

Michael RJ Campbell plays George’s absent-minded Uncle Billy, distraught at the loss of an $8,000 deposit, which brings the Building and Loan to the brink of ruin. Campbell, frequently seen as the larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present, seems to be a shadow of his former self, though he still gives a larger-than-life performance.
Anthony Dicorti and Jerald Bolden play the town cop and taxi driver and give good performances, but are probably best known because their character names are Ernie and Bert. (Muppet people claim that any connection between these characters and the beloved Muppets is strictly coincidental.)

Laura Woodruff deserves mention, playing Violet Bick, seductively sweet on young George, and later Ruth Bailey, Harry’s wife. She has a classic beauty and shines on stage.

The four Bailey children are each double-cast, but it is the youngest, ZuZu (Emily Trnka, alternating in the role with Noa Solorio), who catches the audience attention as she recites her famous line about every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.

Sacramento Theatre Company has produced several Christmas classics, which are repeated many times over the years, and it is clear there is now a new show that will enter into circulation and be presented many times in years to come.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Not in the Stars

People have been asking me for years why I don’t review shows at the B Street Theater in Sacramento.  I have heard wonderful things about productions there, but when I started working for The Enterprise, it was not on my list of theaters to review.  The criterion was that if there was a Davis person in the show, or in some other way involved with the show, I could review it.  But that was never the case with B Street.

Recently, however, Buck Busfield, the Producing Artistic Director of B Street, realizing how many people in Davis come to his shows, convinced The Enterprise to let me add that theater to the list of places where I go, and so I went off on Sunday to my very first B Street production, “Not in the Stars,” a romantic comedy written and directed by Busfield.  Apparently it is a B Street tradition that Busfield write an original show each year during holiday time.

This show, in fact, was originally a one-act produced in 1994, the cast including Kurt Johnson, also in tonight’s cast.  It was reprised in 1996 when B Street was going through financial difficulties.  The cast then included not only Johnson, but also Elisabeth Nunziato and Dave Pierini, both appearing again in the current production.

Busfield decided to resurrect the show and expand it into a full evening’s entertainment.  It is still a work in progress, he explained to me, saying that they had made major changes before opening night and would probably continue to tweak the show as it continues through January.

The show actually made me kind of angry.  It was so amazingly good, so tightly written and so beautifully acted, that I was upset I had missed years of similar productions.

While this is the annual Christmas show, this is not a play about Christmas.  There is a red couch on stage and a character wears a green coat, but direct reference to any December holiday is nonexistent.

What is existent is a very funny script, with three seasoned actors, each playing 2 characters whose live intersect in two acts.

Act one centers on book editor Yvonne (Nunziato), nervously waiting for a blind date, Clare (Johnson) to arrive.  Yvonne is a bundle of neuroses, having been married to a man who left her for her best friend, and having had her share of bad dating experiences.  So self-protective is she that she rejects Clare on first sight, deciding after one look that they are not destined to be soul mates.

Clare has his own neuroses to deal with.  He’s an actuary whose job it is to calculate risks and he opens a dialog with Yvonne, a dialog that sizzles, as the two dance the dance of two neurotics who are better suited for each other than either is willing to admit.

Pierini plays two roles in the first act, that of Mac, a hapless telephone repair man whom Yvonne mistakenly thinks is Clare, and later a waiter at the restaurant where Clare and Yvonne end up going for dinner.  The dialog between the three at the restaurant progresses like a well oiled machine, displaying how attuned these actors are to each other and how well they work together.

Act two centers on Mac, at home with wife Maria (Nunziato again), complaining about the “nutcase” he visited earlier in the evening, the only real connection between Act 1 and Act 2  Mac is the guy who knows everything and wants to make sure you realize that. We’ve all known them. The person whose only interest in what you are saying is so he can top it or expand it or tell you how you’re wrong. He’s not a bad guy and he obviously worships the ground his wife walks on, but at the same time, he doesn’t listen to a thing she says and hasn’t a clue how dissatisfied she is.

Maria is a mousy woman who only wants a night out by herself to get away from Mac for an hour or so.  Nunziato has changed clothes from the bold take-charge costume of Yvonne into a muted pastel outfit of Maria, whose very clothes show how closed she is. (Costume design is by Paulette Sand-Gilbert.  I also liked the change to a pink lipstick match her other muted colors.)

Maria leaves a bewildered Mac and takes herself to a local hotel bar, where she meets Paul, the bartender, who becomes a good sounding board for her, until Mac, worried that she is out in the world all alone, finds her and interrupts her conversation with Paul.

Back at their home again, Maria’s solution to taking back her life is ingenious and had the audience in stitches.

The show ends with Mac examining his actions and...did he learn anything?  A simple telephone call may change everything.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Christmas Story

It was 30 years ago this year when the now-classic movie, “A Christmas Story” appeared on the screen.  Partly based on Jean Shepherd’s book, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,” the film was released just before Thanksgiving in 1983 and became a surprise hit. By the time Christmas rolled around, the movie had already been pulled from most theaters because it had been "played out". After complaints were lodged at the theater owners and the studio, the film played on select screens until after the first of the year 1984.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of this movie, the Winters Community Theater is repeating the stage version, by Phillip Grecian, first staged by Winters in 2005. This time around it’s Howard Hupe in the director’s chair, assisted by Ellie Yeatman and Jesse Akers.

It’s a big show for Winters, with 15 characters played by 13 actors, most of whom give strong performances.

As Ralph, the grown up “Ralphie,” who narrates the story throughout, Scott Taylor was a perfect choice.  He has a good rapport with the audience, a winning smile, and he makes us all remember our childhood and the adventures we had. In fact, based on the chuckles throughout the play from many men of a “certain age” in the audience, it was easy to see why this hits such a resonant chord..

Sam Peterson is the young Ralphie, his heart set on an official, Red Ryder, Carbine-action, 200-Shot, Range Model, Air Rifle for Christmas, but knows he’s fighting a losing battle because his mother is convinced he’ll put his eye out.  Peterson’s Ralphie is often shy except in the company of his buddies Flick (Ulysses De la Cruz) and Schwartz (Garret Matheson).  Ralphie enacts many fantasies, such as conversations with Red Ryder himself (Greg Lanzaro, who also plays Santa Claus and a Tree Seller)

Trent Beeby reprises his role from the 2005 production as Ralphie’s father, known as “The Old Man.” He’s the perfect sit-com Dad.  Never really utters anything profound, is a bumbling “fixer” of things like the furnace (at which time he excells in unintelligible expletives that shock his family), but is obviously a loving father.

Mother (played by JoAnnMay) is a housewife in the shadow of all those housewives of the 50s.  She’s Beaver’s mother, Jim Anderson’s wife, and Donna Reed all rolled into one.  She runs the house quietly and efficiently, while all the time letting her husband think he’s in charge.  The only battle she doesn’t win is the battle of the famous “leg lamp,” which The Old Man wins using the answers to the questions she gives him.

Jackson Olton is Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother, who has little to say because he spends most of the play wrapped in several layers of warm clothing to protect him from the elements when he goes outside.

Kyle Gardiner is an evil Scut Farkas, the school bully who shows his true nature when Ralphie finally gives him his comeuppance.  He is also Santa’s elf, perhaps the only elf I’ve seen with an evil glint in his eye.  Great facial expressions for Gardiner.

There are a couple of scenes off the stage in a classroom set up on the same level as the audience.  DonaAkers is the teacher, Miss Shields, whom Ralphie hopes to impress with his great writing skills.  Sadly, the scenes are all but unintelligible to the opposite end of the auditorium.  We were aware there was talking going on but other than Miss Shield’s shriek of “you’ll put your eye out,” the rest of the dialog was not able to be heard.

The trio of girls, Sophia Tolley as Esther Jane (who has a crush on Ralphie), Emilla Orosco as Helen, and Paige Davis as Alice were all very cute, especially huddled together giggling, and casting sidelong glances at the boys.

This is a fun family show which should be enjoyed by audience members of all ages.

When we left the theater, I asked my husband if he had ever had a  Red Ryder, Carbine-action, 200-Shot, Range Model, Air Rifle and he said that he wanted one.  He said he never did, because his mother thought he would put his eye out.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spring Awakening

“Spring Awakening,” the Tony Award-winning rock musical directed by Granada-in-Resident Artist Stafford Arima, opened this week in the UC Davis Main Theatre in Wright Hall on campus.

When I saw the Broadway production in Sacramento a few years back, the audience was mostly middle-aged people who were decidedly uncomfortable with the sexuality of Act 1 and who did not return for Act 2.
Needless to say, this is not the situation with the university audience, who may have tittered nervously during the “masturbation song,” but who gave the show a standing ovation opening night. Reports are that the second night was sold out.

“Broadway’s most talked-about musical” — with book and lyrics by Steven Sater (based on the play by Frank Wedekind) and music by Duncan Sheik — won eight Tony Awards (out of 11 nominations) in 2007 and has acquired a cult following.

It is set in the repressive Germany of the 1890s, a Germany where corporal punishment is the answer to every parental or educational problem and “communication” had not been invented yet. Young pubescent Wendla (Lea Michele look-alike Jessica Walsh), for example, asks her mother where babies come from after her sister gives birth. She is yelled at and told that it happens when a man and woman love each other and are married.

As that is the sum total of her sex education, it is not surprising that when she and boyfriend Melchior (Elio Gutierrez) experiment with sex (in an amazingly realistic scene on the floor in the front of the stage), the inevitable happens and Wendla has no idea why she is pregnant.

The Geeky Moritz (Marcos Sastre III) seems to spend a good part of his time on stage, bent over to cover a growing erection. He finally finds relief masturbating behind the closed door of the bathroom, while his father yells at him to come out.

She said, “Give me that hand, please, and the itch you can’t control.
Let me teach you how to handle all the sadness in your soul.
(insert lyrics here better not printed)
She said, “Love may make you blind, kid, but I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Teryn Gray brings the most poignancy to her character Ilsa’s song, “The Dark I Know So Well,” wherein she describes the abuse she is suffering at the hands of her father.

I don’t scream, though I know it’s wrong
I just play along
I lie there and breathe
Lie there and breathe

Along with masturbation, premarital sex and child abuse, “Spring Awakening” also tackles the subjects of sadism and masochism, suicide, homosexuality, incest, partial (or perhaps only questionable) nudity, abortion, reform school and a finale that could have been predicted at the end of Act 1.

It also includes a whole song, complete with appropriate hand gestures, whose title cannot be printed in a family newspaper.

“The Sound of Music” it ain’t!

However, despite the grim nature of the subject matter, the UCD actors give it a professional-quality performance (I actually liked it better than the Broadway production I saw) and should be applauded for their success.
Skylar Collins, Anna Kritikos and Jonathan Conklin deserve kudos for their performances in multiple roles as the token adult female and male characters.

John Iacovellli’s scenic design, of multi-level platforms on massive scaffoldings, added to the cold, impersonal atmosphere of the story, and Michael Palumbo’s lighting design was particularly spectacular, especially the rainbow-colored cloud at the finale.

Music director Erik Daniells led an ensemble of six who performed quite well, though I never did figure out where they hid them during the show.

This production of “Spring Awakening” is a strong show with an important message and it is playing to exactly the right audience.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Crazy Horse and Custer

“Crazy Horse and Custer,” a new play by Jon George, directed by Michael Laun, opened on Saturday at Sacramento Theater Company, to incredible much so, that I am somewhat uneasy writing any review of this show.  I have the feeling that no matter what I say, it is going to offend someone, but I will take a stab at it anyway.

“Speaking not just for the Plains Indians, but for all Native Americans, Crazy Horse tells of what was lost forever for his people when they won at the Little Big Horn. George Armstrong Custer, the “Boy General” of the Civil War, speaks for all  those American qualities he cherished and ultimately died to secure for himself and his country. Crazy Horse and Custer goes beyond the iconic images of these two warriors to explore the men behind the myths and the imperatives in their characters that drove them to a conflict greater than the battle they fought.” So reads the press release from STC.

Controversy over the play arose when Doug Bissonette, a member of the Lakota tribe and representative for the estate of Crazy Horse, claimed that the play misrepresented the warrior.  Though Louis Leonardo, who plays the role in this play, traveled to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and met with the family of Crazy Horse, when the family read the script, they asked that the play not be presented.

Wilmer Mesteth, spiritual leader of the Ogala Lakota, said, “This play is based on fiction and we don’t understand in our culture what they are trying to portray and we feel that it is offensive.”  He also added, “Lakota people respect our leaders, our chiefs, our ancestors. We don’t do such things as this. We are reverent about our leaders, we don’t make jokes about our leaders. The ways people talk about leaders in the press, we don’t do that.”

Articles in “Indian Country” talked of protest and drum circles planned for opening night.  I wasn’t sure what we were going to be walking into.

But, in fact, there were no protests, and two invited members of the Ogala Lakota, guests of Sacramento Theater Company and the playwright, were introduced to the audience before the play began.

As to the portrayal of Crazy Horse, I can only speak as a white woman and what I saw in the incredible performance of Louis Leonardo was a portrait of a noble man, a bit of a loner, who describes his experiences growing up and learning respect for the earth and its creatures, who dispels the myths about the “savage Indians.”  He describes the tradition of warring between tribes (which did not include the sort of slaughter we have seen on movie screens for decades).  He talks of falling in love, and losing that love.  He displays his pride in himself and his ancestors and respect for ancient tradition.

Ultimately he shows how the battle of Little Big Horn set the stage for all that has followed, including moving masses of people to reservations, the loss of land, the slaughter of buffalo and all of the atrocities committed on all tribes of Native Americans, and the manipulation by the American Government.

A quote in the program, from the research unit of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian says, “Jefferson suggested that if the various Indian nations could be encouraged to purchase goods on credit they would likely fall into debt, which they could relieve through the sale of lands to the government.”

In contrast, the equally incredible performance as George Armstrong Custer by Kirk Blackinton reveals a megalomaniac with eyes on the White House, a former wunderkind convinced of his invincibility, and still maintaining, even in death, that the world today would be significantly different if other generals around him had listened to his advice.

The structure of the play gives the first act to a long monologue by Crazy Horse, followed in Act 2 by a shorter monologue by Custer, and closing with a brief dialog between the two former adversaries.

Scenic Designer Renee Degarmo has done the best she could do to create “the great plains” on the tiny Pollock stage (and succeeded surprisingly well), and a great deal of the atmosphere is thanks to the wonderfully subtle lighting design of Ron Madonia.

This is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and now that it’s out there, under Laun’s deft directorial hand and the fine performance of Leonardo, perhaps there will be a change in sentiment about the portrayal of one of the great names in Lakota history.  I feel it is an important play for all of us who learned our history from books and movies, which vastly distorted the reality of the Battle of Big Horn

Monday, November 11, 2013


One thing about the actors of Davis Musical Theatre Company, when they are good, they are very, very good and “Oliver!” — directed and choreographed by Jan Isaacson — is very, very good.

While the sets are more utilitarian than lush, there is nothing merely utilitarian about the performances. Arieh Simon, in the title role, is the perfect Oliver Twist. He’s the right age, his thin frame makes it believable that this is a workhouse kid, and he’s a marvelous actor. He also has the vocal ability to hit the high notes in “Where is Love.” It’s an engaging performance.

Michael Mechanick is Fagin, the charismatic bad Pied Piper with his band of child thieves; he gives a memorable performance as a man who is getting older and wondering what the future holds for him. And for a guy of size, he is wonderfully light on his feet.

(Director Isaacson hits a wrong note, though, with the box — about which Fagin is so secretive and protective — being used as a prop in “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” with all the boys putting jewelry in it, when later Fagin is so worried that Oliver might have actually seen it.)

Jimin Moon is an electrifying Artful Dodger, the well-dressed head of the pickpockets in Fagin’s entourage. He and Oliver have good chemistry and Moon’s performance is unforgettable.

The Beadle, Mr. Bumble (Brian McCann), and the workhouse housemother, the Widow Corney (Dannette Vassar), nearly steal the show. Both actors are at the top of their game in “I Shall Scream,” which had the audience screaming with laughter.

It is not often that much is said about the funeral parlor owners, Mr. Sowerberry (Scott Scholes) and his wife Mrs. Sowerberry (Katherine Coppola), but these two actors are also excellent. Assisting Scholes’ performance is his pasty complexion and serious expression.

Brooke Flores is Charlotte, working for the Sowerberrys, and Shane Osterhoudt is Noah Claypool, her cruel boyfriend who taunts Oliver.

Kellee Thompson is Nancy, the long-suffering chanteuse with a warm heart. She is locked in an abusive relationship from which she cannot escape because she loves the guy and knows that he needs her, yet she sacrifices much to help Oliver. Thompson has a strong set of pipes and belts out each of her solos with gusto.

Nancy’s friend, Bet, was given a robust performance by Erin Piepgrass. Piepgrass is older than traditional Bets, but she is striking on stage and it’s hard to ignore her.

The bad guy in the story is Bill Sikes (written as both Sikes and Sykes in the program … being a person of the “y” persuasion, I naturally prefer the spelling “Sikes.”), played by Gabe Avila in this production. He is dark and brooding and though from his more diminutive frame you wouldn’t think he could be very intimidating, he has a chillingly cold bloodthirstiness about him.

Sikes’ dog, Shadow is played by Avila’s own dog and gives one of the more polished canine performances I have seen from a non-professional dog.

DMTC veteran Michael Manley was a warm and compassionate Mr. Brownlow, the man who rescues Oliver. He’s the guy everybody hopes for as a grandfather.

Dani Barnett has the small role of the flower vendor in the Act 2 opening and it should be noted that she has a beautiful voice. The other vendors — Summer Rejmankova, Jonathan Kalinen, Katherine Coppola and David Ewey — also were quite good.

Isaacson’s choreography was energetic and sometimes a bit over the top but well performed and particularly fun in numbers like “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Oom-Pah-Pah.”

Costume design is by Mary Hickman and all work well, though I did wonder how Oliver managed to find a jacket somewhere between his escape from Sowerberrys' and meeting Dodger.

This is an entirely entertaining and satisfying production. The DMTC family invites you to consider yourself at home, consider yourself part of the family … and have a good time watching them perform.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical

There are more sequins, feathers, glitter, wigs and platform shoes than you can shake a stick at in the touring musical production “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” which opened this week at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. There were dancing paintbrushes, twirling cupcakes, all sorts of flying things, and every animal unique to Australia, from kangaroos to frill-necked lizards, all dancing and singing their way into the audience’s hearts.

“Priscilla” is the musical version of the 1994 movie about three drag queens traveling across Australia’s outback in a big bus on their way to a gig in Alice Springs. The book is by Stephan Elliott (who wrote the original screenplay and directed the film) and Allan Scott, and the music is the most eclectic assortment of covers you can imagine. Everything from Dionne Warwick to Madonna to The Village People to Giacomo Puccini … and John Denver? … among others. There is even a brief salute to ABBA.

The story focuses on Tick/Mitzi (Wade McCollum) and his desire to travel across the outback to meet his 8-year-old son Benji (Shane Davis), whom he has never seen. He brings along two friends, the flamboyant Adam/Felicia (Bryan West) and former drag queen, now transsexual Bernadette (Scott Willis). The three will get an act together to perform in Alice Springs, at a club owned by Tick’s estranged wife Marion (Christy Faber).
The three travel in a bus they name Priscilla, which is so much a part of the story that it’s surprising it didn’t get its own curtain call. It is a bus of many colors, conceived and designed by Brian Thomson, with an interior decorated like a tacky desert motel. The electrified bus moves, rotates and becomes a video screen for some amazing light shows.

This high-energy show is one sizzling production number after another, each bringing thunderous applause from the audience, but while the plot follows that of the movie, the intensity of the glitz robs the story of the poignancy that made the movie special. There are moments of introspection and of tenderness, a sweet love story developing between Bernadette and Bob (Joe Hart), the mechanic who repairs Priscilla and then comes along for the ride, and the emotional meeting of Tick and Benji, but it felt as if the soul of the piece was missing.

However, nobody in the audience was missing anything, as everyone thoroughly enjoyed the 500 or so costumes, 60 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes (nobody can wear a pair of impossibly high heels like a drag queen!) and more than 200 hats and headdresses — there are 65 wig changes, the fastest one taking about 15 seconds.

And there’s a flying Greek chorus, too. The “Divas” (Emily Afton, Bre Jackson and Brit West) who pop in or are lowered down from the flies in a rotating collection of amazing costumes to accompany the stars in such numbers as “It’s Raining Men,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “MacArthur Park.” It’s “flying by Foy,” the most prolific theatrical flying service in the world, the company that elevated stage flying to a modern art form.

The three hero(ine)s of this production face homophobes and bullies and their own fears and insecurities, but as their bond of friendship deepens, they maintain their dignity throughout and triumph in the end … looking simply fabulous, of course.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Miser

The Woodland Opera House’s Rodger McDonald has directed a production of Moliere’s farce, “The Miser,” and wisely cast himself in the title role. This is the kind of role that McDonald does so well, and once again shines in this production.

Harpagon is a penny-pinching irascible old skinflint fixated on his fortune and may well have been the inspiration for such characters as Scrooge McDuck, Oliver Twist’s Fagin, and Jack Benny. He has money hidden all over his house and has buried some of it in the garden and spends all of his time skulking around, afraid that someone will discover his hiding places.  He insists that banks are not to be trusted (hmmm...)

Supporting McDonald is a uniformly talented cast including Matt Wieringa as Cleante, Harpagon’s style-conscious son, in love with the neighbor Marianne (Jen Smuda-Cotter), whose only fault is that she comes from a poor family and has a sick mother, and thus is no fitting bride for his son, according to Harpagon, though he fancies the comely maid himself.

In the meantime, Cleante’s sister Elise (the captivating Sara Matsui-Colby) is in love with Valere (Matt Taloff in an outstanding performance), who has taken a job as stewart to Harpagon in order to be near Elise. But Harpagon has plans to marry his daughter off to a wealthy man of his own choosing, Seigneur Anselm (Steve Mackay).

The action picks up when Harpagon announces he plans to marry Marianne immediately, but assistance comes in the person of the match-maker Frosine (Analise Langford) whose quick thinking helps to smooth things over.  Langford has some of the funniest lines in the play (“What’s the point in marrying an old man if widowhood was not in the marriage contract?”)

Through it all, Harpagon is focused on keeping track of his money and when some of it disappears, he demands that everyone be arrested, those in the house, in the town, in the suburbs, and even in the audience, as he breaks the fourth wall to accuse members of the audience of being in on the plot to rob him.

It’s a fast-moving, convoluted plot that is only resolved by discovery of heretofore hidden blood lines linking some of the members of the cast.

Even before the story begins, the audience is in for treats by the “zanies,” masked figures who act as clowns (and later become characters within the play, and then back into their zanies attire again).  Director McDonald explains that these are “the spirits of drama originating from Commedia which comment and interact with the story, along with moving the furniture.”  They have evolved into our modern day circus clowns.

Set design for this production is by John Bowles, who has created a utilitarian set with Harpagon’s ingenious chair at the center.

Denise Miles’ costumes are beautiful, except for Harpagon, whose tattered bedclothes and threadbare head covering reflect the miserliness of his soul.

“The Miser” is not necessarily a non-stop laugh-out loud play, but for an evening of fun and diversion, it definitely fits the bill.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Double, double, toil and trouble…

Something wicked this way comes.

Just in time for the season, Capital Stage has opened a powerful new production of Shakespeare’s classic Halloween special, “Macbeth,” with original adapted script by Capital Stage. (Of course, I don’t think Shakespeare intended it to be a Halloween special, but with witches and all that blood, what could possibly be better for the season?)

This study of a descent into madness — brought on by greed and ambition and fueled by a few murders and lots of blood dripping onto the stage — is directed by Stephanie Gularte.

The setting for this show is described a “a homeland, 13 years after a devastating global war,” so guessing the approximate year is useless, but the costumes (by Rachel Malin) probably could be found at some survivalist store today (though apparently in this global war, all weapons of mass destruction have disappeared, since all weapons in this production are swords and daggers).

Gularte has a superb cast headed by the Bryan Cranston look-alike Scott Coopwood, as the title character. It took a bit mental adjustment not to see Coopwood as the “Breaking Bad” anti-hero, Walter White, playing the role.

Coopwood’s performance was extremely powerful throughout which, in spots, may have worked against him, as some nuance seemed to be lost in the performance. His angst over the prospect of killing of the affable King Duncan (Harry Harris) was less understandable in such a powerful, ambitious character, though his later descent into madness as his power-hungry killing spree begins to weigh heavily on his soul was decidedly believable.

Janis Stevens gives it her all as Lady Macbeth. She can be as heartlessly cruel toward her enemies as she can be lustily passionate with her husband. It was a shame that her soliloquy is truncated in this production. (I missed all the perfumes of Arabia.) This Lady Macbeth is more violent than we have come to expect, as it is she who joins with other assassins to kill Macduff’s (Shaun Carroll) pregnant wife (Jessica Chisum) and it is that death about which Lady Macbeth soliloquizes, not the death of the King. (“Who would have thought the woman to have had so much blood in her.”)

A bit of miscasting was Chisum’s second gender-bending role, that of Macbeth’s general, Banquo. While Chisum gave a good performance as the scrappy young woman, fighting at Macbeth’s side, it stretched credibility to think that this young woman’s children would be a threat to Macbeth, as prophesied by the three witches (called “dark figures” in this production).

She would first have to hang up her sword, start dating, find a nice young chap, settle down to domestic bliss and start popping out babies. The threat from Banquo would have been more believable had she been a man, possibly with a family at home.

The three dark figures were a major mistake. They were distorted, amorphous figures whose voices were so digitized that it was almost impossible to understand them and, in the final scenes, they lost the digitization so that their voices were so muffled by their head gear that it was even more difficult to understand them.

Their dialog was also truncated so that the story they tell, which dictates the direction of the play, was difficult to follow. I also missed the recipe for the witches’ brew (eye of newt and all that), surely a grisly desired inclusion in a Halloween show!

Dan Fagan, as King Duncan’s son Malcolm, wore the mantle of “king” well, following the death of Macbeth (an act so shocking it should satisfy the most blood-thirsty audience member, and did cause a few audience gasps when it occurred).

Jonathan Williams is credited for fight choreography, and has created very convincing battles. That they could be so convincing in such a small area, so close to the audience, speaks volumes about Williams’ credentials.

Malin’s costumes were appropriate to the post-apocalyptic period, but there were a couple of standouts, particularly a beautifully draped jacket for Lady Macbeth.

If you’re looking for blood and gore this Halloween, this is definitely the shop for it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Prelude to a Kiss

Common House Productions has just opened the 1988 play, "Prelude to a Kiss," by Craig Lucas at the Wyatt Pavilion in the UCD Arboretum. The show will run weekends until October 27.

Director Robert Williamson admits the play "was not what I expected. It has romance, but it’s not romantic. It has mystery, but it’s not mysterious. There is magic without being magical, and on my first read-through I didn’t like it." On subsequent reads, he realized he was wrong. "There was humor I hadn’t seen, and it was mysterious and romantic and magical, not in a grand adventurous way, but in the way that occurs in everyday life."

This is an old fashioned fantasy, where we discover that people are not really who they seem to be. On the wedding day of Peter (Connor Dick) and Rita (Wendy Wyatt), a strange old man (Joachim Schnier) gives the bride a kiss and, with the flickering of lights, the two exchange bodies, the new bride now in the body of the old man, and the old man delighted with his new young body.

Inexplicably, the old man leaves the wedding without an attempt to question the new situation. Peter and his "bride" set off on their honeymoon to Jamaica, and Peter must decide what the true nature of love is.

With an actor as totally likeable as Connor Dick, the show can only be enjoyable. His comments to the audience draw us in and make us hope for him to figure out what has happened to the woman he loves.

Slowly, Peter comes to realize that there is something wrong with his new bride and decides that it happened at the time of the kiss. He sets out to search for his lost love, which he finally finds in the body of the old man.

Wendy Wyatt creates a very likeable, if complex, person in Rita. The whirlwind passion-filled courtship makes us smile as it progresses to that awkward, impulsive proposal. Wyatt does well at keeping her testosterone under control in the female body she now inhabits, but letting just enough of it out to remind the audience that there’s really a guy living in there.

Schnier is less successful in being a young woman trapped in a dying old man’s body and his scenes with Peter, which should have been poignant, after Peter realizes what has happened, seem to fall somewhat flat.

Sarah Cohen is Mrs. Boyle, Rita’s emotional mother, who ultimately helps in the culmination of this story. Cohen always delivers a convincing performance, and this one does not disappoint.

Matthew Mueller gives an uneven performance as Rita’s dentist father, who sometimes feels awkward in his portrayal, but is fierce in his dedication to his daughter. The script fails Mr. Boyle in giving him unbelievable lines following the break-up of the newlyweds.

John Malin gives an energetic performance as Peter’s friend, Taylor, instrumental in the meeting of Peter and Rita. Taylor is the friend we would all like to have in our corner.

At its core, this play is about mortality, and aging, and the nature of romantic love. Why do we love a certain person? Is it because of how that person looks, or is it because of that person’s beliefs and personality. Can you separate one from the other?

Kevin Admanski is the artistic director for this play and, given the shortcomings of the Wyatt Deck, manages to create a number of different scenes merely by the movement of two tables and a few chairs which are moved about by the cast while a scene is going on at the front of the stage, all well choreographed.

This is a short show, about 2 hours, which includes a 10 minute intermission. No refreshments are sold and the evening may get a bit cold, so jackets or blankets are recommended. Bug spray is also recommended for those mosquitos visiting from Putah Creek. A pillow for padding on the hard folding chairs may also make the time more pleasant.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pride and Prejudice

Published in 1813, Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” remains one of the most popular novels in English literature and usually can be found in the top 10 lists of “most beloved books.”

What better way for Sacramento Theater Company to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Austen’s novel than to mount an adaptation of the story by Joseph Hanreddy and J.R. Sullivan, directed by Michael Stevenson. It is currently on the main stage, the first in STC’s “Season of Adventure, Rhythm and Romance.”

The new production sparkles with the excitement of the five adolescent daughters of Mr. Bennet (Matt K. Miller) and Mrs. Bennet (Jamie Jones), each looking for the perfect mate. (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”) They are all positively giddy at the notion of handsome young Mr. Bingley (Matt Surges) moving in next door (“next door” being a relative term, since it is a 3-mile walk).

Jones dominates as the social-climbing matron, determined that her daughters should marry well and keep her from the poor house in the event of her husband’s untimely demise. She gives a very funny performance and ricochets easily from overbearing wanna-be mother-in-law to attacks of the nerves when things aren’t going quite the way she expects them to.

As Mr. Bennet, Miller is sardonically patient with his emotionally flighty wife, obviously head over heels in love with his daughters, and a doting if teasing father who is the solid center of the family.

Brittni Barger is 20-year-old Elizabeth, the second-oldest daughter, around whom the plot revolves. She is intelligent, attractive and honorable, but quick to judge people at first appearance. Barger delivers a delightful performance, though her high-pitched, rapid-fire British accent is sometimes difficult to understand (a condition that afflicted most of the women in the cast, with the exception of Tara Henry, as Elizabeth’s cousin Charlotte Lucas).

Ryan Snyder is Mr. Darcy, one of the most appealing, unapproachable heroes of classic British literature. He is aloof, withdrawn, arrogant and unwilling to mingle with those he believes are his inferiors (“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me …”). Snyder is such a perfect Darcy that his ultimate admission of his feelings for Elizabeth in the end bring relief to nearly every woman in the audience.

Elizabeth’s older sister, Jane, is played by Rebecca Scott. Jane is the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood, though not as saucy as her younger sister, and was once described by journalist/author Anna Quindlen as “sugar to Elizabeth’s lemonade.” She has an off-again, on-again relationship with the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Matt Surges), mostly because of the discrepancy in their ranks. In the end, of course, love conquers all.

Brent Bianchini is Mr. Wickham, a longtime friend of Mr. Darcy, who appears charming and desirable, though his duplicitous nature is eventually uncovered.

John Lamb gives an outstanding performance as Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s clergyman cousin and heir to his estate. He is “not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society.” A self-absorbed man, he is deliciously slimy and Mr. Bennet’s relief at Elizabeth’s rejection of Collins’ proposal is understandable. Collins ultimately marries Charlotte, who does not love him, but marries him for financial security.
The younger Bennet girls are double-cast and were played on opening night by Lily Rushing (alternating with Julia Fisk) as Kitty, Tori Johnson (alternating with Bella Coppola) as Lydia and Ally Boulas (alternating with Arcadia German) as Mary.

Kristine David is Mr. Bingley’s snobbish sister Caroline, herself attracted to Mr. Darcy, and trying to thwart any affections he may harbor for Elizabeth.

Costume designer Jessica Minnihan has created a beautiful collection of sherbet-colored gowns that complement each other beautifully and make a lovely visual.

Hanreddy and Sullivan have succeeded in the difficult task of moving a popular classic novel to the stage, keeping most of the characters intact and remaining faithful to the tone the author intended. Fans of this story will not be disappointed and will, in fact, be enchanted with the Sacramento Theatre Company’s vision.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


There is a whole lot of silliness going on at Davis Musical Theatre Company … and the audience is loving it.

With book and lyrics by Eric Idle and music by Idle and John DuPrez, “Spamalot” is a musical comedy lovingly ripped off from the 1975 film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” While it is very, very loosely based on the story of King Arthur and his court, factual information probably stops with the entrance of King Arthur himself.

I wondered if someone who was not brought up on the comedy of the zany British group Monty Python would get most of the humor. I need not have worried. I’m sure there were “in” jokes that the Python devotees got that I didn’t, but the humor flies at you so fast and so furious that you don’t really miss anything.

Before seeing the show, I read a synopsis and found that useless. The sense of it — if there is any — rests in the twisted mind of Idle, the Monty Python members who wrote the original film, and the “12-year-old Jew” (his description) who directed it, Steve Isaacson.

Where to begin? Well, the show starts with a very proper Historian (John Haine, also hilarious as “Not Dead Fred”) setting the stage for the action, with map pointer like a proper weatherman. (“In Guinard, Palace and Difford, plague. In the kingdoms of Wessex, Sussex, Essex and Kent, plague. In Mercia, and the two Anglias, plague, with a 50 percent chance of pestilence and famine coming out of the northeast at 12 miles per hour.”)

Following his announcement that this is “England,” the stage is filled with brightly costumed dancers singing about Finland and hitting each other with fish in the delightful “Finland/Fisch Schlapping Dance,” until the historian reminds them that it is England, whereupon they leave the stage, disappointed and the scene becomes a dark, solemn church-like setting, with monks in robes and hoods chanting.

This pretty much sets up the series of vaguely related vignettes — based on Python sketches — that are to follow.
The story itself begins with the arrival of King Arthur (Scott Minor), trotting in on an invisible horse, whose hoofbeat sounds are made by coconuts worn by his trusty servant and constant companion, Patsy (Joshua Smith), which he beats on his chest. Arthur is the one character who attempts to remain serious about this silly story and Minor plays him beautifully, never noticing the total chaos around him and insisting that his only desire is to find knights for his round table to assist him in finding Christ’s cup from the Last Supper (the Holy Grail). Piece o’cake.

The knights — Sir Robin (Tony Ruiz), Sir Lancelot (Scott Daugherty), Sir Galahad (Andy Hyun) and Sir Bedevere (Steven Ross) — each play an assortment of roles. Ruiz gets to perform the delightful salute to Broadway, about the importance of Jews to Broadway musicals.

Daugherty is the “knight who really likes his night life” and is hiding a not-too-subtle secret.

Ross makes an impressive Mrs. Galahad.

Hyun goes through a “Project Runway”-like hair makeover, taming his electric tresses, and sings a salute to Andrew Lloyd Webber (“A Song that Goes Like This”) with the Lady of the Lake (Eimi Taormina).

Taormina gets to wear a succession of beautiful costumes, designed by Jean Henderson, ending with an ingenious wedding dress (by Valtyna Ribka) that must be seen to be believed. (She also has a spectacular decolletage.)
Michael Paskowitz is a towering Leader of the Ni Knights, but it is Dannette Vassar as Mini Ni, who makes the biggest impression.

Mark Deamer is Tim the Enchanter, who warns Arthur of the dangers of an evil rabbit (wrangled by Julia Thompson), prompting the use of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

And so it goes, a host of wacky characters including Eric Idle himself as the Voice of God (who else?).
Choreography by Cyndi Krivicich is outstanding and the DMTC orchestra, under the direction of Jonathan Rothman, was never better.

When asked in a 2008 interview for his opinion about “Spamalot,” John Cleese said, ” I think ‘Spamalot’ turned out splendidly. It’s had a tremendous run. I defy anyone to go and not have a really fun evening. It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever seen and I think Eric did a great job.”

DMTC does a great job, too, and if you’re in the mood for silly, this is the shop for it!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Les Miserables

When “Les Misérables” closed on Broadway in 2003, after 6,680 performances, it was the second longest-running Broadway musical after “Cats.” It was surpassed in 2006 by “Phantom of the Opera.”

This is a big musical that tells a big story and it is beloved by millions.
The Woodland Opera House, with its current production under the direction of Amy Shuman with musical direction by James C. Glica-Hernandez, proves that with competent attention, it can be as effective and as moving on a smaller stage. The production gets a well-deserved standing ovation.

One of the first striking things about this production is that while it is generally difficult to get enough men with strong voices to fill out a chorus in community theater, this production has a dozen or more men and each one has a principal-quality voice. It makes a huge difference in the final product.

Tevye Ditter, whose progress I have been pleased to watch over the years, is a powerful Jean Valjean, the man arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew and served 19 years at hard labor. He is big and strong and has a potential for violence, yet he is tender in his relationships with the women in his life, from the prostitute Fantine (Danielle DeBow) to her young daughter Cosette (Makenna Harding-Davis as the child, Alyssa Ray as the young woman). His “Bring Him Home,” praying for the safety of his daughter’s love, Marius, was achingly poignant.

J. Sing is Javert, the police officer obsessed with returning Valjean to prison. I’ve never understood Javert’s obsession, but it makes for good theater. Sing is every bit the match for Ditter and his solos, especially the soul-searching soliloquy, were captivating.

DeBow’s Fantine, a small but memorable role, was touching, as she gives up everything for her young daughter. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is always a highlight of this musical, and DeBow was equal to the task.
Six-year-old Harding-Davis was a charming young Cosette, certain to win everyone’s heart with her “Castle on a Cloud.”

Her older counterpart, Ray, was lovely and touching in her love for Marius Pontmercy (Dalton McNeely). McNeely, last seen as Charlie Brown in the summer production, was appropriately awkward in his first love, ardent in both his love for Cosette and dedication to the student revolt.

Innkeepers Thenardier (Dan Sattel) and Madame Thenardier (Christine Deamer), the sadistic foster parents of young Cosette, offered the lighter moments with their funny “Master of the House,” always an audience favorite.
Hilary Wells was Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, whose love for Marius is unrequited, yet she is willing to give her life for him. Her “On My Own” was beautifully performed.

Rodger McDonald plays the small role of the bishop who, by his generosity and guidance, changes Valjean’s life.

Fourth-grader Maxwell Freedman was outstanding as Gavroche, the young boy who hangs around the students as they plan their revolt. Freedman’s pugnacious body language and the determined scowl on his face never wavered and without doing anything specific, he was a scene stealer just by his presence on stage.

There are 12 musicians in the Opera House orchestra for this production, under the baton of Glica-Hernandez, and they gave the musical the full sound that it needs.

Sadly, costumer Denise Miles was left out of the program, but there is no denying that the costumes on stage were beautiful, from the tattered outfits of the prostitutes to the finery of the guests for the wedding of Cosette and Marius. However, I question the appropriateness of some of the clothes, such as the white vestments for the Bishop (white is reserved for the pope), and the perfectly tailored clothing for the students, who looked more like businessmen on a tea break than poor students hoping to send a message to the government about the dire plight of the poor of Paris. I also wonder whether Javert would wear a top hat while on duty.

This production is a real gem and, based on the nearly full house when I caught it the second weekend, word of mouth is already spreading. Don’t miss it!

Friday, August 23, 2013


There’s lots of razzlin’ and dazzlin’ going on in Sacramento, as Music Circus closes out its 2013 season with its first-ever production of the Kander & Ebb & Fosse salute to vaudeville, “Chicago.”

The story is based on a 1926 play called “Chicago” by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a journalist who covered the real-life sensational murder trials of the era. Watkins’ story described two women accused of murder, whose defense was that they had been the victim of unscrupulous men.  It’s the sort of thing that Chicago tabloid journal readers ate up. Bob Fosse took the theme and ran with it.

From the moment muscle-bound announcer Aaron Felske sashays onto the stage to so many cat calls and whoops from some of the females in the audience, and the company starts the familiar “All that Jazz,” the sizzle never stops.

Structured like a vaudeville show, acts such as one would see in a real vaudeville show (the ventriloquist, a clown, and some others I’ll save for the surprise), the show hangs on the story of young Roxie Hart (Lindsay Roginski), who murders her lover, manages to get acquitted at her trial, thanks to the help of attorney Billy Flynn (Tom Hewett) and then capitalizes on her 15 minutes of news media fame to build a career for herself on the stage with chanteuse and former prison mate, Velma Kelly (Brenda Braxton). 

Roginski is a luminous Roxie.  Her facial expressions, her beautiful body lines in freezes make it impossible to take your eyes off of her.  You somehow forget that she is a heartless woman who cares only for herself and doesn’t care whom she hurts in her attempt to get to the top.

Hurt most of all is husband Amos (Rick Stoneback), hopelessly in love, willing to believe anything, to forgive anything and yet hurt by Roxie over and over again.  Amos’ song “Cellophane” is always a highlight of this show and was again in this production, though I found it lacked the depth that I have seen in other productions.

Hewett’s Flynn is slippery, sleazy and not very likeable, though he certainly knows how to “Razzle Dazzle” everyone to get the desired outcome for his clients.

Another high point of this show is the ventriloquist sequence, with Flynn the ventriloquist and Roxie the dummy, done well in this production, though not quite as tight and memorable as other productions I have seen recently.

Braxton is a sultry songstress who knows how to belt a tune and is delightful in the “Cell Block Tango,” where each of the “merry murderers of the Cook County Jail” describe how they came to realize that their victims had to die.  “He had it coming / He had it coming / He only had himself to blame / If you'd have been there / If you'd have seen it / You would have done the same.”

Roz Ryan is outstanding as Matron “Mama” Morton, who runs the prison with an iron fist, but treats her favorites with loving attention (“When You’re Good to Mama”)

Choreography for this show is by Randy Slovacek, who gives us credible Fosse-esque dancing without resorting to mimicry.  This is a large show and Music Circus has a small stage, yet somehow you still get the oomph of this Fosse-like choreography.

“Chicago” has an extended run, to August 29, but it was a near sell-out on opening night and one assumes that word of mouth might make tickets more difficult to find. 

This was a perfect show to close out a stellar season.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elly Award Nominations, 2013

More than 450 Elly nominees for the 2012-13 season were announced at an informal nomination reception on Sunday, Aug. 11. Actors, directors, technicians and producers were on hand to listen excitedly for their names to be called.

This past season, 272 shows were submitted by 82 theaters (up from last year’s  244 shows by 78 theaters). Fifty-eight theaters and 123 productions received nominations, with the Woodland Opera House garnering the second largest number of awards (29) and the Davis Musical Theatre Company receiving a very respectable 14.
Woodland Opera House’s John Bowles received four nominations — three for set design (“Peter Pan,” “Stuart Little” and “Goodnight Moon”) and one for lighting design for “Goodnight Moon.” Elisha Machado was nominated for Supporting Actor, Adult for “Goodnight Moon,” and Eric Alley received a nomination in the same category for “Pinkalicious.” Nancy Agee picked up a nomination as Supporting Actress, Adult for “Pinkalicious.”

But the bulk of Woodland’s nominations went to “Peter Pan” (10, including one for Overall Production) and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (nine).

James Glica-Hernandez, nominated for his musical direction for “Peter Pan” was delighted.

“You don’t expect to have that response,” he said, admitting he was still dazed by it all. “I’m so proud of ‘Peter Pan.’ We had a great team and a great cast.”

He was particularly happy to see Emily Jo Seminoff, nominated for her role as Peter Pan (and also as Supporting Actress in “Hairspray” with DMTC). “She takes her participation so seriously and works so hard. She is very professional and she has such joy in it. I love that.”

Rodger McDonald, nominated for his dual roles as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in “Peter Pan,” was happy to work with Seminoff, who also just won Woodland’s annual Chesley Award for “Peter Pan.”

“Emily Jo is very good and worked hard at it,” McDonald said, and then commented on his own nomination. “That role is such a juicy role. You have to be half an imbecile not to get laughs. I really enjoyed doing it.”

Emily O’Flaherty picked up a nomination in the Best Actress, Child for her role as Wendy Darling in “Peter Pan,” a nomination that particularly pleased Glica-Hernandez.

“Emily started with me as a private vocal student about three years ago,” he said. “She was a timid little girl, and now here she is with an Elly nomination. Unreal. I’m the old proud grandpa.”

Others nominated for “Peter Pan” include Jeff Nauer (Supporting Actor, Adult), Betsy Taloff (Supporting Actress, Adult) and Bailey Robinson (Supporting Actor, Child).

Angela Baltezore also received dual nominations for that show, for both set design and lighting design. The latter nomination tickled Jeff Kean, the general manager and frequent set and lighting designer of the Woodland Opera House.

“Angela had never done lighting in her life before. I don’t think she had ever been on a ladder in her life. It’s all part of my evil plan,” he said with a laugh.

Bobby Grainger picked up a nomination as director for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” one of nine nods for that show.
“We had really great cast,” he said “It’s just a fun show to do. The whole team is really excited.”

Grainger, who had appeared in the show last year with a theater company that is no longer in existence, was tapped by Kean to direct Woodland’s production and brought several of that cast across the causeway with him.
“Some people have this crazy notion the causeway is 75 miles long. It’s really only a 35-minute drive. We arranged car pools,” he said.

“I go for best talent and best chemistry. My goal is to put on the best show that will sell the most tickets. I want the audience to have a good time and to smile. I’m very much sophomoric, and I love slapstick. I have a good time.”

The goal must have worked because by the end of its run, “The Drowsy Chaperone” — which also won a nomination for Overall Production — was playing to sold-out houses.

Colby Salmon and Stuart Eldridge received nominations in the leading actor category. Eldridge played “Man in the Chair,” the only character in the show without a name.

“Stuart is a tremendously talented man,” Grainger said. “He and I had lengthy conversations about why he said his lines, who he was, and why he was sitting in the chair. I wanted to give him a name and an identity.”

Others nominated from “Drowsy Chaperone” include Ryan Adame (supporting actor), Gino Platina (choreography), Denise Miles (costume design) and Bradley Moates (musical direction).

Jason Hammond received three nominations for DMTC’s sparkling production of the Elly-nominated “Hairspray” (direction, choreography and sound design), though he says “I really had my hand in almost every cookie jar at that time,” including set design and design of the 35 wigs used in the show.

“I loved it so much. We had that kind of positive energy where you get creative and have synergy with other people.”

Hammond, too, was pleased with Seminoff’s nomination in the supporting actress category as the “bad girl” in “Hairspray.”

“I’ve worked with her a couple of times and to see her growth, especially in the past couple of years, has been wonderful,” he said. “She’s doing incredible work, and is a great lady, too.”

“Hairspray” also received other nominations for Denise Miles (costume design), Steve Isaacson (lighting design), Christine Deamer (set design), Andy Hyun (supporting actor) and Danielle Hansen-Penny (supporting actress).
Tevye Ditter, nominated as leading actor in “Urinetown,” says it is one of his favorite shows. He played the role in 2012 for Runaway Stage and was pleased to have another opportunity for DMTC.

“It has a lot of very smart comedy in it, and paid homage to a lot of other shows and genres,” Ditter said. “It makes fun of itself and is very self-aware.”

DMTC also picked up nominations for Laura Woodruff (leading actress in “Oklahoma!”), Jenny Plasse (supporting actress in “Cats”) and Jan Isaacson for choreography for “Wizard of Oz.”

Named for the late Eleanor McClatchy, a devoted patron of the arts and former publisher of the Sacramento Bee, the Elly Awards celebrate excellence and the outstanding achievements of community theaters and artists in the greater Sacramento area. Created 31 years ago by local community actors, the Elly Awards have grown from a Sacramento tradition to now include theaters within a 70-miles radius.

In celebration of the 31st annual Elly Awards, SARTA will host two ceremonies this September. The Youth Elly Award ceremony will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Roseville Theatre Arts Academy. The Adult Elly Award ceremony will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Red Lion Inn, Woodlake.

Tickets are available now at For more information,  visit

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The King and I

There is a sumptuous feast for all the senses currently gracing the Music Circus stage.

One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most treasured musicals, “The King and I” filled the Wells Fargo Pavilion on opening night and each familiar tune was greeted with thunderous applause. This is the 13th production of this show, which California Musical Theatre reports is one of the all-time favorite musicals of Music Circus patrons.

What’s not to like in this stage classic, which won five Tony Awards in its first season, 1951, and went on to be a staple for Yul Brynner, who played the king for most of the rest of his life?

The story is based on the 1944 book, “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, which was based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Mongkut hoped that hiring a British governess would help modernize his kingdom.

As the king, Paul Nakauchi is no stranger to this show, having made his professional debut in the ensemble of a production starring Brynner. He went on to play the king opposite Elaine Paige in London’s West End, understudied and went on for Lou Diamond Phillips in the 1996 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival and played the role on the 2010 Broadway Asia tour.

Nakauchi’s king straddles the line between hard-fisted ruler and confused intellect who realizes that things in his country have to change, but isn’t sure exactly how. His anguish becomes clear in “Is a Puzzlement” as he tries to decide which way is the best way for Siam.

Christiane Noll’s Anna is a more feisty Anna than I have seen before, standing her ground with glaring ferocity, determined to get all that she was promised. While sparks fly between the two protagonists, there are moments of tenderness, when we see the growing respect and friendship between the them. Her “Hello Young Lovers” was wistfully tender, as she seemed to be in a far-away time when all was well with her husband, Tom.

In previous productions there seems to be a potential of romantic interest between the two, but in this production they are worthy adversaries and off-and-on good friends, without the complication of romantic entanglements. That said, however, “Shall We Dance” (the high point of the show for the audience) was electric, when each let his or her guard down, just a bit.

A marvelous addition to the cast was Diane Phelan as Tuptim, the gift to the King by the King of Burma. Her “My Lord and Master,” her first song, was dazzling. Her duet with lover Lun Tha (Telly Leung) was poignant and moving.

The King’s No. 1 wife, Lady Thiang, is played by Tami Swartz. As with this production’s Anna, this Lady Thiang is more feisty than others I have seen in this role. She loves her husband, and understands that she cannot help him solve his problems. But there is a sharp side to her as well, especially as concerns Tuptim and Lun Tha.

The king’s children are too numerous to mention, but all are adorable and perform well in their scenes, particularly the perennial favorite, “Getting to Know You.”

However, one must mention Carter Thomas as Anna’s son Louis, and Andrew Apy as Prince Chulalongkorn, who will inherit his father’s throne soon. Apy did well expressing both the bravado of a teenage boy and the fear of having the responsibilities of being king when he does not feel ready.

Thomas is a perfect little British lad and his friendship with Chulalongkorn was fun to watch (especially when both do the reprise of “A Puzzlement.”) However, he had some odd dialog coaching, as I have never heard an accent quite like his. It was jarring whenever he pronounced a word with an “E” sound at the end of it.

Always a high point in this show is Tuptim’s “Small House of Uncle Thomas” and this one was outstanding. It may be the first time I was struck by the quality of the voices of the Royal Singers (Louise Marie Cornillez and Linda Igarashi). Excellent job, ladies.

Marie Froelich’s costumes for the royal dancers (Alysia Chang, Bety Le, Garrick Macatangay, Freddy Ramirez and Jessica Wu) were top-notch.

This outstanding production continues to delight Music Circus audiences, for good reason.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Romeo and Juliet

Those talented actors at Acme Theatre Company are tackling a Herculean task — they are putting on not one, but two simultaneous productions of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

One version has the regular mixed-gender cast, the other is an all-female version. As if that weren’t daunting enough, of the 43 actors, 20 are new to Acme, an always interesting situation, as the newcomers haven’t learned all the ropes yet.

I asked director Emily Henderson why she decided on such an ambitious project. She explained that the seeds were planted when she played Juliet in an all-female production at Wellesley College. Reading about UC Davis’ all-female/all-male/randomly mixed production when she was in high school was also part of the decision.

When auditions were held, she still hadn’t decided what kind of production it was to be. And given the number of strong actors, the decision to do two productions was made.

The productions are set in some dystopian time period where the House of Escalus rules with an iron fist, determined to bring peace to Verona and keep the warring houses of Capulet and Montague from disturbing that peace. The doors to the Brunelle Performance Hall are guarded by armed soldiers, who place a band around the wrist of each member of the audience. We are warned that the band must be worn at all times.

We are then directed to the stage of the theater, where chairs have been set up. The 500-seat Brunelle theater is so large it was felt that the intimacy of the play would be lost and so the audience becomes spectators on the streets of Verona.

I saw the all-female cast on Friday and the “regular” (for lack of a better word) cast on Saturday, and was glad that I had “committed myself to four hours of Shakespearean tragedy,” as Henderson put it. The feel of each production was unique and quite different from the other one.

As with all Acme shows for 30 years, the entire production suffers from actors who have not yet learned to project, and so while the actors who were good — were very, very good — there were also parts of each show that were impossible to hear.

The prologue, for example, in the all-female cast was so muddled that I couldn’t understand a word and so had little idea what was going on with the cast members on stage. Surely it would be better with the next cast, but no. I still have no idea what was said or what was going on, though it was a dramatic moment for the director and lighting designer Arina Ushakova, it was mostly lost on at least myself and my husband.

Callie Miller and Margaret Starbuck play the star-crossed lovers in the female production and one could not ask for better. Miller was lovely and innocent, falling in love for the first time. Starbuck as the young man who falls in love at first sight was a delight to watch as he experienced the feelings that come with that love. The balcony scene was a real high point and made one realize how very special it is when age-appropriate actors play these roles.

Miki Benson was an endearing Mercutio, Julia Smart Truco was outstanding as Benvolio, as was Eliza Buchanan as Juliet’s cousin Tybalt. Special kudos to Kashmir Kravitz as Friar Lawrence, whose dedication to the role was so great she even got a man’s haircut. Meili Monk gave a solid performance as Juliet’s nurse. Deanna Gee, in the small role of the servant Sampson, was very funny.

The alternate cast production was much more testosterone-driven. While Henderson approached the two casts with identical stage directions, she was surprised to discover that the cast dynamic resulted in quite different shows.

“With two casts, I built in entirely different directions,” she said. “The creativity that I thought has been coming from my head is truly coming from the energetic relationship between me and the actor.”

Eden Tomich and Antonio De Loera-Brust are the title characters in this production. Tomich is a strong-willed Juliet, determined to follow her heart’s desire. DeLoera-Brust is an athletic Romeo with a quick temper and a love for his Juliet, which is palpably aching. The death scene for both was heartbreaking.

Cole Yambrovich’s Mercutio was as fiery as his red hair, Matthew Karoly gave a warm performance as Romeo’s loyal friend Benvolio, and Katy Zaragoza-Smith did well with the complicated emotions of Juliet’s nurse, a wonderful comedienne, yet able to plumb the depths of her feelings of sadness as the losses begin to mount.

Daniel Tutt was a commanding and icy-cold Lord Capulet, banishing Juliet from his house if she refuses to marry Count Paris (Aaron Hirst).

I would be hard-pressed to say which of the two productions I enjoyed more. There is enough difference in the two casts that my recommendation would really be to see both and make up your own mind.

Special recognition needs to go to Dan Renkin, a loyal Acme alum, who once again flew in from New York to direct the fight choreography.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


“Some Like It Hot” is an iconic Billy Wilder movie, released in 1959, which appears on many top 10 movies lists. Images of Marilyn Monroe with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag are familiar to any movie buff.

“Sugar,” now at Music Circus, is the musical version of the classic movie, with book by Peter Stone, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Bob Merrill. It is fairly faithful to the original movie, though the songs never made it into popular sing-a-long lists.

Those familiar with the movie will find no surprises in the musical version, which sticks pretty closely to the film’s plot. Out of work musicians, Joe (Brent Barrett in the Tony Curtis part) and Jerry (Jason Graae in the Jack Lemmon role) just happen to witness a mob shooting in a local garage and barely escape with their lives from the mob boss Spats Palazzo (Brad Bradley).

Needing to get out of Chicago, they dress as women and join an all-girl’s band, Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators, who are headed for Florida and who just happen to need a saxophone and a bass.

Barrett and Graae don’t do impressions of Curtis and Lemon, though there is no question about who is who, as both are quite reminiscent of the original actors. Barrett is quite the lothario with a beautiful voice, while Graae is the comic fall guy of the duo and is very funny trying to live in the world of women without revealing his own gender.

Mobster Bradley is one of the high points of this musical, tap dancing his way into your heart, despite the fact that his sole role is to kill the two musicians. He has what may be one of the funniest death scenes I’ve ever seen.
The lead singer for the Syncopators is Sugar Kane (Elizabeth Stanley), who may not exude the raw innocent sexuality of Marilyn Monroe, but who is very good in her role. Her character seems more of a calculated gold digger than Monroe did in the movie. She has a history of falling for deadbeat sax players, which doesn’t look good for deadbeat sax player Joe.

The only dark part of this play is Sugar’s obvious alcoholism, which seems gratuitous. It is never really discussed or resolved, or really any part of the plot, so one wonders why it is included in an otherwise bright and fun musical.

Things become complicated once the band reaches Florida and Joe poses as a millionaire in order to woo Sugar, while Jerry is being pursued by a real millionaire, Osgood Fielding Jr. (Lenny Wolpe). Fielding is terrific, making no attempt whatsoever to recreate the performance of Joe E. Brown, who played the role in the movie. He is an older, some what sexually dim-witted man who knows what he wants and won’t let anything get in his way, even the gender of his intended. Fielding’s performance was a real highlight. His “Naughty Old Men Need Naughty Young Girls” was very funny.

Other noteworthy performances are turned in by Alix Korey, the brash Sweet Sue, who is the leader of the band, and Ray DeMattis as Bienstock, the band manager.

There are lots of jokes, verbal and visual, about men living in such close proximity of so many beautiful girls. Even the brutality of the mobsters is softened by some wonderful tapdance numbers, particular “Tear the Town Apart.”
This is an enjoyable show, which fans of the original movie will love and those unfamiliar with the movie will also enjoy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Elegant Entrance of Chad Deity

“Both theater and wrestling employ lights, sound, costumes, props, choreography or blocking,” writes Janey Pintar in the program for the “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” now running at Capital Stage in Sacramento.  “Much like blocking on stage, wrestling moves compose the choreography–necessitating teamwork and trust...If an actor flubs a line...if a wrestler botches up a move, either or both could be seriously injured.”

The truth of this statement came in the note inserted in the program announcing the substitution of James Long for actor Rob August, injured during a preview performance and, though recovering, unable to return to the play.  Long has both acting and wrestling experience and had just finished run in a production of “Chad Deity” in Washington, D.C.

It doesn’t take long into the play before the audience understands the danger and the risk for the actors, and the very real link between professional wrestling and theatrical performances.

“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist, is a satire about professional wrestling, written by Kristoffer Diaz and directed by Jonathan Williams.  It is a show the likes of which you may not have seen before.  None in our group knew what to expect and we were all pleasantly surprised.

Entering the Capital Stage theater itself gives you a hint of what is to come.  A very real looking wrestling ring designed by Ian Wallace occupies almost the entire stage area.  With the addition of sound by Greg Coffin, lighting by Steve Decker and those razzle-dazzle costumes by Lalena Hutton (in addition to a guy in a scary wrestling mask sitting in the audience on opening night), it is quickly easy to imagine yourself at a real pro-wrestling event.

Macedonio Guerra (Andrew J. Perez), known as Mace, is  the play’s narrator. He’s a guy you would never pick out of a crowd as a wrestler, yet he is the true hero of most of the wrestling events.  He has perfected the art of the fall guy, making the big guys, who are often not that skilled, look good.  They get the fame and the big bucks, while Mace gets the satisfaction of having created a wonderful experience for the audience in a sport that he has loved since his childhood.

His love for wrestling grew since he was a young Puerto Rican kid glued to the TV in his Bronx home on Saturday mornings. He loves professional wrestling for its artistry and he really doesn’t care that nobody knows who he is...or what he does to give them a fulfilling experience.

Mace is the heart of this play, his love of wrestling pouring out of his body while he delivers lengthy monologues and leaps about the stage and up onto the ropes and shows how he lets the big guys give him body slams, without really getting hurt. Perez gives him the heart and the enthusiasm that the part requires.  His performance is riveting.

It is Mace’s job to make THE Wrestling’s Star, Chad Deity  look good. The golden-clad Deity (Donald Paul) is the ideal wrestling champion – a tall, handsome, muscle bound, arrogant African American who knows he exemplifies the name he bears.  Problem is Deity can’t really wrestle and isn’t all that bright and it is only because of Mace that he has achieved the awards and the following that he has.

The founder, CEO and chief creative mind behind THE Wrestling is Everett K. Olson (Randall King), who calls himself EKO.  As Mace describes it, THE Wrestling is “the largest wrestling organization in the world.  The best wrestling there is, the best wrestling there was, the best wrestling there will ever be.”  King could have been a wrestling promoter.  He looks the part and sounds the part and is just sleazy enough to fit the part.

Mace shakes things up when he finds a neighborhood kid, Vigneshwar Paduar (Rushi Kota) into the mix V P, as he calls himself is an Indian American boy from Brooklyn, who looks Middle Eastern and EKO exploits the ethnic diversity to turn him into “The Fundamentalist,” a bin Laden look-alike whose entourage includes a wall of dancing Muslim women in burquas projected onto the wall.

Inevitably, the plot builds to a climactic match between Deity and V P, and guided by Mace, the audience reacts appropriately to the description of the match taking place.

At the end of the play, I had seen more wrestling than I had in my life and had a strange desire to watch a “real” wrestling match on TV.  The show was great fun, tautly performed by four extraordinary actors (none of whom, amazingly, seem to have any bruises on their bodies!)

Monday, July 22, 2013

She Creatures

The old San Francisco disc jockey Don Sherwood used to end his program with the quote “Out of the mud grows the lotus.” I thought of that several times during opening night of “She Creatures” by Sarah Saltwick.

In Saltwick’s scenes of mythic women, it isn’t a lotus that grows out of the mud but the character of Pandora (Alicia Hunt), the first woman, who rises out of the earth, uncertain of who … or what … she is, but delighted in the exploration of her newfound personhood … and appendages.

Throughout the one-act play, directed by Camille Beaumont, a series of creatures, a new one arriving each time Pandora opens the large box in the center of the sand-covered stage, emerges, deals with her own identity and helps Pandora learn a little bit more about herself.

This is, then, a series of vignettes, each giving a particular actress a moment to shine, without a clear unifying feature, but we get the opportunity to see some of the best young female talent that Davis has produced.

Hunt, herself, remains on stage throughout, exploring her new selfhood and the things she learns from watching the other creatures, while she remains invisible to them. She is engaging and sparkles with the enthusiasm of a child learning about her new world.

Hope Raymond as Amelia the Mermaid is giddy with joy over discovering she has feet, but struggles to learn how to use them, finally succeeding with the help of Jason (Kane Chai), who for some reason falls in love with her instantly.

Through Bianca the Unicorn (Tatiana Ray) and her mother Juno (Sarah Cohen, perhaps the most prolific actress of the Davis area), we learn that teenage angst and mother-daughter relationship conflicts aren’t confined to the two-legged species. Now that she has a brand new horn, Bianca is desperate to get out and run with her peers, though her mother is cautious and wants her to stay home another year. It’s a scene any parent can relate to.

Betsy Raymond cuts loose as Dahlia the Dragon, all fire and brimstone as she rails about her upcoming marriage, and wonders who is to be her husband. She is assisted by the puppet artistry of Kane Chai, Allie Polubiec, Maddy Ryen and Tim Smith, unseen but manipulating Muppet-like puppets.

Cohen is back again, as Marilyn the Shape shifter, a role she shares with Polubiec, as both complain about their delicate condition, how it happened, and how they can get rid of their protuberant problem.
Ryen has one of the better scenes of the night as Cecilia the Selkie, one of those mythological characters found in Irish and Scottish folklore who are seals in the sea, but human on land. While Celia stands at a table making guacamole and discussing her life, and how much she will miss spicy foods when she returns to the sea, Betsy Raymond, is costumed as an amorphous blob, Cecilia’s coat, which she will need when she is a seal again, wriggling about Cecilia’s feet

If I got the next scene right (the dialog wasn’t always clear), Hope Raymond is a woman, rising out of the flames of her burning house to become Aixa the Phoenix, while her husband Greg (Rodney Orosco), not recognizing his reincarnated wife, assumes she is still in the house and becomes frantic about getting her out of the flames. Clothed in red, with bright red hair, Raymond is perfect in the part. As for Orosco, the pain on his face at the thought of losing his wife to the fire is very moving.

Cohen is back once again as Medusa the Gorgon, with hissing snakes in her hair, having a touching reunion with her old friend Helen (Ryen), literally as well as figuratively.

Ray closes out the evening as Emma the Sphinx, wise, serene and posing riddles to help Pandora figure out what she has just witnessed in all of these creatures.

In the end, each of these she creatures has learned how her life experience shapes the person she is becoming and Pandora learns what it is to be a woman.

Artistic direction for “She Creatures” was by Steven Schmidt, with Ian Wallace as scenic designer, who has created what looks like everybody’s attic from which the creatures emerge. (I’m sure working in a real barn was a great help in finding eclectic pieces to use!)

Costumes design is by Elizabeth Hadden, who looks like she had a lot of fun creating a lot of the costumes, particularly Medusa’s wig.

Chris Oca did lighting design, effectively making Pandora’s box spooky and creating a believable, if brief, display of fireworks set off by Dahlia the Dragon, for example.

This is an odd little play, but the performances of these talented women make it worth a trip out to Schmeiser’s Barn to celebrate Barnyard Theater’s 10th summer presenting thought-provoking and always entertaining plays to the Davis community.

Barnyard always thoughtfully provides mosquito repellant for the audience, who will sit for a couple of hours in an open barn, but based on where I was eaten alive throughout the show, I recommend a good all-over dousing before leaving home.