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.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

One of the best things about watching the Woodland Opera House’s new production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” directed by Angela Baltezore, was watching the reaction of all the little children around me.  And I mean little!  One girl could not have been more than three.  Many others looked as if they were in the lower grades in grammar school.  Yet they all sat mesmerized, behaved themselves beautifully, laughed at lots of things, and thoroughly enjoyed the production, as did I.

“Charlie Brown” is, of course, based on the beloved comic strip, Peanuts, still running in newspapers across the country despite the demise of its creator Charles Schultz in 2000.  It is likely that its popularity will outlive me and probably you as well.

The script consists of lots of brief vignettes, which the faithful will recognize as living examples of familiar comic strips interspersed with wonderful musical numbers. 

The show premiered off Broadway in 1967, written and directed by Clark Gesner.  It was revived on Broadway in 1998, with new dialog by Michael Mayer and additional songs and orchestration by Andrew Lippa (there are fun homages to “The Wizard of Oz” and Vince Guaraldi).

The show contains all the things one would want in a show about the Peanuts characters.  Charlie Brown is inept, insecure, and hopelessly in love with the little Red Haired Girl.  Lucy is bossy and domineering, Linus offers sage advice and philosophy, Schroeder is long-suffering, enduring the Lucy’s goo-goo eyes, Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally is cute and endearing, and Snoopy steals the show.

And what a strong cast.

Dalton McNeely may seem a bit too tall and strong for insecure Charlie Brown, but he has a round head  for the round-headed kid.  His lunch time soliloquy was great and his excitement over finally flying a kite (briefly) was well done.  Everyone will fall in love with his Charlie Brown.

Linus is always the heart of Peanuts and Alec Gracia brings out the best in the blanket-hugging child.  He was a particular favorite of the very young child sitting near to me, hugging her own blanket and laughing whenever Linus went through a blanket emergency.  Needless to say “My blanket and me” was very funny, especially his solution to the separation anxiety he feels.

Jessica Hoffart was the perfect Lucy.  Loud and overbearing, constantly harping and taunting Charlie Brown, yet vulnerable in her infatuation with Schroeder.  It is Lucy, surprisingly, who utters the one positive line in the play which sums up Charlie Brown beautifully.

Matt Taloff shines as the long-suffering, Beethoven-loving Schroeder, singing one of the new songs by Andrew Lippa, “Beethoven’s Day.” 

(Lippa also wrote “My New Philosophy” for Sally and Schroeder and restructured the opening number. Lippa’s tunes are quite distinct in sound from the original numbers by Gesner and those familiar with the show will find them jarring at first.)

Abby Miles is Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally.  I found her such an endearing character, and much stronger than one finds in the comic strip itself.

Last but not least is the performance of Emily Jo Seminoff as Snoopy.  For one thing, the size difference between herself and McNeely works well for the illusion of her as Charlie Brown’s dog.  When he pats her on the head, it seems quite natural.  But her boneless body, her wonderfully natural mouth contortions, her howling at the moon, and especially the delightful “Suppertime” make this an outstanding characterization.

There is no one performer who is head and shoulders above the rest in this terrific ensemble cast.  Each contribute to making this a successful production.

Do not hesitate to take your children, no matter how young they are.  This is a show that will be enjoyed by children of all ages, and adults alike.

Show Boat

When Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Show Boat” first opened in 1927, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Based on the book by Edna Ferber, it was no light and frothy musical, but more of a musical melodrama, as it dealt with serious problems, more in the manner of an opera.

The story focuses on race relations, miscegenation, alcoholism, failed marriages, compulsive gambling and single motherhood. It also has the necessary beautiful love story and a happy ending, with the comic characters of Captain Andy and his wife Parthy, who run the show boat, the Cotton Blossom.

“Show Boat” has become a beloved musical theater classic and is now being given a loving re-creation by Sacramento’s Music Circus, under the direction of Glenn Casale. This is a production which, unlike the 1951 movie, follows the Ferber book rather faithfully.

Opening in the late 1880s, the story centers around the Cotton Blossom, captained by Cap’n Andy Hawks (George Lee Andrews). Andrews (who owns the Guinness world record for most performances in a single show on Broadway, after appearing in “Phantom of the Opera” for nearly 25 years!) is a perfect Cap’n Andy. Though under the dominance of his shrill-voiced wife Parthy (Audry Neenan), Andy shows his independence now and then, especially when it concerns his daughter, Magnolia (Jennifer Hope Wills).

Neenan is a real harridan of a Parthy and, honestly, nothing much likeable about her. It would have been nice to see her softer side a little more than just in singing a lullaby to baby Kim.

Wills is a beautiful Magnolia, with a lovely voice. She begins as a young, innocent girl and ends as a mature woman who has weathered all the bad things that life has thrown at her and come out a winner. Wills’ transformation from innocent to girl in love to successful matron is impressive.

Ron Bohmer is Gaylord Ravenal, the riverboat gambler who wins the heart of the young Magnolia Hawks and probably most of the females in the audience. He looks every bit the part of the suave roué who sweet-talks Magnolia. Though their instant love seems a bit unbelievable, their chemistry throughout the play works well for them both. It doesn’t hurt that his powerful baritone blends beautifully with Wills’ beautiful soprano in popular numbers such as “Only Make Believe” and “You Are Love.”

If there is a show-stopper, however, it is Phillip Boykin as the stevedore Joe, whose “Old Man River” brought out every nuance in that well-known song and gave it even deeper meaning. He also hit all the low notes clearly, which is a special treat.

The character of Julie Laverne, the light-skinned black woman, passing for white, and the most popular attraction on the Cotton Blossom, is always a character I would like to see more of, but Nikki Crawford made the most of her two powerful numbers, “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man of Mine” and “Bill.”

As her husband, Steve, Gordon Goodman is wonderfully noble as he cuts Julie’s hand and sucks a bit of her blood to prevent there from being a charge against them for a mixed-race marriage (since one drop of Negro blood means that you are considered a Negro) as they are ejected from the Cotton Blossom.

Jennifer Cody and Jamie Torcellini are wonderful as Ellie and Frank, the comedic duo. People may not recognize Torcellini, since he was covered in costume as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” earlier this season. Cody is cute as a button, trying desperately to become an actress, but forever stuck in comic roles because she’s so good at it.

Sharon Wilkins is Queenie, the “mammy” character in the original, who finds her own dignity in this production with numbers like “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’.”

Eleven-year-old Noa Solorio, a student at Pioneer Elementary School and a veteran of Davis Musical Theatre Company productions, appears as young Kim, Magnolia’s daughter. She’s very cute, though her role is brief.
Dan Mojica is the choreographer for this show and has created some lively, bright numbers, though perhaps the most outstanding was a dance scene that takes the audience through some 30 years of history via dance and costume changes. Costume designer Leon Wiebers must have been in his element!

“Show Boat” is a delightful production without a weak spot in the nearly three hours (including intermission). Act 1, which runs about an hour and a half, was so engaging that my 93-year-old mother was surprised that it was so “short”!