Friday, July 29, 2016


If your only familiarity with Kander & Ebb’s musical, “Cabaret,” is the 1972 movie with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, you may find the stage show, now at Music Circus, confusing. While, of course, it pre-dates the movie, the movie lightened it up a bit, added some songs, deleted some songs, added some characters and subplots, and the whole thing didn’t seem as dark as the original stage show.

This is not to take away from the appeal of the stage show which, in its current version, is quite glitzy, energetic and entertaining, but also shocking and disturbing.

The Emcee (Robin de Jesus, in his Music Circus debut) is not only in charge of the seedy Kit Kat Klub but also seems to be overseeing most of the activity that goes on in the private lives of the rest of the cast. De Jesus had the demonic glee in the situations he was addressing, but lacked the “brass” and “hardness” of other Emcees.

A part of this may have been due to either poor makeup or poor lighting because we are accustomed to the bizarre make-up of the character and it was not until he appeared in a bluish light that I realized he was wearing any clownish make-up at all.

The plot is supposed to tell the story of Sally Bowles (Kaleigh Cronin), a singer trying to make a name for herself, and her relationship with Clifford Bradshaw (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) and yes, that does take up a lot of the story.

But I felt that the real story was of Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray), who runs the boarding house where they all meet. Schneider has had a hard life and is resigned to making the best of things (“So What”). She has never married but has a warm, comfortable friendship with Herr Schultz (Ron Wisniski), who brings her fresh fruit for a treat. They have some lovely moments together, particularly the beautiful duet “Married.”

Murray, a Tony Award nominee, is simply outstanding. It is the poignancy of her story to which we are drawn, more than to the less fully developed Sally or Cliff, whose scenes seem to lack the kind of “finish” that we see in the movie.

Wisniski is a regular at Music Circus and it is clear why — he can play any role and has made a local career in excelling in “second banana” roles. You can’t help falling in love with this Herr Schultz, who mixes dignity with deep sorrow, and feel his pain when the growing Nazi movement affects both his engagement to Fraulein Schneider and his thriving business as well.

Cronin is an excellent singer, perhaps too good for the seedy Kit Kat Klub, where she is supposed to be a not-very-good chanteuse. And, unlike Minnelli, she really has only one outstanding number, the title song, which she nails wonderfully, packing it with all the emotion one would expect.

While Herdlicka, as Cliff, has a couple of duets, his real strength is in his dramatic scenes, which he handles beautifully. We never really get a full background on him, and we never really see exactly what his relationship with Sally is. Is he gay? Is he straight? Is he bisexual? Are they lovers? Is he sexual at all? The ambiguity leads to a lack of chemistry between the two.

In more minor roles, Heather Lee is Fraulein Kost, one of Schneider’s boarders who has a lot of gentlemen callers, Alexa De Barr and Sarah Marie Jenkins are the “two ladies” who make up a threesome in the funny trio “Two Ladies” with the Emcee, and Matthew J. Kilgore manages to get remarkable emotions out of a gorilla costume in “If You Could See Her.”

Though this show is set in 1931 and is designed to show the start of the Nazi rise to power, you would not know there were Nazis outside the Klub until the end of Act 1, when it hits you with such a jolt that, having just come from watching the Democratic convention proceedings, comparisons are unavoidable.

It was, of course, impossible for Music Circus to have had any clue whatsoever about the 2016 political climate when it signed the contract for this production more than a year ago, but seeing it sandwiched between the Republican and Democratic conventions was very emotional.

At one point Sally says, “It’s only politics. It doesn’t affect us.”

With hindsight may we all realize how very, very wrong that comment is and be encouraged to get involved in the current election activities, realizing that this particular election may be one of the most important in our lives.

But in the meantime, by all means go and see this excellent production at Music Circus first!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Almanac for Farmers and Lovers in Mexico

Kate Tarker’s “An Almanac for Farmers and Lovers in Mexico” — a magically lyrical and comical look at love, youth and true commitment — was a last-minute choice for Barnyard Theatre’s annual play. It is directed by Eden Tomich, with important lighting design by Andrew Buderi.

“We were looking for scripts and nothing really materialized that we were excited about,” said co-producer Steven Schmidt. We were just about at the point where we thought we won’t do anything this year when one of our young members brought in a script and decided to do it.”

They didn’t start rehearsing until four weeks ago, which is a very short time, when you consider that the historic Schmeiser Barn must be transformed from a working barn (with livestock inside) into a working theater, all the while rehearsing a show.

Judging by opening night, this does not look like a hastily slapped-together show. The acting is quite good, and the set, designed by Tomich, while simple, works well. The big round stage is just gorgeous, as are the multitude of paper lanterns that hang over the stage, lending a nicely diffused light to the action.

Flora (Rachel Pinto), an American anthologist working in Mexico, is getting ready to celebrate her wedding in two days, and this should be a joyous time for her were it not for one fact: Her fiancé Pele (Antonio de Loera-Brust) has been turned into a hummingbird and now lives in a cage, which Flora caries everywhere with her, trying to find a way to get him back in time for the wedding.

Pinto brings depth to her character, as she anguishes over the loss of Pele and the frustration of dealing with both the impersonal governmental regulations and the fates that seem stacked against her.

Kane Chai gives a stand-out performance as the sardonic San Cristobal (St. Christopher), the invisible guide for all the action that happens in the play. He has a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on this face as he watches Flora’s attempts to find a way to restore Pele to human form.

Brian Oglesby gives a wonderful performance as the impersonal judge who so manipulates his visiting hours to avoid Flora that she resorts to catching him at his home as he gets out of the shower.
Flora’s friends are Molly (Renn Andrews), Zoe (Sarah Green) and Henry (Matt Fyhrie, who provides comic relief). Along the way, everyone goes through a voyage of personal discovery, especially Flora and Pele (who does eventually appear in human form).

This is a one-act play without intermission.

(Please note: The play contains some strong language and two comedic scenes referencing sexual situations that may not be appropriate for all children.)

Barnyard Theatre is one of Davis’ lesser-known gems, and it’s well worth investigating. They even provide the mosquito repellent. And be sure to catch the Burma Shave-like signs that line the dirt road to the barn itself.

Friday, July 15, 2016


“Oh the things you can think
“When you think about Seuss.”

The audience at the Music Circus were all thinking about Dr. Seuss when “Seussical” burst upon the stage of the Wells Fargo Pavilion, like being shot from a circus canon. With costumes by Kate Bergh and the wonderful puppets of Richard Bay, all of your favorite Dr. Seuss characters came to life in a cacophony of color and music.

“Seussical,” by Tony award nominees Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Eric Idle centers on three of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s best loved stories, “Horton Hears a Who,” “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “Gertrude McFuzz,” but pulls in characters from many of Seuss’ other stories as well.

It is all orchestrated by the irrepressible Jason Graae, the Cat in the Hat, who acts as a sort of ringmaster for the scenes that are to follow. With a delightful twinkle in his eye, Graae is mischievous and fun to watch.

The heart of “Seussical” is Horton, the elephant, played by John Treacy Egan in a marvelous baggy pants suit with a long tie as his trunk. You can’t help but fall in love with Horton, filled with gentleness and a genuine heart, who cares for everyone and always keeps his word, no matter how uncomfortable it makes him.

Early in the show, he discovers Whoville, the teeny tiny world of the Whos, who live on a big puffy dandelion. Though nobody else believes in their existence, Horton vows to help them save their world, in his own version of “Whos lives matter.”

Eleven-year-old Josh Davis, last seen at Music Circus as Michael Darling in “Peter Pan,” plays the young boy who meets the Cat in the Hat, and then morphs into JoJo, the son of the Mayor of Whoville (Jamie Torcellini) and his wife (Eydie Alyson). They don’t know what to do with a boy who thinks, so they send him off to military school run by General Genghis Khan Schmitz (Stuart Marland)

JoJo is a misfit in the military and has a beautiful duet with Horton, “Alone in the Universe,” as the two of them share their feelings of loneliness because they are “different,” and realize that they aren’t really alone.

You called my name and you set me free
One small voice in the universe
One true friend in the universe
Who believes in me

The ever-helpful Horton agrees to egg-sit for selfish Mayzie LaBird (Ginifer King), while she shops for an hour. But she disappears and leaves him literally holding the egg for over year, protecting it from rain and despite the derision of everyone around him. He is going to keep his promise, no matter what, even though he is captured and put on display in a zoo. (“I said what I said and I meant what I meant. An elephant’s faithful 100 percent”)

Horton’s best friend, Gertrude McFuzz (Bets Malone) is a bird with only one feather in her tail, who is really in love with Horton. She gets her wish for a bigger tail, which causes problems she never envisioned and she learns how one has to be careful with wishes.

Sharon Wilkins makes an impact with her Sour Kangaroo, who doesn’t add much to the plot of the show, but certainly knows how to belt out a song.

Other beloved characters who appear are the Grinch (Seth Danner) and Yertle the Turtle (Eric Anthony Johnson).

Don’t look for a real plot in this show, but sit back and enjoy the color, the costumes, the puppets, and the music, which, while not particularly memorable, is fun in the moment.

Bring the kids; they’ll love it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


“Constellations,” by Nick Payne, now at the B Street Theatre, talks about the unlikely play topics of relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory. It’s like “The Big Bang Theory” without the laughs.

The show examines the possibility of parallel universes — or not so much universes but paths: what might have happened if you had not gone to that party, or said that thing, or stayed with that person, or turned left instead of right at the intersection.

It’s difficult to explain in this quite odd, quite different, yet surprisingly engaging show.

“Constellations” examines what might have happened in these and other instances by following the relationship of Marianne (Dana Brooke) and Roland (Tom Patterson), who enter this “multiverse” and travel through it.

The backdrop on the stage is a star field showing various constellations, which light up each time the couple changes paths.

Marianne, a scientist at Sussex University in the field of quantum cosmology, first meets Roland, a bee keeper, at a barbecue where she breaks the ice by telling him why it’s impossible for human beings to lick their elbows. Roland blows her off. Suddenly we hear a ding, a different constellation lights up and the same conversation takes place, with a different reaction on Roland’s part. Another ding and the same scene is played a little differently again.

This is the “multiverse,” which, over some drinks at a bar, Marianne explains is the hypothetical collection of infinite alternate universes existing alongside the one we perceive as reality. It’s all part of general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the various string theories that connect them.

“Let’s say that ours really is the only universe that exists,” Marianne explains to Roland. “There’s only one unique me and one unique you. If that were true, then there could only ever really be one choice. But if every possible future exists, then the decisions we do and don’t make will determine which of these futures we actually end up experiencing.”

Lost yet?

Well, don’t worry, somehow it works to create a complicated yet beautiful relationship between these two likable people playing out the various possibilities in their lives. They go for a drink, or maybe they don’t. They fall in love and live together, but break up, or not. They have a chance meeting and feelings are still there, but Marianne is engaged, or maybe Roland is married. Maybe their time together will be tragically short.

The juggling of time periods and emotions requires excellent actors who can change the whole mood of a scene from flirtation to courtship to infidelity, to joy, illness and heartbreak, just by a slight shift in posture or a look in the eye. It’s really quite remarkable.

This show will not appeal to everyone, but it’s really a fascinating piece of theater, performed by two talented actors, and just think — if you happen to meet another B Street patron at a barbecue, “Did you see ‘Constellations’?” is a lot better conversation starter than “Do you know why it’s impossible for human beings to lick their elbows?”

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Bells are Ringing

Gia Battista as Ella.
Gia Battista and Ian Hopps just may be the quintessential musical comedy couple. They play Ella and Jeff in “Bells are Ringing,” the second half of the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s summer festival, now at the Veterans Memorial Theater through July 31.

“Bells are Ringing,” by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with music by Jule Styne, is directed by Dennis Beasley (his directorial debut with DSE). Written in 1956, it was a vehicle for Judy Holliday and while it may be thin on plot (as are most musicals of that era), it is long on heart, music and dance.

Battista’s Ella is a spunky heroine, who makes every appearance on stage a delight. She works at “Susanswerphone” and can’t help getting involved in the lives of those for whom she takes messages.

She has her favorites, particularly Blake Barton (Kevin Gish), an out-of-work Method actor; Dr. Kitchell (Tim Gaffaney), a dentist who hates dentistry and just wants to write music; and playwright Jeff Moss (Hopps), who is suffering from writer’s block. He calls her “mom” because she uses an old lady voice and he thinks of her as a mother who pushes him to do better.

Ella considers the relationships with these clients “perfect” because she can’t see them and they can’t see her (“It’s a Perfect Relationship”).

When Jeff leaves his phone unplugged and thus she cannot call to wake him for an important meeting, she sneaks into his apartment to wake him up. Their relationship begins, though Jeff doesn’t have a clue who she really is.

Hopps is a dream of a leading man, a younger, thinner Matt Damon-type with the dancing grace of Neil Patrick Harris. He and Battista have great chemistry and though they endure the expected bumps in the road over their two days together, you know that eventually it will all come out just fine.

A minor plot concerns Sandor (Kyle Stoner), a bookmaker, who decides that “Susanswerphone” is the perfect cover for his book-making activities. Sue (Sydney Schwindt) is blissfully unaware of his real business and he keeps her off base by pretending to court her while she thinks she is helping his “Titanic Records.”

Stoner is just wonderfully sleazy. He leads perhaps the most fun song of the show, explaining how his system works.

It’s a simple little system any child can understand
The composers’ names, we list them with the racetracks of the land…
What is Beethoven? (Belmont Park)
Where’s Puccini? (Pimlico)
Who is Humperdinck? (Hollywood)

(The system might have worked if only Beethoven had written a 10th symphony.)

At the same time for some unknown reason (but important to the finale), Inspector Barnes (J.R. Yancher) is convinced “Susanswerphone” is a cover-up for a call-girl operation and sets out, along with his assistant Francis (Johnny Quesada), to follow Ella and see if he can catch her cavorting with the customers.

The base set from the previous night’s “Cyrano” works well as the setting for “Bells are Ringing” and nicely camouflages the seven-piece orchestra, directed by Peter Kagstrom, in the middle of everything.

The only thing missing from the opening-night performance was a larger audience. It would be a shame if more people didn’t see this excellent production.

For a housekeeping note, the high school parking lot is closed for the summer, but parking is available either on the street, in the St. James Catholic Church parking lot or in the parking lot at the Stephens Branch Library. The city also has created a new white zone directly in front of the Veterans Memorial Center for easy drop-offs.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Cyrano de Bergerac

Matt Edwards, William Oberholtzer, Jessica Woehler, Johnny Quesada, Philomena Block, Harvey Jordan, J.R. Yancher, Lisa Halko and Sydney Schwindt perform in the Davis Shakespeare Festival's production of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac,” running through July 31. Gabby Battista/Courtesy photo  
The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble opened its 2016 festival this week, with an impressive production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” directed by Rob Salas. “Cyrano” will run in repertory with “Bells are Ringing” through the end of July.

Edmond Rostand’s story (adapted by Anthony Burgess) may be one of the saddest love stories written. Cyrano is a man with great moral values, noble to the core. He is a dashing swashbuckler, able to take on 100 men single-swordedly.

He is glib of tongue and has a wonderful sense of self-deprecation, knowing his shortcomings … or is that long-comings, referring to his prominent proboscis. He deflects insults about his nose with jokes of is own making — “ ‘Is this a conch? … are you a Triton?,’ “That’s a dwarf pumpkin, or a giant turnip!” “When it bleeds it’s the Red Sea!”

Matt Edwards is a marvelous Cyrano, full of cape-swirling panache. He is in love with the beautiful Roxane (Kristi Webb), but knows his suit is hopeless as she is in love with the handsome but inarticulate Christian de Neuvillette (Pablo Lopez). Christian is also in love with her and asks for Cyrano’s help in wooing the lady of his dreams.

Cyrano writes the words that help Christian ply his suit, unaware that they are Cyrano’s own feelings for the girl. When Christian is sent off to battle, Cyrano goes along to protect him, and to write letters home to Roxane for him, to keep the love alive.

When Christian is killed, Cyrano has too much respect for Roxane’s feelings for her husband to let her know the truth about him. He remains her friend, and silent lover, for the rest of his life, leading to a beautifully touching death scene.

But Cyrano is far more than a story of unrequited love. There is plenty of sword play (Sydney Schwindt is fight director, though Edwards is himself a fight choreographer) and lots of bad guys to go around.

There’s Comte de Guiche (Tim Gaffaney), a powerful, married nobleman himself in love with Roxane and not fond of Cyrano. He attempts several times unsuccessfully to have Cyrano killed,
Ragueneau (Harvey Jordan) is Cyrano’s friend, a baker and a poet, who becomes Roxane’s porter after his business fails.

William Oberholtzer is Le Bret, Cyrano’s BFF, who tries to steer his friend in the least dangerous path, but his advice is usually ignored by Cyrano.

Kyle Stoner is Vicomte de Valvert, the nobleman chosen by deGuiche as Roxane’s husband. He is tricked by Cyrano to remain outside the house while Roxane is secretly wed to Christian, and then is defeated in a duel after the wedding, when he objects.

The multi-level set is designed by Niko Rabbitt and, together with the costumes by Caitlin Cisek, works well to create the look of a 1600s city.

“Cyrano de Bergerac” is a play that has it all, from verbal duels and actual swordplay, to a beautiful love story, to honor and friendship and a hero who stands head and shoulders above many heroes.
The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble does justice to this classic tale and it sets the stage for a promising summer festival.

For a housekeeping note, the high school parking lot is closed for the summer, but parking is available either on the street, in the St. James Church parking lot or in the Stephens Branch Library parking lot. The city also has created a new white zone directly in front of the Veterans Memorial Center for easy drop-offs.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Hello, Dolly

Everybody’s favorite matchmaker, Dolly Gallagher Levi, is at the Music Circus this week, and it’s nice to see her back where she belongs.

Jerry Herman’s award-winning “Hello, Dolly” burst onto the stage of the Wells Fargo Pavilion, and, despite it being the hottest night of the year (so far), the show was energetic and dazzling, and the action was non-stop (thank goodness the Music Circus tent was replaced years ago).

With direction by Glenn Casale, choreography by Randy Slovacek and costumes by Marcy Froehlich, this production is just stunning.

In the title role is Lynne Wintersteller, who seems a younger Dolly than we are accustomed to, but she is a take-charge, no-nonsense woman whose life is devoted to “arranging things” (like furniture and daffodils — and lives).

A widow of many years, Dolly has decided it’s time to get back into life and sets her beautifully feathered cap for curmudgeon Horace Vandergelder (Stuart Marland). Each of Dolly’s musical numbers is a show-stopper, perhaps most of all “Before the Parade Passes By,” an amazingly choreographed number that ends Act 1.

Marland, who played Mr. MacAfee in last season’s “Bye Bye Birdie,” is delightfully grumpy until he finally realizes that for all of his apparent dissatisfaction with Dolly’s work on his behalf, she’s really the only woman he actually wants to marry.

Vandergelder’s two store clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, offer great comic relief and the story of their adventure in New York almost surpasses that of their boss and Dolly. John Scherer, as Hackl, in his 14th Music Circus show, has this wonderfully open face of a 43-year-old innocent who has never left Yonkers, and whose main hope on this adventure is to actually kiss a girl.
Jordan Grubb, as Barnaby, is the perfect bumbling sidekick, who follows Cornelius’ lead, but who is nervous about consequences Cornelius never even considers.

The two young men stumble into the hat shop of Irene Molloy (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan), and meeting her and her assistant Minnie Fay (Sarah Marie Jenkins) will change the lives of all four young people in a way they never imagined.

Donovan has a lovely voice that dominates in the poignant “It Only Takes a Moment” as she describes how her day with Cornelius has affected her.

Sainty Nelsen has the job of crying. All the time. Vandergelder’s niece Ermengarde wants only to marry her beau Ambrose (Justin Schuman), against her uncle’s orders, until Dolly steps in. Nelsen and Schuman are fun to watch in the dance competition at Harmonia Gardens restaurant, where everybody eventually ends up.

Of course, the Harmonia Gardens is almost a character itself, with its famous waiters, headed by Rudolph (John B. Williford). The dancing of the six waiters in the Waiters’ Gallop is stunning and when Dolly makes her entrance to the title song, well … you know you are seeing classic theater.
Put on your Sunday clothes and get yourself over to Sacramento and catch this delightful production while you have the opportunity. “Dolly’ll never go away again,” but “Hello Dolly” will be leaving at the end of the week.