Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wizard of Oz

Despite the slow pace and the interminable set changes, I had more fun at the Winters Theatre Company’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” directed by Anita Ahuja than I have had in a long time.

For starters there is perhaps the largest cast I have seen on the Winters stage (more than 30), including the Munchkin Hinojosa brothers, one of whom was a baby in a carrier, and the other a toddler, who had us all laughing when he escaped and ran off the stage.

Another favorite was Tibby Williams, as Toto, who had more on-stage time than most Totos do, and who, other than a few unexpected barks, was surprisingly good, though you could tell when the members of her real family came on stage in costume because her tail would wag furiously.

Alexis Velasquez was a perhaps too tall Dorothy, though she had that wide-eyed wonder one expects from a girl whose house has swirled through the air and landed her in a strange land. She also had a beautiful clear voice.

There must be something about putting a bizarre costume on an actor to bring out the best in them.  A case in point was Eleanor Yeatman, as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch.  Paint a girl’s face green and watch her eat the scenery.  She was absolutely marvelous.

(Yeatman is also credited as Assistant Director, set construction, costumes and props!)

Likewise, this may have been the best performance I have seen by Jim Hewlett as the Scarecrow.  He was completely comfortable in his wobbly body and became a great friend to Dorothy.

Robert Williams (from Tibby’s family) was a wonderful Cowardly Lion and even offered a pretty credible Bert Lahr during his “If I were king of the forest.”

A find for Winters was Loren Skinner, in his first ever theatrical performance, as the Tin Man.  He had the kind of voice that makes you sit up and wonder “where has this guy BEEN all these years?”  I hope we will see more of him on the Winters stage.

Elizabeth Williams was a younger than expected Glinda, the Witch of the North, but she was warm and wise in helping Dorothy when she needed help.

(Rounding out the Williams family was Jason Williams as Nikko, the Monkey Commander, who was a credible slightly evil sidekick to the witch, and also one of the mean apple trees.)

In lesser roles, Debra DeAngelo made the most of Auntie Em, a strict, no-nonsense farm woman, whose warm side shines through when she insists the farm hands have cookies so they don’t have to work on an empty stomach.  Her best, though, was her appearance inside a big glass globe while Dorothy is locked in the witch’s castle.    

[picky aside: Dorothy refers to her consistently as “Aunt Em” instead of ”Auntie Em,” which grated on my nerves until the end of the show when she finally called her Auntie.]

Jesse Akers was fine in the small role of the gruff Uncle Henry,

Tom Rost was a professorial Professor Marvel, and the Wizard.  He was wise in dealing with run-away Dorothy, and with granting the wishes of Dorothy’s three companions.

The young actors playing Munchkin, Lullaby League, and Lollipop Guild were well rehearsed, disciplined and sang well, as well as being very cute.  Josh Masem and Kenneth Matheson were notable as the Mayor and Coroner, respectively.

Ahuja decided to add back the Jitterbug, a number which had been cut from the movie and the dancers, Mikenzie Hapworth Eldridge, Elizabeth Williams, Julia Berrelleza, Christian Duran, Manny Lanzaro and Kenneth Matheson made fun work of the bugs dancing around.

The set for most of Oz (designed by Gary Schroeder) was pretty minimal, but there was a nice, solid farm house for the Gale family and a great storm cellar for protection from the approaching storm.  A nice touch was the lantern on the house porch, which swung wildly in the wind, without visible help from anyone.

It was a full house for opening night and we all had a wonderful time.  This was the first in-theater production since the death of co-founder Howard Hupe, whose presence was missed, and who was honored briefly before the start of the show.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Moving Day

From left, Tim Liu, Stephanie Altholz and
Kurt Johnson perform in B Street Theatre's
production of “A Moving Day.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo
It is deliciously ironic that the very last production to be presented at the current B Street Theatre location — before the company’s move to its new digs, “The Sofia,” at 27th Street and Capitol Avenue, at the end of the year — is a play called “A Moving Day,” by Dave Pierini and Buck Busfield.
(“Dave did the writing; I fixed the commas,” Busfield joked.)

Though it’s barely past Halloween, this is another B Street original Christmas production, a 23-year old tradition. The company is going out with a bang with this funny, yet moving story, which finds its inspiration in the tradition of “moving day” in Canada, the date on which most residential leases begin. By the city’s estimate, about 115,000 of Montreal’s 1.6 million residents relocate every July.

The day before moving day, all previous leases end and occupants must be out of their homes, or face confrontation with the police. “Moving day” also became common in places like New York and Ohio.

And so the play “A Moving Day” is set in Cleveland where two movers, Frank (Kurt Johnson) and Casey (Tim Liu), are packing up a house while engaging in a spirited discussion about Casey’s unsuccessful love life. Their conversation is interrupted now and then by phone calls from Frank’s wife, who has just left Frank to live with her sister, but is willing to get together with him to discuss things, if he can make it to a certain location at a certain time.

As the movers are about to remove the second stack of boxes, they are surprised by the appearance of Patrick (Greg Alexander), who has apparently been upstairs, and announces that this used to be his house and he needs to postpone the moving for one more day until he can search the house for something special he left behind. Though he has not lived in the house for many years, it is still his family home.

While Frank and Casey attempt to remain uninvolved, Patrick’s arguments become very persuasive and they have to force themselves to continue moving boxes.

When only Casey is on stage, a young girl, who calls herself Mouse (Stephanie Altholz), wanders in. She is apparently homeless and also has been crashing in the house; she hopes they will postpone the move.

Patrick and Mouse work together to tear the house apart looking for the missing object that Patrick associates with his late sister and that has great sentimental value for him.

Jamie Jones makes a brief walk-on appearance (perhaps so the actress can appear in B Street’s last production in the old theater) as Frank’s wife.

As Patrick settles in more firmly, determined to have one last Christmas in his family home, and the movers’ resolve wavers, the audience waits to see how it’s all going to play out, perhaps not suspecting the clever twist in the plot.

With the caliber of actors in this play, most B Street regulars, it can’t help but be outstanding. Tim Liu appears to be new to B Street, but he is excellent as the anguished Casey, having been rejected (“ghosted,” as he puts it) by so many other women, trying to make his case with Mouse.

This is a comedy with warm dramatic overtones and sets the stage for the upcoming holiday season — though playing Christmas carols in the lobby before Thanksgiving is a bit unsettling.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Jennifer Vega stars as Amy in “Gibraltar,” presented by the UC Davis department of theater and dance.
The show continues Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Nicholas Yoon/UC Davis/Courtesy photo

UCD’s historic Wyatt Pavilion is the location for a powerful play by Octavio Solis, directed by Kent Nicholson. “Gibraltar” explores the subject of grief and how we deal with it.

The first thing to notice on entering the theater is the attractive set, designed by John Iacovelli. The play is set in a San Francisco apartment — and as a San Francisco native, I appreciated the bay window with a window seat, something so ubiquitous in the city. (The design of the bay window is helped by the configuration of the pavilion stage.)

Artist Amy (Jennifer Vega) has just lost her husband, who drowned in San Francisco Bay, and her world is falling apart. She stands in her apartment with the enigmatic Palo (Benjamin Calleros), who is searching for his runaway wife.

The pair share stories about other couples’ troubled relationships that are played out in the dreamlike landscape of memory — an improbable reunion of an artist and a dock worker, the breakup of a policeman and his angry wife, a marriage irrevocably altered but not ended by Alzheimer’s disease. Each one has some connection to Amy’s past memory.

As they tell their stories, Amy and Palo struggle to confront their own losses.

But is Palo really who he claims to be? Director Nicholson, at the talk-back following the show, referred to the concept of the duende, a mythical creature from folklore, who frequently inhabits a house to either help or torment its inhabitants. Does Palo represent the duende sent to guide Amy through this rough time?

The supporting cast — Brandon Thomas, Victoria Casas, Anthony Castillon, Aubrey Schoeman, Charles Lavaroni and Heidi Masem — each gives a strong portrayal, with Thomas and Casas sadly tragic as the husband dealing with his wife’s Alzheimer’s.

“Octavio’s work represents the great cultural diversity of the Bay Area and the country,” Nicholson said. “By exploring the universality of love and death through multiple stories, and weaving them through a single narrative, ‘Gibraltar’ creates a new landscape for storytelling.”

There will be a talk-back following the Thursday performance.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Jesus Christ Superstar

“Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1970 rock opera by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice, holds a special place in director Steve Isaacson’s heart. Isaacson’s Davis Musical Theater Company is now performing its third production, eight years after it was last performed.

The story is loosely based on the last week of Jesus’ life from just before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and ending at the crucifixion. The story centers on the conflict between Jesus and Judas Iscariot, a story that is not told in the Bible.

You could not ask for a more authentic-looking Jesus than Nick Thompson (who played Judas in the 2009 production). You almost expected people in the audience to ask for his blessing.

But this is a stern, serious Jesus with little of the charisma that would show us why crowds were drawn to him. While he does not seem to have much of a change in mood, he’s at his best expressing his anguish at his upcoming suffering in the song “Gethsemane.”

Eddie Voyce is a marvelous Judas, tormented by “tormenters” Michele Stark-Burnett and Monica Parisi wherever he goes. Judas is increasingly upset that Jesus is starting to believe his own press and is getting too big for his toga.

Judas sees money spent unnecessarily that could go to the poor. He’s so upset that he goes to the Roman elite to turn Jesus in, but wants to be sure they know it’s for the best of all possible reasons:

“It’s taken me some time to work out what to do.
I weighed the whole thing out before I came to you.”

His anguish at being forced to sell his former friend for 30 pieces of silver is palpable.

A break-out performance in this production is Pablo Frias as Caiaphas. Though this is Frias’ first musical theater production, his booming basso voice and commanding presence make him the focus of any scene in which he appears.

Likewise, the old pro Gil Sebastian fully inhabits the character of Pontius Pilate, who tries so hard to get Jesus to talk, and who wants desperately to find a way to keep him from being put to death.

Rachael Sherman-Shockley, who made such an impression as Dr. Jekyll’s virtuous fiancée in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” goes in the other direction, playing the woman of easy virtue, Mary Magdalene, who doesn’t know what to make of her attraction to this Jesus.

“I don’t see why he moves me
He’s a man. He’s just a man
And I’ve had so many men before
In very many ways
He’s just one more”

Her “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” may be the best-known of the songs from this opera and she gives it all the intensity that it needs.

Comic relief from the more serous action is offered by Quintin Casi as King Herod, dressed as a modern-day lounge singer, with scantily clad Charleston-dancing girls as back-up. It was a favorite moment in the show.

In lesser roles, Kara Wall shines as Annas; Leah Frazier, with the Anne Burrell Hair, is a strong Simon Zealotes; while Timothy Dimal gives a credible performance as Peter and Richard Kleeberg does double duty as both a priest and a Roman soldier.

The ensemble — from their opening “What’s the Buzz,” through the Palm Sunday “Hosanna,” to the “Crucifixion” finale — are all wonderful, whether apostles, followers or sick people looking for a miracle cure. Pamela Kay Lourentzos has done a marvelous job of choreography.

There are no sets to speak of, other than a few platforms on the otherwise bare stage. In fact, the only “set” piece is the crucifix at the end. The show does not demand a set but lighting designer Isaacson has created some inventive lighting designs.

DMTC once again has done Steve Isaacson proud with this latest production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Sunday, November 05, 2017


It was the late ’50s and rock and roll was in its heyday. Nobody had heard of The Beatles yet. A perky young girl named Carole Klein, whose mother wanted her to become a teacher, was passionate about writing songs and determined to sell one of her songs to Don Kirshner, of the Aldon Music publishing company.

The song sold and the career of Carole King (as she changed her name) was born.

“Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” tells the story of King’s career and her music in a manner similar to the wildly popular “Jersey Boys.” It’s mostly music from the ’50s and ’60s, familiar to many of the gray-hairs in the audience: “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” “Up on the Roof,” “One Fine Day,” etc. There’s just enough dialog to trace King’s story, but not enough to fill in the story gaps before the next song or song snippet starts.

To watch this musical and see the activity around the studio, you’d think that writing music and getting published was a piece o’cake, as the songs flow instantly and are immediately grabbed up to be recorded by one of the popular groups of the day, one even sung by King’s babysitter, Little Eva (Alexis Tidwell).

Sarah Bockel is a perky, upbeat Carole, madly in love with Gerry Goffin (Andrew Brewer), her husband and writing partner of many years. Together they produced several top hits of the 1960s, and two babies. In her heart, she really wanted the normalcy of suburbia with a husband and kids, which her husband begins to find stifling and boring.

When Goffin begins showing mental instability and infidelity and using drugs, the marriage falls apart and Carole is a single mother, on her own. But she’ll not count herself out.

“The girls deserve better,” she says, “…and so do I!” which brings a loud cheer from the audience.
Reluctantly, she agrees to do some live performances, and discovers that she’s good at it — and the performing career of Carole King is born. The show ends where it starts, at a grand piano on the stage at Carnegie Hall, with the release of King’s first album, “Tapestry.”

A parallel subplot concerns the hypochondriac but humorous Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) and the feminist Cynthia Weil (Sarah Goeke), a competitive writing team (producing such songs as “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling”) who end up being their best friends. It takes years for Mann to convince Weil that marriage is not such a bad idea.

James Clow as Don Kirshner is always pushing both writing teams to do their best, but is understanding and supportive when problems arrive.

A fun bonus of this show are the familiar names from the ’60s: Neil Sedaka (John Michael Dias), The Drifters, The Shirelles and The Righteous Brothers — who must have studied videos of their respective groups, their look and sound is so similar to the original groups. (The Shirelles have an amazing costume change which will leave you agog.)

This show is a salute to female empowerment and how one woman can rise from the ashes of a painful relationship to the top of the charts, as she sings the powerful “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.”

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Turning Corners

There are two more opportunities to see the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre’s 2017 fall concert, “Turning Corners.”

Eight dancers, ages 9 to 87, ask the question: “Have you ever gone walking, turned a corner, and found a whole new view before you?” It explores how looking at familiar things from a different perspective can have a profound impact on your life.

Each of the dancers has recorded memories of life-altering experiences in his or her life with dances, both solo and ensemble. Unlike previous Trokanski concerts that use a wide range of musical styles (from Pink Floyd to Mozart to Weird Al Yankovic), music for this concert by Jeff Russo and Zoe Keating all seems to have the same title, “Sleeping at Last,” so it’s difficult to differentiate between numbers.

The enjoyment of this delightful show actually starts before the music, with the tongue-in-cheek warnings about cell phones and crying babies, which is definitely different from what you will hear elsewhere.

The performers include members of the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre, the PTDT Apprentice Company and Third Stage, a multigenerational group.

To start things, 9-year-old Asher Habicht recalls his decision to become a vegan. Habicht, who has danced with Trokanski for a few years now, is a marvel. He has a couple of solos and is in every ensemble number. His dancing is as crisp, clean and synchronized as that of the adults around him.

Allegra Silberstein, 87, the first poet laureate of Davis, has been performing with Trokanski for many years. She recounted her first “turning corners” epiphany when discussing the dangers of communism with her college professor in the 1950s and her surprise when he contrasted communism to Catholicism.

Other dancers recall such issues as adapting to summer camp, the decision to move to New York, the decision of whether to switch majors and a very funny piece about driving (fear of turning left, so spending a lot of time plotting how to get somewhere using only right turns).

The dancers invite the audience to look at their lives upside-down and see what they discover — perhaps relating day-to-day activities with frustrating news out of Washington.

The athletic choreography is both lyrical and militaristic, flowing and funny — and one must notice how much boot sound one can get out of bare feet!

The piece, one act slightly under an hour in length, is a great bit of evening entertainment.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blithe Spirit

Anyone who has enjoyed the many performances of Lenore Sebastian over the years will want to be sure to get tickets to see her as Madame Arcati in the Woodland Opera House production of Noel Coward’s ghostly comedy, “Blithe Spirit.” It may be one of her best performances.

Thanks to direction by Robert Cooner, costuming by Denise Miles and Sebastian’s magnificent inhabiting of the character, she has brought the eccentric medium to life delightfully.

Madame Arcati is brought to the home of Charles (Matthew Abergel) and Ruth (Patricia Glass) Condomine, to perform a seance for them and their guests Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Steve Mackay and Christine Deamer). Charles, a writer, needs material for a book he is writing about professional charlatans. All four think the seance will be great fun and laugh at the antics and gestures of Arcati.
All is great fun until Arcati somehow conjures up the spirit of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Analise Langford-Clark), visible only to Charles.

Charles has a difficult time convincing his current wife, who thinks he just had too much to drink, until he finds a way to prove to her that Elvira is really there — he convinces her to move a few objects.

Arcati has to admit she doesn’t know how to send Elvira back to the other side, and Elvira is having a lovely time back in her old house, taunting Ruth, who can’t see her but realizes that she really is there.

What to do with two women you love, but who hate each other, both inhabiting the same house, only one of whom is actually living?

Abergel makes Charles a not-so-lovable egotistical novelist who is rather enjoying having both of his wives around. As the play continues, he becomes irritated with them both, but you can see he is enjoying the game.

Glass, as Ruth, while obviously in love with her husband, also has hen-pecked him. She is more interested in appearances and showing off her perfect home (great design by Don Zastoupil), serving the perfect martini and making fun of Madame Arcati.

A victim of Ruth’s need for perfection is the maid Edith (Rachel Tauner, last seen as Anne Frank in last year’s “Diary of Anne Frank.”), who is overwhelmed by her boss’ demands but can’t run to keep up because that bothers Ruth, too.

Deamer is what everyone might think of as an uppercrust British “dame,” (that’s a as in “ahh” not “ay”) but sadly, much of her dialog is lost in the very, very British accent. A little less accent would be oh-so-much better. One misses her half of some very witty conversation with Ruth.

Mackay has no such accent problem and is the solid doctor who takes charge when Arcati collapses during the seance.

There is a lot of humor in this classic play, but it also has a sting to it, as it examines the difficulties within a marriage and what causes the disintegration of both of Charles’ marriages.

All in all, this is an excellent play by the Woodland Opera House, which is worth seeing on its own — but especially to watch Sebastian’s performance.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Diary of Anne Frank

Dale Lisa Flint (as Mrs. Frank), Maddy Wood (as Anne Frank)
and Eric Wheeler (as Mr. Van Daan) perform in
Sacramento Theatre Company's “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Charr Crail Photography/Courtesy photo
When Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl in Amsterdam, received a diary on her 13th birthday, she dreamed of one day becoming a writer.

Given that her famous diary has been translated into more than 70 languages, published in more than 60 countries and sold more than 35 million copies, her dream was achieved beyond her wildest expectations! Her diary appears on lists of the bestselling books of all times.

A play, dramatized by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, opened on Broadway in 1955, ran 717 performances and won several Tony Awards, including one for Best Play.

Now, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Anne’s receipt of the diary, the Sacramento Theatre Company is presenting an outstanding version of the story of eight Jewish people hiding in a secluded room for more than two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

The production, directed by Casey McClellan, boasts a stellar cast, starting with Olivia Ingram as Anne (she shares this role with Maddy Wood). Ingram is perfect as the irrepressible young girl whose spirit cannot be dampened despite the circumstances of their claustrophobic incarceration.

During her time in the room, she works through problems with her mother, a first love and irritation with the other occupants, but keeps her positive attitude: “I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains,” and “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”

Michael Jenkinson is Anne’s father, Otto Frank, whose job it is to keep the peace among the disparate group forced to live together.

Mrs. Frank (Dale Lisa Flint) struggles with her relationship with Anne, and she is in charge of keeping the room running smoothly.

Kate Brugger is Anne’s older sister, Margot, quiet and shy. Brugger shares this role with Paige Johnson.

Otto’s business partner, Mr. van Daan (Eric Wheeler), joins the Franks with his wife (Natasha Hause) and son Peter (Nick Leras, sharing the role with Owen Larson). Mr. van Daan is perpetually hungry and tends to steal the small amounts of food the group has. His wife’s dearest possession is her fur coat, which she eventually must sell.

Peter is painfully shy to begin with and spends most of his time in his room with his cat (who must be the best cat in the world, since he lives in a small bucket without complaint!).

A late addition to the room is the dentist, Mr. Dussell (STC favorite Gary Martinez), arriving to spend a day or two, but staying for the duration. Dussell is persnickety and acerbic, allergic to the cat and resentful of having to share a room with Anne. Martinez is reminiscent of Leo G. Carroll.

Frank’s employee, Miep Gies (Kirsten Myers), and Mr. Kraler (William Oberholtzer) keep the secret identities hidden and bring supplies and news of the outside to the group weekly.

While this is a dark, depressing story, it is not without its lighter moments. There is a lovely Hanukkah celebration, where Anne reveals that she has made gifts for everyone, and the joy at hearing of the invasion of Normandy, which brings promise that their incarceration soon may be over.
But in the close quarters, nerves fray and little irritations take on greater significance, and though the audience knows how the story ends, the discovery of the hidden room by the Nazi soldiers is still heart-rending.

Anne died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but because Miep Gies saved her writings, Anne’s father, the only survivor of the group, was able to put her diary into shape to be published.

Anne’s message resonates with all of us today, as we look at all the problems we see around us: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Friday, September 29, 2017

Behind the Scenes

Stage manager Kimmie McCann, takes a peek onto the stage as actors wait backstage for her instructions during Davis Musical Theatre Company's production of "Jekyll & Hyde." Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

When an audience sits down for a local musical-theater show, they see a polished production — told by actors through words, song and dance — that allows them to escape into another time and place.
But what they may not realize is how much coordination and activity goes on during a night’s show behind the scenes: rapid costume and set changes, the orchestra playing on cue, lighting and sound technicians working with precision, actors doing last-second rehearsals in the wings, makeup touch-ups and mic adjustments.

The Enterprise spent a day at Davis Musical Theatre Company during its current production of “Jekyll and Hyde” to give audiences an inside glimpse into everything that happens before and during showtime that they don’t see.

Here is how a Sunday-afternoon performance unfolded:

The actors are called to the theater at 12:30 p.m., so I showed up at noon and found Conrad, from a professional cleaning service in Oakland, scrubbing the lobby and taking bags of trash out. The lobby smelled very clean.

Dannette Vassar, who would later appear on stage as Lady Beaconsfield, was in the ticket booth making final adjustments on ticketing for the day’s show.

I moved inside the theater itself and stage manager Kimmie McCann was smoothing out some problems with set placement the previous night. McCann, I would learn throughout the afternoon, is the real anchor for the show and seems to be everywhere at once, fixing problems along the way.
She conferred with costumer Jean Henderson about repairs she had made to a couple of costumes while Henderson was out of town.

“They aren’t your quality, of course,” she said. “It’s fun and games always,” she said to me as she went backstage.

Lights came on in the light booth and there was Vassar again. She’s also on the light crew and presumably was making last-minute adjustments there as well.

They sat me at a chair out of the way and it was fun to observe my surroundings — walls covered with writing from various people over the past years in the Jean Henderson Performing Arts Center theater, each wall with a big “DO NOT PAINT” sign on it.

One wall is covered, all the way to the ceiling, with various chairs, which will hang there until they are needed. Shelving units are set aside for things like baskets of varying sizes or bottles, while a hanging shoe bag is used for smaller props.

Meanwhile, the actors started arriving backstage, and began getting out of their T-shirts and jeans and into costumes. The air-conditioning had gone out in the dressing rooms, so they could not close the doors and big fans blew air into the rooms.

“I’m not sure where we’re going to get the funds to fix it,” McCann said to me as she passed by.
To avoid crowding into the stuffy rooms, some of the actors were helping one another with costumes or makeup in the hallway.

Musicians started arriving at 1 p.m., including 88-year-old violinist Helen Mendel, who has been playing with DMTC for many years. Mendel chose not to climb all those stairs down into the orchestra pit, but took the small elevator. All the orchestra members volunteer their time and are “paid” a drink and a cookie at intermission.

The cast was called to the stage for the sound check. Some were doing individual vocalizations and then they did vocals in unison.

At the same time, a group walked in and across the stage with a leader, who was speaking to them softly. These were ushers for the show, learning what their jobs would entail. (There are different volunteer ushers for every performance — it’s a way to see the show for free.)

With the cast on stage, there also was a final check on lights and then everyone was backstage again while director and DMTC co-founder Jan Isaacson passed through each dressing room and gave final notes from the night before.

McCann announced that the house was opening, so the backstage lights were turned off and the orchestra started to warm up.

“Places, please,” McCann called, while Isaacson went out on stage to welcome the audience.

The actors paced back and forth in the wings or did stretching exercises while waiting to go on. I commented on Vassar’s costume and she confessed that she had a quick change coming up, so she had dressed in layers so she’d only need to remove her top layer when she came off stage.

The first set pieces came off stage, with the actors, and the girls of the ensemble quickly stripped McCann’s husband, Brian, of his bulky clothes and got him into the costume for the next scene. With three of them working, the change was accomplished in less than a minute.

Meanwhile, Kimmie McCann was everywhere — helping people straighten their costumes, moving set pieces and making sure props were put away immediately.

“I don’t say this just because she’s my wife,” Brian said, “but she’s the most actor-friendly stage manager I’ve ever worked with.”

There’s even time for a quick tender moment between the couple before Brian goes on for his next scene.

DMTC co-founder Steve Isaacson came backstage to tell me of a sound problem they had just solved. Tomás Eredia, working the light board, noticed a problem with the sound board, so Steve relieved him of his duties and the two worked to fix the sound.

In the meantime, Steve gave control of the light board to Jenna Karoly, a teen who has been learning how to run the system.

“She’s been with us since she was 8 years old,” Isaacson said, adding that her father helps with sets and her mother sometimes bartends for the theater.

He explained that there is a lot to running a sound board, especially when it’s a new addition to a theater. (This is only DMTC’s third show since sound augmentation was added.)

But it went off without a hitch.

“I was giving her cues,” Isaacson said. “She did the next scene without my saying anything. I didn’t have to worry. The show continued flawlessly.”

At intermission, I walked from one side of the theater to the other, backstage, surprised to find a near life-size elephant on the other side. This is a prop for the youth theater’s production of “Aladdin Jr.,” which is being presented at Saturday matinees.

Jan Isaacson explained that after the Friday evening performance of “Jekyll and Hyde,” those sets are pushed out of the way and “Aladdin” sets are moved into place. Then following the “Aladdin” performance the next afternoon, the parents of the young actors move those sets back in place and the “Jekyll and Hyde” sets are ready for Sunday’s performance.

As Act 2 began, some of the actors sat on set pieces in the wings, taking cat naps while waiting for their turn to go on stage.

In the meantime, the show continued to run like a well-oiled machine under the constant movement of Kimmie McCann.

Actors assisted in set changes, donning black-hooded capes before going on stage.

“They make the actors mildly unobtrusive,” Steve Isaacson said, explaining that there’s a light that reflects from the costumes onto the floor and this is a way of cutting down on their visibility. One actress nearly didn’t get to the stage in time to don her cloak — but McCann was there to make sure she did.

At the end of the show, there was thunderous applause. The cast stayed on stage to greet the patrons.
Meanwhile, Kimmie McCann made certain that everything was put back where it should be, and ready for the next performance.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is an American classic, first produced in 1962, winning the Tony and Drama Circle award for best play, the Pulitzer Prize for best play and Tonys for its stars.

In 1966 it was made into a movie, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and is one of only two films to be nominated in every eligible category at the Academy Awards, winning five awards. It is preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

It’s heavy history for a local theater company to take on, but B Street Theatre is up to the challenge. Director Dave Pierini confided to the audience before the play began that to get permission to do an Albee play, the Albee estate has to approve the actors, the director, the stage design, costumes, etc. — so it is a real privilege to be given the rights to do this play.

The B Street production does not disappoint.

This story of George and Martha, the Bickersons of the 1960s, is an intense look at a marriage that appears to be falling apart, but what holds the couple together is their hatred of one another, and a dark secret they are holding that binds them to each other. Watching them go at each other for three hours (with two intermissions) is exhausting, but at the same time exhilarating.

Kurt Johnson and Elisabeth Nunziato are simply marvelous. Martha’s father is the president of a college and George is a professor in the history department (not the head of the department, Martha is fond of reminding him, as a way of putting him down).

It seems that everything she says has the intent of evoking some sort of a response from him that will lead into a further argument.

George is henpecked and knows it, but he can give as much as he receives in the verbal sparring with his wife. Both know how best to hurt each other and don’t hesitate to do it.

The play begins at 2 a.m. when George and Martha have just returned home after a party, obviously feeling the effects of the liquor they have consumed. Martha confesses that she has invited a new professor, 20-something Nick (Jason Kuykendall, Nunziato’s real-life husband) and his wife Honey (Dana Brooke) to drop by.

Nick and Honey aren’t quite sure what they are doing there so late at night, but the four consume massive quantities of alcohol. I was mostly impressed with Kuykendall, who got drunker and drunker very convincingly, while the others went from sober-sounding to drunk-sounding quickly.

Kuykendall’s reaction was not only in the slow slurring of his speech, but the changes in his body language, too.

The more he drinks, the more he drops the innocent young professor persona and displays his disdain for George, who has been at the college for years and still has not risen to the head of his department.
Honey, on the other hand is more childlike and in awe of George and Martha, but physically affected more and more as the arguments escalate. She also begins to realize that as much as George is a source of Nick’s contempt, so, too, is she. One wonders if in 20 years they will be the George and Martha of the campus.

Martha uses Nick to mock George by making sexual advances to the younger man, though after a tryst in the bedroom, she is not above pointing out that he is sorely lacking in his sexual prowess. George insists that they all play a game, a grotesque game that leave all four stripped bare.

The play comes to a dramatic conclusion with an agonizing monologue by Martha, performed by Nunziato with heart-rending authenticity.

Albee died in 2016. With the finicky restrictions on productions of his works, continued by his estate, one can only think that even he would be proud of this production.

The audience should be aware that herbal cigarettes are smoked throughout the evening.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Anne of Green Gables

I have a confession to make. I did something on Friday that I have never done before.

My plan had been to review the Woodland Opera House production of Noel Coward’s “Blythe Spirit” and I did indeed go to the Opera House, only to be very surprised when I sat in my seat, looked at my program and realized that I was about to see “Anne of Green Gables, The Musical,” one of the Opera House’s family series. No wonder the Opera House was so full!

Confused, I looked through the program and discovered that I was a month too early for “Blythe Spirit.”

But my error was fortuitous because while I rarely review one of the family series shows, this one was delightful.

This musical tells the story of Anne Shirley, the heroine of the Lucy Maud Montgomery books and her impact on her adopted family and the town in which she lives.

Gretchen Cryer has written the book and lyrics with music by Nancy Ford. The production is directed by Eva Sarry, with musical direction by Lori Jarvey.

Katie Halls has a monumental task carrying the show as the spunky Anne, as she is in just about every scene, as well as 12 of the 15 musical numbers. She is at her best as the young orphan longing for a permanent home after several unsuccessful placements. She is upbeat and loves everything about the countryside, her new home and the prospect of having people to love her.

This poses a problem for Matthew Cuthbert (Steve Cairns) and his sister Marilla (Nancy Agee), who had asked the orphanage for a boy to help with farm chores. But Matthew is taken by Anne’s enthusiastic and endearing attitude and really hopes to convince Marilla to keep the girl.

Agee is great as the reticent Marilla, a woman who has had her share of hurts throughout her life and does not want to give her heart to anyone, especially not a young girl. Though she finally relents and allows Anne to stay, she keeps the girl at emotional arms length while slowly growing to care for her.

Emily Jo Seminoff is Diana, who becomes Anne’s BFF. Watching Seminoff grow as an actress over the years has been part of the fun of being a critic. Her range of performances from Peter Pan to Helen Keller have all been top-notch and her Diana is no exception. Watching the two girls together is such fun, especially when they accidentally get into the wrong berry cordial and end up drunk.

Barrett Shepherd is Gilbert Blythe, the young man whose ill-advised comment on Anne’s appearance causes a rift between the two which lasts for years.

Mimi Walker is Rachel Lynde, the stereotypical town busybody, suspicious of everyone and determined to think the worst of orphans and especially girl orphans.

Maris Samsel plays several roles — everything from a school girl to Diana’s mother, all with the assistance of different wigs or hats, while Spencer Alexander — who recently won a best-actor award for his Seymour Krelborn in “Little Shop of Horrors” — is Mr. Phillips, the town teacher, who firmly believes in the adage “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

“Anne of Green Gables” is no Noel Coward, but it is a fun family show.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jekyll and Hyde

Why should you attend the Davis Musical Theater productions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sister Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Damn Yankees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

My Fair Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Odyssey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

9 to 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

On the Town

After seeing Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s superb “Wonderful Town” and Music Circus’ sparkling “On the Town” — both by the team of Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein and both paens to the Big Apple — I have a strong craving for a slice of New York pizza.

The energetic “On the Town” burst onto the Music Circus stage this week, the 1944 musical as fresh as it was when it first opened on Broadway. The show opens with a lament (“I feel like I”m not out of bed yet”) by a workman (Joseph Torello) whose voice is clear and deep and wonderful. He appears as several other announcers throughout the show.

This is the story of three sailors on a 24-hour leave in New York City. It is the first time each of them has visited the city and they are determined to see everything and maybe pick up a lady along the way.

Chip (Matt Loehr) has a tour book his father used many years ago … and he’s determined not to miss anything. Gabey (Sam Lips) falls in love with a picture of “Miss Turnstyle” that he sees on the subway and is determined to find her. Ozzie (Clyde Alves) just wants to find a date because Manhattan women are “the prettiest in the world.”

The trio decide to split up and see if they can find Miss Turnstyle (real name Ivy Smith, played by Courtney Iventosch). They agree to meet up back in Times Square at the end of the afternoon.
Gabey steals the poster off the subway and is pursued through the rest of the show by an umbrella-waving little old lady (Karen Hyland) and a growing posse of police and others.

Chip is accosted by taxi driver Hildy Esterhazy (Jennifer Cody), who has just been fired from her job. She is a real firecracker, oversexed and determined to get back to her apartment for a little canoodling. Cody is marvelous and brings a real spark to every scene in which she appears.

Ozzie heads to the Museum of Modern Art, because he believes beautiful women love art. There he finds anthropologist Claire de Loone (really) played by Holly Ann Butler, who mistakes Ozzie for a prehistoric man. She is engaged to a famous judge, Pitkin W. Bridgework (Donald Corren), who has encouraged her anthropological studies as a way to sublimate her sexual addiction. He is very understanding when he sees her with another man because he knows it is just scientific investigation.

Gabey goes to Carnegie Hall, where the subway poster says Ivy studies, and he actually finds her, but is hustled out by her teacher, the tipsy Madame Maude P. Dilly (Susan Cella), who wants Ivy to keep her job as a cootchie dancer because it pays her bills for vocal instruction.

Through a parade of increasingly sleazy nightclubs, the group ends up on Coney Island, where Gabey finds Ivy again and all end up back on the dock, where we began. As our three heroes say sad goodbyes to the girls before boarding their ship, three fresh new sailors descend for their own adventure in New York! New York!

Original costumes for this dazzling production were by Jess Goldstein, with Music Circus designer Marcy Froehlich. They are wonderfully, colorfully ’40s, down to the seams in the stockings.
Choreography is by Mark Esposito and includes a dream ballet, an effect that would be used even more effectively a year later by Rodgers and Hammerstein in their “Carousel.”

“On the Town” is a lively, flashy production, last seen on the Music Circus stage in 1961. It’s been a long time — and it was worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wonderful Town

Ruth (Gia Battista) gets a lift from the Brazilian cadets in
Davis Shakespeare Ensemble's “Wonderful Town” on stage through Aug. 6.
Yarcenia Garcia/Courtesy photo

 The Davis Shakespeare Festival has strong entries for its 2017 season. Opening with “The Three Musketeers” and “Wonderful Town,” the festival will close in October with “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Sisters Gia and Gabby Battista play the Sherwood sisters Ruth (Gia) and Eileen (Gabby), who have “escaped” their childhood home in Ohio and come to the Big Apple for all of the opportunities they believe it offers.

Ruth is an aspiring writer, while Eileen wants to break into show business. Along the way they feel like fish out of water and have to learn how to become part of that crazy world that is New York.
The musical is based on the stories of Ruth McKenney and was first produced as a play (“My Sister Eileen”) by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. The music is by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The festival director for this musical is Dennis Beasley, who made such an impression with “Bells are Ringing” last season.

“Bells are Ringing” has a “thin plot,” I said last summer, but the show was fabulous. If that plot is thin, “Wonderful Town’s” plot is even thinner. It is more a study of stereotypical New York types, and Beasley’s cast is so strong that it makes for an enjoyable production.

The girls first learn that lodging is much too expensive until they meet unscrupulous landlord Mr. Appopolous (Kevin Caravalho), who rents them a basement apartment recently vacated by Violet (Annie Dick), who was running a bordello. The apartment is below the street level within clear view of passersby who lean over and look through the windows, and is near periodic explosions from subway constructions.

The multi-talented Caravalho, who plays Cardinal Richelieu in the festival’s other production, “The Three Musketeers” also plays several other members of the ensemble (as do most of the actors). While Caravalho is wonderful in each of his roles, he has such a “unique” appearance, it is often not clear whether he is Appopolous or some other character.

Others in the apartment house include Helen (Andrea J. Love), living with her muscle-bound boyfriend Wreck (Brian Bohlender), who is not strong in the brains department but he sure could “pass that football” in his days as a player. The couple are trying to hide their relationship from Helen’s snooty mother (Jessica Woehler).

Eileen seems to be a dude magnet and all men who meet her fall for her. This includes Ian Hopps, as Frank, who works for Walgreens and sees that Eileen eats for free there every day. Hopps was the romantic lead in last summer’s “Bells are Ringing,” and while Frank is quite a different character, he still makes an impact.

Kyle Stoner is Chick Clark, a sleazy newspaper editor who has designs on Eileen, while J.R. Yancher is Bob Baker, reader for a magazine who lets Ruth know her stories have no chance of ever being published.

There are several beautiful songs, like the lush duet “Ohio,” sung by the sisters when they suffer homesickness. The Battista women have voices that blend together beautifully, like rich melted chocolate.

Gia has several moments to shine in her songs about “One Hundred Easy Ways” and the plaintive “Quiet Ruth.”

Choreography is by Katie Peters and includes everything from Irish jig to swing, to a lively “Conga” by Eileen and a bunch of Brazilian cadets. Music is provided by the on-stage seven-member orchestra, under the direction of David Taylor-Gomes.

From top to bottom, this is a fun production with a strong cast and it shows that the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble continues to grow and thrive.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bad Jews

Over the years, I have seen actress Tara Sissom in many comedies and have long admired her talent for comedy. However, in Capital Stage’s production of “Bad Jews” by Joshua Harmon we see an entirely different side of Sissom. She is funny, yes, but also angry, poignant — and amazing. She dominates as Daphna, one of the grandchildren of “Poppy,” who has just died.

The four-actor play takes place in a cramped New York apartment where three grandchildren have gathered the day after the funeral of their grandfather, the lone family holocaust survivor. The stated plot concerns which of the three will get Poppy’s “chai,” a gold pendant signifying “life.”

It was given to him by his father, and while a prisoner in Auschwitz he hid it in his mouth for two years until liberation. When he had no money for an engagement ring, he gave it to his soon-to-be wife as a symbol of his love. After he was able to buy a ring, he wore it around his neck for the rest of his life, so this has tremendous meaning for his family.

Daphna is certain that he meant for her to have it after his death. Mild-mannered Jonah (Noah Thompson) doesn’t care and just doesn’t want to discuss it. But cousin Liam (Jeremy Kahn) — who missed the funeral because he was skiing in Aspen and whose mother fed-exed him the chai as his grandfather lay dying — feels it rightfully belongs to him.

There is longstanding enmity between Liam and Daphna and they can hardly stand to be in the same room together. Daphna feels that Liam is really a self-hating Jew who chooses “tapid little Bambi” creatures out of insecurity, since with them he can be arrogant and masculine.

As for Liam, “She is horrifying. Just listen to her. Every other word that comes out of her mouth is some unbelievably offensive insult that we’re supposed to pretend not to hear?”

Things explode when Liam (a self-described “bad Jew”) arrives with his Delaware-born girlfriend Melody (Chloe King). He intends to continue the family tradition and give the chai to her in lieu of an engagement ring.

Though the argument over ownership of the chai is volatile, it unearths a lot of long-held feelings about religion, family and tradition. For Daphna, the chai symbolizes the survival of the Jewish faith and to give it to a gentile is unthinkable.

But as this is basically a comedy, there are some very funny moments in it, like remembering when Poppy took them all to Benihana and everyone was struck with bowel problems. The memory brings the three cousins together literally rolling on the floor in laughter.

But then things that seem very innocent (Daphna asking Melody about her background, growing up in Delaware) suddenly turn ugly when she accuses Melody’s family of the genocide of the Native Americans.

Director Amy Resnick has kept the delicate balance between funny and serious so that you’re never quite sure which you are seeing.

But Sissom is a wonder and Kahn, a newcomer to Capital Stage, is a worthy match for her diatribes.
King’s Melody is innocent and totally ignorant of the seriousness and importance of Jewish history (“I don’t see why any of it matters, you know? Where people come from? People are just people.”) which further inflames Daphna, the rabbinical student and uber Jew whose dream is to go to Israel and join the army.

As Jonah, Thompson spends most of the play cringing, hiding and saying he does not want to be involved in the argument — though in the end it is he who has the biggest impact on everyone, on and off the stage.

This is a unique piece of theater, which ends Capital Stage’s “Love and War” season. It is perhaps my favorite of the six plays in the series of excellent pays. Capital Stage just keeps getting better and better.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Jessica Grové as Belle and James Snyder as Beast perform in
“Beauty and the Beast,” produced by Music Circus
at the Wells Fargo Pavilion through July 2.
Charr Crail/Courtesy photo

 The folks at Music Circus would like to invite you to be their guest (for a fee) at the opulent production of Disney’s family classic musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” through July 2.

The near-capacity opening night audience had a lot of little princesses, tottering about on jeweled heels, in royal garb with rhinestone crowns.

This excellent production is directed by Glenn Casale and features several Broadway veterans in the lead roles and sumptuous costumes from Casale’s European tour of this show.

The production inaugurates California Musical Theatre’s new state-of-the-art projection system, a series of screens that circle the upper portion of the theater and project things like the rooftops of buildings, trees in a forest, and parts of a spooky castle, allowing for fewer on-stage set pieces and giving the audience a feeling of being in the action.

There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Broadway veteran James Snyder as the prince who is under the spell of a sorceress to whom he was once rude. He must live life as a hideous beast until he can learn to love another person and have that person love him in return.

A red rose charts his progress and if the last petal of the rose falls without a love interest in the picture, he will remain a beast forever.

Not only is the prince enchanted, but his entire house staff is as well. The maitre d’ has been turned into the candelabra Lumiere (Michael Paternostro) and the major domo is Cogsworth, a clock (David Hibbard), while Courtney Iventosch is Babette, the flirty feather duster, and Jacquelyn Piro Donovan is Madame de la Grande Bouche, the opera singer who is now a dresser, complete with drawers that open.

Dear Mrs. Potts (Shannon Warne), the teapot, sings the title song. Her son Chip (Cooper Miller, alternating with Mia Fisher) was very cute.

I was pleased to see that as the story progresses, the changes in the staff become more and more pronounced. I have seen community theater productions where this does not happen, so it was appreciated that this professional company follows those directions.

Jessica Grové is specializing in princesses at Music Circus. She was last seen as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and plays Belle in this production. Belle is a feisty loner and bookworm in the little town where she lives with her inventor father Maurice (Gordon Goodman). She dreams of finding an enchanted prince who will sweep her away.

After Maurice is set upon by wolves and saved by the Beast, who then imprisons him, Belle agrees to take his place if the Beast lets the old man go.

It’s a rocky start for this eventually happily-ever-after couple, but with help and lessons in being a gentleman from the house staff, the Beast is able to tame his temper and a friendship slowly develops between himself and the young woman. His anguished “If I Can’t Love Her,” which ends the first act, is a tour de force for the actor.

In the meantime, there is the town hunk, Gaston (Peter Saide), who is in love with himself, but determined to have Belle as his wife. His sidekick LeFou (Jared Gertner) thinks of this as a real bromance and puts up with a lot of abuse from this man he admires.

When Gaston leads a band to go and “kill the beast,” it is up to Belle to save this beast she has come to love and, in the process, break the spell.

This is a wonderful production and a great way to start Music Circus’ 67th season. If I have any complaint, it’s that the volume is much too high. I have hearing problems and it bothered me, so I can only imagine what a person with normal hearing would hear.