Saturday, May 26, 2018

Twelfth Night





The enthusiastic crew of Acme Theatre Company are once again giving their yearly gift to the city of Davis in thanks for all the support they receive from everyone throughout the year.  Each year the actors perform a comedy on the outdoor Art Center stage.  The audience is invited to pack a picnic and sit on the grass to enjoy the show (and if it’s too, cold blankets are available to rent and you can even buy socks!)


This year’s play is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” that wonderful world of ridiculousness, where there are separated twins, mixed up lovers, cross dressing, and lots and lots of chasing and fighting

In fact, there is no special credit given for choreographing the fight scenes, but they were masterful.

This production is set in the Vaudeville circuit 1920s, though the setting is fairly irrelevant to the production, other than the great 20s music that is played before and after the show and during intermission, the show posters on the walls, and the costume choices.  (Note the marquee change for Act 2, which is wonderful)

“Twelfth Night” tells the story of Viola (Fiona Ross), shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria with her brother Sebastian (Braeden Ingram), whom she believes to have drowned.  Viola decides to dress in her brother’s clothes and pass herself off as a page named Cesario, under which guise she enters the service of Duke Orsino (Cory McCutcheon). She finds herself attracted to her new boss.  Ross has a hefty role and does it well.

Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia (Annie Oberholtzer), shining star of stage and screen, who is grieving the death of her father and brothers. Orsino sends Cesario with messages of love to Olivia, who wants nothing to do with Orsino, but finds herself attracted to the young page, who awakens her adolescent hormones and, forgetting her grief, turns her into a horny teenager.  Oberholtzer’s transformation from the stern black-clad, grieving sister into a woman who has rediscovered love is wonderful...and very funny.

(One of the problems with most Acme shows is that there are so few men in the company that women fill in many of the male roles.  They do it well, but it makes trying to figure out who is who difficult, especially when many characters are dressed alike and the names of the actors are also gender neutral!)

Jordan Hayakawa opens the show with comments to the audience and then steps into the action as Maria, Olivia’s personal assistant.  There is something magical about Hayakawa and in no obvious way, she commands attention when she is on stage.

Brother James Hayakawa is Malvolio, Olivia’s loyal, if pompously righteous steward. He is outstanding and displays a talent for tap dancing after he has been played a fiendish trick by Maria.

Toby Belch, a kinsman of Olivia, is one of Shakespeare’s best loved buffoons and Dezla Dawkins does well by him.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Gavin Pinnow), is a buddy of Malvolio who puts up with a lot in the hope of an opportunity to woo the fair Olivia.

Irish Harshaw is the clown Feste, Olivia’s fool.  She is petite and appealing and sparkles in each of her scenes.  She also has a lovely singing voice.

Patrick Foraker has appeared in several Acme shows, and has his first speaking role as Curio, one of the Duke’s attendants, which he does very well.

The final performance of this gem is Sunday at 2 p.m.  Do yourself a favor and get down to the Art Center to catch it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Airness

From left, John Lamb, Same Kebede, Peter Story and Josh Bonzie
are air-guitar rockers in B Street Theatre's “Airness.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

How much, if anything, do you know about the art of the air guitar? You have probably seen someone pretending to play the guitar, without an instrument, but is it really “air guitar.”

Chelsea Marcantel, the author of a play called “Airness,” now at B Street Theatre’s “The Sofia,” is not an air guitarist and admits that she had no idea such a thing existed, and when she learned of it thought, “This is the dumbest thing in the world.” As she learned more, she began to appreciate the performance art and “fell in love with that world.”

So don’t discount this fun play out of hand because you think you know what it will be like. I, too, thought this was “the dumbest thing in the world,” but feel like I had a master class in that world watching “Airness.” I won’t say I’m a convert, but I certainly have a new appreciation for the art than I did before seeing this show.

U.S. Air Guitar is the national association of air-guitar artists, whose mission is to send American representation to the International Air Guitar Competition in Finland each year. Competitions are held in a dozen or so cities around the country, each of which picks a winner to join with the other winners and travel to Finland to compete in the final. (Why Finland? Who knows?!)

We meet Nina (Stephanie Altholz), a real guitarist trying to get over a broken heart, who decides to compete in the Chicago competition and figures she has an edge because she already knows how to play the guitar, but she learns from Shreddy Eddy (Peter Story), Golden Thunder (Sam Kebede), Facebender (John Lamb) and Cannibal Queen (Tara Sissom) that air guitar is much more than just pretending to play a guitar. It’s the ability to translate your dreams of becoming a rock star, in 60 seconds, into something that the audience can see and rock out to.

What may seem ridiculous on the surface has real depth and artistry and Nina is having a difficult time grasping that. But she begins to bond with the little community. “We are all each other’s biggest fans.”

Kebede sparkles as Golden Thunder, in his shopworn golden cape and unfailing bravado. His acts get grander and grander, most memorable in his salute to the American flag. Try to forget that!

Lamb is perhaps the heart of the story, the oldest of the group who gets his personal self-worth from what he does, be-wigged, on the air-guitar stage, since he doesn’t get it in his off-stage life.

In his Facebender persona, he speaks in sonnets, which disappear when the costume comes off. His daughter has never seen him perform and the thought of her coming is enough to send him into an apoplexy of anxiety.

Sissom delivers a sizzling performance as Cannibal Queen. She has fought to be considered an equal among these men — and she has. Her performances ooze power.

She and Nina are oil and water from the start, since she is now dating the man who broke Nina’s heart, and what she teaches Nina about that relationship will shape her future as an air guitarist.

Peter Story’s Shreddy Eddy is fairly low-key, as he becomes a mentor for Nina but when he lets rip on stage, he’s unstoppable. “We share the common dedication of the air guitar world: to share world peace.”

Josh Bonzie is David D’Vicious, the reigning king of the air-guitar world, and Nina’s ex. He strides on stage with bravado, knowing he is the king and will be the king. Bonzie delivers a powerful performance and shows how brutal competition can be.

A search through the program reveals that Wade McKenzie-Bahr and Dylan Ballesteros are the theater technicians, who made the many scene changes so much fun and really were almost as much a part of the play as the actors themselves.

They say that we can keep our brains active by learning a new thing every day. Do yourself a favor by heading to The Sofia and learning about air guitar. You’ll have great fun in the process.

On June 9, B Street is hosting an official US Air Guitar Qualifier in Upstairs at the B. The winner will head to Brooklyn, N.Y., and attempt to win the national championship.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Marjorie Prime


Brock D. Vickers and Janis Stevens are spot-on in their compelling roles in
Capital Stage's “Marjorie Prime,” running through June 3. Courtesy photo

 As we all age, and the threat of dementia or Alzheimer’s looms, we fear losing all of our precious memories. What if science could ensure that we could keep those memories?

“Marjorie Prime,” a play by Jordan Harrison now at Capital Stage, deals with just such fears and how future science can help. It is science fiction and reality mixed with humor, but not really a comedy.

This production is directed by Stephanie Gularte, co-founder of Capital Stage, who left Sacramento in 2014 to become producing artistic director of American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is the first ever co-production with American Stage, which ended its run of this show on April 1 before moving the show, actors and all, to Sacramento (two of the cast are from Florida and two from Sacramento).

The audience greeted Gularte with a standing ovation when she came onto the stage with Michael Stevenson, Capital Stage producing artistic director, to give an introduction to the production.

Marjorie is a widow in her mid-80s who is in the middle stages of dementia. Her new companion is “Walter Prime,” a holographic creation that looks and speaks like her late husband, Walter. He helps Marjorie cope, in part by gradually erasing some details of her past and adding more pleasant memories.

Janis Stevens is Marjorie and has perfected the persona of an older woman who still has a thin grasp on her memories, but realizes they are slipping away. Her body language, the way she holds her hands, the way she speaks is spot-on.

As the play begins, Marjorie is talking with a handsome young man named Walter (Brock D. Vickers). As the action progresses, we learn that this is really “Walter Prime,” a holographic version of her husband when he was young and handsome. He is there to remind her of the past and tell her stories of their life together. It is difficult to tell holographic Walter from real Walter until he hits a bit of information that he has not learned yet, and then you can see him processing it and adding it to his database.

When Walter Prime can’t answer a question because that bit of data hasn’t been programmed yet, Marjorie complains and he responds, “I sound like whoever I talk to.” This is, perhaps, the most important message of this play — remembering the past is not the same as reliving it and the Primes can only share memories that they have been programmed to remember.

Marjorie lives with her daughter Tess (Jamie Jones) and her husband Jon (Steven Sean Garland). Tess struggles with “losing” her mother as more and more of her memory disappears and jealousy of Walter Prime, who is more important to Marjorie than Tess is. Jones gives a wonderful performance as the daughter on the edge, loving her mother, but hating her for not being the mother that she was.

Garland plays Jon as the calming influence between supporting his wife and comforting his mother-in-law.

We then see Marjorie looking younger and brighter, and sitting on the couch chatting with Tess. As the conversation progresses, we realize that Marjorie has died and this is Marjorie Prime, who is there to hold the memories for Tess, who hasn’t been in favor of the holograms, but now finds comfort in being able to speak with her mother’s Prime even though she’s angry that it’s not really her mother.

The final scene is one of those that leaves lots of questions, lots of “what happens next?” And isn’t that the sign of a great play — one that makes you want to dissect it long after it has ended?


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Jack of Diamonds

photo is courtesy of EMH Productions with Deborah Shalohoub and Lew Rooker   
Jack of Diamonds, a retirement home comedy by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes examines the lives of five residents of an upscale retirement community, who have just learned that their broker has lost their life savings in a Ponzi scheme.  The show is just plain silly, with laughs a-plenty as the crew tries to figure out how to stay in their expensive community. (There are lots of fart jokes, and bathroom jokes)

Lew Rooker is the Jack of the title, one of those TV-jewelers, with a stash of Viagra in his back pocket and an eye for Blanche (Katherine Muris), the narcoleptic woman who passes out at odd moments.

Deborah Shalhoub is Rose, a visually-challenged woman with laxatives in her purse.  Rose is addicted to the Internet.

Georgann Wallace is Flora, who suffers from dementia, but who makes beautiful jewelry.

Ryan Boyd is Barney Effward (great name), the guy who lost the money, now hiding in the retirement community pretending to be catatonic.  There are lots of funny discussions about what to do with him.

Elise Hodge is Nurse Harper, the rigid care giver, who runs the community more like a prison.  Hodge is also producer, co-director, and set designer of this production

Chas Weiss plays three small parts and is especially good as a germaphobic attorney.

Corey Morris is the director who keeps all the craziness going and who greets each patron as if he is welcoming them to their new home.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Gutenberg! the Musical!

There’s a new sheriff in town. Or at least a new theater company. Bike City Theatre Company is a promising new group, whose goal is to bring new works — dramatic and comedic, as well as improv and sketch comedy — to Davis.

The first production, “Gutenberg! The Musical!” is a zany comedy that definitely delivers on the promise to bring comedic works to Davis.

“Gutenberg!” is a musical written by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Brown and King developed the show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, where it ran for more than a year, then transferred to The Actors’ Playhouse on Jan. 16, 2007. The production closed on May 6, 2007. It was nominated for four awards for book and music.

Bike City is not your usual company, as one discovers upon picking up tickets, where you learn that in keeping with their philosophy of saving the environment, there are no printed programs available. Either print your own from their website before coming to the theater, or you scan the QR code on the wall of the theater to get the program on your cell phone.

There are also no real “sets,” but milk cartons and cardboard covered with newsprint to serve as guidelines. Scenographer Heidi Voekler gets high marks for creativity. There is no credit given for costumes, but whoever chose Kevin Gish’s tie was inspired.

Bike City has no home theater, so this show is being performed in several locations. We saw it at Root of Happiness Kava Bar. Other locations are Sudwerk and Super Owl breweries, Watermelon Music and the Pence Gallery. The idea is to bring theater to people who might not otherwise go to theater, explained Artistic Director J.R. Yancher.

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” is a 90-minute, two-person comedy and features Doug (Gish) and Bud (Kyle Stoner) as enthusiastic playwrights who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press. We, the audience, have been invited to a backer’s audition, where the playwrights are looking for funding to bring the show to Broadway.

Gish and Stoner are two actors with excellent dentition (one can’t help but notice when sitting in the front row, inches from the stage!) who have seemingly inexhaustible energy as they race through the story, playing some 20-plus different characters (each with his or her own unique hat, labeled to avoid confusion). The playwrights admit that their extensive Google search yielded little information on Johannes Gutenberg, so this play is made from alternative facts.

Gutenberg lives in the fictitious town of Schlimmer, Germany and is a vintner who can’t seem to make a living plying his trade. He notices that nobody in the town can read and this is causing problems, such as the death of a baby (“dead baby” is one of the characters) because his mother gave him jelly beans instead of medicine because she couldn’t read the label (“Jelly beans, not medicine/If only I could read,” she sings).

The music in this show is fun and catchy, but totally forgettable. We didn’t go home humming “Gutenberg/darn tootin’-berg/he’s the best chap around sure as shootin’-berg” or the beef-fat trimmer’s song, “The sun it rises in the east/I smell bread rising with the yeast” — but we loved hearing them.

Gutenberg’s assistant is the lovely Helvetica, who spends her time stomping grapes and pining away for the love of her boss. Gutenberg has an epiphany and decides to convert his grape press into a printing press and help the town become literate. But will the evil “monk” — who does not want the people to read, so he can interpret the Biblical word of God to be anything he wants it to be — succeed in destroying the printing press?

There is so much cleverness in this comedy. For example, when there is a meeting in the town square, the two men don all of the hats and, as they speak out as one character or the other, toss the top hat aside and become the next character. There is also a dance number that features a kick line of five dancers, which must be seen to be believed.

This show is just fun from start to finish — and may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if the theater company finds its own stage. For the time being, being “homeless and wandering” doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect on this talented company at all.

You will have to go to the Bike City Theatre website to get information about venues and tickets. But, trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

B Street’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” adapted by Le Clanche du Rand and directed by Jerry Montoya has been so popular that its run has been extended to May 6. 

The 55 minute production takes place in the larger of the two theaters in B Street’s new complex, “The Sofia,” a room which is large, warm, and very comfortable. 

In addition to its regular performances, B Street also offers free performances of this play for Sacramento area school children during the week, two performances a day.  I arrived between the 10:00 and 11:30 performances and found a fleet of school buses outside the theater and what seemed like thousands of children in the lobby of the building.

The theater seats 386 and was nearly full of children from very small kindergartners to high schoolers, all of whom were surprisingly well behaved.

There is a cast of two, Dana Brooke and John Lamb, who are listed as Lucy and Peter (two of the Pevensie children) but who actually play all the characters, changing costumes, wigs, and voices as the act out the story of the children who go through a wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia, where they have adventures before returning to the wardrobe.

I was happy I had recently read the book because I think it might have been more difficult to follow the plot if I didn’t already know it.  Brooke, as the White Witch is particularly difficult to follow due to a reverb use in her microphone which gave her voice a creepy quality that my ears could not understand much of the time.

However, the kids loved it and the intermittent inclusion of the audience to answer questions brought them into the story beautifully.  When Peter and Lucy travel to find the lion Aslan’s table (which has great significance in the story), for example, their travels take them all through the audience before finally landing them back on stage.

It is essentially a bare stage, with no complicated scenery, which set designer Samantha Reno has filled with drawings to represent the various scenes, which are projected on the back wall.  From the moment the large beautiful English manor house where the children are visiting appears on the screen, one knew that sets weren’t really going to be necessary.  In fact, this production fits beautifully with the type of children’s theater that B Street has performed since 1986, which allows a child’s imagination to soar with the assistance of two excellent story tellers.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is fun for all ages, but don’t be afraid to take the very little ones (5 and older) and enjoy the show together.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Guys and Dolls


One of the best things about Davis Musical Theatre Company’s new production of “Guys and Dolls” was seeing co-producer, musical director, set, light and sound designer Steve Isaacson in the major role of Nathan Detroit (played by Frank Sinatra in the movie).

Isaacson has been sidelined for a long time with physical problems and it’s great to see him on stage again, in such a big part. And who better to play a New York wise-cracking scoundrel than a former New Yorker. Detroit runs the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.”

Jan Isaacson is co-producer, director and choreographer, making this show a real family affair. Isaacson has become a very good choreographer and knows how to work with dancers and non-dancers and make everyone look good.

“Guys and Dolls” is an adaptation of several Damon Runyon stories written in the 1920s and ’30s, of a fictional group of saints (missionaries) and sinners (gamblers) and is filled with familiar songs that seem to have been around forever, such as “A Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” and “Luck Be a Lady.” The music is by Frank Loesser and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.

While there are several good performances in this production, outstanding is a newcomer to DMTC, Bridget Styles as Miss Adelaide (“the famous fiancee”), who has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years and still hopes for a wedding some day.

Styles is perfect, without going overboard, as it is so easy to do when portraying the bleach-blonde prohibition-era showgirl at the Hot Box. She is particularly good when describing the psychological effects on the body of unrequited love (“Adelaide’s Lament”).

Jori Gonzales is the idealistic, but sheltered missionary Sarah Brown, head of Broadway’s Save-a-Soul mission, determined to bring new souls to God. She is confused by her attraction to Sky Masterson (Tate Pollack, also making his DMTC debut) and is surprised to learn she has an adventurous side when Masterson convinces her to accompany him on a wild night in Havana.

Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy is a warm-hearted missionary, with only Sarah’s good as his primary concern. Don Draughon gives a lovely soliloquy in “More I Cannot Wish You.”

Among the group of Nathan’s cronies is Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Hugo Figueroa, who, according to his program bio, is only 24 years old, but who has appeared in 26 DMTC shows). Nicely-Nicely has the show stopping “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and sets all toes to tapping.

Mary Young, who has been with DMTC for 33 years, gives a spirited performance as General Cartwright, in town to assess the mission to see if it should be shut down or not.

Isaacson got a little carried away with the lighting design for this show, mostly with overuse of the follow spotlight which was occasionally distracting.

Jean Henderson had fun with the costumes, particularly those for the show girls at the nightclub, and also for the ensemble in the opening number, where each costume nicely explains who each person is without the need for words.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hairspray`


Do you have fake-news fatigue? Are you tired of tweets? Are you throwing things at TV talking heads? I have the perfect solution for you.

Get on over to Woodland and see the fabulous, high-spirited production of “Hairspray,” directed by Angela Baltezore. There is not a weak spot in this show, there are incredibly good actors, and in the end you’ll want to raise your hands in the air, with the cast, in the manner of last-act finale. You’ll go home humming “You can’t top the beat.”

“Hairspray” is the story of Tracy Turnblad, a zaftig teenager who is a fan of the 1960s American Bandstand-type show, “The Corny Collins Show.” She auditions for a spot on the show, wins and becomes an overnight celebrity — to the consternation of the show’s producer, who is also an avid stage mother pushing her daughter to eventual stardom.

Can Tracy, who has a wonderful heart, stay the course and succeed in integrating the all-white show so her friends from the African-American community can dance with her?

The success of this show depends in large measure on Tracy and her mother, Edna. Carlie Robinson is making her Opera House debut as Tracy. She has an infectious smile that brightens the room and her ebullience makes her impossible to ignore. It’s a perfect casting. She is militantly cheerful, even when things are at their most bleak.

When the John Waters non-musical stage play opened on Broadway in 1988, it starred drag queen Divine in the gender-bending role of Edna, Tracy’s mother. When Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan and Marc Shaiman turned it into a musical (which won eight Tony Awards), Harvey Fierstein took on the role of Edna, (one of the Tonys). When a movie of the musical was made in 2007, John Travolta played Edna, but his performance was always “John Travolta-plays-Edna” and he never really believably became the character.

The same cannot be said for Jason Hammond who is outstanding as the mother who has not left her home in years because she’s ashamed of her weight. She makes her living by doing laundry for others. She loves and is protective of her daughter and her relationship with husband Wilbur (Bob Cooner) is beautiful to see. Their duet, “You’re Timeless to Me” was such a hit that they did an encore.

Tracy’s best friend Penny is played by the talented Katie Halls, who, though she is a second banana to Tracy, makes the most of her scenes, particularly those with “Seaweed” (Michael-David Smith), the “Negro” who becomes her dancing partner and love interest. Both Halls and Smith give powerful performances.

Deborah Hammond (Jason’s real-life wife) is Motormouth Maybelle, the owner of a downtown record shop and the host of “Negro Day” (once a month) on “The Corny Collins Show.” Hammond has a set of pipes that will tear the roof off of the Opera House and her “I Know Where I’ve Been” brought cheers from the audience.

Patricia Glass is Velma, the villainess of the piece. She is mother to Amber (McKinley Carlisle) and determined to keep her daughter in the spotlight, but she sees Tracy as a threat. Often her songs, sung with sneered lips, are reminiscent of some of the Disney villainesses, like Cruella de Vil, and she succeeds at being detestable.

Amber is a spoiled brat who thinks the sun rises and sets on her and can’t stand Tracy stealing not only her thunder, but also her boyfriend Link (Ryan Everitt), the hunk with a heart who realizes that there are things more important than being the star of a music show.

Choreography by Staci Arriaga is wonderful and executed flawlessly by the 29-person cast. More than one person in the audience got up to dance with the cast during the finale.

Set design by Craig and Joey Vincent works beautifully and the TV set for the final scene is perfect.

Denise Miles has created some beautiful costumes, particularly those for Edna.

I promise that as you leave the theater there will only be happy thoughts in your head and you will turn to each other, as my husband did to me, with only one word to describe it all: “Wow!”

Monday, April 23, 2018

Man of La Mancha


The Sacramento Theatre Company has opened a sumptuous new production of “Man of La Mancha,” directed by Michael Jenkinson.

The Broadway hit, by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion is a musical drama — a play within a play within a play — which tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes, thrown into prison while awaiting examination by the Holy Inquisition for having the effrontery to foreclose on a church that had not paid its taxes. Cervantes’ original text was written in 1605.
Greeting the new arrivals, Cervantes’ fellow prisoners hold their own inquisition, a mock trial, accusing the writer of being, among other things, an idealist and a bad poet. If “convicted,” he will lose his belongings, which consist primarily of a trunk of theatrical costumes and props, and an unfinished manuscript. In his defense, the author proposes he act out the story of the manuscript, using other prisoners to fill in the roles.

It is the story of Alonso Quijano, an idealistic old man who imagines himself to be living in medieval times as a knight errant, Don Quixote de La Mancha, who travels the countryside fighting beasts and rescuing damsels in distress.

“He ponders the problem of how to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all, where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity,” he says. He promises not to allow wickedness to flourish. The delusional Quijano is an embarrassment to his respectable family.
Director Jenkinson explains that “The themes this beautiful piece explores — truth, justice, love, accountability, and hope, to name a few — are timeless in their importance, and serve as profound lessons in the human experience.”

Chris Vettel is a commanding Cervantes, a strong actor with a rich baritone, never shown better than in the classic “Impossible Dream.” Vettel has the ability to transform himself into the idealistic Don Quixote with a mere change in the look in his eyes, and to return to the person of Cervantes just as easily. It’s an amazing feat!

Quixote’s faithful squire, Sancho Panza, is played by Jake Mahler, whose earnestness and love for his master is beautiful.

Nicole Sterling was a wonderful choice of the server Aldonza, whom Quixote elevates to the role of a wonderful “lady” and calls Dulcinea. Aldonza, the sexual plaything of all the men in the hotel, which Quixote calls a castle, has the lowest opinion of herself possible and can’t understand what “good” Quixote sees in her. (“What does he want of me?”) Though, ultimately it is Dulcinea who brings the greatest comfort to the dying old man.

Matt K. Miller gives a somewhat different interpretation of the Innkeeper (also the “governor” of the prison). A wonderful comedian, Miller gives more comedic overtones to the Innkeeper than I remember seeing before and it is a nice respite from the heaviness of the script.

In the role of “The Duke” in the prison and the old man’s physician, “Dr. Carrasco” back in reality, Michael RJ Campbell gives his usual towering performance.

Samuel Clein directs an on-stage orchestra of five, which is so much better than the recorded music STC sometimes uses.

Eric Broadwater has designed an uncomfortable prison, so dark and dank that you can almost feel the cold the prisoners must endure.

Director Jenkinson says that the musical may have more relevance today than it had when originally written, with Don Quixote journeying through his fantasy world, believing that true madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be. The line in the show which gets a big, if uneasy laugh, is, “Facts are the enemy of truth.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Finding Neverland


In 2014, we were fortunate to see “Finding Neverland” at its U.S. premiere in Cambridge, Mass., and I fell in love with the show. Since then, it has been modified, moved to Broadway, where it ran for 17 months and was nominated for Drama Desk, Drama League and Astaire awards. Now it is on a national tour and the California Musical Theatre opened its production this week. I still love the show.

There was loud applause before anybody had even appeared on stage, when a brightly flashing light, which didn’t need to be identified to anybody, started dancing around the curtain and the audience. Tinker Bell was welcoming us to the show.

“Finding Neverland” is the story of how the classic book, “Peter Pan,” came to be written and is loosely based on the 2004 Johnny Depp movie. J.M. Barrie (Will Ray) is portrayed as a successful playwright, unhappily married to a social climber (Janine DiVita). He is suffering from writer’s block. His producer, Charles Frohman (John Davidson, who later appears as Captain Hook) needs a new show now and Barrie has run dry.

While wandering London’s Kensington Park, looking for inspiration, he meets the Llewelyn-Davies brothers, George (Colin Wheeler), Peter (Turner Birthisel), Jack (Bergman Freedman) and Michael (Tyler Patrick Hennessy). (Each of the roles is triple cast; these were the children who played them on opening night.) He is drawn into the games of fantasy of three of the brothers, and particularly taken with the sadness of Peter, who has lost the ability to enjoy life, due to the recent death of his father.

A friendship with the boys and with their mother Sylvia (Lael Van Keuren) develops and as he learns what it is to be a child again, his creative juices start flowing once more as he imagines what it would be like if boys never had to grow up.

There is also a harridan of a grandmother, Mrs. du Maurier (Karen Murphy), determined to run her daughter’s life, a wonderful performance by Karl Skyler Urban, who makes the most of the small role of servant, and an outstanding performance by Sammy, a superb theater dog who played Porthos.

Though there is great sadness in the story, it is smoothed over by the music and the crisp, often intricate choreography (such as the “Dinner Party,” with dancing around, over and under the long dining room table). There are some simple scenes that are downright brilliant, such as the simple love song between Barry an Sylvia on an almost-empty stage with large shadows providing the only extraneous thing. Beautiful.

The musical also has its share of humor. “Do you know any fairies?” one of the boys asks one of Barrie’s somewhat effeminate actors. “My good lad, I work in the theater!” he answers, as the audiences roars.

The first act, of necessity, may run a little long due to having to get all those plot points in and bring in all the inspirations for the later play (like the handle of a threatening cane turning into Hook’s hook). But the first-act finale will blow your socks off.

By the time Act 2 rolls around, rehearsal for the play is in full swing and the action is swift and dizzying. A particularly wonderful song is “We Own the Night,” sung by the four boys on a makeshift stage with blankets forming the backdrop and wooden boxes making a stage.

The final dress rehearsal, performed in the boys’ bedroom for Sylvia, too sick to attend a performance, is lovely and as Sylvia passes into her own Neverland, the special effects are dazzling.

Performances, music, choreography and technical expertise come together to make this a magical evening for both adults and children (over the age of 4) alike.


Sunday, April 08, 2018

Dry Powder


The program for Sarah Burgess’ “Dry Powder,” newly opened at B Street theater, contains a one page glossary for many of the terms used in the Wall Street-based play.  Things like LPs (Limited Partners), IPO (Initial Public Offering), and Dry Powder (amount of cash reserves or liquid assets available to a private equity firm).

Critics get a packet in which there are five pages in the glossary, which gives you the idea of what an insider-rich play this is.

The action centers around KMM Capital Management, which is in the business of overhauling businesses (“buy companies, increase their value, then exit”).

Things get complicated, but what makes this production extraordinary is the first rate cast of B Street regulars.  If you want to insure a top notch production, cast Dave Perini, Melinda Parrett, and Jason Kuykendall.  This year B Street has added Jahi Kearse as another regular and it’s easy to see why.

We first meet Perini as Rick, the head of a Wall Street firm who has just received news that one of his best customers is moving his business elsewhere following a lavish engagement party (there was really only ONE elephant) Rick held at the same time the company was announcing layoffs at a grocery store chain it had bought.  Rick is nearly suicidal.  Jenny (Parrett) is there to literally talk him off the ledge while Seth (Kuykendall) arrives with a brilliant idea for taking on a new business.  He has been sweet talking the head of a luggage business (Kearse as Jeff).

(With all the on-stage costume changes, meetings over cocktails, etc., kudos are deserved by the unnamed technician who so smoothly wheels costume racks in and out and mixes drinks for whoever needs them)

Jenny and Seth have different ideas about the new merger.  His is in keeping with the desires of Jeff and will keep business in the US and ensure that his employees will keep heir jobs.  Hers fires all the employees, ships the business overseas and makes lots of money for everyone.  Her plan also threatens the merger completely, since Jeff is so dedicated to the fate of his employees.

The back and forth among all the characters is perhaps predictable, if the solution is not, but it is the acting that raises this dramady above average.

Perini is perfect as the mercurial Rick, Parrett plays one of the ice queen roles that she does so perfectly, while balancing on impossibly high heels–it’s all the bottom line, and who cares about the little people hurt in the process?  Kuykendall is the guy with the morals, who cares about what happens to everyone, who wants to be fair to the luggage company, while still saving KMM, just not as grandly as Parrett’s proposal.  Kearse is the guy caught in the middle, between his devotion to his employees and the lure of the big bucks.

Kuykendall and Parrett have a hilarious argument which descends to who had the higher G.M.A.T. score (the business school entry exam).

The bottom line of this play is...the bottom line...and learning that most of the folks who work in the business world are more interested in higher finance than the well-being of the little man who got them where they are.





Monday, March 26, 2018

The Arsonists


It’s a riveting opening. The lights come up and at first there is silence, then the theater door slams open and an epithet is uttered as a woman moves slowly across the floor to the stage dragging a blood-stained heavy bag. More epithets follow as she continues to drag the bag slowly up the stairs and onto the stage, the room of what appears to be a dilapidated unfurnished house.

Dragging the bag across the floor she begins chopping at the floor with an axe, picking up three boards, leaving a hole into which she pushes the bag. More epithets.

“The Arsonists,” now at Capital Stage, under the direction of Gail Dartez is a 70-minute one-act play by Jacqueline Goldfinger, set in a North Florida swamp. Scenic and lighting design are by Brian Harrower, and are as essential to the story as are the two actors. The finale, in particular, is spectacular.

The inspiration for this play came from the playwright watching her own father struggle with health issues shortly after she herself gave birth. In an interview, she explains that “The Arsonists” grew from a more intimate personal place of having just given birth, and intense, sometimes deeply disturbing connections to her children, which made her reflect on Sophocles’ “Electra” and the relationship between Agamemnon and Electra as more intense than ever before.

“This is a love letter to my father. He is not dead. It’s a shame that folks hold off ’til somebody dies to say how much they mean to ’em. I’m gonna go ahead and do it now.”

The two characters are M (Megan Wicks) and H (Rich Hebert). H is M’s father and he refers to her as “Littles” throughout the play. We learn early on that the two are arsonists for hire. They are a family of traditional values and honor and hold onto the traditions that have been passed down through the family. But their last job has not gone well.

M has lived in the swamp all of her life, has never had the opportunity for socialization and her father is her whole world. She’s a tough cookie, but will soon be on her own. Her father, realizing that and knowing that he must leave her, wants to help her find a way to face the future alone.

The characters love to sing together and, though neither of the actors is a musician, they learned to play the guitar and sing traditional folk songs, thanks to the help of Davis’ own Sam Misner (of Misner & Smith), who is the music director.

This is not a “musical,” but they sing, strum or hum traditional tunes as they are doing something else. The music draws them together, never more beautifully than in “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” the song they sing sotto voce while braiding twine for fuses.

This is not a “wordy” play, but each bit of dialogue is pure gold. In describing his relationship with M’s late mother, H says, “I’m not talking about sex. It’s more intimate. A release, from yourself to yourself. That takes someone else’s love to ignite. Otherwise you burn cold, no air, no breath, to feed the flames, get you alive.”

One wonders how this play can ultimately end but Goldfinger has written a spot-on resolution — and Harrower brings it to life.

Capital Stage is one of four theaters in the country that’s debuting “The Arsonists” as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Balm in Gilead

Thomas Dean as "Dopey"
Photo credit David Kamminga
If you’re a people watcher, especially the kind of person who goes to a bar or restaurant to watch the other patrons, “A Balm in Gilead” is the play for you.  Now presented by Resurrection Theatre Company at the California Stage Theater, directed by Margaret Morneau.

This is a difficult play to get into, as it has overlappping dialog, simultaneous scenes and mostly unlikable characters.  It takes place in a seedy bar populated by drug addicts and dealers, prostitutes (male and female), lesbians, transvestites, and thieves.

To complicate things, there are 30 in the cast, all of whom are listed by name and actor in the program, but only a handful are ever called by name in the script.  Trying to figure out who is who is pretty much impossible.

That said, it is an oddly entertaining play, the central characters of which are Darlene (Jennifer Berry), a good hearted prostitute freshly arrived from Chicago, and Joe (Vernon Lewis), a drug dealer with whom she becomes infatuated.  Berry delivers what may be the longest monologue I have heard when talking with Ann (Aviv Hannan), a world weary prostitute, about her past in Chicago.  It’s a tour de force but I was perhaps even more impressed with Hannan, whose expression of someone trapped listening to this monologue when she wants to be anywhere else, was perfect.

There is an electricity to this play that makes it oddly compelling.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bachelorette



 Is the new form of entertainment to be as crude and disgusting as you can be? Is that what passes for art these days? I cannot deny that I disliked Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette, now at Big Idea Theater.  I disliked it a lot, though it was peopled with six talented actors who portrayed their highly unlikable characters very well -- its only redeeming quality!

It is set in a New York hotel suite, decorated for a wedding, with stacks of gifts and an offstage bathtub filled with bottles of champagne. Into the room burst Gena (Leah Daugherty) and Katie (Taylor Fleer), both very high and laughing. Every sentence contains the F word. They discover the champagne and each take a bottle and begin to drink, as they trash the apartment. Regan (Taylor Vaughan) arrives. She is the maid of honor but hates the bride (Shelby Vockel) and has invited the other two because she knows the bride does not like them. The word "fat" is used many times as an insult which I, as a fat person, found distasteful. I hurt for the bride. (The word "retarded" is also used a lot, which many will find offensive.)

Two men, Jeff (Russell Dow) and Joe (Jacob Garcia) that the girls picked up at the bar arrive. Simulated sex and possible rape is added to the drugs, and alcohol. There is vomiting on stage.

Maybe this is the wave of the future, but I don’t want to be entertained by watching the worst of people, especially women.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book of Mormon


The very funny, very popular “The Book of Mormon” by those guys who also gave you “South Park” (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone) has returned for another engagement for California Musical Theater’s Broadway series.

The ticket gives a parental advisory for “explicit language,” which may be putting it mildly. In fact some of the funniest things are things that you find yourself shocked to be laughing about.

Back in 2011 when word got out that someone was writing a musical comedy called “The Book of Mormon,” people in the Mormon church went berserk. There were angry protests about the denigration of their religion, pickets were going to be at the theater on opening night.

But then the producers invited some of the Mormon elite to see the show and they realized that it did not really make fun of their beliefs, though it did poke fun at things that arise out of those beliefs. In fact, as highly irreverent as this show is, in the end it is actually spiritually uplifting with the message that love is the answer.

The Mormon “imprimatur,” as it were, is the full-page ad in the program which shows just a photo of the Book of Mormon with a message that says “our version is sliiiightly different” and gives information about learning more about the religion.

The show starts with a bang with the crisp and catchy “Hello!” as each of the clean-cut graduating Mormon students practice their approach to door-to-door contacts. It is such an appealing tune that it may become an ear worm.

This is the day when the graduates will find out where they are to be sent on their mission, and who will be their partner for the next two years. These are young idealists, convinced they will change the world, and none more passionate than Elder Price (Kevin Clay), who may be the holiest, most dedicated (and definitely most vain) of them all. He has prayed to God that he will be sent on his mission to his favorite place in the world — Orlando.

It is a shock, then, when he is paired with Elder Cunningham (Connor Pierson), whom everyone considers a flake and nobody seems to like very much. The two of them will be setting off for the country of Uganda. Elder Price decides to make the best of things because he knows he was destined for greatness and knows that he can do great things in Africa.

Things do not go well from the start, when the missionaries’ luggage is stolen by the warlord known as “General” (because you cannot print his real name in a program or a review) and his henchmen. They also find a lackluster group of missionaries who have been there a while and have done essentially nothing because the natives don’t want to hear their message.

The natives are a happy bunch, if suffering from unspeakable conditions. Their happy tune, explaining how they can remain calm in the face of AIDS and other terrible conditions is “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” another translation that can’t be printed in a family newspaper, but also ear-worm worthy. They are resigned to their lives and want nothing to do with a new religion, which might anger the General (Corey Jones) and make their lives even worse.

Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni) is the virginal daughter of Mafala (Sterling Jarvis), who acts like a tour guide for the missionaries. Pecchioni is a force to be reckoned with.

There is a rift between Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, during which each learn much about themselves and their ambitions and Elder Cunningham finds a way to appeal to the natives after all.

The story and energetic music will set your toes tapping. The dance numbers (choreography by Casey Nicholaw) are amazing. Each number is a show-stopper, as are the more tender moments such as the haunting “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” sung by Nabulungi about “the most perfect place on earth.” Her “I Am Africa” is an anthem worthy of being featured on International Women’s Day!

If you have not yet seen “Book of Mormon,” this is an absolute must see. And if you have already seen it, you’ll enjoy it as much the second time around as you did at first.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Heaven Can Wait


“Heaven Can Wait” was a movie produced in 1978, starring Warren Beatty and James Mason, based on the 1941 movie “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” with Robert Montgomery and Claude Rains. Now the Winters Community Theatre Company has put it on stage, under the direction of Jesse Akers. It’s the kind of drama/comedy that Winters does so well.

As the show starts, Mr. Jordan (Tom Rost) is checking people off a list as they pass by him across the stage. With the arrival of Joe Pendleton (Tyler Tufts), things go wrong. We learn that this is heaven and Jordan is checking people off the list to enter the pearly gates. Joe argues that it’s not his time, that he shouldn’t be there and that he should go back.

As Mr. Jordan confers with Messenger 7013 (Michelle Novello), who accompanied Joe to Heaven, they discover he’s right. A terrible mistake has been made. In her compassion to spare him a painful death, she plucked him out of a plane seconds before it was to crash. Records, however, show that Joe, a boxer, had 60 more years left to him and that he was going to be the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

What to do? What to do? Since Joe’s manager had him cremated, they can’t return him to his body and so Mr. Jordan begins the search for the body of someone about to die that Joe can borrow.

Tufts is the perfect choice for Pendleton; a tall, lumbering, not terribly bright athlete fixated on keeping his body “in the pink” and wanting nothing more than what he was supposed to have. He has the perfect New Jersey accent and the street smarts of a Jersey athlete.

Tom Rost always gives a solid, low-key performance, often speaking softly. He embodied Jordan, though fortunately as the play progressed, his confidence and his projection improved. He brings a sensitivity to the role and truly wants to do right by Joe and rectify the mistake that has been made.
Novello, as the brand new Messenger 7013, is eager to help Joe, but unsure what to do. She’s very earnest and is a nice complement to Mr. Jordan.

After a lengthy search, they settle on a millionaire tycoon named Farnsworth who is about to be killed by his wife and her lover (his secretary). Joe is at first reluctant, but since it seems to be his last opportunity, he agrees to inhabit Farnsworth’s body, intent on getting it “in the pink” so the can continue his boxing career. Mr. Jordan promises it’s only temporary and that the search for the perfect body will continue.

Obviously Mrs. Farnsworth (Ana Kormos) and lover Tony Abbott (Loren Skinner) are confused by the very alive Mr. Farnsworth and his aberrant behavior. Kormos is quite good as the murderous wife, but sadly somewhat sabotaged by a voluminous skirt in Act 2 which looked like it had been dragged out of a laundry bag, it was so wrinkled. I hope someone irons it before the show progresses!

Joe/Farnsworth’s first act is to contact his manager, Max Corkle (Scott Graf). He must first convince him that yes, it really is Joe inside that unfamiliar body. Graf gives the outstanding performance of this production, as the grizzled Corkle. He is a delight whenever he is on stage and his final scene brings tears.

Lyra Domingues is Miss Bette Logan, the daughter of a man whom Farnsworth has framed and sent to jail. She comes to Farnsworth to plead for her father’s release. Joe/Farnsworth is taken with her sweet, sincere nature and falls in love with her, which makes his later opportunity to move to a perfect body somewhat problematic.

Germaine Hupe and Donna Akers add some nice comedic touches as Farnsworth’s house staff, while Robert Williams is the perpetually befuddled inspector.

“Heaven Can Wait” is a fun play full of fantasy, twists and comedic situations. It can be slow in parts, especially when the cast seems to be stumbling over dialog (for which they cover quite well); in the end this is a charming play that will amuse anyone.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Macbeth


Something wicked this way comes, and it comes with goddesses chanting, and lots of drums playing ominously.

The play is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” (or “The Scottish Play” as superstitious thespians prefer to call it, fearing that speaking the actual name will bring bad luck), now at the Sacramento Theatre Company.

This version, set in 11th-century Scotland, is directed by Casey McClellan and is inspired by paganism and ancient ritual. The three witches, for example (Janet Motenko, Ruby Sketchley and Monique Lonergan), represent the Triple Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. They serve Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft and magic (Carissa Meagher).

This is a less-bloody-than-usual version of the classic, relying instead on the believability of the emotions of the characters than on the visual examples of the atrocities occurring, for the most part, off stage. (The “bloodiest” character wears red, but does not drip blood, as in some versions I have seen.)

With his tall stature and dark, searing eyes, William Elsman is unmistakably Macbeth, a man driven by ambition, who does terrible things to achieve his goals, but he is a man who is unable to bear the psychological consequences of his actions, and is constantly tormented with guilt. His later descent into madness as his power-hungry killing spree begins to weigh heavily on his soul was decidedly believable.

A worthy companion is Atim Udoffia as Lady Macbeth, who is smart, ambitious, brave and ruthless. Her passion for her husband is as strong as her passion for helping him become king. Her anguish over the murder of Duncan, a murder she precipitates, prevents her from sleeping soundly and her famous soliloquy while sleepwalking reveals how much their actions are weighing on her. Unlike her husband, she is eventually overwhelmed by her guilt and commits suicide.

Ian Hopps gives an intense performance as Macduff, the thane of Fife, who discovers the murder of the King, particularly when he learns of his family’s murder. It is he who ultimately kills Macbeth, yet acts not out of revenge, but to save Scotland from destruction.

Meagher returns as Lady Macduff, on stage just long enough to get murdered in a revenge killing.

Special note should be made of sixth-grader Sebi Fernandez, in his first year of STC’s Young Professionals Conservatory, for his performance as Fleance, son of Macduff, who suffers one of the best on-stage deaths I have seen in a long time. (Fernandez alternates in the role with Dakoda Jones.)

Macbeth’s buddy and companion is Banquo (Michael Jenkinson). When the witches prophesy that his children will one day be the kings of Scotland, it is enough to send Macbeth into a jealous rage and kill his friend, only to be haunted by his ghost as he begins his descent into madness.

As this play progresses, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made between the catastrophe that is the Macbeth reign and the current problems in our own country — in fact, situations are so similar in places that they evoked laughter in the audience. At least here (so far) the problems are not solved by murder.

Sacramento Theatre Company has given us a not-surprising excellent production, continuing its commitment to bringing Shakespeare to a new generation of theatergoers.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Midsummer Night's Dream

Rodger McDonald, the man who excels at everything, proves the point by directing the Woodland Opera House’s visually stunning production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He also gives a commanding performance as Oberon, king of the fairies.

McDonald has previously directed 11 main stage shows, and appeared in 19.

The play tells several stories, each of which occurs during a single summer night in a magical forest outside Athens, in which fairies play pranks on lovesick mortals, earnest youths endure comical romantic confusion, and a group of mechanics attempts to rehearse a play in secret.

Jordan Hayakawa is the mischievously irresistible Puck (with the wonderful Spock ears), who delights in playing pranks on mortals. Hayakawa is lithe and elfin and seems to be everywhere at once. She is a pleasure to watch from before the show begins while she and other fairies hide in and around the audience, playfully impish.

Theseus (Matt Franck), Duke of Athens, is about to be married to Hippolita, former queen of the Amazons, portrayed by Jessica Hanselman Grey, a steady, loving companion.

Then there are the lovers. Hermia (Rachel Foster) is in love with Lysander (Thomas Dean) but her father Egeus (Robert Payawal) wants her to marry Demetrius (Brent Randolph), who loves Hermia, but her friend Helena (Analise Langford-Clark) is in love with Demetrius. It’s enough to make your head spin, though the actors keep it all straight and give good performances.

Payawal may be the only one with problems. He speaks too fast and too low to be understood some of the time, and he seems to be reciting lines rather than embodying the role of a father trying get his daughter married off to a desirable suitor, particularly in Act 2.

Egeus asks for the help of Theseus to force his daughter to marry. Theseus gives the young girl the choice of marrying Demetrius, or entering a convent.

Hermia and Lysander decide to elope, but on the way, they stop to rest in a forest populated by fairies, led by Titania in a wonderful portrayal by Patricia Glass (her costume is also great).
The forest is absolutely beautiful and high marks go to scenic designers Joey and Craig Vincent, especially for the way those green trees and that beautiful blossom-bearing tree can be moved around to create different looks.

Erin Bruni gets recognition as the fairy Mustardseed, who sings a lovely, lyrical a cappella song.
We meet the”mechanics,” five workmen who are rehearsing a play and hope to present it at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolita. The group is led by Quince (Steve Mackay, in another strong performance) trying to rein in Bottom (Phil Stommel), a ham who thinks he’s the greatest actor of all time.

Stommel, in his first performance at the Opera House, is wonderful in the role, but when his head is turned into that of a donkey by Puck, the costume is absolutely marvelous looking but it muffles Stommel’s words so that it is difficult to decipher what he is saying, which is really a shame because it’s such a great look!

Puck also casts a spell on Hermia and Demetrius, which, of course, does not go as planned, but teaches Helena that you should be careful what you wish for.

In the end, as it must in a comedy, everything gets straightened out, the right couples join together and all prepare for the big wedding, where Bottom gets to prove what a truly awful actor he is.

Puck has the final words, apologizing to all for the tricks she has played throughout the evening. (“If these shadows have offended…”)

This is a fun production, worth seeing for the acting and for the set, both of which are outstanding.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

One Man, Two Guvnors

Peter Story, left, who stars as Francis Henshall, and Amy Kelly,
who juggles multiple roles, perform in the hilarious
“One Man, Two Guvnors” on stage now at the B Street Theatre.
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

 The folks at the B Street Theatre picked the perfect vehicle to introduce patrons to their beautiful new theater, The Sofia (the Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for the Arts), on Capitol Avenue (there is a huge parking garage next door).

The first thing to notice about the expanded, 380-seat main theater is the size of the stage. Now with wings and fly space, scenic designer Samantha Reno was able to build huge walls that slide to the side, large backdrops that roll down and back up again, and pieces that fly in from the top to create an impressive, often-changing scene.

For the first show, Buck Busfield, producing artistic director/director, chose Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” the insanely funny modern adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century Italian farce, “The Servant of Two Masters.” The show was a runaway hit for James Cordon when it opened in England in 2011.

In the pre-show greeting, Busfield explained to the audience that after last season’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” the patrons complained that it made them think too much — and he promised they wouldn’t have to think at all to enjoy this comedy.

The show opens with music by a “Skiffle band” playing rockabilly songs composed by Grant Olding. The basic band is Jerry McGuire, Olivia Schaperjohn and Hunter Henrickson, with various members of the cast joining in as fillers during scene changes.

As for the cast, this is the perfect show to unite many of the old-time, familiar B Street regulars — Stephanie Altholz, Jason Kuykendall, Elisabeth Nunziato, Jahi Kearse, Kurt Johnson, Tara Sissom, Greg Alexander, John Lamb, Amy Kelly and Dave Pierini.

Leading them all is Peter Story as Francis Henshall, an out-of-work (and starving) skiffle player (musician) who finds himself employed by two different men, and must keep both from learning about the other.

Story is outstanding in a role that requires perfect comic timing, a flair for physical comedy, and a personality warm enough to make interaction with the audience a part of the show.

All of the others are at the top of their game, particularly Kuykendall, the nervous, not-overly-bright billionaire searching for his fiancée, Rachel, and Altholz, delightful as Rachel, pretending to be her murdered brother Roscoe.

Kelly plays several of the smaller roles, and also appears as part of the band. I am always impressed with the range of this actress’ talents, who, in this show, is particularly good at pratfalls. Lots of them.
As they say, hilarity ensues, including confusion with doors, food fights, dropped pants, police chases, mistaken identities and even bird poop.

The rapid-fire dialogue is crisp and comical, including the alliteration surrounding the letter “d”: “He was diagnosed with diarrhea but died of diabetes in Dagenham.”

Francis also delivers a very-funny monologue with himself about whether he is confused or not (“I don’t get confused that easily. Yes I do. I’m my own worst enemy. Stop being negative. I’m not being negative.”) that ends up with him fighting with himself. More pratfalls.

This splendidly silly modern masterpiece is two hours of non-stop laughing. I dare anyone to see it and not come out with a smile on their face.


Thursday, February 01, 2018

Jersey Boys

From left, Corey Greenan, Tommaso Antico, Jonny Wexler and Chris Stevens
belt out a rendition of “Sherry” in the Broadway Sacramento production of
“Jersey Boys” on stage at the Community Center Theater through Feb. 4.
Joan Marcus/Courtesy photo

Those boys from New Jersey are back at the Sacramento Community Center Theater. “Jersey Boys,” the wildly popular story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, has returned — and based on the nearly-sold-out house and enthusiastic reception, Sacramento is glad of it.

Whether you were raised in the 1950s, the 1960s or the 1970s, it’s hard to think there would be people who would not love this musical retelling of the story of The Four Seasons.

In its day, the group sold more than 100 million records and produced numerous hit songs (“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” to name a few), many of which are performed in this show.

Before the “British Invasion,” American popular music was dominated by two groups: The Beach Boys and The Four Seasons. Unlike The Beatles, the Four Seasons (Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli) came before paparazzi, and the group fell apart due to internal fighting and personal problems at the height of its popularity.

After they disappeared from the music scene, nobody cared about the background of a bunch of blue-collar Jersey guys from the streets until book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice came along and realized there was plenty of drama in the story. Director Des McAnuff, a longtime Four Seasons fan, gave the project the green light for development and opening at his La Jolla Playhouse in 2004.
After its move to New York, the show was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won four, and achieved such popularity that some predicted it could run “for decades.”

The story is told from the perspective of each of the members separately. Corey Greenan is DeVito, the tough guy, organizer of the group, and the one who got into the most trouble. He was the guy who left first and forced a restructuring of the music.

Tommaso Antico is Gaudio, who wrote most of the music and whose friendship and business partnership with Valli, which lasted for more than 20 years, was based on a simple handshake.
Chris Stevens is Massi, bass guitarist, who did most of the vocal arrangements, but who burned out on touring and just wanted to go home.

At the head of the group, of course, was Valli (Jonny Wexler). Wexler’s falsetto delivery seems to my doddering memory to be spot on, and he far better represents the character than the actor who played him the last time the show came through town.

The Four Seasons went through a number of names, including the Four Lovers and the Variatones, but they settled on The Four Seasons, which was the name of the night club where they were currently appearing.

Wade Dooley is Bob Crewe, the astrology-loving producer-lyricist, and Todd DuBail is Gyp DeCarlo, the Mafia Don who takes a liking to Frankie.

McAnuff’s staging and the non-stop energy of the cast are infectious. The enormous set by Klara Zieglerova — a massive thing of metal catwalks, fences, curving staircases and screens that move in and out for cartoon-like illustrations and video clips — add to the “massive” feel of it all.

But in the end, it is the music and the relationship among the four that makes this show and gives it its irresistible appeal.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Nether

In these days of #MeToo and horror stories of sexual misconduct, Capital Stage’s choice of Jennifer Haley’s “The Nether” is either perfect, or the worst choice ever, depending on your reaction to the play.

Literary manager Cathy Hardin warns that during the first three days of rehearsal, the most prominent words and phrases used by the cast were “wildly uncomfortable,” “rough” and “worried.”

The winner of seven Los Angeles Ovation Awards and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, “The Nether” is described by The Huffington Post as “dark, disturbing and extraordinary … a cold, hard look at human behavior.”

Reaction from two patrons after the show: “I hated it” and “I don’t know what I just saw, but I loved it.”

This is a show about which you can’t be neutral.

It would do a disservice to patrons to give too much away, since “discovery” is part of the experience, but the premise is that an admitted pedophile has created a virtual realm called The Hideaway, a Victorian setting where people with deviant sexual urges can satisfy them with virtual children, without injury to anyone in the real world.

Sims (Tim Kniffin), who runs The Hideaway, admits that he has “always been sick and there is no cure.” He then explains that “I have taken responsibility for my sickness. … The only way I can do this is because I’ve created a place where I can be myself.” He is being questioned by Morris, a female detective (Imani Mitchell) who is trying to find the location of Sims’ server so she can shut it down.

“Are you accusing me of creating pedophiles? If anything, I’m giving them a place to blow off steam,” Sims says.

“You foster a culture of legitimization, telling them their desires are not only acceptable, but commendable,” Morris replies.

That this production works so well is due to an exceptional cast. In addition to Kniffin and Mitchell, Graham Scott Green is Doyle, an older man who is a frequent visitor to The Hideaway (who is considering leaving the real world and moving permanently), and Jeb Burris, as Woodnut, a new guest.

Outstanding is Kylie Standley as Iris, the girl whose function is to interact with the guests. Standley’s Iris is a beautiful, vivacious 9-year-old android with a smile that lights up room, who longs for a birthday cake and loves to dance. She is also, we discover, in charge of what happens in her frilly pink-decorated bedroom.

Timothy McNamara is the scenic/lighting designer who has created two decidedly different worlds. In the “real” world, everyone dresses in grays and whites, the walls are gray, the furniture is gray, the lighting is muted. The only color is on the faces of the people living there.

When one crosses over into the Nether, there is a psychedelic multi-colored design on movable panels opening to reveal the brightly lit, colorful world of The Hideaway. We know immediately we aren’t in Kansas any more!

(Kudos also to the technicians who change the sets. They are as crisp as a dance troupe.)

“The Nether” is certain to provoke conversations. Is modern technology the answer? Can you excuse the criminal activity if no real person is hurt? Are the characters we would find abhorrent in this life sufficiently sympathetic that we can understand their attraction to The Hideaway as a way to keep from hurting people in the real world?

This is a provocative, powerful and deeply disturbing play, directed by Kirk Blackinton (new to Capital Stage), which explores the consequences of living out one’s private dreams.

Hardin suggests approaching the play with an open mind: “Instead of us deciding that something is right or wrong, why don’t we look at the motivations for why people do things, instead of just judging their actions,” she says.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The White Rose

Young activist Sophie Scholl (Michelle Monheit) is accused of distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets
and is interrogated by Anton Mahler (Grey Turner),
Bauer (Skye McIlraith) and police chief Robert Mohr (Gracelyn Watkins).
Courtesy photo
The White Rose was an organization of German students founded in Munich in 1942, with the goal of exposing Nazi crimes and injustices. They wrote and circulated some 15,000 leaflets over the next year and then in 1943, some of the students were arrested for distributing treasonous material. The students were held and interrogated for five days, and then executed.

“The White Rose” is a play by Lillian Garrett-Groag, directed by Emily Henderson and performed by a talented cast of Acme Theatre Company actors at the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre.

The play covers the arrest and interrogation of the students, mixed with flashbacks to the formation of the group, its growing passion, and increasing boldness in the name of nationalism.

When it debuted in New York in 1991, it was highly criticized by critics who felt it was overly dramatic and questioned its veracity. (“Fake news” as theater?) However, seen in the light of 2018, it perhaps takes on a bit more importance as we pay attention to the warnings it gives.

Acme has never shied away from asking difficult questions and giving the audience something to think about.

The program, for example, includes a helpful list of five early signs of fascism, which includes such things “Destruction of human rights,” “Controlled media” and “Corporate power being protected — when the rich or elite are voted into positions of power and then use the power granted to them to protect their assets.”

Director Henderson asks, “What do we do when each day brings a new erosion of democracy? What are we supposed to do now?”

She also asks, “What does it mean to be immersed in historical injustice and current inhumanity? To come of age under the reign of a delusional leader? How do personal faith, truth and honor operate when law and morality are in direct conflict? How do you proceed if your country becomes unrecognizable?”

She has a talented cast to try to answer such questions. There are eight characters in the play and two of the roles are double-cast, so 10 actors altogether bring the story of these students to life.
In the production I saw, Eleanor Richter played Sophie Scholl of the White Rose and Gracelyn Watkins was Robert Mohr, the police investigator who spends days trying to get her to confess to her crimes. These two are the heart of this play, Mohr wanting to save this young girl who is the age of his daughter, and Scholl, willing to give up her life to help save her country. Both actors are excellent and their final emotional interrogation scene is riveting.

Grey Turner is mesmerizing as Anton Mahler, the office Nazi intent on punishing the students in the extreme. The blond Turner is the perfect Aryan, with a growing sneer throughout the play and a “Heil Hitler” salute that is crisp every time. (It was nice seeing Turner in the talk-back at the end of the show as a normal, appealing young man and not the unlikable Nazi!)

Others in the show include Cory McCutcheon as Sophie’s brother Hans, Dezla Dawkins, Kieran Cubbage and Sophie Nachmanoff as the rest of the White Rose cohorts arrested, and Skye McIlraith as the guard who sits outside Mohr’s office and escorts the prisoners to and from their cells.
Michelle Monheit shares the role of Sophie with Richter and Garnet Phinney shares the role of Mohr with Watkins.

This is a play that should be seen by more people than I fear it will be. It has a message that is delivered powerfully and it leaves the audience with many things to think about as they watch what patriotic students would sacrifice to save the soul of their country.

Be sure to check out the lobby before or after the show to see the photos and read the bios of the real students whose story this play tells.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Musical of Musicals

David Taylor Gomes, Michael RJ Campbell, Kelly Ann Dunn
and Brad Bong perform in Sacramento Theatre Company’s
“The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!”
Charr Crail Photography/Courtesy photo
  
Anyone who has ever written song parodies knows how difficult it can be. To write lyric parodies and melody parodies is downright brilliant, so Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart may be real musical geniuses.

“The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!)” is making a return appearance on Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock Stage and is every bit as amusing and entertaining as it was when it first played here in 2011.

David Taylor Gomes acts as narrator and accompanist and explains to the audience that their beloved theater is about to be torn down because the actors can’t pay the rent. He begs the mean landlord (an offstage voice) to let them produce one more show and he’s certain they can pay the rent. Reluctantly, the landlord agrees and Gomes promises they can write a blockbuster.

The group then presents five possibilities: one in the style of Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Corn”), one in the style of Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Aspects of Junita”), one in the style of Jerry Herman (“Dear Abby”), one in the style of Stephen Sondheim (“A Little Complex” — “nobody understands Sondheim”) and one in the style of Kander and Ebb (“Speakeasy”).

All five musicals have the same plot, a heroine (Kelly Ann Dunn) named either June, Junita, Junie Faye or Juny, who can’t pay the rent, and a sinister landlord (Michael RJ Campbell), who will have his way with her if she can’t pay the rent.

Then there is the hero (Brad Bong) who will save her and the older diva (Martha Omiyo Kight), who will deliver the epic advice song to help the heroine make the right decision.

While all performers are excellent, Dunn is particularly noteworthy for her ability to sing several musical styles, from the corny Rodgers and Hammerstein to the more operatic Lloyd Webber — and sound authentic in each genre.

What makes it all work is that the writers of this show not only understand each of the styles they are parodying, but they obviously respect them and love poking fun at them.

“Corn,” for example takes “Oklahoma” as its base (“Oh What Beautiful Corn”) but then tosses in shows like “Carousel” (there’s even a salute to clam dip), “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and others.

“Big Willie” sings a salute to corn in which he tell us that a lark learning to pray needs to be carefully taught, and later on that milking cows will leave him with a pound and a half of cream upon his face. He also, when unsure about things, tells us that they’re a puzzlement. Mother Abby sings “Follow Your Dream,” to encourage June to make her own decision.

In “Aspects of Junita,” Junita repeatedly sings “I’ve heard this song before,” a reference to the repetitive nature of many of Lloyd Webber’s musicals. The villain also becomes Sir Phantom Jitter, an opera impresario who wants Junita to sing one of his operas (She: You wrote it yourself? He: Do you know opera? She: No. He: Yes, I wrote it myself.)

“Dear Abby” is a salute to all those Herman heroines, like Dolly, Mame or Albin from “La Cage aux Folles” (Jitter is told to put some more mascara on), while the pianist explains that the audience wildly applauds before they’ve done anything.

The section on Sondheim (“It’s Complex”) takes place in an apartment complex called “The Woods.” There is a lot of “Sweeney Todd” and “Sunday in the Park with George” about this piece.

The show closes with a salute to Kander and Ebb, which not only includes their famous musicals (“Cabaret” and “Chicago”) but also “Liza with a Z,” written for Liza Minnelli, transformed into “Julia with a J.”

With direction by Michael Laun and choreography by Michael Jenkinson, this becomes an evening of sparkling entertainment sure to appeal to any musical theater fan.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Spamalot

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was a hit movie in 1975. In 2005, a musical was adapted for the stage by Eric Idle and was a Tony Award winner. Now it is entertaining Davis Musical Theatre Company audiences.

I will confess my deep, dark secret: I’m not a Monty Python fan, though I had seen the odd bits here and there and one or two of the movies. But I had not seen “Holy Grail” nor had I memorized lots of favorite skits from the 45 television episodes. So I missed a lot of the “in jokes” in this musical.
Still, even for someone like me, this production has enough cheap shots, fart jokes and low-brow humor in it to make it an enjoyable two hours of nonsense.

The Historian (Steven O’Shea) sets the scene, giving a brief overview of medieval England with the precision of a weatherman, recounting where in the country there was plague (“a 50 percent chance of pestilence and famine coming out of the northeast at 12 miles per hour.”)

Following his announcement that this is “England,” the stage is, of course, filled with brightly costumed dancers singing about Finland and hitting each other with fish in the delightful “Finland/Fisch Schlapping Dance,” until the Historian reminds them that it is England, whereupon they leave the stage, disappointed, followed by a somber line of monks chanting in Latin.

The real story begins with the entrance of Arthur (Scott Minor), who announces his search for knights for his Round Table, with the assistance of sidekick Patsy (Tomas Eredia) and sets off on his quest, encountering ridiculous setbacks along the way, riding nonexistent horses and using coconuts to make the noise of the clopping hoofbeats.

Minor and Eredia make a wonderful pair, with Minor ineptly regal while Eredia is irresistible with his facial asides to the audience.

The duo encounter Lancelot (Quintin Casl) and Sir Robin (Andy Hyun), who is collecting bodies of the dead. They encounter the sickly Fred (O’Shea) and attempt to add him to the heap of bodies. When he insists he’s “Not Dead Yet,” they help him die to get rid of him so the two men can join Arthur’s knights.

Marci Maxey is a lovely Lady of the Lake, who gave Arthur his sword Excalibur, and just gets more beautiful as the show moves forward.

Python fans will be happy to note that the show includes a lot of familiar Python gags, like the Knights of Ni (led by O’Shea — his third role in this show!), and the killer rabbit.

A show highlight is “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” sung by Arthur, Patsy and Robin, explaining that you need Jews for a successful Broadway musical, following which there is a wild production number filled with “Fiddler on the Roof” parodies, including a bottle dance with Grails instead of bottles.

All ends with a community sing of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” and chuckles continue as the audience shuffles out into the parking lot.