Wednesday, February 09, 2022

The end

I'm retired!

I have given up being a critic, after 22 years, and my replacement is Jennifer Goldman.
My hearing was just getting too bad and it was time to turn the job over to someone else. 


Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Our Town

 Think back to a time before computers, a time before cell phones, a time before television. Think of a time when a date with your best girl was a soda at the drug store, and when the first kiss was a very big deal.

Think of Grover’s Corners.

Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire is the setting for Thornton Wilder’s classic play, “Our Town,” presented by the Woodland Opera House, under the direction of Anna Miles.  Miles has a strong cast of fine actors.

As Wilder has written his play, none of the characters is particularly exciting, though it is the story of Emily (Grace Leekley) and George (Jasson Blanco), who meet in Act 1, marry in Act 2 and deal with the sadness of death in Act 3.

The Stage Manager, Ania Mieszkowska is the “star” who doesn’t act like one, but who keeps the story clear to the audience, explaining how the set pieces that are moved on throughout the story, and the interactions among the actors.

The first act concerns itself with the everyday stuff of life — getting the kids off to school for mom, getting to work on time for dad, spats between brother and sister, the milkman making his rounds, etc. . George and Emily  are young adults, living next door to each other, best friends, going to school together, and sharing secrets, dreams, and homework tips, leaning out their respective bedroom windows.

George’s mother is Emily Delk, while Emily’s is Hannah Adamy.  They spend a lot of time doing kitchen duty--preparing meals, stringing beans for supper, and making a home for their husbands and children, including George’s sister Rebecca (Frances Thayer) and Emily’s brother Wally (Theo Thayer).

"Both of those ladies cooked three meals a day - one of 'em for twenty years and the other for forty - and no summer vacation. They brought up two children apiece, washed, cleaned the house ... and never a nervous breakdown. It's like what one of those Middle West poets said: You've got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life... It's what they call a vicious circle,” says the Stage Manager.

The fathers, newspaper editor Mr. Webb (Victor Libet) and Doctor Gibbs (Steve Mackay) talk about the goings on in the town. We meet other citizens of Grover’s Corners--Howie, the Milkman (Sonny Alforque, who plays several roles, including Constable Warren) and Joe Crowell, the newsboy (Jupiter Fischer).

Mr. Webb’s in depth conversation with George, before the Act 2 wedding, is particularly strong.

Act three takes place in the town cemetery. Emily has died in childbirth and is buried on a rainy, dreary day. There she is reunited with those friends and neighbors who have died before her, and who help her adjust to her new existence. Though Emily is granted one day to return to her old life, we watch her accept death as a natural extension of life and begin to disengage from life, as she finds peace in death.

This is a polished, professional production. In the end, its simple message teaches us the true value of life. As the Stage Manager says, "Whenever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense .... We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names ... that something has to do with human beings."

Our Town is a play that shares the idea that we live life without really appreciating what it has to offer. Once we die, and are able to see what we had, it is really too late.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

The Producers

 Director Steve Isaacson lied.

In his opening comments to the audience, opening night of Davis Musical Theater’s production of “The Producers,” he promised that the show was funny and wouldn’t offend anyone.  It is very funny and offends just about everyone–  Jews, Nazis, old ladies, dumb blondes, CPAs, corporate drones and just about anyone in between. And yet when it’s a script by Mel Brooks,  it's all done with such a sense of fun that you're amazed at the things that make you laugh.

“The Producers” is the show that Mel Brooks wanted to write all of his life, the musical that we saw glimmers of in several of his movies, especially, of course, the 1968  movie from which the plot of this show was taken.

The first film starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.  The original Broadway production opened on April 19, 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and ran for 2,502 performances, winning a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. It spawned a successful London production running for just over two years, national tours in the US and UK, many productions worldwide.  In 2005, the Broadway version was made into another film, with Lane and Broderick playing their Broadway roles.

Brooks says he was inspired by his real life adventures, romancing elderly women for investments, and knowing producers who producing flops that made them rich.

The story centers around Max Bialystock (Eddie Voyce), a formerly successful producer who now can’t get a hit to save his soul and who has become famous for his flops. Into Max’s office walks mild-mannered accountant Leo Bloom (Danny Beldi), who carries a strip of his baby blanket around in his pocket to soothe himself in times of stress.  Bloom discovers that it’s possible for a producer to make more money with a flop show than with a hit, if they play it right.  
They need the worst play in the world, the worst director in the world, a bunch of gullible horny old ladies as backers, and when the show fails, as it is destined to do, Bialystock and Bloom will be off with their millions to sun themselves on the beach in Rio de Janeiro.

The first thing to do is to find the worst show every written and in Franz Leibkind’s “Springtime for Hitler,” they feel they have found a real loser. certain to offend everyone.  A visit to Leibkind (Andy Hyun, who played Bloom in DMTC’s 2016 production) involves the dance “Der Guten Tag Hop Clop,” and eventually the contract is signed.

Once the world’s worst play is chosen, the next step is to find the worst director, Roger DeBris (Richard Spierto).  The flamboyant DeBris makes his entrance in a stunning silver and black gown, which he says makes him look like the Chrysler building. Spierto is perfectly campy, as is his “associate,” Carmen Ghia (Michael Tandy), who can drag out an exit better than most.

DeBris has to be convinced to take on the directing job, but once allowed to make the whole Hitler story less depressing by adding cute song and dance numbers, and maybe letting Germany win for a change, because it’s less of a downer,  he’s all for it.  When you see him goose step into “Springtime for Hitler” after Leibkind suffers an injury on opening night, well there just was never such a cute Hitler before.

Max’s rather unorthodox way of raising funds is to jolly little old ladies into giving him checks. Danette Vassar plays the aggressive “Hold-me, Touch-me” and is hilarious.  And perhaps my favorite number of the whole show is “Along Came Bialy,” a dance number performed by a host of little old ladies with walkers. Kudos to choreographer Andi Bourquin.

The Swedish bombshell who wants to audition for the show, and who ends up working in the office for Max and Leo is Ulla (Sabrina Fernandez), the tallest, blondest, sex-goddess you’re ever likely to meet. She can run an office, paint a room during intermission, and star in a musical all without mussing a blonde curl.

Isaacson’s set design works well for this production, with Bialystock’s office two-sided, so that in the second act it can look as if it has been painted

Costume design by Jean Henderson is, of course, wonderful, particularly the dress and crown for DeBris and the dresses for the elderly investors.

All actors, and all audience are masked.  If there is any downside of this funny show it’s just that it’s sad not to be able to see the actors’ faces, though they are able to project perfectly with the masks.  

It was a small opening night audience.  People are still reluctant to go out in groups, but I hope that more people check out this show, which is very funny – something we all need these days!

Monday, November 29, 2021



If you are looking for a bright, happy, colorful way to start your holiday celebration, get yourself to the Woodland Opera House for its delightful production of “Elf, the Musical,” written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. The book is adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan from the 2003 film. The musical ran on Broadway in the Christmas seasons of 2010–11 and 2012–13, in the West End in the 2015–16 season, and has continued to tour annually in the U.S. during the Christmas holiday season.

Buddy Hobbs (Patrick Jordan), a young orphan child, mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus' bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. After discovering the baby, Santa (Gil Sebastian) and his elves decide to raise the child as an elf. Years later, Buddy finds out that he's actually a human being and, at Santa's prompting, heads off to New York City in search of his father, Walter Hobbs (Dave Lack).

Buddy’s story is told by Santa, reading it as a book. Sebastian is a perfect Santa, though his role is small.

Faced with the harsh reality that Walter is on the naughty list for not believing in Santa and his young son, Michael (Lauren Battaglia), also doesn't believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his birth family and help New York City remember the true meaning of Christmas. He is consistently optimistic.

Director/Choreographer Andrea St. Clair has assembled a strong cast of actors, headed by Jordan, an engaging non-elf, trying to learn the ways of human life and make his father, who had no knowledge of his existence, love him.

Lack is a great Hobbs, an overworked businessman who is amazed to discover he has a 30 year old son, but who also has feelings for wife Emily (Marie Nearing) and son (Battaglia).  (This is quite a different character from the greedy movie Hobbs.)

The program bio says Battaglia is in her first major role and she is outstanding, as is Nearing, as Hobbs’ wife, who ultimately becomes Buddy’s support.  She and Michael share a lovely duet, “I’ll Believe in You,” where Michael says that if Santa can give him a day he can spend with his Dad, then he will believe in him.

Emily Owens Evans is Jovie, Buddy’s co-worker, who falls in love with him.  After being stood up, she shares her misgivings about Buddy with a beautifully sung “Never Fall in Love”. She returns to Buddy, a slightly more humanized elf, with a strong reprise of “A Christmas Song”.

Karen Fox is strong as Deb, Hobbs’ secretary, who explains to Buddy that a shredder is a machine that makes snow.

Aaron Baikie-Rick, one of those performers who takes charge in every scene he is in, gives a great performance as the manager, who leads a great candy cane dance, “Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

The first act is filled with wonderful one-liners and jokes that have the audience laughing pretty much continuously.  Sadly, the hearing aid they gave me didn’t work and I missed most of the dialog, but the act is also heavy with singing and dancing, so I only missed the jokes, and not the feeling for the story.  Fortunately I was able to get a working hearing aid at intermission.

Music is recorded, with music direction by Lori Jarvey and Denise Miles’ costumes are such fun, especially the costumes for the dancing elves in the opening scene.  John Ewing is credited with “set and projection design.”  Very clever projections are used for background in each scene, so realistic it’s sometimes difficult to tell if it’s a projection we are seeing, or the real thing.

This is a long show (2-1/2 hours, with 15 minute intermission) and we see a group of drunken fake Santas at one point, which may need explaining to very young children, but this is a wonderful show to bring your kids to for the holidays, especially when Santa, grounded in Central Park, finally gets his sleigh into the air to flying off to finish delivering toys.

Friday, November 26, 2021



One hundred and nine years after the Titanic struck an iceberg near Newfoundland, Canada and sank, the ship has set sail again, this time onto the stage of the Davis Musical Theater Company (DMTC).

With story and book by Peter Stone, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, “Titanic, the Musical” won five Tony awards, including Best Musical in 1997 and ran for 804 performances.  DMTC director Steve Isaacson heard the overture and “within seconds I was an instant fan.” He directed a production in 2006, and another in 2012, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship.

The set, designed by Isaacson, is very modest, with the Captain’s quarters to one side of the stage and a mostly blank stage to represent the ship, though the looks of awe on all the cast as they appear to be looking at the ship is so real that you can imagine yourself viewing the ship as well.  As usual, Jean Henderson’s costumes are beautiful.

Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews (Travis Nagler) opens the show talking about the wonderous things mankind has accomplished (“In Every Age”). which has enabled him to design this marvelous ship. Throughout the show, he keeps checking his blueprints, even as the ship is sinking.

Andrews is joined by stoker Barrett (J Sing, who also plays Mr. DaMico, Pittman, and The Major) who is amazed by the ship (“How did they build the Titanic”). Barrett has one of the stronger voices and every number he sings is a hit.

The crew, J. Bruce Ismay (Ben Bruening, who also plays the director of the White Star Line), lookout Frederick Fleet (Ryan Favorite), and Captain E.J. Smith (Joel Porter) congratulate each other on “The Largest Moving Object”)

This is a big cast – nearly 40 (some of whom play more than one role)  – and there are many wonderful voices.  Unlike the movie “Titanic,” there is no one love story that carries throughout the show, but more a study of individuals and couples who are taking the cruise, like Alice Beane (Chris Cay Stewart) and her husband Edgar (Arthur Vassar).  Alice is a 2nd class passenger who is starstruck and determined to see as much of the first class as possible.  Stewart has a wonderful voice and is very funny.  She shines in her “I have danced” after sneaking in to dance with the first class crowd.

Laura M. Smith and Scott Minor are wonderful as first class passengers Ida and Isidor Strauss, who have been married 40 years and who decide to go down with the ship together.  Their “Still” is one of the highlights of the show.

Three Kates (Katrina Lynne Pitts, Sierra Winter and Sabrina Fernandez) represent the third class passengers, determined to find jobs as “Lady’s Maids” in America.  Kate McGowan (Pitts) confesses her illegitimate pregnancy to Irish Jim Farrell and the two plan to marry.

Andy Hyun plays Farrell and also plays telegraph operator Harold Bride, who sends a personal message for Barrett, proposing to his girlfriend (“The Proposal”) and then spends the rest of the evening sending off frantic SOS message.

Clocky McDowell is excellent as Henry Etches, the First Class Steward, perhaps at his best with the chorus “Doing the Latest Rag” (with choreography by Ron Cisneros).

Svea Benson, a junior high school student in her first community theater production, is very cute as the bellboy.

The first act ends with the hitting of the iceberg, and the second act the attempt to save as many passengers as possible, given that the ship has fewer than half the boats needed to carry all of them.  The sinking of the ship, with tilting stage is very impressive, especially as Andrews continues to visualize redesigning the ship, as he attempts to climb the tilt.

The finale, with survivors on the deck of the rescue ship Carpathia bidding farewell to their loved ones is very emotional and will bring a tear or two.

Isaacson has once again paid tribute to the Titanic and has done it very well.

All actors wear masks, and all audience members are required as well.  Audience must also show documentation of vaccination or recent negative COVID testing.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Mary Poppins


Live theater is back in Davis, and the Davis Musical Theater Company has started its 37th season with a lively, colorful production of “Mary Poppins,” directed and choreographed by Kyle Jackson, with a beautiful set designed by Steve Isaacson. Tylen Einweck is the musical director, conducting the smaller-than-usual DMTC orchestra.

Audiences must show proof of COVID vaccination and must wear masks, and all the actors on stage wear masks, so those thinking of attending this show can feel as safe as anyone can these days.

Jori Gonzales makes a wonderful Mary Poppins, in costumes designed by Denise Miles. She flies gracefully, sings beautifully and has a great relationship with the Banks family, especially the children.

All of the Banks family give strong performances, particularly Joe Alkire as George Banks, who takes control of the stage whenever he is on it. I was even more impressed with his performance when I learned he only came into the show two weeks before opening, when the original George had to drop out for medical reasons.


Andrea Bourquin is the perfect wife. When you look at her character, smaller than George and Mary, she just looks like she couldn’t be anything but a wife. She has less to do than the others in the family, but everything she does is perfect.

Ruby Schwerin and Django Nachmanoff are the two naughty children, Jane and Michael. Schwerin in particular is great and her bouncy pony tail curls add to her character.

Amy Woodman is the family’s overworked, stressed maid, Mrs. Brill, and Timothy Blankenship is the house boy, Robinson Ay, both of whom complain about living in a madhouse.

Bert is the chimney sweep who is Mary’s good friend. Judah Dwight is a lot of fun to watch, and is the storyteller of the show. When the children met Bert and are unimpressed with him because of his appearance, Mary teaches them they need to look past appearances and brings a statue to life (“Jolly Holiday”). Jean Henderson is the costume coordinator for this production and the shadows she put on the costumes of the statue (Eduard Arakely as Neleus) make the him look like he really is made of marble. It’s a wonderful effect.

Jennifer Rineman makes an impression in her brief appearance as the bird woman, singing the beautiful “Feed the Birds.”

Beth Ellen Ethridge shows up in Act 2 as Miss Andrew, George’s former nanny, of whom he is still frightened. Though masked, like everyone else, Ethridge creates a unique character with the expression in her eyes. She and Gonzales have a show stopping duet, “Brimstone and Treacle,” which would do justice to any professional production.

The show has some wonderfully colorful ensemble numbers, like “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” led by Mrs. Corry, “the oldest woman in the world,” played by Jenifer Goldman.

Tessa Fray is Valentine, Jane’s doll brought to life by Mary to teach the children about playing nicely with others and appreciating the value of their toys.

This is a delightful production, which moves at a steady pace. The only sad thing about it is that for the Saturday-night performance we attended, there were more people on stage than in the audience. I hope the word gets out about the safety of the theater and the quality of the production.

Singin' in the Rain


With no theatrical productions at all in 2020, it appears that Woodland Opera House actors spent the pandemic year studying and improving their dancing.  The dancing and choreography (by Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera) for their production of “Singing in the Rain,” directed by Rodger McDonald, which opened on Friday, were the highlights of the show.

While the Woodland Opera House is back to 100% capacity, currently the Yolo County Health Department requires face coverings for all of patrons regardless of vaccination status. And for an added layer of protection, Opera House staff will take the temperature of all theatre attendees upon their entry. Masks and hand sanitizer are available to anyone in attendance at each theatre event.  The actors on stage also wear clear plastic masks, which don’t hamper their speaking or singing but do cut down on the romantic scenes (hugging instead of kissing!)

This is a lovely production, with no real “set” per se, but beautiful projections in the background. Written originally as a film, not a stage show, “Singin’ in the Rain” is the stage version of the 1952 movie by Comden and Green, with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.

It is the story of the end of silent movies and the start of the talkies. After the success of “The Jazz Singer,” the money-hungry head of the studio, R.F. Simpson (Rodger McDonald), decides that his next silent movie, “The Dueling Cavalier,” should be converted into a musical talkie, titled “The Dancing Cavalier,” a vehicle for his two biggest names, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, the “Brangelina” of their day.

Erik Catalan is a solid Lockwood with many musical numbers, the best of which is the title song, in which he sings while “rain” falls all across the stage, filling the stage with puddles, but not getting any clothes wet. It’s a great effect by Mike Cartwright,.

Patricia Glass is perfect as Lina, the obnoxious star with a voice like fingernails on a blackboard. She’s the perfect silent film star–can’t sing, can’t dance, act. She is convinced that there is a romance between her and Lockwood, who, in reality, can’t stand her.  Charlotte French is very funny as the vocal coach trying to teach her how to speak correctly (“I can’t stand him!”).

In this show, Lina has her own solo, “What’s Wrong with Me,” which is not in the film.  Glass does a great job of singing it badly!

The very polished Kirsten Myers is Kathy Selden, the actress wannabe whom Lockwood convinces to become Lina’s voice when it is apparent that there is no way Lina is going to make it in talkies. Her trio with Don and Cosmo, “Good Morning” is great fun.

Lockwood’s old vaudeville partner and perfect fall guy, Cosmo Brown is wonderfully played by Eddie Voyce, whose “Make ’Em Laugh” is one of the most fun numbers of the night. It’s a complex piece that he performs well.

There is good support from the rest of the cast, like Gil Sebastian as Roscoe Dexter, the director of Don and Lina’s films, Katherine Fio as Lina’s friend Zelda, and Barbara Goodman as gossip columnist Dora Bailey.

The action is not always as crisp as it might be, but still such a fun evening, and a great way to bring live performances back to the theater.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Shrek, Video


“I never want to touch a computer again for the rest of my life.,” says Steve Isaacson, musical director and videographer of the Davis Musical Theater Company’s latest video production, “Shrek,” directed and choreographed by wife Jan Isaacson.

Isaacson spent six weeks putting together some 300 videos, videos made by the 20 people in the cast of the show, some of them playing more than one role.  “I put on 20 pounds just sitting at my computer all day,” Isaacson jokes.  He finished the editing at 6 p.m. before the 8 p.m. opening night.

The end result of  Isaacson’s work is remarkable.  I was impressed with his last video presentation of “Cinderella,” which had some wonderful moments and a few not so wonderful moments. Unlike “Cinderella,” the technology of “Shrek” is much more professional, though using house lights instead of theater lights gives the show more of a “cartoony” feel, which works fine for this cartoony story.

As with “Cinderella,” the “sets” for this show are projected on green screens, so are amazingly professional.  Isaacson explains that they have some 40-45 green screens, used on the stage and in people’s homes.  The end result is excellent, with incredible forest scenes and an impressive lava scene with the sound of bacon sizzling.

Not only is there a full video production,, but conversations among groups of characters are done live, using Zoom, so the actors are there live for each performance.  Not having to be in Davis to perform, actors were able to participate from Italy, Costa Rica, Hawaii, San Diego and other places.  

Jan Isaacson has always done well with choreography for non-dancers, but with “Shrek,” her choreography is even better than usual and Steve’s ability to make 20 or more dancers dance together across the screen has to be seen to be appreciated.

The actors for this production are excellent.  This is the story of an ogre, Shrek, who at seven years of age, was thrown out of his house by his parents and into the world to make his living. They warn him that because of his looks, he will be shunned by the world, and an angry mob will be the last thing he will see before he dies.

DMTC regular Adam Sartain (Beauty and the Beast, Man of La Mancha, Titanic) plays the grumpy Shrek very well.  The head piece of his costume makes it a bit difficult for him to be believable as an ogre, but his voice is excellent and one gradually warms to him throughout the evening.

When all the fairy tale creatures are banished from the Kingdom of Duloc by the diminutive Lord Farquaad (Andy Hyun), they move onto Shrek’s land and he travels to see Farquaad to see how to get them off, since he prefers to live alone.

An outstanding performance is given by campus minister Judah Dwight, as Donkey, whom Shrek rescues from Lord Farquaad’s guards and who insists on tagging along with Shrek.  Whenever Dwight is on stage, it’s difficult to look at anybody but him, he has created such a memorable character.

Farquaad gives Shrek the task of rescuing Princess Fiona from the lava surrounded castle so that he may marry her himself.  Morgan Bartoe is a beautiful Fiona, until her secret is revealed.   Chloe Aldete plays the young Fiona and Jadine Young is the teen Fiona.  “I Know It’s Today” is the song the girls sing as Fiona reaches adulthood.

Other performances worth mentioning are Lauren DePass as Pinocchio, Arianna Manabat as the dragon, Hugo Figueroa as the King and Hanna Salas as the Queen.  Mary Young, who has performed with DMTC since it's very beginning, is the Mama Bear and Dannette Vassar, who has been with the company since 1997, is Mama Ogre

DMTC will be performing “Mary Poppins” in the theater , on the stage, in September, so unless we are hit with another wave of coronavirus this will be the last virtual performance.  It’s well worth seeing for many reasons, but the technical expertise of Steve Isaacson makes it an outstanding production.