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.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Count and the Curse


The Woodland Opera House refuses to be stopped by the pandemic and is presenting “The Count and the Curse,” two Agatha Christie plays for live radio, streaming Friday and Saturday May 21 and 22, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 23, at 2 p.m.

The plays will be recorded live in the historic Woodland Opera House and presented online. Director Matthew Abergel, says. “The show must go on, right? And that’s what we’re doing, while still keeping everyone safe.”

The plays have been adapted by playwright Bob Cooner, who says, “I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie and, especially, of the Hercule Poirot stories, novels, films, plays, etc. It occurred to me that some of these early Poirot stories, now in public domain, would make very entertaining plays or even radio plays, since that presentation format seemed more feasible during the pandemic; thus, I adapted these two stories (“The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman” and “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb”) as radio plays.”

The streaming presentation showcases detective Hercule Poirot (Darryl Strohl-De Herrera) in two of his earliest whodunnits. In the first mystery, Poirot and his stalwart companion, Capt. Arthur Hastings (Scott Martin), investigate the death of the Italian Count Foscatini. In the second, they travel to Egypt to untangle a series of deaths supposedly caused by a mummy’s curse.

Other cast members taking multiple parts include Aaron Baikie-Rick, David Cross, Emily Delk, Rand Doerning, Jori Gonzales and Skyler King.

The Opera House stage is empty, with actors holding scripts and standing at microphones. Sound effects are created and executed by Jason Hammond. Craig Vincent is in charge of technical direction and videography.

“The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman” is a short story first published in 1923 in the U.K. Martin is superb as Hastings, doing most of the narration of the story of the murder of Count Foscatini.

While good as Poirot, Strohl-De Herrera suffers from an accent, sometimes French, sometimes something else and not at all consistent. Still, he plays the Adrian Monk-like detective, who notices every little thing and uses those bits of information to solve the mystery with aplomb.

The supporting cast (Delk, Baikie-Rick and King) are each excellent, with King creating two very different characters, both outstanding.

Background music is a bit disrupting, perhaps because of the streaming, and might not have been as bothersome if this were a live performance. Additionally, while it was great fun to watch Hammond creating the radio sounds, they didn’t make it clearly to the video.

There is an intermission between the two plays, with Fats Waller music played by pianist Dean Moran.

In “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb,” also written in 1923, Poirot is called upon to solve a series of mysterious deaths that are centered around the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

Strohl-De Herrera has better control of his accent in this play, and the music used fits more with the story. The supporting cast are Jori Gonzales, Rand Doerning and David Cross, who is particularly good when angry. Feigning death, Poirot uncovers the culprit responsible for the series of deaths attributed to a mummy’s curse.

Following these short stories featuring Poirot, he was the hero in 33 novels, two stage plays and more than 50 short stories.

This is a fun production, and with the recent lifting of masks and safe distancing, this might be the last streaming production for local theater.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Cinderella

 


Theater people aren’t daunted by a little thing like an international pandemic.  Theaters all over the world have shut down in the wake of COVID-19, even the big shows on Broadway.

The last show I reviewed for The Enterprise was Davis Musical Theater Company’s (DMTC) production of “Camelot” in March of 2020.  Now DMTC is presenting its virtual production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” through March 21.  While it is not the same as seeing it live in a theater, it’s surprisingly good.

If there is any “star” of this production, it’s director Steve Isaacson, who describes the process by which this show was created:

“The scenes are live from the actors' homes, recorded in front of a green screen, and the musical numbers are recorded, each person in front of the green screen at the theater. Then I painstakingly, and I mean painstakingly, take each of the over 200 video files and key out the green screen (which can take from a few minutes to a few hours each!) and place them on my virtual stage.”

Anyone who has ever tried to get a chorus to sing “Happy Birthday” to a friend on a Zoom call should realize the problems of getting all the voices together and matching them not only note for note, but also the acoustical differences in the places where they are recorded.  It’s a technological challenge.

Starting with the sets, since everything is done in front of a green screen so that the sets are actually projected, this is definitely the best looking show DMTC has ever done.  The interior of the castle alone looks like the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles and the town where everyone lives could be off of a postcard.

The cast is excellent, particularly Hannah Salas in the title role, Beth Ellen Ethridge as the Fairy Godmother, and Chris Cay Stewart as the Queen.

Musical direction is by Kyle Jackson and choreography is by Arianna Manabat.

The opening number is so well sung and danced that it’s difficult to believe that all those people aren’t on the stage together.

Dannette Vassar is the stepmother, while Andrea Borquin is daughter Portia and Morgan Bartoe is daughter Joy.  Discussions among the family are done with Zoom and costumer Jean Henderson has made those beautiful actresses downright ugly in their animosity toward each other and particularly toward Cinderella.  Heidi Johnson is given credit for creating the headdresses for the three women.

Duets are filmed on the stage, each actor doing his or her part alone, for Isaacson to put together later.  Some duets work better than others.  One particularly good one is between the Queen and King (Richard Spierto), who sing to each other while facing each other, holding hands.  The position of the hands of each of them is perfect and it’s difficult to realize they really aren’t holding hands.

The magic of the fairy godmother, turning a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses, and Cinderella into a beautifully dressed woman is impressive, though Cinderella doesn’t seem to be surprised at her new appearance.

The only disappointing scene is the ballroom scene in the palace.  There are too many people doing too many things, most of which don’t come together the way they are intended, with some people the wrong size and people walking into each other or popping from one side of the stage to the other.  This may be partly because of three different PCs crashing on Friday.  Sadly, the crashes prevented Cinderella from descending the stairs on her departure from the castle, a beautiful scene in the promo for the show..

Still the prince (Hugo Figueroa) finds his Cinderella and the glass slipper fits and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is not a perfect production, but it’s an amazing undertaking and well worth seeing, especially if you’ve been missing theater for the past year – and you don’t need to wear a mask.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Ellly Nominations, 2020

Remember theater?  You know – that place where you went inside a beautiful building and sat down with a bunch of other people and watched actors perform on stage for you?  There is no theater anywhere now (not even on Broadway), but SARTA (Sacramento Area Regional Theater Association) is remembering when there was theater and announced their nominations for Elly awards on Sunday.  Despite the 100 degree heat, four SARTA board members took turns announcing this year’s nominees–in their pajamas, from a secret location.

The Woodland Opera house gathered 47 nominations.

“Jingle ARRGH the Way!” was nominated for 8 Elly awards in the Children's Theatre Productions Category:
Eva Sarry, Direction
James Glica-Hernandez, Musical Direction
Eva Sarry, Choreography
Mark Deamer, Set Design
Nikki Pendley, Lighting Design
Kevin Wenger, Sound Design
Travis Lindquist, Leading Male - Adult
Marcia Gollober, Supporting Female - Adult

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was nominated for 14 Elly Awards in the Children's Theatre Productions Category:
Woodland Opera House, Overall Production
Andrea St. Clair, Direction
Joey Vincent, Set Design
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent, Lighting Design
Kevin Wenger, Sound Design
Kirsten Myers, Leading Female - Adult
Amelia Robinson-Burmester, Leading Female - Youth
Patrick Jordan, Leading Male - Adult
Cullen Smith, Supporting Female - Adult
Christopher Olvera (The Child Catcher), Supporting Male - Adult
Dave Lack, Supporting Male - Adult
Gil Sebastian (The Toymaker), Supporting Male - Adult
Trevor Braskamp, Supporting Male - Adult

“I couldn't be prouder of my “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” cast/crew for ALL of our Elly Nominations!,” said Andrea St Clair.  Erin Richerson said, “I  LOVED being a part of this show. These nominations make my heart burst with pride!”

Steppin' Out was nominated for 3 Elly Awards in the Comedy Category:
Jenny Plasse, Leading Female
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent and Nikki Pendley, Lighting Design

Gil Sebastian, nominated for director for “Of Mice and Men” said “I have been an actor in regional theatre throughout Northern California for nearly 40 years... In that time, I have been a part of some amazing productions. I got nominated for portraying the role of the Toymaker in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” for Best Director for “Of Mice and Men,” for Set Design for “Of Mice and Men,” and for Best Overall Production of “Of Mice and Men.” I am overwhelmed and am so grateful to my “Mice and Men” cast,; many of whom were also nominated for awards. I am blessed to be a part of this amazing community.

“Of Mice and Men” was nominated for 8 Elly Awards in the Drama Category:
Woodland Opera House, Overall Production
Gil Sebastian, Direction
Angela Baltezore and Gil Sebastian, Set Design
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent, Lighting Design
Jason Hammond, Leading Male
Chad Fisk, Supporting Male
Paul Fern, Supporting Male

“Newsies” was nominated for 13 Elly Awards in the Musicals Category:
Woodland Opera House, Overall Production
Crissi Cairns, Direction
Jacob Gutierrez-Montoya, Choreography
James Glica-Hernandez and Jia-Min Rosendale, Musical Direction
Joey Vincent, Set Design
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent, Lighting Design
Grace Leekley, Leading Female
Casey Camacho, Leading Male
Ernestine Balisi, Supporting Female
Collin Robinson-Burmester, Supporting Male
Elio Gutierrez, Supporting Male
Rodger McDonald, Supporting Male

“I am delighted Woodland Opera House’s Newsies was recognized with so many Elly nominations from SARTA this year,” said James Glica-Hernandez “Newsies was a show where all the stars aligned to create a remarkable production. We were lucky to have such a consistently strong cast, crew, and director group full of talent and collegiality.”

Veronica Gersalia was nominated for an Elly Award in the Comedy, Drama or Musical Category for “Newsies”

“We are so proud of our Opera House family of actors, directors, musical directors, choreographers, and set, costume, lighting, sound, and make-up designers, and we appreciate SARTA recognizing them for their outstanding work.” says Woodland Opera House.

Brian McCann and Daniel Thatcher were nominated for their set design for Davis Musical Theater’s Youth Theater production of “The Addams Family” and Jean Henderson was nominated for her costumes for DMTC’s musical production of “Camelot.”

Named for the late Eleanor McClatchy, a devoted patron of the arts and former publisher of the Sacramento Bee, the Elly Awards celebrate excellence and the outstanding achievements of community theaters and artists in the greater Sacramento area. Created 38 years ago by local community actors, the Elly Awards have grown from a local Sacramento tradition to now include theatres within a 70-mile radius!

In honor of the 38th annual Elly Awards, SARTA will be hosting a single Virtual Elly Award Ceremony for both the Youth and Adult divisions on Sunday, September 13 at 7pm on Twitch TV. For more information, please visit www.ellyawards.com or call 916-443-8229.

These may be the last Elly Awards for awhile.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Camelot

he absolutely evil Mordred (Tomas Eredia) stirs up trouble
in the kingdom in DMTC’s production of Lerner & Loewe’s classic
“Camelot,” running through March 29.
From the court of King Arthur to the administration of John F. Kennedy, “Camelot” evokes something beautiful, opulent and democratic.

Steve Isaacson’s set design for the musical, currently at Davis Musical Theatre Company, may be a bit less than opulent, but it at least gives the impression of a castle. Yet thanks to the outstanding costumes of Jean Henderson, the stage is indeed beautiful and opulent.

Jori Gonzales alone, as Guinevere, had nine costumes throughout the three-plus-hour show. All are wonderful, but her first costume, simple with no jewel adornment, is tailored so perfectly and the material so beautiful that it was my favorite of the night.

Gonzales, happy to be performing her third Julie Andrews role, is exceptional. A beautiful, clear voice that can sing opera as well as musical theater, she embodies the character so well that the chemistry between her and King Arthur (Joe Alkire) seems so real that one wonders what she sees in Lancelot (A.J. Rooney).

Alkire is a wonderful, down-to-earth king, still not quite sure how he became king and uncomfortable about his upcoming marriage (“I wonder what the king is doing tonight”). He and Guinevere warm to each other and over the next few years he not only grows into his marriage but into his role as king as well.

Lancelot arrives at Camelot so arrogant that Guinevere hates him and arranges for him to battle three of her best knights, but when he beats all three, killing one and then bringing him back to life again, her heart is changed and they begin a secret affair.

It’s an odd affair since both Lancelot and Guinevere love Arthur and Arthur loves both of them, accepts their affair and pretends not to notice so that when Guinevere is tricked into revealing their relationship and is sentenced to death, Arthur helps the lovers escape, even though it brings down the beautiful democracy that he worked so hard to create.

Joel Porter plays Merlin, Arthur’s mentor. It’s amazing that he can speak through that huge mustache that totally covers his mouth (does he eat?). After he is lured away from Camelot by the enchantress Nimue (Andrea Borquin), the actor returns as Pellinore, a bumbling and endearing old man who becomes a permanent guest of Arthur and Guinevere. His buddy Horrid the dog (played by a confused looking Mrs. Bigglesworth) is very cute.

Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred is played by Tomas Eredia (who, somehow, is not listed in the program for that character). Eredia bursts on stage with a high level of energy and dominates his scenes, earning the boos his villain character receives.

Young Matthew Vallero is Tom of Warwick, the child who comes to join the Round Table, reminding Arthur of the ideals he was able to create, if only temporarily. Vallero, 10, has been in all the youth productions for the past two years but is making his main stage debut and is excellent.

This is a very long show that drags in spots, but overall is a beautiful production with some outstanding performances.

Friday, March 06, 2020

A Bronx Tale


I’ll bet when you think of Robert DeNiro, you don’t think of musical theater.

Yet, he was the original director, along with Jerry Zaks, of “A Bronx Tale,” the musical movie (It sounded to me like making “Godfather,” the musical). The musical theater production of the same name is this week’s high-energy touring Broadway show in Sacramento.

Based on the semi-autobiographical solo show by Chazz Palminteri, and the 1993 film (which DeNiro also directed and starred in), this tells the story of Calogero (“C”) (Alec Nevin) whose role model is mob boss Sonny (Jeff Brooks, whose charisma steals the show) and the struggle between Calogero’s father Lorenzo (American Idol winner Nick Fradiani) and Sonny for C’s devotion. Lorenzo is a hard-working man with great dignity who would rather work for a living than take dirty money.

C’s mother Rosina is played by Stefanie Londino, whose “Look to Your Heart” was very moving.
The curtain opens on an impressive set designed by Beowulf Boritt (love the name!), with projections and moving set pieces that accurately display the neighborhoods of the Bronx, including the “other side of the tracks,” where the African Americans live, with street signs for Belmont Avenue and Webster Avenue, which fly in and out, and versatile fire escapes, as well as the necessary “stoop” where all the action happens.

As the play opens, Calogero has returned to his old neighborhood to reminisce about his childhood, and the young Calogero is played by the very talented Anthony Gianni (some performances Trey Murphy takes the role). Gianni is making his national tour debut with this show and absolutely perfect for the role.

Impressed by the respect that Sonny gets from those around him, C turns his back on his bus driving dad (the role played by DeNiro in the movie) and becomes a kind of surrogate son for the mob boss and his henchmen like JoJo the Whale (Nathan Wright), Frankie Coffeecake (Mark Sippel), Tony Ten-to-Two (Daniel Rosenbaum), Sally Slick (Rhys Williams), Handsome Nick (Jacob Roberts-Miller) and Crazy Mario (Tyler Dema).

C falls in love with an African American friend Jane (Kayla Jenerson) and while Sonny is more tolerant of the relationship (“One of the Great Ones”), Lorenzo is more practical about the chances of the two becoming a couple. Their growing love causes “West Side Story”-like problems and C is faced with the question of whether it is better to be feared than to be loved, and almost loses his life in the process.

Ultimately, Sonny does a good deed that sends C back to his father (“Look to Your Heart”).
Doo-wop music by Alan Menken (perhaps best known for his work in Disney movies), with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a 10-piece live orchestra under the baton of David Aaron Brown may not be the most memorable, but they are fun and the choreography recreated by Brittany Conigatti is athletic.

This is an entertaining production with a top-notch cast and first-rate staging. It is too good to be missed.


Thursday, March 05, 2020

Hamlet


I first reviewed Ian Hopps in 2016 in a production of “Bells are Ringing” for the Davis Shakespeare Festival. I called him “a dream of a leading man.” I have since seen Hopps in several productions in Sacramento and Davis, but he has now taken a huge leap and is stunning as Hamlet in the current Sacramento Theatre Company production. His rendition of the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy is appropriately mesmerizing, as a tortured Hamlet considers his options.

Directors Casey McClellan and Greg Foro have worked to make the show accessible and engaging for a contemporary audience. It is set in a modern-day Denmark, the set by Timothy McNamara being a series of long sheer curtains that the tech crew moved back and forth to set parts of the stage for different scenes. Costumes by Jessica Minnihan were contemporary.

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, “Hamlet” was his most popular play and still ranks as one of the most performed.

The well-known story is about Hamlet’s rage on learning from his father’s ghost that he was murdered by Claudius (Eric Wheeler), Hamlet’s uncle and the deceased king’s brother. Adding to Hamlet’s rage is the fact that his mother, Gertrude (Jamie Jones) has married Claudius. Hamlet plans revenge and, feigning madness, he stages a whole play to let Claudius know he is aware of his crime.

Wheeler and Jones may be better known in Sacramento for their lighter roles, but they are up to the task of Shakespeare. Jones is particularly moving in her emotional scene with Hamlet in Act 2.

Dan Fagan is Laertes, whose final sword fight with Hamlet was very believable, probably due to the fight choreography of Karen Vance.

Vance also plays Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest and their brief scenes together show a warmth and loving bond between them, destroyed by Hamlet’s “madness.”

Gary Alan Wright is Ophelia’s loving father Polonius, who provides comic relief but is accidentally murdered by Hamlet (not a good idea to hide behind a curtain during an emotional scene!).

Taylor Vaughan and Devin Valdez are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, childhood friends of Hamlet, who pretend to remain his friends, though they are now working for Claudius to discover the truth behind Hamlet’s madness.

This is part ghost story, part political intrigue, with a doomed romance that unfolds as a murder mystery, some great sword fights and lots of blood. If you’ve been missing “Game of Thrones,” this production may be a nice substitute.

The one “good guy” is Horatio (Ian Capper), tasked by Hamlet upon his death, not to kill himself in sadness, but to tell his story.