Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Venetian Twins

I desperately wanted to go home at intermission on opening night of Acme Theater Company’s production of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Venetian Twins,” on the Davis Art Center outdoor stage.

My desire to leave had nothing to do with the delightful slapstick comedy that was going on on stage, and everything to do with the fact that it was very, very cold in the outdoor amphitheater and I had not thought to bring warm enough clothing.

“The Venetian Twins” continues through Monday evening and while I encourage everyone to go and see this sparkling free production, I also advise warm clothes and a blanket. A thermos of hot coffee might not be such a bad idea either.

The Acme adaptation of Goldoni’s “twin play” is a rather loose one, explains director David Burmester. Before the cast got the script, he had already decided to add a second set of twins to the original story. He notes that “The script I handed the cast on the first day of rehearsal was a result of a severe working over of Goldoni, interjecting a number of modern turns of phrase and, of course, the new set of twins.”

Once the cast has the script they being to “riff on it.” “It never stops,” says Burmester. “Sometimes a great gag is the result of a serendipitous accident.”

Seeing these young actors on the stage, one cannot help but know that they are just having the time of their lives. Anyone who might be a devotee of the original Goldoni play might not quite recognize it in this form, but if the end justifies the means, the playwright himself would get a chuckle out of it. It’s more like the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges go romping through the 18th century.

The story is not unfamiliar. A very funny flip chart lecture at the beginning by the character of Brighella (Zack Leuchars) gives everyone an overview of the lives of the characters to this point, in order to avoid having to do a lot of expository dialog throughout the play itself.

As for the story unfolding on stage, it tells the tale of long-separated identical twin brothers, who arrive in Verona on the same day, unbeknownst to each other. One has come to meet his wife-to-be (a marriage arranged by the Widow Balanzoni (Lisa Voelker); the other is meeting his fiancée, who has run away from her family to join him. Naturally all sorts of misunderstandings follow when jewels, money, and declarations of love are passed back and forth among the wrong people. There are sword fights, fistfights, seduction attempts, flirtations with incest, battles with the law and the endless confusions of identity.

Playing the twins, Zanetto (the rich, but dim-witted one) and Tonino (the poor but gentlemanly and honorable one) is Dara Yazdani in a role which is ready-made for him. With his long, lanky body which sometimes appears to have no bones, and his ability to get the most out of facial expressions, he was able to make Zanetto and Tonino completely different people in the blink of an eye. Zanetto’s last scene in the play was hilarious.

Madelyn Ligtenberg (Rosaura) and Fiona Lakeland (Beatrice) are the confused would-be fiancées to the twins.

Anthony Pinto has the plum role of Pancrazio, in love with Rosaura, to whom Zanetto is betrothed. Pinto is so talented he can play a wide range of characters, but he really shines at being the bad guy.

Tatiana Ray is Colombina, the brazen, man-crazed maid to Rosaura, who gets away with murder in the house because she knows Rosaura’s mother’s (Lisa Voelker) long-held secret.

Victoria Gimpelevich is Arlecchinetta, companion to Beatrice, masquerading as a man to act as her mistress’s protector. John Ramos is Arlecchino, her long-lost twin brother.

Josh van Eyken is the foppish Lelio and J.R. Yancher is Tonino’s confused pal Florindo, both hoping to win the hand of Beatrice away from Tonino.

There are several fun dance numbers (particularly one by porters Ernie Hernandez and Isaac Aldous) which pop up from time to time, and which do credit to choreographers Cami Beaumont and Laura Flanigan.

Josh van Eyken, J.R. Yanker and Dara Yazdani are credited with sword fight choreography and deserve high marks.

The first act of this production seems to run a little long, but it may have been because the wind had picked up again, but the second act zips by. Acme has again presented a delightful comedy which leave the audience laughing after the cast has taken its bows.

Don’t let the possibility of a cold evening keep you from this performance. But do remember to plan accordingly to enhance your enjoyment of the fun on stage.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass

“Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass” opens tonight for a two week run on the University Main Stage. Based on a story by Polish novelist and painter, Bruno Schulz, Sanatorium tells the story of a son who goes on a fantastical journey to save his father from death. Under the direction of Granada Artist-in-Residence, Helena Kaut-Howson, “Sanatorium”becomes a unique form of experimental theater which encourages collaboration among individual actors to establish an ensemble, wherein each actor creates his or her own character within the confines of the author’s words and the director’s vision.

This is a slightly more than two hour production, with no intermission, which opens with a brief skit, “The Other Jew,” based on Henryk Greenberg’s story, “Drohobycz Drohobycz.” This curtain riser features Lauri Smith as Ruth, a mother writing to her son, telling him of her search for information about the life and death of Bruno Schulz, and Paula Dawson as an older woman remembering what things had been like in the ghetto. Both women give superb performances. Dawson, in particular, who may be remembered for her outstanding “Macbeth,” creates a believable old woman with very simple facial expressions and body posture--not always quite so successful in younger actresses.

One play segues into the other with the entrance of the rest of the cast onto the stage: Dave Cantrell, Melisa Cavazos, Michelle Jackson, Jessica Rodriguez, Derricka Smith, and Christina Soliva, most of whom play more than one character. JT Reece is Joseph. Theater and Dance faculty member Sheldon Deckelbaum is his father, who explains that he was drawn to the role because of the challenge of working in the ensemble setting.

There is no real “plot” per se, but there are stunning visual images of the holocaust – smoke canisters, crowding into tiny spaces, and the presence of soldiers, all within the context of a sanatorium.

A very big part of the success of this piece is the contribution of the show’s designers--Robert Broadfoot (scenic and costume design), Brian Webber (lighting design), Kristin Orlando (sound design), Erich Bolton (Video design). Without the atmosphere these designers create, this show would have a significantly less powerful impact.

I caught this show in its preview performance and the director told me that it was still “a little rough.” I would be hard pressed to find any rough spots. This is a powerful production which contains partial nudity and is not designed for children, but packs a wallop and leaves a lasting impact.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Humble Boy

A mere glance at the program, which indicates that the two families involved in Charlotte Jones’ Play, “Humble Boy,” at the Delta King through June 25th, are named the Humbles and the Pyes tells the audience that it is in for a fun evening.

Though this is billed as a comedy, and though it is indeed very funny, there are times when it seemed to have an identity crisis--was it really a comedy, or was it really a drama? It has been said that it has overtones of Hamlet, and indeed it does. This story of twisted family relationships following the death of the father in the family, works as either comedy or drama, and, fortunately, under the direction of Stephanie Gularte, it works well as both.

Capital Stage managing director Peter Mohrmann is Felix Humble, the shy, somewhat rumpled, overweight Cambridge University astrophysicist who has returned to his Cotswold home following the death of his father, an entomologist and bee keeper. Being back in the family home, and at odds with his overbearing mother (who describes him as “fat and strange”), is a situation fraught with tension that brings back his annoying stutter and makes it impossible for him to deliver the eulogy at his father’s funeral.

Obviously a brilliant scientist, his stutter disappears and his self-confidence grows when he speaks of his research on “string theory” which will allow us to understand the universe, though he seems incapable of understanding his own life.

Mohrmann is simply outstanding – gawky, awkward, as he searches for the answers to the questions in a world that seems to be unraveling before him.

Janis Stevens, recently nominated for a New York Drama Desk award for her one-woman show, “Vivien”, based on the life of Vivien Leigh, plays Felix’s mother, Flora Humble. Her portrayal of the not-so-grieving widow is both icy and emotional, depending on the situation and Stevens handles both with aplomb.

Flora is “incandescent with rage” about her son’s departure from his father’s funeral and, as she speaks we learn very quickly that she wasn’t too fond of her dearly departed husband either. Immediately following his death, she got rid of his beloved bees and gave away his clothes to a local charity, without consulting Felix. She wraps her husband’s ashes up as a gift to give to the unsuspecting Felix, since she doesn’t want them and thinks he might like to have them.

Flora is having an affair with a lecherous old neighbor, George Pye (David Silberman), whom Felix hates, and who wants to marry Flora, now that she’s a widow.

The affair comes as news to Felix, though it has been going on for 10 years, he learns from George’s daughter, Rosie Pye (Kathleen Saumure), Felix’s former girlfriend and mother of the child he didn’t realize he had fathered. Rosie is a survivor and proud of having been a successful single mother, doing a good job of raising her daughter.

The delightfully fey Georgann Wallace plays Marcy Lott, a people-pleasing, scatterbrained family friend who wants to keep peace at all costs. Wallace is a wonderful comedienne who steals every scene she is in. Her touch up for the seasoning in the gazpacho she has made for a family meal will probably be the one scene that nobody will ever forget, though her monologue during grace at the same meal is an absolute show stopper, and wins applause.

Jim Lane is Jim, the mysterious Gardener, who has his own little secret and who isn’t quite what he seems. Lane gives his usual solid performance.

The set for this enjoyable show is by Stephen Jones, who has created a lush British garden, even if things spilled deliberately or accidentally onto the astroturf are somewhat difficult to clean up.

Costume design is by Rebecca Redmond, who has dressed Flora in some gorgeous costumes, including her funeral attire which, with the large dark glasses, give her the appearance of a Queen Bee, quite appropriate for this insulated little hive.

Playwright Charlotte Jones doesn’t have quite the light touch that one finds in an Alan Ayckbourn (to which she is sometimes compared), but the whole of “Humble Boy” is uniquely hers and is a thoroughly satisfactory and enjoyable piece of theatre.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Island

In 1973, in pre-Apartheid South Africa, white playwright Athol Fugard collaborated with black actors John Kani and Winston Ntshona to produce a powerful play called “The Island,” based on events which took place at South Africa’s notorious Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated).

It was against the law for these men to meet, much less collaborate on what was a very subversive work, even given its vagueness, as to time, location, or specific events, and the three men were persecuted for years (Kani and Ntshona were jailed and Fugard had his passport revoked for a time).

More than thirty years after its debut, “The Island” still resonates as a work about honor and friendship and dignity under the most appalling of conditions.

Directed by Theater and Drama Department Chair Peter Lichtenfels, “The Island” opened for four performances only at Wyatt Pavilion, running through Sunday, May 21.

This two person play features Dahlak Brathwaite as John and James Marchbanks as Winston. Both men give powerful and memorable performances. Unfortunately, one of the production’s strengths is also one of its weaknesses. Under vocal and dialect coach Melanie Julian, the men speak with what I can only assume is an authentic South African accent which is often difficult to understand when the dialog gets emotional.

But there is no mistaking the chemistry. even when the words get lost. John and Winston spend most of their time locked together in a small cell, where they share one cup and one washcloth. They do backbreaking work in the local quarry, after which they are thrown back into their cell. Over the years, a strong friendship has grown between the two men, who support each other and try to keep each other’s spirits up as they dream about what they want when they are released (food, booze and women) and reminisce about life on the outside.

The men are rehearsing scenes from Sophocles’ “Antigone,” which they intend to perform for a prison talent show. The parallels between the ancient Greek tragedy and modern So. Africa are painfully apparent, though there is a lot of humor which is used to soften the message.

“The Island” is an all purpose production. It has very funny bits, it has heavy drama, and it has exceptionally fine acting in Brathwaite and Marchbanks. Plan to listen carefully to get past the accents, but once you get into it, the effort is all worth while.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sly Fox

Larry Gelbart’s body of works reads like a who’s who of comedy, including such classics as Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” “Tootsie,” “Oh, God!” “Three’s Company,” “The Danny Kaye Show,” and, of course “M*A*S*H,” among many, many other familiar titles.

Is it any wonder, then, that in the hands of Gelbart,“Volpone,” Ben Johnson’s 17th century social satire, could be so delightfully recreated as the 20th century “Sly Fox,” now playing at the Woodland Opera House, under the direction of Lydia Venables.

“Sly Fox” updates the setting from Renaissance Venice to 19th century San Francisco, and changes the tone from satire to bawdy farce, which occasionally has the feel of a Bob Hope stand up routine. It is 2 hours of non-stop knee-slappers and groaners, handled expertly by a strong cast, headed by Stephen Kauffman as Foxwell J. Sly, a rich man who lives for gold (“God, with an ‘L’”) and who has figured out a way to get his friends to bring him even more gold.

Sly’s accomplice is the dapper Simon Able (Dean Shellenberger), whose gambling debts have left him dependent on Sly, and left him with no alternative but to do his employer’s bidding. Shellenberger has a droll wit which suits him well in this role.

Sly’s plan is to let all of his rich friends know that he is at death’s door and that he has not yet decided who should be the beneficiary of his will. One by one, the “friends” show up, golden gifts in hand, hoping to curry favor with the man they think is dying, all the while continuing to fill his chest with more gold.

It’s difficult to tell whether Sly is having more fun watching his swelling coffers or making fools out of his neighbors. When he realizes that they are running out of real gold to bring him, in the hopes of becoming sole heir, Sly decides to show Simon the baser side of mankind by getting his accountant, Abner Truckle (Greg Collet) to offer his wife to the “dying” old man, for a little death bed fun in the sack. He also wants Simon to convince the miserly Jethro Crouch (Micail Buse) to name Sly as his only heir, effectively disinheriting his own son, Captain Crouch (David Cripe).

Collet and Buse are wonderful in their respective roles. Buse, particularly, as the doddering Crouch has the bird-like physique often caricatured for miserly old men and is very funny without taking it all over the top.

The women in the cast take smaller, though no less important roles. Lee Marie Kelly is very funny as Miss Fancy, a prostitute in the best Mae West tradition, who hopes to get a deathbed marriage out of the “dying” Sly. Her best scene, however, is with Jethro Crouch, a scene which seems to be lifted from Vaudeville stage, and which, along with the rather racy dialog throughout the show, would give it an “R” rating.

Alex Weir is the beautiful and virtuous Mrs. Truckle, ready to do anything for her husband, and again, her bedroom scene with Sly is worthy of a Vaudeville routine, and gets the predictable big laughs.

Gerald Ooley is very funny as the Chief of Police, who wants to wring every salacious moment out of the story of the goings on between Sly and Mrs. Truckle.

Don Myers is the befuddled Court Clerk, who transcribes at a snail’s pace. His timing is perfect and very funny.

Rounding out the cast are Jen Smuda Cotter and Lexie Kenyon as Sly’s two maids (who stay in character, even when helping to change set pieces in the dark) and Alan Smuda as the Bailiff.

Kauffman does double duty as both Sly and, in Act 2, as the bombastic hanging judge, Judge Bastardson.

Scenic and Lighting design is by Jeff Kean, who has created a solid feeling bedroom for Sly with a nebulous view out the window which is supposed to be turn of the century San Francisco, but which looks more like the rooftops of a Spanish or Greek coastal town.

Laurie Everly-Klassen designed the costumes, with her usual panache.

There is still a lot of 17th century feel to this farce, but Gelbart’s snappy dialog brings it up to date. “Sly Fox” is not a show to take the kiddies, but for an adult audience this fast-paced, very funny production will have you chuckling throughout and wondering how two hours passed by so quickly.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Faith Project

The lines between religion and theater seems to be rapidly disappearing these days. In an effort to hang on to members, churches don’t just conduct “worship services,” now they come with balloons and bands and animal parades and anything that will entertain the congregation and keep them coming back each week.

When a minister like Joel Osteen, with full band and multi-voice choirs, can sell out Madison Square Garden for two performances and fill the enormous Lakewood Church in Houston each week, there has to be a lot of theater involved.

It is not surprising that someone would eventually erase the lines entirely and bring church into the theater.

Susannah Martin, an MFA directing candidate is that person. Her production, “The Faith Project” is that experiment. It will be running through next weekend at the Mondavi Studio Theater. Martin explains that the impetus for her project was “political, personal, and creative.”

She set out to ask what it would mean to create a theatrical liturgy. When is theater spiritual? When is a service theatrical?

The show is written, created and performed by Samantha Blanchard, Christopher Maikish, Karen Marek, Ashanti Newton, Michael Ortiz, Karuna Tanahashi, Natasha Tavakoli, Carolyn Thomas and Rosa Threlfall, with choreography by Kristin Heavy and musical composition and direction by Dave Malloy.

The structure for the performance is two nondenominational services, one (“Doubt”) held on Friday night and the second (“Faith”) on Sunday morning. The services come complete with a 5-piece band and four-voice choir.

Set designer Javan Cayo Johnson has created a unique environment. When one enters the theater, it is so much like entering church that one feels the need to whisper. While the audience sits in the seats which line the auditorium, there are huge pews, borrowed from the Unitarian Universalist Church which face a stark altar in the front.

There is a tape playing in the background, which consists of interviews about God and faith conducted with “clergy, scholars, and passersby.”

Martin conceived this piece as a reaction to 9/11 and the whole subject of religious extremism – the idea that it existed only “over there.” She says, “I kept hearing that America, by contrast, was the birthplace and paragon of religious tolerance.” But is it? In this land where the hotly contested issues of any election center around abortion and/or gay rights, where fanatics like Fred Phelps picket the funerals of American soldiers to “prove” that God is angry at this country for its tolerance toward homosexuality, where the President believes that God chose him specifically to lead the country, does this even come close to being a paragon of religious tolerance?

“I had a strong urge to get past propaganda and find out what people were really thinking about religion, belief and faith,” says Martin

The backgrounds and religious beliefs of the cast of this show, who each completed questionnaires to answer, as several incidents in Martin’s own life, were used in writing the script.

The main problem with this show is that it doesn’t seem, itself, to know whether it’s theater or church. We are left wondering about the ministers for the service, Darius (Michael Ortiz), a charismatic minister in the Osteen tradition, who, for reasons that are never explained, decides to leave the altar and sit in the congregation for the second service.

Likewise a second presider, Kavita (Karuna Tanahashi) seems to be edgy and upset through most of the “show,” but we never get a clue as to why.

We do get a glimpse into presider Diana’s (Samantha Blanchard) struggles with belief and her discoveries about herself, but we can see that there is a connection between Violet (Karen Marek) and Kate (Carolyn Thomas), a woman who has come to collect for the poor in Berkeley, but we are left wondering exactly what that connection is, as Violet becomes little more than someone to read announcements, while the focus is on Kate, her struggles in her personal life, and her ultimate surrender to God (an excellent performance by Thomas).

Another visitor, Kendra (Ashanti Newton) gives a powerful performance as a woman haunted by past experiences who is trying to find peace within herself, with the help of a God who sometimes seems to have forsaken her.

Michael (Christopher Maikish), a guest soloist in the choir, is struggling with his own identity issues and trying to find his place in the God community.

I left “The Faith Project” not really sure how I felt about it. It wasn’t exactly theater and it wasn’t exactly church, but something somewhere in between, with good music, lovely choreography (by Kristin Heavey), a nice dramatic element, but something missing at its core. And maybe that’s the whole message of this project after all.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bombay Dreams

Bombay Dreams, currently at the Convention Center, is based on an idea by Shekhar Kapur and Andrew Lloyd Webber (who may have been having a nightmare that night). The book was written by Meera Syal but rewritten, supposedly to simplify it for Americans, by Thomas Meehan (who should have the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits). Music is by A.R. Rahman, one of India’s most famous composers, with lyrics by Don Black.

At the conclusion of the show, a handful of people, scattered throughout the theater stood for the traditional standing ovation, proving my theory that Sacramento audiences will give a standing ovation for anything, no matter how little it deserves it.

To be fair, this is a visually rich show with a few very enjoyable musical numbers and an on-stage fountain for those looking for a wet-sari scene. But the story line makes you want to cringe. I would love to have seen the original version and give Syal’s original script a chance.

If I have it right, this is a play about the making of a movie about a play about the making of a movie. I think.

The program summarizes it well: “poor boy meets rich girl, they fall in love, a villain comes between them and our hero overcomes all obstacles to win the beautiful heroine with an approving node from his elders.” Add atrocious dialog that apparently is meant to parody Bollywood movies (movies made in India), lots of bare midriffs, sequins and glitter, and choreography with a lot of pelvic thrusts and you can save yourself the price of a ticket.

Sachin Bhatt plays Akaash, a boy from the slums, who has dreams of becoming a Bollywood star and saving his neighborhood, the Paradise slum, from being leveled to make way for a multiplex. Akaash’s best friend is “Sweetie,” the neighborhood eunuch (beautifully and sensitively played by Aneesh Sheth).

Enter Vikram (Deep Katdare), an attorney who represents the underprivileged of Bombay, who volunteers to help the residence of Paradise at no cost. Vikram’s fiancee Priya (Reshma Shetty), the daughter of washed-up film maker Madan (Suresh John) wants to be a film maker herself, and make films of importance, not the fluffy Bollywood fare. There is an instant attraction between Akaash and Priya (of course).

Through a twist of fate too complicated to explain, Akaash catches the eye of Rani (Sandra Allen), Bollywood’s reigning queen, who insists that he be her leading man in her next film. Madan casts him, on the condition that he never reveal that he is from the slums, feeling that an audience would never accept an “untouchable” as a movie star.

Not surprisingly, after a rocky beginning, Akaash becomes a huge star and wins not only the heart (or at least the body) of Rani, but the Bollywood equivalent of an Oscar as well. With all his slum friends there to cheer for him, Akaash denies his slum beginnings, turns his back on everyone including his grandmother (Marie Kelly), and goes to the award party.

Thankfully things seem to go faster in Act 2, where Akaash and Priya admit their feelings for each other, but admit that their love cannot be because of the disparity in their ranks. Vikram turns out to be the slimeball we all knew he was in Act 1 when it is revealed that he is the one behind the desire to destroy Paradise and build a multiplex. Things come to a crisis, the wedding of Vikram and Priya is interrupted, and almost everybody lives happily ever after.

Bombay Dreams was nominated for Tony awards for costumes and choreography, both nominations richly deserved. If there was ever a show that make it based on these two elements, this is the one. In fact, they would have done better to throw out all the dialog entirely and let the spectacle carry the show--it probably would have garnered better reviews.

If you get a little seat-weary and begin to sneak peeks at your watch wondering how much longer you have to sit there, check out the on-stage percussionists, Deep Singh and Dave Sharma, seated on platforms on opposite sides of the proscenium, each with a fascinating array of percussion instruments.

Bombay Dreams continues through May 21. There are plenty of tickets available.

I’m not surprised.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Taylor House B&B, Jamaica Plain

When we planned our trip to Boston, Jeri's sweetie Phil came across an ad for the Taylor House B&B just a couple of blocks from where he and Jeri live. It was more expensive than we are used to paying, but we bit the bullet and booked two rooms, for Walt and me and for my mother.

We could not have been more pleased with our accommodations. Walt and I had a small suite at the back of the house, overlooking the beautiful garden. My mother had a huge room in the front. There was a coffee station right outside our room, with freshly brewed coffee waiting when we got up, and a fridge stocked with soft drinks, water and yogurt for anyone who wanted it. There was also a large collection of VHS tapes and paperback books, for those who wanted something to read or watch at night!

The place is owned by Dave and Darryl, who are delightful guys who were extremely accommodating. They even provide a "Business Center," computer access for guests. I would sit at the computer in the dark when we came home each night and get my journal entry for the day written--I didn't need to lug that huge heavy laptop with me.

Best feature, though, are the "Goldens." They have two golden retrievers, Wags, who is the mother, and Parker, her son. They are beautiful animals, very friendly and well behaved, and they have learned how to guilt trip you into feeding them from the table (we never did feed them from the table, but sure did feel guilty about it, looking at Wags' hopeful eyes). The dog toys that we found lying around the house from time to time made it feel more like "home" than a "hotel."

I have a notoriously bad back and never ever plan to sleep well when we are traveling. To my delight, the beds were so comfortable that I slept all night long every night we were there, with nary a pain whatsoever. I was very sorry to leave!

Breakfast each morning was a gourmet treat. Darryl prepared fabulous breakfasts, each with a unique sort of flavor to it. There was pistachio granola, some cinnamon scones (fantastic), a delicious "egg wrap," with some of the best bacon I've ever tasted.

I loved the days when we got a late start in the morning and I would hear Darryl, a singer, vocalizing while he cleaned the house.

We had rented a car, but the B&B is perfectly located near public transportation, two blocks from the heart of Jamaica Plain, with its great restaurants and shops, and just a block from Jamaica Pond, which was wonderful for walking, running, or people-watching.

We had booked our rooms so late that we weren't able to book for the entire length of our stay, so had to find somewhere to go the last two nights. We went to a Holiday Inn about 10 miles away. Walt kept saying "Yeah, but it's only 1/3 the price..." In the end, when you factor in meals, the Taylor House wasn't that much more expensive and significantly more luxurious. We will definitely return.

I've posted a slide show here for anyone would would like to check out the photos that I took while there.

We will definitely be back.

4 stars out of 4 for this one!

The Wizard of Oz

I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Wizard of Oz,” so I was delighted to see that the Davis Musical Theater Company’s current production (in the newly-carpeted Hoblit Performing Arts Center through May 14) is mostly charming. The production brings the movie version of the L. Frank Baum story of the little girl from Kansas who is transported over the rainbow for adventures in the land of Oz to the stage, almost unchanged, with all the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg songs (including “The Jitterbug,” cut from the movie) and dialog almost verbatim from John Kane’s screenplay.

Sadly, this is not DMTC’s finest orchestra. There are some serious problems with the music, but the splendid cast, direction (by Jan Isaacson), music direction (by Steve Isaacson), costumes (by Jeanne Henderson), choreography (by Dian Hoel), scenic design (by John Ewing) and lighting design (by Dannette Vassar) make it easier to ignore the sour notes coming from the pit.

Anyone familiar with the movie will remember the monochromatic Kansas scenes, which in this stage production are done in drab black and white, making the transition to the wildly colorful Oz that much more striking.

Alissa Steiner is almost perfect as Dorothy. She’s a bit tall and mature for the part, but the innocence she projects makes that not really a factor. Her “Over the Rainbow” is delivered in a clear, sweet voice that shows the longing of a young girl looking for a place where there isn’t any trouble.

“Leroy,” who plays Toto, is a lovable dog who can be a real scene stealer.

The rest of the cast is likewise excellent.

Kevin Carvavalho as the farmhand Hunk, and the Scarecrow has a child-like charm about him, and absolutely no bones at all, as befits a proper scarecrow.

Jason McDowell is Hickory the farmhand and also The Tinman. He clanks his way effectively around the stage and is at his most endearing when he learns that the heart for which he has so long hoped is capable of breaking.

And was there ever a better part for Steve Isaacson than that of the Cowardly Lion (also the farmhand, Zeke)? Isaacson presents his very best Bert Lahr impression and becomes an instant audience favorite.

Jill Wright was born to play Glinda, the good witch of the North. She is simply outstanding.

Buffee Ann Gillihan as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch gave the role her own interpretation which was, at the same time in jarring contrast to the familiar inflections from the rest of the cast, and refreshing that she made the role her own.

Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are solidly played by the familiar Mary Young and the newcomer Chuck Snipes. Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz was the entertaining Adam Sartain.

The children who play the Munchkins were adorable. Unnamed in the program, yet worthy of note were the three girls of the Lullaby League and the endearing three boys for the Lollipop Guild. The children also play the flying monkeys and look like they are having the time of their lives doing so.

This low budget production lacks a lot of the pizzazz that high tech special effects can add, but innovative and often clever substitutions are made. Instead of a razzle-dazzle tornado, we have storm dancers, instead of a yellow brick road we have – we’ll you’ll have to see the unique solution to that problem. Somehow it all just works, though sometimes lengthy scene changes slow the momentum. (And unless the orchestra can play in tune, the interim music should be done by keyboard alone.)

Scenic design was basic, but effective. Using an upper level for the Witch’s castle was perfect and one of the better scenes in the show. No specific credit is given for the construction of the mechanical Wizard, so I assume it was made by scenic designer Ewing. It was great!

With all of the innovative ways of dealing with special effects one scene is a puzzlement. When Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Tinman enter the forest where they encounter the Cowardly Lion, they shudder at how “dark and creepy” it is, though they are walking onto a brightly-lit stage with only a few bare trees for scenery. Later in the show, when they enter the witch’s forest, the lighting is spooky and there are dark branches overhead, so it is not beyond the designers’ abilities to create the “dark and creepy” forest described. The contrast between dialog and actual setting is jarring.

This is a show that will delight any audience, particularly children. One hopes that with a few shows under its belt the orchestra will come together, but the rest of the show is well worth the price of admission.