Friday, August 23, 2013


There’s lots of razzlin’ and dazzlin’ going on in Sacramento, as Music Circus closes out its 2013 season with its first-ever production of the Kander & Ebb & Fosse salute to vaudeville, “Chicago.”

The story is based on a 1926 play called “Chicago” by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a journalist who covered the real-life sensational murder trials of the era. Watkins’ story described two women accused of murder, whose defense was that they had been the victim of unscrupulous men.  It’s the sort of thing that Chicago tabloid journal readers ate up. Bob Fosse took the theme and ran with it.

From the moment muscle-bound announcer Aaron Felske sashays onto the stage to so many cat calls and whoops from some of the females in the audience, and the company starts the familiar “All that Jazz,” the sizzle never stops.

Structured like a vaudeville show, acts such as one would see in a real vaudeville show (the ventriloquist, a clown, and some others I’ll save for the surprise), the show hangs on the story of young Roxie Hart (Lindsay Roginski), who murders her lover, manages to get acquitted at her trial, thanks to the help of attorney Billy Flynn (Tom Hewett) and then capitalizes on her 15 minutes of news media fame to build a career for herself on the stage with chanteuse and former prison mate, Velma Kelly (Brenda Braxton). 

Roginski is a luminous Roxie.  Her facial expressions, her beautiful body lines in freezes make it impossible to take your eyes off of her.  You somehow forget that she is a heartless woman who cares only for herself and doesn’t care whom she hurts in her attempt to get to the top.

Hurt most of all is husband Amos (Rick Stoneback), hopelessly in love, willing to believe anything, to forgive anything and yet hurt by Roxie over and over again.  Amos’ song “Cellophane” is always a highlight of this show and was again in this production, though I found it lacked the depth that I have seen in other productions.

Hewett’s Flynn is slippery, sleazy and not very likeable, though he certainly knows how to “Razzle Dazzle” everyone to get the desired outcome for his clients.

Another high point of this show is the ventriloquist sequence, with Flynn the ventriloquist and Roxie the dummy, done well in this production, though not quite as tight and memorable as other productions I have seen recently.

Braxton is a sultry songstress who knows how to belt a tune and is delightful in the “Cell Block Tango,” where each of the “merry murderers of the Cook County Jail” describe how they came to realize that their victims had to die.  “He had it coming / He had it coming / He only had himself to blame / If you'd have been there / If you'd have seen it / You would have done the same.”

Roz Ryan is outstanding as Matron “Mama” Morton, who runs the prison with an iron fist, but treats her favorites with loving attention (“When You’re Good to Mama”)

Choreography for this show is by Randy Slovacek, who gives us credible Fosse-esque dancing without resorting to mimicry.  This is a large show and Music Circus has a small stage, yet somehow you still get the oomph of this Fosse-like choreography.

“Chicago” has an extended run, to August 29, but it was a near sell-out on opening night and one assumes that word of mouth might make tickets more difficult to find. 

This was a perfect show to close out a stellar season.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Elly Award Nominations, 2013

More than 450 Elly nominees for the 2012-13 season were announced at an informal nomination reception on Sunday, Aug. 11. Actors, directors, technicians and producers were on hand to listen excitedly for their names to be called.

This past season, 272 shows were submitted by 82 theaters (up from last year’s  244 shows by 78 theaters). Fifty-eight theaters and 123 productions received nominations, with the Woodland Opera House garnering the second largest number of awards (29) and the Davis Musical Theatre Company receiving a very respectable 14.
Woodland Opera House’s John Bowles received four nominations — three for set design (“Peter Pan,” “Stuart Little” and “Goodnight Moon”) and one for lighting design for “Goodnight Moon.” Elisha Machado was nominated for Supporting Actor, Adult for “Goodnight Moon,” and Eric Alley received a nomination in the same category for “Pinkalicious.” Nancy Agee picked up a nomination as Supporting Actress, Adult for “Pinkalicious.”

But the bulk of Woodland’s nominations went to “Peter Pan” (10, including one for Overall Production) and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (nine).

James Glica-Hernandez, nominated for his musical direction for “Peter Pan” was delighted.

“You don’t expect to have that response,” he said, admitting he was still dazed by it all. “I’m so proud of ‘Peter Pan.’ We had a great team and a great cast.”

He was particularly happy to see Emily Jo Seminoff, nominated for her role as Peter Pan (and also as Supporting Actress in “Hairspray” with DMTC). “She takes her participation so seriously and works so hard. She is very professional and she has such joy in it. I love that.”

Rodger McDonald, nominated for his dual roles as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in “Peter Pan,” was happy to work with Seminoff, who also just won Woodland’s annual Chesley Award for “Peter Pan.”

“Emily Jo is very good and worked hard at it,” McDonald said, and then commented on his own nomination. “That role is such a juicy role. You have to be half an imbecile not to get laughs. I really enjoyed doing it.”

Emily O’Flaherty picked up a nomination in the Best Actress, Child for her role as Wendy Darling in “Peter Pan,” a nomination that particularly pleased Glica-Hernandez.

“Emily started with me as a private vocal student about three years ago,” he said. “She was a timid little girl, and now here she is with an Elly nomination. Unreal. I’m the old proud grandpa.”

Others nominated for “Peter Pan” include Jeff Nauer (Supporting Actor, Adult), Betsy Taloff (Supporting Actress, Adult) and Bailey Robinson (Supporting Actor, Child).

Angela Baltezore also received dual nominations for that show, for both set design and lighting design. The latter nomination tickled Jeff Kean, the general manager and frequent set and lighting designer of the Woodland Opera House.

“Angela had never done lighting in her life before. I don’t think she had ever been on a ladder in her life. It’s all part of my evil plan,” he said with a laugh.

Bobby Grainger picked up a nomination as director for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” one of nine nods for that show.
“We had really great cast,” he said “It’s just a fun show to do. The whole team is really excited.”

Grainger, who had appeared in the show last year with a theater company that is no longer in existence, was tapped by Kean to direct Woodland’s production and brought several of that cast across the causeway with him.
“Some people have this crazy notion the causeway is 75 miles long. It’s really only a 35-minute drive. We arranged car pools,” he said.

“I go for best talent and best chemistry. My goal is to put on the best show that will sell the most tickets. I want the audience to have a good time and to smile. I’m very much sophomoric, and I love slapstick. I have a good time.”

The goal must have worked because by the end of its run, “The Drowsy Chaperone” — which also won a nomination for Overall Production — was playing to sold-out houses.

Colby Salmon and Stuart Eldridge received nominations in the leading actor category. Eldridge played “Man in the Chair,” the only character in the show without a name.

“Stuart is a tremendously talented man,” Grainger said. “He and I had lengthy conversations about why he said his lines, who he was, and why he was sitting in the chair. I wanted to give him a name and an identity.”

Others nominated from “Drowsy Chaperone” include Ryan Adame (supporting actor), Gino Platina (choreography), Denise Miles (costume design) and Bradley Moates (musical direction).

Jason Hammond received three nominations for DMTC’s sparkling production of the Elly-nominated “Hairspray” (direction, choreography and sound design), though he says “I really had my hand in almost every cookie jar at that time,” including set design and design of the 35 wigs used in the show.

“I loved it so much. We had that kind of positive energy where you get creative and have synergy with other people.”

Hammond, too, was pleased with Seminoff’s nomination in the supporting actress category as the “bad girl” in “Hairspray.”

“I’ve worked with her a couple of times and to see her growth, especially in the past couple of years, has been wonderful,” he said. “She’s doing incredible work, and is a great lady, too.”

“Hairspray” also received other nominations for Denise Miles (costume design), Steve Isaacson (lighting design), Christine Deamer (set design), Andy Hyun (supporting actor) and Danielle Hansen-Penny (supporting actress).
Tevye Ditter, nominated as leading actor in “Urinetown,” says it is one of his favorite shows. He played the role in 2012 for Runaway Stage and was pleased to have another opportunity for DMTC.

“It has a lot of very smart comedy in it, and paid homage to a lot of other shows and genres,” Ditter said. “It makes fun of itself and is very self-aware.”

DMTC also picked up nominations for Laura Woodruff (leading actress in “Oklahoma!”), Jenny Plasse (supporting actress in “Cats”) and Jan Isaacson for choreography for “Wizard of Oz.”

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 31 years ago by local community actors, the Elly Awards have grown from a Sacramento tradition to now include theaters within a 70-miles radius.

In celebration of the 31st annual Elly Awards, SARTA will host two ceremonies this September. The Youth Elly Award ceremony will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Roseville Theatre Arts Academy. The Adult Elly Award ceremony will be at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Red Lion Inn, Woodlake.

Tickets are available now at For more information,  visit

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The King and I

There is a sumptuous feast for all the senses currently gracing the Music Circus stage.

One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most treasured musicals, “The King and I” filled the Wells Fargo Pavilion on opening night and each familiar tune was greeted with thunderous applause. This is the 13th production of this show, which California Musical Theatre reports is one of the all-time favorite musicals of Music Circus patrons.

What’s not to like in this stage classic, which won five Tony Awards in its first season, 1951, and went on to be a staple for Yul Brynner, who played the king for most of the rest of his life?

The story is based on the 1944 book, “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, which was based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Mongkut hoped that hiring a British governess would help modernize his kingdom.

As the king, Paul Nakauchi is no stranger to this show, having made his professional debut in the ensemble of a production starring Brynner. He went on to play the king opposite Elaine Paige in London’s West End, understudied and went on for Lou Diamond Phillips in the 1996 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival and played the role on the 2010 Broadway Asia tour.

Nakauchi’s king straddles the line between hard-fisted ruler and confused intellect who realizes that things in his country have to change, but isn’t sure exactly how. His anguish becomes clear in “Is a Puzzlement” as he tries to decide which way is the best way for Siam.

Christiane Noll’s Anna is a more feisty Anna than I have seen before, standing her ground with glaring ferocity, determined to get all that she was promised. While sparks fly between the two protagonists, there are moments of tenderness, when we see the growing respect and friendship between the them. Her “Hello Young Lovers” was wistfully tender, as she seemed to be in a far-away time when all was well with her husband, Tom.

In previous productions there seems to be a potential of romantic interest between the two, but in this production they are worthy adversaries and off-and-on good friends, without the complication of romantic entanglements. That said, however, “Shall We Dance” (the high point of the show for the audience) was electric, when each let his or her guard down, just a bit.

A marvelous addition to the cast was Diane Phelan as Tuptim, the gift to the King by the King of Burma. Her “My Lord and Master,” her first song, was dazzling. Her duet with lover Lun Tha (Telly Leung) was poignant and moving.

The King’s No. 1 wife, Lady Thiang, is played by Tami Swartz. As with this production’s Anna, this Lady Thiang is more feisty than others I have seen in this role. She loves her husband, and understands that she cannot help him solve his problems. But there is a sharp side to her as well, especially as concerns Tuptim and Lun Tha.

The king’s children are too numerous to mention, but all are adorable and perform well in their scenes, particularly the perennial favorite, “Getting to Know You.”

However, one must mention Carter Thomas as Anna’s son Louis, and Andrew Apy as Prince Chulalongkorn, who will inherit his father’s throne soon. Apy did well expressing both the bravado of a teenage boy and the fear of having the responsibilities of being king when he does not feel ready.

Thomas is a perfect little British lad and his friendship with Chulalongkorn was fun to watch (especially when both do the reprise of “A Puzzlement.”) However, he had some odd dialog coaching, as I have never heard an accent quite like his. It was jarring whenever he pronounced a word with an “E” sound at the end of it.

Always a high point in this show is Tuptim’s “Small House of Uncle Thomas” and this one was outstanding. It may be the first time I was struck by the quality of the voices of the Royal Singers (Louise Marie Cornillez and Linda Igarashi). Excellent job, ladies.

Marie Froelich’s costumes for the royal dancers (Alysia Chang, Bety Le, Garrick Macatangay, Freddy Ramirez and Jessica Wu) were top-notch.

This outstanding production continues to delight Music Circus audiences, for good reason.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Romeo and Juliet

Those talented actors at Acme Theatre Company are tackling a Herculean task — they are putting on not one, but two simultaneous productions of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

One version has the regular mixed-gender cast, the other is an all-female version. As if that weren’t daunting enough, of the 43 actors, 20 are new to Acme, an always interesting situation, as the newcomers haven’t learned all the ropes yet.

I asked director Emily Henderson why she decided on such an ambitious project. She explained that the seeds were planted when she played Juliet in an all-female production at Wellesley College. Reading about UC Davis’ all-female/all-male/randomly mixed production when she was in high school was also part of the decision.

When auditions were held, she still hadn’t decided what kind of production it was to be. And given the number of strong actors, the decision to do two productions was made.

The productions are set in some dystopian time period where the House of Escalus rules with an iron fist, determined to bring peace to Verona and keep the warring houses of Capulet and Montague from disturbing that peace. The doors to the Brunelle Performance Hall are guarded by armed soldiers, who place a band around the wrist of each member of the audience. We are warned that the band must be worn at all times.

We are then directed to the stage of the theater, where chairs have been set up. The 500-seat Brunelle theater is so large it was felt that the intimacy of the play would be lost and so the audience becomes spectators on the streets of Verona.

I saw the all-female cast on Friday and the “regular” (for lack of a better word) cast on Saturday, and was glad that I had “committed myself to four hours of Shakespearean tragedy,” as Henderson put it. The feel of each production was unique and quite different from the other one.

As with all Acme shows for 30 years, the entire production suffers from actors who have not yet learned to project, and so while the actors who were good — were very, very good — there were also parts of each show that were impossible to hear.

The prologue, for example, in the all-female cast was so muddled that I couldn’t understand a word and so had little idea what was going on with the cast members on stage. Surely it would be better with the next cast, but no. I still have no idea what was said or what was going on, though it was a dramatic moment for the director and lighting designer Arina Ushakova, it was mostly lost on at least myself and my husband.

Callie Miller and Margaret Starbuck play the star-crossed lovers in the female production and one could not ask for better. Miller was lovely and innocent, falling in love for the first time. Starbuck as the young man who falls in love at first sight was a delight to watch as he experienced the feelings that come with that love. The balcony scene was a real high point and made one realize how very special it is when age-appropriate actors play these roles.

Miki Benson was an endearing Mercutio, Julia Smart Truco was outstanding as Benvolio, as was Eliza Buchanan as Juliet’s cousin Tybalt. Special kudos to Kashmir Kravitz as Friar Lawrence, whose dedication to the role was so great she even got a man’s haircut. Meili Monk gave a solid performance as Juliet’s nurse. Deanna Gee, in the small role of the servant Sampson, was very funny.

The alternate cast production was much more testosterone-driven. While Henderson approached the two casts with identical stage directions, she was surprised to discover that the cast dynamic resulted in quite different shows.

“With two casts, I built in entirely different directions,” she said. “The creativity that I thought has been coming from my head is truly coming from the energetic relationship between me and the actor.”

Eden Tomich and Antonio De Loera-Brust are the title characters in this production. Tomich is a strong-willed Juliet, determined to follow her heart’s desire. DeLoera-Brust is an athletic Romeo with a quick temper and a love for his Juliet, which is palpably aching. The death scene for both was heartbreaking.

Cole Yambrovich’s Mercutio was as fiery as his red hair, Matthew Karoly gave a warm performance as Romeo’s loyal friend Benvolio, and Katy Zaragoza-Smith did well with the complicated emotions of Juliet’s nurse, a wonderful comedienne, yet able to plumb the depths of her feelings of sadness as the losses begin to mount.

Daniel Tutt was a commanding and icy-cold Lord Capulet, banishing Juliet from his house if she refuses to marry Count Paris (Aaron Hirst).

I would be hard-pressed to say which of the two productions I enjoyed more. There is enough difference in the two casts that my recommendation would really be to see both and make up your own mind.

Special recognition needs to go to Dan Renkin, a loyal Acme alum, who once again flew in from New York to direct the fight choreography.