Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hello, Dolly

Well, hello, Dolly.  It’s so nice to have you back in town!

Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi (Lisa Quoresimo), the lady who “arranges things” (like furniture and daffodils...and lives) has marched onto the stage of the Woodland Opera House and taken possession.

This production of the Jerry Herman/Michael Stewart musical based on the book by Thornton Wilder was directed by Cheryl Watson, with choreography by Staci Arriaga. Quoresimo gives Dolly energy and heart as she sets her cap for the curmudgeonly “half-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (Steve Mackay) and in the process manages to pair up a few other couples as well.

Dolly is coming back to life after a period of widowhood and is searching for a “sign” from her previous husband Ephram that it’s OK to marry again.

Mackay is a low key misogynist who appears to want a replacement for his deceased wife only as someone who can clean the house. (“It takes a woman all powdered and pink / To joyously clean out the drain in the sink”)

At the same time he is determined to prevent his niece Ermengarde (Devon Hayakawa) from marrying the love of her life, Ambrose Kemper (Cameron Turner) because he feels the young artist will not be able to provide a steady living and that Ermengarde is too immature to be married.

Hayakawa’s character has very little to actually speak, but she whines beautifully.  I have been impressed with Hayakawa whenever I’ve seen her on stage and she does not disappoint in this role which is perfect for her.

Vandergelder owns a hay and feed store and his two employees are chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Eddie Voyce) and Barnaby Tucker (J. Hunter LaMar). Both are excellent, especially Voyce, who commands the stage whenever he is on it. 

The two men, who have never left Yonkers, decide to blow up some tomato cans in the basement of Vandergelder’s store to make it uninhabitable for a day, and go off on an adventure in New York, while their boss is marching in the Fourteenth Street Association Parade.  The thirty-three year old Cornelius vows not to come home again until he’s kissed a girl.

“The girl” turns out to be Miss Irene Molloy (Dani Barnett) who runs a millenary shop with her clerk, Minnie Fay (Emily O’Flaherty).  The women, convinced Cornelius and Barnaby are eccentric millionaires, spend the day with them. O’Flaherty, a 9th grader at Emerson Junior High, nicely balances a giggily young girl with a more mature woman in her performance.  I would not have guessed that she was so young.

Mollie Smith is perfectly cast as Ernestina Money, the girl in the bizarre outfit, hired by Dolly to annoy Vandergelder and set him up for her own eventual conquest.

Most of Act 2 takes place at the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, “the fanciest place in New York.”  The choreography for the waiters has always been one of the most memorable parts of “Hello Dolly” and this production is no exception. Head waiter Rudolph (Spencer Alexander) prepares his service crew for Dolly Levi's return: their usual lightning service, he tells them, must be "twice as lightning". The waiters in this production are up to the challenge and the “Waiters’ Gallop” is something to behold.

Dolly makes her entrance to the title song resplendent in a gorgeous sequined red gown.  Kudos to costume designer Denise Miles.

The orchestra does well, under the capable hand of James Glica-Hernandez, and congratulations to the program people for getting (almost) all of their names in the program.  (Sorry, strings!)

By now, “Hello, Dolly” is a beloved old war horse that is a sure fire audience pleaser, and the Woodland Opera House gives her all the respect that she deserves.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


 The Davis Musical Theater Company has opened a lively, splashy, thoroughly enjoyable production of “Shrek, The Musical,” directed by Steve Isaacson and with choreography by Ron Cisneros. This is a show that is sure to be a hit with audiences of all ages. In fact, the full house on opening night was a nice mixture of children, parents and older adults, all laughing and applauding enthusiastically.

Based on William Steig’s book “Shrek!” and the DreamWorks animated film, this is the story of everybody’s favorite ogre, with the message that everyone is worthy of true love. It is filled with familiar nursery-rhyme characters, double entendres, great costumes, fun dance numbers, and more belch and fart jokes than I’ve ever seen in one show before.

This is not an instant stage classic that we will be seeing again for decades, nor does it have memorable music (except for the closing number, Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”). But for what it is, it delivers.

Essential to the success of any production of “Shrek” is an actor who can convincingly become the title character. DMTC is blessed with the talented Kevin Caravalho, who is so convincing you’re surprised to discover there is a real man under all that padding and green make up. I would be hard-pressed to think of any actor who could do better with this role. This production is worth seeing if only for Caravalho’s performance.

Fortunately, Caravalho is backed up by a host of equally talented performers. There is hardly a weak link in the massive cast. Shrek’s sidekick is Donkey, played for all the broad comedy the role requires by David Ewey, despite some costume problems opening night (it’s hard to hold your ears on straight when you have hooves, not hands, to work with!) Despite the costume malfunction, Ewey was consistently funny, worming his way into curmudgeonly Shrek’s heart, whether the ogre thinks he wants a friend or not.

Travis Nagler is the diminutive Lord Farquaad, scheming to make Princess Fiona his bride so he can become king and steal her kingdom. The actor does well playing the role on his knees, with fake legs dangling in front of him. He is even able to dance.

Jessica McKillican plays an enthusiastic Fiona, thrilled to be released from the prison where she has spent her entire childhood, confused about who Shrek really is, but eager to meet her intended husband to be … and also hoping to keep her own secret hidden. No shrinking violet, this heroine is equal to Shrek in every way.
Lizzie Carey and Mia Piazza play Fiona at young and teen ages and the transition from one age to the next is done flawlessly.

Jonathan Kalinen is very funny as Pinocchio and his growing nose was hilarious. My only problem with him is that his high pitched voice sometimes made it difficult to understand him.

This is also a three-generation production, with Mary Young playing several roles, including Mama Shrek, who sends her young son off to live on his own. Daughter Wendy Carey Young is Gingy, the Gingerbread man, and Lizzie Carey is Wendy’s daughter and Mary’s granddaughter

There are some outstanding dance numbers in this production, particularly by the Duloc Dancers in incredible costumes rented from the Theatre Companyof Upland. 

Fiona also does a wonderful dance number with the Pied Piper, played by Tomas Eredia, and his rats.

The marvelous dragon (her name is Donisha, Director Isaacson tells me), was designed and built by River City Theatre Company and lent to DMTC by Granite Bay High School. She swoops and flies and turns in circles on stage and is amazingly believable.

This is another winner from DMTC and should be popular with everyone. Kids in particular will love the bright costumes and the chance to see a “real” dragon. By the end of the show, everyone will want to give the lovable ogre a big hug.

Monday, September 15, 2014


What does it mean to “hear”?

Can you hear if you are deaf, by understanding the world around you through lip-reading or sign language? Can you be deaf to those loudly speaking around you, though your hearing is just fine? Can you hear with your eyes, reading what others are signing?

These are some of the questions explored by playwright Nina Raine in her powerful play, “Tribes,” now at Capital Stage in Sacramento, under the direction of Jonathan Williams.

It is the story of a dysfunctional Jewish British family, headed by parents Christopher (Lol Levy), a retired academic, and Beth (Jamie Jones), a wannabe writer. Their grown children are , Daniel (Benjamin T. Ismail), who is writing a thesis arguing that language doesn’t determine meaning; Ruth (Elizabeth Holzman), an aspiring opera singer; and Billy (Stephen Drabicki), just home from university.

Sylvia (Brittni Barger) is the woman who enters their lives and turns long-held perceptions on their head.

As the play begins, the family is seated at the table, engaged in an argument. There are actually several arguments going on, each seemingly nastier than the next.r whines continually that he can’t find any good nuts in the nut dish, while Daniel is upset because Ruth is dating a man nearly her father’s age. Daniel is also upset that all of his grown children are still living at home with their parents and repeatedly asks when they are going to move out.

Daniel whines continually that he can’t find any good nuts in the nut dish, while Christopher is upset because Ruth is dating a man nearly her father’s age. Christopher is also upset that all of his grown children are still living at home with their parents and repeatedly asks when they are going to move out.

The F-word is sprinkled liberally throughout the play.

Through all the cacophony of the arguments, Billy sits calmly, reading, his back to the audience. Through dialog of the others, we learn that Billy is deaf, but he is proficient at lip-reading. In fact, we learn later, he knows nothing of sign language, because his parents didn’t want to raise him to be handicapped.

This becomes a major theme of the play when Sylvia, who is losing her hearing, enters the picture and attempts to teach him how to sign. Billy begins to realize that life can be lonely and frustrating when he has to rely on lip-reading, but that his social life opens up significantly when he becomes part of the signing community.

The actor playing Billy is crucial to the emotional arc of this play and Drabicki, who played the role in the Canadian premiere of the play, is perfect. A hearing-impaired actor himself, and member of the New York Deaf Theater and the Association of Musicians with Hearing Loss, he embraces the conflicting emotions of a deaf man living in a hearing world and the complicated relationships within his own family.

I found that I wondered how difficult it must be to learn to speak with a British accent when one is hearing-impaired.

Barger, as Sylvia, beautifully conveys the strain she is under, as the child of deaf parents who is now, in her adulthood, losing her own hearing. She becomes the translator for both the hearing and deaf members of the family.

As Billy moves deeper and deeper into the signing world, this production adopts a beautiful artistic quality, as the words that are projected on the wall to translate for non-signers in the audience have an almost choreographed quality to them.

Other members of the cast are equally strong, with Ismael’s Daniel outstanding as he fights the voices in his own head and displays his own mental problems, though his love for his brother is painfully apparent.

One scene particularly displays the worlds in which each brother is living, when Christopher turns on the radio to help drown out the voices in his head and Billy begs him to turn it off because it causes buzzing in his ear through his hearing aids.

Director Williams has molded a complex family whose emotions, whether they are loving or angry, are over the top and which shows each member in his or her own little tribe, keeping the others out.

By the end of the play, we might all be questioning how we relate to others, and whether we are really communicating as clearly as we think we are.