Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Fantasticks

“The Fantasticks” is the longest running musical in the world. It ran for 42 years (more than 17,000 performances) off Broadway. A revival opened in 2006 and is still going strong. As of 2010, its original investors have earned 240 times their original investments.

The musical has played throughout the United States and in at least 67 foreign countries. Now it is playing at Sacramento Theatre Company in a production that should not be missed.

This is a 1960 musical, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, that tells a story about two neighboring parents who trick their children, Luisa and Matt, into falling in love by pretending to feud. As the time of their hoped-for betrothal approaches, the parents hire traveling actors to stage a mock abduction, so that Matt can heroically seem to save Luisa, ending the supposed feud between the two families.

The plan backfires. When the children discover the deception, they reject the arranged love match and separate, and, separately, wander out into the world, their experiences so painful that they return home with wiser eyes and take up where they left off.

The lesson to be learned is that parents should not meddle in their children’s love lives!

It’s a simple story; the conundrum is why it has been so popular for so along. Other than the song, “Try to Remember,” and a few forgettable songs recorded by Barbra Streisand that people may know from that recording, there is no fabulous score. There is essentially no set, no jazzy Broadway-type pizzazz, and yet people love it.

Audiences especially will love this STC production, which has a fabulous cast including the just-turned-15 actress Monique Ward Lonergan, who is irresistibly enchanting as Luisa. Despite being on stage with seven seasoned Sacramento actors, she not only holds her own, but makes this her show.

Another towering performance is given by Jerry Lee, who plays El Gallo, who narrates the story and becomes part of it later. He enters as a larger-than-life presence with a pair of twinkling eyes that engage the audience immediately.

Later, as he becomes the contractor for the men who will attempt to abduct Luisa, that twinkle turns evil and he is every bit as scary as any depiction of Lucifer you may have seen. Add to that the powerful voice, and you have a magnificent performance.

Luisa’s love is Matt (Joshua Durfey), who loves the girl across the wall their parents have erected and about whom she swoons in the manner of every 15-year-old. Durfey, making his STC debut, has an extensive Shakespearean background. He is the perfect idealistic young man, head over heels in love with this girl he has barely met.

The parents in the original show were both fathers, but in this one Luisa has a father and Matt has a mother. It does not change the story at all. Michael Coleman is Luisa’s father, well-meaning, but bungling. Amanda Goldrick (an Ann B. Davis doppelganger) is Matt’s mother, delighting in her plot with Luisa’s father, excited as a child when they scheme to have the young girl abducted so that Matt can come to her aid and win her affection.

Tara Henry plays the mute who becomes the wall over which Matt and Luisa communicate, and also Mortimer, the assistant thug hired to kidnap Luisa.

Gary S. Martinez, an STC favorite, is delicious as Henry, trying to figure out his role in the abduction plot and emoting all over the stage.

The intimacy of STC’s Pollock Stage helps the intimacy of this show (a character nearly fell into the lap of an audience member on opening night).

This was my third time seeing this show and I don’t remember enjoying it this much the first two times. If you’ve never seen “The Fantasticks,” it’s a piece of theater history and you owe it to yourself to catch this entertaining production.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Blackberry Winter

“Blackberry Winter,” a new play by Steve Yockey currently at Capital Stage, is essentially a one-woman show (with two additional actors who play very minor parts), about a woman trying to deal with her mother’s progressing Alzheimer’s disease. It is one act and runs about 90 minutes.

When I read the director’s notes before the play started and read “… this becomes the crux of Vivienne’s battle as we watch a powerful, driven and self-confident woman slowly crumble under the weight of her inability to fix what is wrong with her mother…” I readied myself for an emotional roller coaster and wondered if I had enough tissues with me.

But this play, directed by Capital Stage co-founder Jonathan Williams, is anything but depressing. Vivienne (Amy Resnick) is powerful, funny, sarcastic, emotional, a bit vulgar (but not much) and so perfectly embodies the jumbled emotions of someone who is dealing with a much-loved mother who just isn’t the mother she remembers that this show will resonate with anyone in a similar situation.
(And if you are not dealing with dementia, you will find the show very funny — and also very moving.)

“I don’t drink, but lately I’ve become jealous of people who do,” Vivienne confides to the audience, as she plunks another quarter into a big piggy bank because of using bad language. She has some extremely witty lines, but is the humorous tone real? “This smile is made of granite,” she says, a fake smile on her face.

Most of the play is a conversation with the audience. Resnick strides onto the stage, wearing a power suit and a lovely scarf at her neck (scarves take on major significance as the show progresses) and immediately looks out into the audience, makes eye contact, and starts to talk about an envelope she has just received from the assisted living facility where her mother resides.

She knows that they are writing to tell her it’s time to move Mom to a nursing home “which is quite simply outside my sphere of understanding at this moment.” She wants the best for her mother and knows that having to give up yet another bit of independence by moving is going to be very painful for her mother.

The set, designed by Williams, shows a collection of pedestals of different heights, scattered around the stage. Each contains an item of importance to Vivienne, things like a tiny wooden horse, a bottle of iodine, a pile of silk scarves, a gardening trowel, etc., things that will become props in part of the explanation of the person her mother was, or now is.

Dan Lydersen is credited with animation design, to illustrate an original myth that Vivienne has created to try to explain Alzheimer’s to herself and “why this horrible disease exists.”

The back wall becomes a screen on which is performed a three-section shadow puppet story with the help of Mole (Jacob Garcia) and Egret (Sara Lynn Wagner). The animation part of the play is less successful than the monologue itself, but the figures are lovely.

This is a “must see” for anyone dealing with dementia, and a “should see” for others who love good theater.

Monday, March 21, 2016

[Title of Show]

Nephi Speer, Brian Bohlender, Lauren Ettensohn and Eimi Taormina
photo credit:  Meredith Nixon

[Title of Show], directed by Mariana Seda, is a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical. This delightful production showcases the best of four talented actors, Brian Bohlender as Jeff, Nephi Speer as Hunter, Eimi Taormina as Susan and Heidi Lauren Ettensohn, with David Taylor as Larry, the accompanist.

Jeff and Hunter are musical writing partners who have hit a dry pach, but when they hear of a new musical theater festival they decide to enter something; They have ony three weeks to come up with a show.  As they brainstorm ideas (book plots, poems, etc.) they decide that their brain storming session themselves, set to music, might be an interesting idea.

With the help of Susan and Heidi they develop their musical, which is successful at the festival, finds an off-Broadway home and then plans to move to Broadway.  The changing relationships among the four friends as their fame grows teaches them ultimately what is important in life.

This is a show that musical theater buffs will love because of its in-jokes and obscure references. Those less enlightened will enjoy the tuneful songs, the inventive choreography and the camaraderie among the actors.

Adult language and themes make this inappropriate for young children.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Shadow Box

Beverly (Natasha Hause), dressed in gold lamé
and dripping with jewelry,
is confronted with the reality of dying
when she visits her former husband,
a patient at a hospice program,
in "The Shadow Box," playing now in Sacramento.
Courtesy photo
We’re all going to die. You, me, everybody you love. It’s a given.

This life we live is a one-way street that leads to a dead end. Yet, we don’t often think about our mortality; we don’t spend time dwelling on our death because we don’t know when it will come and we optimistically assume it’s a long way into the future.

This is not the case with the three residents of a hospice-like facility, where they have been given the use of individual cottages because all hope of a cure for their illnesses is gone and they are going to die. Soon.

One of the conditions of living in the cottage is daily interviews by two mostly unseen interviewers (Michelle Champoux and Stephen Wellman) on how they are feeling, physically, but especially emotionally.

“The Shadow Box,” by Michael Cristofer and directed by Bill Zarrielo, presented by the ironically named Resurrection Theatre at the Wilkerson Theatre of the California Theatre complex, explores these patients and how they are handling their impending death(s). It is a moving and powerful show.

Back in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote about the emotional stages experienced by those facing imminent death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

This production deals with each of those emotions as the patients interact with their friends and loved ones.
Joe (Michael Sicilia) has not, for some reason, seen his wife Maggie (Maureen Gaynor) or son Steve (Tony Brisson) in months. But they have been sent for and arrive with baggage and food … including a ham (because isn’t that what you bring to the grief-stricken?).

Steve has not been told that his father is dying and Maggie is in such denial that she won’t even enter Joe’s cottage because to go inside is to accept his death sentence, and she can’t do that.

Joe seems to be at peace with his impending death, but Maggie begs him to come home again: Let’s buy a small farm and forget all of this because it’s not true.

In Cottage 2 is Brian (Shawn B. O’Neal) and his young lover Mark (Eric Craig), who has been his caretaker for a long time. Death seems to have inspired the creativity in Brian and he wants to write and write and write. He doesn’t care if it’s good, he just wants to write.

Into this world sweeps Brian’s former wife Beverly (Natasha Hause), dressed in gold lamé and dripping with jewelry (you just know she must be drenched in Giorgio). She descends on Brian and Mark with an energy that explodes everywhere. She is there to remind Brian of all of their good times. It’s laughs and cuddles and promises until she comes face to face with the reality of his disease and what Mark has been dealing with.
Mark, at the same time, is the exhausted caregiver, forever sorting pills and cleaning up all sorts of messes. He is angry and has come to hate Brian at times, but is still in love with him and is terrified at the thought of losing him.

Cottage 3 houses Felicity (Janet Motenko) and her daughter Agnes (Adrienne Sher). Doctors have given up hope for Felicity, who has had multiple operations, is wheelchair-bound and is in great pain most of the time. She also has dementia and drifts in and out of reality, calling for her long-dead daughter Claire, whose frequent letters — which Agnes writes — are keeping hope alive in Felicity that the beloved daughter will soon come home.

As I watched Agnes caring for her mother, my overriding thought was that surely in the actress’ real life she deals with someone with dementia. It wasn’t only that her acting was so strong, but her entire body — including the expression on her face — echoed the exhaustion and reluctant acceptance of what she needed do that I hear from many caregivers of dementia victims.

There is some good humor in this show as well, though for the most part it was lost on the audience of about 10 people, who braved the rain to come to the theater. I suspect a larger audience would get it more.
Watching the three patients and the reactions of their loved ones, one is struck with the necessity of assessing our own lives, thinking how we can make the most of every moment, live positively, leave few regrets at the end of it, whenever it comes.

Because it could all be over in an instant and what, after all, was the most important thing?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Book of Mormon

Billy Harrigan Tighe performs in the Broadway
Sacramento presentation of “The Book of Mormon”
at the Sacramento Community Center Theater
through March 20.
Photo by Johan Persson.
When word got out that someone was writing a musical comedy called “The Book of Mormon,” people in the Mormon church went berserk. There were angry protests about the denigration of their religion, pickets were going to be at the theater on opening night.

But then they invited some of the Mormon elite to see the show and they realized that it did not really make fun of their beliefs, though it did poke fun at things that arise out of those beliefs. The fact that both the programs for the recent San Francisco production and the current production running at the California Musical Theatre contain full-page ads paid for by the Mormon church is a good indication of how the tide has turned.

And the fact that the run of “The Book of Mormon” is nearly sold out in the 3,000-seat Community Center is another indication of how the country has fallen in love with this show. In fact, you probably will go home after the show realizing that Mormons are very nice people and that you would like to get to know some of them.

But that’s not the say the show isn’t funny or irreverent and downright vulgar in spots. I can say that the song “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is the one of the funniest songs in the show, but if I were to translate the title, it could not be printed in this newspaper, though oddly enough it is crucial to the progression of the story.

The story starts on the day a group of young Mormon missionaries complete their education and get ready to find out their assignments for the next two years — the famous “mission.” With whom will they be teamed and where will they go?

As they wait for their assignments, they sing the song “Hello!” which is a salute to all those young Mormons who ring your doorbells and try to give you information about their book.

“Hello, my name is Elder Price
And I would like to share with you
The most amazing book
It has so many awesome parts
You simply won’t believe
How much this book can change your life …”

These are young idealists, convinced they will change the world, and none more passionate than Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe), who may be the holiest, most dedicated of them all. He has prayed to God that he will be sent on his mission to his favorite place in the world — Orlando.

It is a shock, then, when he is paired with Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes), whom everyone considers a flake and nobody seems to like very much. The two of them will be setting off for Uganda.

They encounter a lot of friendly people suffering from all sorts of problems, from maggot infections to AIDS to dealings with the War Lord called “General” in the program (Corey Jones) because his full name can’t be printed in a family publication!

But still these Ugandans are happy and accepting of their lives and have no interest in hearing about some new religion that might incite the anger of the General.

Mafala Hatimbi (Stanley Wayne Mathis) is their tour guide and is father to Nabulungi (Alexandra Ncube), whose passion and assistance is crucial to the missionaries.

The story and energetic music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone (yes, the writers of “South Park”) will set your toes to tapping and you’ll find yourself laughing at outrageous lyrics. The dance numbers (choreography by Casey Nicholaw) are amazing. Each number is a show-stopper, as are the more tender moments such as the haunting “Sal Tlay Ka Siti,” sung by Nabulungi about “the most perfect place on Earth.”
The show is howlingly funny. And as highly irreverent as it is — poking fun at Mormon dogma all over the place — at the end it is actually spiritually uplifting with the message that love is the answer.

This is definitely a not-to-be-missed show, though it may be difficult to impossible to get tickets at this late date.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Masterpiece of Comic Timing

Jason Kuykendall, foreground, Andy Lee Hillstrom, left,
and Dave Pierini star in B Street Theatre's production
of “A Masterpiece of Comic...Timing.”
B Street staff/Courtesy photo
The scene is an opulent suite in an upscale Arizona hotel (scenic design by Samantha Reno). The air-conditioning is off and the occupants, producer Jerry Cobb (David Pierini) and his flunky Charlie Bascher (Andy Lee-Hillstrom), are begging hotel management to please fix the air-conditioner. Even the bucket of ice they eventually acquire melts before it can do any good.

This is the setting of a new play, “A Masterpiece of Comic … Timing” by Robert Caisley, making its world premiere at the B Street Theatre. The two men are waiting for the arrival of Danny “Nebraska” Jones (Jason Kuykendall), an up-and-coming playwright, who is going to write a comic masterpiece for them.

But there is a problem. When Danny arrives, he’s in the depths of depression and as he flops onto the couch it is obvious he’s not up to writing a comedy. He can’t even think of a plot.

“Comedy doesn’t necessarily have to ‘mean’ anything,” Cobb explains. “You take a hundred jokes and put it in two acts, there’s your plot.”

There are lots of jokes in this play (some lovingly borrowed from other sources) that make up all of the crazy action going on on stage, there is a running gag and there’s an early plot point that returns at the end to tie things up. There’s sexist humor, offensive humor, good clean humor, slapstick humor and weather aberrations. When it all comes to an end, the audience is still laughing uproariously.

“Comedy is hard,” says director Buck Busfield. “Getting a laugh is hard because the line must not only be funny but well rendered. Perfectly rendered, in fact.”

This show works so well because most of the lines are perfectly rendered by some of the funniest actors in Sacramento.

Pierini is a loud, blustery comic in the manner of Nathan Lane and he is the center of most of the action on stage, as he stomps around yelling and puffing on his big cigar. As it starts to seem as if this comedy is not going to be written, he gets more and more desperate, fearing that the Russian investors are going to show up at his doorstep demanding a finished, funny script.

Kuykendall, as Danny, milks his melancholy character for all it’s worth, drinking gallons of bourbon, moaning that he has lost his “love” and can’t write without her, and pretty much having a rubbery body that can’t hold itself upright without assistance.

Then there is Lee-Hillstrom as Charlie, who is that stereotypical fussbudget lackey that important people can’t live without. With his ramrod-straight spine and his tiny moustache and the ability that he develops to be more emphatic, he becomes a caricature, but one who is very funny.

Cobb decides he must send for Danny’s girlfriend, with whom he has recently had a breakup, thinking that her presence will inspire Danny to find his sense of humor.

Elisabeth Nunziato is an electric copper-headed, sequined-clad bombshell, who shows up thinking she’s there to audition for Cobb. She is not at all happy to discover she’s been duped.

But Danny’s reaction to her arrival surprises everyone and doesn’t help get the script written anyway.

While Act 1 begins to drag a bit, things move forward at a dizzying speed in Act 2, and when the show ends, as does every good comedy, nobody cares that it wasn’t really about anything after all. It worked for “Seinfeld” and it works well for Caisley.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Love and Baseball

Brian Rife, Brittni Bargerstar in B Street Theatre's production of “Love and Baseball.”
B Street staff/Courtesy photo

There is a magical moment at the beginning of B Street Theatre’s new production, “Love & Baseball.” The character Will (Brian Rife) is trying to explain to Michele (Brittni Barger) the excitement of Game One of the 1988 World Series. He puts on a recording of announcer Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola calling the plays and he takes a baseball bat and pretends to be batter Kirk Gibson.

As the recording progressed I happened to glance at my husband, who was sitting up straight, leaning forward, mouth open, a big smile on his face, obviously hanging on to every word.

Then I looked around the theater and all over were other men “of a certain age” reacting the very same way.
That was when I knew that playwright Jerry R. Montoya had something special in his new script. Baseball is the great American pastime and brings back many memories to those who went off to watch their favorite team with Dad.

Later in the show, Will starts telling the story of the 1955 World Series, Dodgers and Yankees, Game 1. “Jackie Robinson was standing on third….” and again a ripple went through the audience as, all over, one person was leaning over and telling his or her companion what was coming.

B Street’s promotional material for this show says the play has “just the right amount of romance and sports to be entertaining to men and women alike.” The reaction from this audience certainly proved that to be true.
But it’s more than simply love and baseball. It’s the intelligent, crisp dialog and it’s that magical chemistry that some pairs of actors have and others have to pretend to have. The look the two actors have when they talk to each other just felt very real.

With direction by Buck Busfield and Montoya, the scenario flows realistically as well, and as Will and Michelle converse, the conversation becomes very organic and more like peeking in a neighbor’s window rather than watching a carefully scripted stage production.

However, one does need a degree of suspension of disbelief in the on-again, off-again not-quite romance of Will and Michelle. They meet a sum total of three times over five years, for a brief visit each time. Even given the possibility of love at first sight, these two are pushing the limit.

Barger’s Michele is a spunky, independent spirit, sharing an apartment with Will’s old roommate, who, she explains, is “just a friend.” She is just adventurous enough to consider an odd offer Will makes to her.
Rife as Will has all the easy-going charm of a Jimmy Stewart in his heyday. He is an independent filmmaker trying to save the 11 remaining Mexican gray wolves and so he can’t stay around to pursue what seems to be perhaps the start of something serious.

Unexpected things happen and it is two years before the two meet again, under the most awkward of situations. The spark is still there, but thinking about it is impossible.

But it’s fun to believe that true love is possible with a total stranger as we watch their relationship build and fall apart. Will they, like Jackie Robinson, make it to home plate in the end?

This is, indeed, a play that women will enjoy for its romance and any man or baseball-loving woman will enjoy for the memories of the good old days of classic baseball. It’s a show that everyone can fall in love with.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Twelfth Night

Chris Vettel (foreground) as Malvolio with (background, left to right) Don Hayden as Sir Toby Belch,
Sean Patrick Nill as Fabian, and Justin Muñoz as Sir Andrew Auguecheek
perform in STC’s production of Twelfth Night.
Barry Wisdom Photography/Courtesy photo

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em,” says the dour stewart Malvolio (Chris Vettel) in Sacramento Theatre Company’s marvelous new production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

Fortunately, the actors had achieved greatness and those of us in the audience had the good fortune to have that greatness thrust upon us.

While everyone in the cast was wonderful, this particular production belonged to the women. Melinda Parrett was regal, cool and detached as the noble woman Olivia in her time of mourning for her deceased brother, until she sees Cesario, page to Count Orsino (actually the shipwrecked Viola, disguised as a man), who awakens her adolescent hormones and turns her into a horny teenager.

As for Alicia Hunt, fresh off her triumphant performance in B Street’s “Grounded,” she gave a magnetic performance as Viola, bold and brash in her male disguise, yet soft and feminine when a woman. When the two actors appear on stage together, there is something magical that happens.

Not quite on a par with those two, but still strong in her own right, is Taylor Vaughan as Maria, Olivia’s woman servant, with a wicked sense of humor as she creates a cruel trick to play on the hapless Malvolio. This is Vaughn’s first professional show and first appearance with STC.

Orsino (Ryan Snyder) is mooning around for the lovely Olivia, and can’t quite understand his attraction for his “man” servant Cesario. Snyder is soap-opera handsome and commands attention just by striding manfully on stage. His red coat (by costume designer Jessica Minnihan) sets him apart from the others before he ever speaks.

Directors Kirk Blackinton and Brian Harrower have chosen to set this play on an 18th-century Caribbean island, which lends itself beautifully to sand-colored mansions adorned with colorful flowers (designer Eric Broadwater), and it also gives the character of Feste, traditionally a clown, a different focus. Noah Lee Hayes is barefoot and carries bongos around with him and is always breaking into calypso songs when the spirit (or the dialog) moves him.

Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s best-known buffoons, and is there to lend a special comic touch. Don Hayden plays him to the hilt.

Vettel’s Malvolio’s haughty, judgmental opinion of things like drinking, singing and fun (which Sir Toby and his friends love to do) earns him the scorn of the revelers and the cruel trick Maria devises. Vettel’s reeling around in the ridiculous costume he dons to win favor with Olivia is very funny.

Aaron Kitchin is Sebastian, Viola’s brother, whom she assumed had been lost at sea. While they are obviously not “identical” twins (fraternal twins are never identical, despite what the play seems to imply), the two wouldn’t even pass as identical, as Kitchin has at least a foot of height on Hunt. But let it pass. He succumbs happily and readily to Olivia’s mistaking him for his sister.

This is a romantic comedy where, after many mixups, everything gets sorted out and all’s well that ends well (or is that a different show?)

In any event, Sacramento Theatre Company has done a wonderful job on a comedy that should appeal to everyone.

Calendar Girls

The Winters Theatre Company presents the charming and hilarious “Calendar Girls” through March 20.

“Calendar Girls,” by Tim Firth, began as a 2003 movie starring Helen Mirren. It is based on a true story of Tricia Stewart and Angela Baker, who belonged to the Women’s Institute in England. Angela’s husband, John, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and died a few years later.

The women in Angela’s WI chapter decided to raise money for research on leukemia and lymphoma. An “alternative version” of their annual calendar was proposed, with the women (ages 45-65) posing nude, tastefully surrounded by projects like very large cupcakes, sunflowers, knitting projects, etc.

The calendar was a huge success. More than 88,000 copies sold in the U.K. and 240,000 copies in America. The original goal was to raise £5,000 but more than £3.5 million were raised and the story has become the stuff of legend.

Now this delightful comedy has come to Winters, directed by Anita Ahuja, with a first-rate cast.

The setting is the Yorkshire town of Knapely. Lori Vaughn and Sara Wieringa are Chris and Annie, the Tricia and Angela characters. Vaughn is an irreverent take-charge person, the first to “bare it all” for the cause, while Wieringa presents a more soulful and sympathetic personality. She is the one who is more interested in memorializing her late husband than in achieving fame for the “calendar girls.”

And what a group of calendar girls they are. There’s Ruth (Linda Glick), perhaps the most straight-laced, who just can’t bring herself to pose, but will buy several copies of the calendar — and ends up being perhaps the funniest of them all.

Jessie, a retired teacher and secret firecracker, is played by longtime Davis Musical Theatre Company favorite Mary Young. It’s fair to say that in Jessie we are seeing a piece of Young we didn’t know existed. She always has had a great sense of comic timing and this role is right up her alley.

Cora (Christine Deamer) is a divorced single mother and the piano accompanist for the group. Deamer and the pit accompanist (Riley Loventhal) need to coordinate better, as she often has her hands poised over the keyboard and he has already started playing what she is supposedly playing.

Feisty Celia (Janene Whitesell), whom the girls think will need encouragement, confesses that in her younger days she once rode topless on a Harley Davidson and she is definitely in for the project.

The trick is keeping the project secret from Marie (Dona Akers), the straight-laced chairwoman of the Knapely WI. Akers always finds a way to inject ditzy comic humor into her roles and this one is no exception.

Ann Rost plays Lady Cravenshire, as shocked as Marie is to discover what the ladies of the club have been up to.

Debra DeAngelo — The Winters Express editor and columnist for 23 years, whose columns also are published on Sundays in The Davis Enterprise — is making her stage debut as Brenda Hulse, a visiting lecturer about to give a talk about broccoli to the women of the WI. It’s a small role, but DeAngelo gives it her all and does a credible job.

The men in the cast definitely play minor roles, compared to the women. Foremost among them, though, is Cortlandt Wilson as John, whom we watch deteriorate as his disease worsens. Brad Haney is Rod, Chris’ husband.

The funniest scene in the play is, not surprisingly, the photography session itself, showing the women doing various tasks around the home in the nude and being snapped by a bashful photographer (Manny Lanzaro). While the girls are (with one exception) nude on stage, the audience would never know it, thanks to the ingenious (and hilarious) ways they cover up.

The entire cast could work a bit more on their British accents, as they seem to be all over the place and very inconsistent, sometimes spot on, other times completely lacking and then back again. At least one seemed to be speaking with a Scottish accent, another perhaps from Liverpool.

However, American audiences are not fussy about such things and it does not detract from the charm, humor and pathos of this delightful production.

The set design by Jesse Akers, Trent Beeby and Ahuja is nice, but the final scene is particularly lovely.
This show is a salute to the bonds of friendship and the proof that sex appeal is not limited by age or size.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Man of La Mancha

Director/choreographer Jan Isaacson admits that “Man of La Mancha” is her favorite show. The superlative production now at Davis Musical Theatre Company is ample proof of that.

From the magnificent set designed by Steve Isaacson (more opulent than most DMTC sets), to the quality of the voices, to the full orchestral sound emanating from the approximately 15-piece orchestra underneath the stage (directed by Jonathan Rothman), this is an excellent production.

Written by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, “Man of La Mancha” is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical “Don Quixote.”

The original Broadway production won five Tonys, including Best Musical, and it has been revived four times on Broadway. It has played in many other countries around the world, with productions in Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Icelandic, Gujarati, Uzbek, Hungarian, Serbian, Slovenian, Swahili, Finnish, Ukrainian and nine different dialects of Spanish.

“Man of La Mancha” tells the story of Manuel de Cervantes (Nathan Lacy), who, along with his companion Sancho Panza (Adam Sartain), is imprisoned by The Spanish Inquisition, for foreclosing on a church that had not paid its taxes.

As is the custom in this prison, the prisoners hold their own Inquisition of the newcomer, a mock trial, accusing the writer of being, among other things, an idealist and a bad poet. If “convicted,” he will lose his belongings, which consist primarily of a trunk of theatrical costumes and props, and an unfinished manuscript.

Cervantes’ defense is presented in the form of a play, in which Cervantes takes the role of Alonso Quijana, an old gentleman suffering from dementia, who now believes that he is the knight-errant, Don Quixote de La Mancha. In this guise, he travels the countryside with his trusty squire, Sancho, tilting at windmills he perceives as beasts and rescuing damsels in distress. He promises not to allow wickedness to flourish in the land. The delusional Quijana is an embarrassment to his respectable family.

Lacy is one of those actors who has but to utter a couple of notes of his first song to let the audience know that this is something special. His spare frame, accentuated by false bushy eyelashes and scrawny beard, give the perfect visual matching Picasso’s famous silhouette. Any solo he sings is wonderful, including the most famous song from this musical, “The Impossible Dream.”

Sartain is a nicely flouncy, slavishly loyal companion, who understands his master’s mental defects but supports him anyway. As he explains to the barkeep Aldonza (Jori Gonzales), who wonders why he is so loyal, he “really likes him.” He is especially winsome in the comic song, “A Little Gossip.”

In Aldonza, the serving wench and town whore, Quixote sees only the lovely “Dulcinea,” a fair lady whom he insists on treating with dignity, gentleness and respect, to her puzzlement, and becomes her protector. Gonzales has a rich voice in songs that express her puzzlement with this strange man “What does he want of me?” but can be exceptionally raw in her painful lament “Aldonza.” It’s a captivating performance.

Other strong performances are given by Brian McCann as the Padre (another fabulous voice), Steve Isaacson as The Governor (so nice to see him back on stage again), and Coury Murdock as The Duke/Dr. Carrasco. His powerful voice commands any scene in which he appears.

Quijana’s niece Antonia (Rachael Sherman-Shockley) and his housekeeper (Dannette Vasser) are very funny as they attempt to convince the padre that they are only thinking of the old man’s welfare, not his money.

The father of Mario Rodriguez, one of the muleteers, was the head muleteer in the original 1965 Broadway production and understudied Richard Kiley as Don Quixote. The original 50-year-old whip used on Broadway is on display in the DMTC lobby.

(It should be noted that while the play implies that Cervantes is going to his death as he is called before The Inquisition tribunal, he actually died of diabetes in Madrid in 1616.)