Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Miss Bennet

In December of 2017, Capital Stage introduced Sacramento audiences to a new Christmas play, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.” It was an instant hit and audience favorite to be repeated in 2018.

Written by Lauren Gunderson (“the most produced living playwright in America”) and Margo Melcon, and was written on a six-hour drive from San Francisco to Ashland, Ore., in 2016. The play echoes the format of Jane Austen, recalling what happens after “they lived happily ever after.”
The play is once again directed by Peter Mohrmann.

It is Christmas and the scene is the beautiful living room of sister Lizzie (Brittni Barger) and her husband, the hunky Mr. Darcy (J.R. Yancher). (It is worth noting that six of the eight characters are returning, after their performance in last year’s production).

The set is by Eric Broadwater, and one of the more opulent you will find on a Sacramento stage
The room is dominated by a real Christmas tree, the practice of bringing real trees into the house at Christmas being a new concept in England, though it was started in Germany. The tree becomes almost a major character in the show since it is decorated throughout the evening and everyone has comments to make about it.

Sister Mary (Elyse Sharp) is first to arrive for this family Christmas. She’s the “bookish” one who prefers to live alone, read books and play the piano (kudos to Ed Lee for his sound design which makes it difficult to determine if Sharp is actually playing the piano or not!).

She’s not much interested in the frivolous conversation of sisters Lizzie, the very-pregnant Jane (Jennifer Martin) and Lydia (Allie Coupe). (Sister Kitty is on holiday in London.)

Jane’s husband is Kevin Gish, whom Davis people may remember from his very funny role in “Gutenberg! the Musical!” His militant enthusiasm for everything, including his impending fatherhood, is infectious and makes him an audience favorite.

Mary’s life is shaken up by the arrival of Arthur DeBourgh (Aaron Kitchin), also a bookish loner who seems embarrassed to have just become fabulously wealthy on inheriting his aunt’s estate.

Sparks don’t exactly fly between these two introverts, given their reticent natures, but they are both reading the same book on metaphysics, so there is an instant attraction. Things are starting to get interesting when Arthur’s cousin Anne (Andrea J. Love) arrives to announce she is his fiancĂ©e.

“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a wonderful addition to the usual list of Christmas-themed theatrical productions and, performed so beautifully by Capital Stage, it’s a must-see for all those looking to get a little holly in their hearts before the actual day itself.

Monday, November 19, 2018

It's a Wonderful Life

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a favorite ever since it appeared on our movie screens in 1946.  The Winters Theatre company presented a production in 2010 and are reprising the show, though a different version, this one by Philip Grecian. Again, Anita Ahuja directs.

There are many, many scenes and the lengthy set changes make the first act, especially, drag somewhat.  There were also some first night problems with telephones that didn’t ring when they should and did ring when they should not and a few other glitches, which I know will be smoothed out as the run progresses, but all in all, Winters has given a loving tribute to this beloved holiday classic.   

Scott Graf dominates as Clarence Oddbody, the angel who has been trying for 200 years to earn his wings.  He has his chance when God sends him to earth to help George Bailey (Scott Taylor), who has reached a crisis and has decided to kill himself.

Taylor gives a fine performance as George, with all the wide eyed enthusiasm of a young man, and the weight of the world as his world falls apart.  His chemistry with Mary (Cameron Toney) is lovely.  She is the steadfast wife who supports him no matter what (Young Mary is played by Isadora Harris)

Act 1 is a backward look at George’s life, with Kenneth Matheson playing the young George saving his brother Harry (Arlo Harris) from being drowned and preventing the local pharmacist (Jesse Akers) from sending the wrong medication to a patient.

George has great plans for his future–traveling the world and then settling down to become an architect.  But plans go awry when his father dies suddenly and it is up to George to take over the Savings & Loan and keep it from being taken over by the wicked Mr. Potter (Trent Beeby, who played George in the 2010 production).

Beeby is wonderful as the man you love to hate.  People sometimes think stories like this are dated, but some of Potter’s lines could be right out of today’s headlines.

Uncle Billy, who loses $8,000 and plunges the Savaings and Loan into the brink of bankruptcy is played wonderfully by Bryan Pro who gives Billy more "smarts" than some actors, but is devastated by his loss.

“Sesame Street” swears that the Muppet characters of Ernie and Bert are not taken from this story, but William Haggerty (Bert) and Jim Hewlett (Ernie) are fun as these two characters.  Hewlett appears later as a bartender.

Cody Svozil does double duty as Mr Potter’s slimy-haired body guard and “enforcer,” and also as George’s enthusiastic brother, who just received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in battle.

Alexis Velasquez is very funny as Aunt Tilly, secretary of the Savings and Loan, who answers the phone in the best Lily Tomlin imitation.

Shahzana Ali is Violet Bick, the oversexed young woman whom George befriends.

George’s children are Rachel Rominger as Janie, Jackson Bronson as Peter, Arlo Harris as Tommy and Stella Gonalez as Zuzu, who announced that whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

Because of the number of locations, sets are necessarily pretty utilitarian, but designer Gary Schroeder manages to make the most of minimal set pieces.  Particularly impressive, though simple, is the bridge on which George wants to commit suicide.

I never leave Winters productions without a smile on my face because of how much fun everyone is having, both on and off the stage.


Saturday, November 03, 2018


“Annie” is one of those classic musicals that seems to come around so often that I groan at the thought of seeing it again. But then I go to the theater and remember why I really like this retelling of the Little Orphan Annie story, and why it is so popular, especially when done with the enthusiasm and talent of Davis Musical Theatre Company.

This latest production, directed by Steve Isaacson, with choreography by Ron Cisneros, has a wonderful, talented cast.

This show really rises or falls on the talents of Annie and in Katarina Detrick (in her first lead role) DMTC has a winner. She sometimes tends to be shrill, but she is a belter of the first order, and they probably can hear her out in the parking lot when she sings “Tomorrow.” She also is a good actress and professionally handles the dog Sandy (Cleopatra Graves) who is more interested in running into the audience, with tail wagging, than behaving herself on stage, despite the treats Annie kept in her pocket. Detrick never missed a beat and eventually got the dog under control.

Perhaps the moment that most impressed me was when billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Gannon Styles) is letting Annie know how she has wormed her way into his heart. The intense look of real love on her face as she watches him was just beautiful to behold.

Styles, with a solid theater background, is new to DMTC and what an addition he is. He gives great warmth to the character of Warbucks and has a great voice to boot.

Warbucks’ secretary, Grace Farrell, played by Chris Cay Stewart, is a warmhearted woman hiding feelings for Warbucks, and a great friend to Annie. Stewart also appears as part of the ensemble in some scenes, where her beautiful voice is easy to identify.

Rachel Hoover, a Davis native who performed more than 30 shows before she went to college (including some with the former Sunshine Children’s Theater), is a spectacular Miss Hannigan, the harridan who runs the orphanage where Annie was dropped off 11 years ago as an infant. She’s enough to scare anybody, and her musical numbers, particularly “Little Girls,” are outstanding.
Christopher Murphy, another DMTC newcomer, makes an impression as her brother, Rooster Hannigan, as does Bridget Styles as his girlfriend Lily St. Regis.

The orphans — Kiera Chang, Chantelle Holt, Vivian Li, Lexy Hutcheon, Sage Sigmon and Katherine Berdovskiy — are well- rehearsed, in good voice and perform their dances professionally. Each girl also has her moment to shine in the spotlight.

What I love about DMTC shows are the little unexpected “gems.” I found three under that category in this production. Amaralyn Ewey is great as the fresh-faced star-to-be, newly arrived in New York. There never was a better role for Marc Valdez than that of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But especially outstanding was Jan Isaacson’s performance as the silent sound man for a Gert Healy (Amy Woodman) radio broadcast. She is just perfect.

With familiar tunes like “Easy Street” and “Tomorrow,” in addition to a score of other fun songs and a cast of adorable little girls and funny bad guys, this is a show that will appeal to everyone, and DMTC makes it fun for all ages.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Darkness Into Light

Pamela Trokanski, a Davis treasure, has been choreographing, performing and teaching in Davis for 34 years. She has given lectures and demonstrations and, since 1994, has funded almost 10,000 free-movement classes for adults 65 and older. She has provided free dance classes for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their caregivers since 2010. At one time she wrote a dance column for The Enterprise.

When I started as a critic, she invited me to come and review one of her dance concerts. I explained that I knew absolutely nothing about dance and she said that made me perfect to review her shows because she meant them to be accessible to everyone.

Over the years, I don’t know how much I have learned about dance, but I certainly have appreciated how accessible they are to everyone.

“Darkness into Light” has one more weekend to play at the Trokanski studio. It is a most timely piece, opening the day of the Pittsburgh killings and a week after all the bomb deliveries. The message is about trying to find peace in this chaotic world in which we live, where we are bombarded by pressures and negative messages on all sides.

How do we find peace for ourselves when we are concerned about the health of the planet or the rapid changes in technology? How do we find balance in a world that feels increasingly chaotic and disorganized? We no longer worry about lions, tigers and bears (oh my) but politics, ethics and technology.

Trokanski’s printed programs are always frustrating because they are misleading. There are eight dancers, it says, but nine show up (the unlisted dancer is Trokanski herself). Music is listed in order of performance, but a piece by Pink (which I figured would help me figure out if I was keeping up) is No. 4 on the list and No. 7 in the performance. Company member stories are listed in order, but Allegra Silberstein (the only dancer I recognized) is No. 2 on the list and doesn’t speak until fourth or fifth.

Better to forget trying to keep it straight and just enjoy the dancing (unless you have to write a review of it).

Dancers, who range in age from young (maybe 10 or 11) to 87, are: Lila Boutin, Allegra Silberstein, Michele Tobias, Leela Ghassemi, Padyn den Dulk, Tracy Liu, Asher Habicht and Karen Block, along with Trokanski.

Dances are accompanied by Trokanski’s narrative or by individual dancers’ recorded “stories” of stressors in their lives, some of which set the stage for particular dance numbers.

In one number, the message is about the daily pressures of life: “Have I remembered to put everything in my purse?” “Where are my keys?” “Is there a traffic jam?” “Am I overwhelmed at work?” etc. She compares the stress to the Lucy/Ethel episode of working in the candy factory, with the ever-increasing speed of the conveyor belt. The dancers make the machine, with all the automatic actions while the recorded speakers dance the role of the overwhelmed person. It was an amazing bit of synchronized action that went on so long I don’t know how the dancers had energy to move to the next number.

After a couple of numbers which give suggestions for how to use meditation to slow down our rapid thought processes, there is a beautiful finale, with each dancer holding a lighted candle — and doing an amazing amount of rolling around just barely not touching the candles! They gather together to “Sleeping at Last” for their final bow.

This is a beautiful, meaningful recital, easily enjoyed whether you know dance or not. Just don’t try to follow the printed program.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


A very strong, compelling play, with adult language, is now at Capital Stage.  “Sweat,” by Lynn Nottage was the 2017 Pulitzer prize winner for drama.  It is very much a play for today and one with which many will identify.  The New Yorker calls this the “first theatrical landmark of the Trump era,” a work which attempts to explain the nationwide anxiety that helped put Donald J. Trump in the White House.

In 2008, two men, Jason (Ian Hopps) and Chris (Tarig Elsiddig) have just been released from prison and are meeting with their parole officer (James R. Ellison III).  We don’t know why they were imprisoned or what the bad blood between these formerly good friends is, but in flashbacks (aided by TV news clips showing politicians and timely news as well as relevant tunes of the day) we see what led up to their incarceration.

The setting is Reading, Pennsylvania, which was in 2002 named the “poorest town in America.”  There is a Cheers-like bar (though cheerless) presided over by bartender Stan (Matt K. Miller).  Into the bar come the six regulars and the janitor Oscar (Evan Lucero).

Except for Stan and Oscar, everyone has worked at the local mill for decades (Stan had to quit because of an injury.  “Getting injured was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Got me out of that vortex.”) and the underlying feelings of anger and frustration are apparent from the beginning.

The conversation all centers around working conditions, poor pay and fear that they will lose their jobs if the factory move to Mexico–and then what will they do? 
Two of the women, Jessie (Kelley Ogden) and Cynthia (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) decide to apply for a position in upper management, which will mean more money, fewer hours, and the chance to help those on the floor better their conditions.

Things begin to fall apart when Cynthia is hired and friendships begin to shatter over working conditions and what she can, or should do about them.

When the worst happens and the workers are locked out of the factory (without even given the chance to clean out their lockers) everyone learns the cruel lesson that you can be a dedicated worker for decades, do your job, often work overtime without pay, graciously accept less than ideal working conditions, but when push comes to shove, you mean nothing to the managers. It doesn’t pay to be a “good guy.”

As Stan says, “I’m in the hospital for nearly two months.  I can’t walk.  Can’t feel my toes.  Not one of those ***s called to check on me, to say ‘I’m sorry for not fixing the machine...’ The only time I heard from them was when they sent their lawyer to the hospital because they didn’t want me to sue. Twenty-eight years.  That’s when I knew I was nobody to them.  Nobody!”

Though this is set in 2000 and 2008, one of the characters swears he will never vote again because what is the use?  (Which may be the best excuse to remind people to get out and vote in 2 weeks!).

Michael Stevenson has directed a tight, riveting drama that will have an impact on everyone, whether part of the upper class, or one of those who are experiencing such situations every day. It is one of those “not to be missed” productions for which Capitol stage is often known and there’s not a weak link in the cast.  Everyone is at the top of their game.


A very strong, compelling play, with adult language, is now at Capital Stage.  “Sweat,” by Lynn Nottage was the 2017 Pulitzer prize winner for drama.  It is very much a play for today and one with which many will identify.  The New Yorker calls this the “first theatrical landmark of the Trump era,” a work which attempts to explain the nationwide anxiety that helped put Donald J. Trump in the White House.

In 2008, two men, Jason (Ian Hopps) and Chris (Tarig Elsiddig) have just been released from prison and are meeting with their parole officer (James R. Ellison III).  We don’t know why they were imprisoned or what the bad blood between these formerly good friends is, but in flashbacks (aided by TV news clips showing politicians and timely news as well as relevant tunes of the day) we see what led up to their incarceration.

The setting is Reading, Pennsylvania, which was in 2002 named the “poorest town in America.”  There is a Cheers-like bar (though cheerless) presided over by bartender Stan (Matt K. Miller).  Into the bar come the six regulars and the janitor Oscar (Evan Lucero).

Except for Stan and Oscar, everyone has worked at the local mill for decades (Stan had to quit because of an injury.  “Getting injured was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Got me out of that vortex.”) and the underlying feelings of anger and frustration are apparent from the beginning.

The conversation all centers around working conditions, poor pay and fear that they will lose their jobs if the factory move to Mexico–and then what will they do? 
Two of the women, Jessie (Kelley Ogden) and Cynthia (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) decide to apply for a position in upper management, which will mean more money, fewer hours, and the chance to help those on the floor better their conditions.

Things begin to fall apart when Cynthia is hired and friendships begin to shatter over working conditions and what she can, or should do about them.

When the worst happens and the workers are locked out of the factory (without even given the chance to clean out their lockers) everyone learns the cruel lesson that you can be a dedicated worker for decades, do your job, often work overtime without pay, graciously accept less than ideal working conditions, but when push comes to shove, you mean nothing to the managers. It doesn’t pay to be a “good guy.”

As Stan says, “I’m in the hospital for nearly two months.  I can’t walk.  Can’t feel my toes.  Not one of those ***s called to check on me, to say ‘I’m sorry for not fixing the machine...’ The only time I heard from them was when they sent their lawyer to the hospital because they didn’t want me to sue. Twenty-eight years.  That’s when I knew I was nobody to them.  Nobody!”

Though this is set in 2000 and 2008, one of the characters swears he will never vote again because what is the use?  (Which may be the best excuse to remind people to get out and vote in 2 weeks!).

Michael Stevenson has directed a tight, riveting drama that will have an impact on everyone, whether part of the upper class, or one of those who are experiencing such situations every day. It is one of those “not to be missed” productions for which Capitol stage is often known and there’s not a weak link in the cast.  Everyone is at the top of their game.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Who says that one young, insignificant poor kid living in the slums can’t change history?
That’s the story, based on true events, which is the subject of the Broadway at Music Circus current production, Disney’s “Newsies.”

At the turn of the 20th century, some 10,000 boys sold newspapers on the streets of New York, many of them orphaned and homeless. The boys paid to get the newspapers, and if they did not sell, the publishers would not buy them back.

During the Spanish-American war, when the desire for news was high, the publishers raised the price charged to the boys from 50 cents per hundred to 60 cents per hundred. But at the end of the war, when the interest dropped, publishers Pulitzer and Hearst did not reduce the price the boys paid, even though other publishers did. The boys demanded a return to the price that their peers at other papers were paying.

Under the leadership of a 15-year-old boy named Kid Blink, the “newsies” organized, held massive outdoor meetings and after two weeks, the publishers and the newsies compromised — they would keep the higher price, but would buy back any unsold papers. The stand-off was considered a major step in the child-labor movement.

In 1992, the story was made into a Disney movie, and in 2014 an award-winning musical with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by Harvey Fierstein. It is now a premier for Broadway at Music Circus.

Entering the Wells Fargo Pavilion is like walking into a Brooklyn tenement, with apartments over each doorway, all joined together in a spiderweb of clothes lines, each with laundry hanging from them.

“Kid Blink” (decidedly not the best name for the hero of this tale) is now Jack Kelly (Joey Barreiro), an older teen (so he can have a love interest), but the basics of the story are still there.

For “heart” there is “Crutchie” (Blake Stadnik), who has been crippled and walks with a crutch and is a perfect victim for the goons of the publishers trying to squelch the boys.

There is a love interest, Katherine (Laurie Veldheer), a reporter trying to make it in a male-dominated world, and hiding a surprising secret.

There is Davey (John Krause) and his little brother Les (Josh Davis) who, unlike the others, have a home and parents, but who join the others in selling the papers and protesting the fee increase.

But this show belongs to the newsies themselves (if you look closely you can see Davis High’s Jimin Moon). The dancing is amazing and you do get the feel of their camaraderie as well as their desperation.

Paul Schoeffler is powerful as Joseph Pulitzer, who only cares about money and doesn’t have a bit of compassion for the kids (gee … where have we heard that lately?).

Music Circus’ ubiquitous Ron Wisniski has a short but outstanding appearance as a bombastic Teddy Roosevelt (then governor of New York), which earned him well-deserved applause as he left the stage.

The high-energy physicality and enthusiasm of the cast make this an engaging production — and of course the David vs. Goliath struggle is always good to keep an audience entertained!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

7 Brides for 7 Brothers

Broadway At Music Circus is presenting a lively production of the 1954 Jane Powell/Howard Keel musical. While it is short on story, its strength is in the powerful dance numbers, of which there are many. The production’s book is by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, music by Gene de Paul, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.

There is little “plot” in this adaptation of the 1954 MGM musical. Seven brothers, the Pontipees — mountain men living in the Oregon wilderness — realize that if they had a woman around the place, she could cook and clean for them and keep the place tidy.

Since they’ve been unsuccessful in keeping a housekeeper, it is decided that one of them should find a woman to marry. It falls to Adam, the eldest, to go to town and bring back a wife, along with the other supplies he needs to pick up.

Edward Watts is an imposing Adam with a strong baritone giving a lusty performance.

Adam goes to town and finds Milly (Paige Faure), a fiesty waitress in a local eatery, who is tired of the pressure of serving food to demanding men all day long. What Adam lacks in wooing ability he makes up for in persuasion and Milly agrees to marry him that day and return with him to his wilderness cabin. (Adam just kinda forgot to mention the six brothers who share his home!)

Milly begins to civilize the brothers to the point where they are ready to get their own brides. However, after an altercation at a local dance hall, the brothers are banned from the town,
Lovesick and lonely, and with Adam’s urging, they sneak back to town at night and kidnap their would-be brides. An avalanche closes off the only road to the Pontipees’ spread, preventing the townsfolk from rescuing the kidnaped women, who are forced to wait out the winter with the men, though Milly runs a tight ship and makes sure that no hanky panky goes on until a preacher can come and marry them.

The production is directed by Glenn Casale and choreographed by Patti Colombo, whose numbers are so lively as to leave the audience breathless. “Social Dance,” where the Pontipee brothers begin to win the women away from the townsmen at the monthly town social, needs to be seen to be really appreciated. It stopped the show as the audience could not stop applauding.

Colombo has assembled a core of top-notch dancers in both the Pontipee brothers — Watts, Eric Stretch, Graham Keen, Brian Steven Shaw, Joshua Michael Burrage, Eric Sciotto and KC Fredericks — and their town rivals — Jordan Beall, Devin Neilson, Daniel Kermidas, Mateo Melendez, Eric Anthony Johnson and Cameron Edris.

The dance numbers were vigorously athletic and made this a daring, dazzling choreographic extravaganza.

The brides — Faure, Olivia Rene Sharber, Keely Beirne, Jaimie Pfaff, Elyse Niederee, Ashley Arcement and Rose Iannaccone — often acted as actual props to be tossed through the air by the men.

This is another winner for the second Music Circus offering.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Thanksgiving Play

Larissa FastHorse is a Native American playwright, a member the Rosebud Sioux tribe, Sicangu Lakota Nation. She has been involved with most prominent projects involving indigenous artists. She is most noted as a playwright-activist, having found many ways to bring indigenous stories to the American theater.

FastHorse explains, “I have again and again heard that my plays, after they are produced once, don’t get additional productions … because of casting. Theaters claim they don’t know any indigenous actors or they cannot afford to bring in indigenous actors …

“I would rather get the stories out there to give non-indigenous people the chance to learn about us, and to show indigenous people that there is a place for them in theater.”

And so FastHorse decided to write a play that would mock the attempts of theaters to deal with indigenous characters.

The result is the wickedly funny “The Thanksgiving Play,” now filling Capital Stage with laughter. FastHorse describes its success as “an opportunity to satirize one of the insidious problems in American theater: the fear of making mistakes or offending someone unintentionally.” In this ultra-PC era, its success is indeed both heartbreaking and bittersweet.

Logan (Jennifer LeBlanc) is a high school drama teacher trying to create a Thanksgiving play without an indigenous character. She is joined in this endeavor by her yoga friend Jaxton (Cassidy Brown), politically correct to a fault, who does street performances about composting. Logan is also vegan, and the very thought of a turkey dinner makes her ill.

Jaxton’s idea of how they are going to create the play is to “start with this pile of jagged facts and misguided governmental policies and historical stereotypes about race and turn that all into something beautiful and dramatic and educational for the kids.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Logan is proud of herself for getting a “Native American Heritage Month Awareness through Art” grant, which gives her funding to hire a professional actor. Based on a headshot, she hires Alicia (Gabby Battista) who, as it turns out, is an “ethnic looking” American who can play several cultures depending on how she is photographed. Her braids, a headband and turquoise jewelry led Logan to assume she was Native American.

The group is rounded out by Caden (Jouni Kirjola), an elementary school history teacher with Broadway dreams. He has lots of research, but no experience. He wants to start this play 4,000 years before the present, when European farmers held Harvest Home Festivals.

This well-intentioned quartet brainstorm ideas for the play, their discussion only showing how completely clueless they are about what they hope to accomplish. “Do you know how hard it is for a straight white male to feel less-than in this world?”

Interspersed throughout the play are four different videos of children from very young to high school performing some kind of Thanksgiving play. As I suspect these are not scripted, but real plays, each is funnier than the other.

Director Michael Stevenson keeps the action moving and the laughter constant. It may not yet be the Fourth of July, but this Thanksgiving gift is a wonderful crowd-pleaser.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Little Mermaid

There was no one who enjoyed the opening night performance of Davis Musical Theatre’s (DMTC) “The Little Mermaid” more than the 2 year old girl who sat in front of us.  She paid attention to the whole show, danced all the dances, waved her arms whenever the chorus did, tried to mouth the words to songs and applauded at the end of each, all without being disruptive.  Watching her joy was almost as much fun was watching the show itself.

There were a lot of children in the opening night performance and those I talked with after the show all said they loved it.

But don’t get the idea that this is a children’s show.  Though based on a Hans Christian Anderson fable and a Disney movie, this show has enough fantasy to keep the attention of a 2 year old and enough “meat” to entertain adults as well.

Arial is a mermaid princess who longs to go to the outside world, especially after she saves the life of a sailor who falls overboard and falls in love with him.  The sailor doesn’t remember what she looks like, but is haunted by her beautiful voice.

With the dubious help of her aunt the evil Ursula, the octopus, Arial agrees to exchange her voice for feet and goes to the surface, where she finds the object of her affections preparing to choose a wife, based on who has the best singing voice.

How this is all resolved, leaving only questions of  biological incompatibilities, is the plot of this show, and it is enchanting.

If you were asked to draw a picture of the Arial in your mind, chances are your picture would look at lot like Julia Hixon, who could not possibly be better.  She is charming and witty and never loses the subtle “treading water” hand motions throughout the show.  She also has the kind of beautiful voice that would enchant a man.

Prince Eric (Hugo Figueroa) exhibits a gentleness as he meets Arial but does not remember her, and realizes she has no voice, yet is strangely attracted to her.  He teaches her how to communicate through dance.

In the “Jiminy Cricket” role of Arial’s protector is Amaralyn Ewey, as Sebastian the crab.  Ewey’s performance is amazing, especially when I learned that this 9th grader only stepped into the role 2 weeks ago, when her father, originally cast, had an accident and was unable to continue. Her performance is so polished that you would never know she only had two weeks to rehearse...or that she was only a 9th grader.  Her “Under the Sea,” the show’s signature song, was delightful.

Arial’s buddy is Scuttle, a sea gull, the expert on all things “above” and teaches Arial, for example, that the strange thing she found (a fork) is used by humans to comb their hair.    

King Triton, father of Arial and her many sisters, is payed by Scott Minor, who is a towering, powerful and somewhat frightening figure.  Arial is obviously his favorite, and he makes allowances for her, though this latest obsession of hers may have gone too far.

Arial’s sisters, Morgan Bartoe, Rebekah Milhoan, Katie Krasnansky, Noah Patterson, Sierra Winter and Lorin Torbitt work as a single unit, though each girl has her own personality and all of them are competing with Arial for their father’s attention.

Gavin Mark is Ariel’s friend Flounder, who often adds comic touches to various scenes, and though his performance is quite good, he is so young, it’s difficult to believe his romantic feelings toward Arial.

As far as comedy is concerned, Cullen Smith is just great as Chef Louis, chasing Sebastian around trying to catch him to cook for dinner (“Les Poisson”).  Smith is a wonderful comedienne and her scene is a highlight of the show.

Cyndi Wall is the evil Ursula.  She is a commanding presence with evil oozing from her tentacles.  She is a perfect addition to the Disney catalog of villains.  She is aided in her evilness by Flotsam (Katherine Fio) and Jetsam (Brittany Owings).

Monica Reeve’s costumes run the gauntlet from the gentle, feminine dress for Arial to the realistic octopus costume for Ursula and everything from plain to very ornate costumes for the sea creatures.

Directed by Steve Isaacson and choreographed by Allison Weaver, this is a delightful production from DMTC, enjoyable for all ages.  Some performances are already sold out and tickets are going fast.

Take Grandma, take the kids.  This a family show that everyone will enjoy.

(And thank you, thank you, thank you, DMTC and program designer Danette Vasser for the bios and photos in the program!)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Twelfth Night

The enthusiastic crew of Acme Theatre Company are once again giving their yearly gift to the city of Davis in thanks for all the support they receive from everyone throughout the year.  Each year the actors perform a comedy on the outdoor Art Center stage.  The audience is invited to pack a picnic and sit on the grass to enjoy the show (and if it’s too, cold blankets are available to rent and you can even buy socks!)

This year’s play is Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” that wonderful world of ridiculousness, where there are separated twins, mixed up lovers, cross dressing, and lots and lots of chasing and fighting

In fact, there is no special credit given for choreographing the fight scenes, but they were masterful.

This production is set in the Vaudeville circuit 1920s, though the setting is fairly irrelevant to the production, other than the great 20s music that is played before and after the show and during intermission, the show posters on the walls, and the costume choices.  (Note the marquee change for Act 2, which is wonderful)

“Twelfth Night” tells the story of Viola (Fiona Ross), shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria with her brother Sebastian (Braeden Ingram), whom she believes to have drowned.  Viola decides to dress in her brother’s clothes and pass herself off as a page named Cesario, under which guise she enters the service of Duke Orsino (Cory McCutcheon). She finds herself attracted to her new boss.  Ross has a hefty role and does it well.

Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia (Annie Oberholtzer), shining star of stage and screen, who is grieving the death of her father and brothers. Orsino sends Cesario with messages of love to Olivia, who wants nothing to do with Orsino, but finds herself attracted to the young page, who awakens her adolescent hormones and, forgetting her grief, turns her into a horny teenager.  Oberholtzer’s transformation from the stern black-clad, grieving sister into a woman who has rediscovered love is wonderful...and very funny.

(One of the problems with most Acme shows is that there are so few men in the company that women fill in many of the male roles.  They do it well, but it makes trying to figure out who is who difficult, especially when many characters are dressed alike and the names of the actors are also gender neutral!)

Jordan Hayakawa opens the show with comments to the audience and then steps into the action as Maria, Olivia’s personal assistant.  There is something magical about Hayakawa and in no obvious way, she commands attention when she is on stage.

Brother James Hayakawa is Malvolio, Olivia’s loyal, if pompously righteous steward. He is outstanding and displays a talent for tap dancing after he has been played a fiendish trick by Maria.

Toby Belch, a kinsman of Olivia, is one of Shakespeare’s best loved buffoons and Dezla Dawkins does well by him.

Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Gavin Pinnow), is a buddy of Malvolio who puts up with a lot in the hope of an opportunity to woo the fair Olivia.

Irish Harshaw is the clown Feste, Olivia’s fool.  She is petite and appealing and sparkles in each of her scenes.  She also has a lovely singing voice.

Patrick Foraker has appeared in several Acme shows, and has his first speaking role as Curio, one of the Duke’s attendants, which he does very well.

The final performance of this gem is Sunday at 2 p.m.  Do yourself a favor and get down to the Art Center to catch it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


From left, John Lamb, Same Kebede, Peter Story and Josh Bonzie
are air-guitar rockers in B Street Theatre's “Airness.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo

How much, if anything, do you know about the art of the air guitar? You have probably seen someone pretending to play the guitar, without an instrument, but is it really “air guitar.”

Chelsea Marcantel, the author of a play called “Airness,” now at B Street Theatre’s “The Sofia,” is not an air guitarist and admits that she had no idea such a thing existed, and when she learned of it thought, “This is the dumbest thing in the world.” As she learned more, she began to appreciate the performance art and “fell in love with that world.”

So don’t discount this fun play out of hand because you think you know what it will be like. I, too, thought this was “the dumbest thing in the world,” but feel like I had a master class in that world watching “Airness.” I won’t say I’m a convert, but I certainly have a new appreciation for the art than I did before seeing this show.

U.S. Air Guitar is the national association of air-guitar artists, whose mission is to send American representation to the International Air Guitar Competition in Finland each year. Competitions are held in a dozen or so cities around the country, each of which picks a winner to join with the other winners and travel to Finland to compete in the final. (Why Finland? Who knows?!)

We meet Nina (Stephanie Altholz), a real guitarist trying to get over a broken heart, who decides to compete in the Chicago competition and figures she has an edge because she already knows how to play the guitar, but she learns from Shreddy Eddy (Peter Story), Golden Thunder (Sam Kebede), Facebender (John Lamb) and Cannibal Queen (Tara Sissom) that air guitar is much more than just pretending to play a guitar. It’s the ability to translate your dreams of becoming a rock star, in 60 seconds, into something that the audience can see and rock out to.

What may seem ridiculous on the surface has real depth and artistry and Nina is having a difficult time grasping that. But she begins to bond with the little community. “We are all each other’s biggest fans.”

Kebede sparkles as Golden Thunder, in his shopworn golden cape and unfailing bravado. His acts get grander and grander, most memorable in his salute to the American flag. Try to forget that!

Lamb is perhaps the heart of the story, the oldest of the group who gets his personal self-worth from what he does, be-wigged, on the air-guitar stage, since he doesn’t get it in his off-stage life.

In his Facebender persona, he speaks in sonnets, which disappear when the costume comes off. His daughter has never seen him perform and the thought of her coming is enough to send him into an apoplexy of anxiety.

Sissom delivers a sizzling performance as Cannibal Queen. She has fought to be considered an equal among these men — and she has. Her performances ooze power.

She and Nina are oil and water from the start, since she is now dating the man who broke Nina’s heart, and what she teaches Nina about that relationship will shape her future as an air guitarist.

Peter Story’s Shreddy Eddy is fairly low-key, as he becomes a mentor for Nina but when he lets rip on stage, he’s unstoppable. “We share the common dedication of the air guitar world: to share world peace.”

Josh Bonzie is David D’Vicious, the reigning king of the air-guitar world, and Nina’s ex. He strides on stage with bravado, knowing he is the king and will be the king. Bonzie delivers a powerful performance and shows how brutal competition can be.

A search through the program reveals that Wade McKenzie-Bahr and Dylan Ballesteros are the theater technicians, who made the many scene changes so much fun and really were almost as much a part of the play as the actors themselves.

They say that we can keep our brains active by learning a new thing every day. Do yourself a favor by heading to The Sofia and learning about air guitar. You’ll have great fun in the process.

On June 9, B Street is hosting an official US Air Guitar Qualifier in Upstairs at the B. The winner will head to Brooklyn, N.Y., and attempt to win the national championship.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Marjorie Prime

Brock D. Vickers and Janis Stevens are spot-on in their compelling roles in
Capital Stage's “Marjorie Prime,” running through June 3. Courtesy photo

 As we all age, and the threat of dementia or Alzheimer’s looms, we fear losing all of our precious memories. What if science could ensure that we could keep those memories?

“Marjorie Prime,” a play by Jordan Harrison now at Capital Stage, deals with just such fears and how future science can help. It is science fiction and reality mixed with humor, but not really a comedy.

This production is directed by Stephanie Gularte, co-founder of Capital Stage, who left Sacramento in 2014 to become producing artistic director of American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, Fla. This is the first ever co-production with American Stage, which ended its run of this show on April 1 before moving the show, actors and all, to Sacramento (two of the cast are from Florida and two from Sacramento).

The audience greeted Gularte with a standing ovation when she came onto the stage with Michael Stevenson, Capital Stage producing artistic director, to give an introduction to the production.

Marjorie is a widow in her mid-80s who is in the middle stages of dementia. Her new companion is “Walter Prime,” a holographic creation that looks and speaks like her late husband, Walter. He helps Marjorie cope, in part by gradually erasing some details of her past and adding more pleasant memories.

Janis Stevens is Marjorie and has perfected the persona of an older woman who still has a thin grasp on her memories, but realizes they are slipping away. Her body language, the way she holds her hands, the way she speaks is spot-on.

As the play begins, Marjorie is talking with a handsome young man named Walter (Brock D. Vickers). As the action progresses, we learn that this is really “Walter Prime,” a holographic version of her husband when he was young and handsome. He is there to remind her of the past and tell her stories of their life together. It is difficult to tell holographic Walter from real Walter until he hits a bit of information that he has not learned yet, and then you can see him processing it and adding it to his database.

When Walter Prime can’t answer a question because that bit of data hasn’t been programmed yet, Marjorie complains and he responds, “I sound like whoever I talk to.” This is, perhaps, the most important message of this play — remembering the past is not the same as reliving it and the Primes can only share memories that they have been programmed to remember.

Marjorie lives with her daughter Tess (Jamie Jones) and her husband Jon (Steven Sean Garland). Tess struggles with “losing” her mother as more and more of her memory disappears and jealousy of Walter Prime, who is more important to Marjorie than Tess is. Jones gives a wonderful performance as the daughter on the edge, loving her mother, but hating her for not being the mother that she was.

Garland plays Jon as the calming influence between supporting his wife and comforting his mother-in-law.

We then see Marjorie looking younger and brighter, and sitting on the couch chatting with Tess. As the conversation progresses, we realize that Marjorie has died and this is Marjorie Prime, who is there to hold the memories for Tess, who hasn’t been in favor of the holograms, but now finds comfort in being able to speak with her mother’s Prime even though she’s angry that it’s not really her mother.

The final scene is one of those that leaves lots of questions, lots of “what happens next?” And isn’t that the sign of a great play — one that makes you want to dissect it long after it has ended?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Jack of Diamonds

photo is courtesy of EMH Productions with Deborah Shalohoub and Lew Rooker   
Jack of Diamonds, a retirement home comedy by Marcia Kash and Douglas E. Hughes examines the lives of five residents of an upscale retirement community, who have just learned that their broker has lost their life savings in a Ponzi scheme.  The show is just plain silly, with laughs a-plenty as the crew tries to figure out how to stay in their expensive community. (There are lots of fart jokes, and bathroom jokes)

Lew Rooker is the Jack of the title, one of those TV-jewelers, with a stash of Viagra in his back pocket and an eye for Blanche (Katherine Muris), the narcoleptic woman who passes out at odd moments.

Deborah Shalhoub is Rose, a visually-challenged woman with laxatives in her purse.  Rose is addicted to the Internet.

Georgann Wallace is Flora, who suffers from dementia, but who makes beautiful jewelry.

Ryan Boyd is Barney Effward (great name), the guy who lost the money, now hiding in the retirement community pretending to be catatonic.  There are lots of funny discussions about what to do with him.

Elise Hodge is Nurse Harper, the rigid care giver, who runs the community more like a prison.  Hodge is also producer, co-director, and set designer of this production

Chas Weiss plays three small parts and is especially good as a germaphobic attorney.

Corey Morris is the director who keeps all the craziness going and who greets each patron as if he is welcoming them to their new home.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Gutenberg! the Musical!

There’s a new sheriff in town. Or at least a new theater company. Bike City Theatre Company is a promising new group, whose goal is to bring new works — dramatic and comedic, as well as improv and sketch comedy — to Davis.

The first production, “Gutenberg! The Musical!” is a zany comedy that definitely delivers on the promise to bring comedic works to Davis.

“Gutenberg!” is a musical written by Scott Brown and Anthony King. Brown and King developed the show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, where it ran for more than a year, then transferred to The Actors’ Playhouse on Jan. 16, 2007. The production closed on May 6, 2007. It was nominated for four awards for book and music.

Bike City is not your usual company, as one discovers upon picking up tickets, where you learn that in keeping with their philosophy of saving the environment, there are no printed programs available. Either print your own from their website before coming to the theater, or you scan the QR code on the wall of the theater to get the program on your cell phone.

There are also no real “sets,” but milk cartons and cardboard covered with newsprint to serve as guidelines. Scenographer Heidi Voekler gets high marks for creativity. There is no credit given for costumes, but whoever chose Kevin Gish’s tie was inspired.

Bike City has no home theater, so this show is being performed in several locations. We saw it at Root of Happiness Kava Bar. Other locations are Sudwerk and Super Owl breweries, Watermelon Music and the Pence Gallery. The idea is to bring theater to people who might not otherwise go to theater, explained Artistic Director J.R. Yancher.

“Gutenberg! The Musical!” is a 90-minute, two-person comedy and features Doug (Gish) and Bud (Kyle Stoner) as enthusiastic playwrights who have written a musical about the inventor of the printing press. We, the audience, have been invited to a backer’s audition, where the playwrights are looking for funding to bring the show to Broadway.

Gish and Stoner are two actors with excellent dentition (one can’t help but notice when sitting in the front row, inches from the stage!) who have seemingly inexhaustible energy as they race through the story, playing some 20-plus different characters (each with his or her own unique hat, labeled to avoid confusion). The playwrights admit that their extensive Google search yielded little information on Johannes Gutenberg, so this play is made from alternative facts.

Gutenberg lives in the fictitious town of Schlimmer, Germany and is a vintner who can’t seem to make a living plying his trade. He notices that nobody in the town can read and this is causing problems, such as the death of a baby (“dead baby” is one of the characters) because his mother gave him jelly beans instead of medicine because she couldn’t read the label (“Jelly beans, not medicine/If only I could read,” she sings).

The music in this show is fun and catchy, but totally forgettable. We didn’t go home humming “Gutenberg/darn tootin’-berg/he’s the best chap around sure as shootin’-berg” or the beef-fat trimmer’s song, “The sun it rises in the east/I smell bread rising with the yeast” — but we loved hearing them.

Gutenberg’s assistant is the lovely Helvetica, who spends her time stomping grapes and pining away for the love of her boss. Gutenberg has an epiphany and decides to convert his grape press into a printing press and help the town become literate. But will the evil “monk” — who does not want the people to read, so he can interpret the Biblical word of God to be anything he wants it to be — succeed in destroying the printing press?

There is so much cleverness in this comedy. For example, when there is a meeting in the town square, the two men don all of the hats and, as they speak out as one character or the other, toss the top hat aside and become the next character. There is also a dance number that features a kick line of five dancers, which must be seen to be believed.

This show is just fun from start to finish — and may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience if the theater company finds its own stage. For the time being, being “homeless and wandering” doesn’t seem to have any adverse effect on this talented company at all.

You will have to go to the Bike City Theatre website to get information about venues and tickets. But, trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

B Street’s production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” adapted by Le Clanche du Rand and directed by Jerry Montoya has been so popular that its run has been extended to May 6. 

The 55 minute production takes place in the larger of the two theaters in B Street’s new complex, “The Sofia,” a room which is large, warm, and very comfortable. 

In addition to its regular performances, B Street also offers free performances of this play for Sacramento area school children during the week, two performances a day.  I arrived between the 10:00 and 11:30 performances and found a fleet of school buses outside the theater and what seemed like thousands of children in the lobby of the building.

The theater seats 386 and was nearly full of children from very small kindergartners to high schoolers, all of whom were surprisingly well behaved.

There is a cast of two, Dana Brooke and John Lamb, who are listed as Lucy and Peter (two of the Pevensie children) but who actually play all the characters, changing costumes, wigs, and voices as the act out the story of the children who go through a wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia, where they have adventures before returning to the wardrobe.

I was happy I had recently read the book because I think it might have been more difficult to follow the plot if I didn’t already know it.  Brooke, as the White Witch is particularly difficult to follow due to a reverb use in her microphone which gave her voice a creepy quality that my ears could not understand much of the time.

However, the kids loved it and the intermittent inclusion of the audience to answer questions brought them into the story beautifully.  When Peter and Lucy travel to find the lion Aslan’s table (which has great significance in the story), for example, their travels take them all through the audience before finally landing them back on stage.

It is essentially a bare stage, with no complicated scenery, which set designer Samantha Reno has filled with drawings to represent the various scenes, which are projected on the back wall.  From the moment the large beautiful English manor house where the children are visiting appears on the screen, one knew that sets weren’t really going to be necessary.  In fact, this production fits beautifully with the type of children’s theater that B Street has performed since 1986, which allows a child’s imagination to soar with the assistance of two excellent story tellers.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is fun for all ages, but don’t be afraid to take the very little ones (5 and older) and enjoy the show together.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Guys and Dolls

One of the best things about Davis Musical Theatre Company’s new production of “Guys and Dolls” was seeing co-producer, musical director, set, light and sound designer Steve Isaacson in the major role of Nathan Detroit (played by Frank Sinatra in the movie).

Isaacson has been sidelined for a long time with physical problems and it’s great to see him on stage again, in such a big part. And who better to play a New York wise-cracking scoundrel than a former New Yorker. Detroit runs the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.”

Jan Isaacson is co-producer, director and choreographer, making this show a real family affair. Isaacson has become a very good choreographer and knows how to work with dancers and non-dancers and make everyone look good.

“Guys and Dolls” is an adaptation of several Damon Runyon stories written in the 1920s and ’30s, of a fictional group of saints (missionaries) and sinners (gamblers) and is filled with familiar songs that seem to have been around forever, such as “A Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” and “Luck Be a Lady.” The music is by Frank Loesser and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.

While there are several good performances in this production, outstanding is a newcomer to DMTC, Bridget Styles as Miss Adelaide (“the famous fiancee”), who has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years and still hopes for a wedding some day.

Styles is perfect, without going overboard, as it is so easy to do when portraying the bleach-blonde prohibition-era showgirl at the Hot Box. She is particularly good when describing the psychological effects on the body of unrequited love (“Adelaide’s Lament”).

Jori Gonzales is the idealistic, but sheltered missionary Sarah Brown, head of Broadway’s Save-a-Soul mission, determined to bring new souls to God. She is confused by her attraction to Sky Masterson (Tate Pollack, also making his DMTC debut) and is surprised to learn she has an adventurous side when Masterson convinces her to accompany him on a wild night in Havana.

Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy is a warm-hearted missionary, with only Sarah’s good as his primary concern. Don Draughon gives a lovely soliloquy in “More I Cannot Wish You.”

Among the group of Nathan’s cronies is Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Hugo Figueroa, who, according to his program bio, is only 24 years old, but who has appeared in 26 DMTC shows). Nicely-Nicely has the show stopping “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” and sets all toes to tapping.

Mary Young, who has been with DMTC for 33 years, gives a spirited performance as General Cartwright, in town to assess the mission to see if it should be shut down or not.

Isaacson got a little carried away with the lighting design for this show, mostly with overuse of the follow spotlight which was occasionally distracting.

Jean Henderson had fun with the costumes, particularly those for the show girls at the nightclub, and also for the ensemble in the opening number, where each costume nicely explains who each person is without the need for words.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Do you have fake-news fatigue? Are you tired of tweets? Are you throwing things at TV talking heads? I have the perfect solution for you.

Get on over to Woodland and see the fabulous, high-spirited production of “Hairspray,” directed by Angela Baltezore. There is not a weak spot in this show, there are incredibly good actors, and in the end you’ll want to raise your hands in the air, with the cast, in the manner of last-act finale. You’ll go home humming “You can’t top the beat.”

“Hairspray” is the story of Tracy Turnblad, a zaftig teenager who is a fan of the 1960s American Bandstand-type show, “The Corny Collins Show.” She auditions for a spot on the show, wins and becomes an overnight celebrity — to the consternation of the show’s producer, who is also an avid stage mother pushing her daughter to eventual stardom.

Can Tracy, who has a wonderful heart, stay the course and succeed in integrating the all-white show so her friends from the African-American community can dance with her?

The success of this show depends in large measure on Tracy and her mother, Edna. Carlie Robinson is making her Opera House debut as Tracy. She has an infectious smile that brightens the room and her ebullience makes her impossible to ignore. It’s a perfect casting. She is militantly cheerful, even when things are at their most bleak.

When the John Waters non-musical stage play opened on Broadway in 1988, it starred drag queen Divine in the gender-bending role of Edna, Tracy’s mother. When Mark O’Donnell, Thomas Meehan and Marc Shaiman turned it into a musical (which won eight Tony Awards), Harvey Fierstein took on the role of Edna, (one of the Tonys). When a movie of the musical was made in 2007, John Travolta played Edna, but his performance was always “John Travolta-plays-Edna” and he never really believably became the character.

The same cannot be said for Jason Hammond who is outstanding as the mother who has not left her home in years because she’s ashamed of her weight. She makes her living by doing laundry for others. She loves and is protective of her daughter and her relationship with husband Wilbur (Bob Cooner) is beautiful to see. Their duet, “You’re Timeless to Me” was such a hit that they did an encore.

Tracy’s best friend Penny is played by the talented Katie Halls, who, though she is a second banana to Tracy, makes the most of her scenes, particularly those with “Seaweed” (Michael-David Smith), the “Negro” who becomes her dancing partner and love interest. Both Halls and Smith give powerful performances.

Deborah Hammond (Jason’s real-life wife) is Motormouth Maybelle, the owner of a downtown record shop and the host of “Negro Day” (once a month) on “The Corny Collins Show.” Hammond has a set of pipes that will tear the roof off of the Opera House and her “I Know Where I’ve Been” brought cheers from the audience.

Patricia Glass is Velma, the villainess of the piece. She is mother to Amber (McKinley Carlisle) and determined to keep her daughter in the spotlight, but she sees Tracy as a threat. Often her songs, sung with sneered lips, are reminiscent of some of the Disney villainesses, like Cruella de Vil, and she succeeds at being detestable.

Amber is a spoiled brat who thinks the sun rises and sets on her and can’t stand Tracy stealing not only her thunder, but also her boyfriend Link (Ryan Everitt), the hunk with a heart who realizes that there are things more important than being the star of a music show.

Choreography by Staci Arriaga is wonderful and executed flawlessly by the 29-person cast. More than one person in the audience got up to dance with the cast during the finale.

Set design by Craig and Joey Vincent works beautifully and the TV set for the final scene is perfect.

Denise Miles has created some beautiful costumes, particularly those for Edna.

I promise that as you leave the theater there will only be happy thoughts in your head and you will turn to each other, as my husband did to me, with only one word to describe it all: “Wow!”

Monday, April 23, 2018

Man of La Mancha

The Sacramento Theatre Company has opened a sumptuous new production of “Man of La Mancha,” directed by Michael Jenkinson.

The Broadway hit, by Dale Wasserman, with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion is a musical drama — a play within a play within a play — which tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes, thrown into prison while awaiting examination by the Holy Inquisition for having the effrontery to foreclose on a church that had not paid its taxes. Cervantes’ original text was written in 1605.
Greeting the new arrivals, Cervantes’ fellow prisoners hold their own inquisition, 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. In his defense, the author proposes he act out the story of the manuscript, using other prisoners to fill in the roles.

It is the story of Alonso Quijano, an idealistic old man who imagines himself to be living in medieval times as a knight errant, Don Quixote de La Mancha, who travels the countryside fighting beasts and rescuing damsels in distress.

“He ponders the problem of how to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all, where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity,” he says. He promises not to allow wickedness to flourish. The delusional Quijano is an embarrassment to his respectable family.
Director Jenkinson explains that “The themes this beautiful piece explores — truth, justice, love, accountability, and hope, to name a few — are timeless in their importance, and serve as profound lessons in the human experience.”

Chris Vettel is a commanding Cervantes, a strong actor with a rich baritone, never shown better than in the classic “Impossible Dream.” Vettel has the ability to transform himself into the idealistic Don Quixote with a mere change in the look in his eyes, and to return to the person of Cervantes just as easily. It’s an amazing feat!

Quixote’s faithful squire, Sancho Panza, is played by Jake Mahler, whose earnestness and love for his master is beautiful.

Nicole Sterling was a wonderful choice of the server Aldonza, whom Quixote elevates to the role of a wonderful “lady” and calls Dulcinea. Aldonza, the sexual plaything of all the men in the hotel, which Quixote calls a castle, has the lowest opinion of herself possible and can’t understand what “good” Quixote sees in her. (“What does he want of me?”) Though, ultimately it is Dulcinea who brings the greatest comfort to the dying old man.

Matt K. Miller gives a somewhat different interpretation of the Innkeeper (also the “governor” of the prison). A wonderful comedian, Miller gives more comedic overtones to the Innkeeper than I remember seeing before and it is a nice respite from the heaviness of the script.

In the role of “The Duke” in the prison and the old man’s physician, “Dr. Carrasco” back in reality, Michael RJ Campbell gives his usual towering performance.

Samuel Clein directs an on-stage orchestra of five, which is so much better than the recorded music STC sometimes uses.

Eric Broadwater has designed an uncomfortable prison, so dark and dank that you can almost feel the cold the prisoners must endure.

Director Jenkinson says that the musical may have more relevance today than it had when originally written, with Don Quixote journeying through his fantasy world, believing that true madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be. The line in the show which gets a big, if uneasy laugh, is, “Facts are the enemy of truth.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Finding Neverland

In 2014, we were fortunate to see “Finding Neverland” at its U.S. premiere in Cambridge, Mass., and I fell in love with the show. Since then, it has been modified, moved to Broadway, where it ran for 17 months and was nominated for Drama Desk, Drama League and Astaire awards. Now it is on a national tour and the California Musical Theatre opened its production this week. I still love the show.

There was loud applause before anybody had even appeared on stage, when a brightly flashing light, which didn’t need to be identified to anybody, started dancing around the curtain and the audience. Tinker Bell was welcoming us to the show.

“Finding Neverland” is the story of how the classic book, “Peter Pan,” came to be written and is loosely based on the 2004 Johnny Depp movie. J.M. Barrie (Will Ray) is portrayed as a successful playwright, unhappily married to a social climber (Janine DiVita). He is suffering from writer’s block. His producer, Charles Frohman (John Davidson, who later appears as Captain Hook) needs a new show now and Barrie has run dry.

While wandering London’s Kensington Park, looking for inspiration, he meets the Llewelyn-Davies brothers, George (Colin Wheeler), Peter (Turner Birthisel), Jack (Bergman Freedman) and Michael (Tyler Patrick Hennessy). (Each of the roles is triple cast; these were the children who played them on opening night.) He is drawn into the games of fantasy of three of the brothers, and particularly taken with the sadness of Peter, who has lost the ability to enjoy life, due to the recent death of his father.

A friendship with the boys and with their mother Sylvia (Lael Van Keuren) develops and as he learns what it is to be a child again, his creative juices start flowing once more as he imagines what it would be like if boys never had to grow up.

There is also a harridan of a grandmother, Mrs. du Maurier (Karen Murphy), determined to run her daughter’s life, a wonderful performance by Karl Skyler Urban, who makes the most of the small role of servant, and an outstanding performance by Sammy, a superb theater dog who played Porthos.

Though there is great sadness in the story, it is smoothed over by the music and the crisp, often intricate choreography (such as the “Dinner Party,” with dancing around, over and under the long dining room table). There are some simple scenes that are downright brilliant, such as the simple love song between Barry an Sylvia on an almost-empty stage with large shadows providing the only extraneous thing. Beautiful.

The musical also has its share of humor. “Do you know any fairies?” one of the boys asks one of Barrie’s somewhat effeminate actors. “My good lad, I work in the theater!” he answers, as the audiences roars.

The first act, of necessity, may run a little long due to having to get all those plot points in and bring in all the inspirations for the later play (like the handle of a threatening cane turning into Hook’s hook). But the first-act finale will blow your socks off.

By the time Act 2 rolls around, rehearsal for the play is in full swing and the action is swift and dizzying. A particularly wonderful song is “We Own the Night,” sung by the four boys on a makeshift stage with blankets forming the backdrop and wooden boxes making a stage.

The final dress rehearsal, performed in the boys’ bedroom for Sylvia, too sick to attend a performance, is lovely and as Sylvia passes into her own Neverland, the special effects are dazzling.

Performances, music, choreography and technical expertise come together to make this a magical evening for both adults and children (over the age of 4) alike.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Dry Powder

The program for Sarah Burgess’ “Dry Powder,” newly opened at B Street theater, contains a one page glossary for many of the terms used in the Wall Street-based play.  Things like LPs (Limited Partners), IPO (Initial Public Offering), and Dry Powder (amount of cash reserves or liquid assets available to a private equity firm).

Critics get a packet in which there are five pages in the glossary, which gives you the idea of what an insider-rich play this is.

The action centers around KMM Capital Management, which is in the business of overhauling businesses (“buy companies, increase their value, then exit”).

Things get complicated, but what makes this production extraordinary is the first rate cast of B Street regulars.  If you want to insure a top notch production, cast Dave Perini, Melinda Parrett, and Jason Kuykendall.  This year B Street has added Jahi Kearse as another regular and it’s easy to see why.

We first meet Perini as Rick, the head of a Wall Street firm who has just received news that one of his best customers is moving his business elsewhere following a lavish engagement party (there was really only ONE elephant) Rick held at the same time the company was announcing layoffs at a grocery store chain it had bought.  Rick is nearly suicidal.  Jenny (Parrett) is there to literally talk him off the ledge while Seth (Kuykendall) arrives with a brilliant idea for taking on a new business.  He has been sweet talking the head of a luggage business (Kearse as Jeff).

(With all the on-stage costume changes, meetings over cocktails, etc., kudos are deserved by the unnamed technician who so smoothly wheels costume racks in and out and mixes drinks for whoever needs them)

Jenny and Seth have different ideas about the new merger.  His is in keeping with the desires of Jeff and will keep business in the US and ensure that his employees will keep heir jobs.  Hers fires all the employees, ships the business overseas and makes lots of money for everyone.  Her plan also threatens the merger completely, since Jeff is so dedicated to the fate of his employees.

The back and forth among all the characters is perhaps predictable, if the solution is not, but it is the acting that raises this dramady above average.

Perini is perfect as the mercurial Rick, Parrett plays one of the ice queen roles that she does so perfectly, while balancing on impossibly high heels–it’s all the bottom line, and who cares about the little people hurt in the process?  Kuykendall is the guy with the morals, who cares about what happens to everyone, who wants to be fair to the luggage company, while still saving KMM, just not as grandly as Parrett’s proposal.  Kearse is the guy caught in the middle, between his devotion to his employees and the lure of the big bucks.

Kuykendall and Parrett have a hilarious argument which descends to who had the higher G.M.A.T. score (the business school entry exam).

The bottom line of this play is...the bottom line...and learning that most of the folks who work in the business world are more interested in higher finance than the well-being of the little man who got them where they are.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Arsonists

It’s a riveting opening. The lights come up and at first there is silence, then the theater door slams open and an epithet is uttered as a woman moves slowly across the floor to the stage dragging a blood-stained heavy bag. More epithets follow as she continues to drag the bag slowly up the stairs and onto the stage, the room of what appears to be a dilapidated unfurnished house.

Dragging the bag across the floor she begins chopping at the floor with an axe, picking up three boards, leaving a hole into which she pushes the bag. More epithets.

“The Arsonists,” now at Capital Stage, under the direction of Gail Dartez is a 70-minute one-act play by Jacqueline Goldfinger, set in a North Florida swamp. Scenic and lighting design are by Brian Harrower, and are as essential to the story as are the two actors. The finale, in particular, is spectacular.

The inspiration for this play came from the playwright watching her own father struggle with health issues shortly after she herself gave birth. In an interview, she explains that “The Arsonists” grew from a more intimate personal place of having just given birth, and intense, sometimes deeply disturbing connections to her children, which made her reflect on Sophocles’ “Electra” and the relationship between Agamemnon and Electra as more intense than ever before.

“This is a love letter to my father. He is not dead. It’s a shame that folks hold off ’til somebody dies to say how much they mean to ’em. I’m gonna go ahead and do it now.”

The two characters are M (Megan Wicks) and H (Rich Hebert). H is M’s father and he refers to her as “Littles” throughout the play. We learn early on that the two are arsonists for hire. They are a family of traditional values and honor and hold onto the traditions that have been passed down through the family. But their last job has not gone well.

M has lived in the swamp all of her life, has never had the opportunity for socialization and her father is her whole world. She’s a tough cookie, but will soon be on her own. Her father, realizing that and knowing that he must leave her, wants to help her find a way to face the future alone.

The characters love to sing together and, though neither of the actors is a musician, they learned to play the guitar and sing traditional folk songs, thanks to the help of Davis’ own Sam Misner (of Misner & Smith), who is the music director.

This is not a “musical,” but they sing, strum or hum traditional tunes as they are doing something else. The music draws them together, never more beautifully than in “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” the song they sing sotto voce while braiding twine for fuses.

This is not a “wordy” play, but each bit of dialogue is pure gold. In describing his relationship with M’s late mother, H says, “I’m not talking about sex. It’s more intimate. A release, from yourself to yourself. That takes someone else’s love to ignite. Otherwise you burn cold, no air, no breath, to feed the flames, get you alive.”

One wonders how this play can ultimately end but Goldfinger has written a spot-on resolution — and Harrower brings it to life.

Capital Stage is one of four theaters in the country that’s debuting “The Arsonists” as part of the National New Play Network’s rolling world premiere program.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Balm in Gilead

Thomas Dean as "Dopey"
Photo credit David Kamminga
If you’re a people watcher, especially the kind of person who goes to a bar or restaurant to watch the other patrons, “A Balm in Gilead” is the play for you.  Now presented by Resurrection Theatre Company at the California Stage Theater, directed by Margaret Morneau.

This is a difficult play to get into, as it has overlappping dialog, simultaneous scenes and mostly unlikable characters.  It takes place in a seedy bar populated by drug addicts and dealers, prostitutes (male and female), lesbians, transvestites, and thieves.

To complicate things, there are 30 in the cast, all of whom are listed by name and actor in the program, but only a handful are ever called by name in the script.  Trying to figure out who is who is pretty much impossible.

That said, it is an oddly entertaining play, the central characters of which are Darlene (Jennifer Berry), a good hearted prostitute freshly arrived from Chicago, and Joe (Vernon Lewis), a drug dealer with whom she becomes infatuated.  Berry delivers what may be the longest monologue I have heard when talking with Ann (Aviv Hannan), a world weary prostitute, about her past in Chicago.  It’s a tour de force but I was perhaps even more impressed with Hannan, whose expression of someone trapped listening to this monologue when she wants to be anywhere else, was perfect.

There is an electricity to this play that makes it oddly compelling.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


 Is the new form of entertainment to be as crude and disgusting as you can be? Is that what passes for art these days? I cannot deny that I disliked Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette, now at Big Idea Theater.  I disliked it a lot, though it was peopled with six talented actors who portrayed their highly unlikable characters very well -- its only redeeming quality!

It is set in a New York hotel suite, decorated for a wedding, with stacks of gifts and an offstage bathtub filled with bottles of champagne. Into the room burst Gena (Leah Daugherty) and Katie (Taylor Fleer), both very high and laughing. Every sentence contains the F word. They discover the champagne and each take a bottle and begin to drink, as they trash the apartment. Regan (Taylor Vaughan) arrives. She is the maid of honor but hates the bride (Shelby Vockel) and has invited the other two because she knows the bride does not like them. The word "fat" is used many times as an insult which I, as a fat person, found distasteful. I hurt for the bride. (The word "retarded" is also used a lot, which many will find offensive.)

Two men, Jeff (Russell Dow) and Joe (Jacob Garcia) that the girls picked up at the bar arrive. Simulated sex and possible rape is added to the drugs, and alcohol. There is vomiting on stage.

Maybe this is the wave of the future, but I don’t want to be entertained by watching the worst of people, especially women.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book of Mormon

The very funny, very popular “The Book of Mormon” by those guys who also gave you “South Park” (Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone) has returned for another engagement for California Musical Theater’s Broadway series.

The ticket gives a parental advisory for “explicit language,” which may be putting it mildly. In fact some of the funniest things are things that you find yourself shocked to be laughing about.

Back in 2011 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 the producers 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. In fact, as highly irreverent as this show is, in the end it is actually spiritually uplifting with the message that love is the answer.

The Mormon “imprimatur,” as it were, is the full-page ad in the program which shows just a photo of the Book of Mormon with a message that says “our version is sliiiightly different” and gives information about learning more about the religion.

The show starts with a bang with the crisp and catchy “Hello!” as each of the clean-cut graduating Mormon students practice their approach to door-to-door contacts. It is such an appealing tune that it may become an ear worm.

This is the day when the graduates will find out where they are to be sent on their mission, and who will be their partner for the next two years. These are young idealists, convinced they will change the world, and none more passionate than Elder Price (Kevin Clay), who may be the holiest, most dedicated (and definitely most vain) 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 (Connor Pierson), whom everyone considers a flake and nobody seems to like very much. The two of them will be setting off for the country of Uganda. Elder Price decides to make the best of things because he knows he was destined for greatness and knows that he can do great things in Africa.

Things do not go well from the start, when the missionaries’ luggage is stolen by the warlord known as “General” (because you cannot print his real name in a program or a review) and his henchmen. They also find a lackluster group of missionaries who have been there a while and have done essentially nothing because the natives don’t want to hear their message.

The natives are a happy bunch, if suffering from unspeakable conditions. Their happy tune, explaining how they can remain calm in the face of AIDS and other terrible conditions is “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” another translation that can’t be printed in a family newspaper, but also ear-worm worthy. They are resigned to their lives and want nothing to do with a new religion, which might anger the General (Corey Jones) and make their lives even worse.

Nabulungi (Kayla Pecchioni) is the virginal daughter of Mafala (Sterling Jarvis), who acts like a tour guide for the missionaries. Pecchioni is a force to be reckoned with.

There is a rift between Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, during which each learn much about themselves and their ambitions and Elder Cunningham finds a way to appeal to the natives after all.

The story and energetic music will set your toes tapping. 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.” Her “I Am Africa” is an anthem worthy of being featured on International Women’s Day!

If you have not yet seen “Book of Mormon,” this is an absolute must see. And if you have already seen it, you’ll enjoy it as much the second time around as you did at first.