Monday, September 30, 2019

2019 Ellys

Members of local and regional community theater were honored at the 37th annual Elly Awards, sponsored by the Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance (SARTA), Sacramento’s answer to Broadway’s Tonys. Because of the number of awards, there were two ceremonies: the Youth Awards on Sept. 8 at Cosumnes Oaks High School Performing Arts Center in Elk Grove and the Adult Awards on Sept. 22 at The Center in Sacramento.

Nominated for 42 awards, the Woodland Opera House picked up 10, including two Adult Awards.
Lenore Sebastian received the award for best Supporting Female in the Musicals category, for her role as Maggie Jones in Woodland’s highly acclaimed “42nd Street.”

“It was pretty shocking,” Sebastian said. “I seriously had no expectations. The last Elly I won was for “Candide” in 1990!” She added, “I was thrilled for Opera House because sometimes the Ellys seem to ignore Yolo County. Half of the people I talked with at the ceremony had no idea the Woodland Opera House even existed.”

Choreographer Staci Arriaga also received an award for her work in that show. Arriaga had also been nominated for her choreography in the Children’s Theatre Production of “Annabelle Broom.”

Woodland’s also received six Youth Awards, mostly in the Children’s Theatre Productions category (theater performed by all ages for children).

“Rumpelstiltskin, the Game of the Name” took home five awards, including Ania Mieszkowski for Choreography, Marcia Gollober as Leading Female (adult), Barrett Shepherd as Supporting Male (adult) and James Glica-Hernandez for Musical Direction for this world premiere. Craig Vincent tied for best Lighting Design,

Glica-Hernandez said, “As satisfied as we are at Woodland Opera House to be recognized with SARTA’S Elly Awards, our cast, designers and directors were delighted to work on the original script for ‘Rumpelstiltskin, the Game of the Name.’ Creating a world premiere is an unforgettable experience for all of us. Playwright Catherine Hurd and composer Vatrena King gave us a marvelous piece upon which we could build.”

“Annabelle Broom, the Unhappy Witch” received two awards, one to Veronica Gersalia for Makeup Design and one to Denise Miles for Costume Design.

Joey Vincent picked up an award for Set Design for “The Cat in the Hat.”

Davis Musical Theatre Company’s Amaralyn Ewey won the award for Supporting Female in the Youth Theatre Productions category (theater performed by youth actors) for her role as Ursula, in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.”

“I never thought I’d actually win an Elly!” she exclaimed. “Ursula was such a horrifically fun role!”

Amaralyn actually had a mega dose of “The Little Mermaid.” When her father, cast as Sebastian in the main stage version of the show, suffered an injury, she stepped in and after only three rehearsals did that role for 12 performances, before starting the Young Performers’ Theatre version of it as Ursula.

Named for Eleanor McClatchy, a devoted patron of the arts, the Elly Awards celebrates excellence in Sacramento regional theater.

SARTA’s mission is to promote high-quality theater in the Sacramento area and neighboring regions. When combined with the opportunity to provide quality entertainment and formal recognition of those in the performing arts, SARTA and the Sacramento community benefit.

Currently, SARTA membership includes approximately 100 theaters, more than 400 individual members and 30 media agencies. In addition to the Elly Awards program, SARTA sponsors headshot days, fall and spring general auditions, a weekly electronic update for those last-minute auditions and casting calls and a monthly electronic TheatreLetter featuring auditions, classified ads, workshops and performance information for theaters and individual artists in the greater Sacramento region.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Stand-Up Guy

Any would-be stand up comedian would do well to get to the B Street Theater and watch Jack Gallagher’s “A Stand Up Guy.”

Gallagher, the three-time Emmy award winner, host of various TV shows, and Tonight Show with Johnny Carson comic (his favorite gig) has appeared in several movies and has lived his life’s dream since he was 10 years of age, for the past 41 years.

Now in a show written by Gallagher and son playwright/actor Declan Gallagher (who appears briefly in an hilarious piece about the grammatical uses of the f-word) the stand up comedian and story teller explains how he did it...and how this Fall River, Massachusetts native ended up making Sacramento his home and becoming one of its biggest entertainment assets.

Put very briefly, it’s by always doing the very best he could no matter what the job.  It also helps if you have the kind of supportive wife Gallagher has in Jean Ellen, to whom he has been married since 1980.

But the path to B Street (for which he has now written 8 different shows) was a rocky one, to put it mildly.  While Gallagher is a comedian, he is more a story teller than a joke teller.  He can tell a story that will keep you mesmerized (check his You Tube video “Letters to Declan,” the first of his one-man shows), but as popular as he may have been, the fact that he didn’t tell zippy jokes that brought audience applause every minute kept him off Carson’s “Tonight Show” through four auditions, for example.

His career has been a series of ups and downs, sometimes leaving him without an income entirely.  But he never gave up, and Jean Ellen never gave up believing in him.  Soon the ups were higher and the lows not quite as low.

The script of this show was shaped by the calendars he kept throughout his career (“in case I’m ever nominated to the Supreme Court,” he quips – his one political joke).  There were times when he was performing a show in the early afternoon in one state, and another at night in a different one...for weeks at a time.

But the work paid off and the gigs started to get more serious.  He nearly had his own sitcom, until the network pulled it for reasons which had nothing to do with Gallagher, but merely left him without work again.

In 1983, he was offered a job in Sacramento.  He was promised that he was going to be a Big Star on KCRA.  He and Jean weren’t sure they wanted to move to Sacramento, but at the time they were living in Los Angeles and hated it.  Sacramento, with its trees and older houses, reminded them of Massachusetts, so they gave it a try.

The show only lasted 9 months before it was canceled, but by this time, Gallagher was less frantic about his career and happy in Sacramento. He had appeared in concert with Dolly Parton, The Four Tops and Tony Bennett, had a recurring role on the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and appeared in a couple of movies, including “Heartbreak Ridge,” with Clint Eastwood.  He began writing shows for B Street.

Now he’s decided it is time to tell his story, from his first joke (on the golf course with his father when he was 10) through his 15 years of averaging 35 weeks a year on the road, to moving to television, to Sacramento, where he is now, happily living with his family and trying to figure out ways to stay off the road.

I’ve been a fan of Jack Gallagher ever since I saw him do Crystal ice cream commercials a long time ago.  I’ve seen several of his one-man shows.  Each one is quite different from the last, but I’ve never left the theater without smiling and raving about how wonderful it was.

“A Stand Up Guy” joins the list of other exceptional Jack Gallagher performances I have seen.  And his brief salute to the old B Street theater brought laughter and applause.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


There is something exciting happening to local community theater. It seems that the line between “community theater” and “professional theater” is much thinner these days than it has been.

First, there was the spectacular “Mamma Mia” at Davis Musical Theater Company and now we have “Newsies” at the Woodland Opera House. Community theaters may not have the budget for flashy sets and costumes, but when it comes to direction, musical direction, choreography and acting, what our community theaters offer is on a real par with the big boys.

“Newsies,” directed by Crissi Cairns, with musical direction by Jia-Min Rosendale, vocal direction by James Glica-Hernandez and choreography by Jacob Gutierrez Montoya is the Disneyfied version of the true story of the 1899 newsboy strike in New York, and shows how the passion of one person can make a difference in the world.

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.

It is often difficult to fill male roles in community theater, but the 35 member cast is definitely male-heavy and those men are incredibly talented. Each of their five high-energy dances was a show stopper and the audience is treated to everything from tap to acrobatics.

The character of Kid Blink is now named Jack Kelly (Casey Camacho). He’s also an older teen now, so a love interest can be written into the story.

It’s a physically exhausting role, which the talented singer and dancer takes in stride. Kelly struggles with the rights of his fellow newsies and the possible repercussions by the newspaper magnates. He wants to have enough money to move to Santa Fe and is tempted by bribes to give up the fight for fairness.

As Joseph Pulitzer, Rodger McDonald is wonderful as the cold, heartless publisher who cares only about money and has no empathy for the kids.

Jack’s best friend is Crutchie (Collin Robinson-Burmester), the disabled newsie with a positive attitude who becomes the heart of the show. (Collin’s brother Bailey appears as one of the newsies and his father, Stephen, making his theatrical debut, has two smaller roles). He becomes perfect victim for the goons of the publishers trying to squelch the boys.

Making her opera house debut is Grace Leekley as Katherine Plumber, an inexperienced reporter who becomes interested in the David vs. Goliath struggle of the newsies and manages to give them the publicity they need to make their voices heard. She has a lovely soprano voice and has a great solo in “Watch What Happens,” and a beautiful duet (“Something to Believe in”) with Jack. This is Leekley’s first musical in six years and one hopes her success in this role will encourage her to step back on stage regularly again.

Elio Gutierrez is Davey and DJ Michel is his younger brother Les. They are new to the newspaper delivery business and are amazed to learn that many of their colleagues have no mothers or fathers. Crutchie is amazed to learn that Davey and Les go home to a mother who is a “good cook.”

“Newsies” focuses on the atrocities of child labor and poverty, but also shows the power of those who stand together for what is right. The Woodland Opera House production is outstanding.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mamma Mia

“Mamma Mia,” now in its 21st year, was groundbreaking. The popularity of this “jukebox musical” based on the music of ABBA sparked a raft of similar musicals featuring the music of other musicians — like “Jerseys Boys” (music of The Four Seasons), “Beautiful” (Carol King), “Ain’t Too Proud” (The Temptations) and dozens of others. The stories are sometimes contrived in order to fit in as many songs by the featured musicians as possible.

“Mamma Mia” appears to be having renewed popularity. There have been several productions of it in the Bay Area and at least three in the Sacramento area in the last couple of months. And now a joyous production has opened on the Davis Musical Theatre Company stage.

Directed by Steve Isaacson, with choreography by Kyle Jackson and a cast of 40, this production is spectacular. (Never let it be said one cannot dance in swim fins!)

In 1999, Catherine Johnson decided to take 22 of the best-known ABBA songs (written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus) and weave a story around the lyrics. Even if you think you don’t really know ABBA music, you’ll be surprised at how many tunes you’ll recognize — and if you are an ABBA fan this is a must-see show.

The story centers around single mother Donna Sheridan (Andrea Eve Thorpe) raising her daughter Sophie (Abby Lambert) on the Greek island where Sophie was conceived, the product of a liaison with one of three men. Donna has built herself a successful taverna and has no need of a man in her life.

But Sophie is about to be married to Sky (Kyle Jackson) and she wants her real father to give her away. Having snooped through Donna’s diary, she invites three men — Harry Bright (AJ Rooney), Bill Austin (David Muerle) and Sam Carmichael (Tate Pollock), all of whom had relations with Donna around the time of Sophie’s conception — to her wedding, unbeknownst to Donna. The men all arrive, thinking Donna has invited them. Sophie wants her real father to walk her down the aisle.
Also attending the wedding are Donna’s two friends, her back-up singers when the three were Donna and the Dynamos. Tanya (Laura M. Smith) and Rosie (Kasper Cummins) are delightful comediennes, and those costumes were great fun.

(The program gives an ABBA fun fact about those marvelous costumes. They were an easy way to save on the group’s tax bill. ABBA exploited a Swedish law which meant clothes were tax deductible if their owners could prove they were not used for daily wear.)

Andrea Thorpe gives a powerful performance as Donna and gets cheers for her very emotional “The Winner Takes it All.”

As Sophie, Abby Lambert is winsome and engaging, as is her fiancé Sky (Kyle Jackson), whose short shorts make him look leggy and somehow younger than he really is.

The three possible fathers are fun. Harry’s (Rooney) secret is suggested in his various costume changes. Bill (Muerle) is the adventurer, the first to accept Sophie as his daughter, while his duet with Rosie (Cummins) is great. Sam (Pollock) is the love of Donna’s life and, despite a marriage and children of his own, is obviously still in love with her.

Everyone in the show learns something about themselves and the wedding itself, though not quite as planned, is worth the two-act wait.

The three “bows” numbers — tacked on at the end because there was no place in the plot to put them — are great fun and have the audience standing and waving their arms along with the cast.

Do I recommend this production? Of course I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.