Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Ellly Nominations, 2020

Remember theater?  You know – that place where you went inside a beautiful building and sat down with a bunch of other people and watched actors perform on stage for you?  There is no theater anywhere now (not even on Broadway), but SARTA (Sacramento Area Regional Theater Association) is remembering when there was theater and announced their nominations for Elly awards on Sunday.  Despite the 100 degree heat, four SARTA board members took turns announcing this year’s nominees–in their pajamas, from a secret location.

The Woodland Opera house gathered 47 nominations.

“Jingle ARRGH the Way!” was nominated for 8 Elly awards in the Children's Theatre Productions Category:
Eva Sarry, Direction
James Glica-Hernandez, Musical Direction
Eva Sarry, Choreography
Mark Deamer, Set Design
Nikki Pendley, Lighting Design
Kevin Wenger, Sound Design
Travis Lindquist, Leading Male - Adult
Marcia Gollober, Supporting Female - Adult

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was nominated for 14 Elly Awards in the Children's Theatre Productions Category:
Woodland Opera House, Overall Production
Andrea St. Clair, Direction
Joey Vincent, Set Design
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent, Lighting Design
Kevin Wenger, Sound Design
Kirsten Myers, Leading Female - Adult
Amelia Robinson-Burmester, Leading Female - Youth
Patrick Jordan, Leading Male - Adult
Cullen Smith, Supporting Female - Adult
Christopher Olvera (The Child Catcher), Supporting Male - Adult
Dave Lack, Supporting Male - Adult
Gil Sebastian (The Toymaker), Supporting Male - Adult
Trevor Braskamp, Supporting Male - Adult

“I couldn't be prouder of my “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” cast/crew for ALL of our Elly Nominations!,” said Andrea St Clair.  Erin Richerson said, “I  LOVED being a part of this show. These nominations make my heart burst with pride!”

Steppin' Out was nominated for 3 Elly Awards in the Comedy Category:
Jenny Plasse, Leading Female
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent and Nikki Pendley, Lighting Design

Gil Sebastian, nominated for director for “Of Mice and Men” said “I have been an actor in regional theatre throughout Northern California for nearly 40 years... In that time, I have been a part of some amazing productions. I got nominated for portraying the role of the Toymaker in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” for Best Director for “Of Mice and Men,” for Set Design for “Of Mice and Men,” and for Best Overall Production of “Of Mice and Men.” I am overwhelmed and am so grateful to my “Mice and Men” cast,; many of whom were also nominated for awards. I am blessed to be a part of this amazing community.

“Of Mice and Men” was nominated for 8 Elly Awards in the Drama Category:
Woodland Opera House, Overall Production
Gil Sebastian, Direction
Angela Baltezore and Gil Sebastian, Set Design
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent, Lighting Design
Jason Hammond, Leading Male
Chad Fisk, Supporting Male
Paul Fern, Supporting Male

“Newsies” was nominated for 13 Elly Awards in the Musicals Category:
Woodland Opera House, Overall Production
Crissi Cairns, Direction
Jacob Gutierrez-Montoya, Choreography
James Glica-Hernandez and Jia-Min Rosendale, Musical Direction
Joey Vincent, Set Design
Denise Miles, Costume Design
Craig Vincent, Lighting Design
Grace Leekley, Leading Female
Casey Camacho, Leading Male
Ernestine Balisi, Supporting Female
Collin Robinson-Burmester, Supporting Male
Elio Gutierrez, Supporting Male
Rodger McDonald, Supporting Male

“I am delighted Woodland Opera House’s Newsies was recognized with so many Elly nominations from SARTA this year,” said James Glica-Hernandez “Newsies was a show where all the stars aligned to create a remarkable production. We were lucky to have such a consistently strong cast, crew, and director group full of talent and collegiality.”

Veronica Gersalia was nominated for an Elly Award in the Comedy, Drama or Musical Category for “Newsies”

“We are so proud of our Opera House family of actors, directors, musical directors, choreographers, and set, costume, lighting, sound, and make-up designers, and we appreciate SARTA recognizing them for their outstanding work.” says Woodland Opera House.

Brian McCann and Daniel Thatcher were nominated for their set design for Davis Musical Theater’s Youth Theater production of “The Addams Family” and Jean Henderson was nominated for her costumes for DMTC’s musical production of “Camelot.”

Named for the late Eleanor McClatchy, a devoted patron of the arts and former publisher of the Sacramento Bee, the Elly Awards celebrate excellence and the outstanding achievements of community theaters and artists in the greater Sacramento area. Created 38 years ago by local community actors, the Elly Awards have grown from a local Sacramento tradition to now include theatres within a 70-mile radius!

In honor of the 38th annual Elly Awards, SARTA will be hosting a single Virtual Elly Award Ceremony for both the Youth and Adult divisions on Sunday, September 13 at 7pm on Twitch TV. For more information, please visit www.ellyawards.com or call 916-443-8229.

These may be the last Elly Awards for awhile.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


he absolutely evil Mordred (Tomas Eredia) stirs up trouble
in the kingdom in DMTC’s production of Lerner & Loewe’s classic
“Camelot,” running through March 29.
From the court of King Arthur to the administration of John F. Kennedy, “Camelot” evokes something beautiful, opulent and democratic.

Steve Isaacson’s set design for the musical, currently at Davis Musical Theatre Company, may be a bit less than opulent, but it at least gives the impression of a castle. Yet thanks to the outstanding costumes of Jean Henderson, the stage is indeed beautiful and opulent.

Jori Gonzales alone, as Guinevere, had nine costumes throughout the three-plus-hour show. All are wonderful, but her first costume, simple with no jewel adornment, is tailored so perfectly and the material so beautiful that it was my favorite of the night.

Gonzales, happy to be performing her third Julie Andrews role, is exceptional. A beautiful, clear voice that can sing opera as well as musical theater, she embodies the character so well that the chemistry between her and King Arthur (Joe Alkire) seems so real that one wonders what she sees in Lancelot (A.J. Rooney).

Alkire is a wonderful, down-to-earth king, still not quite sure how he became king and uncomfortable about his upcoming marriage (“I wonder what the king is doing tonight”). He and Guinevere warm to each other and over the next few years he not only grows into his marriage but into his role as king as well.

Lancelot arrives at Camelot so arrogant that Guinevere hates him and arranges for him to battle three of her best knights, but when he beats all three, killing one and then bringing him back to life again, her heart is changed and they begin a secret affair.

It’s an odd affair since both Lancelot and Guinevere love Arthur and Arthur loves both of them, accepts their affair and pretends not to notice so that when Guinevere is tricked into revealing their relationship and is sentenced to death, Arthur helps the lovers escape, even though it brings down the beautiful democracy that he worked so hard to create.

Joel Porter plays Merlin, Arthur’s mentor. It’s amazing that he can speak through that huge mustache that totally covers his mouth (does he eat?). After he is lured away from Camelot by the enchantress Nimue (Andrea Borquin), the actor returns as Pellinore, a bumbling and endearing old man who becomes a permanent guest of Arthur and Guinevere. His buddy Horrid the dog (played by a confused looking Mrs. Bigglesworth) is very cute.

Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred is played by Tomas Eredia (who, somehow, is not listed in the program for that character). Eredia bursts on stage with a high level of energy and dominates his scenes, earning the boos his villain character receives.

Young Matthew Vallero is Tom of Warwick, the child who comes to join the Round Table, reminding Arthur of the ideals he was able to create, if only temporarily. Vallero, 10, has been in all the youth productions for the past two years but is making his main stage debut and is excellent.

This is a very long show that drags in spots, but overall is a beautiful production with some outstanding performances.

Friday, March 06, 2020

A Bronx Tale

I’ll bet when you think of Robert DeNiro, you don’t think of musical theater.

Yet, he was the original director, along with Jerry Zaks, of “A Bronx Tale,” the musical movie (It sounded to me like making “Godfather,” the musical). The musical theater production of the same name is this week’s high-energy touring Broadway show in Sacramento.

Based on the semi-autobiographical solo show by Chazz Palminteri, and the 1993 film (which DeNiro also directed and starred in), this tells the story of Calogero (“C”) (Alec Nevin) whose role model is mob boss Sonny (Jeff Brooks, whose charisma steals the show) and the struggle between Calogero’s father Lorenzo (American Idol winner Nick Fradiani) and Sonny for C’s devotion. Lorenzo is a hard-working man with great dignity who would rather work for a living than take dirty money.

C’s mother Rosina is played by Stefanie Londino, whose “Look to Your Heart” was very moving.
The curtain opens on an impressive set designed by Beowulf Boritt (love the name!), with projections and moving set pieces that accurately display the neighborhoods of the Bronx, including the “other side of the tracks,” where the African Americans live, with street signs for Belmont Avenue and Webster Avenue, which fly in and out, and versatile fire escapes, as well as the necessary “stoop” where all the action happens.

As the play opens, Calogero has returned to his old neighborhood to reminisce about his childhood, and the young Calogero is played by the very talented Anthony Gianni (some performances Trey Murphy takes the role). Gianni is making his national tour debut with this show and absolutely perfect for the role.

Impressed by the respect that Sonny gets from those around him, C turns his back on his bus driving dad (the role played by DeNiro in the movie) and becomes a kind of surrogate son for the mob boss and his henchmen like JoJo the Whale (Nathan Wright), Frankie Coffeecake (Mark Sippel), Tony Ten-to-Two (Daniel Rosenbaum), Sally Slick (Rhys Williams), Handsome Nick (Jacob Roberts-Miller) and Crazy Mario (Tyler Dema).

C falls in love with an African American friend Jane (Kayla Jenerson) and while Sonny is more tolerant of the relationship (“One of the Great Ones”), Lorenzo is more practical about the chances of the two becoming a couple. Their growing love causes “West Side Story”-like problems and C is faced with the question of whether it is better to be feared than to be loved, and almost loses his life in the process.

Ultimately, Sonny does a good deed that sends C back to his father (“Look to Your Heart”).
Doo-wop music by Alan Menken (perhaps best known for his work in Disney movies), with lyrics by Glenn Slater, and a 10-piece live orchestra under the baton of David Aaron Brown may not be the most memorable, but they are fun and the choreography recreated by Brittany Conigatti is athletic.

This is an entertaining production with a top-notch cast and first-rate staging. It is too good to be missed.

Thursday, March 05, 2020


I first reviewed Ian Hopps in 2016 in a production of “Bells are Ringing” for the Davis Shakespeare Festival. I called him “a dream of a leading man.” I have since seen Hopps in several productions in Sacramento and Davis, but he has now taken a huge leap and is stunning as Hamlet in the current Sacramento Theatre Company production. His rendition of the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy is appropriately mesmerizing, as a tortured Hamlet considers his options.

Directors Casey McClellan and Greg Foro have worked to make the show accessible and engaging for a contemporary audience. It is set in a modern-day Denmark, the set by Timothy McNamara being a series of long sheer curtains that the tech crew moved back and forth to set parts of the stage for different scenes. Costumes by Jessica Minnihan were contemporary.

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, “Hamlet” was his most popular play and still ranks as one of the most performed.

The well-known story is about Hamlet’s rage on learning from his father’s ghost that he was murdered by Claudius (Eric Wheeler), Hamlet’s uncle and the deceased king’s brother. Adding to Hamlet’s rage is the fact that his mother, Gertrude (Jamie Jones) has married Claudius. Hamlet plans revenge and, feigning madness, he stages a whole play to let Claudius know he is aware of his crime.

Wheeler and Jones may be better known in Sacramento for their lighter roles, but they are up to the task of Shakespeare. Jones is particularly moving in her emotional scene with Hamlet in Act 2.

Dan Fagan is Laertes, whose final sword fight with Hamlet was very believable, probably due to the fight choreography of Karen Vance.

Vance also plays Ophelia, Hamlet’s love interest and their brief scenes together show a warmth and loving bond between them, destroyed by Hamlet’s “madness.”

Gary Alan Wright is Ophelia’s loving father Polonius, who provides comic relief but is accidentally murdered by Hamlet (not a good idea to hide behind a curtain during an emotional scene!).

Taylor Vaughan and Devin Valdez are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, childhood friends of Hamlet, who pretend to remain his friends, though they are now working for Claudius to discover the truth behind Hamlet’s madness.

This is part ghost story, part political intrigue, with a doomed romance that unfolds as a murder mystery, some great sword fights and lots of blood. If you’ve been missing “Game of Thrones,” this production may be a nice substitute.

The one “good guy” is Horatio (Ian Capper), tasked by Hamlet upon his death, not to kill himself in sadness, but to tell his story.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Peter and the Starcatcher

The UC Davis production of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” now at the Main Theatre, directed by Mindy Cooper and Granada Artist-in-Residence Toby Sedgwick is, in a word, spectacular. The directors say they had a delightful time “creating a potpourri of exciting elements — cavorting, sashaying, chuckling, galumphing and swimming our way into and through this wonderful adventure of a play.”
Everything about it is wonderful and, since technical people rarely get credit, I will start with the magnificent scenic design by Samantha Reno, lighting design by Michael Palumbo and projection design by Ian Wallace. The effect of being on a ship in a storm, with animated sea and perfectly synchronized choreography, was so good you almost needed Dramamine. The second-act rainstorm left me surprised that I didn’t get wet.

An especially delightful effect was tossing a cat from one ship to the other, which required several different techniques, real-life and animation — and worked flawlessly. The only disappointment was the crocodile, which was merely an animation and not a real croc, as it was in a recent Acme production.

Costumes by Kikyou Yan were bright and colorful. They made the stage fun to look at.

This book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson is a modern-day retelling of the 100-plus-year-old play about an orphan boy known only as “boy” (Nate Challis) who refuses to grow up, and how he became Peter Pan. He has never seen the sun and is uncomfortable around adults, but he becomes a hero and earns his name.

The 15-member cast is excellent, particularly Jennifer Grace as Black Stache, the pirate king, with unique facial hair and prone to malaprops, corrected by his right-hand man Smee (Tyler Pruyn).

Katie Halls is very good as Molly, an apprentice starcatcher, determined to prove herself to her father (Ben Carter), who is on a secret mission for Queen Victoria. Molly will become Wendy in the Peter Pan story, but is already a substitute mother for orphans Prentiss (Ashley Ricafrente), who thinks he is the “boss,” and Ted (Tiffany Nwogu), who is food-obsessed and very funny as he spends much of his time trying to figure out how to eat a pineapple.

Sophie Brubaker is funny as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s very prim and proper Nannie, who is not quite so prim or proper around Alf (Sam Votrian), a flatulent sailor who falls instantly in love with her.
While not a musical, there is a musical duo (Graham Sobelman, keyboard and Adam Forman, percussion) who add to the effect of the action on stage.

This dazzling production is fun for both adults and children.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Of Mice and Men

Stop what you’re doing right now. Immediately go the phone and call the Woodland Opera House to get tickets for director Gil Sebastian’s production of John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men.” It will be the best gift you give yourself this month — or perhaps this year.

Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novella was first published in 1937 and was also presented on stage that year, a movie following in 1939. Over the many productions of this story, there have been many actors playing the roles of George and Lennie, two migrant field workers in California during the Depression, and many of them have been as good as John Ewing (George) and Jason Hammond (Lennie), but I suspect none have been better.

Ewing and Hammond have nailed the roles, Ewing the quick-witted man who has been Lennie’s guardian and protector for most of their lives. Though Lennie frustrates him, it is their mutual dream of having their own place where they can “live off the fat of the land” that keeps them both going.
Hammond’s program bio says he has wanted to play this role since he was in the eighth grade — and it’s easy to see why. He completely embodies the character. Lennie is a large, powerful man with the mind of a child. He loves soft things but has no concept of his strength. He lives for George’s story about their future life, which he asks him to repeat throughout the play, especially the part about tending to rabbits.

Hammond’s scene in the second act, where he knows he has “done something bad” is heartbreaking.
Ewing and Hammond are surrounded by an equally strong cast. Paul Fearn plays Candy, an aging ranch hand who has lost one hand in an accident and knows that his time on the ranch is limited. He begs George to let him be a part of the house dream.

Chad Fisk is Slim, the mule skinner, who seems the only good member of the crew. He and George become friends.

Curley (Patrick Jordan) is the boss’s son, a man with a quick temper who is fiercely jealous of anyone who looks at his bride (Jadi Galloway), identified only as “Curley’s wife.” Galloway’s character is already bored at the ranch and just wants someone to talk to, though she gives a seductive eye to everyone. Steinbeck considered her “not a person, she’s a symbol. She has no function, except to be a foil — and a danger to Lennie.”

David Guria, Jr. has the small role of Crooks (named for the crook in his back), who must live in his own small house because he is not able to live with the white ranch hands. Guria’s Crooks is bitter and cynical, but realistic, yet is fond of Lennie.

Others in the cast are Steve Mackay as The Boss, Scott Reese as Carlson (who kills Candy’s dog because he is old and stinky), and John Haine as Whit.

It is a shame that musicals get large audiences while excellent plays like this one don’t. “Of Mice and Men” is definitely an outstanding production and should be seen by anyone who appreciates good theater.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Do a Google search on “Alabaster,” the Audrey Cefaly play at Capital Stage, directed by Kristin Clippard, and you’ll get a list of “text words” to help describe it:

LGBTQ, PTSD, grief, recovery, alcoholism, same-sex relationships, natural disaster, Alabama tornado, farm life, goats …

Now, how, you wonder, does all that fit together into one play?

Surprisingly well. This is a very funny, but very dark comedy about two women, learning how to deal with the scars of life and begin to heal.

And it’s all narrated by a sassy goat.

“A play about suffering that cuts so deep — it also needs goats,” says Capital Stage literary manager Cathy Hardin.

There is a cast of four extraordinary actresses. Stephanie Altholz is June, a folk artist who lost her family in a tornado that destroyed their barn, ripped off the front porch of the house, and left June, the only survivor, scarred from head to toe. She has not left the house in over two years and spends all of her time painting.

Alice (Susan Maris) is a photographer who comes to the farm from New York to take pictures of June as part of a project of photographing scarred women for a book showing how really beautiful they are. She has her own traumas to deal with, following the recent death of her wife, who was four months pregnant with their first child.

And then there are the goats. Amy Kelly snuck over from B Street to make her Capital Stage debut. She is Weezy, the younger of the goats and it is explained that she speaks both English and goat. Her partner Bib (Janet Motenko) is an aging goat who only speaks goat.

Kelly is a talented comedic actress, whom I have watched play a host of characters, both human and animal. She has that certain je ne sais quois that she brings to everything she plays and this goat was a perfect role for her.

In California Stage’s “Italian Opera,” Motenko played several different very verbal characters. As Bib, the dying goat, she has little to do but sleep, and as she speaks only “goat,” she has no lines. Yet, Motenko presents a sympathetic character, whose dying days are eloquent, words or not. It is a beautiful performance.

As for the humans, kudos to costume/makeup designer Caitlin Cisek, who has created June’s scarred body, both burn scars on her legs and back and ribbed scars on her face.

June uses sarcasm, bitterness and isolation to protect her from her emotional scars, until a terrifying incident opens a crack in her wall and lets her open up to Alice. Altholz gives a riveting performance.

Altholz and Maris have wonderful chemistry together. Maris’ scars are more deeply hidden, but when June needs her, her raw emotional story is very moving.

The scenic design by Timothy McNamara, lighting design by Michael Palumbo and sound/projection design by Ed Lee make this a very believable story — and whoever painted June’s paintings was wonderful.

This is a show that will make you laugh and cry and cringe, but will make you very happy that Sacramento has such a professional theater that presents such wonderful productions.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Popcorn Falls

“Popcorn Falls,” the comedy currently at B Street Theatre, directed by Lyndsay Burch, is advertised to be “a side-splitting tour de force exploding with humor and heart!”

A small town in Michigan was playwright James Hindman’s inspiration for the show. The town was on the verge of bankruptcy until a theater opened. People responded and a couple of years later, the town had two theaters, a hotel and a restaurant jammed with people and the town was saved.

Popcorn Falls is a fictitious town whose tourist attraction is its namesake falls. When a corrupt politician turns off the falls to make it a sewage treatment facility, Mayor Trundle (Greg Alexander) discovers that the town will receive a sizeable sum of money if they can put on a play in a week. There’s only one problem — there is no theater, no play and no actors.

No problem, says Trundle, as he meets other members of the town to get a play produced, proving (as the synopsis in the opening monologue suggests) that “art can save the world.”

Alexander and Dave Pierini, two of B Street’s most popular actors, play more than 20 characters in this comedy, among them, Joe, a janitor; Becky, a bartender; Ms. Parker, the cat-loving town librarian; Floyd, the one-armed owner of the lumber yard; Mrs. Stepp, the chain-smoking middle school teacher and town vamp; and a bored teenager.

Unlike “Greater Tuna,” to which this comedy is often compared, there are no real “costume changes,” and each appearance of a character lasts only a few seconds. Pierini plays most of the characters by changing headgear, minor costume details, body language and accent in an eyeblink, while Alexander is the “straight man,” mostly the mayor and, briefly, one or two other characters.

The speed with which characters appear and disappear is both very funny, but also occasionally confusing since appearances occur so fast it’s sometimes difficult to keep the characters straight, though in the “plot” it hardly matters.

Nevertheless, it’s an amazing achievement, particularly for Pierini, and keeps the audience laughing throughout the 90-minute, one-act performance.

There’s even a kind of surprise ending, but I won’t give it away.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dear Evan Hansen

“Dear Evan Hansen,” the current Broadway on Tour production, is perhaps the most visually exciting show you will see this year. The set is a cacophony of social media: big screens, little screens, vertical screens, horizontal screens, which practically fill the stage, slide in and out and up and down and play various things from text messages and tweets to Facebook entries, to photos and videos and even a penguin or two. It’s tour de force for scenic designer David Korins, projection designer Peter Nigrini and the crew that make it all work.

But the set is only the beginning of this 2017 Tony award winner for Best Musical, which is perhaps a testament to where theater may be going in the 21st century.

Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) is an isolated teenager longing to fit in. His arm is in a cast from, he explains, falling out of a tree on a summer job he was working, an incident which becomes more significant as the story progresses.

He is about to start a new school, is on medication and is regularly seeing a therapist, who suggests he write himself a letter every morning to talk about positive things that he expects to happen that day. His single mother Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman) cheerfully sends him off to school, with a suggestion that he have students sign his cast.

Things don’t go well, however, and the only student with whom he has an encounter is a guy named Conner (Noah Kieserman), who signs the cast with huge letters, and gets angry with Evan when he learns of the boy’s attraction to his sister. Three days later, Conner takes his own life, leaving his family bereft.

Anthony’s performance is astounding. He carries the show and has a couple of solos that are very moving, especially “You Will Be Found,” a message to every alienated person, and “Words Fail,” the ultimate apology song.

Connor’s family, father Larry (John Hemphill), mother Cynthia (Colleen Sexton) and daughter Zoe (Stephanie La Rochelle) are the perfect grieving family. Cynthia is distraught and missing her beloved child, Larry is confused and angry at his son and doesn’t know how to express his grief, Zoe is furious and won’t even talk about him. She calls him a monster. The lie Evan will eventually tell them ultimately brings the three of them together as a family.

Unsure what to say to a grieving family, Evan hints that he and Connor were friends and that simple lie, as lies often do, grows and grows until it encompasses not only the family and the school but ultimately the whole country, as Evan is asked to speak about Connor at a memorial service and his nervous speech (“You Will Be Found”) goes viral on the internet and results in a GoFundMe site to raise money to reopen an apple orchard in Connor’s memory.

Helping perpetuate his lie are Evan’s cousin Jared (Alessandro Costantini), who provides humor to the story, and a friend Alana (Ciara Alyse Harris), who becomes the zealous co-president of the Connor Murphy Project.

As the lie begins to unravel, everyone is affected, particularly Connor’s mother Heidi, who, realizing how miserable her son has been, has a particularly moving and show-stopping solo with “So Big/So Small.”

Loneliness, bullying and suicide may not seem like ingredients for a hit Broadway musical, but Dear Evan Hansen has struck a chord, especially with younger people.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Burials

The Martin family members — from left, Ryan (Grey Turner), Sophie (Morgan Hendrix-Chupa)
and Chloe (Rebecca Hirsch) — mourn after a tragic event occurs at Sophie and Chloe's high school.

Acme Theatre Company is opening its 40th season with an excellent, powerful play called “The Burials,” by Caitlin Parish, directed by Emily Henderson.

In its 40-year history, Acme has never shied away from controversial subjects and this play about a school shooting and gun control delivers another compelling message that will have the audience talking when they leave the theater.

In fact, leaving the theater, I heard one group talking about how it was “the most real thing I’ve ever seen” and another sadly remarking that “this is the way things are now.”

The cast of nine are uniformly good, with Morgan Hendrix-Chupa outstanding as Sophie Martin, the daughter of Sen. Ryan Marin (Grey Turner), who is running for re-election.

The play is loosely based on the Greek tragedy “Antigone” by Sophocles, in which a desperate young woman single-handedly defies an unjust law in order to bury her brother, and is punished by being buried alive.

This is a multimedia presentation, with three large screens over the stage and TV cameras on either side. The middle screen is for YouTube videos of Ben Martin (Sam Cubbage), son of the senator, leading up to his decision to go on a shooting rampage in his school and end his own life. The one problem with the videos is that the sound needed to be louder; they were not always easy to hear.
Ben begins his shooting rampage on voting day, as his father is on television being interviewed by reporter Zoe Lucas (Jemima Aldas, who also plays one of the schoolteachers, Mrs. Souder). The ability to see each individually on the large screens was a wonderful idea.

The screens are also used to display the many twitter and email messages received by the Martins, condemning them following the shooting.

Turner is excellent as the politician/father, though the character is extremely unlikable. His feelings about his son are hard to accept, as a parent, and his treatment of his daughter, whom he has taught to think for herself, when she has her own strong feelings about the shooting and about her brother, is just downright cruel.

While there is no violence seen on stage, there are vivid descriptions of what happened. We hear of a pile of bodies and attempts to escape. Chloe Martin (Rebecca Hirsch), Sophie’s sister, also has stained knees from kneeling in someone’s blood. (Hirsch has problems projecting and much of her dialogue is lost).

Parish’s script tries to tackle too many subjects for one play. The Martin family must learn how to deal with Ben’s actions and their own grief, to ask how they might have helped Ben and how do they move forward, but, in addition, they argue about what can be done about gun control.

The girls return to school, and face ostracism from other students. Only Sophie’s friend Janette (Wren Arellano Calderon) remains positive and supportive of Sophie, though Sophie wants only to be alone. Janette, it turns out, is hiding anger issues of her own.

Janette’s boyfriend Jayden (Maya Bailey) is angry with Sophie and seems to blame her for his pain at the loss of friends. The fistfight among the four was done very well.

Brianna (Sara Su), a survivor of the shooting, seems to have the most reasonable feeling about the shooting and seems to understand Ben. Sadly, however, Su spoke very softly, and we missed most of her dialogue.

The only negative thing about this show is that there were so few people in the audience. This is an excellently acted play with an important message and I hope that more people will come to see it.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Pump Boys and Dinettes

Any show with a tap-dancing accordion player has got to be fun.

“Pump Boys and Dinettes” by John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel and Jim Wann is now on Sacramento Theatre Company’s Pollock stage. This is a 1982 Tony-award-nominated musical written by a performing group of the same name. It became Chicago’s longest-running theater production for many years.

This concert-style musical centers around the story of four men — L.M., Jim, Eddie and Jackson — who work at a gas station and two sisters, Rhetta and Prudie Cupp, who work at a diner called the Double Cupp-all in an isolated, small-town road stop somewhere between Frog Level and Smyrna, N.C.

The show was conceived when two of the writers (Wann and Hardwick) were playing music in a restaurant in New York City and wrote of their experiences in the restaurant.

As Jim Wann said in a 2010 interview, “I was a scuffling songwriter/guitarist and Mark Hardwick was a piano player/actor … Mark and I were unemployed and happy to take a job playing five nights a week in the Cattleman Lounge, attached to a restaurant on one of the darker blocks west of Grand Central. Our mission was to play country standards to entertain the ‘tired businessman’ who had come for the drinks, the steaks, and the waitresses in classic Western saloon girl attire.”

On slow nights, they would play original music, gradually adding costumes, which gave them the look of guys who worked in a gas station.

This is more a stand-alone story tied together with music, but it spotlights each of the characters: Jim (Sam C. Jones), L.M. (Brady Wease), Jackson (Darrell Johnston), Rhetta (Rebecca Mason), Prudie (Sidney Raey-Gonzales) and Eddie (Michael LaPlante).  The men are postponing working on Uncle Bob’s Winnebago by singing, they say.

As for the girls, they spend their time baking pies and flirting with the men.

Each of the performers gets his or her turn to shine. LaPlante, as Eddie, sings a loving song about his beloved grandmother, whose photo hangs on the wall. Johnston rocks out to “Mona,” Wease brings down the house with his Dolly Parton memory. The women stand out in their song “The Best Man” about “the one who got away.”

The charismatic Jones, who is sort of the MC of the show, stands out in each of the songs in which he is featured.

While this does not sound like much of a show, the 20 high-spirited country-rock tunes make this a concert rather than a real musical play, and many have the audience clapping along while the girls dance in the audience. Some highlights include “T.N.D.P.W.A.M.” (“The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine”) by L.M., “Tips” by the girls, and a Menu Song. There is even a raffle for someone in the audience to win a new car … air freshener.

Scenic designer Andrew Fiffick has managed to create a complex set in the tiny Pollock theater, with half of the set in the garage and the other half in the restaurant. Costume designer Jessica Minnihan get stars for L.M.’s costume for the Dolly Parton number.

Director/choreographer Abbey Campbell has created a look that is special, with all of the musical numbers as precise and crisp as a military parade.

This show aspires to be nothing but a fun evening, to show off the talents of the cast. Add to that a collection of toe-tapping music and you have a show that will appeal to an audience.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Sister Act

“Sister Act,” the new show at the Woodland Opera House, directed by Jason Hammond, is an absolute delight from start to finish.

Based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg movie, the stage show adds music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater. The musical turns the story-with-music movie into a musical-with-story stage show. I missed some of the story of the nuns venturing out of the convent and into the community, but the musical numbers are so much fun, it makes up for it.

Woodland has amazing talent in the cast. Deborah Hammond is Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer under the thumb of her gangster boyfriend Curtis (David Ewey), who witnesses a murder he commits. Fearing her life is in danger, Deloris reports to police officer “Sweaty” Eddie (Erik Catalan), who remembers Deloris from high school and hides her in a local convent under the name Sister Mary Clarence.

Hammond is magnificent with a strong voice, captivating personality and quick comedic timing. Each of the 10 numbers in which she is featured is wonderful. Over the course of the two-hour show, she goes through a transformative process that makes her reevaluate her priorities.

The role of Mother Superior has been expanded from the movie version, and how lucky we are for that. Lenore Sebastian is vocally every bit Hammond’s equal. Mother Superior is frustrated with having to hide a woman of whom she does not approve, who is such a disruption to her quiet convent. Her anguished “I Haven’t Got a Prayer,” trying to ask God for guidance, was a standout.

To give her something to do, Mother Superior puts Sister Mary Clarence in the tone-deaf choir, a group so discordant it has driven parishioners away. With the addition of a real musician, the choir shapes up quickly and becomes so popular the church is filled again, though Mother Superior is shocked by the modern twist to some of the beloved hymns.

But Monsignor O’Hara (David Cross) is pleased with the popularity of the choir, which has removed the danger of having to close the church for lack of congregation.

Sister Mary Patrick had a somewhat larger role in the movie, but Judith Boreham still brings her personality out beautifully, and Jadi Galloway, as the postulant Sister Mary Robert, is shy and retiring, but when she comes out of her shell, she displays a wonderful, rich voice. Her “The Life I Never Led” was quite poignant.

Catalan also has a powerful voice and his Act 2 costume gets the biggest laugh of the night (kudos to Denise Miles and Kathy Dixon).

Gangsters Joey (Spencer Alexander), Pablo (Miles Meckling) and TJ (Michael Davis Smith) get laughs in “Lady in the Long Black Dress,” as they describe how their manly charms will affect the nuns and help them find Deloris.

With Deloris safe, the show ends gloriously, with the nuns in Vegas-worthy habits, receiving a well-deserved tumultuous standing ovation

The Drowsy Chaperone

Aldolpho (Brian McCann), seduces The Drowsy Chaperone (Chris Cay Stewart) as,
in Davis Musical Theatre Company's musical comedy production,
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” on stage through Jan. 26 at the Jean Henderson Performing Arts Center.

The most celebrated musical of the 2006 Broadway season, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a completely original musical comedy, opened this week at the Davis Musical Theatre Company, celebrating its 35th year of musicals. The show is directed and choreographed by Kyle Jackson, also listed as co-musical director.

The show had its beginnings in 1997 when several friends created a spoof of old musicals for a stag party. It was so successful that it was reshaped for a theatrical performance and presented at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Over several versions, it finally opened on Broadway in May of 2006, where it won five Tony awards.

The character of “Man in Chair” opens the show, sitting in the dark, musing about his feelings for theater. He thinks of his favorite show, the 1928 fictional “The Drowsy Chaperone” and pulls out the original cast recording to play it for the audience. He reads, “Mix-ups, mayhem and a gay wedding,” then laughs “of course the phrase ‘gay wedding’ has a different meaning now. But back then it just meant ‘fun’ and that’s all this is — fun,”

As the music plays, the characters appear on stage, lights come up on the set, and the show begins, with Man in Chair providing a running commentary on the plot, the characters, and the actors who played them.

This show is a salute to those old 1920s musicals that were light on plot and heavy on comedy.
DMTC has the perfect cast to bring this show to life. Scott Minor as “Man in Chair” is wonderful. Just the kind of lonely theater queen you’d imagine. He is particularly good when the attention is on other parts of the stage and he is supposedly just listening to his record. His facial expressions are spot on.

Fans of DMTC’s Mary Young must see her turn as Mrs. Tottendale, the eccentric widow who is hosting the wedding of starlet Janet van de Graaff (Aimee Rose Santone) and Robert Martin (A.J. Rooney). Neither of them is completely certain they are ready for marriage.

Rooney has a great show-stopping tap number, “Cold Feets,” danced with his best man George (Hugo Figueroa)

Santone has her own turn to shine in “Show Off,” where Janet explains to the press, and others assembled, why she is giving up the stage for good. “I don’t want to show off no more,” all the while showing off for the cameras.

Steve Isaacson is Feldzieg, the harried producer of Janet’s show, who hired Adolpho (Brian McCann), a Latin lover, to discourage Janet from giving up the stage. McCann’s performance is over-the-top and hilarious, especially when he mistakes the Chaperone (Chris Cay Stewart) for the bride. Stewart is an Ethel Merman-like belter whose Chaperone is fond of her little flask and who gives Janet no real advice about whether or not to marry Robert, but merely explains how she has gotten through life by “stumbling along.”

Joe Alkire is great fun as Underling, the butler, who serves everyone in this Prohibition-era comedy “ice water,” which results in a very funny scene between himself and Mrs. Tottendale.

Andrea Bourquin is delightful as Kitty, the chorine with her eye on the prize, to be a leading lady if she gets her shot when Janet leaves the show. She has some of the most dazzling costumes (thanks to costumer Jean Henderson).

Tomas Eredia and Anna Cutshall are gangsters disguised as bakers sent to threaten Feldzieg if he is unsuccessful in thwarting Janet’s wedding plans, but it seems the worst they can do is exchange a lot of puns about baking.

Act 2 begins with a decidedly unpolitically correct number “Message from a Nightingale,” for which Man in Chair apologizes because it’s actually from a different musical. Be prepared for lyrics like “What is it about Asians that fascinates Caucasians … is it the won ton? The egg rolls? The rice?” It is a funny, if mildly offensive, take on “The King and I.”

Marika Rogers has a small, but pivotal role as Trix, the aviatrix, at the end of the show, with an impressive special effect.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a funny bit of escapist theater, which will be as enjoyable to the audience as it seems to be to the cast.