Monday, November 29, 2021



If you are looking for a bright, happy, colorful way to start your holiday celebration, get yourself to the Woodland Opera House for its delightful production of “Elf, the Musical,” written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin. The book is adapted by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan from the 2003 film. The musical ran on Broadway in the Christmas seasons of 2010–11 and 2012–13, in the West End in the 2015–16 season, and has continued to tour annually in the U.S. during the Christmas holiday season.

Buddy Hobbs (Patrick Jordan), a young orphan child, mistakenly crawls into Santa Claus' bag of gifts and is transported back to the North Pole. After discovering the baby, Santa (Gil Sebastian) and his elves decide to raise the child as an elf. Years later, Buddy finds out that he's actually a human being and, at Santa's prompting, heads off to New York City in search of his father, Walter Hobbs (Dave Lack).

Buddy’s story is told by Santa, reading it as a book. Sebastian is a perfect Santa, though his role is small.

Faced with the harsh reality that Walter is on the naughty list for not believing in Santa and his young son, Michael (Lauren Battaglia), also doesn't believe in Santa, Buddy is determined to win over his birth family and help New York City remember the true meaning of Christmas. He is consistently optimistic.

Director/Choreographer Andrea St. Clair has assembled a strong cast of actors, headed by Jordan, an engaging non-elf, trying to learn the ways of human life and make his father, who had no knowledge of his existence, love him.

Lack is a great Hobbs, an overworked businessman who is amazed to discover he has a 30 year old son, but who also has feelings for wife Emily (Marie Nearing) and son (Battaglia).  (This is quite a different character from the greedy movie Hobbs.)

The program bio says Battaglia is in her first major role and she is outstanding, as is Nearing, as Hobbs’ wife, who ultimately becomes Buddy’s support.  She and Michael share a lovely duet, “I’ll Believe in You,” where Michael says that if Santa can give him a day he can spend with his Dad, then he will believe in him.

Emily Owens Evans is Jovie, Buddy’s co-worker, who falls in love with him.  After being stood up, she shares her misgivings about Buddy with a beautifully sung “Never Fall in Love”. She returns to Buddy, a slightly more humanized elf, with a strong reprise of “A Christmas Song”.

Karen Fox is strong as Deb, Hobbs’ secretary, who explains to Buddy that a shredder is a machine that makes snow.

Aaron Baikie-Rick, one of those performers who takes charge in every scene he is in, gives a great performance as the manager, who leads a great candy cane dance, “Sparklejollytwinklejingley”

The first act is filled with wonderful one-liners and jokes that have the audience laughing pretty much continuously.  Sadly, the hearing aid they gave me didn’t work and I missed most of the dialog, but the act is also heavy with singing and dancing, so I only missed the jokes, and not the feeling for the story.  Fortunately I was able to get a working hearing aid at intermission.

Music is recorded, with music direction by Lori Jarvey and Denise Miles’ costumes are such fun, especially the costumes for the dancing elves in the opening scene.  John Ewing is credited with “set and projection design.”  Very clever projections are used for background in each scene, so realistic it’s sometimes difficult to tell if it’s a projection we are seeing, or the real thing.

This is a long show (2-1/2 hours, with 15 minute intermission) and we see a group of drunken fake Santas at one point, which may need explaining to very young children, but this is a wonderful show to bring your kids to for the holidays, especially when Santa, grounded in Central Park, finally gets his sleigh into the air to flying off to finish delivering toys.

Friday, November 26, 2021



One hundred and nine years after the Titanic struck an iceberg near Newfoundland, Canada and sank, the ship has set sail again, this time onto the stage of the Davis Musical Theater Company (DMTC).

With story and book by Peter Stone, music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, “Titanic, the Musical” won five Tony awards, including Best Musical in 1997 and ran for 804 performances.  DMTC director Steve Isaacson heard the overture and “within seconds I was an instant fan.” He directed a production in 2006, and another in 2012, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship.

The set, designed by Isaacson, is very modest, with the Captain’s quarters to one side of the stage and a mostly blank stage to represent the ship, though the looks of awe on all the cast as they appear to be looking at the ship is so real that you can imagine yourself viewing the ship as well.  As usual, Jean Henderson’s costumes are beautiful.

Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews (Travis Nagler) opens the show talking about the wonderous things mankind has accomplished (“In Every Age”). which has enabled him to design this marvelous ship. Throughout the show, he keeps checking his blueprints, even as the ship is sinking.

Andrews is joined by stoker Barrett (J Sing, who also plays Mr. DaMico, Pittman, and The Major) who is amazed by the ship (“How did they build the Titanic”). Barrett has one of the stronger voices and every number he sings is a hit.

The crew, J. Bruce Ismay (Ben Bruening, who also plays the director of the White Star Line), lookout Frederick Fleet (Ryan Favorite), and Captain E.J. Smith (Joel Porter) congratulate each other on “The Largest Moving Object”)

This is a big cast – nearly 40 (some of whom play more than one role)  – and there are many wonderful voices.  Unlike the movie “Titanic,” there is no one love story that carries throughout the show, but more a study of individuals and couples who are taking the cruise, like Alice Beane (Chris Cay Stewart) and her husband Edgar (Arthur Vassar).  Alice is a 2nd class passenger who is starstruck and determined to see as much of the first class as possible.  Stewart has a wonderful voice and is very funny.  She shines in her “I have danced” after sneaking in to dance with the first class crowd.

Laura M. Smith and Scott Minor are wonderful as first class passengers Ida and Isidor Strauss, who have been married 40 years and who decide to go down with the ship together.  Their “Still” is one of the highlights of the show.

Three Kates (Katrina Lynne Pitts, Sierra Winter and Sabrina Fernandez) represent the third class passengers, determined to find jobs as “Lady’s Maids” in America.  Kate McGowan (Pitts) confesses her illegitimate pregnancy to Irish Jim Farrell and the two plan to marry.

Andy Hyun plays Farrell and also plays telegraph operator Harold Bride, who sends a personal message for Barrett, proposing to his girlfriend (“The Proposal”) and then spends the rest of the evening sending off frantic SOS message.

Clocky McDowell is excellent as Henry Etches, the First Class Steward, perhaps at his best with the chorus “Doing the Latest Rag” (with choreography by Ron Cisneros).

Svea Benson, a junior high school student in her first community theater production, is very cute as the bellboy.

The first act ends with the hitting of the iceberg, and the second act the attempt to save as many passengers as possible, given that the ship has fewer than half the boats needed to carry all of them.  The sinking of the ship, with tilting stage is very impressive, especially as Andrews continues to visualize redesigning the ship, as he attempts to climb the tilt.

The finale, with survivors on the deck of the rescue ship Carpathia bidding farewell to their loved ones is very emotional and will bring a tear or two.

Isaacson has once again paid tribute to the Titanic and has done it very well.

All actors wear masks, and all audience members are required as well.  Audience must also show documentation of vaccination or recent negative COVID testing.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Mary Poppins


Live theater is back in Davis, and the Davis Musical Theater Company has started its 37th season with a lively, colorful production of “Mary Poppins,” directed and choreographed by Kyle Jackson, with a beautiful set designed by Steve Isaacson. Tylen Einweck is the musical director, conducting the smaller-than-usual DMTC orchestra.

Audiences must show proof of COVID vaccination and must wear masks, and all the actors on stage wear masks, so those thinking of attending this show can feel as safe as anyone can these days.

Jori Gonzales makes a wonderful Mary Poppins, in costumes designed by Denise Miles. She flies gracefully, sings beautifully and has a great relationship with the Banks family, especially the children.

All of the Banks family give strong performances, particularly Joe Alkire as George Banks, who takes control of the stage whenever he is on it. I was even more impressed with his performance when I learned he only came into the show two weeks before opening, when the original George had to drop out for medical reasons.


Andrea Bourquin is the perfect wife. When you look at her character, smaller than George and Mary, she just looks like she couldn’t be anything but a wife. She has less to do than the others in the family, but everything she does is perfect.

Ruby Schwerin and Django Nachmanoff are the two naughty children, Jane and Michael. Schwerin in particular is great and her bouncy pony tail curls add to her character.

Amy Woodman is the family’s overworked, stressed maid, Mrs. Brill, and Timothy Blankenship is the house boy, Robinson Ay, both of whom complain about living in a madhouse.

Bert is the chimney sweep who is Mary’s good friend. Judah Dwight is a lot of fun to watch, and is the storyteller of the show. When the children met Bert and are unimpressed with him because of his appearance, Mary teaches them they need to look past appearances and brings a statue to life (“Jolly Holiday”). Jean Henderson is the costume coordinator for this production and the shadows she put on the costumes of the statue (Eduard Arakely as Neleus) make the him look like he really is made of marble. It’s a wonderful effect.

Jennifer Rineman makes an impression in her brief appearance as the bird woman, singing the beautiful “Feed the Birds.”

Beth Ellen Ethridge shows up in Act 2 as Miss Andrew, George’s former nanny, of whom he is still frightened. Though masked, like everyone else, Ethridge creates a unique character with the expression in her eyes. She and Gonzales have a show stopping duet, “Brimstone and Treacle,” which would do justice to any professional production.

The show has some wonderfully colorful ensemble numbers, like “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” led by Mrs. Corry, “the oldest woman in the world,” played by Jenifer Goldman.

Tessa Fray is Valentine, Jane’s doll brought to life by Mary to teach the children about playing nicely with others and appreciating the value of their toys.

This is a delightful production, which moves at a steady pace. The only sad thing about it is that for the Saturday-night performance we attended, there were more people on stage than in the audience. I hope the word gets out about the safety of the theater and the quality of the production.

Singin' in the Rain


With no theatrical productions at all in 2020, it appears that Woodland Opera House actors spent the pandemic year studying and improving their dancing.  The dancing and choreography (by Darryl Strohl-DeHerrera) for their production of “Singing in the Rain,” directed by Rodger McDonald, which opened on Friday, were the highlights of the show.

While the Woodland Opera House is back to 100% capacity, currently the Yolo County Health Department requires face coverings for all of patrons regardless of vaccination status. And for an added layer of protection, Opera House staff will take the temperature of all theatre attendees upon their entry. Masks and hand sanitizer are available to anyone in attendance at each theatre event.  The actors on stage also wear clear plastic masks, which don’t hamper their speaking or singing but do cut down on the romantic scenes (hugging instead of kissing!)

This is a lovely production, with no real “set” per se, but beautiful projections in the background. Written originally as a film, not a stage show, “Singin’ in the Rain” is the stage version of the 1952 movie by Comden and Green, with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.

It is the story of the end of silent movies and the start of the talkies. After the success of “The Jazz Singer,” the money-hungry head of the studio, R.F. Simpson (Rodger McDonald), decides that his next silent movie, “The Dueling Cavalier,” should be converted into a musical talkie, titled “The Dancing Cavalier,” a vehicle for his two biggest names, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, the “Brangelina” of their day.

Erik Catalan is a solid Lockwood with many musical numbers, the best of which is the title song, in which he sings while “rain” falls all across the stage, filling the stage with puddles, but not getting any clothes wet. It’s a great effect by Mike Cartwright,.

Patricia Glass is perfect as Lina, the obnoxious star with a voice like fingernails on a blackboard. She’s the perfect silent film star–can’t sing, can’t dance, act. She is convinced that there is a romance between her and Lockwood, who, in reality, can’t stand her.  Charlotte French is very funny as the vocal coach trying to teach her how to speak correctly (“I can’t stand him!”).

In this show, Lina has her own solo, “What’s Wrong with Me,” which is not in the film.  Glass does a great job of singing it badly!

The very polished Kirsten Myers is Kathy Selden, the actress wannabe whom Lockwood convinces to become Lina’s voice when it is apparent that there is no way Lina is going to make it in talkies. Her trio with Don and Cosmo, “Good Morning” is great fun.

Lockwood’s old vaudeville partner and perfect fall guy, Cosmo Brown is wonderfully played by Eddie Voyce, whose “Make ’Em Laugh” is one of the most fun numbers of the night. It’s a complex piece that he performs well.

There is good support from the rest of the cast, like Gil Sebastian as Roscoe Dexter, the director of Don and Lina’s films, Katherine Fio as Lina’s friend Zelda, and Barbara Goodman as gossip columnist Dora Bailey.

The action is not always as crisp as it might be, but still such a fun evening, and a great way to bring live performances back to the theater.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Shrek, Video


“I never want to touch a computer again for the rest of my life.,” says Steve Isaacson, musical director and videographer of the Davis Musical Theater Company’s latest video production, “Shrek,” directed and choreographed by wife Jan Isaacson.

Isaacson spent six weeks putting together some 300 videos, videos made by the 20 people in the cast of the show, some of them playing more than one role.  “I put on 20 pounds just sitting at my computer all day,” Isaacson jokes.  He finished the editing at 6 p.m. before the 8 p.m. opening night.

The end result of  Isaacson’s work is remarkable.  I was impressed with his last video presentation of “Cinderella,” which had some wonderful moments and a few not so wonderful moments. Unlike “Cinderella,” the technology of “Shrek” is much more professional, though using house lights instead of theater lights gives the show more of a “cartoony” feel, which works fine for this cartoony story.

As with “Cinderella,” the “sets” for this show are projected on green screens, so are amazingly professional.  Isaacson explains that they have some 40-45 green screens, used on the stage and in people’s homes.  The end result is excellent, with incredible forest scenes and an impressive lava scene with the sound of bacon sizzling.

Not only is there a full video production,, but conversations among groups of characters are done live, using Zoom, so the actors are there live for each performance.  Not having to be in Davis to perform, actors were able to participate from Italy, Costa Rica, Hawaii, San Diego and other places.  

Jan Isaacson has always done well with choreography for non-dancers, but with “Shrek,” her choreography is even better than usual and Steve’s ability to make 20 or more dancers dance together across the screen has to be seen to be appreciated.

The actors for this production are excellent.  This is the story of an ogre, Shrek, who at seven years of age, was thrown out of his house by his parents and into the world to make his living. They warn him that because of his looks, he will be shunned by the world, and an angry mob will be the last thing he will see before he dies.

DMTC regular Adam Sartain (Beauty and the Beast, Man of La Mancha, Titanic) plays the grumpy Shrek very well.  The head piece of his costume makes it a bit difficult for him to be believable as an ogre, but his voice is excellent and one gradually warms to him throughout the evening.

When all the fairy tale creatures are banished from the Kingdom of Duloc by the diminutive Lord Farquaad (Andy Hyun), they move onto Shrek’s land and he travels to see Farquaad to see how to get them off, since he prefers to live alone.

An outstanding performance is given by campus minister Judah Dwight, as Donkey, whom Shrek rescues from Lord Farquaad’s guards and who insists on tagging along with Shrek.  Whenever Dwight is on stage, it’s difficult to look at anybody but him, he has created such a memorable character.

Farquaad gives Shrek the task of rescuing Princess Fiona from the lava surrounded castle so that he may marry her himself.  Morgan Bartoe is a beautiful Fiona, until her secret is revealed.   Chloe Aldete plays the young Fiona and Jadine Young is the teen Fiona.  “I Know It’s Today” is the song the girls sing as Fiona reaches adulthood.

Other performances worth mentioning are Lauren DePass as Pinocchio, Arianna Manabat as the dragon, Hugo Figueroa as the King and Hanna Salas as the Queen.  Mary Young, who has performed with DMTC since it's very beginning, is the Mama Bear and Dannette Vassar, who has been with the company since 1997, is Mama Ogre

DMTC will be performing “Mary Poppins” in the theater , on the stage, in September, so unless we are hit with another wave of coronavirus this will be the last virtual performance.  It’s well worth seeing for many reasons, but the technical expertise of Steve Isaacson makes it an outstanding production.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Count and the Curse

The Woodland Opera House refuses to be stopped by the pandemic and is presenting “The Count and the Curse,” two Agatha Christie plays for live radio, streaming Friday and Saturday May 21 and 22, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 23, at 2 p.m.

The plays will be recorded live in the historic Woodland Opera House and presented online. Director Matthew Abergel, says. “The show must go on, right? And that’s what we’re doing, while still keeping everyone safe.”

The plays have been adapted by playwright Bob Cooner, who says, “I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie and, especially, of the Hercule Poirot stories, novels, films, plays, etc. It occurred to me that some of these early Poirot stories, now in public domain, would make very entertaining plays or even radio plays, since that presentation format seemed more feasible during the pandemic; thus, I adapted these two stories (“The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman” and “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb”) as radio plays.”

The streaming presentation showcases detective Hercule Poirot (Darryl Strohl-De Herrera) in two of his earliest whodunnits. In the first mystery, Poirot and his stalwart companion, Capt. Arthur Hastings (Scott Martin), investigate the death of the Italian Count Foscatini. In the second, they travel to Egypt to untangle a series of deaths supposedly caused by a mummy’s curse.

Other cast members taking multiple parts include Aaron Baikie-Rick, David Cross, Emily Delk, Rand Doerning, Jori Gonzales and Skyler King.

The Opera House stage is empty, with actors holding scripts and standing at microphones. Sound effects are created and executed by Jason Hammond. Craig Vincent is in charge of technical direction and videography.

“The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman” is a short story first published in 1923 in the U.K. Martin is superb as Hastings, doing most of the narration of the story of the murder of Count Foscatini.

While good as Poirot, Strohl-De Herrera suffers from an accent, sometimes French, sometimes something else and not at all consistent. Still, he plays the Adrian Monk-like detective, who notices every little thing and uses those bits of information to solve the mystery with aplomb.

The supporting cast (Delk, Baikie-Rick and King) are each excellent, with King creating two very different characters, both outstanding.

Background music is a bit disrupting, perhaps because of the streaming, and might not have been as bothersome if this were a live performance. Additionally, while it was great fun to watch Hammond creating the radio sounds, they didn’t make it clearly to the video.

There is an intermission between the two plays, with Fats Waller music played by pianist Dean Moran.

In “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb,” also written in 1923, Poirot is called upon to solve a series of mysterious deaths that are centered around the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

Strohl-De Herrera has better control of his accent in this play, and the music used fits more with the story. The supporting cast are Jori Gonzales, Rand Doerning and David Cross, who is particularly good when angry. Feigning death, Poirot uncovers the culprit responsible for the series of deaths attributed to a mummy’s curse.

Following these short stories featuring Poirot, he was the hero in 33 novels, two stage plays and more than 50 short stories.

This is a fun production, and with the recent lifting of masks and safe distancing, this might be the last streaming production for local theater.

Saturday, March 13, 2021



Theater people aren’t daunted by a little thing like an international pandemic.  Theaters all over the world have shut down in the wake of COVID-19, even the big shows on Broadway.

The last show I reviewed for The Enterprise was Davis Musical Theater Company’s (DMTC) production of “Camelot” in March of 2020.  Now DMTC is presenting its virtual production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” through March 21.  While it is not the same as seeing it live in a theater, it’s surprisingly good.

If there is any “star” of this production, it’s director Steve Isaacson, who describes the process by which this show was created:

“The scenes are live from the actors' homes, recorded in front of a green screen, and the musical numbers are recorded, each person in front of the green screen at the theater. Then I painstakingly, and I mean painstakingly, take each of the over 200 video files and key out the green screen (which can take from a few minutes to a few hours each!) and place them on my virtual stage.”

Anyone who has ever tried to get a chorus to sing “Happy Birthday” to a friend on a Zoom call should realize the problems of getting all the voices together and matching them not only note for note, but also the acoustical differences in the places where they are recorded.  It’s a technological challenge.

Starting with the sets, since everything is done in front of a green screen so that the sets are actually projected, this is definitely the best looking show DMTC has ever done.  The interior of the castle alone looks like the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles and the town where everyone lives could be off of a postcard.

The cast is excellent, particularly Hannah Salas in the title role, Beth Ellen Ethridge as the Fairy Godmother, and Chris Cay Stewart as the Queen.

Musical direction is by Kyle Jackson and choreography is by Arianna Manabat.

The opening number is so well sung and danced that it’s difficult to believe that all those people aren’t on the stage together.

Dannette Vassar is the stepmother, while Andrea Borquin is daughter Portia and Morgan Bartoe is daughter Joy.  Discussions among the family are done with Zoom and costumer Jean Henderson has made those beautiful actresses downright ugly in their animosity toward each other and particularly toward Cinderella.  Heidi Johnson is given credit for creating the headdresses for the three women.

Duets are filmed on the stage, each actor doing his or her part alone, for Isaacson to put together later.  Some duets work better than others.  One particularly good one is between the Queen and King (Richard Spierto), who sing to each other while facing each other, holding hands.  The position of the hands of each of them is perfect and it’s difficult to realize they really aren’t holding hands.

The magic of the fairy godmother, turning a pumpkin into a carriage, mice into horses, and Cinderella into a beautifully dressed woman is impressive, though Cinderella doesn’t seem to be surprised at her new appearance.

The only disappointing scene is the ballroom scene in the palace.  There are too many people doing too many things, most of which don’t come together the way they are intended, with some people the wrong size and people walking into each other or popping from one side of the stage to the other.  This may be partly because of three different PCs crashing on Friday.  Sadly, the crashes prevented Cinderella from descending the stairs on her departure from the castle, a beautiful scene in the promo for the show..

Still the prince (Hugo Figueroa) finds his Cinderella and the glass slipper fits and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is not a perfect production, but it’s an amazing undertaking and well worth seeing, especially if you’ve been missing theater for the past year – and you don’t need to wear a mask.