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.