Monday, July 27, 2015

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Stephen Sondheim (Music & Lyrics); Burt Shevelove & Larry Gelbart (Book)
Based on the Plays of Plautus

Photo by David Allen
Foothill Music Theatre has provided us with a pleasant venture into ancient Rome in its A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but I fear the trip will be too-soon forgotten.  This is a journey that could have been so much more if this cast had been given a bit more leeway to let loose and clown it up in order to let this wonderful show’s lyrics, music, and book do their magic of providing outlandish entertainment.

My full review is posted on Talkin' Broadway:  

Rating:  2 E’s

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum continues at Foothill Music Theatre, Southwick Theatre, Foothill College (I-280 at El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills) through August 9.  Tickets are available online at www.foothillmusicals.com or by calling 650-949-7360.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

"Champagne White and the Temple of Poon"



Champagne White and the Temple of Poon
D’Arcy Drollinger

Welcome to the Sha Boom Boom Room where the fabulously blonde Champagne Horowitz Jones Dickerson White (she’s been married a lot … and they’re all dead) is about to grind her big, sexy body to audience howls and delight.  Only tonight, our action heroine from Oasis’s previous hit show S—t and Champagne has lost her sensual slithers and is instead flopping, flipping, and finally falling in a not-too-flattering spread.  It turns out this is just the beginning of a few, very bad, horrible, terrible days for Champagne who is about to be set up for murdering yet another doomed husband (a curly-headed Don dressed in very ugly 60s wear).  Chased by crooks and the law alike, Champagne is sentenced to Lady Prison, a for-profit cover-up for nefarious activity by her evil rival, Dixie Stampede, who has emerged (after supposed fiery destruction in the last show) from the sewers as high-kicking, evil-laughing, but totally gorgeous Pixie Pardonne Moi.  Pixie is out once again to take over the world, this time through a drug based on the intoxicating scent of women (bottled as the perfume “Pussé”).  What ensues is a commedia dell’arte, farcical, and naughty romp as the forces of good and evil fight it out, leaving everyone in the audience exhausted in laughter at the tongue-in-cheek suspense.

Writer, director, and star D’Arcy Drollinger is once again superb as the fighting, kicking, and always-fussing-with-her-golden-locks Champagne.  Our heroine uses ploys and moves not yet invented to clear her good name, all the time making sure she is as sexy as ever in every pose possible.  Her short, sweet, swishy pal Sergio (the incredibly funny James Arthur who doubles along the way as the bad guy Mr. Tickler) shows loyally up again to do all he can to help his idol in this second episode of what is hopefully now an ongoing serial of Champagne White exploits.  Adam Roy is perfect as the handsome dick (that is, as in detective) Jack Hammer in Colombo-type trench coat, tortuously torn by the horny heat he feels whenever around Champagne and the obligation he has to arrest her for the murder he is sure she has committed.  In alleys and backrooms, Champagne traverses to find justice, meeting along the way the meek and milk-toast Mandy (the stellar Steven LeMay) who turns out to be her “second foster cousin once removed by marriage” and her newest love (especially when the two are surprise cellmates at the Lady Prison).  (Both Adam and Steven play multiple other parts with pizzazz, changing costumes, accents, and persona at Superman speed.)  Everyone is dressed multiple times in creatively crass costumes by Tria.

As the reincarnated Pixie Pardonne Moi, Matthew Martin is better than ever as the vain villainess who, like Champagne, also has her own repertoire of kicks, smacks, chops, and slices that would rival any Saturday morning action cartoon of the ‘80s and ‘90s (all made the better by impeccably timed sound effects).  When Pixie and Champagne are both on stage, the sparks fly in all directions as the two stars magnificently play off each other’s moves in realistic, yet ridiculous, fights well choreographed by John Ficarra.  They even break into dance moves mid-struggle that defy how many ways can legs and arms move in coordinated flurry.

And between all the action-packed shenanigans, Nancy French announces in droll, dreary, delicious style each scene as she strolls out in patriotic-striped bikini wear -- smacking her gum, rolling her eyes in boredom, and threatening to come down and lap-dance on some unsuspecting, audience man … or woman.  Reviving her role as sign-carrier from the earlier S—t and Champagne, Nancy is a crowd favorite and seems very close to becoming her own franchise of dolls, fashion, and videos.

Speaking of videos, the evening is peppered with fabulous films that run the gamut from ads for Pixie’s poisonous perfume to San Francisco chase scenes.  The latter rival anything in the movie Bullitt, especially when Champagne is on skateboard pursued by crooks in chase car and Hammer huffing and puffing on foot.  Our hats (and maybe more) come off to Richard Neveu for producing what turn out to be some of the best moments of the show.

Once again, D’Arcy along with Nancy, Steven, James, Adam, and especially Matthew has created what seems destined to become an only-in-San Francisco must-see.  Move over Beach Blanket Babylon and Thrillpeddlers.  There is a new kid in town.  Her name is Champagne Horowitz Jones Dickerson White, and she is surely here to stay.

Rating: 4 E’s

Champagne White and the Temple of Poon continues Thursdays – Saturdays, 7 p.m. at Oasis, 298 11th Street, San Francisco. through September 12, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://sfoasis.com/event.cfm?cart&id=148585 or by calling the box office at 415-795-3180.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Top Girls"


Top Girls
Caryl Churchill


Rosie Hallett as Angie.  Photo by Pak Han.
Marlene has just been promoted to Managing Director of an employment agency, and she decides to give herself a celebratory dinner – at least in her dreams.  The dinner that consumes Act One of Caryl Churhill’s Obie-winning Top Girls is a feast like none most has ever seen, on stage or real life.   Unfortunately, this first act is the highlight of the two-and-a-half hour play. To understand more, please read my full Talkin' Broadway review at http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1458.html.


Rating: 3 E’s

Top Girls has been extended until August 9 at Shotgun Players, The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley .  Tickets are available online at https://shotgunplayers.org/Online/topgirls or at 510-841-6500.
 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"West Side Story"


West Side Story
Arthur Laurents (Book); Leonard Bernstein (Music);
Stephen Sondheim (Lyrics)

Photo by Susan Mah
With a Maria (Katherine Dela Cruz) who alone is worth the price of the ticket, City Lights Theatre Company (San Jose) stages West Side Story through August 23.  Other women in the cast as well as the excellent choreography are also particularly noteworthy.   My full review on Talkin' Broadway at http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1454.html

Rating: 3 E’s

West Side Story continues at City Lights Theatre Company, 529 Second Street, San Jose through August 23.  Tickets are available online at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=clt01 or by calling 408-295-4200.



Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Hay Fever"


Hay Fever
Noël Coward
Stanford Repertory Theater

Photo by Stanford Repertory Theater
While most plays an audience ventures to see usually have within them serious messages and deep meanings of the playwright to convey, Noël Coward's Hay Fever clearly exits and continues to be popular in performance for one and only one reason: for sheer enjoyment and a chance to forget every current, serious side of the world outside the theater.  This goal of being delighted as well as amazed by the entirety of the production is clearly met with Stanford Repertory Theatre’s must-see Hay Fever
as can be read in my Talkin' Broadway review, http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1452.html

Rating: 4 E’s

Hay Fever continues at Stanford Repertory Theater’s Pigott Theater Thursdays through Sundays until August 9, 2015. 


Friday, July 17, 2015

"Triangle"


Triangle
Curtis Moore (Music); Thomas Mizer (Lyrics)
Thomas Mizer, Curtis Moore & Joshua Scher (Book)


“Say a name, and you can never forget.
Say a name, and it’s not over yet.
Maybe no one’s ever gone.”

Hauntingly, beautifully sung in the opening moments as audience has barely settled into their seats, these lyrics by Thomas Mizer set to the music of Curtis Moore initiate a captivating, stellar evening for the world premiere of Triangle at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley that will later bring that same audience to its feet in sustained, heartfelt, final applause and appreciation.  Undertaking to bring a new musical to the stage is a risky, expensive venture and one shunned by many companies.  However, with the creative team of Mizer and Moore (along with Joshua Scher as co-writer of the book), the sensitive and smooth direction of Meredith McDonough, and the jaw-dropping talents of the cast assembled by Leslie Martinson, there is little doubt but that the then-in-workshop hit of TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival three years ago will now become a full-fledged theatrical hit on this and surely many more stages to come.

Alternating back and forth a century between 1911 and 2011, Triangle revisits and remembers a tragic fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory as a modern day, young scientist (Brian) furtively undertakes to discover the still unknown identities of two lovers who jump together from what is now his office window to escape the engulfing flames that killed them and 144 other, mostly women, immigrant workers.  Powerful portraits of both the past and present people whose lives become intertwined in either the weeks leading up to this horrific conflagration or in the weeks following its centennial memorial are painted on the staged canvas before us.  Incessant drives to succeed against many odds; shimmering, new loves that are at first forbidding and frightening; family voices and pulls both present and from the grave, and self-discoveries that emerge from purging self of immense guilt link the characters of our two centuries into a bond that grows so strong that miracles of meeting occur.  Parallels -- both outwardly obvious and inwardly hidden -- between March 22, 2011 and September 11, 2001 must be confronted by Brian before he can resolve his mystery and a lingering misery.  In the end, out of fiery destruction, out of untold sadness, out of names no longer going unsaid, much hope and renewal emerges.

As the doctoral candidate and researcher Brian, Ross Lekites creates a troubled soul who embodies a stubborn determination, a lonely spirit, and a caring heart in ways that make us just want to know him and hug him.  When he sings in solo about his older sister and hero “Jenni,” about a feeling called “Love” for a newly met boy, or in desperate plea of “Save Me Now” (with a “me” that might be sister Jenni, the unnamed girl from 1911, or even himself), Mr. Lekites sings in tones that are astonishingly clear, emotionally packed, and gorgeously intonated.  His three duets with Ben (Zachary Prince), the guy who literally falls into his life to ignite a series of searches and discoveries that lead to his dealing with suppressed feelings of guilt and love, are soul-searching as well as soaring with both men singing in chords that strike deep and long. 

Zachary Prince trips with ease between the two centuries and between two loves, Brian in 2011 and the sweet yet daring Sarah (Megan McGinnis) of 1911.  To both eras he invites moments of needed laughter from an audience caught up in the otherwise serious stories before them.  His Ben is a bit impish, pushy and persistent in charm, and able to pop up at such odd moments in funny ways – leading to Brian’s colleague Cynthia (Sharon Rietkerk) to refer to him as “Sparkles,” “The Ghost Whisperer,” and “Casper.”  His 1911 Vincenzo, a young supervisor who falls in love with the immigrant Sarah, has a funny, yet touching prayerful conversation with “Mr. Jahweh” (the Jewish name for God), asking for his blessing and guidance in a forbidden love between a goy and a Jew (“If you share your daughter’s life, I’ll give her mine”).  In breath-taking, angelic falsetto, he softly declares repeatedly to God and to himself, “I love her.”  His ease of switch between Ben and Vincenzo is dramatically played out in the moving Act One finale as his both halves sing gloriously with Brian and with Sarah, “Take My Hand.”

As Sarah the seamstress and as Brian’s dream of Jenni, Megan McGinnis shows determination to strike out in new directions, uncharted for both her families.  Both her Sarah and her Jenni appear in dreams to guide Brian to his needed resolutions; and Ms. McGinnis’s haunting, yet very real presence allow us to accept her mystical selves with belief and trust.  She navigates as Sarah a fine line between deep devotion to tradition and family demands and the need and eagerness to assimilate into her excitingly new America.  She sings, “I should follow the rules, but which ones,” as she navigates her slippery journey between her new and old world lives.

As Brian’s colleague Cynthia and Sarah’s sister Chaya, Sharon Rietkerk, like Ben, brings some welcomes comic relief.  Cynthia teases, prods, and pushes Brian toward the love he will not face (and literally hides under the table to avoid).  Chaya shows Sarah the bright ornament (with a picture of a baby on it) and small tree she bought at Woolworths, explaining, “God provided me the finest pine.  It’s not Christian; it’s festive.”  Ms. Rietkerk too brings in song beautiful, soul touching notes to life, as in her “Just a Little More.”

Laura D’Andre and Rolf Saxon round out this remarkable cast, joining in ensemble numbers that are near perfect in harmony, dynamics, and delivery.  The 7-piece orchestra, under the able direction of James Sampliner, explores in instrument variations and presentation the cadences of the two eras.  And assuring the overall, desired effects is a set designed by Daniel Zimmerman that moves with stunning agility and beauty between the two centuries with sliding windows, walls, and building facades that add to, not detract from, the unfolding story. 

Eerily, there are faint wisps of smoke throughout the play outside the windows of this ninth floor now-office, now-factory.  The memory of loss and disaster is always there but never takes the spotlight from the songs and stories of people we now know and will never forget.  
Triangle is a truly a triumph for TheatreWorks, for its creators, and for us as audience.

Rating:  5 E’s

Triangle by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley will continue at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto, through August 2, 2015.   

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Life Is a Dream"


Life Is a Dream
Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Translated & Adapted by Nilo Cruz
California Shakespeare Company

The Full Cast of Life Is a Dream; Photo by Kevin Berne

Betrayal of love.  Sought revenge.  Family conflicts.  Royal rivalries.  Cross-dressing.  The differences between dream and reality a blur.  The loyal servant with a sharp, witty tongue.  A happy ending for all.

Sound slightly Shakespearean?  How about a near-contemporary whom it is not clear ever read or heard of Shakespeare?  California Shakespeare Company presents on its outdoor stage the rarely seen Life Is a Dream by the 17th Century, Spanish playwright of over 70 plays, Pedro Calderón de la Barca.  Click below to read my full review, published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Rating: 4 E’s 


Life Is a Dream continues at the California Shakespeare Theatre through August 2, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://www.calshakes.org/ or by calling 510.548.9666.

http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1448.html

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"Company"


Company
Stephen Sondheim (Music & Lyrics) & George Furth (Book)


All Photos by Jessica Palopoli


Expectations for a great evening of musical theatre immediately rise to the top of the scale walking into San Francisco Playhouse’s auditorium with the Bill English and Jacqueline Scott sophisticated, New York, multi-apartment set greeting us.  Positioned before a massive projected head of Miss Liberty – exaggeratedly skewed toward us in Lichtenstein style and color -- are six, multi-layered platforms in black, mostly void of furniture or props save stacks of large birthday presents on the center, main floor and two grand pianos bookending the total stage on two of the raised sets.  Multi-colored lights and sounds of New York streets all around us prepare us for those opening “Bobby … Bobby Baby … Robby” bars of Stephen Sondheim’s and George Furth’s now-classic Company.  Resisting much temptation to join along what for many in the noticeably excited audience are fun and familiar phrases of song and dialogue will be an evening-long endeavor as we settle in for one of the best nights of live theatre most of us have probably experienced in many a month.

Robert – who is lovingly called by friends every possible nicknamed derivation – is turning 35; and five couples gather to surprise him for a party he actually already knows about.  Bobby is the center of his and their universes as everyone seems to adore him, worry about him, and want to find him a bride.  He, on the other hand, vacillates whether he is ready or not to settle on one mate and sets a standard so high that no one could possibly meet (insisting on the best of qualities from each of the five female halves of his friends’ couplings).  The first act showcases in often hilarious escapades the evenings he spends with each couple exploring up close what their married lives are really all about – the good and the ugly.  Along the way, we also get to meet some of the current candidates to be his other half (a sweet but vacuous April, a kooky intellect Marta, and a solid but-now-engaged Kathy).

To a person, this cast is stellar in song, comic antics, dance abilities, and moments of sincerity.  When on stage together, the entire ensemble excels in full voice with fine harmony, highly coordinated and impressive choreography (thanks to Kimberly Richards), and movement that utilizes at some point every inch of the complex, several-floored set.  The opening and finale reprise of “Company” is rousing in its dynamic, crisp delivery.  The Act Two opening “Side by Side by Side,” sung in conjunction with Bobby soloing in Gene-Kelly-style dance and song, is fun and frivolous with mixtures of soft shoe, Vaudeville-like tomfoolery, and precision drills with canes. 

Every musical number throughout the night only seems to one-up the previous.  As Joanne (Stephanie Prentice) sings about “The Little Things You Do Together” as a married couple, Bobby’s visit to the obsessively dieting and alcohol-avoiding (that is, unless no one is looking) Sarah and Harry (Velina Brown and Christopher Reber) evolves into an uproarious duel of karate between the two lovebirds where every tumble to the floor of knotted-together bodies only leads to more roars of audience laughter (all masterfully fight choreographed by Mike Martinez).  In answer to Bobby’s question, “Do you ever regret you got married?” husbands David (Ryan Drummond) and Larry (Richard Frederick) join Harry in a pensively beautiful “Sorry-Grateful” in the evening’s first of several powerful moments of reflection that speak truth to us all as well as to Bobby.  The five husbands’ pushy, macho “Have I Got a Girl for You” is brilliantly matched in the next act by their wives’ perfectly syrupy “Poor Baby” where they conclude no girl can ever be good enough for their Bobby.  When Bobby claims at one point that he wants to get married but just cannot find the right girl, the three aforementioned girlfriends (Morgan Dayley as April, Michelle Drexler as Kathy, and Teresa Attridge as Marta) counter with a phenomenal Rogers-and-Hart-like “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” where they zippily swap back and forth without pause staccatoed notes in incredibly fast succession.

Not calling out each iconic number so wonderfully interpreted by this cast is a sin but not to mention at least two more would be a mortal sin.  Monique Hafen brings the house down (after every jaw first dropping in amazement) as she reels off at jet-stream speeds “Getting Married Today.”  Her increasingly frantic hysteria against walking down the aisle calls to mind some of the best of Carol Burnett’s finest moments.  But probably no song in Company comes with more anticipation of anyone who is even mildly acquainted with Sondheim than Joanne’s martini-accompanied “The Ladies Who Lunch.”  Bottom line is that Stephanie Prentice grabs this song by the balls (so to speak) and totally owns it as her own.  When she gets to the final, “Rise, Rise, Rise,” it was all I could keep from standing in answer to her resounding, gut-wrenching command. 

And then there is Bobby; and what a Bobby Keith Pinto is.  Using at least a thousand different, surely deliberate but totally spontaneous and natural-looking body gestures, eye and brow rolling, and mouth and face twisting along with scores of high jumps, stumbling falls, balled-up slumps, foot drags, and every other kind of movement imaginable, Mr. Pinto brings us a Bobby that is exploring every part of his being to discover why a life mate has not yet come his way.  Not only is Robert endearing yet puzzling to his friends and frustrating yet attractive to his girlfriends, he opens himself so much to us that we have those same reactions as well as a shared desire that he figures this dilemma out.  And in each of his three solos (“Someone Is Waiting,” “Marry Me a Little,” and “Being Alive”), this Bobby may sometimes begin a bit unsure of some notes; but in each case he finds the sustained, full-power voice for a heartfelt, soul-searching anthem that strikes us to the core.

We know every second that New York is where we are through the constantly changing backdrop of Designer Micah Stieglitz’s projections that true as a photograph yet fantastical as an artist’s painting.  The duet of stage-separated pianos playing the complicated Sondheim score so flawlessly (thanks to David Dobrusky and Ben Prince) supports without over-powering the complicated Sondheim lyrics that are so essential to fully appreciate the musical’s brilliance. 

With a ten-year-plus history of summer musicals produced in ways that provide fresh looks to old friends (The Fantasticks, Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Into the Woods to name a few), San Francisco Playhouse has outdone itself with a Company to rival others’ productions on much larger stages.  Much, even most, of the credit most go to the inspired direction of Susi Damilano, who insures every minute is sixty seconds of excellence on all parts.   Past questions of Bobby’s sexual orientation; normal scenes of his unrobed, hot love-making with stewardess April; and bold moves to recent legal expansions of who can marry whom are avoided by the director and may have puzzled (and even disappointed) some (as heard in the post-show lobby).  But on the other hand, Ms. Damilano has brilliantly provided this production with a number of well-placed clues that perhaps our Bobby has played out all we have seen in his own head, hiding away while his friends wait, real-time to our time, for him to show up at his surprise birthday party.  Through Bobby’s remembering some real and dreaming up other imaginary encounters with his friends, our director leads him to the point of decision that it is time to let go of old patterns and expectations (even if it may mean, I suspect, dropping some of his closest friends) and now to find his mate on his own terms, in his own way of “Being Alive.”

Congratulations to Susi Damilano, a terrific cast, and all of San Francisco Playhouse for this fresh look at our old friend, Company.

 Rating:  A “Must-See 5 E”

Company continues on the Post Street Stage of San Francisco Playhouse through September 12, 2015. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Call Me Miss Bird's Eye"

Call Me Miss Birds Eye
Jack Tinker
Acoustic Voices

Touted in upfront advertising as “a pre-Broadway run” for “the only acoustic theatre company in the world” (Acoustic Voices), Call Me Miss Birds Eye has opened its North American premiere, playing in the otherwise dark-for--summer American Conservatory Theatre.  Based on audience response (including those many who chose not to stay for Act Two), Geary Street in San Francisco may be as close as this celebration of the great Ethel Merman ever gets to Broadway or New York.  There are so many things wrong about this production being performed on a large, celebrated stage like A.C.T.’s that it is easy to overlook the occasional moments where its star, Denise Wharmby, actually does some real justice to the Grand Dame of America Musical Theatre.

The opening minutes of the show highlight the most damning aspects of the evening.  Two men -- a short, older man and another much tall, younger-by-several-decades -- appear on stage unimpressively wearing what appear as off-the-rack, banker’s suits with plain, ugly ties.  Breaking immediately into two of Merman’s iconic numbers (“Just a Lady with a Song” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”), the two who are to serve as narrators of Ms. Merman’s story and will in the end perform probably 25+% of the evening’s songs, are immediately unimpressive in almost every imaginable way.  Their voices are twangy; diction, often non-discernable; arm-movements, jokingly awkward; and their non-miked singing, much too muted for the opening numbers of an evening about Ethel Merman.  As the show slogs on, things for these two – as solos, duets together, or backup for the evening’s star – rarely get much better.  The younger Martin Grimwood time and again has difficulty holding a note longer than a couple of beats without wavering the key into something sharper or flatter.  Don Bridges sings mostly through his nose with little expression of voice, as in “I Still Got My Health.”  Worse, they, who are to tell highlights of Ms. Merman’s life, can neither act nor say their lines without often stumbling.  As the first act continues, audience members are visibly shaking heads, whispering, and squirming each time one or both are on the stage, which as is turns out, is a lot!

Certainly as Ethel Merman herself, Denise Wharmby fares much better.  Her opening, “Some People,” has Merman-like vibrato and gutsy glamour and is a relief after Messieurs Grimwood’s and Bridges’ disappointing debut.  Several times in the two hours, she does a stellar job interpreting and presenting the Merman classics in ways that both recall the voice of the great Merman as well as add some of her own flair.  “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” is one such Merman standard that Ms. Wharmby hits out the park in presentation.  Her best moments, however, are when she feels less compelled to belt and instead just lets the emotion and beauty of the music float from her to us in soft, tender tones.  Jerry Herman’s “Love, Look in My Window” is one such number that leads to “ooo’s” and “ahhh’s” and appreciative applause.  On too many other numbers, however, Ms. Wharmby just goes through “Merman motions,” losing the chance to use her own bel canto voice to help us both remember Merman and to discover something new in the songs most of us know so well.

The guys themselves do have a couple of moments where they rise admirably above their otherwise mediocre evening.  With Ms. Wharmby, the tall Mr. Grimwood brings out the fun and comic antics we all expect when we hear Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do.”  Their voices work well together as they banter challenges back and forth of “No, you can’t’ … “Yes, I can.”  Mr. Bridges also finds a song where his tendency to twang nasally works well as he humorously whines, “Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please.”  He gains laughs exploiting his drunken, short self as he leans with pleading eyes against a shocked, giant waiter (Mr. Grimwood).

What at first seems to be the finale, a reprise of “Just a Lady with a Song” this time fortunately includes Ms. Wharmby blazing forth in true Merman style.  The number is a rousing success for our triplet of performers, giving an opportunity for us to leave with a positive, last impression to balance our earlier, oh-hum memories.  However, Director Rick Wallace (and also Choreographer of the largely high-school-like movements we have been subjected to all evening) cannot leave well enough alone.  We must have three more attempts to end the evening – none near as good as “Just a Lady.”

Overall, Call Me Miss Birds Eye is far from ready for primetime or big-stage.  Jack Tinker’s book actually tells very little about Ms. Merman that we could not learn on Wikipedia, and what is related often comes across as pedantic items on a timeline.  There is way too much stage time allotted to the two men, neither of whom is a musical showman at all.  And, while Diane Wharmby could probably shine forth in fine style doing Merman in a cabaret setting, she cannot quite fill up a theatre like the A.C.T.’s Geary with the volume, charisma, and grit that I believe Ethel herself could have done well into her late life.

Rating:  1 E

Acoustic Theatre’s Call Me Miss Birds Eye continues through July 19, 2015, at the Geary Stage of the American Conservatory Theatre.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Gruesome Playground Injuries"


Gruesome Playground Injuries
Rajiv Joseph
Made Up Theatre




A boy and girl, each 8 years old and in the nurse's station of their school, begin a 30-year journey, punctuated by infrequent but significant encounters that usually involve one or both of them in life-altering accidents and/or self-induced trauma.
  Along the way, they will fast develop and long keep a friendship and affection that we will have the privilege to witness and to wonder at in Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries.   Congratulations to Made Up Theatre in this, its first and a truly stellar venture into equity theatre.

My full review is posted on Talkin' Broadway through the following link:

http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1447.html

Rating: 5 E's


Gruesome Playground Injuries continues through July 19, 2015 at Made Up Theatre, 3392 Seldon Court, Fremont.  
 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Love and Information"


Love and Information
Caryl Churchill

Fifty-seven disparate scenes, lasting a few seconds to a few minutes, pass before us with little pause in American Conservatory Theatre’s Love and Information by much-celebrated Caryl Churhill.  They are divided with no apparent logic into six groupings that are introduced on a large, background screen by Instagram-like faces of random people whose flashing pictures eventually form a number to announce the next clumping of scenes.  The cast of twelve moves in and out of the scenes usually in duets, sometimes in triads or other configurations, with solo appearances punctuating the flow from time to time (like an old man wandering in a robe or a woman looking for a moment out of a door for her kitty).  Once in a while, the scenes are partially or totally performed on the projection screen before us.  The result is at first fascinating in the variety of presentation, the many different subjects tackled in the miniscule vignettes, and in the flow of non-named characters who come and go, mostly never to appear again.  But as the 90-minute show flickers through bits of unfinished stories, I found myself checking my watch a number of times to see just how much longer this rather meaningless display of humanity was going to continue parading before us.

The show opens with one woman trying to pry out of another a secret that eventually is whispered in her ear, to her horror of whatever was revealed.  Then we quickly move to two high school girls one-upping each other on their knowledge of some, shared teen idol (“What’s his favorite smell?  You don’t know, do you?”).  Future snippets include a man graphically describing over a dinner date his research that involves ripping off chicken heads, a guy confronting his boss for firing him via email (“Just tell me I am fired … Can’t you do that?”), a knitting grandma telling a little girl a fantasy story (“And then the lion ate him”), and a man and woman stuffing envelopes serenaded by “Oh Happy Day.”  A few are actually quite funny (like one person rattling off the word ‘table’ in many languages to the bland observation of the other, “But I guess it is still just a table to me”).  Some scenes last into the 3-5 minute length and almost become intriguing in the story unfolding (e.g., two, dining ex-lovers who are recalling their past with neither man able to recognize the significant moments remembered by the other or a woman doing all she can to help a man with apparent amnesia re-discover she is his wife).  But these, like most scenes short or long, end with no resolution and often no real meaning at all, which -- after the thirtieth, fortieth or fiftieth -- becomes somewhat frustrating.  The most persistent ending to scenes is a doorbell, a knock, or just an amble off the stage mid-sentence or thought.

The cast itself is stellar in reputation, many of whom are well known and loved by Bay Area audiences.  However, there is not much chance for most of them really to shine in any one role; and remembering who played what part, when (even for well-recognized actors) is next to impossible by evening’s end.

If Love and Information was chosen to show off the possibilities of the new Strand Theatre with its big stage in a rather intimate setting, its video and sound capabilities, and its opportunity for A.C.T. to venture into newer, more risky works than its larger Geary stage allows, then the choice worked.  If the purpose of Caryl Churhill’s Love and Information is to illustrate how dulled and over-loaded we will all become when bombarded repeatedly and seemingly without end with short amounts of unconnected information, then she has totally succeeded in A.C.T.’s inaugural production at the Strand.  If, however, the production is also supposed to be engrossing, entertaining, and exciting, then I fear it falls way short of meeting intentions.  Ninety minutes and fifty-seven scenes unfortunately all add up to not much at all.

Rating: 2 E’s

Love and Information continues at American Conservatory Theatre’s Strand Theatre, 1127 Market Street, through August 9, 2015.  Tickets are available online at http://www.act.sf.org/home/box_office/mainstage/love_and_information.html