Thursday, October 29, 2015

"The Rocky Horror Show"


The Rocky Horror Show
Richard O’Brien (Book, Music, Lyrics)

D'Arcy Drollinger as Frank-n-Furter
Hot men and women in sensuous, black corsets of lace and leather who are raised on high by spiked stilettos, all singing and dancing in rock numbers that are precursors of later musicals like Grease or Hairspray can mean only one thing:  The Rocky Horror Show is yet once again in revival. 
Generations of costumed, crazed audiences around the world have sustained decades of infatuation for this 1973 West End musical as they toss toast and rice, talk back to actors in unrehearsed unison, and dance to the well-known line steps of “Time Warp.”  While there is always some camp involved in any Rocky live staging or screen showing, Ray of Light’s anniversary revival of Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Story is first-class, musical theatre in every respect.  Bringing together a stellar cast, eye-popping set and costumes, electric choreography, lighting and sound exactness, and a group of musicians that play ‘70s era rock like nobody’s business, this Rocky soars well beyond the midnight fare many in the audience are accustomed.

On a dark and stormy night along a lonely patch of road, just-engaged Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, who look like they stepped out of a early 70s Young Republicans meeting or an ad from a Sears and Roebuck catalogue, find themselves with a flat tire.  Flashing lights from a nearby castle draw them nervously into shelter from the downpour.  A blue-lipped, black-lashed butler in skirt and apron named Riff Raff and his sister Magenta, a frizzy-haired, wild-eyed and snarling maid, greet their knock on the door.  Nervous, Brad and Janet enter a house full of roaming, all-too-curious, scantily-clad Phantoms of questionable gender.  They are soon introduced to a mad scientist in black net stockings and tight corset, Frank-n-Furter, who describes himself as a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.”  As they are stripped of wet clothes to their underwear by the by the grabby Phantoms, Janet and Brad become swept up in a grizzly murder of Frank’s former lover Eddie (already missing half his brain from an earlier operation by Frank) and the laboratory birth of a muscularly perfect and oh-so tanned Rocky (conceived to become Frank’s new beau).  The two are then led to separate, upstairs bedrooms while Frank imagines his upcoming nuptials with the biceps-popping, sexy, and already frisky Rocky.  But night’s dreams are not going to play out just in their sleeping heads but instead become live sex fantasies their former straight-laced selves could never have imagined.  The night ahead will bring more surprises, twists, and turns for all inhabitants, including Frank, in this other-worldly mansion.  

All of these fantastical scenes -- over-flowing with every sexual perversion and matter of undress imaginable -- are musically punctuated by rock numbers right off a 45 RPM record, close harmonies both eerie and beautiful, and soaring solos that moan and haunt.  To complete the telling are sexy, snappy, and highly coordinated dance numbers by a chorus of ten pan-gendered sets of high-heeled legs – a chorus directed by Bobby Bryce that sometimes resembles frenzied teens at a high school dance, June Taylor dancers raising in patterns legs and arms while prone on the floor, or Rockettes high-kicking their way to glory.

Jason Hoover’s direction of this Rocky Horror pulls every stop possible to tantalize, fascinate, and excite an audience that is already buzzing with excitement upon entering.  The stage-filling, sweeping, futuristic staircase with its underneath nooks and crannies are part of Kelly Tighe’s stunning set design that is enhanced magnificently by Joe D’Emilio’s lighting enhancements.  Storm sounds shake the auditorium thanks to Anton Hedman’s sound creations while the sounds of David Brown’s band again and again almost steal the show’s focus, especially every time Hermann Lara bears down on his mean sax.  And this production is nothing with out the skimpy, imaginative, shocking costumes of Miriam Lewis -- all cosmetically highlighted in deep blues, blacks, and reds by make-up artist Lexie Lazear.  Together, this production crew has created a Rocky Horror that rivals and even surpasses other past viewings.

But wait, there is more.  The cast – this particular cast – is to a person so deliciously detestable to be totally delightful with each bringing a myriad of ways to deliver knock-out performances in action, song, and dance.  Leading the line of course is local favorite playwright and performer D’Arcy Drollinger whose Frank-n-Furter is brimming with drippy sultriness, provocative plunges and spasms, and sensuality that is both alarming and attractive.  With voice that can belt with bombastic blasts (as in “Sweet Transvestite”) or lure in its victim with dripping tones of perverted promise (“I Can Make You a Man”), this Frank-n-Furter is always deservedly center stage. 

His castle cohorts are equally well-suited to shock and satisfy.  Paul Hovannes as Riff Raff brings a rock-star voice with notes that pierce incredible heights when he leads the troupe in “Time Warp;” and from the first moment he slides on stage, he exudes evil waiting to burst forward in a final act of revenge.  Tielle Baker and Mary Kalita each step up to bring exactly the right creepiness and intrigue to Magenta and Columbia, respectively; and both provide solid, confident voices in song when called upon.  In the skimpiest of gold Spandex shorts and with bulging crotch, super-toned Alex Rodriguez literally shines as the lab-manufactured Rocky.  When he sings “You better wise up, Janet Wise” in “Planet, Schmanet, Janet, ” there is nothing false about his voice or his great showmanship. 

Ryan Cowles and Chelsea Holifield could hardly be better cast as the Brad-Janet duo.  From their well-sung “Damn-It Janet” in which love is professed with youthful, emphatic sincerity to later numbers where clothes and inhibitions are shed and tempos intensified, the two make us believe their initial fears, their middle curiosities, and their later hedonistic enjoyments.  Whether in Janet’s steamy seduction of an excited Rocky in “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” or in Brad’s mournful, contemplative “Once in a While,” each shows capacity to cross many emotional thresholds while still remaining true at core to that naïve, small-town couple we meet in the beginning.

The Second Act of Rocky never seems to live up to the First as storyline always peters out a bit.  This production comes close to overcoming that built-in deficit with well-paced direction, a rousing and arousing “The Floor Show” (complete with most everyone in pink and black heels and stockings), and Frank-n-Furter’s desperate plea for a home among his earthly pleasures and playthings in “I’m Going Home.” 

In an evening so perfect in many respects fall only a couple of flaws.  The opening and final “Science Fiction/Double Feature” hits the target when expanded to full chorus in song and dance but misses the chance to score big when Madeleine Pla as Usherette fails to belt her solo portion with total, spot-on accuracy or power.  And while it is expected and is fun that audience members in a Rocky Horror evening are going to banter the actors with standard taunts, Opening Night was peppered almost constantly by one male from the balcony who hardly let a minute go by without hollering his interruptive mimics, commentary, and questions, even during some solos.  I for one was perplexed that some usher did not go over and shut him down and was amazed how composed actors remained.  Even though I was in the theatre in D.C.’s Georgetown in 1978 for my first Rocky Horror Movie with my own bag of prepared goodies to show and toss, maybe I am not enough of a fanatic to laugh off and appreciate his rudeness.

Once again, Ray of Light blows to bits all incoming expectations with a revival of Rocky Horror Show that is New York in quality and San Francisco in quirkiness.

Rating: 5 E’s

The Rocky Horror Story continues through November 7, 2015 as a Ray of Light offering at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available online at http://rayoflighttheatre.com/the-rocky-horror-show-2015/.

Photo by Erik Scanlon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Hypocrites' "Pirates of Penzance"


The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance
W.S. Gilbert (Book); Arthur Sullivan (Music)
Adapted by Sean Graney; co-adapted by Kevin O’Donnell

Matt Kahler as Major-General with Other Hypocrites Cast
Dodging flying beach balls, stepping over ice chests and around kid’s swimming pools full of rubber duckies, and often stopping by the straw-roofed tiki-hut for a refreshment, wide-eyed audience members make their ways to sideline seats or just plop down in the midst of all hubbub on provided benches or central stage’s edge.  Parading about joyfully playing guitars, banjo, clarinet, ukulele, a washboard, and spoons is a brightly and wackily donned beach band who are also singing the likes of Huey Lewis, Abba, and the Kingston Trio.  With Gilbert and Sullivan either now turning over disgustingly in their graves or rising gleefully to join in the fun, Berkeley Repertory Theatre hosts Chicago’s Hypocrites in their updated, truncated, and uproarious Pirates of Penzance.

With contemporary lines and music spattered throughout, this tongue-in-cheek rendering of a classic that itself mimics both high opera and the politics of its time retains the basic, well-known storyline and its tongue-twisting, alliterative lyrics with highly memorable tunes.  Frederick has been indentured to a group of high-sea pirates due to his boyhood nurse, somewhat deaf and daft Ruth, mistaking his father’s request to apprentice him to a become a ‘pilot.’  Now turning 21, he is ready to skedaddle from this troupe of big-hearted pirates, who have a widely known reputation never to rob orphans like themselves, resulting in the seas being full of ships of orphans.  Homely, older Ruth wants to marry the boy; but he wisely hesitates at the last minute after seeing on a nearby beach a bevy of beauties (especially one named Mabel), all daughters of a rather pompous, proud, and preposterous Major-General.  Ruth gets jealous and alerts the Pirate King that the original apprentice contract says ‘21st birthday,’ which will not happen for poor Frederick for decades since he was born on Feb. 29 in a Leap Year.  Bound by a keen and exaggerated since of duty, Frederick gives up his newly bound duty in his police’ role to capture and kill his former ship mates and instead rejoins them, now bound to rob, capture, and kill his hoped-for, future father-in-law, the Major-General.  Many more outlandishly ridiculous twists and turns occur before the inevitable happy ending where all live as one happy family with a wedding is ready to happen.

This well-known, much-loved story’s built-in craziness skyrockets in this Hippocrates’ beach version as its highly enthusiastic, young troupe jumps, high-steps, stumbles, climbs, rolls, and tumbles while singing boisterously and playing with abound its orchestra of normal and odd instruments.  Zeke Sulkes is the so, so very sincere Frederick whose natural naivite, hopeless devotion to sense of duty, and head-over-heels love for the first girl he meets (other than the old nurse Ruth) shows in his wide-eyed amazement, his looks of boyish wonder, and a body of pent-up energy that seems to be jumping out his every pore.  His tenor voice does some justice to the score, but his real strength is in the overall rendering of this likeable boy who is out to discover love, lust, and life.

With a telescoping cigarette holder, rose-colored glasses, and ever-present guitar, Shawn Pfaustch announces in hearty voice, “I Am the Pirate King” as he leads with constant brouhaha his band of bumbling buccaneers.  The never-mean and always hilarious Mario Aivazian, Delia Baseman; and Royan Kent are not only pirates but double as the Keystone-Cop-like Police in blue rain slickers and striped, high socks. Matt Kahler especially stands out as the helmeted, in shorts and lacy sleeved jacket Major-General who struts, stutters, and sings his way into the spotlight each time he emerges from hiding from the vicious pirates.  Kristen Magee, Jenni M. Hadley, and Becky Poole are the military man’s chorus-line daughters who mostly giggle, serve as back-up singers to his lead, and prance around in tutus and flowered swim caps, being appropriately coy and silly.

Double-cast in the crucial roles of Ruth and Mabel, both would-be lovers of Frederick, is Christine Stulik.  The choice to have her render each with a strong, but high and piercing voice that often sounds right out of a Disney cartoon movie is funny for a few minutes but irritating and tiring for the full length of the short musical.  Brilliantly fun she is as she trills ‘r’s’ with full aplomb, switches from Ruth in curlers to Mabel in bows seemingly in seconds, and looks adoringly at Frederick with both the icky gleams of old Ruth and the starry orbs of Mabel.  But when she sings or talks too long with that high-octane voice, I for one just wanted her off the stage.

Overall, there is so much to delight especially young audiences in this Pirates.  Not the least are the outlandish choices for costumes, rendered by Alison Siple, and for set, designed by Tom Burch.  Sean Graney’s direction somehow ensures the chaos is not too-overdone, even as cast members are constantly moving audience members off benches, out of pools, and away from the stage just the moment they or other cast are about to hop into that very spot.  I will say that for me, the already-shortened 80-minute version of this Gilbert and Sullivan classic began to feel a bit too long by the finale.  The frenetic pace, purposely lame one-liners, ongoing shifting of audience, and overly silly shenanigans just got to be a bit old.  What was really funny in Minute 20 was decreasingly so for the umpteenth time by Minute 60. 

Having poured some water on what others may correctly believe is a blazing success, I can think of no better way to introduce a young family member and maybe even a teen to the antics and music of Gilbert and Sullivan than through this Hippocrites’ version of Pirates of Penzance.  Huzzahs go to Berkeley Rep for bringing something totally different from the normal fare to their regular and new audiences.

Rating: 3 E’s

The Hypocrites’ Pirates of Penzance continues at Berkeley Repertory Theatre at the Osher Studio, Center Street, Berkeley through December 20, 2015.  Tickets are available online at https://www.berkeleyrep.org/season/1516/9310.asp or by calling 510-647-2949 Tuesdays – Sunday, noon – 7 p.m.

"The Rover"


The Rover
Aphra Behn

Justin Gillman, Dan Saski, Jeremy Kahn & Alex Lydon
Shotgun Players boldly brings a pioneering playwright’s play of yesteryear to a 21st Century audience where we discover her writing about our own current issues of sexual assaults against college coeds, difficulties of women to be given deserved equality in the workplace, and gender-based stereotypes that still stubbornly linger on every corner of society.   The Rover is much less an amusing antique than a reminder that there is still much work to be done.

My full review on Talkin' Broadway is available on the following link:  http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1498.html

Rating: 4 E’s

The Rover continues at Shotgun Players, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley through November 15.  Tickets are available online at https://shotgunplayers.org/Online/therover or by calling 415-841-6500.


Photo by Pak Han

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Ghost Quartet"


Ghost Quartet
Dave Malloy (Composer & Writer)
Curran: Under Construction 
 
Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell, Dave Malloy, and Brent Arnold
Photo by Jim Norrena
Ghost Quartet -- a 90-minute song cycle by Dave Malloy now playing as part of the "Curran: Under Construction" series -- is an intermingling of quirky, eerie, captivating stories covering several centuries that touch on such diverse themes as family and love, jealousy and revenge, dreams and death … and whiskey.   My full review of this outstanding evening of intimate, exciting, communal entertainment is now on Talkin' Broadway: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1496.html

Rating: 5 E's 


Ghost Quartet continues at the Curran, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco as part of “Curran: Under Construction” through October 31, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://www.eventbrite.com/o/ghost-quartet-curran-under-construction-8445340438 or by calling 415-358-1220.
 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

"HEROMONSTER"


HEROMONSTER
Nathaniel Justiniano & Ava Roy; Music by Charlie Gurke

Nathaniel Justiniano and Ava Roy
HEROMONSTER, created and performed by Nathaniel Justiniano and Ava Roy of We Players, is less a play with a story line and more poetry in motion with loose, vague references to the original Beowulf.  The result is always intriguing, often mesmerizing, and at times shocking and startling.  The result is also confusing in referents, frustrating to grasp intended meaning, and void of answers to the many questions it raises – all of which could be the raison d’etre of the creators.

For my full review, please check out Talkin' Broadway: http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanfran/s1493.html
 

Rating: 3 E’s

We Players continues to present HEROMONSTER at the Fort Mason Center Chapel, San Francisco, through November 1, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://www.weplayers.org/portfolio/heromonster-2015.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra"


Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra
Damien Chacona, Rob Keefe, Scrumbly Koldewyn, Nicolas Torre & Andy Wenger

Ready to get your Halloween started in a gory and ghoulish, frightfully funny, blood-screaming way?  Then forego the usual evening at a local haunted house or screening of a B-grade, horror flick and head instead to Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra, five one-act performances by the masters of the macabre, Thrillpeddlers.  Carrying on the Parisian tradition by Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol begun in 1897 and running 65 years, Thrillpeddlers presents its 16th annual version of the French-born, titillating and terrifying dramas, comedies, and sex farces of horror (all done as a series of one-acts) begun in a Montmartre Jansenist monastery.  Not for the faint of heart nor the nose-upturned sophisticate but certainly for anyone interested in a little kink, a lot of blood, and loads of laughs, Shocktoberfest 16 is one of those “only in San Francisco” traditions that must be seen to be believed.

The five one acts of the 2015 version vary widely in length, focus, and quality of script.  Cracking the Vein (Andy Wenger and Damien Chacona), the weakest of the group, begins the evening as a short tale of greed and gore set in Gold Rush California.  Three miners discover ‘the big one’ in ‘them there hills’ and bring their treasure chest to the local brothel to be met by three prostitutes who are only too eager to begin a showdown of blades and guns to see who ends up with the treasure.  The action is fast and furious, but the script overall does not give the cast of six much to munch on.

Keeping the history of frontier California as a focus, Scrumbly Koldewyn’s Donner Party Diner is a short, sung ditty imaging a greasy-spoon eatery featuring the Donners and their ill-fated traveling companions as the main menu (Foot on a Platter, anyone?).  In typical Scrumbly fashion, the lyrics and score are catchy and kitschy.

The Cast of "The Model House"
The Model House by Rob Keefe ends the first and begins the second acts and jumps from 1948 to 1958 during the break.  A veteran Marine sergeant recruits his loyal troop to bring their wives to join him, his wife and their twins in creating a model community complete with brick grills, backyard bomb shelters, and (as it turns out) lots of toxic wastes underneath from a former dump site.  Alcoholism, incest, wife abuse, homophobia, and murder combine with kids’ birthday parties, a neighborhood performance of South Pacific in the backyard, and hot and kinky lovemaking by two cute teenage boys for a tale of righteous revenge.  While not Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Sterling, it is truly in the Grand Guignol tradition where no subject or symbol is too sacred to skewer and no blood is ever spared in spilling.

Earl Alfred Paus as Puppy
The peak of the evening is by none other than the master of Thrillpeddlers scripts and music, Scrumbly Koldewyn, who presents his second one-act for the evening -- this time a musical playlet about a man and his dog and their unexpected trip to Cobra Island in the South Seas.  Matt and his sexy, bare-bottomed Puppy find comforts of every sort (not to be named here) in their relationship but have all that ecstasy interrupted by dart-blowing dog-knappers.  Remembering Puppy had muttered “Cobra Island” in his blissful, post-playtime-with-master sleep (all puppies talk in their sleep, right?), Matt sets out to find his four-legged mate in a hair-raising, life-threatening venture full of dancing and singing chorus lines of Cobra natives and sexy wolves.  More fun and scandalizing than bloody (although there is ultimately a skinning of the chief villain for all to behold), The Revenge of the Son of Cobra Woman is Thillpeddlers and Scrumbly Koldewyn at their combined best.

Noah Haydon as Cobra Woman
Running throughout the various one-acts is a cast of seventeen that keeps changing their individual costumes, wigs, and make-up as well as persona in order to go from one outlandish scene right into the next.  Noah Hayden shines heads and shoulders above the rest in two drag roles in The Model House and The Revenge of the Son of Cobra Woman as he shows a wide range of exaggerated emotions, physical prowess, and vocal voracity in both his acting and his singing/dancing.   David Bicha plays villainously both the drunken and despicable former sergeant and wife/child abuser in Model and the deliciously evil and high-stepping Prince Cobra of Revenge.  The evening’s singularly outstanding example of sexy and sweet combined goes to Earl Alfred Paus for his Puppy, where he brings new meaning to being man’s best friend.  Shout-outs also go out to Birdie-Bob Watt for his ‘not going to take this s—t any longer’ Heidi in Model; to John Flaw for his guitar-playing, big-voiced Chief Priest in Revenge; and to J Iness for the deep, spooky, and totally fun bass voice he brings to several characters throughout the evening.

In every review I do of a Thrillpeddlers production, I can never say enough about the creative costuming, the fantastic make-up, and the outlandish wigs.  Glenn Krumbholz, Dwight Overton, Tina Sogliuzzo, and Birdie-Bob Watt out-do themselves in Shocktoberfest 16 in outfitting gritty saloon gals ready for a bedroom brawl from the Gold Rush, bright-skirted housewives from the 1950s that just walked out of a “Leave It to Beaver” set, and South Sea demons that range from the super-sexy Cobra Woman to the hideous Prince Cobra.  Flynn De Marco provides wigs for canines and humans alike with flair.  In Thillpeddlers’ style, the wild and often sparkling make-up is done by each of the performers themselves and is universally done well.

Also as a trademark of a Thrillpeddlers’ evening is the closing, all-lights-out A Spookshow Final (conceived and directed by Nicholas Torre).  Black-light spots on flying-in-your-face objects of ghoul along with a fever-pitched score of Bach organ music (Scrumbly Koldewyn and Birdie-Bob Watt, Musical Directors) make for the perfect ending to another Shocktoberfest extravaganza of bloody fun as only Thrillpeddlers and Producers Jim Toczyl and Russell Blackwood can manufacture. 

Rating: 3 E’s

Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra continues at Thrillpeddlers’ The Hypnodrome, 575 10th Street, San Francisco through November 21, 2015.  Tickets are available at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=thril or by calling 415-377-4102.

Photos by David Allen Studios

Monday, October 19, 2015

"Star Trek Live! Mudd's Women"


Star Trek Live!  Mudd’s Women
Gene Roddenberry (Original Story); Stephen Kandel (Original Teleplay)
D’Arcy Drollinger & Laurie Bushman (Co-Directors, Oasis Production)

Amber Sommerfield as Spock, Leigh Crow as
James T Kirk and Honey Mahogany as Uhura
As the stage lights come up on the Enterprise deck with Captain Jim Kirk in his command chair and all other key crew positioned just where we remember they should be, the audience goes absolutely wild with applause and hoots.  Having just heard the ‘real’ Jim Kirk’s voice while watching the familiar opening sequence of an outer space sky full of twinkling stars and an approaching Enterprise, we soon realize that we are in fact starting a voyage to “the final frontier … to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  It does not take us long, however, to comprehend that while the crew before us is dressed authentically and is speaking the exact lines of one of the earlier episodes of Star Trek, this trip to the outer fringes will be a far different ride since the men are all drag kings and the women, all drag queens.  Oasis, under the able and creative directorship of D’Arcy Drollinger and Laurie Bushman, has once again put before the San Francisco audience a slightly off-kilter (well, perhaps more than just slightly), incredibly well-done parody (Star Trek Live! Mudd’s Women) that will tickle the innards and do nothing for the intellect, which is of course just fine with everyone in this packed audience.

For the few readers who may not have seen this Season One episode of the TV series with probably the largest, loyal cult following of any series before or since, Kirk and crew are pursuing a cargo spaceship that is trying to escape through an asteroid field.  To protect his own crew members and the errant ship’s occupants, Captain Kirk orders the Enterprise’s shields extended, an action that destroys all but one of the power-generating, life-sustaining lithium crystals for his own ship.  Just as the passengers of the pursued ship are transported to the Enterprise (a ‘magical’ feat on this stage that generates tons of laughter), their own ship is destroyed by an asteroid.  Crew and new stowaways head toward a planet where lithium is mined to resupply before the last crystal expires and the Enterprise is doomed.  Eventually, the identities of the beamed-aboard passengers (one gnarly man and three stunningly beautiful women) are revealed to be a criminal sought-after for all sorts of galaxy-spanning misdeeds and three women he is transporting to become wives for lonely, outer planet settlers.  The luring effects of the women on the Enterprise’s male members (including Captain Kirk himself), an extortion scheme by the con man to exchange his female cargo for miners’ lithium crystals, and a decision by one of the hostage women that she no longer wants to be seen as a sex object are all moments of increased drama and intrigue in the original series.  But when drag queens prance about in fluffed wigs with their extended hips and breasts and drag kings huff and puff while scratching their scrotums, these same events lead to hilarious exchanges and mounting zaniness in Star Trek Live!

Touted online as “the world’s only female William Shatner impersonator,” Leigh Crow is worth the price of the ticket to see her Captain Kirk in action.  Constantly mugging for some unseen TV camera, her Kirk gestures with macho brusqueness, walks with full bravado, and speaks in clipped cadences in a voice just deep enough and always with a slight tongue-in-cheek quality to it.  The pauses and looks to the ‘camera’ given after a particularly Kirk-like phrase never fail to bring another round of appreciative laughter from this audience who is soaking in every minute that the Captain is on stage.

Each of the other beloved crew members delivers the looks and lines all Trekkies are hoping for and all non-Trekkies (like myself) can still appreciate.  Honey Mahogany is the sexy, sassy Lieutenant Uhuru who takes no slack from anyone, especially Kirk.  This drag queen uses every opportunity to show off her big bottom to the Captain and to give that knowing look to the audience when a line’s meaning can easily take on (with just the right intonation and rise of the eyebrow) a bawdier meaning than it ever had on the 1966 TV screen.  Scotty is particularly delightful as played by a boyish, heavily browed Emily France.  She emphasizes Scotty’s native brogue to the point we nor Kirk can often understand him (to rounds of more laughter) and plays up in great exaggeration desires to please the Captain and feelings of hurt whenever he fails to do so.  Amber Sommerfeld is an always serious, appropriately smug Mr. Spock.   Zelda Koznofski’s Bones (Dr. McCoy) spars as expected with Spock and buddies up with Kirk.  Ammo Eisu ably holds down the engine room as Sulu.  Members of the crew also double as lovesick, extremely horny miners who are out to pony up to (and mount, if at all possible) one of the transported babes on board the Enterprise.

Jordan L'Moore as Magda, Persia
as Ruth and Jef Valentine as Eve
Much of the humor of this live episode comes from the sneaky and conniving criminal on the run and his tantalizing trio of female impersonators.  Laurie Bushman is the space-traveling, cowboy conman Harcourt Fenton Mudd, playing a bumbling bully who will just as soon spit as smile.  Jordon L’Moore, Persia, and Jef Valentine are three dolls extraordinaire (Magda, Ruth, and Eve) as they primp, priss, and pose on and across the stage, tempting the bug-eyed and tongue-tied Kirk and his crew to forego their Enterprise duties for some hanky-panky in the hallways.  Eve particularly shines when she, humiliated that none of the miners is attracted to her, escapes into a vicious windstorm, roaming in desperation among both audience and the planet’s hostile environs.  All three ‘ladies’ bring the house down as they transform into their original, extremely homely (dare I say ugly) selves once a sparkling pill (the “Venus drug”) Mudd has given them begins to wear away. 

A talented cast alone does not make Star Trek Live: Mudd’s Women the sure-fire fun hit that it is.  Sarah Phykitt has meticulously designed a set and a Captain’s chair that should pass any Trekkie’s scrutinizing eye.  All costumes of the crew and the ‘special guests’ are deliciously dished up in full color and form by Amie Sarazan.  (Comparing an original picture of the three space starlets with these stage drag queens will prove the authenticity sought and the humor acquired.)  D’Arcy Drollinger & Laurie Bushman ably direct on the small, nightclub stage the melodrama and parody version of this classic TV episode where enough truth of the original is kept and so much drag king/queen hilarity has been added.  They are particularly adept time and again in taking TV script lines like “I can see your point” or “Do these ladies come voluntarily?” and turning them into a sexual joke that everyone immediately gets.

For anyone now ready to go see this excellent Oasis remake of Mudd’s Women, the bad news is that all the October episodes are sold out.  The good news is that three weeks of extensions have just been added to the January 2016 calendar.  Star Trek Live! Mudd’s Women at the Oasis will be set again to transport at warp speed new audiences to fun beyond the stars.

Rating: 4 E’s

Star Trek Live! Mudd’s Women at the Oasis continues in sold-out performances through October 31, 2015 and returns January 7-23, 2016 at 298 Eleventh Street (at Folsom).  Tickets for January are now available online at http://sfoasis.com/calendar.cfm?m=1&y=2016&.

Photos by Gareth Gooch.

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Proof"


Proof
David Auburn
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

L. Peter Callender as Robert & Michelle Beck as Catherine
If x = the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, y = the inspired casting and direction choices by Leslie Martinson, and z = a decision by Artistic Director Robert Kelley to revive at this particular time his company’s 2003 production of David Auburn’s Proof, the impressive total is more than the sum of the individual parts for the current TheatreWorks Silicon Valley offering.   For a full review, click to my Talkin' Broadway  review at http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sanjose/sj10.html.




Rating: 5 E’s

The TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production of Proof continues through November 1, 2015 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View.  Tickets are available online at http://www.theatreworks.org/box-office/buy-tickets/ or by calling the box office at 650-903-6000, noon – 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Photo by Kevin Berne 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

"The Nance"


The Nance
Douglas Carter Beane

P.A. Cooley as the "Nance"
Strippers in sparkling pasties wearing little more than fans or balloons, corny jokes and skits that draw laughs and moans even on the umpteenth hearing, short ditties sung bawdily and badly (on purpose), and a flaming and always funny queenie guy called the “Nance” are the basic ‘musts’ for any 1930s, New York, burlesque show.  These same ingredients and many more parade in rapid succession across the spotlighted, red-curtained stage at New Conservatory Theatre Center in the spirited regional premiere of Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance.  Not only do we get to relive a bygone era of Broadway’s black sheep but wildly popular Burlesque cousin, we enter the clandestine and often dangerous, ‘30s world of love between men.  The Nance offers plenty of staged fun and frolic; but it also goes behind the curtain to unveil a piece of gay history that is gripping, heartwarming, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Set in the waning days of burlesque when a reform-minded, vote-hungry Mayor LaGuardia sets out to shutter once and for all these bosom-bearing, pansy-drawing dens of iniquity, the play opens as the starring “Nance” of Irving Place Theatre stops by an automat not for just a piece of pie, but for a hopeful pick-up.  Using coded signs of a hat on chair when ‘not interested’ and employing when ‘totally interested’ suggestive conversation subtly directed to the cute guy at the next table, Chauncey meets newcomer and nervous Ned, a married guy from upstate who has left his wife to satisfy his inside gnawing for something different.  Their subsequent dance of words and quick side-glances begins in the automat, ends up in Chauncey’s Greenwich apartment, and leads -- after much sashaying on Chauncey’s part -- to a budding relationship.  Back at the theatre, an actor’s departure leaves a hole that jobless Ned awkwardly but successfully fills as he becomes the ‘straight man’ to Chauncey’s flamboyant “Nance.”  The two become a couple accepted and loved by the small troupe of three strippers (Sylvie, Joan, and Carmen) and their leading song-and-dance man and manager (Efram).  But with LaGuardia’s Inspector Paul Moss prowling theatres ready to raid as soon as any outward sign of homosexual behavior occurs and with Chancey’s defiant nature and huge drive to go, no matter the risk, for the laugh and the kiss, the inevitable showdown occurs. 

P.A. Cooley is brilliant as the comedic but complex Chauncey.  He sparkles in tip-toed prances and swaying hips as he flawlessly moves through classic burlesque routines that have since been repeated for decades on movie and TV screens (e.g., “Meet me round the corner, in a half an hour” and “Niagara Falls, slowly I turn …”).  His eyes light up as his Chauncey figures out another naughty way to get guffaws from the audience; and his voice travels to the highest, squeakiest octaves as he says over and again the Nance’s signature, “Hi, simply hi.”  But this paragon of prissiness happens also to be a staunch Republican and supporter of the very man who is out to close him down (and even put him in jail).  P.A. Cooley masterfully uncloaks the more troubling, puzzling aspects of Chauncey that border on self-hate of his sexual self.  His switches from the always joking, never-serious buffoon to a narrow-minded, archconservative are stark and believable.  These split aspects merge in a climatic spotlight when he performs in drag (which as a Nance he sees as demeaning) a self-revealing song that is at first funny, then bitingly bitter, and finally grief-filled.  Taking the role that won many nominations and awards for Nathan Lane on Broadway, P.A. Cooley crafts his own stunning Chauncey that leaves his audience both in sheer delight and in deep sadness.

Nathanael Card’s Ned begins as a shy but determined boy who follows Chauncey home like a lost, love-seeking puppy but who soon graduates into an outgoing, affable man whose big, adoring eyes melt even Chauncey’s hesitant heart.  This Ned is a hilarious stitch his first time on stage with his frozen half-smile, locked stare at the bright lights, and tightly clinched grips on his pleated pants.  He transforms in front of us into a confident performer in his own rights and a man showing in looks and demeanor more comfort with his sexuality than Chauncey will ever have.

The three women and one man sharing the stage and story with Messieurs Cooley and Card are each and all wonderfully cast for both the quirky and the serious sides of their parts.  Shay Oglesby-Smith is the Commie-leaning, fiery, redhead Sylvie who knows how to belt a bawdy tune and how to push every button in her beloved, right-leaning friend Chauncey.  Ms. Oglesby-Smith is stellar as a street rabble-rouser and stage slinger of hips and puns who always shows a heart of gold backstage with her friends.  Courtney Hatcher is the ditsy and sexy Joan who commands the stage in a half-man, half-woman skit where her one half seduces and makes love to the other half.  Mia Romero plays a hot-blooded and haughty Latin who appears at first hard as nails but softens over time into one more loving member of this sorted, stage family.  Rounding out the troupe is the multi-talented Brian Herndon as manager and lead man Efram.  On the Irving Place stage, he MC’s and solos with a frisky and confident air; and he partners to his stooges with just the right straight-laced ploys and prods.  As the worried manager and friend to Chauncey, his Efram models in a genuine, believable manner what it means to learn how to accept someone very different from himself.

The crowning touches on this small-stage version of the recent Broadway hit are the set, costumes, sound and, lighting as well as the rarely-miss-a-beat direction by Dennis Lickteig.  Kuo-Hao Lo’s sets move with relative ease between Burlesque stage with lights and glitter, backstage dressing area with live performances going on in the background, automat cafe, and Chauncey’s sparse but clearly-the-home-of-a-Nance apartment.  Costumes that range from g-strings and pasties of all sorts to colorful stage dresses with all the frills and funny froufrou’s needed to wow and howl an audience to just the right daisies and suits for the well-dressed Nance are no problem for Jorge Hernandez.  The original music and musical direction of the incredible Srumbley Koldwyn, the sound design of James Ard for just the right ‘pops’ and ‘whistles’ in all the skits, and the spot-on lighting of Christian V. Mejia ensure the Burlesque stage comes to full life in this New Conservatory production.  Producing The Nance in the small, intimate theater also allows the packed-with-puns-and-pokes script of Douglas Carter Beane absolutely to pop and hit home.

All in all, The Nance is a lesson in the histories of burlesque and of the emerging struggles and loves of gays.  It is taught through enormously silly and fun skits, jokes, and pranks and through touching and troubling relationships that tug on heartstrings.  The Nance is a show not to be missed before its final curtain draw at the New Conservatory Theatre.

Rating: 5 E’s

The Nance continues on the Ed Decker stage at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through November 1, 2015.  Tickets are available at http://www.nctcsf.org/2015-16-season/the-nance or by calling the box office 415-861-8972.