An ASR Pick! “Sunset Boulevard” a Stunner at Sonoma Arts Live — by Barry Willis

Sunset Boulevard ensemble at work!

Sonoma Arts Live has emerged from eighteen months of hibernation with a stunning production of “Sunset Boulevard.” The first large-scale musical to appear on a Sonoma County stage since the long pandemic shutdown, the show runs on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center through October 10.

North Bay musical theater favorite Dani Innocenti-Beem shines in the role of Norma Desmond, a reclusive and delusional former film star who’s befriended, seduced, and rejected by down-on-his-luck scriptwriter Joe Gillis (Michael Scott Wells) in this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation of the classic Billy Wilder film, perhaps the ultimate depiction of a Hollywood love affair gone sour.

…stage veteran Norman Hall has a nice cameo as legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille…

Backed by a solid five-piece band, Innocenti-Beem and Wells sing their hearts out. Seasoned show-goers may not initially recognize Wells, his signature shaved head hidden by a stylish wig, while Innocenti-Beem is considerably slimmer than in her last stage appearance in “Sweeney Todd” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. Wells convincingly nails his character’s hopes, cynicism, and failures while Innocenti-Beem moves heaven and earth with her emotive high-volume vocals. Also a skilled comedienne, she gives the audience a full examination of Norma’s delusions, exaggerated just enough to let us know how far off the rails she’s gone. It’s a terrific performance.

Dani Innocenti-Beem

Secondary characters are excellent too, especially Tim Setzer as Max Von Mayerling, Norma’s loyal-to-a-fault butler. Setzer is in fine voice, giving Max a properly guttural Teutonic baritone both speaking and singing, amazing in that Setzer’s natural speaking voice is softer and higher. Maeve Smith is superb as Betty Schaefer, Gillis’ young collaborator and potential lover once he tires of Norma. Stage veteran Norman Hall has a nice cameo as legendary film director Cecil B. DeMille. The large ensemble—sixteen in all—are very good in multiple roles. The music isn’t memorable, lacking Lloyd Webber’s characteristic melodic hooks—think “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar”—but it works to propel the story.

Michael Scott Wells and Maeve Smith work a scene.

Critical quibbles: an overly-long bit of exposition mirroring the film’s early scenes, and a sometimes rickety set, but the show itself is exemplary, with just-right pacing, a welcome surprise in light of how long it was on hold. Director Carl Jordan has pulled a fantastically compelling production from a diverse cast.

“Sunset Boulevard” is a delight—and an entertainment bargain.


ASR Nor Cal Edition Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Production'Sunset Boulevard'
Written byMusic by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Christopher Hampton and Don Black

Story based on the Billy Wilder film
Directed byCarl Jordan
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays thru Oct.10th
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An ASR Theater PICK! Cinnabar’s “Cry It Out” — Hilarious, Lovely, Elegant — by Barry Willis

Two young mothers with newborns form a friendship that soon encompasses distinctions in class, education, income, and aspirations in “Cry It Out” at Cinnabar Theatre through September 26.

Elegantly conceived by playwright Molly Smith Metzger, the production centers around two Long Island neighbors, Jessie (Ilana Niernberger) and Lina (Amanda Vitiello), both on maternity leave with babies at home, a similarity that enables a quickly-formed deep bond. They share afternoon coffee, tidbits on baby care—the show’s title is derived from a popular theory that babies put to bed should be allowed to cry until they go back to sleep—and many personal misgivings and misadventures, some of them laugh-out-loud funny.

“Cry It Out” – Ilana Niernberger and Amanda Vitiello at work.

A working-class girl with attitude as strong as her New Jersey accent, Lina is a comic riot as she describes her travails not only with her baby but with her underachieving husband and his alcoholic mother, who serves as nanny when Lina goes out. Jessie is the more contained of the two—contemplative and methodical, an attorney considering leaving her profession to be a stay-at-home mom. Both women have problems with their husbands, whom we never meet.

…director Molly Noble extracts delicious performances from four exquisitely talented but hugely differing actors…

Into their midst comes a nerdy neighbor, Mitchell (Andrew Patton), awkwardly inquiring if his wife, also a recent mom, might join them. Once they get over the creepiness of the fact that he’s been watching them, they agree to welcome Adrienne (Kellie Donnelly), a haughty disdainful designer with little interest in raising children or socializing with others who are. Mitchell’s well-intentioned intervention is a desperate nudge in the wrong direction, fireworks to follow.

It’s a fantastically potent setup, with increasingly satisfying payoffs as the story progresses. The quick-moving one-act segues seamlessly from comedy to drama as director Molly Noble extracts delicious performances from four exquisitely talented but hugely differing actors. Their differences as performers and the differences between their characters expand the dynamic possibilities of this show far beyond what an audience might expect when first viewing the simple set of a suburban backyard patio.

“Cry It Out” – L-R Amanda Vitiello, Ilana Niernberger, Kellie Donnelly

“Cry It Out” is a master class in elegant modest-budget theater. North Bay residents are privileged to have such sterling performances so close to home. As with most Bay Area theater companies, Cinnabar requires proof of vaccination at the door, and the wearing of masks during the performance. Attendees also get a sticker that says “Welcome Back!” to which we can only reply “Welcome Back, Cinnabar!” Those who can’t get to the theater may also view a streaming production.


ASR Nor Cal Edition Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Production"Cry It Out"
Written byMolly Smith Metzger
Directed byMolly Noble
Producing CompanyCinnabar Theater
Production DatesThrough Sept. 26th
Production Address3333 Petaluma Blvd North
Petaluma, CA 94952
Telephone (707) 763-8920
Tickets$25 – $35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

An ASR Theater Review: “Ripcord” Comedy Lands at RVP. Two Roommates Survive Living Together; or Do They?  –  by Cari Lynn Pace

Pamela Hollings as Marilyn; Tori Truss as Abby; Peter Warden as Derek

Ross Valley Players has reopened their stage at the Barn with their first live production since the start of the pandemic, and it’s a delightful welcome indeed.

“Ripcord” is a female odd couple pairing with a sharper edge. David Lindsay-Abaire’s comedy showcases the talents of Tori Truss (Abby) and Pamela Hollings (Marilyn) as two seniors who share a room in a retirement community. The yin and yang between these two characters is a delight to watch, with snide facial gestures of Truss pitted against fluttery friendliness of Hollings.

Director Chloe Bronzan notes “The pandemic forced many into quarantine with a roommate we would have preferred to spend less time with…we are left pondering our basic need for human interaction.”

“The yin and yang between these two characters is a delight to watch.”

The main characters’ interaction in “Ripcord” is hilarious. Cranky Abby wants the room to herself, and does her darndest to get cheerful Marilyn to request a room transfer. Marilyn is undaunted, and considers Abby’s nastiness a challenge to win over. Besides, Marilyn loves the view and light from the room they share. She’s not about to move.

Peter Warden as Derek; Rebekah Kouy-Ghadosh as Colleen;
Pamela Hollings as Marilyn

The women make a bet to settle their differences to decide who moves out. Enthusiastic and positive-thinking Marilyn believes she can find a way to make the stony and stoic Abby fearful. Abby is confident she’ll find something to make the effervescent Marilyn angry.

Abby and Marilyn try practical jokes – funny at first – which elevate to vicious one-upmanship. “Ripcord” reveals their schemes through amusing scene changes, including a haunted house and a sky-diving snatch, lending the parachute’s release to the play’s name. What on earth, or in the air, will these gals do next?

RVP Newcomer Bau Tran (Scotty) brings the perfect dash of spice and sensibility to the mix as the retirement home’s staff member struggling mightily to bring reasonableness to the women’s battle. He loses this one, but it’s an amusing effort.

Nate Currier as Clown

A batch of sometimes silly supporting bits by Peter Warden, Rebekah Kouy-Ghadosh, and Nate Currier pepper the plot. Michael A. Berg adds the costumes to lend an over-the-top chaos to the madcap schemes.

Act II is more emotional, and less chaotic, as a hidden past helps put Abby’s negativity into perspective. This sideways subplot, with Currier in a serious role as Abby’s son, brings “Ripcord’s” free-falling comedy to an abrupt landing. But the bet’s still on between Abby and Marilyn.

The play’s resolution is likewise less than comedic, yet apparently satisfying to the opening night audience. Many commented “That was fun!” as they departed.

Rebekah Ghadosh as Colleen; Pamela Hollings as Marilyn;
Nate Currier as Lewis; Tori Truss as Abby; Peter Warden as Derek

RVP is determined to make a safe place for their theatre’s reopening. Covid vaccinations are required for entry, and they sell only half of the theatre’s capacity so patrons can be seated far from one another. Sadly this spacing makes it more awkward to laugh aloud at a comedy.

When you go, enjoy Tom O’Brien’s colorful stage set of the senior’s apartment and the lobby which has been redone in red carpet grandeur. Allow time to marvel at the decades of framed show posters celebrating RVP’s 90 years of productions, many of which were hand-painted.


ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.


Written byDavid Lindsay-Abaire
Directed byChloe Bronzan
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThursdays through Sundays until October 10th, 2021
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Telephone415. 456.9555
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
ASR PICK?-------

An ASR Theater Review: “Broadway Under the Stars” Season Closer “The Gala” Shines as Transcendence Theatre Celebrates 10 Yrs of Sparkle – by Cari Lynn Pace

The Gala cast — Photo credit Rob Martel

If you’re looking for a “field of dreams”, Transcendence Theatre Company brings it to Sonoma’s Jack London Historic State Park. Stars from stage and screen blend their talents amongst the classic stone ruins of the winery to perform hits from best-loved musicals for one more weekend this September. The audience was delighted to be able to return to this showcase under the sky of singers, dancers, and knock-your-socks-off musicians.

Where did this astounding talent come from? Many of these performers are taking a break from starring in a Broadway musical or touring company. They may have tasted the Sonoma lifestyle and given up their world tours to teach the joys of theatre year-round to youth in the Bay Area. Transcendence Theatre Company performers may be far from the neon lights, but their dedication to community keeps them close to their adoring public.

The Gala cast performs “Friend Like Me” — Photo credit Rob Martel

The professionals who are part of this non-profit company love being here; the company helps arrange local housing and sightseeing. No wonder they make each show the “Best Night Ever!” as Artistic Director Amy Miller enthusiastically exhorts. The audience heartily agrees.

“Transcendence Theatre Company performers may be far from the neon lights, but their dedication to community keeps them close to their adoring public.”

“The Gala” is the closing production of 2021’s summer season of “Broadway Under the Stars.” The performances start at sunset, but some show-goers make a day of it, tasting wines at local Sonoma estates. Others arrive early at Jack London Park, spreading out their picnics on tables set on the great dry lawn. Hikers explore, romantics relax, and food trucks arrive with an assortment of delicious choices. Nightly wine and beer sponsors set up counters to offer their vintages by the glass, while local pre-show musicians turn the crowd into a festive party.

Kyle Kemph performs “Waving Through the Window” — Photo credit Brennan Chin

By the time folks start filing into the winery ruins to find their assigned seats for the 7:30 show, they’ve made friends and shared laughter, and probably some food and wine as well.

“The Gala” begins with the full company in blazing white performing “The Spark of Creation” against the setting sun. This stunning opener is quickly followed by ten more song-and-dance hits from musicals, including Hamilton, Funny Girl, West Side Story, On Your Feet, In the Heights, Next to Normal, and more.

Act II begins with another full company number “Brand New Day,” but on this Saturday evening no microphones were working. The song came to a halt as Executive Director Brad Surosky took the stage to announce a restart once the sound was fixed. The audience and cast took it all in good humor. The entertainment soon buzzed back into action with selections from The Wiz, Aladdin, Dear Evan Hansen, Movin’ Out, Man of La Mancha, A New World, and more.

L to R – Emilio Ramos, Rosharra Francis, and Meggie Cansler Ness.
Photo credit Rob Martel.

Many performers danced through the audience; one sang “Lost in the Wilderness” spotlighted high up on the winery wall. Transcendence has a reputation for winners, and “The Gala” delivered boundless energy as usual. What a way to close out the summer! Let’s hope they can capture a generous matching grant to continue their award-winning shows and community work.

“The Gala” will fill the night with music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings September 17, 18 and 19th. Shows are presented at Jack London State Historic Park at 2400 London Ranch Road Glen Ellen, CA. Pre-show picnics begin at 5:00 pm; show starts at 7:30 pm.

L to R – Anna Guerra, Michael Sylvester, Rosharra Francis, and Drew Fountain. Photo credit Rob Martel.

Tickets range from $49 reserved seating to $129 for VIP (which includes wine, close-in seats and priority parking.) Dress in layers for the cooler evenings. Masks are currently highly recommended. Performances tend to fill quickly.

Heads up: Transcendence’s annual “Broadway Holiday Spectacular” is planned for December 3rd-12th outdoors at Belos Cavalos in Kenwood. Cast and details will be announced at a later date.


ASR Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a member of SFBATCC and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County.


Production"The Gala"
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed & Choreographed byLuis Salgado
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesFriday through Sunday September 17-19, 2021
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Rd. Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Telephone(877) 424-1414. Toll free,
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

An ASR Theater Review: “Galatea” – Brilliant, Heartwarming Sci-Fi at Spreckels – by Barry Willis

A mysterious survivor of a deep-space disaster is brought out of stasis more than nine decades later in the prolific David Templeton’s “Galatea,” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park through September 19.

Aboard a space station orbiting the earth, two researchers—Dr. Mailer and Dr. Hughes (Sindu Singh and Chris Schloemp, respectively)—delve into the origins of “71” (Abbey Lee) an apparently authentic member of the maintenance crew of the starship Galatea, which suffered an unexplained total destruction. Prior to the discovery of humanoid 71, and fellow crew member 29 (David L. Yen), shards of the wreckage were all that had been found, none of them substantial enough to support a working hypothesis of what might have happened.

Abbey Lee in Spreckels Theatre Company’s “Galatea.”

71’s uniform, stilted robotic speech, and lack of familiarity with basic human social interactions all support her contention that she had been a crew member aboard the Galatea. Psychotherapist Dr. Mailer hopes to reintegrate 71 into society, by coaching her through fundamentals such as greetings, conversations, gestures, and reactions to humor.

…Into the mix steps her colleague Dr. Hughes, a geeky, gregarious researcher with a bottomless collection of corny jokes…

An “EPS” (Energy Processing Synthetic) series humanoid, 71 undertakes the tutorials with a beguiling mix of robotic reluctance and enthusiasm. Versatile, uninhibited, and perfectly in control, Abbey Lee is amazing as the subject slowly transforming under Dr. Mailer’s gentle persistent guidance. Many of 71’s early attempts to mimic human behavior are both laugh-out-loud funny and almost tearfully poignant. The gambit of a humanoid attempting to become more human is clearly derived from the emotionless android character Data of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” in turn derived from the character of Pinocchio, the wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy, from the 19th-century Italian children’s story.

Sindu Singh, Abbey Lee & David L Yen at work.

Singh is outstanding as the psychotherapist Dr. Mailer—patient, methodical, and loving but pushy when necessary, with a few personal quirks (“Okey dokey, pokey”) that make her utterly charming. Into the mix steps her colleague Dr. Hughes, a geeky, gregarious researcher with a bottomless collection of corny jokes. As always, Chris Schloemp is relaxed, confident, and completely convincing as his character probes for more information about the Galatea. He consults with Dr. Mailer about 71’s progress, in the process sometimes interfering as much as he’s helping.

The denouement launches in the second act with the appearance of 29 (David L.Yen), another recently discovered Galatea veteran and revived EPS unit. Still visibly damaged and uncommunicative, 29 perks up, within his limits, at questioning about 71 and ultimately reveals all—or as much as he can remember and convey—about what went wrong with the ship and how he and 71 survived. Normally a dynamic actor, Yen here displays a previously unseen aspect of his astounding ability, portraying 29 as deeply as possible while retaining the character’s essential uni-dimensionality.

It would be hard to imagine a better cast for this lovely, heartwarming production, one that Templeton described after the opening performance as “turning the usual sci-fi trope on its head”—i.e, no marauding monsters (“Alien,” “Jurassic Park”), nefarious corporate overlords (“Blade Runner”) or armies of rebellious androids (“I, Robot”).

David L Yen and Abbey Lee in Galatea

Beautifully helmed by director Marty Pistone (assisted by Andy Templeton), the show itself emerged September 3 from 18 months of COVID-induced stasis, with Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano’s elegant set still intact—you’ve never seen a lovelier Palladian window—since the postponement of “Galatea” in early 2020, a time that now seems long ago. Chris Schloemp’s gorgeous, sometimes ephemeral projections add just the right touch for what is to date the best production to appear in the North Bay as the theater world slowly emerges from the pandemic.

“Galatea” is a rarity—a brilliant script brilliantly executed. Potential ticket buyers couldn’t ask for more.

ASR Nor Cal Edition Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


Written byDavid Templeton
Directed byMarty Pistone, assisted by Andy Templeton
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough September 19. 2021
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An ASR Theater Review — A Zoom with a View: Patty from HR Gives Corporate Training a Thumping – by Barry Willis

‘Patty from HR: Mo Patty Mo Problems,’ the sequel to writer/performer Michael Phillis’s “Patty from HR Would Like a Word” is coming to Oasis Jan. 30-Feb 1.

Corporate training sessions and their inevitable Power Point presentations are among the most dreaded rituals of modern life. Drag performer Michael Phillis must have endured dozens of them to come up with Patty from HR: A Zoom with a View, at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West through September 11.

Written, directed, and performed by Phillis, A Zoom with a View skewers the idiocy of technological culture—including, thank you very much, the irksome speech patterns of millennials. In a quick-moving one-act, Phillis’s self-deprecating Human Resources manager Patty covers everything from the early days of Netscape and dial-up modems to the present day of full-time social media as she stumbles through an inept introduction to Zoom video meetings, the bane and the salvation of many home-bound office workers during the Covid crisis.

It’s a lot to cover in only 70 frenetic minutes but Phillis does it with a delightful, goofy grace…

Her tattered Dress Barn business suit and frazzled 80s hairstyle serving as visual testament to decades spent toiling in the corporate trenches, Patty dances around the idea of Zoom, and Power Point too, and the longer she goes on, the clearer it becomes how little she actually knows about either. Imagine Dana Carvey’s “church lady” jacked up on caffeine, adrenaline, and perhaps just a tidbit of stage fright. Patty’s a corporate train wreck and you simply can’t look away.

When she stumbles (often) she gets plenty of coaching from an unseen tech assistant, whose annoyed comments act as punctuation for Patty’s non-stop blather, directed scattershot at herself, her audience, and her corporate overlords. It’s a lot to cover in only 70 frenetic minutes but Phillis does it with a delightful, goofy grace that earned plenty of laughs and sustained applause on opening night.


Main Stage West co-artistic director Keith Baker enjoys a cameo as “Kevin,” an underling who supplies her with props. Patty is never quite sure about names, a running gag throughout the show, and of course, a detriment for any human resource professional. That’s one of many repeated themes tightly woven into the fabric of this expertly conceived and executed production, its three-week run an injustice to its comedic brilliance.

A Zoom with a View runs Thursday-Friday-Saturday at 8 pm through September 11, with a 5 pm matinee Sunday September 5.

ASR Nor Cal Edition Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact:


ProductionPatty from HR: A Zoom with a View
Written byMichael Phillis
Directed byMichael Phillis
Producing CompanyMain Stage West
Production DatesThrough Sept 11th
Production AddressMain Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Telephone(707) 823-0177
Tickets$20 – $32
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!YES!