ASR Theater ~~Pear Theatre’s Quirky “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday”

By Joanne Engelhardt American playwright Sarah Ruhl’s plays are frequently fascinating and often almost psychological studies of families. Many of her plays have appeared on Broadway, and two were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. She received a Tony Award for Best Play for In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). She’s also an …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Hillbarn Theatre’s “Rent”— A Haunting Look Back at AIDS

By Joanne Engelhardt If you’ve never seen Rent, Hillbarn Theatre’s rendering of what happened in the lower East Side of New York City in 1989 will give you goosebumps. It’s an authentic look at what young people had to deal with during that era. Not only is the cast filled with marvelous singers, but the …

ASR Theater ~~ Coastal Rep’s “Boeing, Boeing.” An Amusing Look Back at the 1960s

By Joanne Engelhardt What happens when the electricity and amplification go off in the middle of a performance? If you’re the cast and crew of Coastal Repertory Theatre in Half Moon Bay, you just go with the flow and continue the performance! That’s what happened last Sunday afternoon when this reviewer saw CRT’s pleasantly charming …

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ Steven Anthony Jones Soars in “How I Learned What I Learned”

By Joanne Engelhardt Not many actors can stand on stage for 90+ minutes and talk with just a few sips of water – all the while keeping an audience mesmerized. Yet that’s exactly what Steven Anthony Jones does in August Wilson’s theatrical memoir How I Learned What I Learned. As directed by former TheatreWorks Silicon …

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ Palo Alto Players’ Mesmerizing “Misery”

By Joanne Engelhardt Expect to spend more than 1 ½ hours being mesmerized by the Palo Alto Players’ production of Misery, running through Feb. 4 at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto. It’s so scary you might even consider taking a Valium before heading to the theater! Because of all the suspense, violence, and downright …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ TheatreWorks’ Terrific “25th Annual Putnam Co. Spelling Bee”

By Joanne Engelhardt A funny thing happened on the way to creating Silicon Valley TheatreWorks’ top-notch production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. When auditions were held, Broadway actor (and TheatreWorks alum) James Monroe Iglehart was Spelling Bee’s director. He cast the fine actors who are now performing at Lucie Stern Theater. But …

ASR Theater ~~ A 6’2” Elf Captures Hearts In LASC’s “Elf The Musical”

By Joanne Engelhardt Ridiculous, implausible, irresistible: Elf, the Musical will worm its way into the hearts of young and old alike in Los Altos Stage Company’s holiday production running through Dec. 23 at Bus Barn Theater. Before the start of the actual play, Santa (Michael Johnson), in a dignified-looking dressing gown, sat down in a …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ An Uplifting “Sound of Music” at Hillbarn Theatre

By Joanne Engelhardt Rogers and Hammerstein’s iconic musical The Sound of Music is so ingrained in the annals of Broadway, Hollywood, and the community theatre world that one wonders what a new production can offer. Quite a lot, to judge by the standing ovation given it on opening night (Dec. 1) at Hillbarn Theatre in …

ASR Theater ~~ Shakespeare and Zombies at the Pear Theater – What a Combo!

By Joanne Engelhardt John Heimbuch’s William Shakespeare’s The Land of the Dead is a pairing that almost works at The Pear Theater in Mountain View. That it keeps the audience’s attention as much as it does is due in large part to some fine acting performances and the steady direction of Sinjin Jones, The Pear’s …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ PAP’S “Wizard of Oz” a Nostalgic Delight

By Joanne Engelhardt There she is, her hair in short pigtails, wearing a starched blue-and-white pinafore over her plain white dress. If that doesn’t take you back to your own childhood, nothing will. It’s Dorothy Gale (a delightful Libby Einav) and her little dog Toto (played by a stuffed replica named Beanie) who decides to …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Seussical” a Giddy, Colorful Musical at Woodside Musical Theatre

By Joanne Engelhardt Dare to admit that you’ve never read “Green Eggs and Ham,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hears a Who,” and….duh: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” OK, if you didn’t read them, then it’s likely someone read them to you when you were a little tike. Woodside Musical Theatre’s playful production of …

ASR Theater ~~ TheatreWorks’Disjointed Retelling of Agatha Christie’s Disappearance

By Joanne Engelhardt Whether or not you’re an ardent devotee’ of all things Agatha Christie, you likely will find much to appreciate in Mrs. Christie, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s current production at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. In this reviewer’s opinion, high praise should be showered on the incredibly beautiful scenic design by …

PICK! ASR THEATER ~~ Talented Cast Lifts Hillbarn’s “Baskerville”

By Joanne Engelhardt You can count on one hand theatrical productions where the supporting cast is by far the best part of the play. Add Hillbarn Theatre’s current production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery to that short list. Ludwig is known for his comedic work including Lend Me a Tenor (which won …

ASR Theater ~~ Palo Alto Players’ “Matilda” A Mixed Bag

By Joanne Engelhardt Palo Alto Players’ current production of the musical version of the beloved Roald Dahl book, Matilda is a bit of a mixed bag. While there are odd bits to enjoy – most especially Doug Santana’s uproarious acting and buxom look as the school’s old bag principal, Miss Agatha Trunchbull – there are …

Pick ASR Theater ~~ Prepare to Die Laughing at Pear Theatre’s “Noises Off”

By Joanne Engelhardt It’s a miracle that Mountain View’s tiny Pear Theatre pulls off the complex staging required for the insanely wacky Michael Frayn comedy Noises Off. Some may recall that Frayn’s 1982 play was made into a film a decade later with Carol Burnett playing the role of the housekeeper Mrs. Clackett/Dotty who keeps …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Top-Notch Fun with “Kinky Boots” at SJ’s City Lights Theater

By Joanne Engelhardt  Seeing Kinky Boots at City Lights Theater in San Jose is a little like witnessing a 2 ½-hour earthquake: It’s guaranteed to shake you right down to your boots, shoes, slippers or whatever else you’re currently wearing on your feet. The much-acclaimed musical starts out rather innocently, with a young white boy …

ASR Theater ~~ “Falsettos” – A Mixed Bag at The Pear Theatre

By Joanne Engelhardt A strange musical production with an equally strange history is currently on stage at The Pear Theatre in Mountain View. Falsettos is an impressive undertaking for a small theatre which seldom offers musicals in its season. First, there’s a four-piece band, led by conductor Val Zvinyatskovsky, playing in a tiny second-story balcony. …

ASR Theater ~~ ASR Theater. “Puffs”: All Things Harry Potter…Minus The J.K. Rowling

By Joanne Engelhardt If you’ve never read a Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies based on the books, then how will you understand Puffs, a play written in 2015 by New York-based playwright Mike Cox? One suggestion: Bring along a 13-year-old to enlighten you. In any event, the full title of Cox’s …

ASR Theater ~~ Funny and Sweet: TheatreWorks’ “Steel Magnolias”

By Joanne Engelhardt Make no mistake: The women of Chinquapin parish are as delicate as magnolias – but as tough as steel. That’s why Robert Harling’s play, Steel Magnolias has endured since it first premiered in New York in 1987. Two years later, it was made into a movie featuring a whole lineup of Academy …

ASR Theater ~~ Pointillism on Point in LASC’s “Sunday in the Park with George”

By Joanne Engelhardt For its current production of Sunday in the Park with George, Los Altos Stage Company turned its proscenium into a gold frame – a very large gold frame, thanks to the efforts of scenic designer Skip Epperson. The James Lapine-Steven Sondheim musical gets a credible showing at LASC, despite the relatively small …

ASR Theater ~~ “The Spongebob Musical” Goofy, Wacky, Colorful at Palo Alto Players

By Joanne Engelhardt When you’ve never watched one single cartoon episode of Spongebob Squarepants, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage seeing the latest Palo Alto Players production, The Spongebob Musical. No matter. The set is so full of spectacular lights, sounds and moving parts, the characters are so darn silly (but likeable), the musical …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “The Producers” Still Enthralls at Hillbarn

By Joanne Engelhardt The astonishing thing about The Producers is that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, its inane characters, its music and its heart still catch you by surprise. Mel Brooks, writer of the book, music, and lyrics, is a legendary master of this kind of comedy. Running at Foster City’s Hillbarn …

ASR Theater ~~ “Pear Slices” 2023: A Mixed Bag of Offerings

By Joanne Engelhardt The Pear Playwrights Guild is made up of about fifteen playwrights, although five more are currently listed as “on leave.” Of the fifteen active playwrights, seven wrote short plays for this year’s Pear Slices, at Mountain View’s Pear theater. (Two wrote two each, making a total of nine short plays. The plays …

ASR Theater ~~ TheatreWorks’ “A Distinct Society” a Vague Memory of Long Ago

By Joanne Engelhardt A wonderfully inviting library located exactly on the border between a small town in northern Vermont and a Quebecoise town is the setting for TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of A Distinct Society. There’s a cozy children’s nook filled not only with children’s books but also pint-sized furniture, an abacas and a couple …

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ LASC’s Exquisite “Harold and Maude”

By Joanne Engelhardt   Los Altos Stage Company’s executive artistic director Gary Landis came up with a winning formula for their production of Harold and Maude, which opened April 14 and runs through May 7. Landis relates that he decided to include Harold and Maude in the 2022-23 season because it was the 50th anniversary …

ASR Theater ~~ Stilted “Perfect Arrangement” at Hillbarn Theatre

By Joanne Engelhardt Topher Payne’s 2014 production Perfect Arrangement seems horribly out of date even though written a scant nine years ago. That’s why it’s surprising that Foster City’s Hillbarn Theatre and director Tyler Christie decided to make it part of the 2022-23 season. Although it’s played mostly for laughs – as in I Love …

PICK! ASR THEATER ~~ Heartfelt Story: Fannie Lou Hamer Celebrated at TheatreWorks

By Joanne Engelhardt You know you’re in for a story about the plight of Southern Black people when you take your seat in the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto for Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer and see signs all over the theater walls with slogans like “Folks died so you …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Into the Woods” A Delightful Stroll at Foothill Theatre Arts

By Joanne Engelhardt There’s nothing like a relatively small theater to enable audiences to appreciate the wonder, the magic and the magnificence of Stephen Sondheim’s way with words. That’s what’s in store for anyone lucky enough to get a ticket to the current Foothill Theatre Arts production of Into the Woods, running through March 19 …

PICK! ASR THEATER ~~ Excellence! Hillbarn Theatre’s “Assassins”

By Joanne Engelhardt Horrible topic. Terrible timing. Yet when Hillbarn Theatre’s production of Assassins opened last weekend, it was, in a word, spellbinding. Imagine watching the incredibly talented Andre Amarotico kill President Abraham Lincoln a few days after the news of the seven farm workers shot in Half Moon Bay. Amarotico’s acting skills are so …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ A Devilishly Good Elf Makes Hillbarn’s “Elf, the Musical” a Don’t Miss Production!

By Joanne Engelhardt When you have as versatile an actor as Dave J. Abrams playing Buddy the Elf, it’s impossible to go wrong. Director Randy Ohara can justifiably be pleased with his new hit Elf, the Musical, running through Dec. 18 at the Foster City theater. This young man – locally educated at UC Berkeley …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ PAP’s Production Has Lilting Voices — And A Few Strange Choices

By Joanne Engelhardt An enchanting Belle, a handsome, muscular Gaston and snappy choreography. What could go wrong? A few things, actually, although the large opening night audience at the Palo Alto Players’ production of Beauty and the Beast probably didn’t notice. In fact, after the big Act 1 production number “Belle” — featuring the entire …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Coastal Rep’s Engrossing “Murder on the Nile”

By Joanne Engelhardt Who doesn’t love a “whodunit?” Audiences revel in the idea of trying to figure out which one of a number of suspects is the culprit. And who is the Queen of that genre? Agatha Christie, of course. Director Brad Friedman and Coastal Repertory Theatre in Half Moon Bay figured it was a safe …

ASR Theater ~~ Amusing Back-to-back Productions at Pear Theatre

By Joanne Engelhardt Although the Pear Theatre in Mountain View is currently offering two 90-minute plays in repertoire through Oct. 2, one far outshines the other, most likely because one of them was written by a more experienced playwright. Jen Silverman’s “Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties” is practically a laugh-a-minute as the lives …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Everything’s Rosy in Hillbarn Theatre’s “Gypsy”

By Joanne Engelhardt Rose– as in Mama Rose, the ball-busting lead character of the much-performed and universally loved musical “Gypsy,” is obviously a force to be reckoned with. But when that role is played by the phenomenally talented Stephanie Prentice, whose full-throated vocals can likely be heard at least several blocks away, it’s definitely worth …

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Palo Alto Players Delight with “School of Rock”

By Joanne Engelhardt With a bushel of fresh-faced, multi-talented kids, Palo Alto Players has a hit on its hand with the broad comedy “School of Rock,” playing through Sept. 11 at Lucie Stern Theater. Sure, there are tons of hackneyed caricatures in “Rock,” the kind that Julian Fellows creates here. In fact, almost all the …

Our Writers

Our Writers Kris Neely is ASR’s Founder, Owner, and Editor-in-Chief. Kris served as a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle (SFBATCC) and also served as a Theater Bay Area (TBA) Adjudicator. He is a stage director who earned an SFBATCC Best Director award (Lend Me a Tenor, Ross Valley Players) in …