PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Musical “As You Like It” at SF Playhouse

By Mitchell Field

As You Like It, the Musical at SF Playhouse is delightful. Originally presented by The Public Theater, The New York Times named it among “The Best Theater of 2017.”

The performances are terrific, all the actors clearly having a great time onstage, totally invested in giving their absolute best to drive the show along and to entertain. This modern adaptation of a Shakespearean classic is well-directed by Bill English, who on opening night graciously thanked members of the press for attending.

The show is just plain fun!

Entrances and exits are head-spinningly perfect, the rollicking energy spectacular. The spare sets by English and Heather Kenyon are great, the lighting superb, (David Robertson), the choreography marvelous (Nicole Helfer), the costuming charming (Kathleen Qiu), and the live band terrific (Dave Dobrusky + 4). The show is just plain fun! They even threw in a Kanye West joke.

Oliver (front left: Ryan Torres) is summoned into court by Duke Frederick (Will Springhorn Jr. – center back), viewed by (l to r: Renee Rogoff, Jillian A. Smith, Johann Santiago Santos) in SF Playhouse’s musical version of “As You Like It”. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

The production has many elements of an English pantomime, a Christmas-season tradition in the UK. This reviewer would have enjoyed seeing even more of this. Slapstick components include topical humor, call-and-response lines with the audience, a “drag” character (in addition to Rosalind, the Bard’s original), and some lame “badda-bing” jokes such as:

  • “Did you know that I own a pencil used by William Shakespeare? He chewed on it a lot though, so I can’t tell if it’s 2B or not 2B.”
  • “Did you know that Shakespeare was able to write with either his left or right hand equally well? Yes, he was iambidextrous.”

“Over-the-top” is a perfect description of this show. My guest loved it and so did the entire audience. The 17 players received a well-deserved standing-O at the end.

Orlando (Nikita Burshteyn) invades the forest community of Arden (l to r: Ezra Reaves, Emily Dwyer, Jillian A. Smith) in the forest of Arden in San Francisco Playhouse’s musical version of “As You Like It,” performing now through January 14, 2023. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

Even though the songs in this show are written by Shaina Taub, currently working with Sir Elton John on a musical adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, I didn’t leave the auditorium singing or even humming the songs, My Fair Lady it ain’t, but how many musical shows are? Even so, as a fun, entertaining theater experience, it was “as I like it.”

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Mitchell Field is a Sr. Contributing Writer for Aisle Seat Review. Based in Marin County, Mr. Field is an actor and voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: mitchfield@aol.com

 

ProductionAs You Like It, the Musical
Written byWilliam Shakespeare - adapted by Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub
Directed by
Musical direction by
Bill English
Dave Dobrusky
Producing CompanySan Francisco Playhouse
Production DatesThru Jan 14th, 2023
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
Websitewww.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2022-2023-season/indecent/
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$15 - $100
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Gypsy” an Oldie but Still a Goodie!

By Mitchell Field

Marin County’s venerated 110 year-old Mountain Play, which bills itself as a “Great Outdoor Theatre Adventure” is currently producing the 63-year-old Broadway smash musical Gypsy indoors. Neither is showing its age.

Nor is the venue, The Barn Theater at the Marin Art and Garden Center. Normally the home of the 92-year-old Ross Valley Players, the theater has undergone a recent face-lift, including brand new seats and a remodeled concession area.

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by the then 30-year-old Stephen Sondheim, 1959’s Gypsy is a much-beloved American musical about a fame-obsessed stage-mother during the waning days of vaudeville, with her itinerant troupe of ‘kids’– including her own two daughters, one of whom grows up to become the world-famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee, on whose memoir the show is loosely based.

Director/choreographer Zoe Swenson-Graham’s well-cast group of thirteen exuberant performers, including two Equity actors, play thirty-seven different roles in this three-hour extravaganza, on choreographer/scenic artist Zachary Isen’s clever yet spare set, with musical-direction by Jon Gallo.

…Is Gypsy a superb black comedy or an American tragedy? Decide for yourself at this smashing production.

Even those who are not musical-theater aficionados will probably be familiar with the show’s hits: “Some People,” “‘Together, (Wherever We Go),” the classic strip-tease number “Let Me Entertain You” and Broadway belter favorite “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

“Gypsy” guys: L to R – Anthony Maglio as Yonkers, Alex Alvarez as Tulsa, Lucas Michael Chandler as L.A., and Michaela Marymor as Broadway Boy. Photos: Robin Jackson

This over-the-top musical, which American essayist Frank Rich described as, ” . . . nothing if not Broadway’s own brassy, unlikely answer to King Lear . . .” demands that performers give their all to pull it off successfully. Swenson-Graham’s troupe does just that, led by Dyan McBride as the ultimate likeable-but-nightmarish stage mother.

Jill Jacobs as Gypsy Rose Lee. Photos: Robin Jackson

McBride’s Mama Rose drives ahead constantly, no matter the difficulties, financial setbacks, slap-downs, fleabag accommodations and poverty. She’s ready, able and willing to digest even canned dog food to achieve her ambition of propelling her daughter June to stardom. It’s hard not to despise the ego-driven Rose, whom theater critic Clive Barnes described as “one of the few truly complex characters in the American musical’ and yet not admire her at the same time for her grit and spirit, as she harangues and uses her own children and everyone else around her, including her long-suffering boyfriend/manager Herbie, played charmingly by Bay Area stage veteran DC Scarpelli.

Her awkward, yearning-to-be-loved daughter Louise’s ultimate transformation into the glamorous, sexy Gypsy Rose Lee is quite extraordinary. The talented Jill Jacobs absolutely kills it. While the primary plot is Mama Rose’s struggle to keep her act afloat in a changing market, the secondary plot is a wonderful ugly duckling story.

Alexandra Fry as ‘Baby June’ in “Gypsy” at The Barn.

Alexandra Fry and Julia Ludwig, as daughter June at different ages, also shine. Swenson-Graham’s supporting cast is terrific. In the show’s most hilarious burlesque scene, showgirls Michaela Marymor and Libby Oberlin and the outstanding Tanika Baptiste, as stripper Tessie Tura, dance and prance in Adriana Gutierrez’s fabulously ridiculous outfits, one of which even lights up! Kudos to Marymor who cutely ad-libbed when one piece failed to fire up on opening night.

The lighting of a stage show is critical to its ambiance and drama. Ellen Brooks and Frank Sarubbi handle the Barn’s lighting design with aplomb. Bruce Vieira’s sound design follows suit.

There’s no live orchestra for this production, unlike regular Mountain Play performances, but the recorded tracks directed by Sean Paxton work well, although sometimes the music seemed to overwhelm the vocals. Perhaps the volume might be lowered for the music or the lead performers should be miked.

Is Gypsy a superb black comedy or an American tragedy? Decide for yourself at this smashing production.

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Mitchell Field is a Sr. Contributing Writer for Aisle Seat Review. Based in Marin County, Mr. Field is an actor and voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: mitchfield@aol.com

 

ProductionGypsy
Written byBook: Arthur Laurents.
Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Directed byZoe Swenson-Graham
Producing CompanyThe Mountain Play Association / Ross Valley Players
Production DatesThrough Dec 18, 2022
Production AddressThe Barn Theater @ Marin Art & Garden Center 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Ross, CA.
Websiterossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone(415) 456-9555
Tickets$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft3.5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Classic Comedy: “The One Act Play That Goes Wrong”

By Mitchell Field

In an era when so many live entertainment venues have closed down, how encouraging it is that a new one has opened: The California Theatre of Santa Rosa, California.

Before the end of 2022, the cabaret-style venue will host blues music, comedy nights, cabaret, a solo show, soul music and a “Mardi-Gras Style” New Year’s Eve party on Dec. 31. Unlike many other Bay Area theaters, The California offers beer, wine, cocktails and a menu of snacks, plus pizza and salads.

The California is also the new home of Left Edge Theatre, featuring through November 20, the hilarious farce, The One Act Play That Goes Wrong. It’s a condensed version of the comedy-collective Mischiefs’ world-famous The Play That Goes Wrong that originally premiered at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London in 2012 and went on to win the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

… the terrific eight-person cast all manage to find the foolishness in every turn…

This production is a classic 1920s murder mystery, involving the totally inept and accident-prone Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, attempting to stage a production of The Murder at Haversham Manor. A police inspector has been sent to a country manor to investigate a mysterious death. It might be murder and everyone is a suspect in this Monty Python-style riot.

With falling props, missed cues, forgotten lines, hilariously mispronounced dialog, slapstick antics and a secret romance, the whole sidesplitting debacle ends with a total collapse of the set. Giving away the ending is of no consequence in this case because everyone (except of course the play’s characters) can clearly see what’s coming . . . and it does.

The secret to success for this type of show is in the actors not playing it for laughs but being absolutely serious and in the moment, no matter what happens, allowing the audience to split their sides with laughter. That’s exactly what they did on opening night. Well directed by North Bay theater veteran, actor/director David L. Yen, the terrific eight-person cast all manage to find the foolishness in every turn.

A big welcome to The California! This theatergoer hopes that it finds its audiences and that it thrives in the Bay Area.

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Mitchell Field is a Sr. Contributing Writer for Aisle Seat Review. Based in Marin County, Mr. Field is an actor and voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: mitchfield@aol.com

 

ProductionThe One Act Play That Goes Wrong
Written byHenry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields
Directed
Musical Direction
David L. Yen
Producing CompanyLeft Edge Theater Co.
Production DatesThru Nov 20th, 2022
Production AddressCalifornia Theatre
528 7th St.
Santa Rosa, CA
Websitewww.leftedgetheatre.com
Telephone(707) 664-7529
Tickets$22-$35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “The Moors”: a Brontean Treat at Main Stage West

By Mitchell Field

When attractive young Emilie (Katherine Rupers), arrives to take a governess position and perhaps find love at a manor house on the foggy Brontean English moors, instead of encountering any children (nor indeed her possible suitor, a Mr. Branwell, who has apparently been writing her increasingly romantic recruitment letters), she finds instead his two odd sisters, the older starched-and-strict Agatha (Brenda Reed) and Huldey (Madison Scarbrough), the younger lonely scattered diary-scribbler.

The sisters are served by a grumpy, typhus-ridden and perhaps pregnant scullery-maid named Margory (Taylor Diffenderfer), mysteriously named Mallory when she acts as the parlor-maid in the house where little is as it appears.

Cast of “the Moors” at work.

Indeed, during the ponderous first act of The Moors, Jen Silverman’s beautifully crafted, pitch-black absurdist romance, even the home’s rooms take on different names and functions, while Emilie wanders about the house in her own foggy haze, trying to figure out what’s going on and whatever happened to Mr. Branwell, who’s purportedly “unavailable” in the attic. While Agatha has her own reason for wanting Emilie around, her woman-child sister Huldey appears willing to consider murder to get the attention she craves.

…Silverman’s delightfully quirky play about love and loneliness…

There are two other characters in the play, the home’s desolate, browbeaten dog “The Mastiff” (Kevin Bordi) who conducts a love-affair with an injured Moorhen (Nora Summers) although precisely what this charming and heartbreaking story-line has to do with the play’s plot is also murky. But no matter.

Kevin Biordi as the Mastiff in “The Moors” at Main Stage West

The second act of The Moors figuratively burns down the house as all hell breaks loose in director James Pelican’s cleverly-staged production on David Lear’s sumptuous set, featuring Tracy Hinman’s period-perfect costuming.

In Silverman’s delightfully quirky play about love and loneliness, every one of Main Stage West’s perfectly-balanced cast-members turns in a tremendous performance. When was the last time you were brought to tears by a lonely dog’s inner feelings or charmed by a skittish Moorhen with a game leg due to a poor sense of direction?

Reed’s Agnes is as frosty as ice and more brittle, even while talking love. Rupers is sexy yet sweetly naive as Emilie, until she isn’t, while negotiating her future real-estate, Diffenderfer’s Margery/Mallory is deliciously sly and as dry as the dust she sweeps, while Scarborough’s Huldey absolutely kills it with a hilarious yet completely unexpected cabaret-style song.

The New York Times called The Moors — “Truly clever and intelligent, You really ought to see this.” This reviewer agrees completely.

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Mitchell Field is a Sr. Contributing Writer for Aisle Seat Review. Based in Marin County, Mr. Field is an actor and voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC). Contact: mitchfield@aol.com

 

ProductionThe Moors
Written byJen Silverman
Directed byJames Pelican
Producing CompanyMain Stage West
Production DatesThrough Oct. 23, 2022
Production AddressMain Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Websitewww.mainstagewest.com
Telephone(707) 823-0177
Tickets$20– $32
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Maximum Nostalgia: “Follies” at SF Playhouse

By Mitchell Field

Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical “Follies” first opened April 4, 1971. It was nominated for eleven Tony Awards, won seven, and has enjoyed many revivals.

During her 1987 West End performance, Eartha Kitt sparked a comeback and went on to perform her own one-woman show to sold-out houses after “Follies” closed. Several songs from the show—“Broadway Baby,” “I’m Still Here,” “Losing My Mind”—have become standards.

…an awesome, great, and exhausting show, done with San Francisco Playhouse panache!

The latest version of “Follies” arrived at the San Francisco Playhouse July 20, after five years in development and delays due to Covid. The show had never been performed in its entirety by a professional troupe in The City, according to director Bill English, also co-designer of the show’s imposing set and projections with Heather Kenyon.

Phyllis Rogers Stone (Maureen McVerry*, center) reckons with life’s choices through ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie,’ accompanied by (L-R) Jill Slyter, Chachi Delgado, Anthony Maglio, M. Javi Harnly, Cameron La Brie, and Ann Warque. Photo courtesy SF Playhouse. (*Equity Actor)

Set as a reunion of past performers of the “Weismann’s Follies,” (a musical revue based on the Ziegfeld Follies, that played in that theater between the world wars) in a soon-to-be-demolished Broadway theater, the show focuses on two mature married couples at the reunion: Buddy and Sally (Anthony Rollins-Mullens and Natascia Diaz, respectively) and Ben and Phyllis (Chris Vettel and Maureen McVerry, respectively).

Sally and Phyllis were once showgirls in the Follies; both marriages are in trouble. Ghosts of former showgirls as youngsters glide through the crumbling theater without being seen by the revelers. Thus begins a series of musical numbers performed by the Follies’ many veterans, exploring their lives and desires, while “invisible” younger performers mirror them in counterpoint. Other ghosts from former shows appear and the characters try to recapture their youth in re-creations of past performances.

The ghosts of Follies past (L-R: Catrina Manahan, Samantha Rose Cárdenas, Ann Warque, Danielle Cheiken, and Emily Corbo) welcome you to Dimitri Weismann’s theater. Photo courtesy SF Playhouse.

Broadway producer/director Hal Prince said of the show: ” ‘Follies’ examines obsessive behavior, neurosis and self-indulgence.”

Spirited, emotional and touching musical numbers performed by a perfectly-cast blend of seasoned professionals and talened newcomers fill this production with energy and verve, as do many lively and dynamic dance routines.

While the book by James Goldman is thin on plot, as one of the show’s characters opines: “Facts never interest me, what matters is the song!” Originally a one-act show, “Follies” was later expanded into two acts. Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote: “It wasn’t until the second act that I fell in love all over again with ‘Follies’.” This reviewer concurs.

As with several Sondheim shows, the second act is often “where the beef is.” The second act of “Follies” is wildly divergent from the first, as in “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Into the Woods.” In “Follies,” the first act is primarily the introduction of characters and their back-stories. It’s a lot of exposition in the midst of glittering showgirls and assorted middle-aged matrons at the reunion party. Either by design or possibly due to opening-night nerves, act one got off to a stilted start, making the second act all the more spectacular.

Benjamin Stone (Chris Vettel*, center) reevaluates his priorities during ‘Live, Laugh, Love,’ accompanied by the Follies company (L-R: Emily Corbo, Anthony Maglio, Samantha Rose Cárdenas*, M. Javi Harnly, Catrina Manahan, Chachi Delgado, and Danielle Cheiken). Photo courtesy SF Playhouse. (*Equity Actor)

In the ‘Loveland’ scene, (“the place where lovers are always young and beautiful, and everyone lives only for love”), Sally, Phyllis, Ben and Buddy, perform in a dream-like pastiche of vaudeville-style numbers in which each acts out their own particular folly.

The scene culminates in total hysteria, as the characters reveal their true emotions for all to see, before returning to the theater, the end of the reunion and the rest of their lives.

A long odyssey for SF Playhouse, “Follies” is an enormous undertaking for any theater company, requiring a large cast of triple-threat performers. The late critic Martin Gottfried wrote: “Follies is truly awesome and, if it is not consistently good, it is always great.”

This production lives up Gottfired’s description. Expertly directed by Bill English, with gorgeous costumes by Alba Berman and choreography by Nicole Helfer, it’s an awesome, great, and exhausting show, done with San Francisco Playhouse panache!

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Contributing Writer Mitchell Field is an actor and voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle based in Marin County, California. Contact: mitchfield@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionFollies
Written / Music byBook by James Goldman. Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed byBill English
Producing CompanySF Playhouse
Production DatesThru September 10th, 2022
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post St., San Francisco, CA.
Websitehttps://www.sfplayhouse.org
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$30-$100
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!