Pick ASR! “Million Dollar Quartet”— A Whole Lot of Shaking Goin’ On!

By Cari Lynn Pace

I rocked my way through the 1960s and ‘70s, blithely unaware that the music that made me dance had its roots in ‘50s-era Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. They had a mutual connection in their early discovery by Sam Phillips, a music producer at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

One incredible night in 1956, these four legends showed up at Sun Records. Each had a different agenda. Million Dollar Quartet is the ostensibly true story of what may have happened that unforgettable night.

Million Dollar Quartet is a freewheeling frenzied ride …

Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse presented Million Dollar Quartet in 2019 to great acclaim. Their GK Hardt stage is once again rockin’ the house with this hit Broadway musical.

The cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” at work, 6th Street Theater, Santa Rosa. Pictures courtesy 6th Street.

Director (and music director) Steve Lasiter doubles his formidable talents playing Johnny Cash. Lasiter has channeled “The Man in Black” in national tours. He’s joined onstage by Elvis, a movin’ and shakin’ Nathan Roberts. Roberts gets the audience roaring when he encourages the audience to beg for more.

Nathan Roberts as Elvis in “Million Dollar Quartet” at 6th Street Theater, Santa Rosa. Pictures courtesy 6th Street.

Wyatt Andrew Brownell harnesses the wild energy of Jerry Lee Lewis, complete with his foot bangin’ piano. Jake Turner portrays songwriter/guitarist Carl Perkins as the oft-disregarded rockabilly star chasing his next hit. These actors are musicians who take glee in trying to “one-up” each other when they hog the mike.

The backstory gradually exposes why these four have come to meet up with Phillips, “The Father of Rock and Roll,” a part perfectly cast with veteran Dwayne Stincelli. Phillips is credited with discovering and nurturing many musicians to the top of the charts. When his artists’ agent contracts renew, surprises occur.

Steve Lasiter (right) in “Million Dollar Quartet” at 6th Street Theater. Pictures courtesy 6th Street.

Joining the on-and-off recording session are George Smeltz on drums, with Michael Leal Price on the upright bass. Elvis brings his current girlfriend (sultry Jennifer Barnaba) to the gathering. She lends silky singing and style to soften the macho-but-friendly aggression between the guys.

Million Dollar Quartet is a freewheeling frenzied ride, playing “Can you top this?” to the audience. One drawback is that the comfortable seats at the GK Hardt Theatre leave no room for dancing in the aisles. If you never heard these legends in person—or even if you did—come rock with this show. There’s a whole lot of shaking goin’ on!

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionMillion Dollar Quartet
Written byColin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Directed bySteve Lasiter
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse
Production DatesThru May 4th, 2024
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$35 to $58
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

Other Voices: “Million Dollar Quartet”

'Lovers of old school rock ‘n' roll will get a big bang out of 'Million Dollar Quartet,' a mighty slick jukebox musical powered by a dynamite song stack and dynamic portrayals of the four legends singing ‘em..."
New Jersey Newsroom
"What exactly is it that makes the new musical 'Million Dollar Quartet' so damn enjoyable and invigorating? Is it the pure simplicity and rapid-fire energy of four rock 'n' roll legends performing their signature tunes for 100 blissful minutes? Is it the charisma and talent of the actors who portray these legendary figures Whatever the case, it's one hell of a winner..."
On Off Broadway
"The musicianship sells this entertainment. If the rockabilly rhythms of Perkins or the proto-rocker antics of Lewis don't set your heart to palpitating, then 'Million Dollar Quartet' will be lost on you. The calculation is that fans of early rock-and-roll and idolaters of Presley and Cash are of an age and economic level to fill the Nederlander's pews. And for them, the musical will feel at times like a throbbing worship service..."
The Washington Post

Pick! ASR  Theater ~~ RVP’s New Works Musical Celebrates “The Divine Sarah”

By Cari Lynn Pace

As a child, when I was being overly whiney or dramatic, asking my mom for some permission, she would sometimes ask, “Who are you, Sarah Bernhardt?”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I know it had something to do with my pleading going over the top.

Ross Valley Players exalted and explained my mom’s response, going over the top with their new work, The Divine Sarah, directed by award-winning Jay Manley. Prior to the opening, Manley noted, “It’s always a challenge to present a new show.”

… a well-crafted story …

In this reviewer’s eyes, the challenge has been met and exceeded admirably. Manley’s assemblage of talented actors and singers, with an original script and songs by June Richards and Elaine Lang, gave RVP a full house on opening night and a standing ovation.

Merrill Grant as Sarah Bernhardt at RVP. Photos by Robin Jackson

So—who was this Sarah Bernhardt, beautifully channeled by Merrill Grant, and why was she so famous? The house lights dim …

The play begins in 1844 with narration punctuated by musical numbers. A large and well-rehearsed cast clad in fabulous period costumes by Michael A. Berg enters the stage flanked by musicians Jon Gallo on keyboards and Diana Lee on cello.

Sarah’s life as an unwanted child is delightfully sung by Alexandra Fry. Fry’s doppelgänger has to be Amanda Seyfried, that charmingly lovely songbird. RVP is fortunate to have such talent to cast in these local productions. Sarah pleads for love and acceptance from her dismissive mother, imperiously played by Anna L. Joham. No luck there, so Sarah is sent to a convent.

(L-R) The cast at work, including Julia Ludwig, Merrill Grant, Brad Parks, & Keith Jefferds. Photos by Robin Jackson

The balance of Act I recounts Sarah’s early washout as a dancer, actor, and singer. Rejected as talentless by school and theatre company alike, Sarah is kept moving on only by her mother’s wealthy and influential lover, a relative of the French Emperor, perfectly portrayed by RVP favorite Keith Jefferds.

By intermission at the end of Act I, one wonders when the star of the show will actually become a star.

Act II details Sarah’s path of flamboyance as she beings to conquer a war-weary Paris. She’s a notorious rebel, a single unmarried mother, a femme fatale with multiple lovers. She’s exotic, and hailed as the “Goddess of the Left Bank.” Beautiful Sarah flaunts convention and is expert at self-promotion.

She acts with overt drama onstage, dismisses lovers when it suits her career path, writes and publishes a book with her own illustrations, and styles herself as the high fashion influencer of her time. She spends more than she makes, tempting seizure of her assets. Sarah is a diva, a celebrity famous for being famous. All this without social media of the sort we have today!

(L-R) The cast of “The Divine Sarah” at work at The Barn. Photos by Robin Jackson

Throughout The Divine Sarah the cast stays impressively true to their characters. Kudos to Director Manley for drawing out gestures and facial expressions to pull in the audience. The plot at times reads like a soap opera, and one wonders if perhaps it might benefit from a bit of trimming, but the actors are all a pleasure to watch.

Love or dismiss the woman at the center of the story, but you’ll remember RVP’s The Divine Sarah as a well-crafted story of a woman who shattered conventions — and raised a glass of champagne while doing it. Go see it!

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionThe Divine Sarah
Written byJune Richards and Elaine Lang
Directed byJay Manley
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru April 7th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Tickets$20-$35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5.0
Performance4/5.0
Script3/5.0
Stagecraft3/5.0
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Spamalot” — Novato Theater Company Masters Madcap Musical

By Cari Lynn Pace

Spamalot is the wacky stage musical written by Eric Idle of “Monty Python” fame. Veteran North Bay actor Larry Williams puts his comedic credentials to skillful use in directing the cast of nineteen in this hilarious send-up by Novato Theater Company. It’s part goofy, part camp, and all irreverent, with enough local references to make a real winner.

Four offstage musicians under Daniel Savio quickly open the fun onstage with John DuPrez’s “Fish Slap Dance.” NTC Artistic Director Marilyn Izdebski choreographed this screwball start (and other dances) while Tracy Bell Redig costumed the dancers in bright kinda-classic outfits and dead fish. Redig noted, “Wait ‘til you see the other outfits in this show. There are over 500 pieces of costuming and props. We’re amazed we can keep it all straight backstage.”

. . . full of outstanding comic performances and knockout voices . . .

This is the first production in Novato Theater Company’s lineup for 2024, and it’s full of outstanding comic performances and knockout voices. The castle stage, designed and built by Michael Walraven, is a real treat, lit up to the nines by Frank Sarubbi and the irrepressible Izdebski.

Spamalot spoofs Camelot, of course—the legend of King Arthur in Medieval England. The King, a royally regal and handsome Bruce Vieira, seeks Knights for his round table. He clops into ye olde towne accompanied by his hardworking horse clopper Patsy, (Michael Hunter). Townsperson Nicole Thordsen has a feisty exchange with the King as victims of the Black Plague victims are carted out. Athletic Kevin Allen insists he is “Not Dead Yet” as he rises from the pile of corpses and dances, singing and smiling.

(L to R) Top Row: Nicole Thordsen (Sir Robin), Izaak Heath (Sir Lancelot), John Griffin (Sir Bedevere), Michael Coury Murdock (Sir Galahad). Bottom Row: Michael Hunter (Patsy), Bruce Vieira (King Arthur) Dani Innocenti Beem (Lady of the Lake). Photo by Jere Torkesen and HariettePearl Fuggit.

The spotlights shine on multiple dance numbers, delightfully performed by a cadre of four local chorines: Hannah Passanisi, Olivia Ekoue Totou, Shino Yamagami Cline, and Abigail Burton, frequently backed up by the guys. The talented cast are clearly having a blast onstage with infectious moves and star-quality smiles.

Star quality: when Dani Innocenti-Beem materializes as the stunning “Lady of the Lake,” there’s no doubt she will knock ‘em dead, plague or not. Her powerhouse voice fills the theatre; her comedic expressions and mannerisms are over-the-top.

(L-R) Top Row: Nicole Thordsen (Sir Robin), Izaak Heath (Sir Lancelot), John Griffin, (Sir Bedevere), Michael Coury Murdock (Sir Galahad). Photo by Jere Torkesen, HariettePearl Fuggit.

Monty Python’s Spamalot has no real plot, with loosely connected scenes and goofy sight gags. Nonsensical characters are amusingly costumed and often disjointed, including one particular Black Knight. Even God himself makes an appearance. One hesitates to laugh too long for fear of missing what comes next. The show winds up with the familiar song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” to encourage the audience to whistle along.

Truly a marvelous madcap romp, it’s shaping up to be a sold-out start to the year for Novato Theater Company. Don’t miss it!

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionSpamalot
Written byBook & Lyrics by Eric Idle. Music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Directed byLarry Williams
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThru Mar 3rd
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone(415) 883-4498
Tickets$25 – $35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.75/5.0
Performance4.75/5.0
Script4/5.0
Stagecraft4.5/5.0
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Our Town” – Heartfelt & Timeless Hits Home at RVP

By Cari Lynn Pace

COVID kept me from attending the opening night of Our Town on Friday, January 26th, at Ross Valley Players. By the time I was well a week later, the theatre was sold out. With good reason, indeed.

This endearing Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder harks back to a simpler time in the early 1900s. Horses outnumbered cars, and a first date might have been a shared strawberry phosphate at the soda counter. Mothers in aprons kept busy from sun-up; fathers home from work guided their children.

“Narrator Lisa Morse takes us on an imaginary and vivid exploration of the town…”

The play opens with a large and delightfully costumed cast (kudos to designer Michael A. Berg) bustling about onstage in the quaint hamlet of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Narrator Lisa Morse takes us on an imaginary and vivid exploration of the town.

Lisa Morse as “The Stage Manager”. Photos by Robin Jackson

Morse is remarkably skilled at describing what we cannot see; we can almost smell the heliotrope she points to, wafting up from a garden. All this is evoked in the imaginations of the audience, as the play’s staging is quite austere—not “black box theater,” but close.

Spot-on acting abounds under the capable and sensitive direction of Chloe Bronzan. Fast-moving scenes include Jennifer McGeorge as Mrs. Webb, Steve Price as local newspaper editor Mr. Webb, Tina Traboulsi as their daughter Emily Webb, Jaedan Sanchez as George Gibbs, Michael-Paul Thomsett as Dr. Gibbs, Lauri Smith as Mrs. Gibbs, Peter Warden as Simon Stimsom, Justin Hernandez as Sam Craig/Howie Newsom, Ann Fairlie as Mrs. Soammes, Alexandra Fry as Rebecca Gibbs/Si Crowell, and Dalton Ortiz as Wally Webb/Joe Crowell Jr. Tom Reilly rounds out the cast as Professor Willard/Constable Warren/Mr. Carter. Quite a list of characters for such a small town!

Dalton Ortiz as Wally Webb, Jennifer S. McGeorge as Mrs. Webb, Tina Traboulsi as Emily Webb. Photos by Robin Jackson

Poignant emotions flow freely from energetic and idealistic youth to elder acceptance of regrets now past. Our Town is more than a slice of life as it may have been. It’s a meal of a nearly full life, a lovely homage to a time long gone. This popular play is well-attended; plan accordingly.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionOur Town
Written byThornton Wilder
Directed byChloe Bronzan
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru Feb 25th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Tickets$20-$35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5.0
Performance4/5.0
Script5/5.0
Stagecraft4/5.0
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Almost, Maine” — Heartfelt Snippets in a Winter Whimsy

By Cari Lynn Pace

Almost Maine is an offbeat title perfectly suited to an offbeat show at Lucky Penny Productions in Napa.

Four actors deftly switch identities in ten loosely connected vignettes to portray characters who reside in Almost, a chilly little hamlet 183 miles from Bangor, Maine.

Cast of “Almost Maine” at work. Photo courtesy of Lucky Penny Productions

The resilient residents are variously in love, out of love, falling for each other, and so on against a postcard background designed by Barry Martin, Lucky Penny’s Managing Director and Co-Founder with Taylor Bartolucci.

… It’s a testament to the skill of the actors that they disappear so completely into their roles …

It’s a testament to the skill of the actors that they disappear so completely into their roles; my companion was sure there were more than just four actors in the show. Kudos to Julianne Bradbury, Mark Bradbury, Max Geide and Jenny Vielleux for making their nearly 20 total roles so convincing.

Cast of “Almost Maine” at work. Photo courtesy of Lucky Penny Productions

John Cariani wrote the ten scenes of Almost, Maine with poignant bits of humor, humanity, and wackiness. The connecting thread is one’s desire to connect, to perhaps find that special love.

Each blackout invites a new set of characters to meet, another emotion to evoke. It’s all a charming glimpse of the vast spectrum of the heart, ably directed in a debut by Alexander Gomez.

Cast of “Almost Maine” at work. Photo courtesy of Lucky Penny Productions

Playing Thursdays through Sundays until February 11, 2024 at Lucky Penny Productions, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa CA. Tickets at www.luckypennynapa.com or call 707-266-6305.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionAlmost, Maine
Written byJohn Cariani
Directed byAlexander Gomez
Producing CompanyLucky Penny Productions
Production DatesThru Feb 11th
Production AddressLucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way
Napa, CA 94558
Websitewww.luckypennynapa.com
Telephone(707) 266-6305
Tickets$28-$38
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

ASR Theater ~~ ASR’s Favorites of 2023

by Team ASR

2023 was a wonderful year for live theater in the Bay Area. Although many companies are still struggling financially, it’s clear that artistically most have bounced back from the pandemic. Rather than a “best of” list, here are ten of the past year’s favorites submitted by ASRians.

Dinner with Friends: In June, Sonoma Arts Live served up a Pulitzer Prize-winning treat. Director Carl Jordan had the perfect recipe for casting Ilana Niernberger, John Browning, Katie Kelley, and Jimmy Gagarin. Recipe?

The play’s friends are foodies, couples who uncouple and all but food fight on a multi-stage set by Jordan and Gary Gonser. The play had just the right amount of both relationships’ spice to flavor any postprandial discussion. — Cari Lynn Pace

Dragon Lady: Spanning most of the life of Maria Senora Porkalob, the playwright/performer’s grandmother and a first-generation Filipina immigrant, Marin Theatre Company’s Dragon Lady was an inspiring, entertaining survival yarn and a master class in solo storytelling. Part biography, part autobiography, part cabaret musical, and part comedy, Dragon Lady was a tour-de-force written and performed by Sara Porkalob, with wonderful instrumental backing by three members of the Washington-based band Hot Damn Scandal.Barry Willis

 … 2023 was a wonderful year for live theater in the Bay Area …

Stones in His Pockets: Spreckels’ production of this whip-smart Irish comedy was touching, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny. It demanded the utmost from only two actors, playing no fewer than fifteen characters of varying ages, cultures, social classes, and genders.

All that and no costume changes, no props beyond two simple wooden crates, and a bare-bones stage with only a small stone wall and a projection screen to serve as a backdrop. A brilliant exercise in theater done right. — Nicole Singley

Crowns: Walnut Creek’s CenterREP presented an exhilarating, uplifting celebration of life with this serio-comedic musical. A coming-of-age story about a hip-hop girl from Brooklyn on a journey of discovery in a small South Carolina town, the revival-meeting production starred Juanita Harris as the town’s no-nonsense matriarch and queen bee of a bevy of church ladies, each with a collection of elaborate fancy hats mostly reserved for Sundays, when they want to look their best “to meet the king.” — Barry Willis

Silent Sky: Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions gave us a lovely rendering of Lauren Gunderson’s biographical tale about pioneering mathematician/astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who toiled at Harvard University Observatory for approximately twenty years until she was finally allowed to look through the telescope. She faced opposition from the scientific establishment of the era, but Leavitt’s insights led to major breakthroughs in human understanding of the universe. — Barry Willis

The People vs. Mona: Pt. Richmond’s cozy Masquers Playhouse delivered a delightfully interactive comedic musical about a trumped-up murder case in the tiny south Georgia town of Tippo. The engaging Nelson Brown served as both MC and inept defense counsel Jim Summerford, who comes to the trial having never won a case. Shay Oglesby-Smith was tremendous as the town’s prosecutor and manipulative mayoral candidate Mavis Frye, matched by Michele Sanner Vargas as the accused Mona May Katt. — Susan Dunn

Clyde’s: Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre was the scene for this scathing comedy by Lynn Nottage, in which four parolees try their best to thrive under an oppressive boss.

April Nixon was brilliant as the voluptuous, wise-cracking owner of the roadside diner named for her character—a deliciously malicious force of nature. An uplifting, uproarious, and realistic tale about hope, Clyde’s was among the best comedies of the year. — Barry Willis

Hippest Trip—Soul Train, the Musical: The stage of ACT’s Toni Rembe Theater was transformed into both a giant 1970s television set and the production studio for Soul Train, reportedly the longest-running music-and-dance show ever made. Dominique Morisseau’s dazzling retrospective of the groundbreaking television show was wonderfully directed by Kamilah Forbes. Played by confident Quentin Earl Darrington, Soul Train founder Don Cornelius was a former Chicago crime reporter who envisioned a TV show that would uplift his community. Through sheer willpower, he made it a reality, and so did ACT. — Barry Willis

The Wizard of Oz: The Emerald City met Beach Blanket Babylon in ACT’s spectacularly goofy psychedelic The Wizard of Oz. The wild production adhered closely to the beloved original, including story and songs, but was as far removed from a 1940s Saturday afternoon movie matinee as you can imagine—a hilariously gender-bending extravaganza just perfect for Pride Month in San Francisco.  — Barry Willis

The Glass Menagerie: Ross Valley Players returned to the essence of mid-century theater with a sobering production of Tennessee Williams’ classic family drama. Directed by David Abrams, who also played the role of disaffected son Tom Wingfield, the show starred Tamar Cohn as his delusional, manipulative mother Amanda, Tina Traboulsi as his asocial sister Laura, and Jesse Lumb as the good-natured gentleman caller Jim O’Connor, who arrives late in the tale and quickly discovers what a dysfunctional morass he’s stepped into. Tom O’Brien’s austere set, period-perfect costumes by Michael Berg, evocative lighting design by Michele Samuels, and music collected by sound designer Billie Cox all made significant contributions to one of the year’s most compelling dramas. — George Maguire

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ASR Music ~~ Adversity Brings Close-up Concert Series by Marin Symphony

By Cari Lynn Pace

There’s good reason folks affectionately tagged Marin Symphony “the freeway philharmonic.” Many of its award-winning musicians have travelled to play with the symphonies in San Jose, Oakland, and Santa Rosa. As of now, the entire Marin Symphony can be found scooting up and down 101.

Without a permanent concert hall to call their own, this beloved orchestra has used the Marin Center as their venue for over 50 years. Last year seismic updating caused the facility to shut down. “These challenges have given us the opportunity to build our muscles and flexibility…our resourcefulness in the face of adversity,” explained Executive Director Tod Brody.

And resourceful they are!

Marin Symphony took their talented musicians on the road and landed their instruments right in the audiences’ laps, so to speak. Downsizing the orchestra and creating chamber quartets gave the group new freedom of venues. Their current schedule of nineteen classical performances is spread throughout Marin, in country clubs, churches, and schools from Tiburon to Novato.

“Audiences can be up close and personal to really feel the music vibrating just a few feet from them…”

Audiences can be up close and personal to really feel the music vibrating just a few feet from them. The first performance at the Marin Country Club held the audience spellbound as an intimate chamber quartet of flute, cello, and piano performed Farrenc’s “Trio in E Minor”. The awe continued as a sextet of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and piano took their places to reveal a lyrical composition by Poulenc.

To cap off Act II, eight musicians doubled up in pairs to raise the bar with Mozart’s “Serenade for Winds in E flat”. It was fascinating to watch the precision and concentration of each musician just a few feet away. Fingers zipped on the clarinets, the burnished bassoon gave forth deep toots, and an oboe musician puffed out her cheeks, reminding us of the breath control required to play such an instrument. The horn players intermittently turned their instruments to ease out the moisture which always collects. These entrancing details are typically overlooked on a large stage, and the audience loved every minute.

The Marin Symphony alternates these small intimate performances with larger yet close-in gatherings. Their upcoming chamber orchestra performance will be guest-conducted by Edwin Outwater, and will feature flutist MyungJu Yeo. The program of Stravinsky, Mozart, and Beethoven takes place at the College of Marin, James Dunn Theatre, on Nov 11 & 12, 2023.

In December, the Marin Symphony Chamber Chorus and the Marin Girls Chorus join the Symphony’s brass and percussion musicians for their annual Holiday Choral Concert at St. Raphael Church in San Rafael. It’s sure to be a sellout on December 2 and 3, 2023.

For a full schedule of Marin Symphony performances into May of 2024, go to MarinSymphony.org or call 415-479-8100. Single tickets and subscriptions are available.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “The Addams Family Musical” Really is a Scream! NTC Musical Comedy Nails It!

By Cari Lynn Pace

Characters from the 1964 television series come alive, along with many ghosts, in this hilarious fun-filled musical. Novato Theatre Company under the direction of Marilyn Izdebski pulled out all the stops, including thunder and lightning, to rival any Broadway stage. The derelict Gothic mansion, designed and built by Michael Walraven, is just the start of this journey with a dark and bizarre family.

Morticia (Alison Peltz) at work on the NTC stage.

The casting is hilariously perfect. Bruce Vieira commands the role of Gomez with an authoritative touch and comedic timing. Veteran Alison Peltz slinks and sizzles as Morticia, a perfectly gorgeous foil to amorous Gomez. Their children yank on one another, as siblings do, Pugsley with his chains (alternating roles Robin Kraft and Milo Ward) and Wednesday (Harriette Pearl Fugitt) with her crossbow.

…Novato Theater Company has a graveyard smash…

Fugitt has the central role in the plot: she’s the daughter with a serious boyfriend who is “normal.” She fears bringing him and his ordinary family into her own bizarre home. Fugitt seems made for this part, breathing life into her deadpan delivery and big brassy voice.

Uncle Fester (Pat Barr) and Grandma (Kayla Gold) at work on the NTC stage.

Wednesday’s boyfriend Lucas (John Diaz) is a sweetie who somehow finds love in her peculiar antics. His conservative midwestern parents, Alice (Jane Harrington) and Mal (David Shirk) are taken aback at the oddities of the Addams family when they come for dinner. They struggle to retain their cheery composure for their son’s sake.

“The Addams mansion overflows with outlandish occupants…”

The Addams mansion overflows with outlandish occupants. Pat Barr channels Fester, the genial uncle who charms the audience. Lurch, the monosyllabic Frankenstein-like butler, is brought to life by Todd Krish, green skin tone and all. When asked post-show how long it took to get into their makeup, these actors laughed and answered “We’re both bald anyway, so it was an easy half hour to complete the job.”

Grandma, played with a wink and a sly grin by Kayla Gold, draws laughs just showing up onstage. She has a cart full of potions and poisons. Pugsley doesn’t want Wednesday to marry Lucas and leave home, so he sneaks a snootful to dose Wednesday. Intended to turn loose her inhibitions and offend Lucas, it mistakenly is swallowed by Alice, who goes wild in a showstopper number on the Adams’ dinner table.

The principal actors at work in “The Addams Family Musical” at NTC

As if all this outlandish talent wasn’t enough, eleven graveyard “ancestors” dance around in cadaverous make-up and ghostly costumes designed by Tracy Redig. Their beat goes on with the help of a live band offstage directed by Judy Wiesen.

Be warned: the line for tickets went out the door on opening night, and preview night was also sold out. Novato Theater Company has a graveyard smash in The Addams Family Musical so snap your fingers and get there soon.

Playing now through October 8th at the 99-seat Novato Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets@NovatoTheaterCompany.Org or email Tickets@NovatoTheaterCompany.Org.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionThe Addams Family Musical
Written byMarshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Directed byMarilyn Izdebski
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough Oct 8th
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone(415) 883-4498
Tickets$25 – $35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.25/5.0
Performance4.25/5.0
Script4/5.0
Stagecraft4.75/5.0
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Curtain Theatre Wows with “Romeo and Juliet”

By Cari Lynn Pace

 

Shakespeare in Mill Valley’s Old Mill Park means late summer has truly arrived.

Hidden in this majestic redwood grove is The Curtain Theatre, showcasing award-winning plays complete with renaissance music, dancing, and lots of swordfights. You won’t want to let another weekend go by without seeing Romeo and Juliet, this year’s stunning production.

Actors surround the audience, dashing on and off the impressive set by Steve Coleman, in dazzling period costumes by Jody Branham. The grove fills with the sounds of flute, concertina, mandolin, and more under the direction of Don Clark. Even the band is in costume!

“Verona, a city on the verge of anarchy…”

Director Steve Beecroft, the talented impresario of The Curtain Theatre, has been at the company’s helm since 2009. In addition to doing the choreography and swordfight scenes, and lending his acting chops, Beecroft spent nine months dissecting and reconnecting Shakespeare’s classic. He was intrigued by the interrelationships between the characters in Verona, a city he portrays as on the verge of anarchy.

“Hatred and violence between the two houses of Montague and Capulet created a toxic cloud that overshadowed all good,” Beecroft noted.

Into this pressure cooker step the lovely Juliet, brought to life by Dale Leonheart, and handsome Romeo, portrayed by Nic Moore. Their passion is real. Juliet’s balcony is real. The swords are also real.

In his day, Shakespeare was required to cast males in female roles. In an ironic twist, this Romeo and Juliet has several females in male roles. Heather Cherry, a versatile actor and company member, is royally powerful as Prince Escalus. Alexandra Fry plays sidekick Balthasar, with Grace Kent as Benvolio/Benvolia.

Also well-cast is popular local Kim Bromley in the demanding role of Juliet’s nurse, played with just the right touch of humor. Nelson Brown, another local favorite, gives Mercutio, one of Romeo’s closest friends and a blood relative to Prince Escalus and Count Paris, a lovable, albeit brief, appearance.

Romeo’s parents portrayed by Marianne Shine and Tom Reilly fill their roles well. Amy Dietz, a true talent, brought tears to my eyes as a distraught Lady Capulet mourning her nephew Tybalt (Ramon Villa). Many other actors admirably fill out this full-stage production.

Grace Kent (Benvolia); Nelson Brown (Mercutio); Nic Moore (Romeo). Photo by Russell Johnson.

The remarkable aspect to this professional production is the performances are FREE of charge. Donations, of course, are welcome. And — to be perfectly candid — necessary, if The Curtain Theatre is to continue despite the costs of each presentation.

All ages are welcome to attend these open-air and open-seating shows. Parents bring young ones for their first exposure to Shakespeare, and most are enthralled by the pageantry and swordfights. Picnics abound, with a few tables not far from the stage area. A small snack bar is available. Plastic chairs are set up by the company on a first-come basis. Bring your own for lounging behind the Mill Valley Library. Dogs on leash are encouraged to watch the show.

Romeo and Juliet plays at 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and on Labor Day, Monday September 4th, 2023. The hottest summer afternoons can become quite cool in the grove, so bring layers.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionRomeo and Juliet
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed bySteve Beecroft
Producing CompanyCurtain Theatre
Production DatesSaturdays/Sundays and Labor Day Monday at 2 PM through September 4th
Production AddressOld Mill Park Amphitheater.

375 Throckmorton Avenue (behind the library), Mill Valley
Websitewww.curtaintheatre.org
TicketsFree!
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yea, Verily!

ASR Theater ~~ TTC Braves Obstacles with “The Full Monty”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Transcendence Theatre Company is Sonoma County’s award-winning home of song and dance stars under the moonlight. Twelve years ago TTC presented their first stunning summer revue to help fund Jack London State Historic Park, which had been targeted for closure. Their goal of the “Best Night Ever!” succeeded, and to date TTC has donated nearly $700,000 and attracted audiences totaling over 325,000 people to keep this beloved landmark open to all.

Unfortunately TTC’s success with audience attendance has led the California State Park Rangers Association to file a lawsuit against California State Parks. They question the appropriate use of a public resource, noble fundraising notwithstanding. The lawsuit has caused cancellation of all shows this summer, resulting in a major loss for the non-profit that operates Jack London State Historic Park and a blow for TTC, a casualty caught in the lawsuit’s crossfire.

Forced to relocate, TTC presented this year’s first summer shows at Belos Cavalos ranch and their second (and soon to be third) “Broadway Under the Stars” at the Beltane Ranch in Glen Ellen. TTC charged ahead with astounding enthusiasm and energy, building a stage, parking area, hiring electric carts, setting up picnic tables and hundreds of chairs, installing lighting and sound, and even building an entire bridge over a stone wall to reach the picnic area.

“It was an unbelievable and difficult undertaking. Expensive too.”

Relocation not once, but twice, was an unbelievable and difficult undertaking. Expensive too. One obstacle TTC could not overcome was the Sonoma County building code. Artistic Director Amy Miller was dismayed to learn they could not build a stage any higher than 30” – not nearly enough for everyone to have a clear view. The stage location also had to be to the west, where the setting sun was problematic for a short while for those without brimmed headgear.

Despite the multiple stumbling blocks, TTC rose to the challenge to present the hit Broadway musical comedy The Full Monty. With a huge cast of 20 talents from the stages of NYC, LA, Texas, and more, this hilarious Tony-award winning musical shows off non-stop fun, and a lot more. Dancers, singers, and young and veteran actors delightfully expose the amusing plot.

Five down-on-their-luck buddies share beers in Buffalo, New York and compare jobs. They’re stunned when their ladies flock to buy pricey tickets to the male striptease show that’s come to town.

(L to R) Nicolas Garza (Ethan Girard), Jason Simon (Dave Bukatinsky), Michael Burrell (Jerry Lukowski), Lee Palmer (Noah “Horse” T. Simmons), Justin Anthony Long (Malcolm MacGregor), and Jesse Swimm (Harold Nichols) in Transcendence Theatre Company’s The Full Monty. Photo credit: Mimi Carroll

One of the buddies comes up with a brilliant idea to raise money quickly, as he wants to retain custody of his son. Why don’t they do the professional strippers one better? They could take it all off and dance their way into much-desired cash. All they need is one show, another brave recruit, a sexy dance routine, and the guts to go through with it to give their audience the “Full Monty,” a striptease down to bare essentials .

It’s hilarious when the guys are coached by one of the professional strippers, who has a bodacious body and the moves women pay to see. It’s endearing how these out-of-shape dudes hang together out of camaraderie and desperation. When their wives and ex-wives get wind of the scheme, their mighty fine female voices add to the merry mayhem—made all the better by a great band seated stage left.

TTC cleverly but briefly exposes the guys in The Full Monty to keep the rating slightly under “X”. It’s an adult show nonetheless. Strict enforcement of the “no photos” rule is done by roving spotters.

The show plays on weekend nights through August 20th. Come early with your picnic to enjoy the pre-show entertainment and sample the wines. When the sun goes down and the spotlights come on, the air can get cool so dress in layers. You can always take off whatever you want.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionThe Full Monty
Directed byJosh Walden
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThru Aug 20th
Production AddressBeltane Ranch
Glen Ellen, CA
Websitewww.transcendencetheatre.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$35-$49. Student ID rush tickets are 50% off
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3/5
Performance3/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ TTC’s “The Beat Goes On” Shines Talent on Three Decades

By Cari Lynn Pace

The show must go on for Transcendence Theatre Company, Sonoma County’s award-winning outdoor music-and-dance extravaganza. Conceived twelve years ago as a modest fundraiser to help fund Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, Transcendence has been successful in donating over $685,000 to the cause.

It’s a shame that the state’s bureaucracy suddenly determined that it needs a review of how the crowds are impacting the park, leaving TTC without their reliable venue for the first show of the summer season. Fortunately, Transcendence has won many friends in Sonoma County and was able to find a last-minute alternate venue at Belos Cavalos, a sprawling non-profit equine facility in Kenwood.

With the swiftness and splendid energy characteristic of Transcendence, a stage was built, lights were raised, padded seats were brought in, picnic tables and umbrellas set up, wine was poured, and the show went on!

And-what-a-show-it-is!!

This musical journey through three decades begins with the ’60s and smoothly segues from Sinatra to Beatniks to Ed Sullivan. How far back has music been influencing us, making us laugh or nearly cry?

The Beat Goes On samples three decades of emotions, and the audience loves it all.

Transcendence’s astoundingly talented cadre dances spectacularly, belting out hit after hit from the ’70s and ’80s. How music reflected the mood of those years is clear as the songs move through the Vietnam War to Woodstock. Motown and disco follow with a solid showing.

“This rockin’ remembrance of songs starts with the 60’s and just keeps blasting through the decades…”

The performers are stars shining from Broadway and LA venues. They love the outdoor venue in Sonoma – no matter where it is. Transcendence always gives a rockin’ remembrance of songs and dance, blasting through the decades.

The stage bursts with brilliant costume changes (supervised by Jenny Foldenauer) as only a Broadway revue can deliver. Transcendence’s musical director Susan Draus conceived and directed this amazing journey, revealing her dedication to music of all genres. Joining music wizard Draus on the creative team were choreographers for each decade of music headed by Sierra Lai Barnett, with Cory Lingner tracking the moves of the ’70s, and Alex Hartman leading the ’80s.

Enjoy what many call “The Best Night Ever!” by bringing a picnic starting at 5 p.m. and share the summer with pre-show entertainment, gourmet food trucks, and premium Sonoma County wines. As the sun starts to drift low in the sky, check out the majestic mountains in this lovely wine country valley. Dress in layers, for when the moon rises, the temperature falls.

The Beat Goes On is the first outdoor show in TTC’s three-part summer series and runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings through July 2nd at the Belos Cavalos location. Transcendence hopes that their next two shows will find them back at Sonoma County’s Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. Stay tuned.

Next up is The Full Monty opening July 28, followed by An Enchanted Evening opening September 8th.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionThe Best Goes On
Directed bySusan Draus
Choreographed bySierra Lai Barnett, Cory Lingner, Alex Hartman
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThru July 2nd
Production AddressBelos Cavalos
687 Campagna Lane
Kenwood, CA 95452
Websitewww.transcendencetheatre.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$35-$165
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4.5/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ “Something Rotten!”— 6th Street Ribs the Renaissance

By Cari Lynn Pace

If you are a dedicated fan of musicals and a good sport about Shakespeare, you will be cheering and laughing at Something Rotten! at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.

Brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick worked on and off for 15 years on their idea for a spoof of Shakespeare as an egomaniacal Renaissance rock star. John O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick turned the idea into a book, and the musical premiered as a hit on Broadway in 2015.

Something Rotten! goes way over the top!…

6th Street brings this hilarious show to their stage with David Lear directing, Lucas Sherman conducting the orchestra, with fresh choreography by Joseph Favalora. It’s a winning team heading up a cast of 18 outrageously costumed singers and dancers.

(L to R) Garet Waterhouse, Lorenzo Alviso and Julianne Bretan in “Something Rotten!”.
Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The story setup is a pair of brothers, Nick (Nelson Brown) and Nigel (Lorenzo Alviso) Bottom, who write plays but cannot compete with the magic of the Bard’s popularity. The financial pressure is on to find an idea for a hit play, so Nick consults a daffy oracle Nostradamus (Ted Smith) for leads. Big mistake.

Nostradamus foretells that in the future, actors will sing their lines, making something called a “mu-si-cal.” He further predicts that Shakespeare’s greatest play will be Omelet. Skeptical but desperate, Nick creates song after song for a new show. Act I’s showstopper “A Musical” shows off the dancing and singing energy of the huge cast, followed by another hilarious tune dedicated to the Black Plague.

Something Rotten! goes way over the top when Will Shakespeare himself (Garet Waterhouse) appears onstage, clad in skin-tight breeches and an oversize codpiece encrusted with pearls. Screaming peasant women toss their cloths at the Bard as he writhes and sings “Will Power” backed by four gyrating hunks. Does it get any funnier?

Several side stories in Something Rotten! give the laughing audience a brief chance to recover their breath. Nick’s wife (Megan Bartlett), aware the only men are allowed to do manual jobs, assumes disguises to earn money for their poor playwright household. It’s a nod to women’s lib in the 90s—the 1590s, that is.

The Poet, Nigel Bottom, and Portia, a Puritan.
Played by Lorenzo Alviso and Julianne Bretan. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Out in the courtyard, Nigel and a puritan pilgrim Portia (Julianne Bretan) are smitten with one another, under the nose of her stern father (John Griffin.) Someone gets “banish-ed.”

This comedic respite doesn’t last long, however. As Act II begins, the Minstrel (Jonathen Blue) welcomes us back to the Renaissance and more mayhem. A tremendous showstopper in Act II is “Make an Omelet,” with magical costume changes as the cast dances away. Kudos to Costume Designer Mae Heagerty-Matos for the splendid visual treats.

The cleverness of the show’s double-entendres is another treat. One must listen closely to catch dozens of references to Broadway musicals, including many sight gags. Something Rotten! is the type of show you’ll want to see twice.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionSomething Rotten!
Book byJohn O’Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick
Music/Lyrics byKarey and Wayne Kirkpatrick
Directed byDavid Lear
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThru June 25th
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$35 to $43
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4.5/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

 

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Delicious Dialog Spices “Dinner With Friends” at Sonoma Arts Live

By Cari Lynn Pace

Dinner with Friends dishes out one couple’s surprise uncoupling and its effect on another couple, their best friends. The Pulitzer-prize-winning dialog, written by Donald Margulies, has just the right amount of pepper and salt to make this Sonoma Arts Live drama quite tasty.

Kudos to the four actors, under the capable direction of veteran Carl Jordan. They are all superb on a multi-stage set designed by Jordan and Gary Gonser for the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center.

Don’t come hungry to this performance as your stomach may growl. Foodie couple Karen and Gabe (Ilana Niernberger and John Browning, respectively) serve a luscious Italian meal learned on their recent vacation. They are entertaining their best friend Beth, (Katie Kelley) while her husband is away and the couples’ kids are busy in the TV room.

Spoiler alert: The sweet taste of dessert is still on their lips when Beth breaks the news that her husband Tom is leaving her for another woman. Karen and Gabe rally around her, with generous doses of disbelief, support and wine.

…Kudos to the actors, under the direction of veteran Carl Jordan…

When Beth leaves, Karen and Gabe examine their own relationship strengths in the light of Beth’s revelation. Their cautionary and insightful banter gives all couples food for thought. Later that night, Tom (skillfully enacted by Jimmy Gagarin) shows up to confront Beth. He’s enraged that she spilled the beans to their friends. Their physical and emotional energies are portrayed with astounding power, a testament to the acting chops of these two talents.

Act II is a flashback to when Karen and Gabe eagerly introduced Beth to Tom. Tom is unsure about a commitment to marriage, yet listens to Gabe’s input. Tom marries Beth. Is it all to be as it was in Act I? The playwright has another twist in mind.

Time shifts to the present when Karen catches up to a reserved Beth. Beth admits she has found another love to replace Tom. Karen’s advice is unwelcome, as Beth now has her own cooking to do.

Dinner with Friends is a full-course production, one that SAL Artistic Director Jamie Love hopes “Will lead to some great post-show conversations with friends coupled, uncoupled, and otherwise.”

Bon Appetit!

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionDinner With Friends
Written byDonald Margulies
Directed byCarl Jordan
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesJune 2-18, 2023
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone866-710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

ASR Destinations ~~ Stunning: The Beauty of Filoli, the Garden of Greenery

ASR Destinations: Focus on Our Bay Area

Visitors pay thousands of dollars to visit Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, drawn by our remarkable attractions and lifestyles. Do we locals ever visit? Here’s something to consider:

    • Flying has lost its appeal at these prices
    • Hotel rates have soared
    • Gasoline prices will never be the same.

Therefore, consider some special places you can reach and return home on the same day. Or Two.

This latest addition to Aisle Seat Review will spotlight many of the adventures at hand for daytime or weekend activities. When you aren’t going to the theatre, that is. Or the gallery. Or…well, you get the idea.

Thank you for your attention.

— The Editors

 

Destination: Filoli the Garden of Greenery

by Cari Lynn Pace 

 

Actually, that’s not the correct description, as Filoli always has something blooming in living colors.

This 654-acre estate encircles a private mansion built for the Bourn family in 1917. William Bourn created the name for his new Shangri-la getaway by combining the first two letters of his three core mantras:

      • Fight for a just cause.
      • Love your fellow man.
      • Live a good life.

Located in Woodside, 30 miles south of San Francisco, Filoli is now part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and open for tours daily.

It’s a double dose of impressive attractions, with gardens to tour outdoors and a 54,000-square foot Georgian-style mansion when the weather brings you inside.

The Bourn home boggles the brain to see the opulence it contained. The lifestyle and entertaining of the family who owned a gold mine was anything but casual.

Photo by Michael Price.

At the imposing entryway, a butler would direct female guests to the powder room on the right and gentlemen to the cloak room on the left. The reception room with walls of silk and soaring windows overlooking the gardens would have been a lovely place to await the host and hostess.

If you were fortunate to be invited to a party in the ballroom, you could warm yourself by the 8-foot fireplace or waltz under crystal chandeliers high above.

…The Bourn home boggles the brain to see the opulence it contained…

The kitchen, with its separate bakery and walk-in pantry room, is spacious enough for seven servants to work at once. And they did. Don’t miss the overlarge dumb waiter or the massive walk-in bank vault where silver serving pieces were locked at night.

When they serve tea at Filoli, you want to be here.

A Tiffany-designed set of flatware for 18 guests is also on display in the opulent dining room. When the 16 acres of lush gardens outside begin to beckon, choose a path and wander at will.

In mid-May the camelias were abundant as were fragrant trees of dogwood and lilac. Paths meander around reflection pools beside towering Japanese maple and sweet magnolia. The rose garden, with over 500 rosebushes, was just starting to burst with color and perfume. Summer is the best time to visit for rose lovers, with many color-laden bushes labelled and ready for their close-ups.

No matter the season, there is always something blooming or budding at Filoli. Also of note, Filoli’s natural attractions will soon be augmented by a music program. Go to www.filoio.org for dates and guest artists.

Contact: Filoli Historic House & Garden | 86 Cañada Road, Woodside, CA 94062 | (650) 364-8300   |   info@filoli.org

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ASR Theater ~~ “Into the Woods”—A Natural Fit for 110th Mountain Play

By Cari Lynn Pace

Opening day for the 2023 Mountain Play Into the Woods dawned cold and overcast.

Fortunately, the fog was low-lying, and above the clouds rose the clear sunny slopes of Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais. Well-bundled crowds dressed in layers filed onto school busses in downtown Mill Valley to shuttle them up the windy road to the mountaintop. Many hardy and fit souls drove to parking lots at Pan Toll or Bootjack and hiked up. The pilgrimage to the festive outdoor party, shining in the sun, had begun.

Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre holds 3,700 folks in its outdoor venue, with rough granite seats surrounded by abundant forest. On clear days you can see San Francisco and the East Bay from the 2579’ elevation. The ever-present challenge in attending the Mountain Play is to prepare for changes in weather. Some years it’s chilly, or rainy. Other years can bring withering heat, with water sprayers and fans going full blast to keep patrons cool.

…This musical by Stephen Sondheim, with the book by James Lapine, is a mash-up of classic fairy tales….

No matter, the crowds are always friendly and multi-generational. Blankets are spread, coolers opened, paper plates passed around. Popping corks punctuate the laughter and squeals of children. Dedicated foodies have been known to set up tables with cheese fondue and forks. The vibe is always good at the Mountain Play.

Warm-up entertainment begins at 12:30 with local singers, musicians, and food vendors. At 2 p.m., executive director Ellen Grady welcomes the crowd, the orchestra tunes up, and the crowd cheers with enthusiasm as Into the Woods begins.

This musical by Stephen Sondheim, with the book by James Lapine, is a mash-up of classic fairy tales. Characters appear from Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty. A wicked witch puts a curse on the baker and his wife. Prize cow Milky White enjoys a day in the sun.

Samantha Cardenas as Cinderella in “Into The Woods”

Each character is delightfully costumed by Amie Schow. Everyone goes off into the woods – represented by a wooden scaffold designed by Andrea Bechert – to seek their wishes. The plot won’t make much sense, and it won’t be a happy ending – true to the stories written by the Brothers Grimm – but it is entertaining as any fairy tale might be.

Shayla Lawler as Rapunzel.

Director/choreographer Nicole Helfer brings out amusing portrayals from all performers. Their powerhouse singing voices are superb, with not a weak link to be heard. Sondheim fans will hear many unfamiliar songs from this Tony Award-winning score. The better songs are in the long first act, which brought pleasing resolution to the fate of characters that ventured into the woods.

L to R – Christopher Sotelo (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Phillip Harris (Cinderella’s Prince). Photo credit: Ed Smith Photography

Act II begins a dark epilogue. There’s a mean giant, and killings, and infidelity. The second half drags with unhappy outcomes. There are many ballads accompanied by the 15-piece orchestra skillfully conducted by Daniel Alley, the musicians tucked into a lean-to structure onstage.

The first act of Into the Woods is a lightweight show without unhappy outcomes, recommended for all ages. In fact, the first act is often performed as a stand-alone children’s show. The second act’s mean-spirited malevolence may be a matter of concern for parents with sensitive kids.

Remaining performances of Into the Woods are May 28, June 4, 10, and 11, and 18. ASL-interpreted performances are June 10 and 11. All Mountain Play performances are 2 p.m. but it’s best to get there at least an hour before.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionInto The Woods
Written byBook: James Lapine
Music/Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Directed byNicole Helfer
Producing CompanyThe Mountain Play Association / Ross Valley Players
Production DatesThru June 18, 2023
Production AddressCushing Memorial Amphitheatre, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, 801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley CA
Websitewww.MountainPlay.org
Telephone(415) 383-1100
Tickets$25-$50 & Up
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance4/5
Script2/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater~~ “Tuck Everlasting the Musical” — An Energetic Show Sparkles at Spreckels

By Cari Lynn Pace

 

If you had the option of living forever, would you?

Tuck Everlasting at Spreckels’ Codding Theatre brings just such a question to the stage, wrapping it in songs, dance and glorious costumes.

The story begins with Winnie Foster, an 11-year old (enchantingly enacted and sung by Molly Belle Hart) chafing at the restrictions her widowed mother (Erin Henninger) imposes. When Winnie runs away from home into the surrounding forest, she encounters Jesse Tuck, a young man of 17 (good-looking and great voiced Nico Alva.) He can live forever but she cannot, unless she drinks from the forest’s magic spring.

…a fun-filled show filled with energy…

Many interesting scenarios are raised in this production, admirably handled by the creative team of director Emily Cornelius, music director Janis Dunson Wilson, and choreographer Karen Miles.

There were “ooohs” and “aaahs” as the audience took their seats in the Codding Theatre – the stage a lush forest with twittering birds and leafy trees climbing the walls. Kudos to Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano for designing an amazing tree that grows before our eyes. Further visual treats were the rear projection scenes, designed by Chris Schloemp, who enables the audience to climb above the forest canopy with Winne and Jesse. Schloemp also has a solid supporting role onstage as Constable Joe.

Petaluma’s Molly Belle Hart as Winnie Foster and Nico Alva as Jesse Tuck sing “Top of the World” in “Tuck Everlasting: The Musical,” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center. (Photos by Jeff Thomas/Courtesy of Spreckels Theatre Company)

Tuck Everlasting is a treat for eyes and ears, with more than a dozen dancing nymphs in flowing costumes (thanks to Donnie Frank) and an onstage orchestra led by Wilson. The scenery and over-the-top activity during the brightly colorful fair sequence is a three-ring circus indeed.

Local casting is spot-on, with favorite Tim Setzer as “The Man in the Yellow Suit,” a would-be exploiter of the eternal spring, and veteran actor Larry Williams as the laid-back Tuck patriarch Angus. What a pleasure to see and hear Kimberly Kalember as Nana and young Chase Thompson as Hugo. Mother Tuck is in superbly fine voice as played by Tika Moon, and Samuel J. Gleason as Miles Tuck brings a poignancy to the plot as he relates the story of his wife and son – no spoiler here.

Molly Belle Hart as Winnie Foster, with ensemble, in “Tuck Everlasting: The Musical,” now playing at Spreckels Performing Arts Center. (Photos by Jeff Thomas/Courtesy of Spreckels Theatre Company)

A big shout-out to young dancer Tyler Ono, whose athletic moves onstage are a delight to watch. He’s part of a shining cadre of teens who not only dance with supple grace but sing as well. Their Act I ensemble song “Partner in Crime” was a real crowd pleaser. Too bad there weren’t any more memorable songs delivered by songwriters Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen.

Tuck Everlasting is a fun-filled show filled with energy – perfect for teens and older. The philosophical thought it provokes isn’t over at the end of two hours…it’s everlasting.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionTuck Everlasting
Book by

From the novel by
Claudia Shear & Tim Federie

Natalie Babbitt
Directed byEmily Cornelius
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough May 21st
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Websitewww.spreckelsonline.com
Telephone(707) 588-3429
Tickets$12 - $36
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Pride and Prejudice, The Musical” — Songs Brighten, Enliven Classic

By Cari Lynn Pace

Fans of Jane Austen flocked to opening weekend of Pride and Prejudice, The Musical at Ross Valley Players’ Barn Theatre atop the Marin Art and Garden Center. Some may have entered skeptical that music could add to the beloved story of the Bennet family, but they departed beaming with delight. The show runs through April 16.

Award-winning composer/lyricist Rita Abrams created seventeen songs, adding shine and mirth to the tale of five eligible daughters, their suitors, and one manipulative mama. Abrams worked with Josie Brown’s book adaptation. Together they brought out subtle comedy—and fun—without altering the underlying plot of societal caste and bias.

The entire cast opens singing the sunny “Welcome to Our Neighborhood” with gusto. Harmonies with nimble lyrics abound; the songs appropriately appear between spoken dialog. The four-part “Changing World” is so poignantly melodic it makes one want to hold one’s breath.

Amy Dietz as Jane Bennet; Justin Hernandez as Charles Bingley in “Pride & Prejudice: The Musical”

Abrams took years to create the music, and it was worth the wait. Love songs, How-Dare-He! songs, frustration songs, happiness songs – it’s all here. And so very clever! When Mrs. Bennet sings “I have five daughters who are Venuses, in search of …” the audience erupts with laughter at the unspoken word.

Veteran director Phoebe Moyer worked with a large cast of nineteen actors, originally auditioned prior to the pandemic. Three years later, Moyer notes “It has been a long journey with many adjustments…we have become quite a family.”

“The entire cast moves as a well-oiled machine in this nearly three-hour production.”

The entire cast moves as a well-oiled machine in this nearly three-hour production. They sing, they dance, and many standouts shine with comedic talents, including Jill Wagoner commanding the stage as Mrs. Bennett and Geoffrey Colton as her beleaguered husband. Charles Evans also steals laughs as Mr. Collins, who unsuccessfully tries to woo a bride.

Evan Held as Mr. Darcy at RVP.

Handsome and lean Evan Held is perfectly cast as the taciturn and reserved Mr. Darcy, a magnet drawn to lovely and prideful Elizabeth Bennet (Lily Jackson, perfectly cast). Other actors superbly portray proper high-born characters, including Elenor Irene Paul as Caroline Bingley, with an extended cameo by Alexis Lane Jensen as Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Pride and Prejudice, The Musical can be proud of the backstage production team bringing success to this ambitious show. Stage hands drew applause even in the semi-darkness with choreographed moves during set changes. Musical directors Abrams and Jack Prendergast tapped Wayne Green for orchestrations and Bruce Vieira for sound design. Rick Banghart sat on the side, watching carefully to deliver music tracks precisely when the actors began singing. He didn’t miss a cue!

Since the story’s setting is Hertfordshire, England in the early 1800’s, appropriate period garb was needed. Adriana Gutierrez ably delivered lovely dresses and costumes, assisted by Michael A. Berg who designed the complicated wigs. Their contributions transported the show back to that aristocratic decade. One odd aspect was the stage set: several ionic columns and a Greek-inspired pediment, an unusual backdrop for an English location.

More than six years in development, this new production of Pride and Prejudice, the Musical is filled with period costumes, talented actors, and excellent music. It’s a feel-good delight, and with RVP’s accessible pricing policy, an entertainment bargain.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionPride & Prejudice: The Musical
Written byJane Austen adapted by Josie Brown
Directed byPhoebe Moyer
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru April 16th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Tickets$15-$35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4.5/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

Other Voices…

"...what could be better for a concert production than to leave its audience craving more?"
www.stagebuddy.com
"...The story is well-known and irresistible, somewhat similar to 'Downton Abbey'..."
www.theaterpizzazz.com
"Emmy award winning songwriter Rita Abrams has managed to bring her considerable powers to Austen's Pride and Prejudice in a way that brings that classic work alive, and keeps us thoroughly engaged... The songs are a triumph of inventiveness and skill."
Michael Krasny, Host of NPR's "Forum"
"...a sell-out success..."
janeausten.co.uk

PICK! ASR THEATRE ~~ SF Playhouse Hits the Jackpot with “Cashed Out”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Many of life’s tragedies involve addiction. Theatre stages have presented poignant stories – dramas drawn from fantasy or reality – in the hopes that audiences will be both thoughtfully entertained and well warned. Cashed Out checks both boxes, admirably.

San Francisco Playhouse first presented a dramatic “zoomlet” – a 10-minute reading of a potential new play by Claude Jackson, Jr., during the pandemic. Patrons praised the reading touching upon gambling addiction, casinos, and the Native America community. Artistic Director Bill English recognized it as a story not often heard, and commissioned the playwright to expand it into a full script.

“Artistic Director Bill English recognized it as a story not often heard…”

SF Playhouse took great pains to assemble a cadre of Native American actors to ensure the authenticity of their world premiere. It’s a risk that pays off handsomely in Cashed Out. Director Tara Moses coaxed astounding performances from these largely Actors’ Equity members. They bring a glimpse of their culture, both proud and at times humbling, to the stage.

Cashed Out opens on an adobe duplex complete with terra cotta roof tiles on a reservation in Arizona, strikingly imagined by scenic designer Tanya Orellana. It’s dusty and dry, with a branch shelter and woven baskets in various stages of completion.

Rocky (Rainbow Dickerson) is a pretty young woman full of high spirits and bright expectations. She’s about to enter a local beauty contest and ignores Levi, her eager would-be boyfriend (Chingwe Padraig Sullivan). Rocky argues about native garb with her weary mother (Lisa Ramirez.) while her aunt Nan (Sheila Tousey) sagely serves as mediator. It is soon apparent that Nan is the solid rock in this turbulent family drama.

Rocky (Rainbow Dickerson) reaches out to Levi (Chingwe Padraig Sullivan) for a lifeline in “Cashed Out” at SF Playhouse

Flashbacks and fast-forward scenes intertwine as the stage rotates to show Rocky’s challenging journey with her gambling addiction. She’s hooked on a machine’s payout in a dark casino, dismissive with her young daughter Maya (Louisa Kizer) and desperately manipulative when she cajoles Levi to provide her with a character reference. Her family recognizes she needs help, but is powerless against Rocky’s stubborn and highly volatile character. Nan observes Rocky’s turmoil and shakes her head, sadly intoning “Imagine the eagle not trusting her own wings.”

Act I closes as Rocky continues to explode in an over-the-top performance, re-visiting her mother’s words “You’re not worthy” as mother weaves priceless Pima baskets. Thankfully, Act II opens on a brighter day. Rocky intones the Gamblers Anonymous mantra “I’m powerless over gambling” and appears to have cleaned up her act.

Maya (Louisa Kizer), Buddy (Matt Kizer), Levi (Chingwe Padraig Sullivan), and Nan (Sheila Tousey) receive news about Rocky in San Francisco Playhouse’s World Premiere of “Cashed Out.”

But addictions are not easily conquered, and never completely erased from an addict’s soul. When Rocky’s long-gone father (Matt Kizer) reappears, family tensions completely erupt. It’s quiet only when Rocky is absent, leaving her family tapped out and resigned.

Cashed Out is a hard-hitting and sadly true-to-life depiction of a gambler’s behavior. Rocky’s increasingly manic fantasy is thrown against irrefutable reality. In the sudden stark ending, neither side wins.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionCashed Out
Written byClaude Jackson, Jr.
Directed byTara Moses
Producing CompanySan Francisco Playhouse
Production DatesThru February 25th
Production AddressSF Playhouse
450 Post Street
San Francisco, CA
Websitewww.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2022-2023-season/indecent/
Telephone(415) 677-9596
Tickets$30 - $100
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

ASR Theater ~~ Ross Valley Players Invite “Reservations”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Ross Alternative Works, referred to as RAW, is Ross Valley Players’ selection of an original play by a local playwright. One play is chosen by committee each season, adding a fresh infusion to the company’s four traditional – and typically familiar – productions. Reservations, written by Joe Barison, has a theme capturing what director Michael R. Cohen calls “the absurdity of artistic aspirations.”

The plot line opens with two New York City visitors arriving at the same hotel to find their reservations double-booked. The bellhop (Kara S. Poon) shows Mr. Segal (Evan Held) to a sumptuous room, complete with cool blue walls, lovely antiques, and a balcony. The luxurious set – designed by Venee Call-Ferrer – is a marvel considering the low ceiling limitations of the Ross Valley Players Barn stage.

(L) Michael-Paul Thomsett as Eddie D’Angelo, (R) Maxine Sattizahn as Louis Robinson, (C) Kara S. Poon as Melissa French.

Mr. Segal makes himself at home, and is surprised when Gail Hartman (Tina Traboulsi) is also shown to the same room, lugging her painting and easel. The hotel manager (Michael-Paul Thomsett) arrives, apologizes, and offers a discount coupon for another hotel stay, yet can offer no alternative lodging. With no available hotel rooms in the city, the two strangers size each other up and reluctantly agree to share the room, at least for one night.

“They explore their insecurities about pursuing their creative paths in life…”

Held does an excellent turn as an aspiring writer and frustrated government worker. He is a perfect foil in contrast to Traboulsi in her role as a marginally successful artist who cherishes the view from this overbooked room. These actors master their roles, although the dialog in Act I moves slowly. They explore their insecurities about pursuing their creative paths in life.

Helen Kim as Allison Burnside, Evan Held as Alan Segal at RVP.

Their serious conversations are truncated when Allison (Helen Kim) arrives to surprise her boyfriend. The action picks up in Act II when more characters crowd the room, or rather the balcony. The zaniness provides a pleasant end to this largely philosophical play.

The supporting cast is not quite as convincing as Held and Traboulsi, giving Reservations an uneven feel throughout. Still, it’s a thought-provoking exploration of the paths chosen by creative souls, and worth enjoying.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionReservations
Written byJoe Barison
Directed byMichael R. Cohen
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2 PM through February 12, 2023
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-456-9555
Tickets$15-$30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “A Year with Frog and Toad”, Charming, Simple Storybook Musical

By Cari Lynn Pace

Laughter and ragtime music open this colorful production in the small Monroe Stage at 6th Street Playhouse. Oversize storybooks line the stage with flowerpots and garlands brightening the aisles. Small children sit or bounce in their chairs – many with dress-up skirts or cowboy boots. This is one performance where watching the audience is as much fun as watching the actors’ antics onstage.

Three members of the cast (Katie Foster, Molly Larsen-Shine, and Emma LeFever) variously play feathered birds and other small critters. Kudos to Donnie Frank who designed the costumes of these woodland creatures. The gals sing a sweet harmony, dance the Charleston, and tap to keep the attention of squirming little ones – not an easy task.

L-to-R, Emma LeFever, Molly Larse Shine, and Katie Foster. Photos Credit: Eric Chazankin.

Frog (Jonathen Blue) and Toad (Ted Smith) pop up to build their friendship as the seasons change. These two are delightful with their dancing moves and duets. The simple story line underscores taking care of each other, and the kids seem to get it.

It’s a short show, just about one hour, and the songs flow quickly throughout the plot. The one exception is the snail, whose slow-motion entrances and exits are met with constant giggles.

During intermission, kids were welcome to work off their pent-up energy by dancing and twirling on the colorful painted floor. “Look at me, Daddy!” was the joyful cry heard over the music.

“…a great way to introduce youngsters to live theatre.”

A Year with Frog and Toad is a great way to introduce youngsters to live theatre. It’s interactive, with a pre-show art project hosted by the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County. Creating wands and pictures adds to the overall excitement of being at a show, particularly when some of the pictures are tacked up to the stage props and recognized by the little artists.

L-to-R, Ted Smith and Jonathen Blue. Photos Credit: Eric Chazankin.

The popularity of this musical based on the stories of Arnold Lobel has sold out many shows, leading 6th Street to extend the run to January 29th. Ticket prices are $15-$25 with children under 2 free.

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ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionA Year with Frog and Toad
Book and Lyrics byWillie Reale
Directed byAnne Warren Clark
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse
Production DatesWeekends at 10 AM, 1 PM, and 4 PM through January 29th
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$15 to $25
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3.5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

 

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Sonoma Arts Live Showcases America’s Country Star

By Sue Morgan and Cari Lynn Pace

Director Michael Ross’ self-proclaimed “love letter to the theater community,” Always…Patsy Cline is based on the true story of Patsy Cline’s relationship with Louise Seger, a fan who became Patsy’s friend and with whom Patsy maintained a close correspondence until Cline’s untimely passing, at age 30, in a plane crash. The show runs at Sonoma Arts Live through December 18.

ASR contributors Sue Morgan and Cari Lynn Pace comment below:

CLP: SAL captures the spirit and voice of Patsy Cline by casting Danielle DeBow as the young American star of country music. DeBow has the stunning looks and the honeyed earthy voice that vaulted Cline to the top of the charts in the late 50s and early 60s. DeBow even captures the famous sad catch in Cline’s voice, so wonderfully evocaive in her hits “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Walkin’ After Midnight.”

Danielle DeBow as Patsy Cline.

SM: Reprising their roles in SAL’s second production of the play, both Danielle DeBow (Patsy) and Karen Pinomaki (Louise) create the magic necessary to bring the audience back to mid-century America when Cline’s astonishingly numerous hits were pervasive on radio and TV, not merely for country music fans but for many others across the nation. You’ll find most of those hits faithful to the originals and beautifully performed by DeBow in this production.

… It’s an enjoyable – and laughable – tribute…

CLP: Who knows how far Cline might have gone had she not tragically died in that airplane crash before she was even 30 years old?

SM: DeBow is not only a world-class singer but also drop-dead gorgeous. Michael Ross has an impeccable eye for costuming and uses her beauty to great advantage. DeBow first appears as Patsy onstage at the Grand Ole Opry, wearing an accurate recreation of Cline’s iconic red-fringed cowgirl dress. Ross then adorns DeBow in an array of period-perfect and stunning confections which enhance and contribute to the overall appeal of the production.

CLP: The thin plot is based on the true story of Louise, Cline’s enthusiastic fan, and the friendship that developed between them. It‘s an amusing and heartfelt retelling, narrated by Pinomaki and based on letters the two women shared over several years. Pinomaki is an outrageous force of energy on stage, delightfully down-to-earth as she cavorts around the entire theater. She’s the perfect fearless foil against the cool smooth presence of DeBow.

SM: Pinomaki’s high-octane performance is both energizing and engaging, frequently eliciting appreciative laughter. Use of a thrust stage (the audience on three sides) works well to create a sense of intimacy as we observe Louise puttering in her kitchen, calling her local radio DJ to request her favorite Cline songs, or narrating and enacting the story of how she came to befriend her musical idol.

DeBow’s magnificent voice and stage presence, as well as the warmth and easy authenticity in her interactions with superfan Louise make her a wholly believable Patsy.

CLP: The six-piece band onstage is pure country, complete with pedal steel guitar and fiddle. At some moments the piano overwhelmed the vocals. Those unfamiliar with the songs may not grasp some of the poignant stories told in the lyrics. This reviewer, who has excellent hearing and sat in the second row, just went with the flow of the music.

Many of DeBow’s vocals are backed up by the harmony quartet of Sean O’Brien, Jonathen Blue, Steve Cairns, and Alexi Ryan, as the Jordanaires. They lend an authenticity to Cline’s original songs that is country-fine fun.

SM: The Jordanaires do a fine job as backup singers for Patsy, including a somber lament after her passing. The band was tight and on point and drummer Elizabeth Robertson collaborated well with Louise during a staged bit on tempo.

SM: Despite the tragedy of Cline’s early demise, Always… Patsy Cline does not devolve into melodrama, but maintains its focus on the friendship of two women of vastly different circumstances, brought together serendipitously and steadfastly connected through mutual affection and appreciation.

Danielle DeBow (Patsy) and Karen Pinomaki (Louise) create the magic at Sonoma Arts Live.

CLP: It’s no mere jukebox musical. It’s an enjoyable – and laughable – tribute from an energetic housewife to a budding superstar. Two down-home gals who once bonded and became friends … always.

SM: This production will make believers of those unfamiliar with Ms. Cline’s music and will renew the enthusiasm of long-term fans through its outstanding combination of theatricality, virtuoso musical performances, gorgeous costuming and heart-warming true-life subject matter. An exhilarating, riveting, joyful piece of musical theatre!

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Contributing Writer Sue Morgan is a literature-and-theater enthusiast in Sonoma County’s Russian River region. Contact: sstrongmorgan@gmail.com

 

 

ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionAlways, Patsy Cline
Written byTed Swindley
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays until Dec. 18, 2022
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone866-710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft3.5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Scrooge in Love A Musical Treat at 6th Street

By Cari Lynn Pace

Anyone reluctant to revisit old Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghosts should prepare to be delighted by this musical follow-up to Dickens’s original story. Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse once again shines with this perfectly polished performance of stunning characters – yes, including the ghosts, following Scrooge a year after Tiny Tim intoned “God bless us, every one.”

Director Jared Sakren was the ideal choice to lead this full-blown musical, having previously directed and played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He notes “I’m delighted to bring Scrooge in Love to 6th Street with its festive, heartwarming, and magical story.”

…The songs are delightful, and move the plot along quickly, just in time for more ghosts…

The curtain opens with an annoyed Scrooge (superbly characterized by Jeff Cote’) awakened by his former partner – now hairy ghost – Marley (Peter Downey). Kudos to sound designer Ben Roots for the spooky echo when Downey speaks, in contrast to Cote’s dialog. Scrooge thought his visitation by ghosts was over and points out his forward progress, singing “In Just One Year.” Alas, ghosts have other plans.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (beautiful Alanna Weatherby) floats in to convince Scrooge of her mission. Her hilarious song “I Love Love” may not be hummable for mere mortals, but this soaring soprano nails the highest notes to earn the audience’s spontaneous applause.

Transported to a long past Christmas celebration, Scrooge is urged to have a little party fun when his buddy Dick (Skyler King) leads the company in singing “A Regular Day.” Choreographer Joseph Favarola must have worked tirelessly with this large ensemble of adults and children to produce one of several joyous dance scenes.

Scrooge sees himself as a timid young man, well cast in Noah Sternhill. It’s love at first sight for young Scrooge and lovely Belle (superbly acted by Erin Rose Solorio.) Belle is eager, but shy Scrooge is painfully unsure of himself and lets the relationship slip from his grasp.

Cote’ is a formidable actor and comedic talent, and carries Scrooge in Love with energy and perfect characterizations. Singing is not his strong suit, yet his down-to-earth voice harmonizes well when he does a duet with Sternhill singing “The Things You Should Have Done.” Ginger Beavers directs the show’s live music written by Larry Grossman with lyrics by Kellen Blair. The songs are delightful, and move the plot along quickly, just in time for more ghosts.

The big Ghost of Christmas Present (Ezra Hernandez) arrives with an even bigger baritone voice. When he gets into the party action, Scrooge begins to get the picture. A cadre of kids and the cast sing “Do It Now” but Scrooge is unsure.

Finally, the silent and scary Ghost of Christmas Future (King doubles up for this role) shows a dismal ending. Scrooge sings “Sad I’m Dead” to great laughter. This reviewer found the many funny lines peppering this show added to the wit and enjoyment of the total production.

Scrooge at last is spurred to action. Scrooge, Marley, and the Three Ghosts sing “You Can’t Put a Price on Love” that brought the house down. A huge shout-out goes to the behind-the-scenes work of costume designer Mae Heagerty-Matos, and wig/hair/makeup designer Rosanne Johnson. The pair’s wizardry transforms actors into outrageous ghosts and classic Dickens characters.

So in summary, grab the family and go see Scrooge In Love — it’s a winter wonderland winner!

-30-

ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionScrooge in Love
Written byDuane Poole
Directed byJared Sakren
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThrough Dec 18th. (Some dates have both afternoon and evening shows)
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$19 (under 18) to $48
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Scrooge in Love: A Musical Treat at 6th Street

By Cari Lynn Pace

Anyone reluctant to revisit old Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghosts should prepare to be delighted by this musical follow-up to Dickens’s original story. Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse once again shines with this perfectly polished performance of stunning characters – yes, including the ghosts, following Scrooge a year after Tiny Tim intoned “God bless us, every one.”

Director Jared Sakren was the ideal choice to lead this full-blown musical, having previously directed and played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. He notes “I’m delighted to bring Scrooge in Love to 6th Street with its festive, heartwarming, and magical story.”

…outrageous ghosts and classic Dickens characters…

The curtain opens with an annoyed Scrooge (superbly characterized by Jeff Cote’) awakened by his former partner – now hairy ghost – Marley (Peter Downey). Kudos to sound designer Ben Roots for the spooky echo when Downey speaks, in contrast to Cote’s dialog. Scrooge thought his visitation by ghosts was over and points out his forward progress, singing “In Just One Year.” Alas, ghosts have other plans.

The Ghost of Christmas Past (beautiful Alanna Weatherby) floats in to convince Scrooge of her mission. Her hilarious song “I Love Love” may not be hummable for mere mortals, but this soaring soprano nails the highest notes to earn the audience’s spontaneous applause.

Transported to a long past Christmas celebration, Scrooge is urged to have a little party fun when his buddy Dick (Skyler King) leads the company in singing “A Regular Day.” Choreographer Joseph Favarola must have worked tirelessly with this large ensemble of adults and children to produce one of several joyous dance scenes.

Scrooge sees himself as a timid young man, well cast in Noah Sternhill. It’s love at first sight for young Scrooge and lovely Belle (superbly acted by Erin Rose Solorio.) Belle is eager, but shy Scrooge is painfully unsure of himself and lets the relationship slip from his grasp.

Cote’ is a formidable actor and comedic talent, and carries Scrooge in Love with energy and perfect characterizations. Singing is not his strong suit, yet his down-to-earth voice harmonizes well when he does a duet with Sternhill singing “The Things You Should Have Done.” Ginger Beavers directs the show’s live music written by Larry Grossman with lyrics by Kellen Blair. The songs are delightful, and move the plot along quickly, just in time for more ghosts.

Scrooge In Love: the cast at work at 6th St.

The big Ghost of Christmas Present (Ezra Hernandez) arrives with an even bigger baritone voice. When he gets into the party action, Scrooge begins to get the picture. A cadre of kids and the cast sing “Do It Now” but Scrooge is unsure.

Finally, the silent and scary Ghost of Christmas Future (King doubles up for this role) shows a dismal ending. Scrooge sings “Sad I’m Dead” to great laughter. This reviewer found the many funny lines peppering this show added to the wit and enjoyment of the total production.

Scrooge at last is spurred to action. Scrooge, Marley, and the Three Ghosts sing “You Can’t Put a Price on Love” that brought the house down. A huge shout-out goes to the behind-the-scenes work of costume designer Mae Heagerty-Matos, and wig/hair/makeup designer Rosanne Johnson. The pair’s wizardry transforms actors into outrageous ghosts and classic Dickens characters.

-30-

ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: pace-koch@comcast.net

 

ProductionScrooge in Love
Written byDuane Poole
Directed byJared Sakren
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse
Production DatesThrough Dec 18th. (Some dates have both afternoon and evening shows)
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$19 (under 18) to $48
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4.5/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Lucky Penny Stages Gruesome Favorite in “Sweeney Todd”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Stephen Sondheim wrote this dark and diabolical opera of an obsessed barber’s revenge gone amuck. It won multiple Tony awards including best musical, despite having only a few memorable songs such as “Pretty Women” and “(Nothing’s Going to Harm You) Not While I’m Around.”

Director/choreographer Staci Arriaga teamed up with costume designer Barbara McFadden to handle the dark tale with a minimal set but a talented cast. They make admirable use of the intimate 99-seat theatre with solo musicians set here and there, both onstage and off.

Sondheim’s dark tale takes center state at Lucky Penny.

Throughout the performance, actors appear from the back, sides and front, all the while singing in cockney patois. Makeup designer Brette Bartolucci worked overtime to fashion the faces of actors who sweep through the fog reciting the malevolent background story.

Lucky Penny Productions considers itself lucky indeed to mount this show after a forced two-year break due to Covid.

It’s decaying and corrupt 19th century London. Haughty politicians and desperate vagrants line the streets. A brooding sailor looms over the crowd, calling himself Sweeney Todd (Ian Elliott). His friend and shipmate Anthony (Ethan Thomas) does his best to include Todd in the activities, but Todd has other ideas in mind. He’s escaped a prison colony, sent there to pave the way for the seduction of Todd’s innocent wife. He is informed that she took poison rather than succumb.

Todd is a talented barber who captures the admiration of the street scene by challenging the local barber and swaggering mountebank Aldolfo (Jeremy Kreamer) to a shave-off.  The young assistant Tobias (charmingly done by Tuolumne Bunter) adroitly aligns himself with Todd when Todd wins the match.

Todd is swept into the entreating clutches of Mrs. Lovett (a brash role well handled by Taylor Bartolucci),  the widow pie-maker. She sets him up with a shop above her pie store, giving him the set of knives he once owned. Todd’s rival barber visits and makes the mistake of challenging Todd. Big mistake. He becomes a body for disposal. Since meat is in short supply, crafty Mrs. Lovett spots the opportunity to grind some fresh for her pies. Mrs. Lovett earns customers while Todd bides his time for revenge on the lecherous Judge (David Murphy) and his cohort Beedle Bramford (splendidly done by Sean O’Brien.)

Heaping more darkness on the bleak plot, Todd finds that his baby Johanna (Kirstin Pieschke) is now grown and a ward of the very judge who lusted after Todd’s wife. The libidinous judge is now focused on pursuing the daughter. Todd isn’t happy. He bides his time in fury waiting for the judge to come for a shave.

Sweeny Todd cast at work. Photo by Lucky Penny.
Sweeny Todd cast at work. Photo by Lucky Penny.

If it isn’t obvious, note that Sweeney Todd; The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has social elements which make it inappropriate for children. A young boy about age 12 who sat next to me laughed at some of the body dumping, as did many in the audience. The only gasps came when Todd had his own wife in the chair. No spoilers here, but this show doesn’t have a happy ending.

The show possesses sufficient twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience engaged. Sondheim’s songs and rapid-fire lyrics are a real challenge; a few audience members commented that they couldn’t follow all of the story. It’s classic Sondheim, with what some describe as “too many words.”

The show is well-cast and meticulously timed with many entrances and exits. It is a perfectly macabre show for the season.

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

 

 

ProductionSweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Written byStephen Sondheim
Directed byStaci Arriaga
Producing CompanyLucky Penny Productions
Production DatesThru Nov 6th
Production AddressLucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way
Napa, CA 94558
Websitewww.luckypennynapa.com
Telephone(707) 266-6305
Tickets$32-$43
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Theatre Time Capsule: “Indecent” at SF Playhouse, Best/Worst of History & Hope

By Cari Lynn Pace

San Francisco Playhouse’s play-about-a-play is both an historical recounting and a peek into theatre of today. Nominated for three Tony Awards, “Indecent” marks the Bay Area premier of this critically acclaimed work by Paula Vogel.

Director Susi Damilano staged this production with a skillful hand and an eye toward authenticity, expertly aided by the Yiddish Theatre Ensemble. The changes in place and time come together swiftly in this two-hour production, spanning the first half of the 20th century. Many stop-action tableaux are used to stunning effect, moving the scenes forward as the actors shift years. Three musicians led by Dmitri Gaskin lend joyful klezmer-infused songs onstage as actors intermittently dance and sing.

The set by Richard Olmsted is an open frame where props, costumes, lights, and actors wait on the sides until needed. “Indecent” action centers inside the frame as the narrator, the Yiddish theater company stage manager Lemml (Dean Linnard) begins telling the story to the audience. He’s backed by a solid wall punctuating the actors’ dialog as it flips from Yiddish to German to English and back again.

“…it became the first Yiddish play to be translated into multiple languages and staged across Europe”

“Indecent” follows the true 1906 saga of a young Jewish playwright, Sholem Asch (Billy Cohen), who vainly attempted to have the Polish literati support his new play “The God of Vengeance.” Soundly rejected by rivals in Warsaw for the “immoral and indecent” themes contained, Asch took the play to various international cities, starting with Berlin, to great acclaim.

Set in a Jewish community in Poland, it became the first Yiddish play to be translated into multiple languages and staged across Europe. It was controversial with its themes of sex, lesbianism, a brothel side business, hypocrisy, and the desecration of a Torah scroll. “God of Vengeance” was highly acclaimed and mightily condemned for 17 years. It enjoyed a successful international run until it reached New York City.

Lemml (Dean Linnard*, center) introduces the troupe (L-R): Mayer Balsam (Matthew Stein), on violin , Nelly Friedman (Audrey Jackson), on clarinet, Halina (Rivka Borek*), Mendel (Ted Zoldan), Chana (Malka Wallick*), Avram (Billy Cohen*), Moriz Godowsky (Dmitri Gaskin), on accordion, Otto (Victor Talmadge*), and Vera (Rachel Botchan*). Production photography by Jessica Palopoli for ‘Indecent’ by Paula Vogel at SF Playhouse.

In 1922 “God of Vengeance” was translated to English and premiered in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The controversial buzz—and the police—were waiting when the play opened in NYC the following year. The producer and entire cast were busted for “unlawfully advertising, giving, presenting and participating in an obscene, indecent, immoral and impure drama or play.” Their arrest and the fallout through 1953 form the basis for “Indecent,” which playwright Vogel has captured with astounding sadness, madness, and hope.

Interestingly, “Indecent” reveals it was the local NY rabbi who lodged the obscenity charges against the solidly Jewish playwright. Although overturned two years later, the charges altered the lives of all concerned. Eugene O’Neill(also Billy Cohen), a defender of the play, shares a cameo part onstage with an older Asch (Victor Talmadge) when he commiserates that “Every religion, even Jews, sells God for a price.”

The troupe makes its long journey to America. Photo by Jessica Palopoli for ‘Indecent’ by Paula Vogel at San Francisco Playhouse.

“Indecent” is a time capsule bursting with the best and worst of history and hope. Playing now through November 5th, it’s a welcome opener for San Francisco Playhouse’s 20th anniversary season. They couldn’t have made a more solid choice.

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

 

 

ProductionIndecent
Written byPaula Vogel
Directed bySusi Damilano
Producing CompanySan Francisco Playhouse and
Yiddish Theatre Ensemble
Production DatesTue, Wed, Thu & Sun at 7:00 PM.

Fri, Sat at 8:00 PM

Sat at 3:00 PM & Sun at 2:00 PM
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
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ “Ain’t Misbehavin’” Rocks the Stage – Legendary Fats Waller Tribute Bursts with Energy

By Cari Lynn Pace

Welcome back to Harlem’s Golden Age of Jazz, with Prohibition booze and uninhibited dance clubs swinging circles around each other.

Fats Waller composed and played rockin’ songs in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s for folks who were “dance crazy.” Sonoma Arts Live brings back these fun-loving times with five talented singer/dancers, one superb slide piano player, and five backup band members on stage. The musical tribute showcases the breadth of Waller’s influence on jitterbug, Charleston, tap, and just plain foolin’ around to the sultry lyrics of sensual waltzes and slow favorites like “Honeysuckle Rose.”

“The musical tribute showcases the breadth of Waller’s influence on jitterbug, Charleston, tap, and just plain foolin’ around…”

Waller, a posthumous Grammy award winner, was one of the most prolific composers and entertainers of the era, writing over 400 songs. He had huge hands, wide enough to master the slide piano technique. With slide piano, the left hand plays the bass rhythm of a piece, typically when there is no actual bass musician to cover the beat. Some musicians of that era had surgery to cut the thumb-first finger tendon in their left hand in order to make the necessary ten-key reach from bass note to chord. Waller was born with that ability, a blessing the “King of the Stride” used to wrote songs that were equally successful with audiences of all colors in those highly segregated times.

Back in the 20’s Harlem, if the rent was due and there was nothing coming in, folks would gather at the apartment for a dance-and-booze “rent party” to chip in for their friends. There was always a gun check at the door, and a password to avoid the cops. They called these gathering “joints” to avoid tipping off the cops.

Photos in this review — Miller Oberlin

No Fats Waller revue would be complete without the raucous “This Joint is Jumpin’” as Serena Elize Flores, D’Artagnan Riviera, Jonathen Blue, and Bay Area favorite Phillip Percy Williams are joined by Director Aja Gianola-Norris in a slap and swirl romp. Costumes, designed by Jaya Grace, range from flirty to fancy as the exuberant cadre belts out “Ain’t Nobody’s Business But My Own” and the signature song Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Waller gave us songs to make us smile, like “You Feet’s Too Big” or sigh, in “I’m Gonna’ Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

Sonoma Arts Live is to be commended for gathering this group of talents to showcase a master entertainer of a bygone era. Williams is a seasoned standout with his smooth jazz voice, and Blue and Flores lead the others in clever tap dancing. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch Neil Angelo Fontano play jazz piano at the apron of the stage. The fun the performers have onstage is contagious, whether shouting out lyrics or kicking high. Harlem’s legendary “Clown Prince of Jazz” is rockin’ indeed.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionAin’t Misbehavin’
Written byMurray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Directed byAja Gianola Norris
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesSeptember 25th, 2022
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone866-710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ RVP’s “Picnic” a Feast of Acting Talent

By Cari Lynn Pace

Ross Valley Players takes a brave jump from their usual lighthearted productions to bring the mid-century classic “Picnic” to the stage.

William Inge situated his 1953 Pulitzer-prize winning drama in a dusty Kansas town not far from the train tracks. “Picnic” is a period piece, a slow-moving unfolding of womenfolk who share a backyard and reveal their varied emotional shackles. Widow Helen Potts (veteran Tamar Cohn) has hired Hal, a hunky young drifter, to help her with chores. Hal possesses both animal magnetism and a body budding with muscles. Whenever Hal appears, perfectly portrayed by Max Carpenter, the febrile women bite their lips and sigh.

Helen’s next-door neighbor Flo is a controlling mother (superbly channeled by Tori Truss) who urges her pretty eldest daughter Madge to ensnare Alan (Evan Held), the town’s eligible bachelor. Madge acts compliant but is conflicted by her own perceived limitations. Dale Leonheart enacts her delicate role, balancing eagerness and wistfulness, all the while listening for the whistles of distant trains.

…“Picnic” is a period piece, a slow-moving unfolding of womenfolk who share a backyard and reveal their varied emotional shackles.

Flo pays scant attention to her studious tomboy daughter Millie, a role captured with youthful impatience by Lizzy Bies. Flo’s two daughters have a rivalry common to close-age siblings. Bies admirably remains in character throughout her performance, even when she has no lines onstage.

Lizzie Bies is terrific as Milly Owens. Dale Leonheart as Madge Owens.

Into the backyard enters Rosemary (Valerie Weak), Flo’s house boarder, a prim and proper schoolteacher with buttoned up suit and perfectly aligned seamed stockings. Weak skillfully enacts this role, emphasizing Rosemary’s aloofness. From Act I to Act IV, Rosemary morphs from a self-proclaimed independent female to one desperate to get married. Her reasons for becoming so aren’t clear, but her need to get married propels the play’s secondary plot.

…Inge’s dramatic script is an edgy slice of life, and no picnic for the characters.

Madge’s boyfriend Alan appears—handsome, respectful and reserved, played understatedly by Held. Alan recognizes the drifter Hal as his former college buddy, and their joyful reunion provides a laugh-out-loud highlight.

It’s not the only amusing scene in this drama, thanks to Steve Price in the role of Howard, Rosemary’s sweetheart. Price has the capacity to be a larger-than-life comedic presence, but he keeps it mostly real in this production. Howard cajoles the staid Rosemary to take a swig of his illegal booze. He shares his booty with eager Hal, and young Millie sneaks in a few swigs too. The combustion begins when one buzzed and desperate spinster wants to dance with a virile hunk.

Tory Truss as Flo Owens with Dale Leonheart.

RVP made a good choice choosing director Adrian Elfenbaum and adding two Equity actors to their cadre of talented local actors. RVP’s masterful casting choices secure the believability and success of this production. Elfenbaum’s direction keeps each character’s performance in balance with the ensemble.

Opening night had bits of hesitation with the actors’ lines, perhaps due to opening-night jitters, but that will surely dissipate. This period piece moves at a slow pace, and at two and a half hours might benefit by trimming a few scenes, but overall it’s a tremendous production.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionPicnic
Written byWilliam Inge
Directed byAdrian Elfenbaum
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru October 9, 2022
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-383-1100
Tickets$15-$30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Mill Valley’s Curtain Theatre Delights With “Two Gentlemen of Verona”

By Cari Lynn Pace

If Shakespeare’s plays have sometimes seemed confusing, with multiple characters speaking patois poetry and cross dressing, fear not. “Two Gentlemen of Verona” is one of the Bard’s early plays and has a believable plot, with only one actor disguising herself as a male.

Director Steve Beecroft worked for over a year on the play, writing in lines to bolster the motivation and beef up the characters’ actions. He did a solid job, as this play is both emotional and amusing, dark and light, with jealousy and forgiveness. And swordplay. Lots of swordplay.

The outdoor Curtain Theatre has returned post-pandemic, with a large talented cast creating splendid afternoon performances. They cleverly merge a smoothly flowing story to original Elizabethan-era music (thanks to Don Clark), proper dancing, the aforementioned swordplay (impressively done by Beecroft), and exquisite costumes by Jody Branham. The final result does Shakespeare proud.

“Two Gentlemen of Verona” opens as two friends joke and joust as young men in 1593 were wont to do. Proteus (handsome and confident Nelson Brown) has a lady, Julia (expertly acted by Isabelle Grimm), to whom he has sworn his love, and she to him. His buddy Valentine has no girlfriend, so he bids them “ciao” and sets out to neighboring Milan. It doesn’t take long for Valentine, enacted by a dashing and charming Nic Moore, to hook up with lovely Sylvia, an aristocratic and clever young lady regally played by Gillian Eichenberger. They plight (pledge) their troth, which is to say they really dig each other.

“They plight their troth, which is to say they really dig each other.”

Back in Verona, Proteus’s exasperated dad (channeled by Mark Shepard) boots Proteus off the couch and out of the family villa and shuttles him off to Milan. He meets up with Valentine, spots Sylvia, and suddenly he’s in love and forgets about Julia. Dramaturg Peter Bradbury succinctly points out “Proteus is named after the shape-shifting god of change.”

Sylvia will have none of Proteus, as she is true to Valentine. After all, she plighted her troth with Valentine. Spurned Proteus learns about his buddy’s plan to elope with Sylvia. He rats on Valentine to Sylvia’s daddy the Duke (a regal Glenn Havlan). Valentine is banished. Sylvia is mightily peeved, particularly when Proteus keeps pestering her, professing his love. Julia, smelling a rat, heads to Milan and disguises herself to watch her paramour’s antics in the forest. She gets the drift. The rest, as they say, shall be revealed in Act II.

No review of “Two Gentlemen” would be complete without commenting on the scene-stealing antics of Grey Wolf as Launce, a forest wanderer, and his dog. This particular dog is the hilarious Jamin Jollo; he plays the part on all fours and scratches and slobbers at will. The giggling of the children in the audience when he appears is the true testimonial of this actor’s over-the-top performance.

It is another scene-stealing surprise when Jollo shows up as Sir Thurio, one of Sylvia’s swishy suitors and a definite swipe left on Tinder. They are backed up by a talented cast of servants and outlaws, in a grove of stately redwoods reaching high above the fun.

…backed up by a talented cast of servants and outlaws, in a grove of stately redwoods reaching high above the fun.

The Curtain Theatre has no curtain, and their theatre is the Old Mill Park Amphitheatre, behind the Mill Valley Library on Throckmorton. Their productions are open to all at no charge, donations are most welcome, and chairs are set out in the glen, first come first served. The audience is filled with families, blankets, chairs, and picnics. It’s endearing to see the children enraptured by Shakespeare’s legacy. They get it!

Playing at 2 PM Saturdays and Sundays and through Labor Day Monday September 5th. Admission is FREE and donations are happily appreciated. Open seating, picnics welcome, cookies and coffee available for purchase, and chairs are provided on a first-come basis, or bring your own. Dress in layers as this redwood grove is always much cooler than the street level.

And, psssst..…If you’d like a sneak peek at this amazing work, try this video on You Tube:  https://youtu.be/JBCCpfpd368

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionTwo Gentlemen of Verona
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed bySteve Beecroft
Producing CompanyCurtain Theatre
Production DatesSaturdays/Sundays and Labor Day Monday at 2 p.m. through September 5th
Production AddressOld Mill Park Amphitheater.

375 Throckmorton Avenue (behind the library), Mill Valley
Websitewww.curtaintheatre.org
TicketsFree!
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yea, Verily!

 

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ 6th Street Showcases Playfulness with “Pride and Prejudice”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Step inside the 99-seat Monroe Stage black box theatre you’ve entered the drawing room of a 19th century English country manor. There’s a lovely scene behind the columns, reminiscent of a Maxfield Parrish painting. The floor has been transformed into a colorful faux-carpet, and there are touches of lace and lush drapery in the corners of the theatre.

The stage is set for “Pride and Prejudice,” an inventive adaptation by Kate Hamill of Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel—an avant-garde production with contemporary costume touches mixed with period dresses and proper gentlemen’s coattails.

6th Street Playhouse chose to bring this nationally-recognized version to the Santa Rosa stage under the direction of Laura Downing-Lee. Opening night was sold out.

…the actors’ virtuosity and skill at their craft are apparent throughout this production.

The plot is driven by Mrs. Bennet, the rapacious mother of five daughters who must be married off to bring the family future prosperity. Enacted by stage veteran Kristine Ann Lowry, Mrs. Bennet brings laughter with her overbearing entreaties and dramatic entries and exits. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, has sworn off love and marriage, secure in her denial of the existence of a perfect man. Neither her mother nor her sisters Jane (Lauren DePass) and Lydia (Sierra Dawn Downey) can persuade her otherwise.

Miranda Jane Williams infuses the pivotal role of Elizabeth with a precise accent, clearly enunciated for all to hear in this small ¾ round theatre. Some of her castmates could use better projection and accents, as their backs are frequently turned.


Pride and Prejudice’s Matthew Cadigan and Miranda Jane Williams.

Those familiar with “Pride and Prejudice” know that when Mr. Darcy, portrayed by Matthew Cadigan as a wealthy aristocrat with proud class distinction, is introduced to Elizabeth, their conversation provokes an instant dislike between them. That is not the end of the story, but rather the spark which eventually ignites the beloved “happy ending.”

The cast has a blast with some over-the-top characterizations. Shifting roles, costumes, and genders in amusing combinations, the actors’ virtuosity and skill at their craft are apparent throughout this production.

Lowry and Downey at work.

Skyler King draws the first laughs as the oversized and beleaguered sister Mary, only to reappear in the next scene as amiable and handsome suitor Mr. Bingley. Lauren DePass plays quiet Jane and loopy Miss De Bourgh. Sierra Dawn Downey convincingly channels a bubbly and impetuous 14-year-old, then transforms into an imperious dowager in a later scene. Tim Hayes, the elder in the cast, swiftly changes from Mr. Bennet to re-emerge as a spinster cousin. It’s all very well done and great fun to watch.

The scene-stealer role in this “Pride and Prejudice” undoubtedly belongs to Elijah Pinkham, an actor with such skill at his craft that he is alternately the unctuous and hilarious reverend Mr. Collins, the sharp Lieutenant Wickham, and the haughty and disdainful Miss Bingley. He immerses himself into each role so deeply that he is unrecognizable.

The actors do this character switching repeatedly and seamlessly from all corners of the theatre, all the while moving stage furniture for the next scene. Bravo to all!

DePass (top/L), Sierra Dawn Downey, & King.

The book “Pride and Prejudice” has spawned many films, television programs, and stage adaptations, even including one with Zombies.

This 6th Street Playhouse production is fun, while retaining Austen’s moral of the story: prejudice defended merely by pride will lose out. It’s a lesson for today’s bellicose bias and attitudes. Shakespeare was correct: “All the world’s a stage.”

Note:  When you go, Artistic Director Jared Sakren is protective of everyone at 6th Street. All patrons must show proof of vaccination at the door and wear masks inside. While theatres have been caught short by Covid illness of cast members, Sakren discloses that every actor in “Pride and Prejudice” has an understudy ready to assist.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionPride and Prejudice
Written byKate Hamill, based on Jane Austen’s novel
Directed byLaura Downing-Lee
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM through August 28th
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$34 – $39; at (707) 523-4185
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

Pick! ASR Theater ~~ “Hooray for Hollywood” Hits the Mark; Transcendence Shows Off Silver Screen Energy

By Cari Lynn Pace

Lights, Camera, Action! Hollywood’s movies inspire and propel the latest Transcendence Theatre Company’s production, now showing live onstage at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, CA. If you grew up watching movies, and rocked along with the music, you’ve got to see this energy-packed show.

Over five dozen songs from movies then and now delight the senses in this fast-paced and multi-level production. Fifteen singers and dancers show off their vocal power and athletic moves as the klieg lights pierce the night. The stage bursts with costume changes from “The Greatest Showman” to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Hooray for Hollywood cast working.

There’s a lovely pas de deux from “An American in Paris” and a clever “Jailhouse Rock” medley interspersed with “West Side Story.” The audience gave a standing cheer to “The Show Must Go On” in the second act, and many joined in when the “Time Warp” and “Footloose” let loose.

“…star talents with tight yet fluid moves. The silver screen never looked this good!”

Transcendence’s Musical Director Susan Draus conceived this amazing evening, revealing her lifelong love of movie music. Director/choreographer Alaina Mills, highlights the dancers’ star talents with tight yet fluid moves. The silver screen never looked this good!

Transcendence has but a few weeks to rehearse their superb talent in their short summer season. On opening weekend of “Hooray for Hollywood,” one of the TTC veterans had been injured in rehearsal and unable to dance. She sat alongside the orchestra and sang her part beautifully, smiling along with her fellow dancers. What a brilliant way to build company camaraderie!

Transcendence began ten years ago with a handful of singing and dancing performers who escaped their summer gigs on Broadway and LA stages. From their humble start as a nonprofit established to support the Jack London State Historic Park, they’ve grown to be a beloved part of the Bay Area performing arts family in Sonoma. Transcendence now has Kids Camps and Outreach Programs to bring joyful theatre and workshops to all ages.

To have what many call “The Best Night Ever!” bring a picnic starting at 5 PM and share the summer with pre-show entertainment, gourmet food trucks, and premium Sonoma County wines. After the party, settle into your seat surrounded by the stone ruins of the park. Dress in layers, for when the moon rises the temperature falls.

Transcendence Theater Company – 2022 Hooray for Hollywood cast at work

“Hooray for Hollywood” is the second outdoor show in their three-part summer series and runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings through August 14th at the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen in Sonoma. Next up will be the outdoor “Gala” set for September 9-18, and their indoor Holiday Show this winter.

New this year is a “Transcendence For All” program that shares the joy of musical theatre with the community. Affordable tickets are available for $25, with closer-in seats starting at $49 to $165 for VIP at www.ttcsonoma.org or call the box office at 877-424-1414.

And finally, if you’d like just a brief peek at the energy and excitement of “Hooray for Hollywood”, check out this video clip: https://youtu.be/b1ct15tnk_w

“Hooray for Hollywood” — it’s a fun-filled spectacular!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionHooray for Hollywood
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed byAlaina Mills
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough August 14th 2022
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen

2400 London Ranch Road, Sonoma
Websitewww.ttcsonoma.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$25-$165
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Choreography5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Latin Flair Brings the Heat as Transcendence Theatre Returns with “Let’s Dance”

By Cari Lynn Pace

Summers at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen have been parched and dusty ever since Transcendence Theatre Company abandoned their outdoor stage for two years due to the pandemic.

TTC’s award-winning assemblage of talented singers and dancers from Broadway and LA shows have finally burst back onto the stage for their summer season opener “Let’s Dance.” They’ve returned with smiles, boundless energy, and rhythm from top to toe.

When the orchestra sounds the opening note, and the bright lights go up onstage, prepare to be blown away!

Transcendence has presented productions under the stars at Jack London State Park for ten summer seasons. Their successful “Best Night Ever!” formula has traditionally been a potpourri of popular song-and-dance numbers from hit musicals. “Let’s Dance” is their first summer offering for 2022, to be followed by two later productions: “Hooray for Hollywood” in late July and early August, and “The Gala” in September.

“Let’s Dance” displays the influence of guest director and choreographer Luis Salgado, whose Puerto Rican roots give the entire production a Latin flair. Salgado enthuses “I wanted to showcase the cultural heritage of dance to include salsa, Peruvian tap, and drum solos. We blended these with contemporary moves. It was a challenge rehearsing new movement styles outdoors in the heat of the sun, waiting for it to cool off a little. But we did it! I love this community and its spirit, its soul!”

L to R: Catherine Wreford, Anna Aliau I. Guerra, CorBen Williams, Sophie Lee Morris, Kyle Kemph Photo Credit: Rob Martel

Salgado brings out the best from TTC’s troupe of skilled dancers. Their exhaustive efforts—strenuous, athletic, and precise—give a rousing start to the opening number in “Primer Acto” (Act I.) Twenty singers and dancers, including many new faces among beloved Transcendence regulars, keep the energy charged up.

Segundo Acto (Act II) starts with a Peruvian drum solo improvisation by guest artist Luis Antonio Vilchez Vargas in baggy white pants and a big smile. The audience claps as instructed, to amusing pantomime. The feel-good atmosphere rises as does the moon above the stone ruins of the park.

“Let’s Dance” is mostly dance, yet plenty of singing numbers also shine. Spanish speakers may enjoy “Dos Oruguitas” while all can follow the many musical medleys packed with Broadway hits. The production is splendidly accompanied by the 10-piece Transcendence Band conducted by Matt Smart.

Jack London State Historic Park starts admitting picnickers to TTC performances as early as 5 p.m. Patrons bring hampers, food trucks ply their wares, premium wine and beer vendors offer tastes and sell glasses and bottles—to be enjoyed outside the amphitheater, as no alcohol may be brought in.

CorBen Williams & Brianna-Marie Bell Photo Credit: Ray Mabry

Live music encourages the fun and friendly banter in the dry open field, amusingly mislabeled the “great lawn.” Outdoor seating, all assigned, begins in the stone ruins as the sun drops low beyond the mountains. New this season are chairs with padded seats and backs, a welcome addition to the winery ruins.

Just before the show starts at 7:30, take time to breathe deeply of the clear air in the summer night. As the nearby vineyards glow in the setting sun, get out a jacket and lap blanket, and enjoy the quiet beauty of this Valley of the Moon. When the orchestra sounds the opening note, and the bright lights go up onstage, prepare to be blown away!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionAn Enchanted Evening
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed byBrad Surosky
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThru Sept 17th
Production AddressBeltane Ranch
Glen Ellen, CA
Websitewww.transcendencetheatre.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414. Toll free,
Tickets$35-$49
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.75/5.0
Performance4.0/5.0
Script3.5/5.0
Stagecraft3.0/5.0
Aisle Seat Review Pick?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ Ibsen Classic Gets a Striking Sequel: “A Doll’s House Part 2”

By Cari Lynn Pace

A stately 1879-era living room, complete with divan and chandelier, sets the stage for this four-person drama at the intimate 99-seat Novato Theatre Company: “A Doll’s House Part 2” written by Lucas Hnath as a continuation of Henrik Ibsen’s original. It’s a winner.

Hnath has created this sequel adroitly using four original characters. It is not necessary to have seen Ibsen’s original play to follow the plot of “Part 2.” This story, like the original, vacillates between uplifting and troubling in its examination of gender and society’s rules.

The die is cast when Torvald tells Nora “There’s the door. I know you know how to use it.”

This story, like the original, vacillates between uplifting and troubling in its examination of gender and society’s rules.

Director Gillian Eichenberger has pulled astounding performances from her well-experienced acting ensemble, lending depth and validity to their roles.

Nora, a determined and now successful woman of substance, returns after 15 years to her former home. She had walked out on her husband and young children in a quest to find a life that had purpose and passion. When award-winning Alison Peltz takes the stage as Nora, she imbues her with near-manic confidence, sure in her conviction of emotional decisions made so long ago.

Peltz and Hall at work. Photos by NTC.

As Nora initially shares her past with aging Anne Marie, the nanny beautifully portrayed by veteran Shirley Nilsen Hall, the question explodes: Why has Nora returned?

Nora’s husband Torvald unexpectedly shows up, and the biting recriminations begin. Torvald’s anger at Nora’s past behavior bubbles to the surface in a solidly convincing performance by Mark Clark. Nora wants something and displays herself to be self-centered and manipulating. Torvald says no.

Can Nora’s daughter Emmy, now grown, help convince Torvald to give Nora what she wants? The role is convincingly enacted by young Jannely Calmell, who stands up to Nora’s sly suggestions.

How will this remarkably written drama end? The die is cast when Torvald tells Nora “There’s the door. I know you know how to use it.”

Covid checks and masks required as of this writing.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionA Doll’s House Part 2
Written byLucas Hnath
Directed byGillian Eichenberger
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough June 12th, 2022
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone(415) 883-4498
Tickets$15 – $27
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES

 

ASR Theater ~~ “The Government Inspector” – Comedy Imitates Life in this Russian Town

By Cari Lynn Pace

Those who are appalled at the travesties between Russia and Ukraine which dominate our headlines may enjoy a respite with this Ross Valley Players comedy, at the Barn at the Ross Art and Garden Center through June 5.

This farce lampooning government officials was written by Nikolai Gogol, a Russian playwright who exiled himself after this play was presented to the Tzar in 1836. Gogol was subjected to intense official disdain after he parodied government unscrupulousness.

Act II is truly a laugh out loud absurdity….

Although the location is not specific, the play takes place in a Russian town filled with corrupt officials and workers who continually (and successfully) defraud the system. Their deceits are profitable and mutually accepted among themselves, resulting in uninhabitable hospitals, sub-standard schools, courtroom graft, fake employment, and the like. One is reminded of the phrase repeatedly heard from a Russian friend: “We pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us.”

Steve Price as The Mayor; Benjamin Vasquez as Dobchinsky;
Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs as Bobchinsky. Photo Robin Jackson.

The trouble begins when the Mayor belatedly discovers that a “Government Inspector” has arrived unannounced from St. Petersburg and is residing undercover. Those in charge fear that the inspector will report their misdeeds to the Tsar, with distressing consequences. The Mayor and his minions go into hyperdrive concocting schemes to cover up the extent of the town’s corruption. Steve Price is hilarious playing the blustering and panicked Mayor, a role he pushes over the top with present pandemonium. He’s in charge of the mayhem, and it is truly madness.

Hlestekov, an indolent and lowly clerk from St. Peterburg happens to be passing through the town and has lost his funds gambling. He’s holed up in the inn awaiting funds from his family when the town mistakes him for the dreaded inspector. Suddenly, a stream of rubles get thrust into his hands, labelled “welcome gifts.” Michel B. Harris plays this role perfectly, from an initially confused clerk to the role of a now-corrupt official commanding further bribes from the guilty.

It’s not only rubles that get this clerk’s attention. He takes the opportunity of this sudden power to seduce the Mayor’s daughter Marya (Hunter Candrian-Velez), all the while deflecting passionate advances from the Mayor’s lustful wife Anna (hilarious Pamela Ciochetti.)

Wood Lockhart. Photo Robin Jackson.

Harris revels in his new identity, upstaged only by the snide comments of his servant, enacted by veteran Wood Lockhart in an elf’s garb. Act II is truly a laugh out loud absurdity.

The large cast of fourteen, directed by Lisa Morse, jumps into their madcap roles with full tilt energy. Some frantic bits bring to mind the antics of the Three Stooges, other moments are clearly inspired by Groucho Marx. One might expect the cast to emulate Russian accents, although most do not. “The Government Inspector” misadventure could easily be transported to any corrupt city these days, which makes Gogol’s plot from the early 1800’s a timeless possibility.

“The Government Inspector” is an ambitious production and an audience pleaser with the RVP crowd. Costume and wig changes are supported by an offstage production team more numerable than the cast. “The Government Inspector” is a wild ride and a frivolous breath of fresh air in these sober times.

Note: Ross Valley Players requires proof of vaccination in keeping with public health protocols. Actors, stage crew and volunteers are fully vaccinated. To attend performances, attendees must show proof of being fully vaccinated and masks always must be worn. There are no food and drink concessions open as of this writing. Parking is free at the lot at 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionThe Government Inspector
Written byNikolai Gogol
Directed byLisa Morse
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThursdays through Sundays until June 5, 2022
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Tickets$15-$30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Dear San Francisco”, Riotous Fun Opens at Club Fugazi

By Cari Lynn Pace

Fans of Cirque du Soleil will be delighted to learn that “the circus has come to town.”

Seven performers and friends left the Montreal Cirque Du Soleil productions to form a troupe of high-flying acrobats calling themselves “The Seven Fingers”. They moved to San Francisco and now thrill audiences at the historic Club Fugazi on Green Street, a block of which was renamed Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard in honor of the beloved show that ran for a record 45 years until 2019.

The history of Club Fugazi, as introduced by Executive Director David Dower, is astonishing. Built in 1914, it has hosted an historic parade of entertainment, from jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, beat poets of the 50’s like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and even the Grateful Dead. Then came the irrepressible Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest running show in history with 45 years of outrageous songs, satire, and headdresses.

When the Queen of England requested a BBB viewing, a special box was built for her on the second floor rear of the theatre. Although she never attended, her son Prince Charles and Camilla did in her stead. “The Queen’s Box” is available for private parties and has its own elevator, anteroom and WC, otherwise known as a bathroom.

‘“Dear San Francisco” pays homage to the city’s history through video clips and acrobatics both onstage and in the audience.”

“Dear San Francisco” pays homage to the city’s history through video clips and acrobatics both onstage and in the audience. It’s a circus sans elephants or lions, with plenty of high hoop jumping and flying aerials to make you hold your breath. The performers don’t have glittery costumes, but they shine at their astounding feats. They’ll run into the audience to play catch over your head or unicycle on the counter in front of your drinks. They show off, and clearly love what they do.

Co-creators Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider are true circus brats. At age 4, Gypsy’s parents founded the Pickle Family Circus, which Shana joined as a trapeze artist for 20 years. Together they have assembled a fine troupe of jugglers, aerialists, cyclists, and musicians to astound the audience. It’s 90 nonstop minutes of over-the-top energy. The audience can’t stop applauding.

“Dear San Francisco” offers a limited selection of beer, wine, and nibbles. Guests are seated at comfortable backed swivel chairs of varying heights to allow for full viewing. The acoustics are difficult, but non-essential for the surrounding action of this show. Some seats are located onstage, behind and close to the performers. The kids seem to love the action there, almost as much as the adults.

There is no printed program, so you must bring a smart phone to scan the QR code. Who wants to read anyway, when there is so much going on around you? It’s a circus after all!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionDear San Francisco
Written byShana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
Directed byShana Carroll and Gypsy Snider
Producing CompanyClub Fugazi Experiences
Production DatesWednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 PM through Summer, 2022
Production Address678 Green Street, San Francisco CA 94133
WebsiteClubFugaziSF.com
Telephone
Tickets$35– $79
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script2/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK!YES!

ASR Theater ~~ “Rent” Pays It Back with Spirit and Energy; MMT Performs at NT

By Cari Lynn Pace

In 1996 Jonathan Larson debuted “Rent,” his musical about rebellious and irresponsible youth leading a lifestyle of hedonism and drug use in the rough streets of NYC. Their dismal lives are pointless and the ending isn’t pretty, but they sing and dance about it anyway. The musical won both Pulitzer and Tony awards and spotlighted the AIDS epidemic of that time.

Although this synopsis of “Rent” sounds cheerless, this show’s over-the-top energy and talent provide much to cheer about. The production by Marin Musical Theatre Company, in collaboration with the Novato Theatre Company, is really spirited. It took MMTC many years attempting to gain the rights to perform the show. It was worth the wait.

“It took MMTC many years attempting to gain the rights to perform the show. It was worth the wait.”

Accompanied by four onstage musicians, eighteen actors explode with powerful voices, tight choreography, and stunning staging. The dancing is particularly energetic, using table tops and platforms between high scaffolding. NTC’s small 99-seat theatre is an intimate venue which allows the audience to feel up close and personal with the performers. “I’ve seen this show on Broadway and it wasn’t nearly as exciting as this one,” one audience member noted.

Director Jenny Boynton confided, “We’ve been rehearsing only six weeks, but this cast really gelled together right from the start and amazed me with their talent. It made my job a lot easier.”

Local theatre fans will be delighted to see many new faces onstage. An NTC board member commented, “This is the next generation of actors to keep performance tradition alive. They’re young, and they’re our future stars.”

Vocal standouts abound, including Nelson Brown in perfect harmony with Jake Gale. Gary Stanford Jr.’s voice fills the theatre to the rafters. Stephen Kanaski twirls across the stage and croons to great applause. Trixie Aballa beautifully belts out her songs while dancing, topped only by Shayla Lawler’s sensual solo in Act II. Kudos to choreographer Katie Wickes for such spirited dances—from Anna Vorperian’s tango to the explosive rock-out of the entire company.

“Rent” is a remarkable tour de force, a tight production far beyond one’s expectations. With the adult themes of the show, consider the appropriate age to bring youngsters. Tickets are selling briskly, so take possession of this show before the lease runs out April 10th.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionRENT
Written byJonathan Larson
Directed byJenny Boynton
Producing CompanyMarin Musical Theatre Co. in collab. w/ Novato Theater Co.
Production DatesThrough April 10th
Production AddressNTC, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
Websitewww.MarinMusicals.org
Telephone
Tickets$18-$30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES

ASR Theater ~~“The Packrat Gene” Stashes Memories Amidst Stuff; RVP Offers New Production

By Cari Lynn Pace

It’s a common dilemma as years go by. Who can get rid of the pile-up of possessions, especially those linked to precious memories? “The Packrat Gene” explores this timeless agony with a true-to-heart script by the Bay Area’s Margy Kahn at the Ross Valley Players.

This new play was selected by the Ross Alternative Works Committee (RAW) for its original, provocative, and exciting aspects, an addition to RVP’s regular subscriber season. The familiar theme resonates with audiences young and old.

Marcia van Broek as Esther; Julie Ann Sarabia as Rachel. Phots by Robina Jackson.

In New Jersey, three generations of grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter gather with a goal to clear out grandma’s apartment. Their conversations are acerbic and amusing as the women cajole, collide, concede, and console one another.

Marsha van Broek is marvelous as widowed grandma Esther with the accent of a holocaust escapee from Paris. She’s just fine where she is, thank you, surrounded by her books, broken bowls, 30-year-old pay stubs and Edith Piaf records.

Maya Rath as Leigh. Photos by Robina Jackson

Maya Rath masters her role as the practical and frustrated daughter Leigh, flying cross country to take control of the situation. Concerned about her mother’s age and mental state, Leigh tries to convince her to consider a retirement community. She’s on a deadline to return back to work in LA. Her obstinate mother dismisses Leigh with harshness dredged up from the past, while the dutiful daughter patiently reminds her to live in the present.

Spunky granddaughter Rachel, superbly played by Julie Ann Sarabia, flies in to give affection and allegiance to her grandmother and a snippy attitude to her mother. It seems Leigh can’t do anything right by these two. Three divergent generations, three authentic portrayals, and three riveting backstories anchor this solidly satisfying production.

“Three divergent generations, three authentic portrayals, and three riveting backstories anchor this solidly satisfying production.”

Director Michael R. Cohen notes “This play succeeds because of the casting. I am fortunate to have three superb actors who worked well together and made my job easy.”

“The Packrat Gene” is an addition to RVP’s season of regular subscriber shows. It’s a new and fully staged production selected by the Ross Alternative Works Committee, running only through April 3rd. Pack this performance into your plans and make a move to see it.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionThe Packrat Gene
Written byMargy Kahn
Directed byMichael R. Cohen
Producing CompanyRoss Alternative Works Committee via RVP
Production DatesThursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 2 PM through April 3rd
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415-456-9555 ext. 1
Tickets$15-$25
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “The Legend of Georgia McBride” Sizzles at 6th Street Playhouse

By Cari Lynn Pace

Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse transforms their 99-seat Monroe Stage into Cleo’s Bar, a down-and-out dive in Panama City, Florida—a Gulf Coast town at the eastern end of the state’s panhandle, an area southerners refer to with disparaging affection as “the redneck Riviera.”

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is a comedic and heartfelt unfolding of how female impersonators are made, not born. Directed by Carl Jordan, it’s a totally charming, well-acted and danced production. It blends the story of friendship and support with more than a few bawdy and ribald scenes. Leave the kids at home.

Photo courtesy 6th St. Playhouse.

Cleo’s Bar manager Eddie (Peter Downey) introduces an earnest but untalented Casey (Alexander Howard) to an underwhelming cluster of patrons. Casey is a down-on-his-luck wannabe Elvis impersonator who makes less money in tips than his gas bill to drive to work each night.

After the show, Casey arrives home to find his hardworking wife Jo (Jamella Cross) distraught as their rent check has bounced again. These two have a strong bond, now sorely tested by their desperate finances. When Casey shows Jo a sequined Elvis suit he purchased to enhance his act, Jo erupts in dismay and reveals she is pregnant. Casey promises he will do better for their future together. It’s a great setup.

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” is a comedic and heartfelt unfolding of how female impersonators are made, not born.”

The next night at Cleo’s Bar, two female impersonators arrive and size up their backstage digs. Miss Tracy Mills (an astounding performance by Joseph Abrego) is optimistic and determined to make their new gig work. She reminds her inebriated co-star Anorexia Nervosa (a hilarious turn by Tyler Bertolone) that this is their last chance; they’ve run out of options.

Casey knows nothing of this change of plans and prepares to drive to work as usual. In a remarkable double role, Bertolone appears as Casey and Jo’s butch neighbor and landlord. Friendly but determined, he lumbers over to collect the back rent or evict them. It seems Casey and Jo aren’t the only ones who’ve run out of options.

Casey arrives at work and is dismissed as entertainment by the manager. Elvis has left the building, and a new duo of divas is waiting to show off their assets. When Nervosa passes out drunk for the first show, Tracy plops an Edith Piaf wig on to a very reluctant Casey and shoves him onstage to lip sync. A star is born, sort of.

Photo courtesy 6th St. Playhouse.

The drag show money lures Casey to do it again, so Tracy coaches and grooms him for more female impersonator roles. She creates a “Georgia McBride” stage name as Casey starts to enjoy himself. Cleo’s Bar becomes the hottest and hippest joint in town.

When Anorexia sobers up enough to re-join the cast, the team’s sexy shiny costume changes and clever choreography propel the bar’s fame over the top. The first row of seats in this ¾ round theatre gets the action up close, and these outrageous gals really work the crowd.

Tracy’s generous guidance and stage smarts bring months of success to Cleo’s. But there’s a problem: Casey is uncomfortable in his new onstage “skin” and has not told his pregnant wife he has dropped performing as Elvis in favor of “Georgia McBride.” When she finds out, their reckoning is both painful and eventually productive. Love and community support conquer all.

Photo courtesy 6th St. Playhouse.

“Georgia McBride” delivers nonstop entertainment, filling this stage to the brim with pizzazz. Act II has the choreography talents of Devin Parker Sullivan and Jacob Gutierrez-Montoya. Add dazzlingly quick costume changes designed by Amaris Blagborne to the wig and make-up skills of Rosanne Johnson, and the audience goes wild.

Director Carl Jordan noted that “Georgia McBride” was ready to roll when the Omicron surge hit, and he had to replace three cast members who were no longer available. Fortunately, Jordan has the stunning talents of Joseph Abrego, a top drag queen across LA. Jordan also recruited Peter Downey to step into the role of the bar manager with a mere ten days’ rehearsal. You’d never know it, as Downey seamlessly fits into this talented crew as part of “The Legend of Georgia McBride.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionThe Legend of Georgia McBride
Written byMatthew Lopez
Directed byCarl Jordan
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThrough March 20th, 2022
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$22 – $38
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Master Class” Sonoma Arts Live Hits the High Notes

Emily Evans and Libby Oberlin at work. Photo courtesy Sonoma Arts Live.

By Cari Lynn Pace

Sonoma’s Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall transforms into a classroom for opera legend Maria Callas, where she instructs aspiring opera stars. A creation based on actual events, Terrence McNally’s story stars Libby Oberlin as Madame Callas. Under the direction of veteran Carl Jordan, Oberlin becomes a tour-de-force in this poignant look back at the Diva’s life.

The audience is welcomed as if we are all students by a commanding Madame Callas. She sharply addresses us “There will be no applause, we are here to work!” We meekly obey. She is at once mercurial, charming and aloof.

Libby Oberlin at work. Photos courtesy Sonoma Arts Live.

Reduced to teaching master classes at Julliard in 1971-72, Madame Callas shares recorded snatches of her past triumphs and once-incredible voice. Although she does not sing, she reminisces about past triumphs and loves. And losses. Callas was the world’s American-born Greek goddess whose voice, like her pedestal, crumbled away far too soon.

Madame Callas as channeled by the talented Oberlin is a firestorm onstage. She mocks her pianist (John Partridge) for his clothing choices. She barks orders to stagehand Dan Monez. When her first student, a soprano beautifully played by Emily Evans, appears in a short dress, the Diva is not amused.

“Helpful” criticism overflows to the audience, some of whom are berated for their obvious lack of style. Evans does a fine turn as the terrorized young singer who does her best to comply with Madame Callas’ instructions. When the soprano finally does get to sing, the audience erupts in a burst of encouraging – and supportive – applause.

“When the soprano finally does get to sing, the audience erupts in a burst of encouraging – and supportive – applause.”

The Diva’s next “victim” (as she calls them) is another soprano, played by regal redhead Morgan Harrington. Although dressed resplendently, Madame cuttingly dismisses her to re-do her stage entrance. She does not reappear; Madame Callas suspects this student is gone for good.

An attractive tenor is next (Robert Dornaus) and his confidence and style impress the Diva. When his fine tenor voice fills the auditorium, Madame shifts her criticism. This class is not as much about his voice; she zeros in to correct his pronunciation and his presentation of the role.

Robert Dornaus as the tenor whose confidence and style impress the Diva. Photo courtesy Sonoma Arts Live.

The dismissed soprano (Harrington) reappears, Madame insists she fully master the emotion of what she sings. This is the reputation and legacy of Maria Callas as she performed at all the greatest opera houses around the world.

 

Throughout “Master Class,” Callas draws from the well of emotional pains of her upbringing and dramatic life onstage and off. Her end-of career reminiscences interrupt the lessons, with clips of her past projected behind her. The saddest line Madame Callas speaks is in Act II, when she admits to the re-appearing soprano “I would never tell anyone not to applaud. Sometimes applause is the only thing we have to live on.”

COVID Update: Sonoma Arts Live has a policy of COVID protections. They require evidence of vaccination or similar safety precautions and masks are worn throughout the performance. See the website for full information.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionMaster Class
Written byTerrence McNally
Directed byCarl Jordan
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesFebruary 27, 2022
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone866-710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Hair” an Exuberant Experience. Classic Rock Musical Shines with Energy

By Cari Lynn Pace

6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa took a brilliant risk in staging the rock musical “Hair.” From the moment one enters the theatre, one is surrounded by the exuberance of the hippie “Tribe” of actors cavorting onstage to drums. It’s clear this joyful “be-in” will be a performance like no other.

When “Hair” opened on Broadway 50 years ago, it broke every rule in the theatrical book. How did it become such a timeless musical? And how does it still capture audiences?

It has no real story line, plenty of four-letter words, a batch of rock ‘n’ roll songs strung together, and an in-your-face confrontation of the issues of race, the Vietnam War draft, sex, drugs, pollution, and clothing. It’s a brash bold and ballsy exploration of issues, many which still confront us today.

Photo courtesy 6th St Playhouse.

Whatever the magic formula, Director Aja Gianola-Norris brings this production of “Hair” over the top with a talented cast in fine frenzy, feathers, and fringe. Rachel Wynne’s choreography is vigorous and uninhibited, the onstage band under Lucas Sherman’s direction is spot on (although a bit loud for some of the solos), and the actors abound with strong voices.

Photo courtesy 6th St Playhouse.

Their physical performances are so impressive it would be no surprise if they lost weight after each performance.

“Hair” is a festival of fun, not to be missed…

Act I begins with a celebration of the extraordinary 1962 alignment of seven heavenly bodies (planets and the moon) in the constellation Aquarius. Time-tested favorites open with “Age of Aquarius” belted out by Serena Elize Flores. It’s followed by a dozen more, including “Hair,” “Hare Krishna,” and “Easy to Be Hard,” a solo soulfully sung by Gillian Eichenberger. The Tribe’s conflicts about the Vietnam War come to a head as some burn their draft cards. Others burn bras. Claude (an extremely acrobatic Jamin Jollo) and Berger (hilarious Ezra Hernandez) must decide their future paths in “Where Do I Go?”

Act II consists mainly of the Tribes LSD trip. It’s a free-flowing dream sequence, a circus with bizarre bits and beads. Famous characters come and go. The Tribe freely partners up, uncouples, and mixes again against the backdrop of “Good Morning Starshine.”

When the finale “Let the Sunshine In” is sung, audience hands wave in a reflection of peace, love, and difficult choices. “Hair” is a festival of fun, not to be missed.

 

*** Covid restrictions at the 6th Street Playhouse require proof of vaccination and masks to be worn throughout the production. Some material may not be suitable for people under 16 years of age. Please see website for further advisories about this performance.

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

 

ProductionHair
Written byGerome Ragni and James Rado
Directed byAja Gianola-Norris
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThrough March 6th, 2022
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$22 – $38
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily”: Ross Valley Players Blends Fantasy with Reality

By Cari Lynn Pace

A Sherlock Holmes fan, I was a bit hesitant when Ross Valley Players presented “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily.” Would it hold up to the reputation so solidly laid by the clever detective’s reputation? Would there be mental challenges to determine how Holmes knew a visitor’s occupation, history, or personal habits just by scientific observation?

No worries here. Playwright Katie Forgette has written enough clever observations for Holmes to satisfy classic fans. Veteran Director Phoebe Moyer has expertly cast a full complement of victims, villains, and simpletons to play several famous touchstone characters. The lead character could not be better cast than David L. Yen, a Bay Area favorite and an incredible personification of the famed detective. His voice and his cultivated manner channel savvy Sherlock, pipe and all.

“Playwright Katie Forgette has written enough clever observations for Holmes to satisfy classic fans.”

“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily” opens with a quick side glimpse of a robbery. The real plot starts in Holmes’ study, handsomely designed by Tom O’Brien, where Holmes and the affable Dr. Watson, solidly enacted by Alex Ross, receive an odd visitor.

Sherlock Holmes is in residence at RVP! — Photo by Robin Jackson

At first the proposed crime adventure appears straightforward: Holmes’ client, now revealed, seeks to avoid blackmail by recovering a cache of stolen love letters. The client is famous actress Lillie Langtree (beautifully played by Ellen Brooks) who’s had an affair with her royal lover, Britain’s Crown Prince “Bertie” Edward. Lillie’s own moniker “The Jersey Lily” stems from her birth on Jersey Island in the UK.

“As details of the crime are discussed, there are twists and turns uncovered. The plot thickens, and the game’s afoot!”

Lillie’s friend and devotee, Oscar Wilde, tags along, languidly played by Isaak Heath. He adds comic relief to the repartee between Holmes, Lillie, and Dr. Watson. As details of the crime are discussed, there are twists and turns uncovered. The plot thickens, and “the game’s afoot!”

The stage setting changes to Lillie’s sitting room, a charming transformation done by two stage hands dressed as proper maids, an example of Michael A. Berg’s cleverness as costume designer.

Holmes and Langtry at RVP — Photo by Robin Jackson

Act II takes place in a warehouse where the nefarious Professor Moriarty (Michel B. Harris) outlines his plans to mastermind another theft from Lillie. It’s this act that gives Tamar Cohn a chance to shine as Lillie’s supposed maidservant. Cohn’s acting chops are superb. Professor Moriarty’s hired thug (Joseph Alvarado) also turns in a terrific performance as a fumbling dumbbell. Alvarado doubles up his roles in a cameo as the regal emissary to the Queen, a convincing switch of characters.

“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily” runs 2 hours and 20 minutes. The second act could be tightened up, as several of the scenes were prolonged. The playwright delivers an ending, actually several endings, which seem less than believable, but then it’s a fictional work after all.

The show delivers pure escape entertainment, mingling fictional with actual people of history. It’s an enjoyable night out, especially filled with surprises and a real sword fight.

Covid Protocols: In keeping with public health protocols, Ross Valley Players note that all actors, stage crew, and volunteers are fully vaccinated. Audience attendees are required to show ID and proof of full vaccinations at the door. Masks must be worn at all times inside the theatre.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ProductionSherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily
Written byKatie Forgette
Directed byPhoebe Moyer
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru February 20th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415. 383-1100
Tickets$35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

 

ASR Theater Review — “A Napa Valley Christmas Carol” It’s the Most Wine-derful Show of the Year — by Cari Lynn Pace

Photos courtesy of Lucky Penny Productions.

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a winter holiday evergreen, one that appears onstage and onscreen everywhere in the English-speaking world this time of year.

There have been innumerable spinoffs and interpretations of the classic tale. Now in its inaugural run, “A Napa Valley Christmas Carol” is a rare musical leveraging Dickens’ basic plot, updated to the present with delightfully quirky characters, and many memorable pop tunes, playing now at Lucky Penny Productions in Napa, through December 19.

Writer/director Barry Martin and composer Rob Broadhurst are the creative team behind this fast-moving show, a brash and funny take on Dickens’s enduring tale of misery, remorse, and redemption, set in the wine country with contemporary dialog and local references.

Setup: Late on Christmas Eve in the Yuge Winery’s sparse boardroom, three employees struggle to create names for a dozen new labels. Casting by Lucky Penny’s Artistic Director Taylor Bartolucci is spot-on: the dynamic Dennis O’Brien as Buddy Wise, the worldly-wise Daniela Innocenti Beem as Sally Angell, and the surprisingly subtle Matt Davis as Joe Patchett. The three are Yuge Winery’s marketing team, brainstorming daft ideas before settling on the implausible label “Llama for Your Mama.” The absurd but catchy name launches the first of Broadhurst’s many fantastically goofy songs—“Llama for Your Mama/Drink it in pajamas/Serve it to Obama/Maybe add a comma.”

“It’s a brash and funny take on Dickens’s classic tale, set in the wine country with contemporary dialog and local references.”

Tired and punchy with more labels to design, they’re ready to quit for the night when the boss shows up. What a treat to see Tim Setzer enter as the cranky Alexander Yuge, the winery’s co-founder and owner. He sings and sneers about the Christmas spirit as “Sentimental Schlock” then orders his employees to discard gifts from clients he dismisses as “idiots” begging for his business. He has little patience for inept employees, pandering associates, or frivolous holidays. Like the character that inspired him, he has little patience for anything other than profits.

“Dakota Dwyer plays their little son Frankie, so adorable he unintentionally upstages every scene.”

Joe Patchett happens to be Yuge’s loyal undercompensated nephew. At the Patchett home, the Christmas spirit is in full swing, on a bright and colorful set by Brian Watson. Joe’s wife Mary, played by Kirstin Pieschke with a spirit of resignation belied by a lovely soprano voice, is depressed about their son’s unknown and worsening ailment, and the lack of money to care for him. Eight-year-old Dakota Dwyer plays their little son Frankie, so adorable he unintentionally upstages every scene.

Photos courtesy of Lucky Penny Productions.

While Mom dutifully sets out snacks, Sally and Buddy arrive to join the celebration. Teenage daughter Goldie (perfectly cast Cecilia Brenner) joins the group in conversation and song. Brenner gets a real chance to shine in Act II, when she appears as the Ghost of Christmas Future in full Goth regalia—a superb directorial choice with its symbolism of youth vs. advancing age.

In his office, Yuge goes on a bender with a bottle of scotch. His ex-wife and former business partner Vivian (beautifully portrayed by Karen Pinomaki) visits to admonish him that it’s not too late to change his miserly manner. She admits she has cancer, but Yuge thinks it’s a ploy for more alimony. She insists she just wants him to change for his own good. Yuge chases her away.

His phone announces three unscheduled appointments before morning, closely tracking Dickens’ original story. Lights and fog whirl around as a righteous 1990s grunge rocker, in requisite torn flannel shirt, appears as the Ghost of Christmas Past (Dennis O’Brien). Yuge is deeply skeptical as Vivian reappears in a scene from their happy past. He argues that there was no love from her, only a quest for power and wealth..

The fog swirls again, revealing the Ghost of Christmas Present in the form of svelte wise-cracking Daniela Innocenti-Beem. Beem’s performance is hilarious, a true highlight of Act II. In a show-stopping song, she urges Yuge and the others to “Live it up!” She admonishes him to remember that “Each day is a gift—that’s why it’s called the present.” Her parting shot delivered over-the-shoulder: “Every choice has a consequence”—advice that Yuge ignores.

Photo courtesy Luck Penny Productions.

The Ghost of Christmas Future (Cecilia Brenner) arrives, and shows Yuge a vision of Joe’s family a few years hence, mourning the loss of their little son, again tracking Dickens’ original. She reminds him that it’s his grandnephew who has gone. A gravestone mysteriously appears, bringing Yuge to his knees when he realizes that once he is dead, there will be no legacy by which he might be remembered. It’s his life-changing epiphany, an entirely predictable but dramatically essential moment that propels the story toward its uplifting conclusion.

Setzer is incredibly dynamic and convincing as the sour miser turned benefactor—for family, employees, and community alike. His castmates equal him in their total commitment to bringing this wonderful production to life. Ignore any “bah humbug” bias about yet another “Christmas Carol.” Even the most jaded theater sophisticates will be delighted with this new show.

Note: Seats in this small theater surround the stage on three sides. Audience must prove vaccination and wear masks during the show. Wine available.

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

 

ProductionA Napa Valley Christmas Carol
Written byBarry Martin, Music and Lyrics by Rob Broadhurst
Directed byBarry Martin
Producing CompanyLucky Penny Productions
Production DatesThru December 19th
Production AddressLucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way
Napa, CA 94558
Websitewww.luckypennynapa.com
Telephone(707) 266-6305
Tickets$25
$37 (Senior)
$42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An ASR Theater Review: The Show Must Go On! Especially When It’s in “Camelot” — by Cari Lynn Pace

When a show plans to open in NYC, it is often given a test run in an off-off-Broadway location. The production and cast can be tweaked and polished to shine when they hit the bright lights on opening night.

The Barn at the Ross Art and Garden Center inadvertently served as an off-off-location on November 12th when it opened “Camelot” for only one night in what was calendared as a 5 ½ week run.

Days before opening, one of the leads was suddenly unable to perform.

The Mountain Play in partnership with the Ross Valley Players made a bold last-minute decision to present Phillip Harris in the lead role of King Arthur. Mr. Harris is the Musical Director of this production, and has multiple acting chops in addition to his vast musical talents. He stepped in to perform the lead role with superb ability and a fine voice, yet he had scant time to learn all the acting lines.

Come to the most congenial spot called “Camelot” and be charmed….

With a sold-out house for opening night, the show did indeed go on, admirably. Kudos to not only Mr. Harris, but to all the actors in the cast who maneuvered their way around the stage to make certain the legendary story had flow and timing, despite a new member joining them. What a triumph!

Krista Joy Serpa and Phillip Harris at work. Photo credit: Robin Jackson.

This production is set for a small stage and cast, making it remarkably avant-garde and creative.

“Camelot” is typically presented with lavish costumes and pageantry, a backdrop to the classic songs of Lerner and Loewe. This production is set for a small stage and cast, making it remarkably avant-garde and creative. Director Zoe Swenson-Graham uses simplified settings to provoke the audience’s imagination. Actors perform dual roles, costumes are minimal, and props are simple and multi-use. The cast uses long sticks as pounding drums, a wedding chapel, and a burning at the stake. The various transformations on stage provoke admiring laughter from the audience.

Anna Vorperian & Rachel Menendez & Krista Joy Serpa & David Schiller in CAMELOT. Photo credit: Robin Jackson.

Lerner and Lowe gave us clever lyrics and memorable melodies in this legend of Arthur and his knights of the round table. The beloved songs from the musical are all here and performed with excellent voices by Krista Joy Serpa (Guenevere), Izaak Heath (Lancelot), and Harris (Arthur). Harris sings the opening “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight?” (“He’s wishing he were in Scotland, fishing tonight.”) Serpa’s lovely soprano voice fills the stage with her pleas to “St. Genevieve.” They meet, and Arthur sings an unusual sales song to convince Guenevere to stay and discover the pleasures of “Camelot.”

It works. Enter Lancelot, with his humble bravado – and good looks, and skills, and youth. His brash ego (“C’est Moi”) rankles Guenevere. When she sings “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” to her knights, the amusing lyrics show her resolve to rid herself of Lancelot. It doesn’t work out. They fall in love, and Lancelot sings her the romantic “If Ever I Would Leave You.” It’s game over for her.

A surprisingly powerful Matt Skinner was a huge hit sneering as Mordred in Act II. He cajoles the knights (David Schiller, Anna Vorperian, and Rachel Menendez) into shouting out the song “Fie on Goodness, Fie!” with great gusto. In a reversal of traditional casting in Shakespeare’s era, females (except for Guenevere) play male roles in this production, allowing Alexandra Fry to be young Arthur who pulls the sword out of the stone.

On stage with Matt Skinner. Photo credit: Robin Jackson.

At various points the pre-recorded music track was slightly out of sync with the actors. This has to be an opening night twerk. Note that the 99-seat theatre is comfortable yet not acoustic, so sit close to the front if you are hard of hearing as the music can overwhelm the clever lyrics.

Considering the last-minute alterations, this opening night should shine brightly when the schedule resumes November 26th. It’s regrettable that due to conflicts with Mr. Harris’s professional calendar, RVP must cancel eleven performances.

As of this writing, there are only ten performances still available. Come to the most congenial spot called “Camelot” and be charmed.

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

 

ProductionCamelot
Written byLerner & Lowe
Directed byZoe Swenson-Graham
Producing CompanyMountain Play Association and Ross Valley Players
Production DatesThru December 19th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415. 383-1100
Tickets$35
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
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.

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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"Ripcord"
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
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415. 456.9555
Tickets$25-$30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script3.5/5
Stagecraft5/5
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.

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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
Websitewww.transcendencetheatre.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414. Toll free,
Tickets$49-$129
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
ScriptN/A
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

An ASR Theater Review: “Love, Loss, and What I Wore”; 6th Street’s Season Opener Reminisces About Outfits & More – By Cari Lynn Pace

“Love, Loss, and What I Wore” cast at work.

“Love, Loss, and What I Wore” is a promising first post-pandemic live offering by Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse in its studio theater. Five seasoned actors take turns retelling an emotional assemblage of snippets, each chronicling her memorable outfits. Not all the event memories are happy, yet all make up the fabric of life.

Written by Nora Ephron, the American essayist and humorist who penned such comedies as “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and more, the show’s pedigree promises to be heartfelt. The late author’s sister Delia Ephron is co-author, doubling down on the anticipated warmth.

“Five seasoned actors take turns retelling an assemblage of emotional snippets, each chronicling her memorable outfit.”

Sadly, the show is hampered by continuing Covid restrictions, and the actors wear clear plastic masks throughout their soliloquies. This impediment no doubt curtails their abilities to get into character. It also hampers their diction, causing them to over-project their volume and lose the finer emotional points. They’re close, but still far away.

The stage is spartan, backed by two projection screens, and naked except for a few bits of feminine accessories and a dressed sewing dummy.

Dressed all in black, five actors read their scripts from music stands in front of them. Only occasionally does an actor come forward, sans script. Most of the monologues have a projected sketch of the outfit illustrating the actor’s subject story. There’s even a music snippet of Madonna when the actors recall their outfits worn in homage to the fashion icon. And who can forget Nancy Sinatra’s boots?

“It’s a humorous essay about the female bond to clothes, boots, and purses. What’s not to like?”

“Love, Loss, and What I Wore” has heartfelt talk but no action; internal humor laced with poignant moments. The stories move slowly, linked only by blackouts between scenes. The timelines of the individual characters—spanning an era from the 1950s to the 2000s—stand alone without connection or plot. Some scenes garnered applause; others drew sparks of laughter.

“Love, Loss, and What I Wore” — 6th Street’s Season Opener

Anyone who has ever lamented “I have nothing to wear” may relate to this humorous essay about the female bond to clothes, boots, and purses. “What’s not to like?” asked one patron.

The Saturday night performance in this 99-seat theatre was sold out. After the first act of 1 ¼ hours, and intermission, there were at least 40 empty seats. Director Libby Oberlin might take note and make some edits.

“Audiences must prove Covid vaccination or negative test results before entering.”

6th Street Theatre takes their Covid restrictions seriously. Audiences must prove vaccination or negative test results before entering the lobby. Several without proof were denied entrance. All attendees must wear masks over nose and mouth throughout the production and in the lobby; roving ushers remind patrons to cover up or leave the premises.

Playing Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:00 (one Saturday matinee August 21) at the Monroe Stage (the smaller theatre) through August 29th at 52 West Sixth Street, Santa Rosa, CA. Free parking in their lot.

For tickets go to www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or email boxoffice@6thstreetplayhouse.com or call 707-523-4185.

Seating note: On this hot evening, some overhead equipment hummed and buzzed intermittently, a distraction for those seated in the top rows.

ProductionLove, Loss, and What I Wore
Written byNora and Delia Ephron
Directed byLibby Oberlin
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThrough August 29th, 2021
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$18 – $29
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3/5
Performance3/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

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

 

 

An ASR Theater Review: “Twelfth Night” Does Not Wait for Christmas; Curtain Theatre Brings Shakespeare Back to Old Mill Park – By Cari Lynn Pace

Shakespeare named this play after the 12th night of Christmas holiday celebrations in 1601. Four-plus centuries later, Mill Valley’s Curtain Theatre opens “Twelfth Night,” celebrating their 21st year of award-winning shows. It’s outdoors, the actors are 100% vaccinated, the park offers social distancing, and performances are free to all.

That’s worth celebrating!

Much like the Bard’s open air venue at London’s Globe Theatre, the Curtain Theatre performs in an historic and open amphitheater in downtown Mill Valley. The ancient redwoods in the grove sway over a hundred feet high, and the acoustics on stage are interrupted only by a bird’s caw or the drone of a passing plane. Volunteers set up and diligently sanitize nearly 70 plastic chairs, leaving ample empty space in front of the stage. Many patrons bring their own chairs, kids, and (quiet) dogs. Blankets are spread out on the gentle slope behind the library, with abundant picnicking.

This “Twelfth Night” transports the audience to the late 1800’s Canadian Maritimes, beginning with live music from four musicians in period garb. Music Director Don Clark and Hal Hughes collaborated to create original songs inspired by this Celtic period. The air fills with sounds of a fiddle, flute, concertina and guitar above the laughter of children and the chatter of adults.

Promptly at 2 p.m., the show begins. The Curtain Theatre has no curtain, so Choreographer and Production Coordinator Steve Beecroft happily welcomes all from the stage, encouraging masks for all who cannot maintain social distancing in the great outdoors. Beecroft’s talent is not limited to behind the scenes: he soon does an amusing turn as the foolish and foppish Sir Andrew.

As to the characters, it takes a while to catch on to all the characters and their relationships. “Twelfth Night” is a typical Shakespeare comedy of gender-switched identities, oddly-placed affection, and swordfights.

Fans of Shakespeare will delight in the familiar opening “If music be the food of love, play on!” spoken by Duke Orsino, a handsome Nelson Brown. He’s lonely in his kingdom, and pines for his counterpart Countess Olivia played by lovely Faryn Thomure. The pair should be bonded, a perfect match, but that’s not going to happen.

“…a typical Shakespeare comedy of gender-switched identities and oddly-placed affection. And swordfights.”

Good jobs must have been hard to find in 1890. Duke Orsino hires a new servant, Viola. She’s female but poses as male to get the position. Played by a polished and perfect Isabelle Grimm, Viola falls for her boss, the Duke. But he wants the Countess, and the Countess wants Viola, the servant who presents as male. This is the definition of a love triangle, and it’s timeless fun.

There’s a side story to “Twelfth Night”, one of many diversions. Viola is unaware that her twin brother Sebastian (Nic Moore) has survived a shipwreck and is not dead. He likewise thinks his sister perished in the storm. When he appears, late in Act II, the Countess again pursues him, thinking he is the same servant Viola, a young man. Sebastian is confused but flattered and accepts the marriage proposal from the attractive Countess. Apparently twins are interchangeable, regardless of gender. [Editor’s note: This comedic gambit probably won’t fly in the current cultural climate. – BW]

This leaves Viola free to disclose that she is really a young lady of noble birth, and would happily marry the Duke. He accepts and all turns out just hunky-dory. Did I mention this is a comedy?

Director Michele Delattre manages to keep the story lines entertaining, despite the large cast of characters who bounce in and out using antiquated language. Several standout spots add up to make “Twelfth Night” a worthwhile afternoon:

Faryn Thomure sings “Thorns Among the Roses” with her maidservants (energetic Lindsey Abbott and Clara Desmond) in a lovely trio of harmony. Abbott is amusing with her spot-on characterizations as a scheming lady’s maid.

Local veteran Grey Wolf came out of retirement to add mirth to his outlandish role as Malvolio, he of the yellow socks and garters.

Kim Bromley, a veteran director and actor, commanded the stage as Countess Olivia’s housekeeper. Perfect casting!

And what is Shakespeare without a swordfight? Steve Beecroft expertly choreographs not one but two rapier clashes in Act II. Bloody wounds show up later, but nothing to faint about.

Feste, the Fool, enacted by a wickedly talented Heather Cherry, carries the plot and the humor throughout. She wryly observes “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” So it is with “Twelfth Night.”

The show plays at 2 PM through September 6th on Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday. Admission is FREE.

For more information to www.curtaintheatre.org. Open seating, picnics welcome, cookies, snacks and coffee available for purchase, and chairs are provided on a first-come basis, or bring your own. Dress in layers as the redwood grove in southern Marin can be much cooler than expected with the fog.

Donations are accepted with gratitude.

ProductionTwelfth Night
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed byMichele Delattre
Producing CompanyCurtain Theatre
Production DatesThrough Sept. 6th
Production AddressOld Mill Park Amphitheater.

375 Throckmorton Avenue (behind the library), Mill Valley
Websitewww.curtaintheatre.org
Telephone
TicketsFree!
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yea!

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

 

 

An ASR Theater Review: “Road Trip!” Jump Starts ‘Broadway Under the Stars’ with Transcendence Theatre Co. — by Cari Lynn Pace

“Road Trip” working — photo by Ray Mabry

Want to take a cross-country road trip, without the car or the outrageous price of gas? Freedom to travel may still be restricted, but Transcendence Theatre Company’s (TTC) new show offers a fast-moving ride. As the sun sets over the vineyards and the band strikes up “This is My Country” a cast of ten extraordinarily talented singers, dancers, and several musicians fills the stage to spotlight cities and locations from California to New York, and lots in between.

“Road Trip!” performers are escapees from Broadway, off-Broadway, international stages, and national tours who accepted the invitation to share their talents with TTC in Sonoma. Their amazing voices and stage antics in over two dozen production numbers cleverly brought out the fun in our country’s diversity.

“Road Trip” making magic. — photo by Ray Mabry

Award-winning TTC is celebrating their tenth year of presenting “Broadway Under the Stars.” After a shut-out year due to Covid, this show explodes with energy. TTC limited the audience to 60% of capacity, but applause was 100%, echoing over the stone ruins of the Jack London State Historic Park.

“Travel may still be restricted, but Transcendence Theatre Company’s opening show delivers a fast-moving ride.”

The incoming crowd was welcomed by cast members, including TTC newcomer Billy Cohen. When asked what he would perform in the show, he admitted “I’m singing ‘Gaston’ (from “Beauty and the Beast”) even though I’m not quite his body type.” What Cohen modestly didn’t mention was his “Rocky Mountain High” guitar solo performed way atop the stone walls.

“Wow, it’s so great to see they’re back” gushed one patron, and the performers matched that enthusiasm. TTC newcomer Belinda Allyn, from New Jersey, said “We’re nervous and yet thrilled to be back on stage.”

TTC’s familiar cast member Meggie Cansler Ness added “I told my parents not to expect to see much of me when our rehearsals began. It’s so much work but it feels terrific to get going again.”

Veteran TTC star Colin Campbell McAdoo was also back, adding his hilarious stage presence and musical talent while driving onstage in a chair, complete with a California license plate.

“Performers are stars who escaped Broadway, off-Broadway, international stages, and national tours to accept TTC’s invitation to Sonoma.”

Circulating everywhere were TTC Executive Director Brad Surosky and Artistic Director Amy Miller. These founding members of the non-profit were beaming – behind their face masks – to see the joy and smiles of the audience on this beautiful evening. Kudos go to Musical Director Susan Draus as “Road Trip” was her concept, so brilliantly appropriate for our difficult times.

“Road Trip” singing — photo by Ray Mabry

“Road Trip!” is an evening of picnic and food truck festivities, beginning at 5 p.m. Folks bring food and snag a hay bale or table in the lawn area for pre-show entertainment. There’s plenty of wine and beer available for purchase, including premium varietals from sponsors Benziger and Viansa Wineries. At sunset, the audience is seated in the ancient winery grounds for the 7:30 show. Dress in layers as nights in Sonoma can get cool.

Tickets are $49 to $129 VIP. VIP tickets include two glasses of premium wine, a special socializing area, and priority seats. Performances are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings until August 29th at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. For more details, drive your fingers straight to www.TTCSonoma.org.

“Road Trip” in action — photo by Ray Mabry

You won’t go wrong! Come feel the breeze in your face while this superb outdoor showcase of song and dance takes you from coast to coast.

Extra Special Tip: If you’re heading up early to “Road Trip!” you may enjoy a pit stop at Eric Ross Winery for a dose of Americana, classy wines, and striking photographs. It’s on the left at 14300 Arnold Drive.

Production"Road Trip"
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed & Choreographed byJessica Lee Coffman
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough August 29th, 2021
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Rd. Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Websitebestnightever.org
or
ttcsonoma.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$49-$129
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
ScriptN/A
StagecraftN/A
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

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

 

 

An ASR Interview: Transcendence Theatre Company Honors Front-line Health Workers with “My Hero” — By Cari Lynn Pace

Photo by Brian Janks. 3 – L to R: Director Matthew Rossoff, Meggie Cansler Ness, Colin Campbell McAdoo, Bernard Dotson, and Musical Director, Matt Smart.

Remember hot summer nights at the local drive-in movie?

Brad Surosky, Executive Director of Transcendence Theatre Company, was just a kid in the back seat when he went to the drive-in movies with his family. Last December, he revived his fond memories of the drive-in by screening a movie taken of TTC’s 2019 holiday show. It was such fun that he thought he could pump it up with a live performance, and a live band, onstage.

TTC’s Artistic Director Amy Miller, Brad’s wife, caught drive-in fever too. She says, “After stumbling through such a difficult 2020, what a fabulous way to celebrate the start of Transcendence Theatre Company’s 10th anniversary season! We can thank the workers and volunteers who helped keep us safe, and our singers, dancers, and musicians will be thrilled to finally shine live on stage.”

I asked Amy what the Transcendence performers have been doing since their theatres on Broadway and LA have been shuttered. These singers and dancers spend their entire lives studying, auditioning, rehearsing, and performing hard-earned roles in neon-lit theatres. Prior to the pandemic, they would have been invited to California to wow audiences at Jack London State Historic Park for the 2020 summer season. That all fell apart.

Photo by Brian Janks.

“With theatres closed, they’ve mostly moved back in with their families in their hometowns,” Amy admits. “Many of our friends are teaching Zoom classes in acting, singing, dance, fitness, or exercise. Some do private coaching, including with children. A few of our friends started online businesses to help other actors with networking, budgeting, and of course maintaining their mental health. Most now have other jobs, in real estate and the wine industry, and one has even been selling cars. He’s sold over 100 cars already!”

This drive-in show will be TTC’s first live performance since the pandemic…

Brad notes, “This drive-in show will be TTC’s first live performance since the pandemic. We have seven talents singing and dancing out front plus five support staff backstage, technical, and front of house. Twenty of us make this show happen, including the band. It’s a perfect warm-up for the big production shows we’ve set for later this summer in Glen Ellen.”

“My Hero,” the theme of this performance, pays tribute to front line health care workers and volunteers, including many from Kaiser, Sutter, Providence and Sonoma Valley Hospitals. Amy notes, “It’s an uplifting night to celebrate and give thanks to those who have helped us come through this together.”

“My Hero” includes Broadway hits and popular favorites performed on a raised stage, with a 40’ screen simulcast for viewing from the entire field. Performers have wireless mikes, broadcast to be heard through each car’s radio. The audience can relax in their cars, or sit outside on chairs.

There will be additional speakers throughout the fairgrounds in Petaluma and the B. R. Cohn Winery in Sonoma. Picnics are welcome and food trucks will be set up. Gates open at 6:30. Dress in layers as the show starts at 8:30 and runs nonstop until 10 PM due to sound ordinances.

Since Transcendence Theatre Company is a non-profit, operation supporting educational outreach and Jack London State Historic Park, I asked Brad what was planned for the profits from these shows. “Profits? There likely won’t be any!” he laughed. “This is Transcendence’s investment back into the community. We’ve donated tickets to frontline healthcare workers in thanks for their dedication to our survival.”

“My Hero” tickets are at www.bestnightever.org or call the box office at 877-424-1414 for weekend shows from June 4th through June 20th. Each car entry is $49 ($129 for VIP) for a car full. No need to hide in the trunk! All COVID-19 protocols will be followed as required by Sonoma County Health Department.

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

 

 

 

 

An Aisle Seat Movie Review-Meets-Artist Profile! Ms. Rosamund Pike — Versatile Actor Strikes Again by Cari Lynn Pace

Rosamund Pike, 40, has to be one of the busiest actors appearing in movies, streaming, and otherwise. The British actor has the ability to be completely absorbed in her roles, yet is eminently recognizable despite the variety of her appearance and characters.

Like a young Meryl Streep, Pike is 100% present in whatever role she tackles. She’s nabbed many screen awards recognizing her formidable talent.

You may remember Pike as the cool blonde double agent seducing James Bond, 007, in “Die Another Day” (2002). From there, Pike morphed into a proper and restrained British sister in “Pride and Prejudice” (2005). Pike then continued to show her versatility as a scheming spouse in “Gone Girl” (2014) earning her an Academy Award nomination.

Pike also co-starring with the iconic Tom Cruise in “Jack Reacher” (2013). Speaking of working with  Cruise, she told Vanity Fair magazine, “It’s not only exciting to meet the person that you’ve watched since you were a child but then to work with him. I know he’s a great actor, but there’s a difference between being a great actor and being a great actor to work with, and he’s both.” She is delighted with the results. “The chemistry is buzzing. It’s brain matching brain. You want to go on the ride with them, because it’s sexy.”

Ready to strike any reference as “just another pretty face”, Pike transformed herself into down-and-dirty Syrian war correspondent Marie Colvin in “A Private War” (2018). When I met Pike at the premiere of that film at the Mill Valley Film Festival, she was dressed in a lacy white dress and looked perfectly lovely. When I told her I didn’t recognize her, she laughed “For this role, I had to wear false teeth, an eye patch, darken my skin tone, and learn to speak American.”

Pike played another famous figure in “Radioactive” (2019) a biographical film portraying Madame Marie Curie. The lush production, filmed in Hungary, recreates 1893 Paris when Curie was a proud and determined Polish scientist pushing her way into French male-dominated laboratories.

Her mercurial character endeared her to no one, yet attracted the admiration of notable scientist Pierre Curie. He offered her his lab space to continue her experiments, and romance soon bubbled out of their chemical beakers. They soon married.

Together they discovered the elements radium and polonium, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. Curie was the first woman to receive such an honor. After her husband’s death, Marie Curie persisted with her work and in 1911 received a second Nobel Prize for Chemistry. No one has ever received two such awards.

…one of the busiest actors appearing in movies, streaming and otherwise…

If you prefer historical biopics to flow chronologically, change the channel on “Radioactive.” Director Marjane Satrapi repeatedly jumps from then to now and back again. The film moves from various medical advances of radiation to its war-bound applications. One minute we are swept from a tender love scene…to atomic testing in Nevada, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and the meltdown at Chernobyl.

The personal flashbacks about Madame Curie can also get a bit confusing, but this may be as much a casting issue as anything else. As cast, the two men in her life look very similar. Without a time reference, it’s difficult to sort out husband Pierre (Sam Riley) and married scientist Paul (Aneurin Barnard).

Despite the jumbling, this beautifully filmed period piece applauds what a woman with a brilliant mind and a laser-focused determination accomplished, particularly when partnered with a supportive and equally talented spouse.

 

In her latest film, Pike traded her period high-necked and floor-length dresses for stilettos and smartly tailored suits in “I Care A Lot” (2021). It’s a chilling portrayal of an administrator who convinces the courts that elderly patients need her guardianship. Pike takes control, swiftly liquidating the assets of her wards to pay off the nursing home staff and judges and pocket the rest.

Pike’s disarming manner and razor-sharp haircut can throw caution into any senior citizen watching her scheme in action. All goes smoothly until she takes charge of a woman (perfectly cast Diane Weist) who turns out to be the mother of a powerful underworld figure. The mayhem begins, and it’s a fight to the finish with many plot twists-and-turns.

“I Care A Lot” won Pike a Golden Globe award — which Pike amusingly said she buried in her garden along with her other trophies.

Fans of Rosamund Pike will find “Radioactive” on Amazon Prime, “I Care A Lot” on Netflix and her many other films on multiple streaming services.

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

 

 

ASR’s Armchair Seat Video Review: Stunning Performances Highlight the Story of Selena on Netflix — By Cari Lynn Pace

Michael Lavine / Netflix

When Netflix made a movie about the life of Selena Quintanilla, the Grammy award-winning Mexican-American singer who died over 25 years ago, they broke it up into a series.

And stretched it out.

At the time of this writing, Netflix has released only nine episodes of Selena: The Series, each about 40 minutes long. The series showcases how the family worked together, without much complaint, performing their way amidst financial devastation and hole-in-the-wall venues. The goal of the filmmakers was to capitalize on the brilliant singing talents of the youngest daughter, Selena, who was only nine when she first performed.

Through sheer will and creative maneuvering, the family struggled to the top of the music charts.

Serena, played as an adult by Christian Serratos, was the family’s talent front and center, bolstered by the songwriting skills of her brother AB (enacted by Gabriel Chavarria.) Their musical father Abraham Quintanilla II (Ricardo Chavira) is portrayed as the controlling force behind the success of this iconic singer.

Describing their dad as driven…is akin to calling the Pope semi-religious…

Selena found no early success singing in English, and had to learn Spanish in order to capture the “Queen of Tejana Music” moniker. It is curious that this second-generation American family born in Texas had deep Mexican roots yet no one spoke Spanish.

Her desire to record in English remains an unfulfilled dream she rekindles at the end of Series 1. Future episodes of Selena becoming a crossover artist have been filmed but not yet released by Netflix.

Actors Madison Taylor Baez as the child Serena has a knock-your-socks-off voice with a most endearing face. Christian Serratos portrays the luminous grown-up star. She lip-syncs Serena’s stage performances, to the delight of fans who appreciate the dubbed yet authentic voice.

Not to be overlooked is Noemi Gonzalez, who doesn’t sing but delivers an earthy and earnest performance as Serena’s sister. With the exception of Twilight’s Serratos, supporting characters are all believably and solidly portrayed by lesser-known Latinx actors. Kudos on the acting and directing.

“Many episodes can be hard to believe, as teenagers actually listen to their all-wise dad and do as they are told.”

Serena Series 1 has a multitude of the songs that made Serena famous. It also has filler, undoubtedly to make this a two-series program. Serena and her sister do a lot of fabric shopping, creating outfits with an abundance of rhinestones and glitter. Episodes flash back and forward, with the viewer expected to fill in the blanks of the storyline.

Many episodes can be hard to believe, as teenagers actually listen to their all-wise dad — and do as they are told! No one seems even slightly jealous of the family’s entire focus on Selena. Is this really how it was?

Seidy Lopez as Marcella Quintanilla and Ricardo Chavira as Abraham Quintanilla in a scene from “Selena the Series” / Netflix

The Quintanilla family reportedly worked with Netflix and the producers to protect Serena’s legacy. It’s their story; they decide how to tell it.

If you can’t get enough Selena with these first nine episodes, check out the 1997 biopic Selena starring Jennifer Lopez. Netflix has not yet announced a release date of the continuing episodes in this series, although confirming they have been filmed.

Netflix touts Selena: The Series as their #1 in current popularity, but it’s not clear how the votes are collected. Regardless, it’s an enjoyable recounting of one family’s sacrifices made for fame, with bright sparkles and bedazzling rhinestones aplenty.

Nice change of pace. Worth watching.

………………………………………..

“Selena: The Series” Part 1

  • Streaming on: Netflix. Available also on iPhone, and Android
  • Availability: Now for some episodes. More to be released.
  • Directed by: Hiromi Kamata and Katina Medina Mora
  • Created/Produced by: Moises Zamora

Starring:

  • Christian Serratos
  • Madison Taylor Baez
  • Ricardo Chavira
  • Seidy Lopez
  • Gabriel Chavarria
  • Noemi Gonzalez
  • Jesse Posey

Run Time: Each of 9 episodes is approximately 40 minutes

………………………………………..

Ratings:

  • Overall: 3 of 5 stars
  • Performance: 4 of 5
  • Script: 3 of 5
  • TOTAL = 10/15

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

 

 

An Aisle Seat Review ART! Review: Take A Look at These Books! – by Cari Lynn Pace

For over 25 years, Marin’s Museum of Contemporary Art has been the nexus for exhibitions, artist workspace, and art classes for adults and more than 1,000 children. Prominently located at 500 Palm Drive in the Hamilton area of Novato, Marin MOCA encourages its 160 artist members to participate in 15 annual contemporary art exhibitions.

Marin MOCA main gallery.

This August, MOCA again presents its whimsical and thought-provoking exhibition: the 11th Annual Altered Book Exhibition and Silent Auction.

“What is an altered book?” you ask.

“Good question!” answers Nancy Rehkopf, MarinMOCA’s Executive Director. “It is a form of contemporary art, in a category called the book arts. It is a fast-growing category of great interest in the Bay Area.”

…“The pieces are innovative, clever, and fun…”

There are two kinds of altered books in this year’s display of 130 objects:

The first is an “altered book” which incorporates a component of an actual book: a book spine, a cover, inside pages, illustrations, words, and so on. The artist then combines one or more of these with paint, sculpture, metalwork, etc., to create a unique original artwork. These pieces become anything: clothing, mobiles, set pieces, wall candy, even furniture.

The second category is an “artist book,” where the artist does everything to create the artwork as a book: the artist might write the words, or do the illustrations, or create the paper, or even bind the book. These pieces are typically more personal, more reflective, and always supremely creative.

“A Fisherman’s Tale”
by Jay O’Neil

The art pieces are judged for awards by two local jurors: Donna Seager, owner of the Seager Grey Gallery in Mill Valley, and Mary Austin, co-founder of the San Francisco Center for the Book.

Seager notes, “The quality of the work has grown tremendously over the eleven years that MOCA has been presenting this competitive exhibition.” Austin adds, “The pieces are innovative, clever, and fun. There were cultural tones reflecting everything from the pandemic to whimsy and escapism.”

These expert jurors raved over the quality of the works, and gave awards as follows:

      • First Place: “Kintsugi Stitches” by Lisa Rodondi
      • Second Place: “Ocean of Tears” by Paulette Traverso
      • Third Place: “The Divide States of America” by Monica Lee

Honorable mentions: “A Fisherman’s Tale” by Jay O’Neil, “Kindling Spirit” by Jeff Downing, “Inner Thoughts 2020” by Regina Bode, “Upon Reflection” by Laura DeAnna, “A Bird in the Hand” by Gale Kiniry, “Flyaways and Dedications” by Deborah Sullivan, and “Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer” by Linda Mueller.

Also, the jurors gave a Special Recognition Award to “Cindy’s Life” by Cindy Johnson, and the Glue Award went to “Stories of Place” by Julia Arndt.

The artists have donated most of MOCA’s 130 art objects toward this huge fundraising event. The works will be sold on August 21st when an online auction takes place at 7:00 PM. Go to www.marinmoca.org and click on “Get ready to bid” to open an account to bid at bidsquare.com. All pieces are displayed on the site, with details about size, media, and the artist.

“Ode to Orpheus”
by Esther Seigel

MOCA hopes to raise $50,000 from the Altered Book Exhibition to support its programs. They have a head start with a $10,000 challenge grant from Donald O. and Ronald R. Collins Fund — a loyal supporter for many years — and presenting sponsor Carson Wealth, a nationwide wealth investment management firm located in San Rafael.

Due to the museum’s closure to the general public, folks are welcome to see these pieces in person through August 29th by requesting a time and day they wish to visit at www.MarinMoca.org.

Believe me: it is a pleasure to linger over these amusing works of art without a crowd standing in the way.

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

 

 

An Aisle Seat Review ART! Review: Thinking “Outside the Box” is What These Artists Do — by Cari Lynn Pace

Give a child a hammer, and the child will find his or her expression in everything needs pounding.

Give an artist a plain wooden box, and the artist will find expression through its painting, deconstruction, carving, etching, repositioning, reconstruction, or through attachments.

The results turn out as wild, wacky, stunningly beautiful, inspiring, or just plain whimsical wall or display artworks.

Which begs the question, “Was that even a box, to begin with?”

“Love in the Time of Corona Virus” by Barry Willis

Check out what started as 150 identical shoe-size wood boxes at Gallery Route One in Pt. Reyes Station. Bay Area artists and local community members seized upon their vivid imaginations to create three-dimensional eye candy for the 21st Annual Box Show. This fundraiser (all the pieces are up for auction) has become a highly competitive Bay Area tradition and is on view now through September 12th.

…every year, the submissions increase in variety and technical skill…

Naturally, due to the pandemic, visitors must make an appointment to ensure social distancing, and everyone must wear a mask. Here is the good news: admission is free. Viewing times,  color photos of all entries, and docent comments are available at www.galleryrouteone.org.

“Japanese House”
by Dan Williams.

 

This sheer size of this show makes for an exhausting — yet undeniably entertaining — exhibit. To this reviewer, it seems like every year, the submissions increase in variety and technical skill, with many bursting forth in scope and content from a “shadow box” presentation. However, look in another direction, and other pieces are re-creations or re-imaginings of the box itself.

“Homage to Kelp”
by Jaine Kopp

Artists worked for two months to make a statement, tell a story, or both. If the artwork presents viewers with a challenge to spot the original pine box, find clues in the artist’s comments and color photos at https://secure.qgiv.com/event/theboxshow2020/.

Homebase for the Box Show is at Gallery Route One, a non-profit arts organization — and regional landmark since 1983 — adjacent to the entry for Marin County’s Point Reyes National Seashore in Point Reyes Station.

“Pine Box in Altered State”
by Will Thoms

Sales from the Box Show fund a variety of worthy outreach programs addressing art education, environmental, immigration, and social justice issues. Bidding for art pieces in the 2020 Box Show starts at $30 and culminates in the final live auction in the gallery’s parking lot (if allowed by regulations) on Saturday, September 12th, from 3 to 5 PM.

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

 

 

ASR Not-So-Random Question Time: The Stunningly Talented, The Stunningly Beautiful Amy Miller of Transcendence Theatre Co!

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

We caught up with Amy Miller, Artistic Director of the Transcendence Theatre Company (TTC) with headquarters in Sonoma. TTC is a close-knit extended family of dozens of song-and-dance stars invited from around the U.S.

Every summer (except this year) these stage and screen talents perform outdoor among the stone ruins of Jack London State Historic Park. When the nights cool down in autumn, TTC moves inside to North Bay stages performing energetic scenes from Broadway musicals.

USA Today readers discovered TTC years ago when TTC was voted #2 in the “Best Outdoor Concert Venues.”

 

Amy Miller

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

AM: I started dancing at age five and never stopped. As a tot, I looked up to the older dancers. When they shifted to the theatre in high school, it inspired me to join the theatre as well.

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

AM: I was The Jester in Once Upon A Mattress at McAuley High in Cincinnati, Ohio.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

AM: Oh wow! At least 10 regional theatres as well as Broadway and national tours, not counting television and film.

…Our team works hard and believes “The obstacle is the way.”

ASR: When was your present company formed?

AM: In 2009 six of us gathered in Punta Banda, Mexico for a unique and incredible theatrical experiment. Brad Surosky, Stephan Stubbins, Randi Kaye, Robert Petrarca, Leah Sprecher, and I joined with other performers to assess challenges facing the health and wellness of the theatre community. “Project Knowledge” researched a holistic approach.

Later we learned California was planning to close Jack London State Historic Park in budget-cutting. We put on a fundraiser there in 2011 which began the Transcendence model of outdoor shows under the stars. We hoped to do one performance of our favorite Broadway numbers and sell fifty tickets to our friends. Imagine our surprise when we filled the place! Our first season of multiple summer shows began the next year. Since then we’ve raised over $515,000 to keep the park open and deliver arts education to schools.

ASR: Did you anticipate that TTC would become as successful as it has?

AM: Absolutely, I always knew this would serve the world and be very important.

ASR: Does TTC have a special focus?

AM: Transcendence has a focus on musical theatre, inspiring songs, and powerful dance. Our intention is to uplift and empower our audiences to live the best life ever. We hope that when you enjoy a Transcendence performance, you’ll be inspired to spread love and joy well after leaving the theatre. Transcendence has a mission to share the arts as a service to everyone.

ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?

AM: Planning for the future is always one step at a time. At this moment we are dedicated to our staff, artists, and community more than ever. Our team works hard and believes “The obstacle is the way.”

ASR: How do you envision the future for your company? For the theater community overall?

AM: In addition to our well-loved summer season outdoors, we’re building a network online to share education and performances with the world. We continue to develop new works and encourage artists to grow and excel.

ASR: Assembly Bill 5 presently requires most workers be paid California minimum wage. There are multiple efforts in Sacramento to get performing artists exempted from this. How has AB5 affected your theater company?

AM: We are complying with AB5 and have turned all of our people into employees. It definitely has added more to our expenses which is difficult during this unprecedented time.

ASR: Life in the theater: What are some of your favorite shows?

AM: A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, Rodgers and Hammerstein Classics, and Chicago, of course. I love musicals!

ASR: Which play would you most like to see put into the deep freeze for 20 years?

AM: The Secret Garden.

ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?

AM: Tick, Tick, Boom.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

AM: Stage Management. Stage managers are absolute heroes. What an incredible task they have each day and night!

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?

AM: I meditate, stretch, breathe, and I have a secret ritual with all the ladies in the dressing room which empowers us to give our best every night!

After a performance, like many artists, I relax by spending time with friends and family.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

AM:

1. Take care of yourself and your health and wellness.

2. Have a clear vision.

3. Be a strong leader with kind and compassionate communication.

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?

AM: Lily Tomlin forgot her monologue in her one-woman show on Broadway, The Search for Signs of The Intelligent Life in the Universe. She told everyone she had to leave the stage and returned after a drink of water.

ASR: The most excruciating screw-up?

AM: At The Barn Theatre in Michigan, I was dancing the tango in Evita with my lifelong friend and Transcendence Artistic Associate, Tony Gonzalez. We were to do a major lift at the climax of the number and he dropped me! We ran offstage both mortified! No grudges held here, as Tony choreographs and directs for TTC today.

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

AM: An audience member once ran backstage during the show. It happened during the musical number “The Time Warp” which made it even weirder!

ASR: Life outside the theater: Do you have a “day job?” What are your interests outside of theater?

AM: Transcendence is my day job, and I am beyond grateful to enjoy it as much as I do. My interests are definitely family and friends, my son and husband. I also like photography, as well as watching the sky at sunrise and sunset.

ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?

AM: The Broadway Artist Wine Chat, a weekly Q & A with all artists in the industry sharing stories and life connections with each other and the audience. Think James Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio but at a winery!

ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk-taking?

AM: I have been surfing and I even stood up one time!

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

AM: “A vision’s just a vision if it’s only in your head if no one gets to see it, it’s as good as dead, it has to come to life…” from Sondheim’s Sunday In the Park with George.

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

 

 

ASR Not-So-Random Questions Time: All the World’s a Stage for Bob & Lesley Currier of Marin Shakes

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black.  These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

Lesley: My grandmother was a professional actress and my mother a drama teacher. Even with that heritage, I’m the only one of my siblings who went into theatre. In first grade, I was Gretel in a school production of Hansel and Gretel.

Bob: I started in second grade, as the Narrator of Little Toot. In high school, I did a lot of sports, but rediscovered the allure of theatre when at UC Irvine. I was studying Political Science, but the theatre building was always lit up at night and that’s where all the cute girls were. So it was back into theatre for me! My first role there was in Oh What A Lovely War. I went on to the get the first MFA in Directing that UCI ever granted.

ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?

Lesley: I was cast as a Lady in Waiting to Queen Gertrude in a professional production of Hamlet while an undergraduate at Princeton University. Harry Hamlin starred as the prince. I invited him for a meal at one of Princeton’s famous Dining Clubs, and in return he took me out for a really good dinner at a local restaurant. That was a rare treat in college. Bill Ball, Harry’s mentor at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), saw the production and thrilled me by telling me he understood the whole tragedy of the play through my reaction to Gertrude’s death.

Bob: I was paid to direct The Little Prince in 1972 at the Woodstock Opera House. It was the artistic home of a young Orson Welles.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

Lesley: I joined ACT one summer during college where I fell in love with the Bay Area. After college, I stumbled upon the Ukiah Players Theatre, where I met Bob. He took me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, which I’d never heard of. I auditioned there and was cast as a Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Back at UFI, while working towards my MFA in theatre, I appeared in Hard Times at South Coast Repertory Theatre. It was a very long show which we performed 8 times a week, made more intense because I was nursing my first-born son.

Bob: I’ve co-founded four theatre companies, three of which are still going: Encounter With the Theatre at the Woodstock Opera House (now defunct), the Ukiah Players Theatre, Marin Shakespeare Company, and Baja Shakespeare. I’ve also directed and/or acted at Berkeley Rep, Seattle Shakespeare, Cinnabar, Spreckles, Ross Valley Players, and a few more.

ASR: Marin Shakespeare Company is your present company. What’s the history on that?

Bob and Lesley: In 1989 we got a call out of the blue asking if we would like to come to Marin to revive Shakespeare at Forest Meadows. The Forest Meadows Amphitheater was purpose built for the original Marin Shakespeare Festival in 1967, after it moved from its original home at the Marin Art and Garden Center, where it had begun five years earlier. The Festival’s last year at this Dominican location was 1972, due to a fire and some other questionable activities by art-loving hippies running around in the forest.

ASR: Did you anticipate Marin Shakespeare Company would become as successful as it has?

Bob and Lesley: Back in 1989, we hoped we’d be able to build a theatre company that would last for generations. We never dreamed that 30 years later we’d be pioneering Shakespeare in Prisons, or working with formerly incarcerated actors, or building an indoor Center for Performing Arts, Education, and Social Justice.

…Tequila.

ASR: Does your company have a special focus?

Bob and Lesley: Obviously, our focus is Shakespeare. But we’ve produced lots of other shows that are in some sense “classical” or appropriate for outdoor summer theatre. Since 2003, we’ve grown to become the largest provider of Shakespeare in Prison programs in the world. We’ve created an online video archive of over 50 performances in prisons, despite the massive logistics to do so. We can share these inspiring videos without violating any Actors Equity rules which do restrict our main stage performance videos.

ASR: It will likely be several months until theaters reopen. How is your company coping with the shutdown? What does the future look like?

Bob and Lesley: Sadly, we just announced that we are postponing our 2020 season to 2021. We don’t think it will be truly safe for actors or audience members to share theatre this summer.

During the shutdown, we stay busy, very busy, with many projects. Earlier this year we began renovations of the Forest Meadows Amphitheater, which were delayed due to Sheltering in Place. We’ll use the summer of 2020 to complete the renovations before welcoming audiences into a beautifully face-lifted venue next year.

We provide on-line MSC Education Programs and summer camps, and Alternative Programming for each of the prisons where we work. We’re continuing our plans for the Center for Performing Arts, Education, and Social Justice at 514 Fourth Street in San Rafael. We’re working to provide income opportunities for artists, and our staff is completing a number of “house-cleaning” and back-office tasks to make us stronger than ever when we’re able to return to full capacity.

ASR: Almost forgotten with the pandemic is the crisis caused in the performing arts by the passage of Assembly Bill 5, requiring most workers to be paid the California minimum wage. How has AB5 affected your theater company’s plans?

Bob and Lesley: Several years ago, we started transitioning independent contractors to employee status. With AB5, we plan to make the last group of former independent contractors – non-Equity actors – employees for the first time. We estimate that this will incur an increase to our budget of approximately $60,000. We know it’s the right thing to do.

ASR: Which rare theatre gem plays would you like to see revived?

Bob and Lesley: The three parts of Henry VI. But we know we wouldn’t sell many tickets!

ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?

Bob and Lesley:  King John – if you saw our production, you’d realize how much great comedy there is in it, in addition to superb characters and great themes.

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

Bob and Lesley: Sets – (we’ve) always loved building things together.

ASR: As hard as it may be to pick just one, can you name a Bay Area actor who you think does amazing work?

Bob and Lesley: Scott Coopwood just keeps getting better and better. We were honored to give him his first Bay Area acting contracts.

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?

Bob and Lesley: Tequila.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

Bob and Lesley: Honesty and integrity. Passion for the work. Persistence and Diligence – be ready to put in a lot of hours!

ASR: The most excruciating screw-up you’ve seen on stage?

Bob and Lesley: The actor who showed up covered in poison oak and still had to put on his make-up and do his part. We always tell the actors to stay out of the poison oak!

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

Bob and Lesley: A female audience member flashed an actor once during one of those “audience participation” moments when the actors ask an audience member to respond – it stimulated audience hooting and hollering for several minutes. It was a lot of fun.

ASR: Do you have a “day job?” What are your interests outside of theater?

Lesley: I work about 80 hours a week for Marin Shakespeare Company. My “day job” is being a mom and grandmother. My hobbies include tile mosaic and free-form dance.

Bob: I’ve done a lot of building and guest directing for other theatres over the years. I love to build things around the house, travel, and be Bopo to my two adorable granddaughters who live in San Rafael.

ASR: You have the opportunity to create a 30-minute TV series. What’s it called and what’s the premise?

Bob and Lesley: “Jeers” with a bunch of characters hanging out in a theatre bar.

ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk taking, such as rock climbing, shark diving, bungee jumping, skydiving?

Lesley: I’m a coward, but I do spend a lot of time in prisons, and I hang-glided once and didn’t throw up.

Bob: I enjoy snorkeling and driving my ancient Alpha-Romeo, and I just hiked for two weeks in Japan with my youngest son.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

Bob: Some Like It Hot — “Well nobody’s perfect.”

Lesley: Hamlet — “The rest is silence.”

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

 

 

 

ASR Not-So-Random Question Time: Can’t Stop Those Dancing Feet — Marilyn Izdebski

Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black.  These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.

Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.

***

Marilyn Izdebski

Marilyn Izdebski is a Bay Area dancing dynamo. A Los Angeles native who graduated from UCLA in 1970 with a degree in theatre arts, she has fulfilled her life’s passion with over six decades of dancing, choreography, singing, acting, backstage tech, and directing front and center. She inspires and educates, having founded a dance theatre school in 1978 which brought over 230 children’s and adult productions to the stage. Marilyn claims to have retired in 2018, but today she heads up the volunteer boards of Novato Theatre Company and The Playhouse in San Anselmo.

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

MI: When I was three years old, my mother took me to see the film The Red Shoes. I begged her for dance lessons. From then on, I studied ballet, jazz, tap and every other kind of dance. Ice skating too.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of high school. A friend asked me to go to two auditions with her. She got a part in one show, and I got the other show. I was cast as a dancer in Guys and Dolls at the Bluth Brothers Theatre in LA. Pretty heady stuff for a fourteen-year-old. After a few rehearsals I knew dance was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went on to earn my theatre arts degree from UCLA and my teaching credential, and then taught for many years.

I had a tumultuous youth, and became orphaned at age sixteen. During my three years with that first theatre company, my joy of dancing helped form a dream to create a company where young people (like me) would have a real place to shine, a place to belong.

ASR: And you realized your dream?

MI: Yes, twelve years later I started Marin Studio of Theatre and Dance in Corte Madera with a partner. She wanted to move on after seven years, so I changed the name and continued as Marilyn Izdebski Productions. We produced musicals, dance recitals and had classes in dance and theatre.

ASR: What was the first play you directed for a paying audience?

MI: The Lottery, at a Junior High where I taught.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

MI: Lots: Ross Valley Players, Marin Theatre Company, the Mountain Play Association, Rhythms Performing Arts, Stapleton School of the Performing Arts, Mayflower Chorus, and Katia & Company. Currently I throw all my energies into the Novato Theater Company.

ASR: When was your present company formed?

MI: The Novato Theater Company originated in 1909 as a community theatre. It’s grown and survived multiple challenges and moves, including being booted out of their home mid-production when their Novato Community House stage was suddenly declared an earthquake risk.

ASR: Did you anticipate that it would become as successful as it has?

MI: I first starting attending NTC shows way back in 1980, following its growth since then. NTC has always had an abundance of talented directors, actors, and designers in addition to superbly dedicated volunteers.

ASR: Does your company have a special focus, i.e., genre/historical period, contemporary, experimental, emerging playwrights, or the like?

MI: NTC’s major focus is on their audiences and what they would enjoy seeing. We want to expand their theatre experience. Our play selection committee and board combine classic plays, new works and musicals.

ASR: Who has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?

MI: I had a wonderful mentor at UCLA, John Cauble, who taught me all the basics of theatre and gave me opportunities at a young age for which I will be forever grateful. David Issac, my partner who left us way too soon, helped me have the confidence to achieve what I wanted and to always “take the high road.”

Hal Prince’s book Contradictions influenced me greatly as a young director. His book motivated me to be deeply involved in all aspects of a production. When I prep for a show, I always think of the elements of the set, lights, costumes, props, etc. to keep everything in my mind as I create a show.

ASR: With the coronavirus pandemic, it’s likely going to be many months until theater companies get back to regular productions. How is your company coping with the shutdown?

MI: During this difficult time, we are keeping ourselves open to this “new normal.” All of our meetings are online and our upcoming fundraiser will be a virtual online experience.

Our play selection committee and board combine classic plays, new works and musicals…

ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?

MI: Making decisions is almost impossible. We have the season we selected before the pandemic hit, but are not sure when the season can even start.

ASR: How do you envision the future for your company?

MI: All we can do is one day at a time. Or even one month at a time is good. We cannot produce a show until the quarantine is over and people feel safe going to the theatre. I am very concerned for the theatre community everywhere. Society has looked to theatre for 2,500 years to provide insight and joy. Now, more than ever, we need these gifts.

ASR: Assembly Bill 5, the new state regulation, requires theater performers and technical talents to be treated as employees. Has it affected your theater company’s plans?

MI: AB5 has absolutely affected NTC. We are an all-volunteer theatre company that also gives small stipends to our designers and support staff. We’re a non-profit; we survive on a very limited budget. If we have to put independent contractors on payroll, will suffer a large blow to our financial status. We hope that non-profit theatre companies become exempt from AB5. For the moment, we are waiting to see what happens in the State Legislature and hoping for the best.

ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas? Musicals? Comedies?

MI: Les Miserables is my favorite musical. The level of artistry in the show takes my breath away. I have so many comedies that I love but I think my favorite comedy is one I saw in New York that had all of the insane things that have happened in my life in theatre in one show—The Play That Goes Wrong. There are also many dramas that have affected me in my life, especially those of Tennessee Williams.

ASR: Name three all-time favorites that your company has produced.

MI: I have seen so many shows at NTC since 1980 that it is hard to choose. In recent years, truly exceptional shows were Into The Woods, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Chicago. Notable additions are Urinetown  and August Osage County.

ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?

MI: There is a little musical called Archie and Mehitabel that I fell in love with in college and always hoped someone would produce it, so I could see it!

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

MI: I would definitely do lights. Lighting is like painting and can create the exact mood or feeling needed on stage.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

MI: Be a sponge. Don’t be afraid of criticism. Think outside of the box.

ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?

MI: The very best friends I have were made in my theatre and dance world. These friendships are so close because of the intensity and intimacy of the process making a show. You lay yourself bare to others while creating and it takes a lot of trust during this time. A cast ends up feeling like a true family by the end of a run.

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?

MI: In West Side Story the gun wouldn’t go off, so the actor punched the intended victim.  Another amusing episode was during a big production number with multiple dancers, actors and singers on a turntable…it abruptly stopped working. Everyone went on with the show and moved around themselves. A few minutes later, the turntable suddenly started turning again. The lead singer stopped mid-song to exclaim “Look, it’s working!” Great audience applause!

ASR: Do you have a “day job?

MI: I just “retired” almost two years ago from my studio and production company. Now I work ten hours a day on NTC and help out at other theatre companies. Until the pandemic hit, I was directing, choreographing and doing the lighting for many groups. Guess I like to work on theatre whether it’s a “day job” or not!

ASR: What do you do in your “off time?”

MI: I avidly watch sports – all kinds – at the end of a high-energy day. After decades of dancing, there are too many things wrong with my body to participate in sports, but I love to watch football, basketball, baseball, tennis. I always use the sports analogy in teaching or directing theatre. I say “Give your body up to this. Our team goal is not winning, it is to put on a great show!”

ASR: Do you follow other arts—music, film, painting/sculpture? Do you actively do any other arts apart from theater?

MI: I love all the arts! My mom and several great teachers opened me up to ballet, opera, painting and film. I often bring what I have seen or heard into my approach to a show.

ASR: A fashion accessory you like better than others?

MI: Earrings!

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

MI: From Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

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

 

 

ASR’s Not So Random Question Time: Actor, Director, & Fight Coach Extraordinaire, Steve Beecroft

Aisle Seat Review begins a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.

Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)

Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black.  These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people. Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor.

***

Steve Beecroft

Steve Beecroft is an actor, dancer, choreographer, director, and producer as well as a pillar of the Curtain Theater in Mill Valley CA. Besides his vocal talent, Beecroft is noted for his extraordinary skill as an athletic fight choreographer. If you’ve ever seen him jumping, leaping, and swinging a sword onstage, be sure to duck.

ASR: How did you get started in theater?

SB: It was really by accident. I have always been a singer, and still do concerts for fund-raising today, but I’d never planned to act. In my senior year of high school, I somehow got roped in to play the lead in the musical “The Boyfriend”. I was hooked and never turned back. It was a real switch from athletics for me. I remember that my football coach would avert his eyes when he saw me in the school corridors after that.

ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?

SB: I have never counted them all, but between Canada, England and the USA, quite a few.

… We had a blast mixing Shakespeare, Star Trek and rock ‘n roll!

ASR: When was your present company formed?

SB: The Curtain Theatre was formed twenty years ago to bring Shakespeare to the outdoor stage in Old Mill Park in Mill Valley. I joined the company 10 years ago. We are blessed to have two of the original founders still in the company. Michele Delattre is Artistic Director and will direct this summer’s show “Twelfth Night”, while also playing in the band. Don Clark has been our music director throughout all the years the company has been in existence. They are both brilliant!

ASR: Did you anticipate that it would become as successful as it has?

SB: It was already pretty special with its free performances in our outdoor setting. We have grown the company further over the years and are proud of the awards and loyal audiences we continue to gather.

ASR: What’s Curtain Theatre’s focus?

SB: The Curtain Theatre is primarily a Shakespeare company, adjusted to be fun and family-friendly. Many kids come and sit at the foot of the stage. We’re delighted to see they’re totally into it, which makes it super for us. We keep the plays light with topical music and authentic costumes. We might introduce props that were not available in the Bard’s era, like the chain saw we used in “The Taming of the Shrew.” That got everyone’s attention!

We switch out of Shakespeare too, performing other classic plays such as Moliere’s “The Miser” in 2017. Back in 2013, we went completely off the Bard’s rails when I joined with Carl Jordan and Gary Gonser to put on “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” It was such a hit at Tam High that we staged it the following year at Novato Theatre. We had a blast mixing Shakespeare, Star Trek and rock ‘n roll! It was outrageous and won a batch of SFBATCC awards.

ASR: On a somber note, it will likely be several months until theaters reopen due to COVID-19. How is your company coping?

SB: Our 2020 summer show has been cast and the artistic team are hard at work planning music, choreography, sets, costumes, etc. We start rehearsals after the July 4th weekend and we are hoping to have the go ahead then.

ASR: How has the crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?

SB: Given social distancing rules, we obviously cannot meet for character work and design sessions, so we use ZOOM a lot.

ASR: How do you envision the future for your company?

SB: The Curtain Theatre has been an integral part of the cultural life of Mill Valley and Marin for a long time. Shakespeare aficionados and neophytes alike love to come to see our plays. Families come to be entertained with their children getting their first impression of the Bard at our shows. They keep coming back. So will we.

It is worth remembering that Shakespeare and his company often saw the theatres closed by the plague. But creativity continued, plays were written and rehearsed, and when the air cleared, new plays surged into the light to entertain a people much in need of it. We at the Curtain Theatre hope to do the same in these troubled times. We think it vital that we carry on, whatever the difficulties.

ASR: Has Assembly Bill 5, requiring theatre folks to be employees, affected your company’s plans?

SB: If the law were to be enforced, it would kill almost all amateur theatre companies including us.

ASR: Life in the theater: What are some personal favorites?

SB: For dramas: “Equivocation”, “Cyrano de Bergerac”, and “Shakespeare in Love.”

Musicals I like include “Les Miserables”, “West Side Story”, “Return to the Forbidden Planet”, “Mamma Mia”, and “Guys & Dolls.”

My favorite comedies include “Noises Off”, “Lend me a Tenor”, and “Much Ado About Nothing”.

ASR: What are three all-time favorites from The Curtain Theatre?

SB: Tough choice. Top of the list is “Return to the Forbidden Planet” of course, plus “Henry IV” part one, and “The Taming of the Shrew.”

ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play?

SB: “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” It has great comedy and some excellent poetry and prose. It has a problem at the end but I think that can be worked around effectively. I hope to direct the play in the future.

ASR: Shakespeare’s most over-performed play?

SB: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”…though it is still great fun!!

ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?

SB: I am afraid I am hopelessly untalented when it comes to tech areas. I could probably manage props.

ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?

SB: Lots of stretching and singing beforehand, and a beer with my cast mates and the Curtain team afterward.

ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?

SB:  Hmmm… I guess,

1. Only do plays and roles that you are passionate about.

2. Seek to work with the most creative people you can.

3. Have fun!!

ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?

SB: When playing Curly in “Oklahoma”, I was supposed to shoot Jud, but the gun cap didn’t go off. I spent about 3 minutes ad-libbing and having lots of fun with the audience.

ASR: The most excruciating screw-up?

SB: I tore my hamstring doing a split-leap on stage. Not fun.

ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?

SB: When I was rehearsing for a John Denver concert, an elderly lady came in to listen and watch. When I finished one particular song, she proceeded to remind me that I had gotten one word wrong and that I really shouldn’t do that again.

ASR: Do you have a “day job?”

SB: I work for a multi-national investment bank.

ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?

SB: Hiking, the gym, singing both choral and in concerts, traveling, kayaking, and environmental economics.

ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?

SB: This one…

“How will it work?” 

“I don’t know, it’s a mystery.”

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

 

 

An Aisle Seat Theater Review – What’s “Love” Got to Do with It? — by Cari Lynn Pace

Marin Theater Company presents the world premiere of Kate Cortesi’s riveting drama “Love” with a keen eye on the #MeToo movement. The play is no feminist rant; rather it is a balanced unfolding of a relationship that flashes back in time to romance, power, and inappropriateness.

It’s the present, and Penelope, launched on her own successful career, is contacted by a former co-worker friend who has charged their former boss with crossing the sexual harassment line. It’s been 15 years since Penelope has thought about her love affair and the sexual awakening she shared with her married boss, who remains her friend. Penelope is launched into soul-searching about the roles defining victim and perpetrator. It’s her moral dilemma whether to support the charges, to speak out and add her voice to the others.

This two-hour production will give rise to many conversations…

Clea Alsip does a fine job as the ingenue Penelope and R. Ward Duffy is strong and confident as her boss Otis. The stage is spare; their conversation fills the empty space with tension. They are fencing with one another, parrying and thrusting as the audience perches, watching for the next move.

“Love” is extraordinary for its abundance of nuance and moral confusion. Is any workplace attraction allowable? Is it all black and white, okay and not okay, cut and run? The playwright herself notes, “Inappropriateness could feel wonderful and then turn unsettling, and wrong.”

The sterling cast directed by Mike Donahue includes Penelope’s husband Jaime, played by Bobak Cyrus Bakhtiari, with Rebecca Schweitzer as the co-worker friend Vanessa. Robert Sicular and Mari Vial-Golden each double up their supporting roles with such skill they seem to be additional characters onstage.

What will Penelope decide to do with her options to testify? Will her stalwart faith in the absolute truth trump her past youthful pleasures? If there was love, was it consensual, and will justice outdo it?

This two-hour production will give rise to many conversations. Audiences may or may not agree with Penelope’s decision, but they will understand the strength behind her reasoning.

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

 

ProductionLove
Written byKate Cortesi
Directed byMike Donahu
Producing CompanyMarin Theatre Company (MTC)
Production DatesThrough Mar 29th [SUSPENDED]
Production AddressMarin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Websitewww.marintheatre.org
Telephone(415) 388-5200
Tickets$25– $70
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft2/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

 

 

An Aisle Seat Review Pick! Fragile Personalities Make RVP’s “Glass Menagerie” a Powerful Production — by Cari Lynn Pace

In “The Glass Menagerie” Tennessee Williams takes a family’s disparate characters and pumps them up with tight language and shoulder-cringing situations. Although it’s a poignant glimpse into familial tension, Ross Valley Players presents this solid drama with several touches of levity.

It works splendidly. Director David Abrams notes “Williams has the humor in his script, you just have to bring it out.”  Abrams pulled extraordinary performances from familiar talents in this production.

Veteran actor Tamar Cohn is astounding as mother Amanda Wingfield, an aging and abandoned Southern belle. Cohn is simply perfect in her role. She’s a steam-roller of drive and determination, yet drifting to her flowery and flirtatious past at the slightest provocation. Cohn pulls up so many spot-on personality changes one senses her character is schizophrenic. This is Cohn at her professional best. She’s a joy to behold.

What a breath of fresh air…

Greg Crane portrays her son Tom, a warehouse worker with no tangible prospects. Tom bottles his frustration, indeed rage, at his cage within the Wingfield family. He desperately longs for escape. He enters and exits the stage from side and rear doors, restless with frustrated energy and ready to shatter. The only tether to his family is the concern he has for his older sister Laura, a slightly disabled and extremely introverted character enacted by Carolyn Arnold. The emotional string connecting sister and brother is a delicate glass filament, as only Williams can write.

When his mother badgers him about finding a suitor for sister Laura, Tom relents and brings home a dinner guest, his co-worker Jim (Jesse Lumb). Mother transforms herself into a flittering and flirtatious belle, all her hopes pinned on this prospective “gentleman caller” for her daughter. Lumb masterfully enlivens this role as the genial and friendly potential suitor, capturing the stage with his outsize confidence. What a breath of fresh air for the stale and stagnant Wingfield family!

The conflict and synergy between Laura’s fragility and Jim’s positivity provide rays of hope that lift this timeless classic far above a simple family drama. “The Glass Menagerie” is one shows you’ll not want to miss.

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

 

ProductionThe Glass Menagerie
Written byTennessee Williams
Directed byDavid Abrams
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru April 5th
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.MountainPlay.org
Telephone415. 383-1100
Tickets$17-$29
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! An Extended Run for “Daddy Long Legs” — by Cari Lynn Pace

Director Michael Ross persuaded Sonoma Arts Live to shoehorn this charming musical in between their regular season productions. Lucky for them that he did. This show at the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, scheduled to run until March 8, 2020, has just been extended to March 15, with a few Thursday night performances added as well. There must be a reason!

“Daddy Long Legs” is the story of Jerusha Abbott (enacted by the lovely songbird Madison Genovese), a young orphan woman given an extraordinary gift of college tuition by an anonymous benefactor, Jervis Pendleton. She glimpses the tall donor (a solid role by Mischa Stephens) from a distance as he departs, casting a long shadow she tags to give the show’s name.

Photos courtesy of Sonoma Arts Live

Her only duty to this silent sponsor is to write a monthly letter chronicling her progress. It’s a one-way communication, lending Jerusha to provide both the required information and a healthy dose of imagination and curiosity in her letters.

Count on the plot lines of … Cinderella love stories for (a) satisfying ending…

As the years pass, “Daddy Long Legs” becomes more enthralled with Jerusha’s engaging letters. He concocts a plan to drop into her life to see for himself the shy young lady who spins such enthralling stories. Although he keeps his true identify hidden from Jerusha, Daddy Long Legs is inadvertently captured in her web of words.

Photos courtesy of Sonoma Arts Live

The plot is engaging and the voices seamlessly matched between Genovese and Stephens. The split-level stage designed by Koitney Carson cleverly does double duty as the benefactor’s study and the hand-me-down feel of the orphanage and college dorm.

When a potential suitor emerges in Jerusha’s life, Mr. Pendleton finds himself struggling whether to reveal his identity and his attraction to her. Count on the plot lines of countless Cinderella love stories for an expected and satisfying ending to “Daddy Long Legs.”

The three-piece band of piano, cello, and guitar is located in front of the stage, on the seating level with the audience. The music’s volume made it very difficult to hear the lyrics or fully enjoy the beautifully matched voices of Genovese and Stephens.

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

 

ProductionDaddy Long Legs
Written byMusic and Lyrics by Paul Gordon

Book by John Caird
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays until March 15th
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone(866) 710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! “The Tempest” Tosses Together Storm and Shakespeare by Cari Lynn Pace

Ellen Brooks as Prospera in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at College of Marin

Fans of Shakespeare will delight in this multi-faceted production at the College of Marin’s James Dunn Theatre. This rarely produced play, a long one at 2 ½ hours, is marvelously delivered with costumes, magnificent stagecraft, and top-caliber acting by a mix of professionals and student actors.

The plot, so to speak, is pure Shakespeare; a mix of characters who pop in and out and are difficult to keep straight. Not to worry…there’s a story synopsis in the program. It’s still unclear just who is who, but they’re all together on this really crowded deserted island. Count on multiple royals, a cave creature, a magical mother, a blithe white spirit, and numerous nymphs with seductive songs. Once the ear grows accustomed to the Shakespearean patois, it’s all entertainment indeed.

Shakespeare… would be proud!

The stage is an outstanding oceanside storm, complete with churning waves, rain, and the sound of pounding surf designed by award-winning Ronald Krempetz. The spectacular transformation is credited to a generous contribution from Warren Lefort for a back-screen projector and LED lighting. What a magnificent addition to boost the caliber of COM’s future shows!

The drama students under the Direction of Lisa Morse are fortunate to be on stage with two local professionals. Audiences delight to watch petite Ellen Brooks masterfully command her outsize role as Prospera, with her magical staff and perfect gestures. She is matched in talent and vocal inflections by Steve Price, a much-awarded performer who completely immerses himself in every role he takes on.

Shout-outs also go to Benjamin Vasquez as Caliban the cave monster, and Daniel DeGabriele as Ariel, Prospera’s slave spirit. These two have impressive movements and solid characterizations, not to mention their unique costumes designed by Pamela Johnson.

A lovely surprise of the production is the harmonious singing of “Blessings” by the nymphs in Act II. Billie Cox is the talent behind setting music to Shakespeare’s “Dance of the Harvesters” in addition to handling the rain, surf, and other sounds for the show.

The ensemble of students and professionals acting and singing is spot-on in this show. There are moments when the cast does a stop-action pose, and it pops the eyeballs. Clearly these students have worked very hard to learn the skills they need to put on such fine performance. Shakespeare… would be proud!

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

 

ProductionThe Tempest
Written byWIlliam Shakespeare
Directed byLisa Morse
Producing CompanyCollege of Marin
Production DatesFridays through Sundays until March 15, 2020
Production AddressJames Dunn Theatre,
Performing Arts Building
835 College Ave, Kentfield CA
Websitehttp://pa.marin.edu/blog/tempest
Telephone(415) 457-8811
Tickets$15 – $25
https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4317842
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

 

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! “Five Course Love” Serves Up Tasty Trysts — by Cari Lynn Pace

Here’s the satisfying recipe for “Five Course Love” as served up at Lucky Penny Productions in Napa: Combine three actors and five restaurant scenes. Mix in a generous batch of costume changes. Blend well with three musicians, adding headgear as desired. Toss in two dozen amusing songs using quick lyrics by Gregg Coffin. Stir well with direction by award-wining performer Heather Buck. Cook for two hours on a warm stage until tender. Serve immediately with lots of laughs. Enjoy!

Cast at work in “Five Course Love” at Lucky Penny!

This clever and witty musical debuted off-Broadway in 2005. With no signature songs or ground-breaking drama, “Five Course Love” has stayed in the wings, depending on smaller theatres to bring this frothy bit of fluff to center stage. The costumed characters haven’t changed, nor has their search for connectedness and the holy grail of love.

Delicious!

Five singing sketches feature three actors connected by diverse yet spare cafe locations. These showcase the formidable vocals and acting chops of Sarah Lundstrom, F. James Raasch, and Brian Watson. They switch roles swiftly and seamlessly, from cowboy to nerd to bandit to dominatrix to gangster, sometimes at breakneck speed. Their tried-and-true stereotypes bring laughs and smirks of empathy from the audience.

Kudos to Lucky Penny for using mikes, enabling actors to change accents and move fluidly to Staci Arriaga’s choreography on the small stage. The intimacy of this theatre-in-the-round adds to the fun.

“Five Course Love” is not a filling intellectual meal, by any stretch. It’s familiarity and frivolity, more of a pie-in-your-face kind of show, without the pie. The characters are alternately charming, raunchy, ridiculous, and quite predictable. It’s the clever lyrics that add so much spice to this meal.

The play’s final scene is the most satisfying, where the last tidbit of love is dished out. Delicious!

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

 

ProductionFive Course Love
Written byGregg Coffin
Directed byHeather Buck
Producing CompanyLucky Penny Productions
Production DatesThrough March 1st
Production AddressLucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way
Napa, CA 94558
Websitewww.luckypennynapa.com
Telephone(707) 266-6305
Tickets$30-$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Review PICK! Transcendence Broadway Holiday Spectacular 2019 by Cari Lynn Pace

Transcendence got the “Spectacular” name right – this show is an amazing celebration. The cadre of 19 good-looking expats from Broadway and LA blockbuster musicals rocked the Sonoma stage and travels to the Napa stage with this annual show. They mix it up with dancing (from ballet to tap), singing (from touching solos to majestic choruses) and 100% joyful energy.

Done in two acts, Transcendence talents perform holiday favorites along with signature pieces from eight classic musicals in the first half. Songs include all faiths, with “O Holy Night” and “Sabbath Prayer” beautifully juxtaposed on a two-level set.

Photo by Mimi Carroll.

Act II flashes back to carols and seasonal songs over the ages, punched up by high-energy creative choreography by Tony Gonzalez, who also directs. The talented 10-piece band under Susan Draus’s baton had a blast strutting their stuff, with a few musicians sharing the limelight with the dancers.

All ages rushed to their feet for a standing ovation…

The show provokes lots of laughter. There’s an amusing role reversal when Micki Weiner and Colin Campbell McAdoo sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” More hilarity when five handsome guys scruff about, singing “I’m Getting’ Nuttin’ for Christmas.”

Tony Gonzalez, a veteran Transcendence member, deserves a shout out for the impressive flow of the show, so well varied in pace and volume. Ten cast members rocked the house with “Light Sings”, building up a tremendous crescendo of voices to thunderous applause. Just when you think it can’t get any more dynamic, the spotlight hits David R. Gordon with his guitar on center stage. He practically whispers his poignant solo “Let There be Peace on Earth” as the audience holds their breath. Not a pin was dropped.

Photo by Ray Martel.

All ages rushed to their feet for a standing ovation as the finale ended and the performers took their bows. Transcendence Broadway Holiday Spectacular is a power-packed show, exuberant entertainment at its festive best.

 

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

 

ProductionMy Hero
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed & Choreographed byMatthew Rossoff
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThru June 20th, 2021
Production AddressB.R. Cohn Winery, 15000 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen, CA 95442
Websitebestnightever.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$54-$129
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
ScriptN/A
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

 

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! A Christmas Story – The Musical by Cari Lynn Pace

This is the heart-warming story of Ralphie, the 9-year old boy who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and fantasizes how to convince his parents and Santa to grant his wish.This stage play adds musical pieces to enhance the nostalgic and classic comedy, without losing the original’s momentum or warmth.

Larry Williams directs, or more accurately corrals, nearly a dozen kids and a handful of adults from many Bay Area theatres to present this show. It’s an amazing undertaking that overflows the small Sonoma Arts Live stage with youthful energy and authenticity. It’s a good thing Williams is a veteran actor and director. He knows how to get the best performances out of a large cast of 21 diverse ages who act, sing, and dance.

Worth the effort for this holiday treat!

Ralphie, acted and sung by Tuolumne Bunter, is a standout. This 10-year old’s gestures and facial expressions are far beyond his years. The program notes he cut off 18 inches of his hair to play the part…quite the sacrifice!

Where did these youngsters get their talent? Little brother Randy, played by Joseph Atchley, is so tiny he hides beneath the kitchen sink, to the great amusement of the audience. There’s a bully (perfectly cast in Ty Schoeningh) and his sidekick (Mario Alioto) who terrorize the other kids from their class. Every costumed youth stays solidly in character to deliver authenticity, and pure enjoyment for the audience.

Their teacher Miss Shields (Scharypearl Fugitt) gives an over-the-top performance as a lovesick spinster, including a tap dance with young Mario Alioto. She has the audience chuckling as she sings “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” the phrase adults use to thwart Ralphie’s wish.

Ralphie has an adult alter ego who narrates the youngster’s ever-hopeful story in flashback. George Bereschik does an admirable job in his task providing the glue to hold the scenes together. The cast’s adults, including Morgan Harrington and Rick Love (as Mom and “The Old Man”) had their work cut out for them lest they be upstaged by the many talented wunderkinds.

“A Christmas Story” is suitable for all ages, and particularly youngsters who may not be familiar with live theatre. You may have to hustle to get tickets as the show is a winner and the theatre is small. Worth the effort for this holiday treat!

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

 

ProductionA Christmas Story – The Musical
Written byJoseph Robinette, based on Jean Shepard’s book
Directed byLarry Williams
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThursdays thru Sundays until December 22, 2019
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone(866) 710-8942
Tickets$25 – $42
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Theater PICK! “She Loves Me” is a Charming Musical Romance at RVP — by Cari Lynn Pace

Photos by Robin Jackson.

Ross Valley Players has collaborated with the Mountain Play Association to present a light-hearted nostalgic musical filled with fine performances.

“She Loves Me” debuted in 1964. It’s based on the 1937 play “Parfumerie” by Miklos Laszlo, which inspired classic films as 1940’s The Shop Around the Corner and You’ve Got Mail in 1998. An homage to Cyrano de Bergerac that takes place in a 1930’s Budapest perfume shop—Maraczek’s Parfumerie—the musical won multiple Tony awards for its 1993 and 2016 Broadway revivals.

The Ross Valley Players and the Mountain Play Association are two of the oldest theatre companies in Marin. Why is the Mountain Play collaborating with RVP for this special performance, not a part of the regular RVP season? “We want to become more of a year-round musical company and lend our support to others. We’ve been behind the scenes of the Ross Valley Players since one of their plays in 1935 (“The World We Live In”) was subsequently presented as our Mountain Play for that year,” explained Eileen Grady, Executive Director and Artistic Producer of the Mountain Play.

This charming and cheerful musical … is a great lead-in to the Christmas season.

“She Loves Me” enjoys an unusually lengthy run: five performances per week almost to Christmas Day. A familiar name to Mountain Play devotees is veteran choreographer/actor Nicole Helfer, who has shifted her admirable skills to direct this production. Multi-talented Jake Gale, who just completed a run as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Marin Musical Theatre Company’s “Rocky Horror Show,” serves as vocal director and also supervises the show’s music.

Photos by Robin Jackson.

A large cast of thirteen does a fine job acting, singing, and dancing in period costumes designed by Michael A. Berg. Petite Marah Sotelo is a standout as the store clerk Amalia, both in spot-on acting, gestures and a pleasing soprano voice. Max Kligman is well-matched as Georg, her “Dear Friend” mystery suitor, despite their amusing height difference.

Photos by Robin Jackson.

Another surprising talent (and this show contains many) is Anthony Maglio, who does a fine lothario shop clerk, then later becomes an aggressive waiter plagued by a clumsy busboy (Alex Munoz). Act I’s highlight has to be the hilarious café scene “A Romantic Atmosphere.” Store clerks are played and sung convincingly by Patrick Barr and young Alex Cook. Lovely Chelsey Ristaino balances out the staff and gets to steal a few scenes as she finds amusing library romance in Act II.

Photos by Robin Jackson.

Ron Dritz and Michael Walraven (also the show’s set designer) provide supporting characters. They’re joined by the song-and-dance moves of Dana Cherry, Katie Rose, MacKenzie Cahill, and a tantalizing tango by Sophie de Morelos and that clumsy busboy Alex Munoz.

This charming and cheerful musical is a bit long (2 ½ hours) with a first act of 90 minutes, but it’s a great lead-in to the Christmas season.

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

 

ProductionShe Loves Me
Written byAgatha Christie
Directed byNicole Helfer
Producing CompanyMountain Play Association and Ross Valley Players
Production DatesThru December 22nd
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.MountainPlay.org
Telephone415. 383-1100
Tickets$40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! “Bluff” Choice Bits to Chew on in This Slice of Life – by Cari Lynn Pace

Cameron Stuckey is Gene and Anya Cherniss is Doubling Actress in “Bluff.” Photos by: Marc Bussin

Jeffrey Sweet’s newest play is billed as a dark comedy, although it’s more drama than humor. This 90-minute peek at a couple’s relationship breaks theatre’s “fourth wall” repeatedly, interacting with the audience in San Rafael’s Belrose Theatre. This is the perfect cabaret-style venue for this show. Actors access the stage from the wings as well as the back of the house, using the center aisle to surprise the audience.

Bluff begins with two actors on the minimalist set speaking their lines with a recitation of the script’s directions. Just when you’re getting the hang of their unconventional interaction, this artifice is dropped. Someone on the street is being attacked. Neal grabs his baseball bat to the rescue. The victim is patched up. It’s NYC, so the unnamed dude (Alvin Josephs) departs without a “by your leave.”

Emily (Isabelle Grimm) and Neal (Will Livingston) are left to get acquainted, the millennials who helped defend the victim. Emily notes “It’s a good thing you’re not a tennis player, as a racquet wouldn’t make as good a weapon as your bat.”

This 90-minute peek at a couple’s relationship breaks theatre’s “fourth wall” repeatedly…

They couple up and discuss living together. The dialog is ordinary but intriguing to eavesdrop. This is a good thing as the plot isn’t much. Emily has an apartment, and Neal wisely observes “If I move in, it will be “your” place, not “our” place.”

Despite reservations, Emily and Neal cohabitate her apartment. More conversations. Emily phones her hospitalized mother (Tamara Chandler) on the West Coast who laughingly brushes off her daughter’s concerns about drinking and health.

(L to R) Cameron Stuckey is Gene, Isabelle Grimm is Emily, Will Livingston is Neal in “Bluff”.
Photos by: Marc Bussin

Emily’s stepdad Gene arrives in town for a convention, and the tension between these two is immediate and unexplained. Gene (Cam Stuckey) seems affable enough, although it’s difficult to catch all his dialog. He’s a salesman and makes the effort to be sociable to Emily and her boyfriend, but Emily won’t move off her aggressive attitude. The guys bond.

A truth-telling moment occurs when Gene admits he’s been philandering. Emily realizes that Gene has been the only stabilizing force in her alcoholic mother’s life. Self-centered Emily isn’t the least bit grateful. She weighs her dismal options if she snitches on Gene. We never really see a likable side to Emily or learn what’s behind her unrelenting bitchiness.

Emily boots out her boyfriend.

Gene goes home.

Neal shrugs.

And the play ends.

In spite of the unfinished feeling to Bluff, making it seem more like a sketch, there are some clever nuggets. The playwright demonstrates his skill with improv to make the lack of props amusing. Gene asks for a real glass in the bar scene, and the waiter crankily responds, “You’ve been using pretend phones, why can’t you use a pretend cocktail?”

The comedic high point of Bluff is the unnamed part played by Anya Cherniss. She appears briefly in the opening scene and reappears much later as a sultry temptress engaging Gene at a bar. When her lines indicate she should exit the stage, she instead begins ranting to the audience about her character’s qualities. She takes center stage to whine that she should have more lines to speak, as she is a very capable actor. Director Joey Hoeber steps up to command that she leave. Breaking that “fourth wall” brings the biggest laugh of the show.

Despite the shortage of character development or motivation, theatre is meant to be entertaining. Bluff certainly fits that description.

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

 

ProductionBluff
Written byJeffrey Sweet
Directed byJoey Hoeber & Dianne Harrison
Producing CompanyJolee Productions
Production DatesFridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM through November 16th
Production AddressBelrose Theatre
1415 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Websitebrownpapertickets.com/event/4345503
Telephone
Tickets$25/advance, $27 at door
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4/5
Performance4/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----

An Aisle Seat Theater Review! A Sharp-Edged Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, NTC Collaborates w/Theatre-at-Large by Cari Lynn Pace

Alison Peltz as Mrs. Lovett, Bruce Vieira as Sweeney Todd and Fernando Siu as Tobias Ragg
Photo Credit: Kristen Schutz

This fiendishly fine performance would make Stephen Sondheim smile with sadistic glee. It’s dark and diabolical, with singing, acting, costumes, and a two-level set as sharp as the shaving razor wielded by Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Directors Kim Bromley and Bruce Vieira (masterfully commanding the title role) are skilled veterans at their craft.  They handle the darkly humorous story of a vengeful barber with restraint, using a large cadre of actors and an even larger oven. Ragged actors move in from all sections of the theatre to sweep the audience into the malevolent background story.

It’s hard times in desperate 19th century London, and many morals have been suspended. A migrant sailor (handsome Cordell Wesselink) rescues a mysterious castaway who calls himself Sweeney Todd.  Bruce Vieira seems chillingly suited for this title role, giving it an imposing figure and dour countenance.

Todd is a talented barber who captures the admiration of the street scene by challenging the local barber and mountebank (mustachioed Dominic Quin-Harken) to a shave-off.  His young assistant Tobias (irrepressible Fernando Siu) is flexible when his master becomes not only the loser, but oddly lost to sight as well.

Don’t miss NTC’s Sweeney Todd… It’s deliciously devilish…

Todd sets up shop, and gains the attention of Mrs. Lovett (charming Alison Peltz), the widowed pie-maker, despite his character’s taciturn demeanor. Peltz is the award-winning actor who connives her way into making meat stuffing for her pies from the victims of Todd’s short-tempered vengeance. This unholy alliance brings delicious accolades and business prosperity while Todd bides his time for revenge on the Judge (snidely done by Charles Evans) and the Beedle (a fine role voiced by Mauricio Suarez).

The Judge and Beedle had sent Todd to a prison colony to pave the way for the seduction of Todd’s wife. Unfortunately, she took poison rather than succumb to their lecherous plans.

Todd has escaped and returns to find that his grown daughter (lovely soprano Julianne Bretan) is the ward of the very Judge who lusted after Todd’s wife. The libidinous Judge is now focused on pursuing the daughter. It’s all one can do to resist hissing at these bad boys.

As a child, some may recall the gruesome song “Dunderbeck’s Machine.” We laughed at the invention of his sausage meat machine, and the outcome, when we boisterously sang the lyrics. Let it be noted that Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has added social elements that make it inappropriate for children.

Cordell Wesselink as Anthony and Julianne Bretan as Johanna
Photo Credit: Mark Clark

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street won multiple Tony awards, including best musical. There are a couple of recognizable songs including “(Nothing’s Going to Harm You) Not While I’m Around” and “Pretty Women.” The production possesses sufficient twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience entertained. Sondheim’s songs and lyrics are a real challenge, yet all are impressively handled by the cast who had countless rehearsals to do such an outstanding job.

NTC’s recipe for success is Hugh Wheeler’s book, mixed with Marilyn Izdebski’s choreography, and folding in the meaty music directed by Judy Weisen to bake up this tasty treat.  Don’t miss NTC’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It’s deliciously devilish.

Playing now through November 17th at the Novato Playhouse, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2 PM.  Shows suspended by the North Bay Kincaid fires will transfer to Thursdays, Nov. 7 & 14 at 7:30pm.

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

 

ProductionSweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Written byStephen Sondheim
Directed byKim Bromley & Bruce Vieira
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough Nov. 17th
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone(855) 682-8491
Tickets$24 – $30
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! “The Rocky Horror Show”: Music Matched with Debauchery by Cari Lynn Pace

If you’re looking for a wild and sex-crazed show filled with energy and imaginative characters, go see “The Rocky Horror Show” produced by the Marin Musical Theatre Company.

It’s become a cult tradition to shout key lines at the actors at this outrageous show, based on the 1975 musical horror film. The MMTC program helpfully provides an audience participation script, as well as an etiquette guide with behavior rules, to keep rowdies from ruining the fun for everyone.

This is not a performance for children. Expect a young crowd of Millennials and a raunchy Act II to remind you this isn’t your grandma’s evening at the theatre. And don’t bring Grandpa, especially if he has a heart condition.

It’s eye-popping interaction as audience members show up in costumes and slutty face paint. Lucky ones are selected for the pre-show games, where they might join the cast to sacrifice virgins, imitate animal orgasms, or compete for top honors. Everyone practices the “Time Warp” steps to come later.

Cast members are dressed, or rather undressed, in racy attire. They coach the audience to holler out “Asshole” when Brad (perfectly cast Lorenzo Alviso) appears. Janet (played by Jenny Boynton, who also directed this show) has the shouted moniker “Slut”. The crowd hoots loudly and the partying begins.

Those who have never been to a live performance of “The Rocky Horror Show” might take a while to warm up to the idea of sexual perversion as humor, but that’s the nature of this show. A glass of wine or beer helps!

Those who have never been to a live performance of “The Rocky Horror Show” might take a while to warm up…

As the story of this bizarre journey begins, it follows straight-laced Brad and Janet whose car breaks down near a strange mansion opened by an even stranger ghoul, Riff Raff. Nelson Brown outdoes himself in this smarmy and lecherous role. He’s keen to have elbow sex with Magenta, acted and sung by the powerhouse Dani Innocenti Beem. These two get everyone charged up when they do the “Time Warp” again.

Already bursting with sensual anticipation, the audience explodes when Dr. Frank-N-Furter enters. Jack Gale is the ballsy and brassy “Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania.” He casts his spell in a corset and lustful smile…a trouper with great singing chops.

Out comes Rocky, the golden boy enacted by brawny and beautiful Michael Lamb. Females swoon at sight of him, but the males do, too. What obscene scene will come next?

Amidst this chaotic depravity, Daniel Savio directs five talented musicians who underscore Katie Wickes’ choreography. Several set-ups, like the ensemble performing as Brad and Janet’s car, are quite clever.

“The Rocky Horror Show” does not allow children under 13, as MMTC rates it a “strong R.” Indulge in this riotous and ribald experience through Halloween, October 31st.

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

 

ProductionThe Rocky Horror Show!
Written byRichard O’Brien
Directed byJenny Boynton
Producing CompanyMarin Musical Theater Company
Production DatesThursday (Halloween) at 6:00 and 9:00 PM,

Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 PM,

Sundays at 5 PM through October 3
Production AddressThe Playhouse in San Anselmo

27 Kensington Road, San Anselmo CA
Websitewww.marinmusicals.org
Telephone---
Tickets$27 – $50
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK!: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” — Cari Lynn Pace Reviews a Musical That Gets Away with Murder!

Michael Ross directs this hilarious and campy musical at Spreckels Performing Arts Center’s Codding Theatre. The plot is immediately intriguing: impoverished Monty (well-cast in Andrew Smith) discovers he has an aristocratic birthright, making him ninth in line to inherit both title and fortune.

How did that happen? Turns out Monty’s noble-born mum had been rudely disinherited, and kept mum about it. His lady-friend Sibella (Madison Genovese) ignores poor Monty as she prefers a more financially secure suitor. Can Monty move up the inheritance list quickly enough to win her hand? Can he bump eight dismissive and nasty relatives off the queue?

“A Gentleman’s Guide” is morbidly delightful fun that’ll just kill you with laughter…

And what relatives they are! Tim Setzer, a talented veteran actor, clearly has a ball playing every one of the noble-born inheritors…including a female. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch him change personalities and voices as he doffs another costume.

 

“A Gentleman’s Guide” won four Tonys when it hit Broadway in 2014, including Best Musical. Gilbert and Sullivan might have been proud of the operetta-style music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak (with additional book and lyrics by Robert L. Freeman.) Several songs have a patter-singing character to cleverly move the plot along.

Act II has a particularly engaging number “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” While Monty hides his lover Sabella behind one door, his marriage-manic cousin Phoebe (lovely soprano Maeve Smith) embraces him behind the other. The trio has the comic chops and strong vocals which brought a cheer from the audience.

In further homage to G&S, “A Gentleman’s Guide” has several surprises and an amusing twist at the end. The musical is appropriate for all ages, despite the rather macabre story line. No blood, thank you, except for the blue kind.

The set is a stage on the stage, opulently designed by Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen. Codding Theatre takes it a step further, maximizing their rear-projection screen to depict scene changes. Ice skaters cruise back and forth. Bees swarm. Tourists take tours of the mansion. Underneath it all is the 12-piece orchestra conducted by Jim Coleman.

“A Gentleman’s Guide” is morbidly delightful fun that’ll just kill you with laughter.

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

 

ProductionUrinetown, the Musical
Written byMark Holman and Greg Kotis
Directed byJay Manley
Producing CompanySpreckels Performing Arts
Production DatesThrough March 1st
Production AddressSpreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Websitewww.spreckelsonline.com
Telephone(707) 588-3400
Tickets$12-$36
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! Ross Valley Players Catch Tremendous Show in The Mousetrap – by Cari Lynn Pace

Evan Held as Giles Ralston at RVP.

This whodunit? play is so well-loved that Ross Valley Players sold out their opening night and had to bring in extra chairs. For good reason. This character-driven and exciting play keeps the audience guessing – and delightfully entertained.

Agatha Christie, that prolific mystery author, stipulated that film and television rights to The Mousetrap could not be sold until the London production closed. The Mousetrap opened 67 years ago and set the record for the longest-running stage play anywhere.

Director Adrian Elfenbaum skillfully controls the action and pacing of this true murder mystery, with a cast of actors who go over-the-top in their roles and accents.

The action is nonstop, the clues fly everywhere, and the ending has the typical Agatha Christie twist.

Welcome to an English bed-and-breakfast manor as the new and inexperienced owners, charmingly enacted by Heather Buck and Evan Held, anxiously await their very first guests. As they plump the pillows, the wireless (Brit for radio) is reporting a recent murder in London.

Tori Truss as Mrs. Boyle; Maria Mikheyenko as Miss Casewell at Ross Valley Players.

The fun begins with the arrival of an outrageously enthusiastic guest played by Andre Amarotico. He’s followed shortly by a prune-faced spinster, beautifully acted by Tori Truss who captures every disdainfully arched eyebrow imaginable. She’s annoyingly critical and a good balance for Steve Price, the proper Major and helpful gentleman. Maria Mikheyenko poses as the next arrival, an odd and clever young woman with indeterminate plans for the future.

The final guest is one without a reservation, claiming his car was stuck in the snow. Robert Molossi arrives with no luggage and a heavy accent, immediately arousing suspicions by all.

The wireless chirps an update on the recent murder, and a local detective sergeant (Steven Samp) arrives to alert and interview the guests. The connections between the guests, the manor house owners, and the London murder develop in scene after scene. Suddenly, the lights are out and one of the guests is dead. A piercing scream (kudos to Heather Buck), cut telephone lines, and the chase … begins. But whodunit?

Heather Buck as Molly Ralston; Evan Held as Giles Ralston at work in ‘The Mousetrap’

No spoilers will come from this reviewer! The play has been a favorite not only for its puzzling mystery of the real killer, but for the fun to switch finger-pointing as more clues are revealed. The action is nonstop, the clues fly everywhere, and the ending has the typical Agatha Christie twist.

After the final curtain, a cast member announces “Now that we have seen The Mousetrap, you are our partners in crime. Please preserve the tradition to keep the secret of whodunit locked in your hearts.” It’s a worthy custom that will allow future audiences and generations to be caught up in The Mousetrap.

 

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

 

 

ProductionThe Mousetrap
Written byAgatha Christie
Directed byAdrian Elfenbaum
Producing CompanyRoss Valley Players
Production DatesThru October 13th.
Production AddressRoss Valley Players
"The Barn"
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Websitewww.rossvalleyplayers.com
Telephone415. 456. 9555
Tickets$17 - $29
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW! Novato Theater Company Exposes Tragedies and Turmoil in “The Humans” — by Cari Lynn Pace

Photo by Fred Deneau

“The Humans” is a slice-of-life peek into a dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner. It starts with discord and never lets up. Fine performances by six Novato Theater Company actors rivet sharp-edged characters as they parry and thrust at one another.

Stephen Karam wrote his drama of three generations hiding secrets and resentments in a basement apartment (a great set by Michael Walraven). Add alcohol, irritating neighbors and faulty light bulbs to put this dinner on edge. Anyone want them as relatives?

Director Patrick Nims pulled fine performances from the actors to create cohesion from their criticisms. Brigid (Olivia Brown) is the youngest in this confrontational family. She starts out angry and stays that way, even when her helpful boyfriend (Ron Chapman) tries to be supportive. He doesn’t escape a grilling, of course.

“It was a challenge to memorize the gibberish in the script.”…

Brigid’s older sister Aimee (Alicia Kraft) has serious health and relationship turmoil, which she wisely keeps close to her vest. For sport, the sisters gang up to mock their mother (Laura J. Davies), reducing her to tears. Their father (David Francis Perry) gets shredded by both wife and daughters. It’s not pretty to watch, unless you’re fond of schadenfreude.

Marilyn Hughes, playing the frail and wheelchair-bound Momo, is particularly convincing. Her character doesn’t do or say much to provoke anyone, so her family mostly ignores her. Hughes notes offstage “It was a challenge to memorize the gibberish in the script.”

“The Humans” runs for 90 minutes, with no intermission, and contains adult themes and language.

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

 

ProductionThe Humans
Written byStephen Karam
Directed byPatrick Nims
Producing CompanyNovato Theater Company
Production DatesThrough Sept. 29th
Production AddressNovato Theater Company
5420 Nave Drive, Novato 94949
WebsiteNovatoTheaterCompany.org
Telephone
Tickets$21 – $27
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3/5
Performance5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----

AN ASR PREVIEW! Think the Marin Symphony is for Stuffed Shirts? Think again! – by Cari Lynn Pace

Each fall, the Marin Symphony showcases light classical music to entice and delight in a program often referred to as a “Pops Concert.”

This latest show promises to blow the roof off the stodgy Marin Center Veterans Memorial Auditorium as they perform the eye-popping “Cirque de la Symphonie” in concert with half-a-dozen Cirque du Soleil-style performers. Aerial flyers, gymnasts, and strongmen take the stage in front of (and high above) the orchestra of black-suited classical musicians. The moment conductor Stuart Chafetz whisks his baton, an amazing fusion of sights and sounds fills the concert hall.

…Leave the starched shirts at home.

Look up above as powerful and lithe bodies dance and fly in sparkling bodysuits and glowing silk streamers. The orchestra ripples their bows across violins, violas, and cellos as gold-painted strongmen balance in muscle-rippling symmetry. Flutes flutter, drums pound out the beat, and the Marin Symphony seems inspired by the fluid movement of these international performers. Or is it the other way around?

The musical program includes favorites from Dvorak’s “Carnival,” Bizet’s “Les Toreadors,” Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” and other familiar classics.

With so many pieces, the musicians have to keep their eyes on their sheet music, and on the conductor. They can only steal glances at the Cirque de la Symphonie’s troupe of awe-inspiring acrobats, founded ten years ago by Alexander Streltzov. We’re fortunate that Marin is one stop on their nationwide pops tour. “I’m thrilled to be part of the Marin Symphony’s family as its first Principal Pops conductor,” Chafetz enthused. It’s a stunning start!

Performances are September 14 and 15 with tickets priced $25-$85 (Youth tickets $20). For more information go to: https://marinsymphony.org/fall-pops-cirque/ or call the Marin Center Box Office at 415-473-6800.

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

 

 

 

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW! Merry Wives of Windsor Gain the Upper Hand – by Cari Lynn Pace

Summer and Shakespeare go together like fudge sauce on ice cream. To put the cherry on top, make it an outdoor presentation reminiscent of the London Globe Theatre’s open-air venue. The Curtain Theatre, performing in the Old Mill Park Amphitheatre in downtown Mill Valley, does exactly that. Now in their 20th year, this award-winning troupe presents Merry Wives of Windsor among towering redwoods through Sunday, September 8th.

The Curtain Theatre experience envelopes their audience in the late 1500’s. Absent the plastic chairs and jet streams visible overhead, the scene in this majestic redwood grove transforms time. A quartet of musicians in period garb quietly plays original songs written by Music Director Don Clark and Hal Hughes. The air fills with sounds of a fiddle, tin whistle, concertina, and other quaint instruments. Children scamper about the soft ground while adults pour their libations and chat. Costumed and bewigged actors, (authentically designed by Kathy Kingman-Solum and Hope Carrillo) beckon patrons to available seats.

…Grey Wolf is ridiculously perfect as Falstaff, charming and powerful and capable of stealing any scene on the stage…

The Curtain Theatre has no curtain, so Producer/Choreographer (and duo-role actor) Steve Beecroft grandly welcomes all from the front of the stage. Merry Wives of Windsor’s multi-layered plot focuses on a young maiden, Mistress Anne Page (lovely Lilly Jackson), who has attracted the eye of several suitors. Each suitor has his personal champion, including Anne’s parents who advocate differing preferences for their daughter’s match. As with much of Shakespeare’s plays, it takes a while to catch on to all the characters and their relationships.

Gray Wolf and friends at work for Curtain Theatre

Enter lustful Sir John Falstaff, who boasts of his intentions to seduce not merely one, but two of his acquaintances’ wives, one of whom is Anne’s mother. Grey Wolf is ridiculously perfect as Falstaff, charming and powerful and capable of stealing any scene on the stage. When the wives get wind of his plans, they team up to plot their amusing revenge. Heather Cherry and Marianne Shine make a formidable duo, outmaneuvering Falstaff and even exacting better behavior from their clueless husbands.

Director Kim Bromley notes “The central theme of this play is power, who wields it, who wants it, and who gets it.” Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor is lengthy and uneven in spots, yet ultimately allows women to gain the upper hand in a period of time when such was certainly not the norm.

The City of Mill Valley was recently under pressure from several nearby neighbors to curtail The Curtain Theatre and other public noise-producing events in Old Mill Park, site of the Mill Valley Fall Arts Festival and the Dipsea Race. Happily, Steve Beecroft reports that performances have been adjusted to mollify neighbors yet continue with these free weekend performances. To that end, all may shout “Huzzah!” Not too loudly, please.

Playing at 2 PM through September 8th on Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday. Admission is FREE. For more information surf the web over to: www.curtaintheatre.org.

Open seating, picnics welcome, cookies and coffee available for purchase, and chairs are provided on a first-come basis, or bring your own. Dress in layers as this redwood grove is always much cooler than the street level.

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

 

ProductionMerry Wives of Windsor
Written byWilliam Shakespeare
Directed byKim Bromley
Producing CompanyCurtain Theatre
Production DatesThrough Sept. 8th
Production AddressOld Mill Park Amphitheater.

375 Throckmorton Avenue (behind the library), Mill Valley
Websitewww.curtaintheatre.org
Telephone
TicketsFree!
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?----

 

 

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! — “Those Dancin’ Feet” Kicks It Up a Notch — by Cari Lynn Pace

PHOTO: Those Dancin’ Feet_61 – L to R Alex Hartman and Colin Bradbury (dancers) and Kayley Anne Collins and Neil Starkenberg (vocals).
Photo by Ray Mabry / © R. Mabry Photography 2019

Transcendence Theatre Company (TTC) has presented productions “under the stars” at Sonoma’s Jack London State Historic Park for eight summer seasons. This award-winning troupe has grown from the dream of its three founders to encompass over 50 singers and dancers taking a break from their Broadway and LA shows.

Their successful “Broadway Under the Stars” formula has traditionally been a potpourri of popular song-and-dance numbers. This year TTC experiments by adding a casual plot line to “Those Dancin’ Feet” to link the dance numbers. It works, splendidly. The show runs through August 25.

The experience at “Broadway Under the Stars” is top notch…

It starts with three couples who move with agile beauty through stages of courtship and commitment. Their ‘alter egos’ sing of passion, longing, joy, sadness, and despair. The program cleverly sprinkles a mix of 29 songs —some from decades past, some today’s Grammy winners — and everything flows and moves in a seamless and splendid reflection of love and life.

The experience at “Broadway Under the Stars” is top notch, with the production enhanced by the Transcendence Band conducted by Matt Smart.

PHOTO: Those Dancin’ Feet_262 – L to R Dee Tomasetta, Croix Dilenno and Cara Salemo.
Photo by Ray Mabry / © R. Mabry Photography 2019

There are so many intricate dance numbers that Director/Choreographer Roy Lightner is joined by choreographers Sara Brians and Chip Abbott. They showcase 20 athletic and fluid dancers, and the result is over the top.

TTC evenings, traditionally touted as the “Best night ever!” start as early as 5 p.m. at Jack London State Historic Park. Patrons bring picnics to enjoy at the umbrella-equipped tables, food trucks ply their wares, premium wine and beer vendors offer tastes, and live music encourages the fun and friendly camaraderie in the open field —  known amusingly as “The Great Lawn.”

Outdoor seating (assigned) begins in the stone ruins as the sun drops low beyond the mountains. Just before the show starts at 7:30, put away your sun hat, grab a jacket and lap blanket, and revel in the quiet beauty of the Valley of the Moon. When the lights come up on the dancers onstage, prepare to be blown away!

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

 

ProductionThose Dancin' Feet
Written byTranscendence Theater Co.
Directed byRoy Lightner
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough August 25th
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen (Sonoma)
Websitebestnightever.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$49-$154
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! MSC’s “Spamalot” a Masterful Madcap Musical – by Cari Lynn Pace

In its 30 years, Marin Shakespeare Company has never presented a full-scale musical. Until now.

The second production in Marin Shakespeare Company’s summer trio of shows, “Spamalot” is the musical comedy written by Eric Idle and “lovingly ripped off” from the zany motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Take Idle’s wit, add John DuPrez’s music, mix in seven musicians, and toss in juicy bits from the madcap screenplay. Sprinkle in new sight gags and you have a riotous musical comedy.

Replete with several outstanding comic performances, “Spamalot” loosely spoofs “Camelot,” the King Arthur legend of Medieval England. Jarion Monroe stars as the would-be “King of the Britons,” who traipses about the countryside with his loyal talking horse Patsy (Bryan Munar), trying to convince hapless peasants to join him in a quest to find the Holy Grail and thereby somehow unite the country.

… a huge production that’s one fast roller-coaster ride of laughter.

The familiarity of several characters fades quickly as the plot takes their character arcs in unpredictable directions. Nonsensical scenes and characters are amusingly disjointed, including one particularly assertive Black Knight (spoiler alert!). The show is full of clever sight gags, hysterical physical comedy, and tons of goofy banter—the Lady of the Lake (Susan Zelinsky), who gives Arthur his mandate and his magic sword Excalibur—is described by one doubtful peasant as “a watery tart.” One hesitates to laugh too long for fear of missing what comes next.

Phillip Percy Williams as Sir Robin with Chorus at Marin Shakes

Michael Berg’s colorful costumes are over the top—reportedly totaling 700 pieces if you count each sock and shoe. Choreography by Rick Wallace is the kinetic equivalent, especially some of the large-scale production numbers. You can’t beat a bevy of chorus girls swinging maces for sheer entertainment. The excellent band led by Mountain Play veteran Paul Smith propels the whole affair from just in front of center stage.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley, a languid and fluid actor who first steals his scene with “I’m Not Dead Yet,” pops up in multiple ridiculous guises. The gorgeous Zelinsky sings with power and prominence in Act I, then disappears only to show up in Act II wearing a Norma Desmond-like caftan and turban, wailing “Whatever Happened to My Part?” while “The Song that Goes Like This” will be all too familiar to audience members who’ve seen their share of modern musicals. The finale tune “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” has the audience whistling along while the chorus line kicks up its boots. Truly a marvelous madcap romp.

Award-winning Marin Shakespeare Company is run by two tireless founders, Robert Currier and Lesley Schisgall Currier, who present an annual trio of outdoor productions at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, on the Dominican College campus in San Rafael. One of the three is classic Shakespeare, one is “Shakespeare light” with alternative settings and language, and the third is a production far removed from the Bard’s influence, such as “Spamalot.” All are professionally and energetically presented by a mix of Equity actors and solid local talent, with interns in minor roles.

Director Robert Currier has a long history of updating Shakespearean comedies with unexpected adornments to plot, character, and setting. With “Spamalot,” he started with an outrageous script, and through superb choices in casting and direction has come up with a huge production that’s one fast roller-coaster ride of laughter. Don’t sit too close to the stage if you want to catch every line.

MSC has established a fine legacy among theatre-lovers from both sides of the curtain. Open seating (wooden benches with backs) can be made more comfortable by renting cushions at the gate. Nights can get cold when the fog rolls in, so dress in layers. Picnics are welcome.

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

 

ProductionMonty Python’s Spamalot
Written byBook & Lyrics by Eric Idle.
Music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle
Directed byDirected by Robert Currier
Producing CompanyMarin Shakespeare Company
Production DatesThrough August 25th
Production AddressForest Meadows Amphitheater (outdoors),
Dominican University of California 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael, CA
Websitewww.marinshakespeare.org
Telephone(415) 499-4488
Tickets$10 – $38
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script4/5
Stagecraft4.5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! – “My Fair Lady” Isn’t Fair, It’s Loverly! Oversize Production is a Hit on Their Undersize Stage – by Cari Lynn Pace

The cast of “My Fair Lady” at work. Photos courtesy of Eric Chazankin.

In a bold move, Sonoma Arts Live removed 12 seats from the floor of their narrow theatre to make space for a London street scene. As the house lights go down, a certain cockney flower girl mingles with other back-alley workers awaiting the evening swells in tuxes and top hats. Scruffy Eliza Doolittle crosses paths with Professor Henry Higgins, and thus begins the delightful story of “My Fair Lady”. This energetic and rousing adaptation of the famed movie and stage musical by Lerner and Loewe is playing on the Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center through July 28th.

Michael Ross directs an incredibly outsize production in this small and intimate theater. If you sit in the front row, you’d best pull in your legs as the high-stepping dancers rush by. The seven-piece orchestra, directed by F. James Raasch, is completely hidden behind the raised stage, opulently decorated as a two-story English drawing room with gramophone and fireplace.

Impish Sarah Wintermeyer reveals her golden singing voice and sweet face to create an irresistible Eliza. What talent!

When Eliza, a yowling flower girl, comes to call seeking language lessons, the game is on. Larry Williams brings forth arrogant Professor Higgins with a much better voice than Rex Harrison ever didn’t have. He and Colonel Pickering, a well-cast Chad Yarish, make a wager that the dirty, lowly street urchin could be transformed to pass as a real lady in six months if she only learned to speak as one.

And the flower girl? Impish Sarah Wintermeyer reveals her golden singing voice and a sweet face to create an irresistible Eliza. What talent! Before our eyes, she transforms from a sooty guttersnipe into an elegant lady, dressed for the ball. Cinderella could take lessons from her.

Speaking of dressing, Barbara McFadden’s costumes are a real treat, from garbage men and serving maids to elegant grey Ascot tuxes and outsize flowered hats. Simply marvelous!

Alfred P. Doolittle (Tim Setzer) sings “Get Me to the Church on Time” at Sonoma Arts Live. Photos courtesy of Eric Chazankin.

Several of the 12 actors fill multiple roles, and all sing and move in a smooth-flowing ensemble. A big favorite is Tim Setzer, who seems born for his hilarious role as Alfred P. Doolittle. His knockout songs “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time” bring the house down. Ryan Hook shows a fine tenor voice when he croons “On the Street Where You Live” at Eliza’s doorway.

Executive Artistic Producer Jaime Love notes “We are thrilled to close our 2019 season with this timeless and iconic classic.” The entire family will enjoy this oversize production on this undersize stage.

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

 

 

ProductionMy Fair Lady!
Written byBook by Alan Jay Lerner. Music and Lyrics by Lerner & Frederick Loewe.
Directed byMichael Ross
Producing CompanySonoma Arts Live
Production DatesThru July 28th
Production AddressRotary Stage: Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 E. Napa Street, Sonoma
Websitewww.sonomaartslive.org
Telephone866-710-8942
Tickets$25 – $40
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!

AN AISLE SEAT REVIEW PICK! One Singular Sensation: “A Chorus Line” – by Cari Lynn Pace

“A Chorus Line” cast (Photo courtesy of Transcendence Theatre Company)

Every summer through September, friends flock to one of four different “Broadway Under the Stars” shows: mix-and-mingle evenings full of fresh air, picnics, fine wines, stunning scenery, and professional singers and dancers. These extraordinary escapees from the bright lights of Broadway and LA have a single goal: to give patrons their “best night ever!” And they do!

Eight years ago a small circle of NYC and LA performers took the summer off and held a song-and-dance fundraiser in the open stone ruins of Jack London State Historic Park. Their first “Broadway Under the Stars” was so well attended it raised enough money to keep the park open.

Each year the three original members, Amy Miller, Brad Surosky, and Stephan Stubbins, recruit more high-energy performers and friends to join them. Today, with over 55 stellar performers, Transcendence is a family of talented dancers and singers who love performing on the beautiful open-air stage in Sonoma’s wine country. They’ve raised nearly $500,000 from ticket sales to keep the park open and are proud to bring performances and classes to local schools.

Transcendence delivers a knockout show at Jack London State Park.”

The first show in their summer lineup under the stars is the award-winning “A Chorus Line.” It couldn’t be a more appropriate choice for Transcendence. Based on actual interviews, the story is about a group of dancers anxiously trying out for limited spots in a Broadway show. Every one of the performers on stage no doubt went through countless such auditions. Now here they are, under the setting sun and rising moon, dancing and singing to win a part they’ve already joyously earned. This is life imitating life. It can’t get more real than this!

Kristin Piro and Matthew Rossoff (Photo courtesy of Transcendence Theatre Company)

About the Transcendence summer experience: Cast members exuberantly welcome Bay Area patrons who come early to the park for a pre-show dinner picnic under umbrellas. Local musicians entertain on a small stage while food trucks line the meadow. Beer and wine vendors offer tastes and glasses of their finest.

At 7:30, just before sunset, patrons gather up their picnic items (and extra jackets) to head for seats in the stone ruins. The orchestra’s pounding beat brings forth a stream of high-stepping performers who belt out songs with sleek moves and smiles against the background of Sonoma Mountain. Broadway never had such a stage setting!

Catch the stars in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon in one of four upcoming summer shows:

“A Chorus Line” runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through June 30th.

“Fantastical Family Night” for the youngest friends begins July 19th for one weekend through July 20th.

“Those Dancin’ Feet” features world-class dancing full of passion, energy, and excitement, backed by a full orchestra. This program runs August 9th through 25th.

The finale of the summer shows is “Gala Celebration” to complete Transcendence’s magic of music and community, for one weekend only September 6th, 7th and 8th.

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

 

ProductionA Chorus Line
Written byBook by James Kirkwood Jr. and Nicholas Dante; Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Directed byAmy Miller
Producing CompanyTranscendence Theatre Company
Production DatesThrough June 30th
Production AddressJack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen
Websitebestnightever.org
Telephone(877) 424-1414
Tickets$49-$154
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATER REVIEW PICK! “Faceless” Brings Feisty Focus to Courtroom Drama – by Cari Lynn Pace

The cast of “Faceless” (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

Live theatre can bring laughter or tears. You may leave feeling warm and fuzzy or puzzling over moral questions.

You’ll be immersed in all these vibrancies with “Faceless,” playing through June 2nd in the Studio Theatre at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. This intimate theatre-in-the-round is the perfect cocoon for a courtroom clash. The audience is the jury, and the intense characters are ours to judge.

Susie (a hijab-wearing Isabella Sakkren) is a teen swept into the web of an internet ISIS “friend” and wooed into believing that she can be part of a new “family.” Arrested as she attempted to flee to Syria, she is now jailed and facing trial.

Susie’s dad, a hard-working single father (perfectly cast in Edward McCloud), still grieves the tragic loss of his wife. Was he so bound in his grief that he neglected to see his daughter becoming sullen and marginalized? Dad agonizes between consoling Susie and berating her for her empty extremism. He “mortgages the farm” to hire a top-notch defense attorney for his hostile daughter – a perfect role for Mike Pavone.

You may not want this 90-minute play to end.”

As for the prosecution, the lead attorney’s strategy (in spot-on acting by award-winning David L. Yen) is delightfully devilish. He theorizes that a female Muslim attorney on his staff would be the perfect choice for this touchy trial. He summons Claire (the lovely and spirited Ilana Niernberger) who wears her hijab with devotion, not faux faith.

David L. Yen (Photo Credit: Eric Chazankin)

The dialog between these two attorneys is like watching rams clash. They slice through untouchable issues of religion, race, privilege, and predatory behavior with knife-sharpened repartee in an astonishing feat of writing by playwright Selina Fillinger. You may not want this 90-minute play to end. When it does, you alone will make the judgment call.

Director Craig A. Miller, former Artistic Director of the 6th Street Playhouse, worked two years to gain the rights to present “Faceless.” He has exercised impressive skill in staging the characters, enabling the audience to feel included in the courtroom drama.

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

 

ProductionFaceless
Written bySelina Fillinger
Directed byCraig A. Miller
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse, Studio Theatre
Production DatesThrough June 2nd
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
Studio Theatre
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Websitehttp://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$18 – $28
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall5/5
Performance5/5
Script5/5
Stagecraft5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?Yes!

AN AISLE SEAT THEATRE REVIEW: “Jazz” Dissects Life to Imitate Music at MTC – by Cari Pace

Clockwise, left to right: Troy, Tenille, Sullivan, Wright, Hall, Mayes, Lacy (Photo Credit: Kevin Berne)

The dictionary defines “jazz” as American music developed from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre.

It’s an accurate parallel to Nambi Kelley’s latest play “Jazz,” just opened at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. All the jazz components are here, dissected on stage. Based on the book by Toni Morrison and directed by Awoye Timpo, this production propels story lines, characters, and time frames from 1920s Virginia cotton fields to NYC’s Harlem. It’s not a musical and there are no instruments onstage, although Marcus Shelby’s music adds to the texture of the performance.

“Jazz” opens with a young girl’s funeral, then aggressively explodes into a polyphonic ensemble of an emotional wife and a cuckolded husband, surrounded by busybodies. A colorful talking and singing parrot joins the cacophony in an over-the-top role by multi-talented Paige Mayes.

Just let it waft over and enjoy.”

With jazz music, a bluesy baseline melody can be ephemeral, quickly punctuated then disappearing. It typically returns later, played by another instrument or in a different key. The well-worn story lines in “Jazz” follow this lead.

Wright, Mayes, Sullivan (Photo Credit: Kevin Berne)

Post-funeral, a flashback begins with the blues. It’s a mother’s suicide, and a young girl (C. Kelly Wright) is sent off to work the cotton fields. Boy (Michael Gene Sullivan) meets girl, they enjoy some happy married years, then husband meets younger girl (Dezi Soley), younger girl tempts then taunts husband, husband rages out of control, wife rages at girl’s funeral. And we’re back where we started, almost.

A reappearing melody or theme is a familiar and welcoming ploy in every genre of music, yet difficult to manage on the stage. Threads of several story lines in “Jazz” repeat stage right, then left, with minor changes in pitch and timbre. These flashbacks can be confusing; it’s best not to fret. Just let it waft over and enjoy.

The actors put a lot of energy into their roles, although without mikes many quick spoken lines are lost. Local favorite Margo Hall plays multiple roles with skillful versatility while Lisa Lacy, Dane Troy and Tiffany Tenille complete the talented cast. They dance ragtime, sing snippets of spiritual songs, and make the most of the “devil music” in “Jazz.”

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

 

ProductionJazz
Written byAdapted by Nambi E. Kelley
Based on the book by Toni Morrison
Music by Marcus Shelby
Directed byDirected by Awoye Timpo
Producing CompanyMarin Theatre Company (MTC)
Production DatesThrough May 19th
Production AddressMarin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
Websitewww.marintheatre.org
Telephone(415) 388-5200
Tickets$10 – $70
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Overall3.5/5
Performance3.5/5
Script3/5
Stagecraft3/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?-----