ASR’s Year in Review: Our “Best of the Best” from 2019 – by Nicole Singley and Barry Willis

Better late than never, the old adage has it. Here (in no particular order) are some memorable productions from last season, a year full of four- and five-star achievements.

The Jungle (Curran Theatre): San Francisco’s renovated Curran Theatre was re-renovated for an immersive recreation of a 2016 crisis in a refugee camp in Calais, France. A huge and hugely talented multi-ethnic cast made this show last season’s most profound and moving theatrical experience. (BW)

After Miss Julie (Main Stage West): Ilana Niernberger and Sam Coughlin paired up for a thrilling pas de deux in Patrick Marber’s evocative spin on “Miss Julie,” transplanting Strindberg’s classic story to a summer night in 1945. A stunning set, great lighting, and white-hot performances brought class and erotic tensions to a boil, culminating in a seriously steamy tango scene that won’t be soon forgotten. (NS)

Rocky Horror Show (Marin Musical Theatre Company): MMTC took this Halloween favorite far over the top at the San Anselmo Playhouse, thanks to stunning efforts by Jake Gale, Nelson Brown, Dani Innocenti-Beem, Pearl Fugit and many others. (BW)

Barbecue Apocalypse (Spreckels): The laughs were served well-done in this quirky comedy, thanks to a witty script marinated in millennial-centric humor and a talented ensemble. Clever costumes, strong technical work, and excellent casting proved that all it takes to survive the end of days is a little raccoon meat and some serious comic relief. (NS)

Romeo and Juliet (Throckmorton): Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Theatre and the streets around it became Verona, Italy, in a sweetly evocative, imaginative, and fully immersive production of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy. (BW)

Sex with Strangers (Left Edge Theatre): Left Edge Theatre turned up the heat in “Sex with Strangers,” a seductive modern romance that broaches big questions about love, ambition, and the price of success in the digital era. Dean Linnard and Sandra Ish brought the story’s unlikely couple to life with electric chemistry and powerful, nuanced performances. (NS)

Incidents in the Wicked Life of Moll Flanders (Ross Valley Players): RVP gambled and won with Jennifer LeBlanc’s adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel. Amber Collins Crane stole the show as the lead in a compelling tale about a beautiful, quick-witted woman who rose from miserable circumstances to respectability through petty crime, stealth, charm, and unusually good luck. (BW)

Drumming with Anubis (Left Edge Theatre): Left Edge Theatre invited us along to the Neo-Heathen Male Bonding and Drumming Society’s annual campout, where a group of aging death metal fans communes in the desert to beat their bongos. Things got a little dark, a lot hilarious, and surprisingly touching when the Egyptian god of death crashed the party. Local playwright David Templeton’s brilliant new show earned a 5-star reception, featuring a phenomenal cast and beautiful scenic design. (NS)

How I Learned What I Learned (Marin Theatre Company): Director Margo Hall coaxed a tremendous performance from Steven Anthony Jones, who brought grandfatherly wit and wisdom to the role of playwright August Wilson. A master class in story-telling. (BW)

Faceless (6th Street Playhouse): Former artistic director Craig A. Miller returned to helm this riveting courtroom drama about an American teenager caught running away to join her internet boyfriend in ISIS. Razor-sharp dialogue and powerhouse performances made for an intense and memorable experience in 6th Street’s intimate studio theater. (NS)

The Year of Magical Thinking (Aurora Theatre Company): Stacy Ross glowed in a masterly solo recital of Joan Didion’s play from her book of the same name. (BW)

Home (Berkeley Repertory Theatre): In this stunning piece of performance art by Geoff Sobelle, audiences watched a two-story house materialize from the shadows of an empty stage as if by magic. A spectacle of epic proportions, this visual feast reminded theatergoers that a house is just a space in which we come together to make a home. (NS)

Fully Committed (6th Street Playhouse): Patrick Varner channeled 40-some characters in his hilarious one-man depiction of a scheduling manager at his wits’ end in a high-end NYC restaurant, at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. (BW)

Merman’s Apprentice (Sonoma Arts Live): Daniela Innocenti-Beem brought Broadway legend Ethel Merman back to the stage with a larger-than-life performance in this sparkling world premiere, brimming with catchy tunes and colorful humor. Innocenti-Beem and teenaged costar Emma Sutherland boast some serious pipes, which made this charming new musical all the more fun. (NS)

Mother of the Maid (Marin Theatre Company): A mother’s love and devotion were never so well depicted as in this lovely, heart-rending piece about Joan of Arc’s mother Isabelle (Sherman Fracher). (BW)

Eureka Day (Spreckels): Laughter proved contagious in Jonathan Spector’s whip-smart “Eureka Day,” pitting parents at a Berkeley charter school against each other in the wake of a mumps outbreak. An all-star cast, elaborate set design, and top-notch technical work combined to make this a 5-star production. (NS)

Cabaret (San Francisco Playhouse and Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions): Both of these productions were excellent and amazing versions of this dazzling but starkly disturbing cautionary tale. (BW) 

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Spreckels): Theatergoers were dazzled by this cleverly written and superbly acted continuation of Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, containing everything an Austenesque story should: delicious drama, a heartwarming romance, and an abundance of humor and witPitch-perfect direction and exemplary casting made “Miss Bennet” the ultimate holiday treat. (NS)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Curran Theatre): Nonstop high-intensity theatrical magic is the only way to describe this extravagant production, running into next July. (BW)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Spreckels): Hilarity ensued in this madcap musical about a man clawing his way to the top of the family tree. Tim Setzer stole the show as all nine members of the D’Ysquith family, all of whom meet their ends in some of the most creative and comical ways imaginable. Excellent ensemble work, cute choreography, and clever projections made this one killer production. (NS)

Barry Willis is the Executive Editor at Aisle Seat Review, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com

 

Nicole Singley is a Senior Contributing Writer and Editor at Aisle Seat Review and a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, Sonoma County’s Marquee Theater Journalists Association, and the American Theatre Critics Association.

 

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!