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Going Rogue At Last

It’s finally time to launch my own website as a venue for sharing my reviews of theatre productions, my thoughts on culture and the arts, and some fun stuff too. After decades of writing for media outlets such as the Palo Alto Weekly, Mountain View Voice, TalkingBroadway.com, and the SJ Metro, I’m happy to transition to At Large status, where I won’t worry about word count or editorial limitations.

Comments welcomed as long as they’re in the spirit of respectful suggestion or collegial debate. I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason and to block unruly visitors.

I hope you enjoy reading the site as much as I enjoy writing it.

UPDATE: In mid-January, I was named a North Bay theatre correspondent for Talkin’ Broadway, charged with seeing as much theatre as I can in the North counties and posting reviews for this revered source of theatre news and reviews. I will continue to post reviews on my own site when there’s no conflict; and, I’m permitted to post the first two paragraphs of a Talkin’ Broadway review, with a link to the full review, after it has been published. I’m delighted to have this platform for my reviews, and eager to work again with the TBC team of Patrick Thomas, Richard Connema, Eddie Reynolds, and editor Ann Miner.  Go here to check out the amazing national website:  Talkin’Broadway.com

 

Always… Patsy Cline

Always…Patsy Cline
Sonoma Arts Live
Runs through July 29 in Sonoma

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The Jordanaires, Danielle DeBow as Patsy Cline, Karen Pinomaki as Louise. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Celebrity tribute shows are always tricky, as audiences will inevitably compare the imitation with the original, and too often the imitation fails to deliver the desired satisfaction of the remembered icon. Sonoma Arts Live takes the gamble with its current production of Always…Patsy Cline (created by Ted Swindley in 1988), but the gamble pays off in a wonderfully entertaining and engaging tribute to the much-loved and memorable Cline. Top-notch talents, excellent music, and attractive production elements add up to a captivating and poignant stroll through the country star’s songbook.

Kudos to director Michael Ross for casting Danielle DeBow to play Cline. A favorite on local stages, DeBow clearly has done her homework in bringing this country legend to life. Of course no one will be exactly like Cline, but that’s okay—DeBow captures enough of the signature vocal inflections and the demeanor to evoke admiration and awaken cherished memories. Audible sighs of appreciation from the audience when she launched into Cline’s hits such as “Walkin’ After Midnight” or “I Fall to Pieces” gave evidence of sincere gratitude for the skillful song renditions. DeBow’s version of “Crazy” generated obvious approval and thankful applause both before and after. There are over 25 songs in the show, covering nearly all of Cline’s chart-topping hits—a veritable feast for her fans. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review on Talkin’Broadway.com:
Always…Patsy Cline

 

Oh, Coward!

Music & Lyrics by Noel Coward; revue devised by Roderick Cook
Pear Theatre
Runs in Mountain View through July 15, 2018

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L-R: Michael Rhone, Elizabeth Kruse Craig, Dan Kapler, Kristin Brownstone, Brad Arington. Photo: Michael Craig

Only the second musical ever to be produced in the Pear Theatre’s mainstage season, Oh, Coward! arrives as a sparkling summer cocktail, a welcome relief from doldrums and reading too much news. It also helps that it’s a splendid production, with a quartet of tuneful, seasoned performers. Sir Noël Coward’s witticisms and erudite songs have seldom been given better expression than in the Pear’s delightful show.

The revue was put together by Roderick Cook in 1972 as an homage to a career that spanned four decades, highlighting both well-known crowd pleasers and lesser-known gems. Coward’s last public appearance was at a gala performance of the revue in 1973. His lyrics are filled with satire and puns, surprising rhymes, and almost always tell a story. Rarely they wax poetic and thoughtful, giving us a lovely ballad or two. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review on Talkin’Broadway:
Oh, Coward!

 

Illyria

adapted from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by Peter Mills & Cara Reichel
6th Street Playhouse
Runs in Santa Rosa through July 8, 2018

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Carmen Mitchell as Viola. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Illyria, the clever musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night created by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel, has been around since 2002, but is rarely produced, perhaps owing to its operatic demands on both performers and orchestra. Its virtual non-stop music, including 15 numbers in act one alone and underscoring for almost every scene, yields a few memorable songs, but it’s the script, turning Shakespeare into musical comedy, that ultimately charms us. 6th Street Playhouse Artistic Director Craig Miller directs the show as his swan song before he departs for a university position, gifting a lovely farewell to the theater he has called home for almost eight years.

The characters are essentially the same as in Shakespeare’s play. Viola (Carmen Mitchell) has been shipwrecked and washes up on the foreign shores of Illyria. Believing her brother Sebastian to be drowned, she decides to impersonate him as a form of protection, and finds employment as a manservant to Duke Orsino (Burton Thomas), with whom she promptly falls in love. Orsino, however, longs for always-in-mourning Countess Olivia (Tracy Hinman), who wants nothing to do with him, but falls madly in love with Viola/Sebastian when the Duke sends her/him to plead his case. When Viola’s brother, the real Sebastian (Lorenzo Alviso), shows up, it’s a fine recipe for hilarity in mistaken identities and skewed love scenes. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review on Talkin’Broadway:
Illyria

 

Honky

Honky by Greg Kalleres
Left Edge Theatre
Running in Santa Rosa through July 1, 2018

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Trey G. Riley and Mike Pavone. Photo: Katie Kelley.

Left Edge Theatre has a bold mission: to produce only plays that haven’t already been done in Sonoma County, and that have been written within the previous five or six years. This means you’re likely to see plays with especially timely themes and topics, as well as challenging structures. Their current production, of Honky by Greg Kalleres, definitely fills the bill, as a challenging and humorous satire exposing issues of racism. A talented cast and attractive production deliver a strong production worth seeing.

No one is immune from scrutiny in this fast-paced comedy—both white and black characters struggle with self-awareness and identity questions. When a black teenager is killed over his upscale, coveted sneakers, the shoe designer feels responsible, the ad man feels guilt, and the marketing mogul sees opportunity. Toss in a well-intentioned therapist, a status-seeking fiancee, a couple of “urban youth” types, and PC-conscious upper management, and complications abound. Civility and polite society crumble when confronted with the magnifying glass of racism.

A further complication involves a new drug that promises a cure for your racism—pop the pill and you no longer “see color.” Wishful thinking? Or generating more ills than it cures? The final scene leaves us pondering some hard questions, even while we’re laughing. …

To continue reading about this production, see the review on Talkin’Broadway:
Honky

Stairway to Paradise

Stairway to Paradise
Transcendence Theatre Company
Running through July 1 in Jack London National Park

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Full cast of Stairway to Paradise. Photo: Ray Mabry

Transcendence Theatre Company has another hit on their hands, and this one is as fabulous as it can get. Expertly directed and choreographed by Tony Gonzalez, Stairway to Paradise features 18 Broadway performers in numbers selected from musical theatre and pop hits. It’s a true “triple threat” ensemble—all of them actor-singer-dancer professionals—and wow, do they deliver a knockout show. Transcendence Theatre Company has come to mean award-winning solid entertainment, and this is one of their best yet. Each year (since 2011) seems to get better and better, and this first show in the new season heralds a summer full of awesome.

Classics like “Blue Skies” get the Transcendence treatment, meaning updated arrangements and clever staging infused with dance and showcasing the polished talents of one or more performers. The next number might be a well-known song from musical theatre, like “Cabaret” (featuring repeat favorite Leslie McDonel), or a popular hit, like Justin Timberlake’s infectious “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (in a standout rendition by the men, showcasing their superb voices and dance skills).

Sprinkled in are lesser-known numbers that deserve airing, like the delightful “A Little Bit,” from Crazy, Just Like Me (performed by Michael Linden), or the funny “Air Conditioner,” by Christine Lavin (made hilarious by Shaleah Adkisson, with assistance from Tim Roller). …

To continue reading about this production, see the review on Talkin’Broadway:
Stairway to Paradise

The Fantasticks

The Fantasticks
by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt
Cinnabar Theater
Running in Petaluma through June 24, 2018

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Carolyn Bacon, Sergey Khalikulov, and Lukas Brandt. Photo: Victoria von Thal.

Putting a theatrical chestnut in a season is risky—will audiences be tired of it? Have too many already seen it? Does it still carry a message that will resonate with today? Is it enough to do it precisely because it’s a chestnut? These are questions that rang in my head as I watched the excellent cast do a fine performance of The Fantasticks at Cinnabar Theater. So much to admire, in the energy and skill of the actors, the quality of the small orchestra, the clever set and staging—and yet, the play does indeed feel creaky and dated now, despite its illustrious past.

Tom Jones (no, not the singer, or Fielding’s title character, but a different Jones of Broadway and Off-Broadway renown) teamed up with Harvey Schmidt to create a parable for their time—that would be 1960, when it first premiered. Jones wrote the book and lyrics for this small-cast musical, borrowing themes and ideas liberally from half a dozen other works. In many ways he captured the idealism and activism of the early ’60s, with tropes of independence, anti-authority, and facing down the ills of the world with sober optimism. The show went on to run for over 40,000 performances, and has been performed the world over countless times.

Schmidt’s music and the simple but poetic lyrics have made the songs staples in the cabaret canon, sung by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Kristin Chenoweth, and countless others. Hearing the songs again is like rediscovering familiar old friends. But even they can’t save the script from feeling hackneyed. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway.com:
The Fantasticks

Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain

Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain
By Mark Dunn
Novato Theater Company runs through June 10, 2018

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Lindsay John, Jayme Catalano, Sandi V. Weldon, Janelle Ponte.  Photo: Fred Deneau

American playwright Mark Dunn’s gentle comedy of five women working together in a bank premiered in 1993, which was a long time ago in terms of the developments in feminism since then. None of the characters even have cell phones, good grief. Still, even in enlightened 2018 it’s hard to find a play on stage anywhere that features a full female cast of five—we haven’t progressed that much, evidently—and hearing five treble voices converse in public for two hours is still a novelty. Novato Theater Company has the good graces to deliver this rarity with an excellent cast, wrapped up in attractive production values, and lets us ponder how far women have or haven’t come in the intervening decades.

 

No need to guess too hard on the premise: five women of varying ages and temperaments all work in the same bank in northern Mississippi—four average bank tellers (back when tellers were required and plentiful) and one head teller. We see them only in the mornings before the bank opens, in the office break room. None of the male bosses would be caught dead entering this woman’s domain, so the women have it all to themselves, where they can kvetch, joke, laugh, and bond over bad coffee and stale Moon Pies. …

To continue reading about this production, see the full review at Talkin’Broadway:
Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain