Archive for September, 2013

October Theatre Round-up! Start marking your calendars now!

The opening shows for the 2013-2014 theatre season were absolutely amazing and full of SUPER FUN entertainment. I wish I could have seen ALL the shows! I did not make it to Dragon Theater after all, but I did get to Palo Alto Players for an impressive show, and The Fantasticks was canceled the night I went due to an ill leading lady (get well soon, Casey Ellis!).  Two of the shows (One Night with Janis Joplin and Spamalot) had extended runs!  I have high hopes for what the theatres have in store for us next!   How many will I get to this time around?  How many will YOU get to?

 

Warrior Class
TheatreWorks
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
October 9 – November 3

Son of Chinese immigrants, decorated vet, and a charismatic speaker, congressional candidate Julius Lee is dubbed “The Republican Obama.” But when word of a youthful indiscretion threatens scandal, he discovers the dangerous intersection of politics and idealism. In this taut, topical saga of backroom electioneering, the campaign lies ahead, the warriors are at hand, and our future’s at stake. Contains adult language.  From HOUSE OF CARDS writer Kenneth Lin.

Metblogs will not be attending this show but it’s bound to be a sell-out so get your tickets now!

 

Rich and Famous
Dragon Productions
October 11 – November 3

One of “the world’s oldest living promising young playwrights,” Bing Ringling’s 844th script is finally about to be produced, bringing Bing dreams of being, well, rich and famous. A surreal comedy with music, Rich and Famous is part vaudeville, part absurd, and an entirely funny romp through the perils of being a successful artist, by playwright John Guare, the genius who also wrote The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation.

Sounds very different, and different is usually interesting!  Hopefully I will get to this one for a review!

 

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Next Fall
San Jose Repertory
October 17 – November 10
Out ‘n’ About” night: October 26

Every relationship requires a leap of faith. This is the case for Adam and Luke, who’ve navigated a committed relationship for five years, even though Adam is a responsible but neurotic atheist, while Luke is an impulsive, underemployed actor and a devout Christian. When tragedy strikes, family and friends’ deeply held beliefs collide. Through pain, intolerance, honesty and laughter, they attempt to discover “how we live our lives” at the intersection of faith and love.

I better bring a box of tissue, I am certain I’ll be crying through most of this.

 

Lettice and Lovage
Hillbarn Theatre
October 18 – November 3

From the author that brought us Equus and Amadeus, comes the delightful comedy, LETTICE AND LOVAGE.   Lettice Douffet, an enthusiast of history and the theatre, is a tour guide at one of the most mundane of London’s stately homes.  She livens up her tours by fabricating wildly theatrical stories, which comes to the attention of her conventional employer, Lotte Schoen. Schoen is not at all amused by Lettice’s uninhibited history lessons. The meeting of these spinsters – the free spirited Lettice, and the straight-laced Lotte, leads to an unlikely, yet riotous friendship.

I always look forward to Hillbarn’s shows, and can’t wait to see what happens in this one!

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Priscilla: Queen of the Dessert
Broadway San Jose
October 29 – November 3

This OUTRAGEOUSLY fun show tells the uplifting story of a trio of friends, on a road trip of a lifetime, who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the middle of the Australian outback and end up finding more than they could ever have dreamed. 
An international hit with over 500 dazzling, 2011 Tony® Award-winning costumes, Priscilla Queen of the Desert features a hit parade of dance-floor favorites including “It’s Raining Men,” “Finally” and “I Will Survive.” 

I’m looking forward to this one the most but I haven’t managed to wrangle tickets yet.  I recommend you get yours ASAP. There is no way this show is not going to be spectacular (and sold out)!

 

God of Carnage
Palo Alto Players
November 2 – November 17

While gathered around a coffee table sporting imported tulips and liberally covered with art books, two very civilized married couples meet to amicably resolve a playground altercation between their 11-year-old sons.  One boy admits to whacking the other with a stick, breaking two front teeth.  And both sets of parents agree that boys will be boys.  But civility quickly takes a backseat when parental impulses kick in.  In this winner of the 2009 Tony Award and coveted Olivier Award, the full-force of human chaos is unleashed – and the results are ferociously funny!

This doesn’t start until November, but it’s a well known show and a popular one so get your tickets soon! I won’t be reviewing this show, but it’s a good one and you should not miss it!

 

Come spend una noche caliente in Palo Alto: In the Heights

I have never seen a show by the Palo Alto Players before, but if their current production of the Tony winning In the Heights is any indication of the quality expected, I will be making a lot of trips to Palo Alto in the future.

This was my first time seeing a production of In the Heights, and I’m glad I did.  Set in three steaming hot days framing the Fourth of July in Washington Heights, it’s the musical story of a neighborhood of people who work, play and love together, as well as just trying to get through life.  Finally a stroke of good luck hits one of the neighbors and it may change the lives of several people.  But then a tragedy also strikes, one much more far reaching.  What do all these changes mean?  We find out who will stay, who will leave, who will love together and who will wait things out.  It’s quite an emotional, uplifting, and thoughtful show about diversity and how it can be used in both positive and negative ways.

Directed by Alex Perez, the show is populated by a cast of young but very experienced and talented actors.  I don’t know why I was so blown away every time a new character started singing, but every voice was truly spectacular and more than worthy of a big production. These young “kids” are professionals in every sense of the word.

It is so difficult to single anyone out in this show (and yet I cannot name you all, please forgive me!).  Rudy Fuentes (Usnavi) brings the most charisma as the affable bodega owner who is in love with Vanessa.  Jia Taylor (Vanessa) has legs a mile long and brings a sweet humanity to a character who could come off as a brat.  Alexa Ortega (Nina) had the clearest and most powerful voice bundled in quite a tiny little package.  Even one of the smallest parts, “Piragua Guy”, will bring you to tears when Mark Alabanza starts singing.  And of course, this show would not be the same without the amazing Linda Piccone as Abuela.  Special notice: Sean Gilvary plays a smaller part of “Graffiti Pete” but he often steals the scene. I have seen this actor in several shows now and am starting to become very impressed with his work.  Keep your eyes on this one.

The set design was just as impressive, one of the largest I’ve seen on a stage this size.  There are several levels and dimensions to the realistic Washington Heights neighborhood and the lighting helps bring these steaming hot three days and nights to life.  The ONLY flaw in this show is the very large blind spot if sitting on the right side of the theatre (facing the stage).  The beauty shop is completely invisible although you can still hear the conversations inside.  I do not recommend getting a seat in this area unless there is a discounted price, but I will clarify that the rest of the show is still visible and you will still enjoy yourself.  Otherwise, every seat in this theatre is a good one, and everything was crystal clear even from the back of the theatre.

Go see this amazingly fun musical, fit for the entire family, and I will look forward to doing more reviews for the Palo Alto Players in the future.

In the Heights
Through September 29
Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto

Amazing cast of In the Heights

Many more nights with Janis Joplin to come, at The Rep

Kacee Clanton as Janis Joplin. Photo by Kirk Tuck.

It’s not often a show at the San Jose Repertory Theatre is extended before the curtain at Opening Night even goes up.  But that is what happened with the extremely popular production of One Night With Janis Joplin, now through October 6.

There is magic up on stage.

Much more than a concert, One Night with Janis Joplin explores the history of the Queen of Rock, brings to life her blues influences such as Etta James and Aretha Franklin, and brings an enormous amount of fun throughout the night.

Kacee Clanton has been immersed in playing Janis Joplin on a variety of stages, including touring as the lead vocalist for Big Brother and the Holding Company (a band I was not aware was still around).  Clanton is an amazing presence on stage, with vocals strikingly similar to Joplin’s, and though she’s not a ringer for her physically, there is enough of a resemblance to sometimes bring chills when she reappears on stage with certain familiar Joplin looks.  The vocals however are what wins this night. There are times when it seems certain that Clanton is channeling Joplin’s soul straight from heaven, and speaking of chills, listening to her belt out Ball and Chain is almost a religious experience.  I will never forget being in the audience for this song, the closest I will ever be to actually hearing Joplin sing live.

Kacee Clanton as Janis Joplin. Photo by Kirk Tuck.

Clanton, as Joplin, speaks to the audience throughout the show, giving us her personal history growing up in Texas and then moving to San Francisco to be an unwitting major player in the history of rock & roll.  She talks about all her blues influences, and there are breaks between Joplin’s songs to listen to songs by Bessie Smith, Etta James, Nina Simone and the great Aretha Franklin, brought to life by Tiffany Mann, Tricky Jones and Shinnerrie Jackson. All accompanied by an amazing live band.

There is clapping, there is dancing, there are tears.  There is an audience dressed in tie-dye and gorgeous vintage 60s dresses.  There is a free photo booth with feather boas and a bottle of Southern Comfort as props, and if you’re thirsty there is a special Southern Comfort drink available at concessions.   There is magic on stage, and I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that the soul of Janis Joplin herself is there as well.

This is a show not to be missed, but it is selling out quickly, so get your tickets while you can.

One Night with Janis Joplin
Through October 6
San Jose Repertory Theatre

Note: The part of Janis Joplin is played by Cari Hutson on all Tuesday evenings, Saturday matinees, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday, September 18 at 11am.

 

Opera SJ’s Falstaff brings laughs from the belly of a wine barrel

Cast 1: Baritone Steven Condy as Falstaff. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Opera season has begun, and Opera San Jose was kind enough to invite the Opera Novice to opening night of  Verdi’s Falstaff, an uproarious comedy that is fun for all ages.

Let’s start by going over the rules of Opera Novice reviews:

1. The Opera Novice, after years of attending opera, still has no technical knowledge of opera and therefore has no real business “reviewing” the opera.

2. Therefore the Opera Novice reviews opera from a layperson’s perspective, i.e. will an opera newbie like this show.  I want to give the average person who has never attended an opera, or who thinks they might like to try one, an idea of whether this would be a good show on which to spend money.

3. I assume that those who love opera and are more knowledgeable than I about it are already attending, and if you are not, DO SO.

OK, let’s get to it.  Right off the bat I’m going to say that Falstaff is an opera that is accessible to the masses, and even fit for the entire family.  Nothing makes me happier than to see kids at the opera who are really enjoying themselves.  At one of the intermissions I heard a father ask a boy of about 8 years if he liked the show. “I LOVE it!!!” he exclaimed, bouncing up and down.  There was a girl of about nine sitting behind me who was just having a ball giggling through the whole show.

Cast A: Soprano Jennifer Forni as Alice Ford and baritone Scott Bearden as Falstaff. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Falstaff (a beloved character from several Shakespeare plays) is a jolly drunken fool who believes his massive belly is the source of everything good in his life.  Yes, he thinks highly of himself.  He hatches a plot to woo two rich married women, thinking he will be able to charm them both out of some money.  Unfortunately, the women meet up and share their identical love letters.  They then hatch their own plot to teach poor Falstaff a lesson.

Falstaff is such an over the top clown that no matter what awful thing happens to him, the audience laughs and laughs and laughs.  Whatever your mood when you enter the beautiful California Theatre, you will be smiling and happy when you leave after this show.

The set design is framed inside of a wine barrel which is simple, gorgeous, and frankly GENIUS.  Hair, make-up and costumes are splendid (especially Falstaff’s fancy outfit he wears for his “date”).  Music and singing are, as always, Perfection.

In short, it is the best kind of opera for someone looking to try their first, and judging from the smiles on everyone’s faces, it is just as perfect for the seasoned opera attendee.

 

Cast 1: Soprano Sarah Duchovnay as Nannetta, Soprano Rebekah Camm as Alice Ford, mezzo-soprano Buffy Baggott as Meg Page and mezzo-soprano Patrice Houston as Dame Quickly.

Falstaff
Through September 22
Opera San Jose
California Theatre

Coming up:

Hansel & Gretel:  November 16 – December 1
Madama Butterfly:  February 15 – March 2
Don Giovanni:  April 19 – May 4

“Bring me a shrubbery!!” watch out for Killer Rabbits, head toFoster City!

Russell Ward as the French Taunter. Mark and Tracy Photography.

Love Monty Python? Want to see Sir Lancelot and King Arthur dancing and singing their way to Camelot?  Well, what happens in Camelot, stays in Camelot, so pack up the family and head over to Foster City for a rollicking time with SPAMALOT, directed by Dan Demers.  Hillbarn Theatre does it again with a blockbuster production and fun for everyone (though some adult themes and gestures included).  I have always wanted to see SPAMALOT but I had my doubts as to how theatre could replicate Monty Python’s Holy Grail, so I didn’t know what to expect.

But SPAMALOT does it, and Hillbarn did a fantastic job (as usual).  If you are a Monty Python fan, you will LOVE this show!  “I’m not dead yet,” one of my favorite scenes of all time, was early in Act I and had the audience in stitches.  I especially did not anticipate they would be able to pull off the Black Knight scene, but pull it off they did, along with managing to chop off all his extremities (“It’s just a flesh wound!!”).  Other favorite scenes included are the Knights that say Ni, “Bring me a shrubbery!!!!” and the killer rabbits.

Russ Bohard as King Arthur. Mark and Tracy Photography.

I started to get excited for the show when I saw their Facebook posts and photos of them building the set and props.  There is a LOT of work put into the production of this complicated show, and multiple technical props. The set design is a giant castle covering the entire stage which lights up at various times. The Trojan Rabbit was huge and awesome, the killer rabbit was hysterical, there is a big cow tossed, and, while not props, let’s not forget the dancing Laker Girls and Sir Robin’s Minstrels.

Casting was perfect.  Tracy Chiappone as Lady of the Lake was tremendous, Russel Ward was an hilarious Sir Lancelot, and I really loved Paul Araquistain as Patsy, and Ray Mendonca as Sir Robin.  Oh, let us not forget Steven Ennis, who was born for the role of Prince Herbert.

Sir Robin played by Ray Mendonca* (center) and his Minstrels, Jacob Marker (center right), Evelyn Chan (right), Steven Ennis ( left), and Jason Hobart (center left). Mark and Tracy Photography.

The choreography wasn’t as tight as it usually is and there were some technical glitches, HOWEVER, this is a huge production and I have no doubt the show will get better and better after each performance.   I can see there was an enormous amount of work put into the show, and overall it exceeded my expectations. Everyone left the theatre singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

I had so much fun.  Opening Night was a sold out show and the audience was ready for some play time in the air conditioned theatre.  Lee Foster, Hillbarn’s Executive Production Director, noted before the start of the show that the people of Foster City should remember that Hillbarn is a great theatre right in their backyard.  I can’t argue with that, I drive 35 miles each way to see their shows and I have never been disappointed.  So head over to Foster City and see a show that is rarely produced nearer to the South Bay than San Francisco!

 

The Cast of Hillbarn Theatre’s Production of Monty Python’s Spamalot!. Mark and Tracy Photography.

SPAMALOT
Through September 22 [extended to September 29!!]
Hillbarn Theatre
1285 East Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City

 

I really look forward to the rest of their season.
Make your plans now!:

Lettuce and Lovage:  October 18 – November 2013
Mame:  December 6 – December 22
The Grapes of Wrath: January 24 – February 9
Lend Me a Tenor: March 14 – March 30
The Color Purple:  May 9 – June 1

 

 

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