Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Baseball fans flock to GAME ON at the San Jose Rep.

Dan Hoyle and Tony Taccone star in GAME ON

Let’s do full disclosure first, shall we?

1)      My interest in baseball on a scale of 1-10 is 0.

2)      My knowledge of baseball is maybe a 6.

3)      My interest and knowledge in fantasy leagues is 0.

Please don’t run me out of town or take away my citizenship.  I’ll happily cook up party food for every night of the World Series if you like, just please let me read a book during the game.

And I promise not to serve you bugs.  Or DO I????

That said, baseball fans think Game On is a home run.  Set in an upper class home in Los Altos (is there any other kind?) the story is framed by a televised game between the San Francisco Giants and the LA Dodgers.  Local fans are so serious about baseball that I heard several in the audience exclaim they were having panic attacks during the play by play for the game.  But the main storyline is about two men who desperately need financing for their new venture, the use of insects as a protein. This is a real thing, and I actually know more about the trend towards eating insects than I do about baseball.  But in real life as in the show, the hard part is convincing the American public that insects are good for you and tasty too.

They actually had samples of (deep fried?) insects in the lobby before the show started.  I did not try them.  I said I had knowledge of the idea, not that I had ingested any bugs.  However, my guest did try one of each of the four samples, and she said one of them definitely tasted “just like corn nuts.”  So there ya go.

Back to the show.

At just 90 minutes with no intermission, it is a fast paced show with only a few characters but non-stop conversation.  It starts out with tons of laughs about the game, the players, and their fantasy league, but due to my lack of knowledge I had a difficult time following much of it.  Eventually we hear about the company the two main characters are trying to get funded.  And finally we realize that while the buddies really believe in their cause, they also desperately need the financing for their own personal reasons, and the show’s tone gets a little darker.

There are a lot of laughs about the bugs, and there is a fantastic food fight later in the show that released a lot of the building tension and got the comedy back on track.  There are many references to local areas, but using “South Bay”, “Menlo Park” and “Redwood City” as punch-lines will not likely work outside of Silicon Valley.  This local audience was privy to the inside jokes however, and appreciated all the humor.

It felt a little to me like the playwright had a few too many ideas he was trying to cram all into one show, and the dependence on a local audience will prevent the show from being a national hit. But this local audience certainly appreciated and related to all the ideas and situations presented and everyone appeared to be having a fantastic time.  I definitely recommend the show if you are a baseball fan, and if they are still serving insects at the Rep, I heard the toffee mealworms over ice cream are delicious.  YOU should totally try them.

GAME ON
San Jose Repertory Theatre
Through April 19

Don Bugito’s edible insects

“Once On This Island” feeds the soul at TheatreWorks

The cast of TheatreWorks' musical ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. Photo credit: Tracy Martin

The first thing you’ll notice upon entering the Lucie Stern Theater is the beautiful stage decoration.  Even the wall lights have been turned into overflowing fern pots.  You are immediately immersed in a rainbow of rich island colors and no detail is left out.  Sit down and get ready for a joyous 95 minute trip to the Caribbean.

Clockwise, from bottom right: Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas), Agwe, God of Water (Omari Tau), Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Max Kumangai), Asaka, Mother of the Earth (Safiya Fredericks), and Erzulie, Goddess of Love (Adrienne Muller). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

Once On This Island tells a story of the people of Haiti, the “jewel of the Antilles.”   After a terrible storm, a little girl is very afraid and the island people tell her a story to cheer her up.  What follows is a magical, mythical fairytale set to bouncing happy music and tremendously invigorating dancing.  It is the story of little orphaned Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas), blessed and cursed by the gods, who struggles to discover her place in the world and the meaning of her life.  We are taken for the ride with her, meeting island gods, learning some of the French history of Haiti, and discovering the magic of music and dance.  It’s a story of racism, classism and humanism.  The cast is made up of beautiful, talented actors whose skin tones range from the darkest chocolate to the brightest cream, and that is integral to the story.  It is a true ensemble cast, with no player more or less important the another, and they each bring something so special, individual and important to the story.

The stage is amazing, and the props, costumes and hair are equally fantastic.  The flood is an aquatic beauty, the rain dance is a visual masterpiece, the set lighting is deep and saturated, and the costumes… well, I need one of those frog hats.  Hair ranges from natural beauty to the most handsome braids, and it’s all very impressive.

Papa Ge, Demon of Death (Max Kumangai) visits Ti Moune (Salisha Thomas). Photo credit: Tracy Martin

But the magic is in the music, singing and dancing.  We are treated to soaring ballads of love and loss, and joyous songs that make you want to jump out of your seat and move. At one point there is a graceful ballet, and then it is replaced by a soulful island dance of life and spirit, and you suddenly realize the island dance is the one you want to perform, every day and every night, for the rest of your life.

It’s a visual treat, it’s medicine for the soul, it makes you happy to be alive.  And it will make you want to go home and dance, and dance, and dance.

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ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
Through March 30
TheareWorks
Lucie Stern Theatre
Palo Alto

Madama Butterfly brings magic and tears to Opera SJ

Cast 1: Soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Cio-Cio-san (Madame Butterfly). Photo by Pat Kirk.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to see Opera San Jose’s tremendously entertaining production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, starring one of opera’s most dastardly villains: Lt. BF Pinkerton.

When you have two strong, educated, feminist women in the audience of Madama Butterfly for the first time, you can expect a lot of crossed arms, raised eyebrows, and smirks.  But though the story of an American lieutenant – who believes wives can be as changeable and temporary as the screens in his Japanese home – is barely tolerable, the opera as a whole is gorgeous, tragic, emotional and an auditory blessing.

The story:  Lieutenant BF Pinkerton signs a 999 year lease on a house in Japan that (Bonus!) comes with a free geisha wife!  Even better, the lease is also sort of month to month, and Japanese divorce laws are subject to the whim of a husband, so it’s a win-win deal for Pinkerton.

Not so lucky is sweet young Madama Butterfly, who has fallen in love with her husband and believes this is a till death do them part situation. Unfortunately, Pinkerton has other ideas, and already plans to get a “real” wife when he ships back to America.  Sweet 15 year old Butterfly, to Pinkerton, is merely a “toy” for sex while he’s in Japan, and there is a lot of talk of “breaking her wings” and pinning her for display purposes.  Nice.

Cast 1: Tenor James Callon as BF Pinkerton and soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Cio-Cio-san. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Even better, Butterfly gives birth to Pinkerton’s son after he leaves for America, and during the entire three years he is gone she believes he will return to meet his son and they will be a permanent family.  On the contrary, Pinkerton plans to return to Japan with his new American wife, and take the child from Butterfly to raise as their own.

Without giving away the ending, you can assume it follows the typical line of opera tragedies.  However, I have learned that the last few seconds of Opera SJ’s show, which brings a swift karma payment to Pinkerton, was added for this production.  I don’t know how opera purists feel about this change, but for me it made the whole story much more palatable.

I have always known I am very lucky to be able to see all these opera productions for the last several years.  This show, however, I felt truly privileged.   The music and singing is beautiful perfection as always, but in Act II Madame Butterfly sings “Un Bel Di” (One Beautiful Day), and it was a magical experience.  I have never felt that before at the opera, but Cecilia Violetta López made me feel I was present for something important.  By the end of Act III López is singing with tears in her eyes, and they were still present during the standing ovation at the end.  Cecilia Violetta López, having previously charmed me as Leila in The Pearl Fishers, has earned her place in this company, and should be considered a huge benefit to Opera SJ.

Cast 1: Soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Cio-Cio-san (Madame Butterfly). Photo by Pat Kirk.

Resident tenor James Callon is a perfectly awful BF Pinkerton (in the best way possible) with an amazing voice as usual. Lisa Chavez and Zachary Altman (Suzuki and Sharpless) are spectacular as the only two characters who speak any sense.  And special mention goes to an actor who really deserves mention: Sammy Tittle as Butterfly’s son.  Sammy is quite young and the part requires him to be on stage for much of the show.  He was a quiet scene stealer because he was so absolutely perfect.

There are many visual treats in this production.  The main feature of the set is a changeable lighted screen at the back of the stage.  This provided an impressive opening when the curtain went up.  The screen was lit with giant red and white stripes, and the figures of Lt. Pinkerton and friends standing at attention in uniform set the scene and mood immediately.  Later in Act I Madame Butterfly and her friends and sisters appear in their full geisha costumes and make-up, and gorgeous multicolored parasols.  But while there were some individual scenes that stood out, I was underwhelmed by the stage setting as a whole.  I have seen some drop-dead stage designs at Opera SJ before, and I was really looking forward to being immersed in a gorgeous Japanese setting.  On the contrary, I was not.  However, this is a minor disappointment in what quickly became one of my best experiences at the opera.

I am open about not knowing anything technical about opera, but I know entertainment and a great show when I see one.  Not only is this show now one of my favorite operas I’ve seen so far (and by now I’ve seen quite a few), but some scenes moved me in ways I’ve never felt before.  It’s a show that is suitable for both opera experts and opera newbies.  It’s a show you should not miss.

Madama Butterfly
Opera San Jose
Through March 2nd
California Theatre

 

There is a Smell of Delight at City Lights Theater Company

 

 

Diahanna Davidson, Mandy Armes and Morgan Voellger. Photo by Mike Ko of SiliconValley Designs

City Lights Theater Company was kind enough to let us review their newest show, The Smell of the Kill, and hopefully we will be doing this on a regular basis because WHAT a great theater!

The Smell of the Kill is a dark comedy about three Chicagoan couples who take turns meeting for dinner.  This night it is Nicky’s turn to host.  Friends Debra and Molly join her in the kitchen to clean up after dinner while the three husbands are “playing golf” in the dining room.  We never actually see the husbands, but they are heard loud and clear throughout the show as they drunkenly yell at and complain to their wives, and generally behave like neanderthals off stage.

As the evening goes on it is revealed that the three women don’t actually like each other all that much, but they do have one thing in common: a hatred for their husbands.   Soon enough, an incredibly convenient way to murder all three of them arises, and the three women must decide whether they should let the men die or go save them.

Mandy Armes and Morgan Voellger discuss matters. Photo by Mike Ko of SiliconValley Designs

Mandy Armes is great as the brash wife who takes no guff from her husband with a criminal secret.  Diahanna Davidson channels Joan Cusack perfectly as Debra, wife of the cheating Marty.  And Morgan Voellger has perfect comic timing as the ditzy and beautiful Molly, whose husband is way too possessive.  I was disappointed that I would not actually see Max Tachis (Jay) as he was absolutely brilliant in Renegade Theatre‘s 9 Circles. But he, Jimmy Allan (Danny) and Frank Swaringen (Marty) fill their roles as the loud mouthed doomed husbands with exuberance.

The City Lights theater is on the small side, seating 100 people, but the stage is large and the setting for this play spared no expense.  The seating is first come first serve, but the chairs themselves are super comfortable and all have a great view of the stage.  There are also cash-only refreshments available, including wine.

The Opening Night after party was hosted extravagantly by Cafe Stritch, and the smells were incredible. Having sadly just started a diet, I crept out of the theater quickly when the show was over and tried not to look hungrily at the amazing spread of food available for the entire audience to enjoy.  Opening Night is always the best night of theater!

The Smell of the Kill 
City Lights Theater Company
Through February 23
529 South Second Street
San Jose, CA 95112

Coming up at City Lights:

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, March 20 – April 20

The Language Archive by Julia Cho, May 29 – June 29

Monty Python’s Spamalot!, July 24 – August 31

 

Little Women brings Big Surprises and Holiday Joy

(l-r) Arielle Fishman, Emily Koch, Sharon Rietkerk, and Julia Belanoff star as the March sisters - Amy, Jo, Meg, and Beth. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

Little Women the musical, produced by TheatreWorks, is quite simply one of the best shows I’ve seen this year (and this year has been full of some fantastic shows).  One of the best (and rare) parts of reviewing theater is coming across an unexpected gem, and Saturday evening’s Opening Night was the Hope Diamond.

“Little Women”, by Louisa May Alcott, is the story of four sisters who vow to stick together forever when they are young in the 1860s.  Father is off in the war, and while the family is short on money, they have an abundance of love.  Jo March, the second sister, narrates the story and has ambitions of being a writer.  For many young girls who read the book, Jo is the favorite as she insists on living life according to her own terms and not 19th century society’s.

(l-r) Jo (Emily Koch) and Professor Bhaer (Christopher Vettel) imagine a scene from Jo's novel, portrayed by Justin Buchs, Sharon Rietkerk, and Elizabeth Palmer. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

I loved the book when I was young, but even so I never imagined a Jo as charismatic and exuberant as the one Emily Koch brings to the stage.  Her joy in narrating her stories to the audience is palpable, and her physical acting makes it clear this character is made for pants, not long and stuffy skirts.  I cannot state enough how much every single actor in this show is perfection, and yet Ms. Koch raises it to a level even beyond that.  Jo is the girl we want to be, and later the woman we look up to as a role model.

I was not so sure how well it would work turning Little Women into a musical, but this show is so perfect, and the actors are such incredible singers, that it becomes one of those shows you don’t even realize is a musical.  The songs fit so well they are just part of the story and the experience.

And what a story for the young women of today, or any day.  This is not merely a story of a girl who refused to put aside her wants and needs in life so she could be someone’s wife, but neither is it a story against marriage.  It is a story of deciding what you want from life and accepting nothing else – and sometimes that means changing your mind.  Sometimes it means getting married.  The right choice is the choice that a woman makes for her own self.  And every character in this story does just that.

It’s a joyful story and a heartwarming one, but of course it also has a couple incredibly sad scenes that left everyone in my row wiping their eyes, and the theater was full of sniffling and shaking shoulders when Marmee sings “Days of Plenty”.

Laurie (Matt Dengler) kisses Jo (Emily Koch). Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

I had had a very long day holiday decorating with my family, and neither my daughter nor myself were keen on driving to Palo Alto to see a show, but never have we felt more grateful that we had done so.  We were enthralled from the first moment, mesmerized by the balletic beauty of Meg (Sharon Reitkerk), the sweetness of Beth (Julia Belanoff), the spoiled petulance of Amy (Arielle Fishman), and the utter joyfulness of Jo.  We never for a moment wanted to close our eyes or miss one moment.  This show is for everyone, including kids perhaps as young as ten (they should be old enough to deal with a very sad death), and it is a perfect show for the holidays and a cold winter night.  My highest praise, from one who sees a lot of shows:  I would see this show again. And again and again.

Little Women the Musical
TheatreWorks
Extended through January 4
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Holiday Tea Luncheon at the Garden Court Hotel
with matinee this Saturday, December 14

 

This year give the Gift of Theatre

I hope you all aren’t really braving the crowds on this Black Friday, but if so I also hope you’re enjoying the holiday hustle and bustle and excitement.  I’m an internet shopper myself, and won’t visit the mall at any time of year unless forced.  But whether you shop with the masses or shop from your couch, sometimes figuring out WHAT you’re going to buy is the hardest part. Especially when it comes to that someone who has everything.

So why not give the gift of Theatre this year?  Most theaters have tickets on sale now not just for their holiday shows but for the next show in line as well.  Hillbarn Theatre is showing Mame in December, and Grapes of Wrath in January. The Palo Alto Players are selling tickets for all their upcoming shows: The Heiress, Young Frankenstein and The Farnsworth InventionTheatreWorks opens Little Women the Musical in next week. Opera San Jose is gearing up for Madame Butterfly in February and EVERY opera buff will want to attend that show. And of course Ballet San Jose has The Nutcracker.  Tickets to any of these shows would make an amazing and original gift, or you can just plan to take the family as part of the holiday season enjoyment.

At the moment though, there is one show that I am looking forward to the most, and that is The Snow Queen at the San Jose Repertory Theatre.  Here is why:  We have only seen two shows of the 2013-2014 SJ Rep season and I am already blown away.  One Night with Janis was an amazing look at the queen herself and all her inspirations, and the show moved on to Broadway after leaving its extended run in San Jose.  Then they showed Next Fall which was just about the best show I have seen in the Bay Area in the last five years.  It combined issues of religion, age difference in relationships, dealing with death and impending death, and also several issues of gay relationships, and it did all this without preaching that any side is right or wrong – but overall it was a story about any relationship and every relationship.  And it was played by a group of some of the best actors we have available in the Bay Area.  This was two in a row of not just good theatre, but GREAT theatre.  And now we have The Snow Queen.

“With steam punk flair, an alternative rock score and girl heroine, this is not going to be your average Holiday Musical,” states the SJ Rep, and the early audience reviews of the previews are gushing:   “Fantastic.. One of the BEST plays ever.. LOVED every minute” says Joani Krieger Mitchell.  “Absolutely FANTASTIC! Not to be missed. All you fans of English pantomime will rejoice,” from Sally Bookman.  Click here to see a preview of The Snow Queen.

And if you buy your ticket today (Black Friday) you can get 42% savings off regular ticket with promo code “FRIDAY2013″.

I am looking forward to writing a review for the show next week, and I hope you all will join me there.  Something amazing is happening at the SJ Rep this year, and I cannot wait to see what the season brings us.  Happy Holidays!

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.

 

Excitement growing for the 2013/2014 Theatre Season!!

It’s been awfully quiet around here over the summer, but let’s get real, even writers need vacations.  Hopefully we still have some Bay Area readers patiently waiting for us because we are BACK and ready to get back in the saddle!  Theatre opening nights for the 2013/2014 season are starting soon and the schedule is exciting!

Here are some of the shows we hope to review in the next months. Take a good look, mark your own calendars, and start calling for tickets because this season is going to be packed!

 

Other Desert Cities

Other Desert Cities
August 21 – September 15
TheatreWorks
Mt. View Center for the Performing Arts

A Hollywood star’s desert estate glows with Christmas cheer. But home for the holidays is daughter Brooke, a novelist whose tell-all memoir is sure to rip the politically-divided clan apart. Are we having fun yet? With dazzling wit and razor-sharp insight, this Pulitzer finalist balances fierce comedy and riveting family drama in the blockbuster hit of last year’s Broadway season. Contains adult language. 

I don’t think we’re going to make this show, but TheatreWorks is one of the best companies in the Bay Area. If you can get to this show, we recommend that you do so.

 

And Miss Reardon...

And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little
August 29 – September 22
Dragon Productions Theatre Company
2120 Broadway, Redwood City

The inaugural production of Chicago’s legendary Steppenwolf Theatre, this dark comedy explores the lives of the three Reardon sisters, who have recently lost their mother. During an uncomfortable dinner reunion, a well-meaning but obnoxious set of neighbors crash the party and set an already incendiary situation ablaze.

Dragon Productions has moved to a new theatre they are doing some great things.  I am really looking forward to this show.

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Monty Python's Spamalot

Monty Python’s Spamalot
August 30 – September 22
Hillbarn Theatre
1285 East Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City

Lovingly ripped off from the classic film comedy MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, SPAMALOT retells the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and features a bevy of beautiful show girls, not to mention cows, killer rabbits, and French people. Did we mention the bevy of beautiful show girls?

We are likely going to miss this show, unfortunately, however it’s not often this show comes further south than San Francisco, and Hillbarn Theatre always has AMAZING season openers. If you haven’t yet seen Spamalot, or even if you have, try to get to Foster City for this one.

 

 

The Fantasticks

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The Fantasticks
September 5 – September 29
Los Altos Stage Company
97 Hillview Avenue, Los Altos

The Fantasticks, the world’s longest running musical, is a funny and romantic fable about a boy, a girl, his father, her mother, and a wall. The narrator, El Gallo, bids the audience to draw on their imagination and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The boy and the girl fall in love, grow apart, and find their way back to each other after realizing the truth in El Gallo’s words that “without a hurt, the heart is hollow”.

I have never seen The Fantasticks, and, full disclosure, I know someone in this cast and cannot wait to see it.  But you should see it too, because how often do you see The Fantasticks in theatres around here?

 

One Night with Janis Joplin

One Night With Janis Joplin
September 5 – September 29
San Jose Repertory Theatre

This full-on concert experience is a musical journey into the life and inspirations of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest legends. With a voice like whiskey and a laugh like pure joy, Janis Joplin took the music scene by storm. Simultaneously rough and vulnerable, Joplin was dubbed the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” proving music wasn’t just a man’s world anymore.

ONE NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN also shines a spotlight on the great African-American blues artists who influenced Janis’ musical style and career, including Bessie Smith, Etta James and Aretha Franklin. This new musical event includes a live onstage band and features Joplin hits and classic songs such as “Piece of My Heart,” “Mercedes Benz,” “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Ball and Chain” and “Summertime” – creating a compelling portrait of an artist through the words and music of one of America’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll icons.

There’s not a chance in the world that I’ll be missing this show, and I’ll be taking my daughter with me because I gave her good taste in music.  It’s another musical season opener at the Rep, and no expense is ever spared to put on the best shows ever for their openers.

 

Falstaff

Falstaff
September 7 – September 22
Opera San Jose
California Theatre, San Jose

A tale of greed. A travesty of stymied desires. An old knight’s ridiculous hunger to recapture his youth and gain riches through sexual liaisons is challenged when he meets his match in the form of two wily married women. This is the setting for Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic commedia lirica, Falstaff. Based on Shakespeare’s comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor, this insightful opera is a humorous celebration of love and life that can be enjoyed by all. Sung in Italian with English supertitles.

This is one of those “can’t miss” operas that will be great for anyone new to the opera.  We wouldn’t miss it, and you should not either.

 

Priscilla Queen of the Desert
October 29 – November 3
Broadway San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

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.” 

A friend notified me in June that this was coming up, and I have had this on my calendar ever since. I cannot wait for this show and I already know it will be amAAAAAAZZZZingggg!!!!

Doctor Faustus frightens and terrifies, Mephistopheles makes uswant more!!

Doctor Faustus (Mark Anderson Phillips) attempts to conjure the devil with incantations. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The San Jose Rep is currently staging a strange but beautiful, disturbing yet fascinating, dark and mysterious production.   Christopher Marlowe’s “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” is different, uncomfortable and thought provoking.  As far as I’m concerned, it is everything that theatre should be.

Most people are at least marginally familiar with the controversial story of Doctor Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power, then realizes repenting at the end of his life may not be enough to save him from eternal damnation.  There are slightly different versions to the written play and there are often changes to Marlowe’s story in productions.  Opera San Jose’s “Faust” last year ended with the doctor repenting and headed for Heaven.  The San Jose Rep’s version has the doctor paying dearly for his sins.  It is a gloomy, scary, horrifying show. It is not for kids or the faint of heart or anyone who thinks actual demons may get called onto stage, as the Puritan William Prynne stated happened in 1632.

Doctor Faustus (Mark Anderson Phillips) is spurred forward in his quest for power and dark magic by his Evil Angel (Halsey Varady). Photo by Kevin Berne.

I say all this because a quite different production had been scheduled for this slot (Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall”) and although the Rep did their best to notify ticket holders of the change, some people did not get the memo and have been a bit upset to see this macabre replacement.  And the show is disturbing.  You need to be ready for it.  So, you think you’re up for it?  Let’s get to the review:

I loved it.  I loved it so much.  And yet… I was unhappy through most of the show.  I was disturbed and upset and usually thrown by the humorous scenes sprinkled throughout.  I kept thinking… “I don’t like this.  I really don’t like this.  But do I want to leave?  NO.  Actually, though I’m extremely uncomfortable right now, this is possibly the best show I’ve seen at the Rep this year!”  This strange grouping of thoughts replayed themselves over and over through the whole show.

There are only four actors playing over 20 different parts, and the cast is highly skilled and up for the job.  Doctor Faustus is played by the only male, the familiar and loved Mark Anderson Phillips (“Double Indemnity”, “The Weir”, “Dr. Jeckyll” and more).  Three women then play all the rest of the roles, many of them male characters.  All three women first appear wearing prominent and sparkly codpieces, and the androgyny forced on many of their characters adds a great sexual dimension throughout the play.   Rachel Harker and Halsey Varady are both amazing playing wildly different and varied parts.  Varady switches seamlessly and believably (and thus horrifyingly) between a good and bad angel, and many other vastly different characters as well.  Harker’s best part is fascinating and very terrifying as an extremely sexy Lucifer for whom you could see men selling their souls (and then regretting dearly later).

Devilish Mephistopheles (Lyndsy Kail) answers Faustus' call and lays claim to his soul. Photo by Kevin Berne.

But I have to state that the star for me was Lyndsy Kail as Mephistopheles.  This woman is a FIND and artistic director Rick Lombardo needs to get this actress here more often.  She brings such physicality to the role I could never take my eyes off her when she was on stage.  Her toes were always pointed, her legs and ankles tensed at weird angles, her entire body down to her pinkies were part of her character at every moment on stage.  When she first appears on stage she is dressed as a human but her body language just screamed “serpent”.  Every pose she struck was tensed and fighting gravity. There was never any doubt that this scraggly but gorgeous, androgynous yet hypersexual being on stage was the great Mephistopheles.

The set is large but minimal and very technical, and uses a lot of animated and filmed visuals for backgrounds.  The weird juxtaposition of the Elizabethan storyline and the ultra modern, high tech background not only serves to throw the audience slightly more off balance, but also gives a strange authenticity and realism to the Doctor’s thirst for knowledge.

There were some things, mostly the purposely humorous bits, that bothered me and sometimes brought me out of the story.  There were two dress forms that stood in for some background characters and didn’t work for me.  The dragon bicycle was just too, too silly for me when it appeared.  And at first the shadow puppets (yes, there are shadow puppets!)  bothered me as well and seemed out of place.  But by the second act I had grown to love and appreciate them, both as part of the story and also as a nod to the past.  What other story but Doctor Faustus can have shadow puppets AND such a highly technical set, and make it work?

When the show was over, I was glad.  It is a lot to sit through.  But it was also a lot to think about, a lot to appreciate, a lot to marvel over.  Instead of going home and straight to bed, I stayed and talked to a friend for a great while about the show (perhaps the better to stave off nightmares!). And this is EXACTLY what should happen when you go to the theatre. This year has been a very interesting one for the SJ Rep, and I think it’s been a great improvement and breath of fresh air over last season.  So if you can stand to watch a pope wearing sparkly pink pumps on stage, get to the Rep and watch Doctor Faustus before it ends its run.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
Through June 2
San Jose Repertory Theatre

But wait, there’s more to the season!

As a surprise to me anyway, there is one more show this season:  A Minister’s Wife, a “new musical re-telling of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida” starts on June 20!  So if you don’t think you have the heart or stomach for Doctor Faustus, “A Minister’s Wife” is probably the show for you.  I will see you there!

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