Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Radio Girls, by UCSC alumna Sarah-Jane Stratford

Coming June 14

Coming June 14

Summer is almost upon us, and we should all be starting our beach reading lists.  There is a book called Radio Girls that PopSugar recommends for Best 2016 Summer reading, and you should have it on your own list too. The book was written by UC Santa Cruz alumna Sarah-Jane Stratford, and it is one fantastic read.

Radio Girls is the best kind of historical fiction in that it tells a real story with real people, but from a fictional character’s point of view. I am not sure what I initially expected of this book, but it is definitely much more than I had imagined!

It covers part of the story of the beginning years of the BBC. As I read, I started googling the guest speakers they mentioned and found these very real people to be fascinating, but then I googled Hilda Matheson, a prominent character who works at the BBC in the book, and discovered she was a real person too. After discovering that most of the characters were real-life people, I realized this was actually a fairly true story told from a (fictional) assistant’s point of view. This upped my fascination level even higher than it was when I began the book.

I had never read a book that revolved around radio’s beginnings, and it really brought to light not only how much the world changed with that one invention, but how similar the change was then to these new internet days now. There was so much talk of the world becoming a smaller place, and how everyone with access to a radio could now get so much knowledge they had no access to before, and how it would help people who felt alone in the world. These are all things they say about the internet now. As far as we’ve come in the last 100 years, the radio also gave us a huge jump in technology and knowledge and connection with the world.

Sarah-Jane Stratford

Sarah-Jane Stratford

With this knowledge however comes the question of who will control the dissemination of that knowledge. BBC’s beginnings came at the same time as Women’s Suffrage in the UK, and those grumbling times are remarkably similar to today’s political atmosphere. Women’s Rights also meant loss of the men’s complete control of the world, and they certainly were not happy about it. World War I had just ended, governments were reorganizing, and businesses across borders were forming new alliances. The stock market crash in the US had just as great an effect across the Atlantic. There were at least two opposing views on each of these topics, and control of the BBC meant control of the information the world received.

In the middle of all this is young Maisie, our fictional heroine who lands a low-level job at the BBC hoping to find a husband, but instead finds a career and a new life plan. A life plan she could barely comprehend as it wasn’t even a possibility just a few years before. Along with Maisie comes a fictional storyline starring the BBC, Nestle and Siemens, and the Nazis. As Sarah-Jane Stratford mentions in the very informative Author’s Note, the actual storyline is fictional, but many of the events surrounding it are not, and many similar events were taking place.

Stratford earned a degree in History at UCSC and went on to obtain a Masters in Medieval History at the University of York in England. She wrote this book because of her fascination with Hilda Matheson from the BBC, and this fascination is transferred to the reader. She was an amazing, high-level career woman in times when there was no such thing, and she was a lesbian to boot. She is a fantastic role model to young women even in our own times.

And so is our young Maisie, who follows her dreams of being a reporter with various levels of success. But in Maisie’s case as it is always, it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it matters how many times you get back up. She takes her role as reporter very seriously, and even takes on some spy traits as she works to save free speech in the UK and retain women’s new rights as well.

This is an outstanding book that gets better and better as it goes along. I love that I learned so much, I love that I’ve developed a great interest in the amazing Hilda Matheson, and I really enjoyed the fictional plot. The fictional plot doesn’t get going until the second half, but spending the first half on Maisie’s moving up the ranks and learning about all the real-life changes that happened in those few short years was worth it all.

Sarah-Jane Stratford is also the author of two previous books, and has also written articles and essays for a range of publications, including The Guardian, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Marie-Claire, Bitch, Slate, Salon, Guernica, and BOMB.

Radio Girls will be released June 14. Many thanks to Penguin Books for an advance copy, this book is FIVE STARS without a doubt.

Shaping Sound proves they can dance!

photo courtesy Shaping Sound

Photo courtesy Shaping Sound

We had the pleasure of being invited to review the Shaping Sound show at the Flint Center last weekend. And seriously, what a show it was!! Along with a fully packed Flint Center and such a positive, excited energy from the entire crowd.

Shaping Sound, under the artistic direction of Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson, is an evocative collaboration by diverse artists who describe themselves as ‘visual musicians’, i.e. their dance gives shape and form to sound. If the names sound familiar it’s because the launch of their dance company was followed during the Oxygen show “All the Right Moves.” And the dancers and directors have been all over your television: “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing With the Stars,”, “Glee,” “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “The 2013 Prime Time Emmy Awards.”  Besides choreographer Travis Wall, and SYTYCD Season One winner Nick Lazzarini, you will likely also remember dancers Ricky Ubeda, Kathryn McCormick and Jaimie Goodwin from SYTYCD. Unfortunately Goodwin had been injured and was not able to dance on Sunday, so most of the dances focused around the beautiful McCormick.

The first act was a lively set of dances, many arranged in a speakeasy type setting, set to music such as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. No music list was provided so I’m going off my memory and what this writer recognized. The first dance, called “Broken in Chaos,” used full company but there was one standout right away: Mountain View’s native son Nick Lazzarini.  Let me clarify, I never saw SYTYCD Season One, I have no idea who Lazzarini is. But my eyes couldn’t leave him in that first set, and then my guest turned and told me it was Nick. So I was legitimately impressed. The final set of the first act, “Rouge Lounge”, was a really high energy dance with the entire group that had the audience screaming for more.

But after intermission is when things got REAL good.

The first set in Act Two is set to Bohemian Rhapsody, and it was FANTASTIC.

The men of Bohemian Rhapsody dance "Escape from Reality"

The men of Bohemian Rhapsody dance “Escape from Reality”

All the men stood under spotlights and I wish I had dance language to tell you what was going on, but the loud music along with the fantastic lighting effects, and the dancers themselves had the crowd going WILD.  I LOVED it.  I wish I had a video of that dance, I’d play it over and over and over again. No one in the audience will forget that number. And Act Two just kept on with the entertainment and we were really impressed that most of the crew were dancing the entire time. Those dancers have a LOT of energy.

But my second favorite dance was almost at the end, “The Light”, and it was a duet with Ricky Ubeda and Travis Wall. Excuse me if duet is not the correct word, I really don’t know the dance language. It was a beautiful contemporary dance showing so much love and affection and tenderness, it brought a big smile to my face even up to the very last movement. Thank you for that one, Ricky & Travis.

I’m so sorry that there was only the one show in the Bay Area, so you will have to wait until the next tour to see it. But if you are a fan of SYTYCD, or of dance itself, or you just look forward to a couple hours of great entertainment, I recommend watching out for their next tour and then getting tickets early – the entire Flint Center was sold out!

Good luck to all the dancers on the rest of their tour, and get well soon to Jaimie Goodwin!

BREAK THE FLOOR PRODUCTIONS presents
SHAPING SOUND
Tour Schedule
Nick Lazzarini on Instagram
Shaping Sound on Instagram
Shaping Sound on Facebook

A Magical Evening at Opera San Jose

Well, I was at the afternoon matinee, but still. It was one of the best times I’ve had at the opera, and I’m so happy that there is still time for you to see it. The Magic Flute is a show for adults and children, oldies and newbies, opera and theatre lovers. And it includes a majestic dragon!!

The dragon attacks Tamino in The Magic Flute. Photo credit Pat Kirk

The dragon attacks Tamino in The Magic Flute. Photo credit Pat Kirk

This may not be the best show I’ve ever seen at Opera San Jose, but I still enjoyed it so much and it is a great show for other Opera Novices and Newbies.  As always, the performances were incredible, the story was great, the music was beautiful, the costumes were gorgeous, …but there are some stand-outs that make this a show you should not miss.

1.  This is a great opera for Newbies and families with children.  The Magic Flute is sung in German but has spoken words in English. It always throws me off when an opera is not entirely sung, which is probably the only issue I had with this show, but for newbies and children this is a great plus and makes for an easy introduction to opera.  As always, the lyrics (and spoken lines) are projected in super titles above the stage so you can follow along.  The show has children involved, though they are not the stars, and there were many children in the audience. Although I wasn’t sure they would be able to follow the story entirely, there was not a peep from any of them during the entire three hours.

2. Chris Salinas, Daniel Ostrom and Winter Felton-Priestner are three very young men who can now add “Soprano, Opera San Jose” to their resumes and I don’t think they’ve even hit middle school yet. This certainly trumps my own resume and I might be a tiny bit jealous.

3. There are a couple scenes with children silently wearing beautifully painted animal masks, and the animal-like choreography was riveting. Kudos to both the choreographer and the kids for nailing each of their parts and creating a magical tableau whenever they were on stage.

4. The show is often very funny, usually thanks to Matthew Hanscom as hapless Papageno.  Papageno just wants a wife to love him, but how will he find a woman who wants to marry a poor bird trainer?

5. Isabella Ivy (soprano) is breathtaking as the Queen of the Night.  Two of the songs she sang were so intricate and complicated that any Newbie could see these must be some of the most difficult pieces in opera.  Even more amazing, she sang one of these very complicated pieces in the upper ranges of the scale, while kneeling down, and as she stood her foot got tangled in her skirts. She not only calmly untangled herself, but she never missed a beat or a note in one of the most amazing sections of music I have ever heard. Every jaw in the theater was hanging open. She was incredible.

6. THE DRAGON.  The dragon was simply the most beautiful prop I have ever seen. It was huge and graceful and gorgeous and majestic.  Its wings moved, it spouted smoke from its mouth (the kids in the audience LOVED this), and for me it was the star of the show.  During intermission I voiced my hopes that the dragon would make another appearance, and it did when everyone came out for a bow. That dragon earned its ovation, and so have the operators, the designers and creaters of that piece.  More dragons like that need to be in opera!!

When the entire thing was over I realized that I had had a really fun time. I haven’t always enjoyed every opera I’ve attended, and it has taken me a while to appreciate some parts of opera. But ever since Madama Butterfly, Opera SJ has been drawing me in. I may still be the Opera Novice in most aspects, but I am also quite certainly becoming an Opera Lover.

Recently I have noticed the shows have not had two casts, and are instead having one cast do a shorter run of each show. I don’t know if this is a financial decision (or just a coincidence), but I can say that the performers have upped their game, and the performances are tighter than I’ve ever seen. Try if you can to make one of the last performances (I have heard they are close to selling out all shows) but if you don’t make this one, mark your calendars quickly to get seats for next season. It starts with Puccini’s Tosca, and after that come The Marriage of Figaro (YAY!), Carmen (YAY!), and then A Streetcar Named Desire. That is going to be one amazing season and this Opera Novice is looking forward to it more than ever.

The Magic Flute
Opera San Jose
Thru May 3

Water By the Spoonful at TheatreWorks

watershowflash

TheatreWorks, one of my very favorite theater companies, has an amazing show now playing through September 14.    Water By the Spoonful is a Pulitzer Prize winning drama by the Tony Award winning playwright of In the Heights, Quiara Alegría Hudes.  It combines drama and comedy as it works through the never ending trials of being an addict, specifically a crack addict.  In one of the two main storylines, we follow a calm, reasonable woman known as “Haikumom” as she runs an internet support group for a group of addicts.  Among the other members of the chatroom are “Orangutan”, a brash and caustic young woman who is lonely for human contact, and “Chutes&Ladders”, a man who has lost everything but is struggling to regain some sort of meaningful life and manage to stay sober with the help of his chatroom friends.

In the other main story apart from the chatroom we have Eliot, a troubled Iraq war veteran who now works at Subway, and his cousin.  A woman in their family has passed away, and they are at the foreground of the stage as they work out the logistics of the funeral.

But what do these stories have in common?  Quite a lot, it is eventually revealed, and every character in the story has their own back story and a future to live as well.  There are many things happening in this play, and the great stage design really helps clarify where each character is at any time without confusing the audience.  The lighting and projections make it clear whether we are in an online or offline world, and we also get to see the hidden situations of each character.  It is an amazing, complicated work, and everyone involved in this show has done an incredible job creating a very touching and thoughtful production.

I found it interesting to discover later that Water By the Spoonful is part of a series called the “Elliot Trilogy”, portraying the coming of age of the young Elliot Ortiz. This explains a lot, as Elliot appeared to be such an important part of this show, yet his story was the least clear of any of the characters.  It is not that his story was incomplete, just that the others were mostly wrapped up (as tidily as a crack addict’s story can be wrapped), but Elliot’s background and future were not as clear to me.  This not only makes me want to see more of Elliot’s story, but necessitated some discussion with my guest after this show as we pondered Elliot.  There were several questions I had about Spoonful after, but in a good way; instead of a review, I wanted to write a literary essay about all the different layers at play here.  I wasn’t satisfied with the end result of every character, and that caused me to think about them after the show.  Any time I am left pondering and wanting to have conversations after a show, that is when you know theater has been done well.  This show captures such a range of emotions, and really enforces the value of family and community.  It also shows how, even if those can’t be had, just a bit of kindness and human contact can save a life.

Water By the Spoonful
TheatreWorks
Through September 14
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts

King Arthur visits City Lights Theater in SPAMALOT

 

King Arthur (Ken Boswell, in crown) has a jolly old time with the folk of Camelot

King Arthur (Ken Boswell, in crown) has a jolly old time with the folk of Camelot

City Lights Theater Company has gone ambitious this summer as it presents the comedy extravaganza Monty Python’s Spamalot!  This is one of my favorite shows because it’s just so irreverent and complete fun.  There is nothing serious in this show, there are no deep hidden meanings, and there is so much going on at any and all times that glitches are guaranteed to happen every single night… and it is always fun and hilarious to see how these professional performers manage to overcome the unexpected.  When you are in need of a show that is strictly fun entertainment in its purest form, Spamalot is the one to see.

The show recreates many scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with a lot of Broadway mixed in.  You will see killer rabbits, and cows tossed from the ramparts, the Black Knight receives a flesh wound or four, and included in the show is the one thing the film is missing: a plethora of dancing girls.  The story is of King Arthur’s search for a team of worthy knights who will help him on his quest to find the Holy Grail.  On the way they must all avoid the plague, find a nice shrubbery for the Knights Who Say Ni, and rescue a Damsel in Distress Prince Herbert.  Watching the film first is not necessary, so if you have been deprived of the Monty Python movie experience, rest assured you will still have a rollicking great time (and then go rent the film for gosh sakes, why haven’t you seen it yet??).

Almost all the actors play multiple parts, requiring many costume changes, and there is constant choreography and singing.  There is a lot of acting and singing talent required to put this show on, and stage and set work behind the scenes that is unimaginably difficult.  City Lights does a tremendous job with their smaller theater and budget, so that you don’t miss a thing and an amazing time is had by all.  Kudos to director Jeffrey Bracco for pulling off this amazing feat so well, and to Jennifer Gorgulho for managing to choreograph an incredible number of constantly moving people.

Spamalot is running through August 31, but shows have already started to sell out, so get your tickets now before you miss it.  And before you get to the theater, stop off at Psycho Donuts for their special Spam Wellington Donut, a savory creation filled with layers of Spam and mushroom duxelle.  This surprisingly delicious treat was served at the Opening Night Gala along with mead from Alderin’s Meadery and catered food from Cafe Stritch A big thanks to all these companies for supporting City Lights Theater Company and local theater!

 

Monty Python’s Spamalot
Through August 31
City Lights Theater Company
529 South Second Street, San Jose

Main Stage Ticket Pricing:
Adult: $30
Student: $17
Educator: $17
Senior: $25

City Lights inadvertently presents allegory for the closing of The Rep

Resten (Ben Ortega) and Alta (Deb Anderson) share a moment in City Lights Theater Company's production of "The Language Archive" by Julia Cho. Photo by Mike Ko / www.siliconvalleydesigns.com

Theater audiences all over the Bay Area went to see fantastic, thoughtful, hysterical, amazing shows and musicals last weekend.  We came home looking forward to seeing the next shows, or acting or producing the next shows, and many of us contemplated our reviews of the weekend.  And then we sat down Monday to do our work.

And at 10:30am we received the press release in our In-Box:

San Jose, CA. June 11, 2014 – San Jose Repertory Theatre announced today that it has ceased operation as of Monday, June 9, 2014. 

This news came as a shock to most, even those of us who had heard whisperings and warnings, I mean it’s THE SAN  JOSE REP, it’s been downtown for over thirty years, well longer than I would bet most of the valley’s employees have lived here.  In Silicon Valley years, The Rep has been here FOREVER.

It was a heart break for me.  I have years of history with The Rep.  I have sat in almost every seat of their audience, I have played in the pit, I have introduced films and interviewed filmmakers and actors on the stage.  I have brought dozens of dates to see shows and had a close group of friends I loved to share tickets with.  I introduced my own children to theater at The Rep, and as adults I am proud to know that they attend theater on their own now, without being dragged by their mother. I have many memories of drunken shenanigans in and around the theater.  The Rep did not always produce my favorite shows, but they were always my favorite theater.

But I had a review to write, one that was very difficult to write for many reasons.  I had heard great things about City Lights Theatre’s production of The Language Archive and had really looked forward to seeing it.  But due to a scheduled vacation, I had to see the Sunday matinee when our temps were in the 90s and the theater had no air conditioning.  It was difficult to connect to the actors because the theater was so uncomfortable.  I was able to pay attention to the show, but in a distracted way, and I could not drum up any excitement except for getting back to my air conditioned car.  This is a terrible scenario in which to review a show fairly.  So I found myself in the position of feeling sort of mediocre about the show, but knowing it was likely only due to one very hot day since my fellow reviewers loved it, and feeling my normal pressure to want to get people to the theater no matter what, now with the added pressure of knowing the biggest theater in town just went bankrupt.

At the same time, feeling like I was in mourning for a lost friend, and trying not to feel anger towards a very wealthy valley who I felt had let the Arts down.

The Language Archive, playing at City Lights through January 29, IS a great show.  It’s about language and relationships and the care needed to keep them alive.  I sat here thinking tonight how the character of Mary treasures her ages old sourdough starter.  She told of how she had to feed it, pay attention to it, never forget about it or take it for granted, so that more warm, nourishing bread could be made from it, and it would never die.  The show is about George, a linguist who documents dying languages.  As stated in the show, any language needs more than one person speaking it in order to survive; if no one cares for them, the languages die.  George’s marriage to Mary needed the attention that the sourdough starter received.  When George could no longer speak the language that Mary needed to hear, the marriage died.

And sitting here thinking about that show I realized this is very much an allegory for the demise of The San Jose Rep, isn’t it.  No theater can survive on ticket sales alone, many don’t realize this.  Theaters require entire communities to not just attend, but to donate.  The San Jose Rep had an operating budget of $5 million.  I don’t have $5 million.  You likely don’t either.  But when you think of all the businesses in San Jose, all the wealthy businesses (who do indeed contribute money to our community), and the wealthy CEOs who live here (and also donate to the community)… Five million dollars seems like it could easily have been covered between allllll the businesses who reside here, don’t you think?  San Jose simply cannot keep crying that no one knows who we are, where we are, that we are not a neighborhood in San Francisco, if we cannot even keep our own local Repertory Theater open.  And like it or not, theater and the Arts really does fall on local businesses to survive, whether we’re talking about San Francisco or New York or a tiny middle America town. Or San Jose.

But the blame cannot just be put on our local businesses.  Theater is a very complicated business, full of catch-22s and the need for good shows that cost money that doesn’t come without big shows that cost money.  Karen D’Souza has written an excellent article for the Mercury News which points to several of the various factors that went into the closing, and wonders if perhaps San Jose isn’t just due for a different sort of Arts environment.  I would never oppose different, as long as the Arts do not die altogether.

But San Jose does have many, many smaller theaters that many locals haven’t even heard of.  City Lights is a great little theater and it somehow operates in the black.  Hopefully that’s not just due to their lack of an air conditioning bill, LOL (I JOKE! I JOKE!).   And they are one of many theaters that not only put on outstanding productions on a regular basis but are accepting tickets to The Rep’s canceled shows for their own shows.  Theater is a community, and they support each other like a family no matter what.  We should try to support them back.  Like sourdough starter, the Arts require all of us to feed it, pay attention to it, never forget about it or take it for granted, so that it will never die.

“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.

.

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

Cinequest Film Review: ETERNITY

LOL.

I mean seriously, LOL.

This film is so awful it’s just about perfect.  And I mean that in the best way possible.

Look, I grew up in the 80s, I LOVED the 80s, and the 80s actually had some really great music, film and fashion.

It also had some of the worst music, film and fashion in history, no joke.

ETERNITY, because I’m 99% positive they meant it to be awful, hits every level of this.

Todd Lucas (Barrett Crake) and BJ Fairchild (Myko Olivier) meet in the 80s and decide to form the greatest R&B band in history, Eternity. The film follows their rise to fame and fortune, their loves, their lusts, their friendship, and finally their falling out and inevitable reunion.

ETERNITY: THE MOVIE is not a tribute to the greatness of the 80s.  I could very well be wrong, but I really think it’s a tribute to the awfulness of the 80s.  There was some really horrid music on the radio back then, and you’ll hear some very similar music in this film (although I actually like the last two songs of the film).  80s fashion could be mind bogglingly terrible, especially for men – and it’s here in all its cheap glory.  Don’t let nostalgia fool you, 80s television was not what you remember either.  And ETERNITY has all the overdramatic arguments from the after school specials, a melodramatic dying scene straight from the nighttime soaps, and the subtle undercurrent of homosexuality blatant homoerotic tomfoolery of the entire decade times infinity.  There is bad acting, bad writing, bad sex jokes, bad ideas and Ridgemont High.  Wait, Ridgemont High is awesome, what wasn’t awesome were all the copycat movies that came after it.

That’s what ETERNITY is, in the most perfect way.

Would *I* watch it again?  LOL.  No.  But I know a lot of people who will love this film and will want to watch it over and over.  ”I get it now, I get it,” says one character near the end of the film.  ”I don’t,” replies Gina Marie (Nikki Leonti) and I started cracking up.  Because that kind of summed up the movie.  I think there is going to be a section of the audience who will be rolling their eyes at this film, and then there is going to be the much larger section cheering and cackling with glee.  It’s all done in good fun, and I think they absolutely accomplished what they were trying for.

See ETERNITY: THE MOVIE at Cinequest!
My interview with the filmmakers!
“Like” them on Facebook!
Follow the film on Twitter!

Spring Awakening ROCKS the Los Altos Hills

Do you love Rock N Roll? Were you ever a teenager? There is an amazing show at Foothill College right now, and you need to see it.  Take your teenager, send your teen with a friend, or go see it yourself.

(clockwise from far left) Jeremy Griffith, Mark Sanders, Brandon Leland, Dillon Mena, Jacob Marker, Warren Wernick, Ryan Mardesich (floor), and Jason Rehklau (sitting center). Photo: Karen Santos

A year or so ago I saw a bigger budget production of the Rock N Roll musical Spring Awakening.  It is an amazing, powerful, emotional show to watch with all the effects of a rock concert. It requires a very talented cast, a knowledgable choreographer, a well rehearsed band and a director capable of putting on a rock concert.

So what do you do when you are a small production company and want to produce a high budget rock and roll musical on a small budget in a tiny theater?

You get together an extremely talented cast and direct the crap out of them.

Spring Awakening is, like Rock N Roll, all about the truth of growing up.  It’s about anger, and frustration, and being held to adult standards while being treated like a child.  It’s about adult emotions and the inability to let them out.  It’s the kind of show that many parents won’t want their teenagers to see, but it is exactly the kind of show that teenagers should see.

And the young adults on stage at Lohman Theater on the Foothill College campus are just rocking the pants off this show.

Moritz (Ryan Mardesich, sitting) is rebuked by his teacher (Justin Karr). Photo: Karen Santos

I was incredibly surprised to see such an amazing production on such a small stage, and most impressed of all with the talented cast.  Special notice goes to Ryan Mardesich as Moritz.  Mardesich introduces Moritz as an innocent young boy who is just not quite as smart as his classmates, but manages to show the believable growth to a frustrated, hopeless teen who is rightfully angry with the betrayal of all the adults in his world, and the world itself.  The words of his songs do not matter; it is the hopeless anger in his eyes that tell his story.

Juliana Lustenader as Wendla is also outstanding.  She not only has a beautiful clear voice, but she played innocent, confused Wendla to perfection.  Her final, terrified scream made it very clear to the audience exactly where she was going and exactly what was going to happen to her.  I still get chills at the memory of that scream.

Two smaller parts, Otto and Ernst, are played by Dillon Mena and Warren Wernick, and they deserve special note for their singing.  Wernick has the voice of an angel, and Mena was a true rock star on stage.  Holly Smolik and Casey Ellis, as Martha and Ilse, also brought incredible emotion to their parts – and the bruise makeup which Smolik wore deserved an award.

This is a show about teenage frustration, and the frustrations teens deal with now are the same they dealt with in 1891 Germany when this show was written.  Sexual frustration and ignorance, child abuse, measuring up to expectations, abortion, suicide, sexual identity… It is a rare adult who would go back to that age.  And director Milissa Carey manages to pull those feelings to the surface from her actors.  Mardesich was awesome showing the emotion, but Mark Sanders as Georg demanded audience attention with both his character’s sexual frustration and Sanders’ own excellent singing voice.  Georg is a smaller part in the show, but Sanders manages to pull all eyes to him with the physicality of his dancing and his comedic expressions when called for.

The amazing women of S.A.: (l-r) Holly Smolik, Lyn Meheula, Taylor Sanders, Juliana Lustenader, Carissa McElravy, Dana Johnson, and Casey Ellis. Photo: Karen Santos

The 1890s costume design was perfect, the use of lighting design successfully brought tears to our eyes, and the use of stairs and ledges expanded the stage to rock concert size.

Everyone in this show is amazing.  There were stand outs, as I’ve credited, but the entire cast is genuinely amazing, and the show is Excellent.  If you have never seen Spring Awakening, you should take this opportunity – there might be more flash and/or fireworks at a bigger show, but director Carey manages to give you everything this show has to offer on a smaller scale and you never realize you’re in a small theater.  In many ways, I enjoyed this production more than the one with the big budget.

Keep in mind it is a show with “adult” themes, there is very strong language and sexual themes.  It is not really fit for preteen and younger, however I believe it is a show that every teenager should see and will appreciate.  It is also a show every adult can identify with.

 

Spring Awakening
Through March 10
Lohman Theatre
Foothill College
12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022 (more…)

And a rollicking good time was had by all…

Cast 1: Soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Roselinde and tenor MIchael Dailey as Alfred. Photo by Pat Kirk

I have now attended close to a dozen different shows at Opera San Jose, and I can honestly say that Strauss’s Die Fledermaus was like no other I have ever seen.  If you are looking to attend your first opera, or even if you would like to introduce opera to your teenager (that’s right!) then this is the opera for you… and yet it is still perfect and worthy for the seasoned attendee.

 

Die Fledermaus is about one man seeking hilarious revenge for an embarrassing practical joke from the past, and in the process there are endless mistaken identities which will leave you in sidesplitting stitches.  There is no love story in this opera, requited or otherwise; nothing particularly deep in the plot; neither is there a tragic death or a particularly happy ending.  More than half the songs are about drinking, and the second act revolves around a party of debauchery which may (or may not) include beautiful dancers skinny-dipping in a pool.

 

The songs are in German, and as usual are translated on a screen over the stage.  But there was something quite surprising in this show that I had never seen before:  a good deal of the story was spoken in English!  This was less like an opera and more like musical theater – and it was lovely.

 

Cast 1: Soprano Elisabeth Russ as Adele, soprano Cecilia Violetta López as Roselinde, tenor Alexander Boyer as von Eisenstein. Photo by Pat Kirk.

I had been disappointed that I could not make it to opening night, however last night was an unexpected treat as I got to see Cast 1 who were absolutely delightful and just as talented as any Cast A I’ve seen.  It was refreshing to see some new faces and there were no disappointments.  Soprano Elizabeth Russ was delicious as the petulant chambermaid Adele; soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez was virtually unrecognizable to me from her role as Leila in The Pearl Fishers, and I still adored her immensely.  The familiar faces of tenor Alexander Boyer (Eisenstein) and tenor Michael Dailey (Alfred) were welcome and played their comedic roles beautifully.  Special mention goes to bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala as Frank the prison warden – who I just LOVED, and also Kelly Houston who plays a hilarious Frosch.  Some of these performers were newer to me than others, ALL of them I hope to see more often.

Wait, did I forget to mention baritone Jo Vincent Parks, as Dr. Falk (Die Fledermaus!)?  He has a small part for the title character, however he too was perfect.

Marc Jacobs makes his Opera San Jose debut as stage director, and this is a perfect show for his background in musical theater.  I hope we see more from him at OSJ.

 

Cast 1: Baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala as Frank. Photo by Pat Kirk.

And as often happens at Opera San Jose, there was another star, and that was the set design.  It does not surprise me to find out that Charlie Smith also designed the Pearl Fisher’s sets, and I’m excited to see what he does for the upcoming double-bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi.  It is too bad there are no available photos to show you the complete beauty of the designs.  Acts one and two were set in a sweeping, gorgeous, art deco residence with subtle hints of the jail term awaiting Eisenstin… indeed, it transformed seamlessly into the jail itself in Act three.  As well there was an amazing newspaper print curtain with “articles” pertaining to the characters in the story.

This was not the usual opera I attend at Opera San Jose.  There were not so many ball gowns and sparkling jewelry in the audience that I usually see, perhaps because it was not opening night, perhaps because this show is just not as “stuffy” as some others (which I recommend no matter the stuffiness!!).  There was raucous laughter heard throughout the show, as if we were all drunk with the comedy we were watching.  “That was the most fun I’ve had at the opera ever!” stated my guest, Danielle Roberts.  And indeed, she is quite right.  This opera plays through November 25, and I can recommend without any reservation whatsoever that you should see it – and take your teenagers too.

 

Die Fledermaus
Opera San Jose
Through November 25
California Theatre
San Jose, CA

 

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