Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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

 

The Pearl Fishers: Excellent opera for Pros and Novices alike!

The villagers celebrate their new king Zurga with a joyous dance. Choreographed by Lise la Cour. Photo by Pat Kirk.

If you are looking for something dressy, exciting and classy to do this weekend, I resoundingly recommend Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at Opera San Jose.  It’s no secret that while I love attending the opera, I am not qualified to review it at more than a layman’s level.  But this time I was able to bring my friend’s visiting mother, an actual coloratura soprano who has sung opera since she was a child.  So instead of coming back and telling you all, “It was Splendid!! The music was Amazing! The singers were Perfect!!  Perfect-perfect-perfect all around!” I thought maybe I could have some actual criticism to share with you all.

So this is basically what my ringer of a reviewer had to say after the show:  “It was Splendid!! The music was Amazing! The singers were Perfect!!  Perfect-perfect-perfect all around!”

Cast A: Cecilia Violetta López as the mysterious veiled priestess, Leila. Photo by Pat Kirk.

Perhaps I know more about opera than I thought! (HAH!) But I know an enjoyable show when I see one! And The Pearl Fishers is one of those shows.

Having more of a theater and film background, I always appreciate the operas that have a good meaty plot.  The Pearl Fishers has romance, betrayal, danger, a “bro-mance”, not to mention beautiful music, the best singers in San Jose, gorgeous costumes, and an impressive set.  I chose the dancing photo to head up this review because not only were they entertaining and awesome (“Perfect!”) but the dancers made my little group want to dance happily in our seats as well.

There have been operas where I wanted to fall asleep, and there have been operas that had my guest and me in hysterics… or at least wiggling with glee at the fun we were having.  Although I’m not qualified to comment technically on the performances, I feel like it’s my job to convince you all to give opera a try. The Pearl Fishers is one of those shows that will make you love the opera.  Not only that, now I know that the more people you bring with you, the more fun it is!  The three of us women put on our best clothes and jewelry again, did our hair and makeup, had a lovely and relaxing dinner at Il Fornaio, and then had the time of our lives at the opera. We were so excited and had such a good time that we came home, poured glasses of wine, and stayed up til almost 1am talking about the fun.

Don’t miss out on this incredible show and the experience that is opera.  It’s more fun than you think, and you don’t have to know anything about it to enjoy it.

Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers
Opera San Jose
Through September 23
Next up: Die Fledermaus
November 10 – November 25

The Little Dog Laughed: Great theater in small packages

From left to right: (Mitchell) William Giammona - (Diane) Jennifer Lucas - (Alex) Henry Robert Nolin Photo by James Kasyan

My guest and I had the best time last night at Dragon Productions Theatre Company in Palo Alto.  Yes, even more fun than I had at the opera (review coming next!)!

San Jose and the Bay Area at large have plenty of great theatre, but sometimes it’s the little gems that get lost in the shuffle.  The Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View seats only about 45 people, but I saw an incredibly moving production of Death of a Salesman there. The small Renegade Theatre Experiment produced 9 Circles at the Hoover Theater in San Jose and the entire audience was not only moved to tears, but most of us could barely look at the actors on stage, we were so moved by what was going on.  And now I’ve seen the fabulous (and tiny) Dragon Productions Theatre where I had the pleasure of viewing 4 incredible actors put on an hilarious and moving show.

I could not wait to see The Little Dog Laughed because I had heard that the playwright was also the screenwriter for “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” which, sadly, might be the only drag queen road trip film available on Netflix. What my expectations received was a thought provoking comedy, and an adult show about love and sex and ambition, and all the problems that arise when you combine the three.

Mitchell Green is a small film star who could hit it big with one juicy role. Diane is his lesbian best friend and agent who plays Mitchell’s girlfriend for the public.  Yes, leading man Mitchell is gay, but because the film going public won’t accept an openly gay man in straight romantic roles, he’s forced to hire “rent-a-boys” (young looking but adult prostitutes) and hide his true self. One night in a drunken stupor he makes a call and hires Alex, a good looking “straight” boy who hustles for money.  Alex lives with his best friend and sometimes girlfriend Ellen, who runs her own money-making schemes with older rich men.  Soon it appears that Mitchell and Alex have fallen in love, but that poses problems for everyone involved.

Although the show is a comedy, it also raises many serious questions about living as a gay person in a straight world.  Mitchell laments at one point that we all learn about the American Dream, that anyone can have it all.  But he knew that really only middle class, straight white protestant men have easy access to the American Dream, and if he acted on his feelings towards other men, he could have that option taken away from him.

Dragon Productions plays in a tiny theatre, with a shoe-string budget for set design, yet still managed to find four incredible actors to play these intriguing characters.  William Giammona as Mitchell was both hilarious and heartbreaking as he showed us what a gay actor may have to give up in his personal life to be a success in his professional life.  Jennifer Lucas as Diane played Hollywood to perfection as the fast-talking agent who just wanted her friend (along with herself) to succeed. Maria Giere Marquis held my attention in every scene with her character’s quirky clothes and quirkier personality, but even as a hustler herself Ellen had our sympathy when she got herself into trouble.  And Henry Robert Nolin as young Alex is an incredible actor who you should look out for in the future.

The Little Dog Laughed is an adult show, but probably fit for older teens as well.  There are adult and sexual themes, but nothing too worrisome for anyone who knows the plot to begin with.  Tickets range from $16 (student) to $25 (adult), so it is a fantastic deal for an amazing theater production, and opening night was sold out.

Thanks also to Oren’s Hummus who provided an amazing Opening Night Celebration spread!

The Little Dog Laughed
September 14 – October 7
Dragon Productions Theatre
535 Alma Street, Palo Alto
(parking can be troublesome, so arrive in plenty of time to find a spot)

Organic sounds from Brian Ho

I’ve been enjoying local organist Brian Ho’s new album, Organic, since I got ‘hold of it at the CD release party last week.

The show, at the Fairmont Hotel’s lobby lounge, was standing room only. Of course Ho showed off his chops on his signature Hammond organ, but every player got a solo turn and every instrument got a workout. Guitarist Calvin Keys probably has the most polished sound in the band, but drummer Lorca Hart and saxophonist Oscar Pangilinan also could blaze out a solo or join with the band in a smooth groove.

The album itself has much of the same material as the live performance. Most of the tunes are up-tempo, and organ solos are well-balanced by showpieces for the other instruments. The material shows off the organ’s ability to switch seamlessly from buzzing along in a background bass line to taking the center stage and carrying the main melody.

Of the original compositions on the record, I think “Reversi” and “Beat Street” are the strongest. “Beat Street” has a jumpy syncopated rhythm that will get you bopping. “Reversi” starts out slower, but quickly builds up a tempo and a groove that could go on all night. Of the cover material, I really enjoy the arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father”, where all four instruments blend into a seamless whole with a sweet sound.

Organic is available from iTunes, Amazon, and CDBaby.

Photo courtesy of Brian Ho

New Vietnamese restaurants on Santa Clara Street

I’ve been very happy to try out a couple of new Vietnamese restaurants that opened in the past couple of months on Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose.

The first of these, Lang Chay, offers the basic pho experience, complete with help-yourself chopsticks, hoisin sauce, and chili sauce at each table. The twist is that all of the food is vegetarian, and the pho is made with imitation meats, replicating (more or less) the texture of all of the common meat found in pho. Rice plates and other choices are also available.

I tried the basic pho, and later the crispy chow mein. Both were tasty and satisfying, and the crispy chow mein especially was the equal of the similar dish I’ve had at non-veg restaurants. Since many pho shops have absolutely no meat-free options on the menu, its good to find a place that offers the pho experience for vegetarians.

Lang Chay is located at the former Pho Lan location, immediately across the street from city hall.

The second of these new restaurants is Hoi An Bistro. Hoi An serves a varied Vietnamese menu in a slightly upscaled atmosphere at really reasonable prices. They’ve done a great job decorating with photo-murals of Vietnamese street scenes on the walls and decorative tile-roofed overhangs above the dining area.

The dishes I’ve tasted have been flavorful and also had variety beyond the pho-shop standards. I tried “farm chicken with Hoi An noodles” and got tender chicken cooked in a nutty curry-like sauce with a distinctive flavor mix that was new to me. On a previous visit, I tried both a vegetarian vermicelli bowl with egg rolls and vegetarian yellow curry (ordered green, but I think what we got was the yellow curry). The vermicelli bowl did a fine job of translating one of my favorite pork-based lunch standards to a vegetarian dish. The yellow curry was tasty, and surprisingly used cassava (?) and yams as the starch components where most local restaurants seem to use potatoes and carrots. These added a wonderful sweet flavor to a dish I thought I was fully familiar with. Prices were so low I felt compelled to tip according to what I thought they could have charged instead of what they actually did.

Hoi An Bistro isn’t strictly vegetarian, but they do dedicate a full page of their menu to veg options, and a vegan friend of mine has also given them a thumbs up. They’re located between 8th and 9th streets on the south side of Santa Clara Street, in the building that most recently housed Onyx Vietnamese fusion restaurant.

Café San José

Will the Waiter - on the right


This little hole in the wall cafe located in a strip mall serves up some very tasty breakfast.

I had the Good Morning Denver and my husband had the Pancake Sandwich. Both were very good. I had a bite of his pancake and I gave him a scoop of my omelet.

Though the cafe was packed our order was up without delay. Will was our friendly waiter. He took good care of us making sure we had all that we needed.

We plan to go back soon.

Café San José

1583 Meridian Ave.
San José, CA 95125
Located between Dick’s Bakery and the Goodwill

408.265.3020

Open daily from 7:00 AM – 3 PM
Breakfast & Lunch served all day.

Café San José Website (a joy to use)

THE LAST ROMANCE at SJ Rep will sweep you off your feet

The San Jose Reparatory Theatre’s regional premiere of  Tony Award-winning Joe DiPietro’s The Last Romance is brilliant. The story flows perfectly and there is never a dull moment. The actors are phenomenal and the direction by Laird Williamson keeps the characters rich and delightful.

You can tell right off the bat that the characters are humorous and enchanting. Rose (Sharon Lockwood) is great as the bossy, disapproving sister of Ralph (Will Marchetti). Ralph likes to joke around. He is jovial and gets a kick out of life, even if he is lonely.

Rose and Ralph, who are in their golden years, are set in their ways. Rose has dinner on the table for her brother every night at the same time. Ralph takes a walk every day on the same route, until one day he goes a different way and his life is changed forever.

He comes across a dog park where he sees the beautiful Carol (Kitty Winn). He is intrigued by her and goes back the next day to see her again. He gets talking to her, but she is very proper and standoffish and wants nothing to do with his come-ons. Throughout their interactions, you can see the rich characters that Laird Williamson has created; the humor and flirting from Marchetti and the rigidity from Winn.

Carol (Kitty Winn) and Ralph (Will Marchetti) meet for the first time in San Jose Rep’s regional premiere of The Last Romance. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Carol has some fears that keep her from fully living her life. She’s afraid of flying, so she doesn’t get to visit her family. She also has a fear of loss that makes it difficult to experience romance. There is a great moment when Ralph, after much cajoling, gets Carol to discipline her dog in a very strict and authoritative way. She quickly goes from reserved and fearful to confident and strong. This is the arc that helps lead her to giving in to Ralph’s come-ons. And so the romance begins.

There are delightful moments in Ralph and Carol’s romance. They are like teenagers again and Ralph quickly falls in love. Unfortunately there is something standing in the way of their romance.

Throughout the play there is beautiful Opera singing by a young man (Joshua Jeremiah). Ralph loves the Opera. He has always wanted to go to Italy and see an Opera at La Scala. He used to sing himself, in his younger years. Ralph says that in all Italian Operas, life gets in the way of love and that the music makes it better. In this story, even though life gets in the way of love, everyone changes for the better.

Ralph has a strong acceptance of the end of his romance with Carol. He has a newfound appreciation of his sister and his desire to make their relationship stronger is the music that gets him through the loss of his last romance.

Carol makes a tremendous leap into the unknown and faces her fear of flying head on by flying to Italy and going to La Scala by herself, after Ralph realizes he can’t go with her. She absolutely loves Italy and is shining because she is finally living her life to the fullest.

It’s rare to find a play that gives you that much needed catharsis. I definitely felt the emotions in this production. The characters were so real to life, that they touched something inside me that brought up my own thoughts on love and life. When that happens, you know that everyone involved; the writer, the director, and the actors have done their job.

What came up for me is that something amazing can come along and you get lost in the idea of making it reality. Real strength comes when after finding you cannot have what makes your heart sing, you realize your life is just as wonderful without it and you appreciate what you do have and do all you can to make it better.

The last Romance will take you on a compelling ride of love, loss and the strength to change and appreciate life.

The last Romance runs through Nov. 6, 2011 and tickets can be purchased at www.SJRep.com or by calling 408.367.7255.

Spring Awakening: An extraordinary rock music production by the San Jose Rep

Melchior (Jason Hite) struts to the front as the rest of the teens dance in the background. Photo by Kevin Berne.

San Jose Repertory Theatre has opened their 2011-2012 season with a blockbuster of a show, raising the bar in every aspect of theater production.  Spring Awakening, with its provocative content, is the kind of show which should usher in a whole new generation of theater lovers, and its high level of technical and acting talent also proves that there is no need to head north to see a fantastic production when you live in the South Bay.

You might think that a show about oppressed, sexually repressed teenagers in 19th century Germany might be stuffy and boring.  But pair this storyline with some fantastic rock music and you have incredibly moving tales of lust, love, rape, physical abuse, pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and suicide.  What does rock music have to do with 19th century German teens?  What does rock music NOT have to do with ANY teens?  Rock music was created to express the pain, frustration, angst and experiences of youth.  It is actually a perfect pairing, and works on every level in this show.  And although the story deals with difficult topics and situations, and will bring tears to your eyes, it also ends with a song that celebrates hope, and love, and living.  It brought an immediate and deserved standing ovation with not many dry eyes in the house.

The girls demand to know the truth about the birds and the bees. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Although the SJ Rep has always brought in great acting talent for their shows, I will admit to some worries about whether they could find such a capable large cast which requires dancing, very talented singers, as well as such a high level of acting… but the Rep went way beyond my expectations.  The singing was on par with any Broadway show I’ve ever seen, and the acting from everyone was superb.  Most notable for me was Eryn Murman as Wendla, capturing our sympathy, emotions and attention from the very first scene to the very end notes.  The entire cast was easily as talented as I’ve ever seen on the Repertory stage, and as a whole represents a great history of Broadway and musical experience.  Every single cast member was extraordinary, including the SJSU students who absolutely held up their end of the talent requirement.

Moritz (Miguel Cervantes) sings about leaving it all behind while Ilse (Zarah Mahler) begs him to come back. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Sonya Tayeh, known from “So You think You can Dance”, was brought in as choreographer for the show, and while I am sure she’s going to help fill theater seats (she certainly made ME excited about the show), the choreography was not what I expected.  Known for her quirky modern dances on the television show, she kept the dancing in the background here, using it only to express the thoughts, feelings and frustrations of the characters, while letting the story shine through.  It is what a choreographer should do in a show like this, and I believe she did it perfectly.  As a side note, she was in the audience on Opening Night and was absolutely gorgeous.

The music of course had a starring role in this show.  The band, as put together by the Rep’s own Dolores Duran-Cefalu, was on stage, played to perfection, and benefited from the best sound direction I’ve heard locally with the possible exception of Opera San Jose [opening Saturday!].  Sitting anywhere in this audience was like sitting in front of any Broadway musical production, and did great justice to Duncan Sheik’s music.

Wendla (Eryn Murman) and Melchior (Jason Hite) try to fight their urges. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Once again, I’m not letting this review go without mentioning that in recent years the San Jose Repertory Theater has gone over and above in set, lighting and media design, and they’ve outdone themselves in this show as well.  And once again I see the names of John Iacovelli and David Lee Cuthbert involved.  If it’s possible to fill a set with emotion, these two can do it, and it’s hard to deny that when they are involved, the set will also have a starring role.

This is a show about teenagers who are dealing with adult themes and problems, just as all teenagers do, while also having little to no control over their lives.  This is the core difficulty of being a teenager.  Although there are mature themes explored on stage (masturbation, nudity, sexual situations and suicide), the show was not as explicit as I had been led to expect – but parents should be aware that it IS a provocative show.  Use your best judgment regarding your own teenager, but anyone 18 and up should head over to the Rep immediately and get a ticket.  Book writer and lyricist Steven Sater was also in the audience on opening night and he looked pleased.  I truly hope we did make him proud, as I know that I am certainly proud of Director Rick Lombardo and our local San Jose Repertory Theatre.  I cannot imagine how Mr. Lombardo plans to top this show, but we have six more shows to look forward to this year.  If there was ever a time to buy season tickets, this IS the year.

Spring Awakening
San Jose Repertory Theatre
September 1 – 25

Lust, Betrayal, and A Streetcar Named Desire

Friday night I had the pleasure of seeing Tennessee Williams’ iconic classic, A Streetcar Named Desire at Dragon Productions Theatre Company in Palo Alto. Streetcar won Tennessee Williams a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1947.

In this production, director Jeanie K. Smith chose to focus on Blanche’s story as opposed to Stanley’s as many other renditions have. We follow Blanche DuBois who is an aging Southern Belle trying to run away from her shameful past in Mississippi. When she moves to New Orleans to live with her sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley, Blanche clashes with their rough, industrial lives and learns that she can run but she cannot escape trouble.

I went into the theatre having never seen a staged production of the show. I saw the movie years ago, but tried not to compare what I was seeing on stage in front of me with what little I remembered from the movie. It’s difficult not to compare if you’ve seen other versions of this play. Have you ever seen this play in a small theatre that seats 42 audience members?

Jeanie had a challenge; how do you tell such a big story in such a small space? Her answer? Simplicity. Keep the set minimal and let the actors tell the story. This worked wonderfully because we were able to be right there with the characters and feel their emotions, see every layer, every nuance and not be distracted by a busy set. And the actors did a fantastic job of telling the story.

Blanche DuBois is a very complex character. She puts on airs and insults her sister’s way of living, all the while taking one shot of whiskey after the next and obviously not being able to deal with whatever she is escaping. Meredith Hagedorn, who plays Blanche, creates a somewhat likeable character who you just can’t seem to take your eyes off of, arrogant and an emotional wreck, or not. Meredith sucks you into Blanche’s story and makes it easy to feel pity for her and to want everything to work in her favor.

Andrew Harkins is perfect as the rough and crude Stanley Kowalski. I wasn’t sure the momentum of the scene leading up to the famous “Stella” line was enough to put him in the emotional state of someone who is ashamed of what he’s done and is madly and deeply in love with the woman he did it to, but he did. He dropped to his knees, sobbing, and the whole audience felt the intensity.

Katie Anderson is brilliant as Stella Kowalski. She plays a very calm Stella. Her calm nature gives the audience someone to turn to during times of chaos. She is nurturing, understanding, and lovable.

Also lovable is Mitch, played by Troy Johnson, Stanley’s friend who dates Blanche. Troy creates an extremely likable character in Mitch. Sweet and innocent, like a big teddy bear.

The rest of the cast was quite talented as well: Charles McKeithan, Monica Colletti, Phillip Raupach, and Mary Lou Torre.

This production is a definite must see!

A Streetcar Named Desire

July 29 – August 21, 2011

Dragon Productions Theatre Company

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Joann captured by "Brotherhood of the Black Flag"

I got what I wanted for my birthday.

I was captured by pirates and captivated by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

At Camera 7 Pruneyard, I saw the film presented by Sony 4K digital in 3D while sitting in a D-Box seat. I enjoyed the film. Also, all that Camera 7 had to offer made it a fantastic birthday experience!

More about 2D, 3D, D-Box, and Super 8 (the Film) tomorrow…

Get captured by pirates see Brotherhood of the Black Flag

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