Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

THE GREAT PRETENDER a Must-See at TheatreWorks

 

Great Pretender4_KevinBerne

TheatreWorks is presenting another amazing show as the opener of their 45th season.  This is the world premiere of The Great Pretender, by David West Read, and I have no doubt this original show will be playing many theaters in the future.

Mr. Felt is the host of a televised puppet show for children.  He works with a puppet child named Francis, a puppet pony named Carol and a couple other friends.  In the opening we get to see them put on their puppet show of craft making, which goes on just long enough to make me wonder if the entire play was going to be a child’s puppet show… but soon enough the theme music fades out and we head a few months into the future.  Mr. Felt’s wife, the puppeteer for Francis, has passed away, and someone new is needed to replace her.  We soon meet Carol, the puppeteer for Carol the Pony (and the most terrible human on the planet), another puppeteer Tom, and newbie Jodi, who grew up with the show and wants more than anything to be a part of it.

Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) watches skeptically while Jodi (Sarah Moser) tells Tom (Michael Storm) and Carol (Suzanne Grodner) about the pants she made herself

My friend and I were excited to see this show because PUPPETS, and also the line “Contains Mature Language”, and how can you miss with that combo?? But PEOPLE.  This show made me almost cry.  Well, perhaps I did actually cry a little, or maybe there was just a lot of pollen in the theater.  I certainly wasn’t the only one in the theater with sniffles.  The Great Pretender isn’t just a puppet show, it is about Life, and Death, and Friendships, and realizing who your Family is when you have no one.  It also made me laugh hysterically.  It touched me on so many levels, in a way that many other shows have not.  But what did I expect? This is TheatreWorks, and they have consistently presented the best of the best for the last year I have attended.

The production is not actually for children as there are mature language and situations, and also, the character of Carol should not be anywhere near children, haha.  But teens would be fine, and other than that, everyone should go see this amazing show immediately.  I don’t think we have seen the last of David West Read, and The Great Pretender is absolutely headed for the big time.

The Great Pretender
Through August 3, 2014
TheatreWorks
At Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto

 

Local Theaters you should give a try

No, the death of the San Jose Repertory Theatre does not mean an absence of theatre in San Jose.  Not only are there more theaters than I can keep up with, they all produce spectacular shows that will amaze you.  In fact, looking at this list you almost wonder how the SJ Rep will be missed (it will).  Take a good look at what is in store for the summer, get some tickets for your family, and maybe even see if your employer might be willing to give a donation to the theatre of your choice.

And if you have any tickets to a canceled SJ Repertory show, almost all of these theaters have expressed an offer to trade your ticket for one of theirs.  If you see something you’d like to attend below, give their office a call and ask.  The theatre world is a community, and they consider their audiences part of the family.

Here, in alphabetical order, are some theaters you should be giving a shot this summer.  This list is by no means complete.  There truly is an endless opportunity for theatre in the South Bay.

 

Broadway San Jose

Broadway San Jose brings traveling Broadway shows to the area, and they are some of the best musicals you will see in town.  They are always AMAZING.  Jersey Boys begins July 15th, and in August get ready for Wicked!  Obviously you need to get those tickets ASAP.

 

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Children’s Musical Theatre

CMT has a full summer schedule, and never be fooled into thinking this is a “kid” theater.  These are professional productions all the way.  In line this summer are Oklahoma!, Side Show, and Disney’s Jungle Book.  Personally, I think Side Show sounds really interesting and might try to get to it myself.

 

 

 

 

City Lights Theater Company

CLTC is playing The Language Archive through June 29, and on July 24 get ready for Monty Python’s Spamalot!!

CLTC is a great theater with an abundance of talent.  I know I mentioned the lack of A/C when I was last there, but I have never been uncomfortable there any other time.  Definitely give them a chance, I know you won’t be disappointed!  Again, this is a rare theatre that runs in the black, and it should continue to be supported.

 

 

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Dragon Productions Theatre Company

Tomorrow is the last night to see Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, and then Take Me Out begins in July.  They recently opened in their brand new theater, which is much larger than their old space and very comfortable.  Redwood City is not far, and this theater is worth the short trip.

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Hillbarn Theatre

Hillbarn has long been one of my favorite local theaters, even though I have not reviewed there in awhile.  It is in Foster City, but it’s always easy to get there for evening shows because the drive from San Jose has little traffic!  Their musicals are simply the best.  They are on break for the summer, though they do have SummerStage for kids, and on August 28 they return with Funny Girl the musical!!  Let me also state that this theatre has some of the nicest people in the industry working there.

 

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Opera San Jose

This is the company that taught me opera is fun.  Yes, it is FUN.  And I never would have dreamed the line of friends I have who want to join me at the opera.  My vacation forced me to miss their closing show this year, but I can’t wait until September 6 when Verdi’s Rigoletto begins!  San Jose is truly lucky to have such a treasure trove of talent at Opera SJ, from their performers to their set designers.  I’ll not stop urging you to try the opera until I know for a fact that every single one of you has attended at least one show!

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Palo Alto Players

I just started attending their performances this year, and they have been some of the most enjoyable shows I have seen, full of some of the best talent.  The Farnsworth Invention is playing now through June 29, and it has already received notice from Aaron Sorkin, the playwright himself.  The PA Players are worth the cost of a subscription.

 

 

 

 

 

The Pear Avenue Theatre 

Pear Avenue is one of the tiniest theaters I have ever been in, but they show that size does not matter.  Their production of Death of a Salesman was by far one of the best shows I have been to.  On June 20 they begin Pygmalion, and after next season they will be in a brand new theater that will give them even more room.  I am truly excited for them.

 

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Renegade Theatre Experiment

A theatre more people should know and be talking about.  On summer break right now, DO NOT MISS the September World Premiere of Perishable, Keep Refrigerated, written by Redwood City’s own Max Tachis and directed by my favorite theater director Kathleen Normington.  There is one thing you can always count on: when you see a show directed by Kathleen, you will be thinking about it and talking about it for weeks after.

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San Jose Stage Company

Currently on The Stage is Bonnie & Clyde, and you can’t get much better than that.  Wait, yes you can because it’s a MUSICAL!!  Through July 27.

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South Bay Musical Theatre

I have never been to this theatre, but perhaps we should all check it out!   Tonight is their last show for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and September 27 they return with Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate.

 

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TheatreWorks

Another theater I just started this year, they blew me away with their holiday production of Little Women the musical.  I have seen the most consistently professional and talented performances from this company, and they are currently my number one favorite theatre.  Now playing through June 29, Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little.  Without even seeing it I can tell you it’s a can’t-miss!  And then they immediately begin their next season on July 9 with The Great Pretender.  Always worth a trip to Palo Alto!

 

City Lights inadvertently presents allegory for the closing of The Rep

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.

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

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 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

 

R. Buckminster Fuller brings a creative mind to The SJ Rep

My review of R. Buckminster Fuller is way late, but let’s be honest here, it’s because this amazing show just might have been too smart for me.  I didn’t understand every word Fuller said, and I can’t comprehend some of the concepts he was talking about, but I do know it was one certifiably entertaining show.

Let me clarify: I didn’t sit there stupidly wondering what was going on.  The show is profoundly interesting.  I often found my mind wandering while Fuller was talking, but I was just thinking more carefully about something he had said earlier.

Rick Lombardo is taking a risk by bringing R. Buckminster Fuller to the Rep because I don’t think the show is for everyone, but with great risk often comes great theatre.  This is not your typical show, and the show is not for your typical audience.  On the other hand, it may bring in a new audience to the theatre, which is always a good thing.

R. Buckminster Fuller was the science/philosophy/architecture/social science teacher you wish you had.  He was likely a genius, and not only ahead of his time, but ahead of our time as well.  His genius comes with a hypo-eccentricity, which perhaps made it difficult for people to take his ideas seriously, or at least see them to fruition.

I went into this one man show not really sure who Fuller was, only knowing that he had something to do with inventing the geodesic dome.  My mind is currently so crammed full of theatre shows, independant films, and trying to finish a stack of fat library books that I had a very difficult time trying to drum up interest in a show about science. But I have faith in Rick Lombardo, so I went in with the knowledge that Lombardo was likely going to knock my socks off.

I will say that instead, Ron Campbell knocked my socks off with his portrayal of the amazing Fuller.  Campbell is charming and engaging and makes this show more than a science lesson.  As Fuller, he tells the story of his difficult childhood, and explains how his brain works and how he came up with a lot of his ideas.  He was an amazing man, and the show is cerebral and enjoyable.  What better place to hold this forward-thinking show than in the heart of Silicon Valley? Our town was built by forward thinkers, on ideas that were ahead of their time, and concepts that most people could not comprehend.

Let’s not waste any more time here and get this published so you can buy your tickets.

R. Buckminster Fuller
Through February 23
The San Jose Repertory Theatre

 

There is a Smell of Delight at City Lights Theater Company

 

 

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 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

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.

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”.

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!

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