Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Young Lovers Strive For Meaning in A Sandbox Under The Stars.

In Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” just seen on the Festival Stage last, Jacques speaks his oft -repeated poem “All the world’s a stage…” Moving forward, in the Globe’s current out-door showing, through Sept. 15th, the tragic love story between two young lovers, “Romeo and Juliet”, the stage is one giant sandbox designed by Takeshi Kata.
Cast at the ball
Their families, the Montague’s and the Capulet’s, carry out their hate fest for each other as they trek and run back and forth in the sand, sans sandals, in and around the sandbox edges; stage a masque ball, and carry out the rivalry between the two households as their revenge fest continues well into the lives of the innocent lovers who pay in spades for their parents petty squabbles.

Friends, household occupants and relatives of each party, Juliet’s nurse (Candy Buckley, coming on as a comical character (“Bewitched” unlike in other performances), Friar Lawrence and Friar John (Jesse J. Peres and Jersten Seraile) and Capulet servant, (Hallie Peterson is a hoot as she rushes to deliver/read messages she can’t read) are there at the bidding of both households in a fast paced production, especially in the first act, that almost loses sight of what’s to come.
Aaron Clifton Moten and Ben Chase
Mercutio, (an over the top and high-spirited Ben Chase) Romeo’s close friend and Tybalt Juliet’s belligerent cousin (Yadira Correa) stage their famous duel (“curses on both houses”) with swords, knives, daggers and lances fished out from strategic places in the sand, as the all too oblivious young lover’s play cat and mouse avoiding any adult supervision.

In that same sandbox the lovers, in an over choreographed love scene, consummate their marriage, speak of love, hate, anger with passion and sincerity, yet more tragically, die in each others arms as the adults who might have acted like adults, look on in horror at what they had done to their children.

It’s all so Shakespeare, even if abbreviated, and yet so heartbreaking, especially after just coming from an emotional “West Side Story”, the takeoff on Romeo and Juliet set to Leonard Bernstein’s music.
Aaron Clifton Moten and Louisa Jacobson
Coincidentally Edelstein’s production has lots of music including references to “I Love Lucy”, and “West Side Story”, with original music of Mark Bennett and Justin Gray playing the piano off to the side of the stage, with a large candelabrum for effect.

This new and appealing production, one you will not want to miss, oft comical and charming, delightful and refreshing, sometimes distracting with too much sand flying about has panels of a panoramic scene in the background of a modern dayVerona that changes color from black and white to red complete the picture and playing space.

But for the younger audiences on opening night, Edelstein put the ‘C’ in Camp capturing the high level, bordering on feverish mood with a lot of shtick. There’s a party happening, drinks are flowing, a new bling necklace is waiting in the wings and after crashing in on the party,  Romeo has just sighted the girl of his dreams.

A tinker toy piano with a Liberace candelabra at the ball, in the middle of the sand box where Juliet plays and sings a takeoff on Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana”, is a hoot as the cast does the cha-cha-, of course in the sand.  This is classic shtick that Juliet does just to please her father, brings the house down. 

“Lola the showgirl… “her name was Lola, She was a showgirl…at the Copacabana ‘ the hottest spot north of Havana. They were young and they had each other. Who could ask for more?” set a laugh fest that lasted for a time
Jesse Perez, Louisa Peterson amd Aaron Clifton Moten

One little shtick that turned me off was Romeo looking more like  a troubadour, strumming his guitar and mocking Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”… “Well your faith was strong but needed proof, saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya…Hallelujah  just didn’t work for me even as Romeo was trying to shake off his once feelings for Rosalind. 

As director Edelstein notes, “The show is a celebration of youth and a cautionary tale about all the forces that buffet young people as they make their way through the world”.   

At the heart of this romantic tale of love and revenge is the sexy, attractive, charming and appealing (my words not Shakespeare’s) Aaron Clifton Morten’s Romeo.

Dressed in modern day white jeans and blue button down dress shirt, (Judith Dolan) and barefooted, his portrayal of one half of the star -crossed lovers and his instant attraction for Juliet at the ball sets in motion a tsunami that will wash over both families.
Louisa Jacobson
Lovely Louisa Jacobson’s Juliet is as quirky and impulsive as most teenagers seem to be as she ponders her star status as her age and station in life dictate that she marry.

Her slow merging from youthful play to lovelorn to some maturity, subtle as it was, takes shape as the star crossed lovers become one and she vacillates between love and hate when she learns Romeo has killed her cousin in that all to fateful duel.

Her father Lord Capulet (an of over the top and unnecessarily loud Cornell Womack) announces  that he has chosen a husband for his daughter, Juliet, a young and clueless Paris. (Mason Conrad) He is a nobleman and suitable suitor for the Capulet’s. Unbeknownst to her father she has already wed Romeo.

With much ado both Lord Capulet’s and Lady Capulet, (Sofia Jean Gomez) insist she readies for her wedding day sooner rather than later. All seems like fun and games for the young at heart especially the lingering moments at the balcony scene that could have gone on all night were it not for a call to Juliet from her nurse.

Children in their teens, both finding instant love in and for one another plan and plot of getting married on the sly and taking off to be away from the family feuding. With the help of a cockamamie plan by Friar Lawrence that set the stage for a more thoughtful and somber Act II, the lighting dimmed (Stephen Strawbridge) and the sound more muted (Sten Severson) with the realization that all would not be well in the dark caverns of Verona.

Death Scene
As was predicted, nothing ended as it should or everything ended as was laid out by a youthful Bard at a time when the sins of the ‘fathers were visited on the children and the children, in this case, as was in the case of Chava and Fyedka in “Fiddler On The Roof” and Tony and Maria in “West Side Story”, were led down the primrose path thinking the world was their oyster when in fact, it was nothing of the sort.

Opening and closing the show with two with two young children (Jaydn Washington and Veda Cienfuegos) with pails and shovels shown playing together without a care in the world might be symbolic to some, but seemed to be pushing the button too far. 
Cast of Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy will be remembered, children or not, and this particular production with an outstanding cast overall, will be talked about for this director’s out of the box (er sandbox) interpretation for many moons to come.   

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 15th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-2345623
Production Type: Tragedy
Where: Old Glob Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Stage
Photo: Jim Cox

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Oh! So Tenderly.

Back in 1954, my something teen -year old self was just entering my senior year in high school. My first real serious boyfriend and I decided to have as our ‘favorite song’ Rosemary Clooney’s “Tenderly”.  You can imagine how my now much older year heart skipped a beat when North Coast Repertory Theatre announced it was mounting, as their ‘off night’ entertainment “Tenderly, The Rosemary Clooney Musical” by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman.

I couldn’t resist.

The two -hour + show is based on the life of Clooney and performed by two experienced actors, Rachel Sorsa and Michael Marotta. Sorsa belts out eighteen of Clooney’s tunes in between the story telling with Marotta playing all the characters in Clooney’s life from her mother to her two husbands, one José Ferrer, who cheated on her from the start, to her brother, her sister and her psychiatrist during a hellish period when the crooner suffered a nervous breakdown after her addiction to sleeping pills.  

Rachel Sorsa and Michael Marotta 
Both actors had previously done the show separately and in different venues. Marotta, who directed, choreographed and acted, originated his role at the Cincinnati Playhouse. Sorsa performed it at Georgia Ensemble Theatre in Atlanta. Together they are a perfect match and play well off each other as the musical history/story unfolds flawlessly. 

The play begins in Beverly Hills, 1968.

Clooney’s story, that can be accessed in book form (Clooney, Rosemary, Girl Singer: An Autobiography, 1999) or on line, is as they say an open book now. Back then my limited knowledge of her was that she was married to actor José Ferrer and that he was an SOB to live with.  She loved him. In their on again/off again marriage  they had five children together.

Some highlights:

Her singing career started with Clooney and her younger sister singing at clubs and barely making a living. After a fashion she was singled out and went on her own; a painful period in her life.

In her TV 1956 show she had a wanna be affair with orchestra leader Nelson Riddle. Both were married and neither budged; they never married each other but eventually married others.

She finally reunited with an earlier flame, American dancer and instructor Dante DePalo and was married to him until her death in 2002 (she was 74) the year she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.   

Included in her circle of friends were Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and The Kennedy’s, (She was at the Ambassador Hotel when Bobby Kennedy was shot). 

William Saroyan who wrote “Come On –a My House”- sold a million copies. She appeared on the Merv Griffin Show a number of times. 

 Marlene Dietrich, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen (they appeared in movies together) and a host of others are listed  in a Who's Who of her personal friends, many of whom stood by her throughout her troubled years. Two most loyal were were Crosby and Sibatra.        
Rachel Sorsa with Michael Marotta
With musical direction by Cris O’Bryan and his team, Marty Burnett’s set, Matt Novotny’s lighting design, Elisa Benzoni’s period costumes and Katie Lowe (Sound) and Ryan Ford’s (sound mixer), I could have listened all night even though the voice of course is not Clooney’s, the music and the story belong solely to her.  What a treat.

If you want to take a trip down memory lane, hear some great music (Tenderly, “Only a Paper Moon”, “Bacia Me”,  “Hey There”, “Sisters”), with fine backup musicians and immerse yourself in storytelling at its best and a softer blast in music from the pas, just before Rock 'n Roll, head out to North Coast Rep. in Solana Beach you won’t be sorry. 

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug 25th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Musical Bio
Where: 987 Loma Santa Fe Drive Suite D
Ticket Prices: $49.00
Photo: Dan Carmody/Georgia Ensemble 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Pablo Picasso Returns To San Diego Stages.

When Pablo Picasso lived in Vauvenargues, a woman was strolling along and spotted him sketching at a sidewalk café. “The woman asked if I could sketch her, and charge accordingly. I obliged. In just ten minutes, I drew her. There it was: an original Picasso. “Oh, how much do I owe you?” she asked. “Five thousand Francs, madam’. But it only took you three minutes,” “No!” I said, “It took me –all-my- life.”

“A Weekend with Picasso” is the work of a lifetime; one that Siguenza has been preparing for many moons. He is simply wonderful, playful and completely at ease as Picasso’s alter ego. His energy is contageous, his humor as Picasso is smart and truthful and his works of art, an artist in his own right, are recreated in seconds... with a little help from his design team. 
Seguenza doing what Picasso does best
In an engrossing, passionate and magical (80 minutes) “A Weekend with Pablo Picasso”, now playing at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad Village through Aug. 25, writer, actor, painter Herbert Siguenza takes on the role of Picasso for one weekend at his studio/home in France, where he will tell you chapter and verse about the man himself as he channels Picasso’s every move, mannerism, mood, philosophy, chuckle and thought. He dances, clowns, speaks several languages and gets dead serious about politics, war, past and present.

An accomplished artist in his own right, Siguenza will paint a few portraits on stage, some still life and embellish some already finished products. He will tell you about the women in his life, (“When I kiss a woman, I leave my eyes open. I want to see everything”) his politics (with passion) and what a great person he is. Well? “I do not wish my celebrity on anyone…not even my worst enemies”… “The whole world demands from me”.

He’s seventy-six at the time of this telling in 1957.  “Time is a bandit. When it’s gone, it’s gone, like a taxi -meter. No argument. The older I get, the stronger the wind gets-and it’s always in my face. I’m afraid I have less and less time yet more and more to say”.

“A Weekend with Pablo Picasso” was work shopped at the San Diego Rep. in 2010 as work in progress. Siguenza, a founding member of the performance group Culture Clash, wrote the piece that includes quotes from Picasso’s writings.
Siguenza has taken his work and performed it in Denver, San Francisco, Houston, and Los Angeles and now it’s back for a return engagement at NVA. With Todd Salovey once more at the helm, the show is as polished and smooth as ever and the love story between world famous painter and artist of many talents is truly a gift from Siguenza to his audiences.

At the time of the play, the now famous Picasso was completing a commission for six paintings and three vases for a wealthy patron. The play takes place in his studio in the South of France where he is working feverishly to complete his commission. (“Who do you think I am, Dali?”)  Speaking directly to the audience, as the performance opens, he agrees to let us in on his work habits only of we promise to leave at the end of the weekend. 
Picasso At Work
Visuals of a painter at work are everywhere; a pencil drawing of a young Picasso, a photo of Picasso with his wife Dora Maar, cubist paintings, African art, a photo of Picasso working on Guernica, (Giulio Perrone properties/ set/scenic design/with recreated styles and clothing that Picasso actually wore in famous photographs by Douglas Duncan 1957/59 that some might call casual elegance.). His studio is visual wonder packed with wooden packing crates, books, photos, food, clothing, easels, engravings with hand scrawled messages and reminders about his glory days.  

With Bruno Louchouarn’s impressive sound design, Curtis Miller’s lighting design and Victoria Petrovich’s standout projections of war footage among other things, this completed solo piece is a must see.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug 25th
Organization: New Village Arts
Phone: 760-433-3245
Production Type: Solo Performance
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$36.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Friday, August 16, 2019

Raw, Thrilling “West Side Story” Plays Out in All It’s Ugliness and Beauty At Moonlight Stage Productions.

It could be the Jets, the Sharks, a lone shooter, a radicalized gun-man you name it, not much has changed from the hay day of musical theatre of the ‘50’s when the Leonard Bernstein (Music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Arthur Laurents (book) and Jerome Robbins (choreography) “West Side Story” was on Broadway, to the beautifully reimaged production currently at Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista through Aug 31st.

Jets on one side, Sharks on the other,with Tony and Maria in the cross hairs
This iconic American Musical with all the underpinnings of race, prejudice and ethnic biases, repeating once again the long ago tragedy of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (set to open at the Old Globe this weekend), is on the one hand, thrilling. It’s thrilling to hear the music of Bernstein, the lyrics of Sondheim, and the Jerome Robbins physical, if not amazing choreography.

On the other hand its chilling to know ahead of time the tragedy that lies ahead for the two star crossed lovers, Maria (eighteen year old Bella Gill)  and Tony (Michael James Byrne), is still as beautiful, heart rendering and ugly as ever.
Courtney Arango (center) 
“West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957. The setting is placed in the mid fifties and early sixties during the turbulent years of race riots and ethnic profiling. Ironically Bernstein, Laurents and Jerome Robbins (who came up with the idea for the story) had initially focused the plot on the conflict between an Irish Catholic family and a Jewish family living on the lower east side of Manhattan. 

Over time the story that now centers on the rivalry between the Puerto Rican’s (The Sharks) and White’s (The Jets) fighting over the same piece of turf in their neighborhood on the Upper West Side slums of Manhattan, 1955 could be substituted for any racial clashes or neighborhoods, schools, malls or religious institutions; sadly anywhere in the U.S still today.   

The love story is the background that sets a stage for the heartbreaking ending as Tony and Maria fall head over heels for each other. When they do meet in a dreamlike sequence at a school dance (“Dance At The Gym”) designed to bring the two rival sides together, (“Tonight” “Maria”) the die has been cast.
Bella Gil and Michael James Byrne
While Maria and Tony are falling hard, the Jets new leader and Tony’s bud Riff (a wonderful Taylor Simmons) challenges Bernardo (steamy, handsome and extraordinary dancer Armando Eleazer) and the Sharks to a ‘rumble’. 

Maria, a recent arrival from Puerto Rico and Bernardo’s sister has no history of turf wars. She is working in the local bridal shop with Anita, Bernardo’s squeeze (sexy and captivating Courtney Arango). Tony, on the other hand is trying to move on with his life and is somewhat removed from the Jet’s street fighting.  Unfortunately, he reluctantly agrees to get pulled into one last ‘rumble’ in the hopes of reaching some peace.
Armando Eleazar as Bernardo and Tylor Simmons as Riff
Bernardo is the head honcho of the Sharks and has hand picked his fiend Chino (Marcus Alexander) to be Maria’s intended. She has other ideas. Bernardo and Anita have different takes on how to become assimilated (or not) into the American psyche. (“America”/”I Have a Love”). Bernardo is old school while Anita has a feistiness that pushes her to want to fit into her new world. 

The star-crossed lovers are oblivious to everything else going on around them and think they are different; that their love can conquer all. (“One Hand One Heart”). None of it is pretty, yet the simple and naïve love story aches to be heard as Moonlight’s protagonists under the deft direction of artistic chief Steve Glaudini find a way be together with a convincing chemistry that this young couple manages to prove from beginning to end.   

Anita, who has some sympathy for Maria allows herself to get drawn into the drama by standing up for Maria (“I Have a Love”) and in a round about way, is a co conspirator. Hearts stop when she agrees to deliver a message to Tony from Maria about a meeting place for them (“Somewhere”) that will take them away from this craziness.
Courtney Arango and Bella Gil
She faces the Jets head on in the Jet’s neighborhood hangout, Doc’s Drug Store.  Rather than agreeing to bring her to Tony she finds herself ridiculed and taunted by some of the hot headed young and stupid Jets anxious to start their own ‘rumble’ with her in a nasty turn about of events that sets us up for that fateful last scene I so hate to watch.

Ralph Johnson is perfect as Doc, the only adult in the room with a head on his shoulders who walks in on the Jets as they are about to rape Anita and disgustingly admonished the boy’s with “When do you kids stop? You make this world lousy!” To wit they reply that they found it this way.

Both Byrne and Gil were in fine voice on opening night. For the first time yours truly found this production to be more operatic in tone than ever.  Gil’s voice, while a bit thin in the higher registers still managed to fill the stage with soaring vocals, solo and in duet with Bryne (One Hand/One Heart”/ “Tonight”). Courtney Arango and the Shark’s (Milan Magana, Mikayla Agrella, and Elise Gonsalves to name a few) girls stole every scene from “America” to the all company “Tonight” as talent oozes from this young enthusiastic and talented cast.
Dream Sequence
Anthony Fletcher is the race-baiting detective that is just as much a part of the instigating as the gang members. Fletcher walks the walk with confidence while stirring the pot and is just as much the problem as he might have been the solution. 

And then there is Officer Krupke, baton in hand looking for trouble. (Devin Collins ) “Gee Officer Krupke” is the poking fun at the law tune that has both law enforcers looking like incompetents.

Lacy Beegun is Anybody the tomboy who cant wait to be included as a Jet. She too joins the dance ensemble and is quick to show off her steps.

With a beautifully balanced ensemble of no less than thirty mostly singers and dancers pumping energy into this historical American tragedy and with the big orchestra sounds under the direction of Elan McMahan and co-musical director Randi Ellen Rudolph’s 29 piece orchestra, and the reproduced, exciting and physical (some of the finest) choreography by Hector Gerrero “West Side Story” still ranks up there in the top ten American Musicals.  

The Moonlight cast is in constant motion from Tony climbing the ladder to Maria’s window to the mechanics of staging a big 'rumble' (read gang fight). Robert Andrew Kovach designed a balcony platform and scant moveable sets surrounded by chain link fences on three sides.

Jennifer Edwards effective lighting casting shadows in the dark and light on the lovers, to the gangs running back and forth, sliding under, climbing atop fences, or to dancing in the High School Gym all serve the large stage well.

 Jim Zadai designed the sound and Peter Herman, the wigs.

Carlotta Malone built the period costumes along with Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd, the fearsome threesome of Moonlight’s costume shop.

The two gangs, and there are some talented kids (Trevor Rex as Diesel and meet at times to discuss a possible rumble in what might be called neutral territory, “Doc’s Drugstore and on some occasions they skillfully skim and tumble over the chain linked fences or are in constant motion…until the end, when silence grips both audience and gang members in a scene too wrenching to describe. 
At Doc's with Tony and Bernardo (Ralph Johnson in background)
“West Side Story” lost out to “Music Man” for Best Musical when the Tony’s were announced in 1957. Some called that a scandal. It’ s all a matter of taste and timing. Both musicals have their place in history. Sadly, in the scheme of things  “West Side Story” and the message therein is as current today as it was over fifty years ago.

If you are a sentimental softie like me, bring tissues
More Dream Sequence
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 31st
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Phone: 760-724-2110
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1250 Vale terrace Drive, Vista
Ticket Prices: $17.00-$5700
Photo: Ken Jacques