Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tarantara, tarantara! “Pirates of Penzance” Meet San Diego Opera In Season Opener.

San Diego Opera opened its 2017-2018 season with Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “The Pirates of Penzance”. Looking around the lobby before going into the theatre it was such a welcomed sight to see throngs of a younger generation mixing in with the suits of the regular season ticket holders.

My theatre buddy knew “Pirates” from the movie version and claims to know all things ‘Penzance’. He was thrilled to be seeing it live in beautiful Technicolor, with eye -popping sets, imaginative costumes and gorgeous voices you most likely will not forget.

Cast of "Pirates of Penzance" and eyepopping opening pictures.
“Pirates of Penzance” is probably one the most produced and favorites (although I do like ‘Pinafore’ and sweet Buttercup. Maybe, next time) of the G&S cache. It opened in New York in 1879 and here it is in 2017 and audiences are still eating it up.

The excellent job of telling the story (English sub titles never distracted) of young Fredric’s plight as a pirate –in- training rather than a pilot in training due to a hard -of hearing nanny just flows without a hitch as both stage director and choreographer  Seán Curran and conductor Evan Rogister, with incredible support and elegant sounds from the San Diego Symphony Orchestra flows from beginning to end.

It’s his 21st birthday and celebrations ring out for his apprenticeship to be over. But Alas! He was a Labor Day Birthday Boy and, regrettably would not be ready to claim his independence until again…alas, 1940. Will his love agree to wait? “My Eyes Are Fully Open”

SPOILER, SPOILER! Not to worry.
Greer Grimsley, Mackenzie Whitney and Luretta Bybee
Once Frederic (American tenor Mackenzie Whitney could have used a little more oomph in his voice) and his Nanny Ruth (Mezzo-Soprano Luretta Bybee) make it to shore over the objections of the Pirate King (superb Bass-Baritone Greer Grimsley) and Frederic notices the bevvy of beautiful young women, (“Oh, False One You Have Deceived Me”) all daughters belonging to Major General Stanley (bass-Baritone Patrick Carfizzi), his quest to abandon Ruth and make sure lovely Mabel (soprano Maureen McKay “Poor Wandering One”) notices him, begins in earnest.

 Make no mistake the effort goes both ways over the objections of The Major General.  

Michael Sokol as Sergeant of Police
And what would a good G&S show look like without blundering policeman, (Tarantara, tarantara!) an eccentric Major General (“I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”) a motley group of pirates (“A Rollicking Band of Pirates Be”), and a Nanny (“A Paradox, A Paradox”) in love with her charge? It doesn’t get much better than this.

Patrick Carfizzias Major General Stanley
Taking into consideration that this piece has a well -rounded ensemble but exceptional voices in the lead roles do stand out. Grimsley, Carfizzi, Ms. Bybee, Ms. McKay, local talent Soprano Patricia McAfee( “Sound of Music" moons ago)  as Isabel and Mezzo- Soprano Sarah Nicole Carter Kate, another sister, and I would be remiss if I failed to mention Baritone Michael Sokol as Sergeant of Police (what a hoot). O, and one more add on, a character from Treasure Island could be seen ambling among the pirates. Why not?

Stephen W. Bryant designed the wigs. James Schuette designed the confetti colored costumes and the playful looking cutout ship set the stage. Chorus Master Bruce Stasyna leads the company in one wonderful sound.

SDO’s foray G&S is a brilliant move by General Director David Bennett and his farsighted board willing to explore avenues not ventured to in the past. The audience reaction spoke for itself on opening night. Next up on the program: Puccini’s “Turandot” followed by Verdi’s “La Traviata” in April.    

Do yourself a favor and bring the youngsters, they (you) won’t be disappointed.

Swooning over Frederic (Mackenzie Whitney)
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Fri. Oct. 20th 7:pm, Sunday Oct. 22nd 2:pm.
Organization: San Diego Opera
Phone: 619.533.7000
Production Type: Opera
Where: 1100 Third Ave. San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $53.00
Venue: San Diego Civic Theatre

Photo: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

“The Legend Of Georgia McBride” Hits Its Stride in Drag Colored Glasses

Anywhere you go in Las Vegas you can bump into an Elvis impersonator, but in Panama City, Fla. it’s an anomaly.

So get ready for an Elvis wanna be and a transformational, life altering surprise when Casey (Spencer Bang) finds himself without a job, rent due and a kid (s) on the way in Matthew Lopez’ smile a minute San Diego premiere “The Legend of Georgia McBride” now in a fast paced and entertaining production at Cygnet Theatre through Nov. 12th. 

Casey and his wife Jo (Alexandra Slade) are in love, no doubt about it. They are also as poor as church mice. Up until a few days ago Casey had a job impersonating Elvis at Cleo’s on Panama Beach, Fla., a dinky little nightspot owned by a guy named Eddie (Lance Carter).

Eddie has the personality of a dude who doesn’t want to be in front of an audience introducing a guy dressed like Elvis who barely gets customers into his bar.
Alexandra Slade, Spencer Bang and Chesley Polk
Casey thinks his act ‘is on fire’; he’s what some might call a cockeyed optimist. Eddie knows otherwise. Casey’s act is, pardon the pun, a drag on his bottom line.  

At some point Eddie’s cousin Miss Tracy Mills (David McBean in his element) a drag queen of yesterday’s importance convinces Eddie to let him and his fellow drag queen Rexy (Chesley Polk) have a go at putting on their drag show.

Rexy not impressed with the setup (“Do not tell me that we raced throughout the night to get to this shithole?”), and Miss Tracy have the nasty task of telling Casey to vacate his once Elvis dressing room.
Spencer Bang as Casey
 But…as fate would have it, Rexy fails the booze test and, to make a long story short, Miss Tracy convinces Casey (‘Take your clothes off. We’re turning you into a girl.” to get himself stuffed into a pair of pantie hose, heels and falsies, wig and dress (“Tits, hips, ass, no bulge.”) and go on in drag as Edith Piaf, lip syncing to “Padam, Padam.”

Before long Cleo’s becomes the local drag scene and THE place to go. Business is hopping and Eddie is a happy camper.

Some, but not much drama is brought in when Jo walks in on Casey, now getting ready for a show, standing in his bra with lipstick plastered on his lips and cheeks and is horrified to learn he’s not Elvis anymore. Gay or not Gay that is the question?

Artistic director Sean Murray and his altogether great cast, include a charming and handsome, buff and somewhat naïve Casey, an over the top drag Queen Miss Tracy Mills, a rough and tumble Roxy, whose been through the prejudice and intolerance more that he cares to remember, a sweet and innocent Jo, and milquetoast bar owner Eddie.
Spencer Bang and David McBean aka Miss Tracy Mills
Together they make this, if you will coming -of -age saga, snap to life as Casey and Jo learn that everything in life is not as it appears and singing and prancing about dressed in drag never reduces one’s manhood as long as one is true to oneself.

The one person not on stage physically that might be considered the star of this show is costume designer Jennifer Brawn Giddings. Let’s just say that her costume designs make the show as glitzy, showy and ostentatious as any drag show can get. The costumes are an absolute delight and Ms. Brawn Giddings has outdone herself.

During the finale as the actors come out, in one big rousing drag number, wearing one shiny and shimmering costume after another the strobe light above the stage slowly spins, turning them into glittering works of art.

The lip-syncing looks as natural as ever and life is but a dream Sh Boom. 

Would that it were all that easy.

Credit Kyle Montgomery for lighting and Sean Fanning for set design. Dylan Nielson's sound could by a bit more modulated, and of course Peter Herman, master wig designer, gives everyone a different and well...natural look. 

Spencer Bang
For something different and a chuckle a minute, “The Legend of Georgia McBride” will be right up your alley. It runs 2 hours and it’s time well spent.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 12th
Organization: Cygnet Theatre Company
Phone: 619.337.1525
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, San Diego, CA 92110
Ticket Prices: $41.00 to $53.00
Venue: Theatre in Old Town
Photo: Daren Scott

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Globe’s Bittersweet Homage To “Leonard Pelkey”: A Stunning Tour de Force Delivered by James Lecesne.

Don’t be misled by the words ‘A One Man Show’. There are Solo Performances and solo performances. “The Absolute Brightness Of Leonard Pelkey” now in a stunning tour de force by James Lecesne at The Old Globe through Oct. 29th, is a one -man many-character piece.

Each one of the characters that stream through Lecesne talks about, to and of Leonard Pelkey and not one is Leonard himself. And that’s the beauty of playwright’s story. We meet and get to know the uniqueness of Leonard by those that did know him.

The playwright/performer is most noted for his Academy Award winning short film “Trevor” and his ‘Trevor Project’ that serves as a 24-hour prevention hot line and crisis intervention center for the LGBT community. The play based on his the novel of the same name was published in 2008 and was adapted to a solo show in 2015.

“Brightness” is a very well oiled machine. This is not Lecesne’s first time out of the box performance of his moving and bittersweet homage to Leonard Pelkey.

“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” opened at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles in 2016.  It caught the eye of Globe’s artistic director Barry Edelstein who thought it would be a good fit for the space in The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. He was right.
James Lecesne as Detective Chuck DeSantis
The story as told by middle-aged Homicide detective Chuck DeSantis is as spellbinding and somewhat comical, in an off-centered way, as are the characters that fill in the blanks helping to complete the picture of a 14 -year old, missing teen.

DeSantis is from New Jersey in ‘some godforsaken precinct down the Jersey shore’. He also quotes Shakespeare and that’s one of his endearing qualities.

But today it’s not about him. It’s about case #3684599 a ten -year old missing person report, “the case that got them on MapQuest.”

In everyone’s opinion, Leonard was ‘different’ and exceptional.

No it wasn’t just that he dressed flamboyantly or that he wore eye makeup, or nail polish or that he was gay, or that he made a makeshift pair tennis shoes bonding together the bottoms of several pairs of flip-flops in Rainbow colors; it was the fact that he so was comfortable in his own skin, something that confounded his acquaintances and small group of friends.

The fact that no one could convince him to tone it down for the sake of his own safety loomed in everyone’s fear of Leonard’s well being.  

He was being bullied and harassed in school. Ultimately, as we learn at the outset, 14 -year old Leonard, then living with…a sort of relative (he’s her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s son and the mother died) and her daughter, was the victim of a hate crime and it was up to Detective DeSantis to help solve the crime. After being reported missing, his body was found at the bottom of the lake tied to an anchor.

With nothing more than a table and chair, small lamp and a coffee cup the evidence is set out on the table—a sneaker, some rope, a money clip, his schoolbag, composition book, glasses, and some incidentals (nail polish and eye makeup) in a zip lock bag and a stack of files about the case (Jo Winiarski), Lecesne makes his way through the unraveling of Leonard’s death.

We follow the clues, witness the questioning of the suspect, and attend the funeral, the trial and the surprise ending. Yes, there is one of those as well.  

With a turn, a change in his voice (and a very pronounced Jersey accent) a subtle stoop in body language, an attitude, gender, a pronounced strut and or a foreign accent he changes like a chameleon from one personality to another with the strengths zeroing in on Ellen Hertle, Leonard’s almost aunt, a hairdresser and her ‘sixteen going on 45’ year old daughter Phoebe, ‘a kid but without innocence’.   

The two provide the most poignant and heartbreaking clues as to whom Leonard was and how he brushed up against them giving them, and for that matter all that knew him ‘absolute brightness’.

If you did not come away from the play feeling the aura of Leonard Pelkey then you missed the point.
“The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” (directed by Tony Speciale, lit by Matt Richards and with sound design by Christian Frederickson and original music by Duncan Sheik and brilliantly performed by James Lecesne) can be summed up by the his close friend and almost cousin Phoebe:

“Maybe without evil the just people of the world, people who are going along, living their lives, minding their own business, maybe they would never find the courage to come forward and do the right thing. And the right thing to do today is to stand here before this court and say Leonard Pelkey was a good person. He changed my life, he changed all our lives. He made us believe in goodness again.”
Two Thumbs up on this short, 80 or so minutes, but profound story.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 29th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619.234.5623
Production Type: Solo Performance
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Matthew Murphy

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Laguna Playhouse Presents A Gripping “12 Angry Men”

The men’s suits are right out of a 50’s playbook, the haircuts are dated, the ties are pencil thin, and most of the men wear hats and some vests. (Kate Bergh).

Of the men filing into the Jury Room one is an immigrant watchmaker, two are African American, one is a certified bigot, one a irritated and glib baseball fan, one a banker, one an architect, one in stocks, one in advertising, one a spurned parent, one runs a messenger service and one a garage owner.
John Massey and cast of "12 Angry Men"
This is the makeup of the men in Reginald Rose’s classic Oscar nominated 1957 Film “12 Angry Men” which was based on the original 1954 “Studio One” television drama, before it was adapted to a stage play in 1955.  

With pinpoint direction by Michael Matthews, it is now in a no holds barred production at The Laguna Playhouse through Oct. 22nd.

Twelve men from very different backgrounds, cultures and leanings file into a jury room in New York City in 1957. The set designed with accuracy by Stephen Gifford with one long board table, twelve chairs, a coat and hat rack, a water cooler with paper cups, a broken fan, a clock, pencils pads, three windows looking out to the city and three large florescent lights, and off to the side a washroom with two sinks.

All the action takes place in this confined area. There is no intermission and as the jurors are locked in the jury room, we are all rivited in our seats as the jury room drama unfolds.

After listening to the case (for three days) of a young boy accused of stabbing his father with a unique looking switch blade, and two witnesses, one an infirm older man and the other an elderly woman who may or may not have had her glasses on at the time she claimed to have seen the stabbing, the men must decipher the evidence and decide whether or not the boy is guilty. If so, he gets the chair. It’s mandatory. The boy is 16.

“If there is a reasonable doubt, you must bring me a verdict of not guilty. If there is no reasonable doubt then you must in good conscious, find the accused guilty.”

Foreman (Matthew Henderson) sets the stage. Juror 7 (John Massey) “Let’s vote. Who knows maybe we can all go home.”

 The first count, by a show of hands: 11 guilty, 1 not guilty. 

Sast of "12 Angry Men" at Laguna Playhouse
And so the conversation, racially based confrontations, accusations of anger, and cross talking begins when Juror  #8 (Seamus Denver) does not raise his hand. After some consideration and many cross explinations and examinations, the paradigme shifts.

#10 (John Colella) “Boy Oh Boy! There’s always one.”

 #8, “I don’t know whether I believe it or not. Maybe I don’t.” “There were eleven votes for “guilty”. It’s not easy for me to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”

Rose’s courtroom drama is set in the 50’s but if you closed your eyes and just listened to the dialogue, you would swear that you were in the present.

Each of the jurors had a preconditioned idea of the boy’s innocence or guilt even before they entered that jury room, so when the you- know -what hits the fan, it suddenly becomes about personalities rather than a crime that might or might have not been committed by the accused.

Matthews keeps the conversation going most times but there are quiet moments that let time for reflection set in. The actor’s movements are in constant motion whether going to the rest room, taking a drink, looking out the window, slapping the table, slumping over the table, chewing gum or as Juror # 10 who has allergies blows his nose like a fog horn and refers to the boy as ‘those people’.

Whether walking from one end of the room to another, wiping their foreheads, standing, sitting, lunging at each other or checking and writing on their ballots each character has his unique personality and it shows through in spades.

The ensemble work here is exemplary and each one of the jurors has a chance to stand on his convictions, some with more passion than others. (Juror #3 Richard Bergi gives a bravo performance as a father who has lost his son to his own ignorance. Afraid his son might not be manly enough when he ran away from a fight as a kid, his son ran away from home when he was 16; ‘rotten kid’).

Andrew Barnicle #9 a man past his prime, hunches and tired looking is oft overlooked as a person to be listened to.

Juror # 11 David Nevell not a U.S. born American but definitely honors the rules is dismissed as being different and gets spurned by #7 (John Massey) bringing out the fact that his is an immigrant.

Juror #5 Dennis Renard an African American who also grew up in the slums as did the accused. He’s on the fence for a while. Reasonable doubt?

Juror # 4 (Rick Cosnett) seems above it all, cool and unemotional is the most rational. But it is Juror #10 that exhibits the most rage and racism before he’s asked to shut up! Fortunately for all 12 there is a lesson to be learned here.
Richard Burgi and Seamus Denver with Cast of "12 Angry Men". 
In a society where there is so mush noise and not enough quiet time to listen to others, the jury room must be a haven for honest discussion. Men and women’s lives depend on it. Would that we all were in a mind to listen first and possibly be willing to see and acknowledge another’s opinion? Imagine.

Excellent theatre is just up the road a bit at The Laguna Playhouse. It's worth a try.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Oct. 22nd
Organization: Laguna Playhouse
Phone: 949.497.2787
Production Type: Drama
Where: 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Ticket Prices: $45.00-$80.00
Venue: Moulton Theatre
Photo: Ed Krieger