Sunday, August 20, 2017

‘With Just One Look’ “Sunset Boulevard” Pitches Into High Gear At Moonlight.

Sunset Boulevard is an icon in the minds of Angelino’s. It’s a destination and a place. Everyone wants to say that they have been there. To Norma Desmond, the faded fictional silent screen star of “Sunset Boulevard” it is home on however may acres her chateau sits, as she waits for Cecil B. DeMille to tap her for her next big leading role.   

“Sunset Boulevard” the musical hit the Broadway stage in 1994 after giving Los Angeles audiences a first look (why not?). This San Diegan happened to be in the audience as well.

Valerie Perri as Norma Desmond (Adriana Zuniga Photography)
It starred Glenn Close.  Everyone went gaga (not that one) over her. She won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award and she and the production racked up a few Tony’s.  At the time, this reviewer found the star elegant, her singing voice not up to par and the musical, not to be compared to the movie, overrated.

It came back with gusto to San Diego (San Diego Playgoers, now Broadway/San Diego) in 1999 with Petula Clark as Norma. Happily, she had the voice and range to pull off Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music. (Don Black and Christopher Hampton’s book and lyrics) While Close had the class and Clark the voice, the musical incarnation is still static.

“Sunset Boulevard” is based on the 1950 Billy Wilder noir movie starring movie legend Gloria Swanson as the fading, bitter and out of touch with reality silent movie star, Norma Desmond.

William Holden played Joe Gillis, the down and out cynical screenwriter turned gigolo at Desmond’s bidding because of his precarious state of being broke and out of work. Gillis acts as the narrator retelling the story in flashback.  

Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista has revived the show, mostly an adult audience show, for a three week run. It plays through Sept. 2nd.

Valerie Perri (Photo by Adriana Zuniga Photography)
The production has gusto and some fine acting and outstanding looking sets provided by Music Theatre of Wichita. The good news is that director/musical staging wiz Larry Rabin has Valerie Perri in the role of Norma.

She is the best of the show with chops to prove it and the acting skills to believe it. When she belts out “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” the shivers crawl up your spine.

And those costumes (Renetta Lloyd, Carlotta Malone and Roslyn Lehman) she swishes about in, are tailor made for a Norma Desmond star quality actress. R. Johnny Fletcher, Norman Large, Robert J. Townsend and Valerie Perri (Photo by Adriana Zuniga Photography
The show opens with actual footage from the film and puts us first at a crime scene with a drowning man, arms and legs spread-eagle face down, still dressed in street clothes, in Norma’s pool. It then segues to the gates of Paramount Studios with Joe Gillis running from the bill collectors. They want his car. We then segue back to a car chase around the infamous and dangerous Sunset Boulevard curves that land us back in Desmond’s driveway at 10086 Sunset Boulevard just around one of those curves.

 It is here that we see Gillis’ (Robert J. Townsend) tire blowing out in his 1946 Plymouth convertible.  He’s forced to hunker down there since the creditors want his wheels and he’s on the lam.
Norman Large and Robert J. Townsend (Adeiana Zuniga Photogeaphy)
After a brief, yet bizarre scene showing Norma mourning over a dead chimp, Gillis and Norma form a rather hostile alliance where she demands he stay at her home and help her rewrite a script she has penned. It’s for her grand return to motion pictures. 

After a bit and some coaxing from her man butler, (more on him later) Gillis does everything for Norma from pet sitting to lover as she plans her comeback.

The favors are returned in kind: She replaces his car with the much sought after Isotta Fraschini, buys him outfits in the latest fashions he will never need but to be on her arm. (“The Lady’s Paying”)  In essence he becomes her paid companion and in scene after scene she depends more and more on him while sinking deeper and deeper into a place one never wants to go.

For Townsend, in fine voice and playing second fiddle to Perri, his character is stymied until he meets up with the young, perky and bouncy Betty Schaeffer (Katie Sapper)  (“Boy Meets Girl”, “Too Much In Love to Care” and  “Sunset Boulevard”). When Norma discovers his relationship, well, the -you -know what hits the fan.

Most of the action takes place in Norma’s beautiful and elegantly, but dated furnished mansion (J. Branson) with a staircase for her to make her dramatic entrances and exits and with headshots of her that are bigger than life on easels and framed pictures placed around the living room.  

Valerie Perri, Robert J. Townsend and Norman Large (Photo by Adriana Zuniga Photography)
There is one big scene in the Paramount Studios (the place of her career comeback after silent movies with the 1949 Wilder film) with Campbell, Townsend, Perri and a large ensemble as Norma waits for DeMille to finish shooting a scene from one of his big biblical (‘Samson and Delilah’) movies to let her down gently as he rejects the script she wrote for herself and with Joe’s help.

Always in the background making sure that her every need is tended to is her major-domo/butler, Max von Mayerling (Norman Large), who in the movie is a creepy black clad overseer with a German accent. Large, who has also proven himself to have a gorgeous voice does not disappoint. (“The Greatest Star of All”, “New Ways To Dream”) He’s not quite as dangerous looking as much as concerned for Norma.
Katie Sapper and Robert J. Townsend 
John George Campbell plays a Cecil B. DeMille look a like that’s true to life. Other locals in the ensemble include among others, Debra Wanger, Luke Harvey Jacobs, Bethany Slomka, Lise Hafso and Evan White. 

Credit Jim Zadai on sound, Jean-Yves Tessier, lighting especially Norma’s dimly lit house, Kathleen Kenna makeup design, (Yes, it’s all about Norma) David Engel projections, and JD Dumas musical director with his twenty-one-piece orchestra bringing a crisp sound throughout the amphitheater.

Ms. Close has evived her role on Broadway this year. Go know? What goes around comes around. I’ll stick with Moonlight’s Valerie Perri.

If you are so inclined, rent the Wilder movie. It’s a classic.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept 2nd
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Phone: 760.724.2110
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $23.00
Venue: Moonlight Amphitheatre
Photo: Adriana Zuniga Photography and Ken Jacques 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

“Tomfoolery” Is Fingerlickin’ Fun at North Coast Repertory.

Sarah Errington, Andrew Barnicle, Lance Arthur Smith and Christine Hewitt
 “I hold your hand in mine dear, I press it to my lips. /I take a healthy bite from your dainty fingertips/ My joy would be complete dear/If you were only here/ But I still keep your hand /As a precious souvenir” And that’s jus a sample of 1950’s 60’s satirist Tom Lehrer. 

Tom Lehrer is 89 as of this writing. But in the 50’s and 60’s when I was a student in Boston and he a teacher at Harvard, “Fight Fiercely Harvard”  (that’s haaavad), where he was teaching math and making his mark writing limericks, and as a musical satirist, poking fun at anything and everyone that caught his eye and was ripe to be exposed, my friends and I relished in repeating his music.   
L. to R. Lance Arthur Smith, Sarah Errington, Andrew Barnicle and Chrisrine Hewitt (kneeling) 
 If you have a chance to see, in living color, a fine example of his satire, his sharp political acumen and how relevant his then observations of that time period and how eerily they compare to todays, take yourself up Solana Beach. It’s a find and a fun filled if not eye opening look into the politics of the 1950/60’s.  

Director Kathy Brombacher and her talented cast of four, Andrew Barnicle, Sarah Errington, Christine Hewitt and Lance Arthur Smith sing dance and charm their way through an evening of Lehrer’s most recognizable tunes/ satirical observations and political realities.

Tim McNight and Steve Withers are credited for musical direction and Jill Gorrie with choreography. The show was adapted by Cameron Mitchell and Robin Ray and played off Broadway in 1981.

There is a bit of narration, some costume (Elsa Bonzoni) and props (Andrea Gutierrez) that add a tad of humor to the numbers (Sombrero and serape  “Old Mexico”) Boy Scout scarves (“Be Prepared”), muskets (“The Hunting Song”) you get the picture.

Lance Arthue Smith, Sarah Errington, Christine Hewitt and Andrew Barnicle
Most of the titles are a dead giveaway: “Feeding The Pigeons in the Park” with Barnicle and Hewitt, “Bright College Days”, “National Brotherhood Week”, Company, “New Math”, “The Elements”, Sarah outdoes herself on this one, “My Home Town” Lance, “She’s My Girl” “The Old Dope Peddler”, “The Vatican Rag” and on and on.

There are about 25 songs and if you are inclined to compare his wit and cynicism to anyone you might know today (not counting late night comedians) that would be a find, ‘cause he’s in a class all his own.  It’s a good pick for weekend day or night entertainment.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Aug. 27th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858.481.1055
Production Type: Musical Review
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, CA 92075
Ticket Prices: $40.00

Photo: Aaron Rumley

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Old Globe’s “Hamlet”: A Welcome Return Of The Long Overdue Masterpiece.

It’s been ten years since the then artistic director of the Festival Darco Tresnjak produced the Bard’s “Hamlet” on the Festival Stage. Before that it was seventeen years. For those not holding tickets for this production now would be a good chance to get a pair. “Hamlet” will be playing through Sept 10th.

The long awaited “Hamlet” with executive director David Edelstein at the helm started off a bit slowly on opening night.
Grantham Coleman as Hamlet
After a few technical glitches were ironed out and the ghost of the dead King (Michael Genet) in full armor, lumbered onto the drawbridge frightening the bejuses out of the centuries on guard duty, the production sailed into high gear.

Spooked by what Hamlet’s friend Marcellus (Amara James Aja) saw that night, he begged Hamlet to return the next night to confront the ghost.  

Grantham Coleman and Michael Genet
When Hamlet comes face to face with his father’s ghost (“I am thy father’s spirit/doomed to walk the night…”) and gets the details of his murder by his own brother, he promises without hesitation, to seek revenge. (“foul and most unnatural murderer”)

Hamlet is not the only tragic figure in this Shakespearean tragedy of biblical proportions. His father the King is dead. His mother Gertrude (Opal Alladin) is married to the King’s brother; her brother-in-law Claudius (Cornell Womack) and “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”.

His best pals Rosencrantz (Kevin Hafso-Koppman) and Guildenstern (Nora Carroll) have turned against him, and are now doing the King’s bidding.

He is being denied entrance to his one time lover’s apartment, and the ghost of his deceased father makes his son, the young prince, swear revenge on his uncle, the king. It’s a murky mess rife with Oedipal themes and psychological musings.  
The cast of Hamlet
 Surprisingly, no one in the court of the Royal Danish Castle of Elsinore, sans young Hamlet, seems suspect of the sudden death of the King Hamlet or nature of his death (snake bite, they say while he was sleeping), or of the hasty marriage of Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother to the kings brother. The body was still warm!

No raised eyebrows from the court’s counselor, Polonius, not Hamlet’s one time lover Ophelia, Polonius’ daughter and love interest; no one seems the least bit phased. It’s business as usual.

Edelstein’s casting of this show is, in many ways pretty much top notch. That Grantham Coleman’s Hamlet is himself young, good looking, agile, sane and insane at the same time gives another dimension to this altogether complicated character.

Coleman hops, slides, wanders and jumps around the stage like an animal seeking out his prey as madness/or not sets in. His “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy is pensive, passionate and complex and edgy, leaning on the moral issues of suicide.

From the outset, when he learns of his father’s mysterious death and his mothers and uncle’s marriage, his portrayal as pretending to be mad puts him one step further into an ominous demise. His commitment to seek revenge takes over his life and even his sanity is in question, a sport in which Hamlet delights.

His interactions with his friends change like the wind depending on whether he thinks they are friend or foe. Most of them, in his mind are foe. And when he pretends to be mad, he is more than convincing, pouring out the Bard’s words as they belonged to him.

Coleman is a fine enough actor to let his emotions rage without raging himself. He might be best served to let them build slowly as the reality of his fate settles in and he discovers the unthinkable.

In contrast, Cornell Womack’s Claudius is calm, collected, mature and not deterred in his mission to head his kingdom whether Hamlet stays in Denmark, goes back to University, goes mad or disappears (read gets killed off), a chance the new king is willing to take as he sends the young prince off to England.
Cast with Talley Beth Gale, Patrick Kerr and Cornell Womack
He’s cool and gives a reassuring atmosphere to the rest of the court. One might note that just below the surface, he’s revengeful, crafty, burning with rage because Hamlet is so difficult, but one would hardly notice.  His larger than life presence overshadows his fear of Hamlet, yet Hamlet’s feigned insanity will soon wear on him.

Gertrude, his mother is another one who seems unperturbed by the events that just happened. (“Frailty thy name is woman”) She too appears cool, calm and collected until she also fears Hamlet. Alladin certainly looks the part and as Gertrude she is aloof and an onlooker rather than a player.  

She casts a worried eye on her son, but never lends an explanation as to her husband’s death only a reassurance that what she’s doing is OK. She is on her son’s side except when she’s not. She’s welcoming of Ophelia and agrees with her until she’s not in agreement.

Claudius’ support system is the sly like a fox Polonius (Patrick Kerr) who is at his utmost best as the loquacious and comical (without his knowing, of course) advise giver and general tochas licker in the court.

Kerr’s performance is such a fine balance between the old and the young and the experienced and the beginner, the confident and the hopeful and the soothing and the prickly.

He goes on and on and on so much so that one wishes he would stop his pontificating already. (It’s in the script) It’s such fun to watch and listen as he recites, in beautifully balanced cadences, Shakespeare’s words. We wouldn’t have him any other way.

Ophelia (Talley Beth Gale), his daughter is in love with Hamlet and from the letters in the letterbox, the feelings were mutual.  Claudius’ intentions are to make sure she does not marry Hamlet. He sees to the kings every wish even to the point of plotting against Hamlet with the now king.
Opal Alladin and Grantham Coleman
Gale better cast as the insane rather than the sane young woman in love with Hamlet. As she presents herself going mad, she’s fragile and at the end of her wits, singing Curtis Moore’s original compositions, about flowers and wearing a throne of twigs and offering smaller twigs to the royal couple.

She is most pathetic when she appears before the royal couple in tattered clothes after she learns of her father’s tragic death at the hands of Hamlet. Her mad scene (and she really does go mad as opposed to Hamlet’s feigned madness) is absolutely and tragically agonizing to watch.

When her brother Laertes (Jonny Orsini) learns of their father’s death, he’s thundering mad and threatens to kill Hamlet.

He challenges Hamlet to a duel admitting to Claudius that he is better with the sword than his one time friend. He and Claudius cook up a plot to have the blade on Laertes’ sword laced with poison.

In the background Hamlet’s friend Horatio (Ian Lassiter) offers fine support as the only person Hamlet trusts. Again, he convinces that their bonds are strong and Hamlet can always depend on him.

Grantham Coleman, Michael Genet and Opal Alladin
At plays end, when Horatio holds the young prince in his arms, after his duel is fought and he has drunk the poisonous wine that killed his mother and Claudius, he cries out in agony, “good night, sweet prince”; I felt a nag in my heart even though I knew it was coming.

“The rest is silence.”

 A strong ensemble makes up the rest of the players. They wander in out and about, move the half finished set (Tim Mackabee) of scaffolding (curious choice) and place and reposition as needed.

Credit Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum as fight director, David Huber, vocal coach, and Sten Severson, sound design.

Lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge’s design is some of then best seen on the open stage in some time. Kudos for that. 

Props are minimal and used sparingly. In the background is a huge (Hit me over the head to make a point) golden statue of the deceased king, illuminated (Stephen Strawbridge) and overpowering looking. 

Cait O’Connor’s costumes are a mixed bag with gorgeous looking courtly period pieces on some and others in rag tag street duds as seen in the players in Hamlet’s ‘play within the play’. Polonius, “I don’t like the classics in modern dress” is definitely not in script but the sentiments ring true, at least to this reviewer.  

Edelstein, whose expertise is Shakespeare, deserves a stamp of approval for this well- rounded and outstanding and thought provoking production of “Hamlet”, which he mentions in his notes on the recent death of his own father was ‘on his mind’ as he dealt with his own loss.

It’s Shakespeare and “Hamlet” at its best.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Sept. 10th
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619.234.5623
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Lowell Davies Festival Stage
Photo: Jim Cox