Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ambitious “King Charles III” Premieres At Coronado Playhouse

Seriously ambitious, wonderfully delicious “King Charles III” finally makes it to the throne in Mike Bartlett’s new play of the same name now in a premiere production at the Coronado Playhouse just across the bridge through April 22nd.
Richard Rivera as King Charles III
With a contemplative Richard Rivera, looking amazingly like the now Prince, and under Tyler Richards Hewes direction, lots of what if’s and sound alike names pop up in this parliamentarian battle that resembles the war (not quite of the Roses) on the press happening in our own country today. But it’s decidedly a Royal battle loaded with intrigue and family maneuvering including Charles’ threat to dissolve Parliament if he doesn't get his way. 

Finally!  Prince Charles is ready to step into his Mother The Queen’s shoes upon her death. He’s waited patiently so much so that inquiring minds thought the throne might just skip a generation and go to his son William? That wasn’t/isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all.
Sandy Hotchkiss and Richard Rivera
All seems well at the palace since Charles is in charge. So far the one caveat is that Charles has his own ideas and they are independent of Parliament, unlike the ‘make nice’ doings of the late Queen.

But things turn on a dime when something looks ‘rotten’ or contrary to past behaviors in the Palace.  No one at the court or in the government is happy with the way Charles seems to be conducting business. He has ideas contrary to Parliament’s.

It’s all about power, ambition, and the royal or not pecking order. This ‘future history play’ was nominated for Tony Award in 2014 but I dare say it did not bode well with the Royals of today and understandably so.

Just as an update (as if we don’t already know), the Queen is still alive and making appearances. Playboy Harry is engaged to be married to Meghan Markle and Kate is expecting her third. It’s almost difficult to keep those current facts in mind watching the two-hour plus play that Bartlett and Co. are putting before us.
Andrew Walters and Julia Giolzetti
Let’s just say that there is a rolling conspiracy that is the best -known secret except to Charles. With no one save Camilla on his side of the throne Charles unaware of the dust he is stirring up, goes about his business as usual while questioning his own authority.

Charles refuses to rubber stamp the bill, going against his limited duties and taking a stand not to limit the press even though it was the paparazzi that in effect, caused Diana’s death, a point that was emphasized to him in the prevailing arguments. 

Backing it up a bit in this fantasy idea, written in iambic pentameter, of Bartlett’s, Camilla (Sandy Hotchkiss in a thankless role) is in full support of her husband, the now King, and staunchly backs him in his decisions (The people want a king who stands up for his own convictions.) but is outmaneuvered by both William (Andrew Walters) somewhat of a procrastinator himself, the Prime Minister and Kate.
Travis Rynders and Alyssa Salter
Harry (Travis Rynders) wants out of all his royal duties and is still the court (jester) rebel. His rebelliousness continues up to and including the time he meets up with a commoner and art student, Jess (Alyssa Salter) and brings her ‘round to the Palace to meet the family. That didn’t go over too well as there was a salacious scandal hidden in her background that would, soon enough, be revealed.

It just gets better.

Kate (a commanding Julia Giolzetti) or Catherine Duchess of Cambridge has the balls in the family as she and William Duke of Cambridge, undermine Williams’ father, the now King. The plot thickens behind the scenes and like it or not, William sees that his wife’s arguments are valid and goes along with the plan to overthrow him.

The ghost of Diana (Sara Jane Nash) haunts the palace grounds and for that matter William and Kate. The Prime Minister, Mr. Evans, (Christopher Pittman) is in cahoots with William and Kate who try to convince the King to sign the bill limiting the press.

The Leader of the Opposition Party, Ms. Stevens ( a convincing Liza Wismer) is in cahoots with William and Mr. Evens, depending on whose side will help her party the most. She later will become another willing participant in the coup.
Christopher Pittman and Liza Wismer
It’s all a very delicious and most scrumptious smorgasbord of intrigue and ideas. In director Tyler Richard Hewes hands it sails along at a nice pace (although it is a tad long) oft times leaving the audience to second guess the playwright and determine who will end up on the throne in the end, begging the question, ‘Why are American’s so fixated on British Royalty?’

Bartlett’s play captivates on its own but is enhanced by a strong acting ensemble and a convincing Rivera. The believable plot, even though a fantasy, still intrigues. Would that another leader on the world stage were that challenged

Congratulations to the entire cast of over 18 or so and crew of designers (set, Jacob Sampson, lighting, Chad Oakley, Steve Murdock’s, sound design with pieces from Bach Mass in B Minor, Handel Largo, Westminster Abby Organ Music, Bach Cantata 147, and Vivaldi Oratorio in 2 parts to name a few.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 22nd.
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Phone: 619-435-4856
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, CA 92118
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$27.00
Photo: Ken Jacques

Friday, March 30, 2018

“Love Never Dies” More Wow Factor Than Content.

The popular “Phantom Of The Opera” based on the novel “Le Fantôme de L’ Opéra by Gaston Leroux, has a sequel, “Love Never Dies”, now playing at the Civic Theatre through April 1st.

With creators Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slayer, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth the book loosely based on and adapted from Forsyth’s novel “The Phantom of Manhattan” the story fast forwards 10 years and another country (it’s now 1917) through space and winds up on the amusement park grounds of Coney Island, at the turn of then century, as a sideshow in a new attraction called Mr. Y’s Phantasma.
Gardar Thor Cortos
Lloyd Webber might not consider it a sequel but knowing a bit about the characters, taken straight out of his ‘Phantom’ playbook where no one has aged a bit, but the circumstances of their plight(s) have been turned topsy-turvy, might help especially with the addition of a new character, ten- year old Gustave, Christine Daaé’s son who happens to be a musical wiz/chip off the old block.

The genesis of this new musical that began as an idea with Lloyd Webber started in 1990 when he began working on it. It wasn’t until 2007 that he began writing the music and it wasn’t until 2010 that the show opened at the Adelphi Theatre in London’s West End with San Diego’s (Old Globe) own Jack O’Brien directing. Unfortunately, it bombed and was cancelled after four performances. It resurfaced again in 2010 in Australia where it delighted fans.
Meghan Picerno
Now on National Tour with Simon Phillips directing, and starring the beautiful full throttled voice of Meghan Picerno as Christine Daaé’s and Gardar Thor Cortes as The Phantom or Mr. ‘Y’ (“Till I hear You Sing”) the two are thrown together once again in a series of miss-steps that set into motion recaptured love (that ‘never dies’) amid a plethora of circus characters that go above and beyond spectacular looks and movements to Graeme Murphy Ao’s choreography, Gabriela Tylesova’s flashing and bigger than life sets and eye-popping costumes, Mick Potter’s sound design with David Cullen’s and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s orchestrations under  Dale Rieling’s baton and his 17member orchestra.

The predictable plot reunites Christine and the Phantom in an on again off again struggle to love or not to love, to secretly meet or not to meet, to leave her wastrel husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) or not and finally to reveal Gustav’s (Jake Heston Miller)‘real father’ or not.

The run is short, moving on to LA after the April 1st show, so if you are dying to know what happened to Christine and her paramour since she ran away with Raoul back in the day, now would be a good time. Some background reading would be helpful.
The Circus Performers
If you want to hear some absolutely gorgeous singing, Meghan Picerno will satisfy your senses as will Mary Michael Patterson’s Meg, her rival and wanna be Phantom’s next big star. Her mother Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and Jake Heston Miller (the young lad playing Gustave the night I attended) will also keep you in awe.

 Webber’s score is poetic, lush and operatic enough to keep alive the notion that there is a place for the masses in musical theatre. Yours truly found the whole circus setup (“Side Show”) and characters fascinating (I love a circus and if be known, a good parade) and that included a horseless carriage ride from the ship to the shores where the masses greeted Christine and family driven by the circus dwarf seen in the center of the above photo. It could have been Cinderella’s carriage sans the horses.    


See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 1st.
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Phone: 888-937-8995
Production Type: Musical
Where: 3rd and B Downtown San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Stare at $22.00
Venue: Civic Theatre
Photo: Joan Marcus

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

“The Happiest Place on Earth” Perfect Showcase For Jacque Wilke

It’s a pretty sad commentary when a trip to Disneyland is a constant reminder of the death of a family member. That’s about how it was for Philip Dawkins’ family after the death of his grandfather Phil in his 90 -minute tribute to the man in his solo play “The Happiest Place on Earth” now showing at Diversionary Theatre through April 15th.

Always in the background of his families yearly trek, Disneyland in all its glory, all its parks all it adventures that in 1955 formed the basis of Dawkins’ memory play with the use of photos, transparencies and music.
Jacque Wilke
How to tell one’s own story for a little over 90 minutes, no intermission without boring the rest of those listening? I know I was always cautious when the home movies came out. Still sliding baby pictures of grandkids playing soccer, swimming laps or playing tennis across a cell phone face can be a show stopper but for how long?

Dawkins wrote the piece for himself. It debuted in 2016. It’s clear throughout that the passing of the family patriarch left lingering hurts, awkward memories as when his Mom got lost in The Magic Kingdom of Fantisyland and was found and rescued by Cinderella who, as it turned out, tried to bring a smile to the little girls face.

Making its west coast premiere at Diversionary Theatre under the direction of Jonathan L. Green, who helped Dawkins with the piece and then went on to direct the world premiere production of it in Chicago and with the versatile and gifted Jacque Wilke standing in for Dawkins, “The Happiest Place On Earth, according to Dawkins, ‘is the story of me retracing my families journey from Albuquerque to California in a time of great sadness.’

D: “Between the ages of fetus and 18 I visited Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Anaheim, CA. over 20 times. Always with my family. Always at Christmas.

And so begins the business of sharing. “Alright. Is everybody neat and pretty? Then on with the show.

After Wilke assures us that she is standing in for Dawkins, she tells how his grandparents, Betty Lu and Phil met, got married and together had four daughters, Karen, Mary Lou, Beth and Nan. Phil was a sports announcer and when he heard of Disney’s Park opening, he decided it would be a grand place to take his daughters when he wasn’t on the air. The Park opened the same year that daughter # 3 Beth, was born, 1955. Beth was Dawkins Mom.

Wilke weaves Dawkins’ story with such authority and assurance that if she didn’t tell us…well never mind on that one, just trust me that she seamlessly threads the needle between family, park visits, life altering stories and colorful tid- bits about the family and the sisters, the park and some of its secrets that yours truly, who also traveled that road by taking our family to Disneyland for the better part of my three young’un growing up years, never realized.

Disney always called his employees ‘Cast Members”. No cast member could answer a question with a simple “No” or “I don’t know”. “I’ll find out”, was the correct response to every question that could possibly be asked if the ‘cast’ did not know the answer.  

Female employees could not wear earrings in pierced ears and always had to wear leggings and male employees could not sport a moustache and vomit was called ‘Protein Spill’ and ‘Pixie Dust’ was the stuff used to clean it up.

The Disneyland RR circles the Park every day at 8:AM Pacific Standard Time and admission to the Park was $1.00 with tickets marked from A to E rides additional. The E ticket was for the Matterhorn Mountain ride. It scared the bjesus out of you.
With Wilke at the helm, Dawkins story never gets bogged down but yours truly thought it could have been a tad shorter and did have some difficulty sorting out the sisters even though pictures of each were shown from an overhead projector, perched on a table, on to a screen on the back of the theatre (Kristin E. Flores).

What I did find fascinating were the transparencies of early park renderings and just what the early park looked from above.  Divided up into five distinct lands each having its own special flavor (Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Main Street, USA, and Frontierland) Disneyland is still almost on everyone’s ‘to see’ list when visiting California, or for that matter it’s always a place to take visitors.

When my late husband and I visited the park in 1959 it must have looked pretty much the same as it did to young Philip, who appears in the family album seven years after Beth and husband were married. 

Every picture of the family at the park was taken in the very same spot in Frontierland ‘where Davy Crocket sang about his gun.’ There are fifty years of pictures from the very same spot. The group was waiting to take the raft to Tom Sawyer’s Island.

Coming full circle Philip understands that nothing is promised, and no one lives happily ever after.” But at the end of the day in “The Happiest Place Ever”, happiness (in this setting) is an idea, created by a man called Disney, in a park in Anaheim, CA where it’s OK to let your hair down and escape on a pirate ride, fly on elephants, see children from around the world, meet the Mad Hatter, come face to face with Sleeping Beauty, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Pluto, tell your dreams to Cinderella and for sure “Wish Upon A Star”. Why not?

Completing the picture is Wilke in charge at all times making the most of the long stage expertly changing out one picture for another dressed simply in striped blouse, black capris with lavender sweater, easy on the eyes, designed by Elisa Benzon and with a bevy of facial movements to let us in on her thoughts. Curtis Mueller’s lighting design, Michael Huey’s sound design and composer and Bonnie Durben’s properties designer complete the and enhance the picture.

Hats off to Jacque for an excellent tour de force performance, no doubt about it.

See you at the theatre.

 Dates: Through April 15th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Ticket Prices: $15.00-$50.00
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. University Heights, San Diego, CA 92116
Photo: Simpatika

Monday, March 26, 2018

Backyard Renaissance Presents High Energy San Diego Premiere Of “Bachelorette”.

“Bachelorette” by Leslye Headland is currently Backyard Renaissance Theatre latest production through April 1st in the Blackbox Theatre in back of Diversionary Theatre.

A couple of thoughts came to mind as I contemplated the ‘sister war’ that took place in an upscale hotel room (set by Justin Humphries lit by Alex Crocker Lakness) somewhere in New York City on the eve of Becky’s (Samantha Vesco) wedding such as,  “With friends like this, who needs enemies?” “Friends don’t let friend’s drink and drive”.  Or in this case friends look out for friends with suicidal tendencies who pop pills with abandon, and snort coke and lets add chugging booze and popping pills might cure what ails you, but could kill you along the  way.
Kay Marian McNellen and Lauren King
Leslye Headland, writer/director of the  “Seven Deadly Sins’ series,  “Cinephilia” (lust), “Bachelorette” (gluttony), “Assistance” (greed) “Surfer Girl” (sloth), Reverb”(wrath), “The Accidental Blond” (envy) produced and premiered at the IAMA Theatre Company in Los Angeles is now making her mark on locals who have seen the Renaissance Theatre’s production. 

No slackers here, Backyard Renaissance walked away with an award from The San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Craig Noel Award just last year for its Outstanding New Musical “Tarrytown”.
The cast of "Bachelorette"
Under director Anthony Methvin’s keen eye the energy level rippling through this 80 or so minute “Bachelorette” party rush to drugs, alcohol and backstabbing behavior is almost non -stop chaos. It is comedy with deep dark broad strokes save a few diversions by some unexpected boy toys that pop in for, well use your imagination.

The story came to yours truly as a sad commentary on todays fast paced, drug induced, sex obsessed and guileless era of ‘whatever’, while laughs rang out in the small space the night I attended.
Rin Ehlers Sheldon is Regan
Twenty –something’s Regan (Rin Ehlers Sheldon), Katie (KayMarian McNellen) and Gina (Lauren King) have been friends for so long that almost forgotten stories pop up throughout the night that might be well put to bed by some. Gina and Kay were invited to spend the night  and party. It's the the same suite at the hotel their friend Becky will become a bride to her wealthy fiancé and will be staying after the ceremony. Regan, Becky's bridesmate invited them.

Regan decided to invite their other two friends, (since high-school) who were not even invited to the wedding up to the room to celebrate another ‘whatever’ with her. And celebrate they do. First with champagne bottles (“fifteen bottles of it chilling in the bathtub”) and then a few hands-full of pills as chasers. 
Samantha Vesco and Rin Ehlers Sheldon
Although Becky is her ‘best friend, she can’t understand why her plus sized bestie is the first of the group to be getting married, let alone chose her as her bridesmate. Whatever. Regan came to the party fully equipped with a pocketbook filled with pills of every color and size. 

The outcome was a recipe for disaster from dissing Becky, that when taken by itself is pretty mild although ‘catty’ to a fault accusing her of everything from being too fat to practically destroying the hotel room, to showing a complete lack of respect, to drinking her celebratory champagne, to causing a tear in her overpriced over sized wedding gown, to inviting a couple of male strangers to the room.

Overall the cast is uniformly sharp, surprisingly real and open to frank discussions of sex, oral and otherwise that some in the audience might find offended.  

If “Bachelorette” needs a rating system, I would have to give it an ‘R’.
Kay Marian McNellen 
McNellen’s Katie in her late twenties is a salesperson, former prom queen and still lives with her parents. She has tried to kill herself on numerous occasions. “I wish I could kill myself”. “I want to die and I can’t bring myself to do it”.  

Lauren King
Lauren King’s Gina is filled with energy to spare and in spite of it all her excesses her moral compass shows through when Katie has overdosed and she (Gina) stays with her in the hospital holding her hand. “And if Katie doesn’t wake up. “She’s willing to be there for that.” The sign of a true friend, “Gina really looks out for Katie”.  

Rin Ehlers Sheldon’s Regan can take credit for getting this party off the ground by first inviting the other two to party with her and then drops the ball and leaves. Both she and Katie share the same affliction, low self esteem. Regan has been dating her abusive Dr. boyfriend for years and thought she would be the first of the friends to tie the knot. She’s educated with a degree from one of the Ivy League Schools but suffers from a big case of the ‘woe is me’ factor.
Samantha Vasco
Becky comes into this mess after most of the damage is done and scores are being settled. Vesco is steady and most credible especially as the bride to be completely put off by those who are supposed to be her friends. Even coming late to the party and being in the last few scenes Vesco hits it big time.

Both Jeff (Alex Guzman) and Joe (Graham Ehlers Sheldon) show us the two- headed sides of the coin. Jeff is self -confident and the devil may care big shot while Joe is tender and caring, sincerely about Kate’s well being. Bong or no, he seems to have himself under control.
Graham Ehlers Sheldon and Kay Marian McNellen
This mind of mine is always surprised at what theatre has to teach me. As an octogenarian not much surprises me although I must admit “Bachelorette” brought me one-step closer the opioid epidemic than I really wanted to be. In my naivety, gluttony was always associated with food. How wrong I was. 

Up until the moment this review was printed, I had to ask myself, “Why this play?” If seeing one small bit of gluttony in any form will change ones mind, then I guess I have my answer.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through April 1st
Organization: Backyard Renaissance Theatre
Phone: 619-453-4856
Production Type: Black Comedy
Where: 4545 Park Blvd. 92116
Ticket Prices: $18.00-$35.00
Venue: Diversionary’s Black Box Theatre
Photo: Daren Scott