Thursday, November 29, 2018

“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” A Giving Gift From New Village Arts.

There are holiday shows and then there are Holiday shows. “Miss Bennet:  Christmas at Pemberley ” is most likely one not seen on the holiday circuit, at least not in San Diego, or for that matter in Carlsbad, that is until now.

Set just two years after Jane Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice” ends this charming little confection by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon currently on stage at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad through Dec.23rd is a win- win for San Diego audiences.
(L to R) Amara Young, Nadia Guevera, McKenna Foot and Jessi Little
As the sequel to Jane Austen’s novel of manners it takes on ‘the subject of ‘Mary’, Jane’s bookworm and barely seen nor talked about shy sister. Played with charm, grace and awkwardness by Nadia Guevara (Associate Artistic Director) as Mary,  Gunderson and Melcon’s little gem is just what the doctor ordered for this holiday season and we tip our hats to Artistic Director Kristianne Kurner for bringing us this San Diego premiere.

Steered with an all knowing eye by Kurner (her 99th) the production brings out the marvelous interactions and play of four siblings all assembled at Elizabeth (a charming Jessi Little) and Darcy’s (solid Timothy L. Cabal) estate in Pemberley for the Christmas celebrations. 

All this done with a contemporary feminist slant, as the siblings in Austen's play take center stage with grace and  purpose. It made my heart sing.
Sittichai Chaiyahat, Timothy l. Cabal Amara Young and Jessi Little

It is here as well that the sight of a Christmas tree (inside the home) was a new phenomenon, as it takes on a character of its own. It was fun to watch the expressions as each character had a similar reaction to the presence of the tree.

The sisters begin to arrive one by one and two by two: Mary is the first to arrive. Pregnant Jane (charming Amara Young) and her husband Bingley (“The Boy Who Danced on Air”  Sittotchai Chaiyahatt, was a close friend to Darcy) follow. Younger sister, the high- spirited, free wheeling and flirtatious, to camouflage her unhappiness, Lydia Wickham (McKenna Foote), whose marriage to Charles Wickham is the bane of her existence, arrives in a flurry.   
Nadia Guevara and Garter Piggee
Thrown into the mix, the equally nerdy, book-wormish, shy, studious and lacking in social skills Lord Arthur de Bourgh (Carter Piggee), DeBourgh a friend of Darcy’s arrives in the throw of things. He just inherited a large estate and has no idea what to do with it. He feels a bit out of place at the Darcy home, that is until he meets up Mary in the library room where they talk of travel and books with ease.  

After all the guests arrive and the niceties, hugs all around and Christmas tree talks go back and fourth, the beginning of an attraction is in the air and thickens between Mary and Arthur, who don’t know what to do with it.

Playwrights Gunderson and Melcon with Kurner guiding, these two socially inept, lonely, yes lonely, young people are drawn together first by their love of books, knowledge and the sharing of truth and then voila, love.

Love for those in the know is elusive so when Anne de Bourgh (Michelle Marie Trester “Romeo, Romeo and Juliet) bursts into the Darcy home demanding Arthur return at once with her to the estate owned by her late mother and willed to Arthur, well, things become a bit hectic. She demands Arthur was promised in marriage to her by her domineering late mother and will not concede otherwise. Ms. Trester is a force with which to be reckoned as she dominates poor Arthur to almost submission to her demands.

Jessi Little, Amara Young (seated) Nadia Guevara, Timothy L. Cabal and Sittichai Chaiyahat
Lydia’s restlessness becomes a minor problem as well for Mary and Arthur when Lydia intercepts a letter from each to the other. It’s quite predictable; you’ll figure it out, they did, but for the while, it was a nail bitter watching the trio go back and forth, in and out of romance.

This is what makes the world go round and this production will do that to you. McKenna Foote is filled with that restless energy as she skillfully creates mayhem for the would be lovers.   

McKenna Foote
As mentioned earlier, Ms. Guevara (“Secret Garden”, “Cloud Tectonics”) is an absolute gem as Mary. With specs needing a little nudge and adjustment on her nose (both she and Piggee wear specs in the production and both are lefties)  and delicate features, she seems to float on air whenever she moves. Her insistence on being accepted for who she is not what anyone else thinks she should be, is my kind of woman. 

Elisa Benzoni designed the smart looking period costumes; sound designer Melanie Chen Cole coordinated the sound and Nina Gilbert the piano pieces played by Mary to perfection, and hats off to dialect coach Gerilyn Brault.
Cast of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
The set, designed by Kristianne features a smartly designed sitting room with a large picture window looking to the outside with a map of the world. Bookshelves surround a small library room where Arthur and Mary share their love of books and conversation.  The entire frame of the stage is a large heart made of books fastened together with a rod with a map of the world as their oyster. 

If I told you that all’s well that ends well’ that ends well believe me. Not only does it end well, all parts in between bodes well for all concerned.

This is two thumbs up must see.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 23rd
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Phone: 760-433-7245
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad Village, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices: $33.00-$36.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

“How The Grinch Stole Christmas” Still Going Strong At 21.

Coming back to see “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” now on the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage of the Globe through Dec. 29th was, for yours truly, like revisiting an old family member not seen in some time.

I gave myself a pass these past years after having taken grandchildren of friends to my own grandchildren to friends who wanted to be part of the local scenery. Now it was time for a re-visit just for old times sake.   
Cast with Grinch
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, the animated television special won the Peabody Award in 1997.  The book, itself, was published in 1951. In 2018, Ted Seuss Geisel, San Diego’s quintessential Dr. Seuss, is still alive and kicking, if but in memory only.

With a generous sponsorship grant then, of $250,000, the San Diego Union-Tribune underwrote this new ‘Grinch’ musical that would become a holiday tradition. Making the project come alive for stage, Audrey Geisel freed the rights to the Grinch character and the rest as they say is history.  

Geisel added additional lyrics and Jack O’Brien, who conceived and  directed this gleeful ditty back then, is still a major player on stages all over the globe (no pun intended).  With book and lyrics by Timothy Mason, music by Mel Marvin, James Vásquez is currently in the director’s chair.

Additional music by Albert Hague and John DeLuca’s original choreography with additional choreography by Bob Richard complete the picture. To say that the productions run like a well oiled machine would be an understatement.
Cast of Grinch
It’s an all -star cast this year consisting mainly of local San Diego actors that made my recent revisit a delightful journey into Who-ville to see the ever- optimistic ‘Whos. The young and not so young audience was filled with anticipation to see how The Grinch would steal Christmas. No doubt after the show, there were many wanna be Cindy Lou Whos, and who knows.

In case you missed the story: Just north of Who-ville home of the Whos, the Grinch (the gleefully mean spirited Edward Watts sometimes verrry scary yet a hoot as he dances his soft shoe with Young Max) who just hates Christmas and all it’s trimmings (“I Hate Christmas”, “One of a Kind”), awakens from his long snooze to wreak havoc on the Town of Whoville and the entire family of Whos.

Cast with Grinch and Papa Who (Larry Raben)
He’s convinced if he steals the presents and decorations of the happy folks in Who-ville that he can cancel their Christmas. Much to his chagrin it doesn’t really matter since he learns later, it’s the spirit and the heart of the holiday that counts (“It’s the Thought That Counts”). And he learns it from little Cindy Lou Who (an adorable and confident little munchkin in the form of Leila Manuel).

The story is narrated by the ever -appealing and oh, so talented Steve Gunderson marking his sixteenth appearance in the show as the Old Dog, Max. Tommy Martinez is the spirited and younger version of Old Max when he was a pup. (“This Time of Year”)
Steve Gunderson
Robert J. Townsend and Bets Malone are Papa and Mama Who and who could ask for a more talented two? Grandpa and Grandma Who are Larry Raben and Kyrsten Hafso Koppman, a wonderful pair too.

Zoe Carnot and Audrey Fundingsland alternate as Annie Who and there is Betty Lou Who and Boo Who, Danny Who and an ensemble of tiny and teen's Who and hopefully you get the get the picture, I hope you do! Supporting members, too many to mention, round out this absolutely luscious ensemble for holiday fare in three dimension. (Oh dear! What has he done to me?)
Edward Watts and Tommy Martinez
John Lee Beatty’s set is right out of Who-ville including dancing and singing puppets appearing over the housetops. Robert Morgan costumes are apropos as comic book characters come alive looking like they jumped straight out of one of Dr. Seuss’ books. From the green furry Grinch to hour -glass and lamp -shade shaped dresses and wigs piled like swirls the costumes are pretty unique, but then again so is Dr. Seuss.   

Leila Manuel and The Grinch
The Who-chestra under the direction of conductor Elan McMahan is about ten strong and on occasion became willing or not participants in the Grinch’s mis-achievements. (“You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch”)

It’s all in the holiday spirit. Get there early and marvel at the gynormus tree standing tall in the middle of the courtyard for all to snap pictures and revel in the tiny tykes with their Grinch gear and ballerina dresses.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec.29th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619-243-5623
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00 for adults, $19.00 for children
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
Photo: Ken Howard

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Globe’s “Looking For Christmas” A Homage To Our Troops, Family and New Beginnings.

Clint Black’s world premiere “Looking For Christmas” may be booked as a Christmas Show (yes there are lot’s of Christmas scenes and a Christmas play (within the play) and a tree and presents and ugly Christmas sweaters) but if you cut through Black’s music and lyrics, underneath is a soldier’s story itching to get out. It’s a story we hear about, (Just recently three more of our soldiers were killed in Afghanistan) read about and has a new term in our everyday vernacular, PTSD. 

Mike Randolf (a sweet and affable Aaron C. Finley) is a medic stationed in Afghanistan. It’s close to Christmas and Mike and his unit and best friend Douglas Miller (DeLeon Dallas) have heard through the grapevine that they may be going home for Christmas. Waiting for them at home are wives and children with whom they communicate through Face Time on their iPhone’s.

Liana Hunt and Aaron C. Finley
Syndee Winters and DeLeon Dallas
Aaron C. Finley, Liana Hunt, Kaylin Hedges (background)

Mike’s wife Jessie (charming and worried Liana Hunt) and their daughter Ellie (Kaylin Hedges) can’t wait for him to see Ellie in the school’s Christmas Pageant. She’s one of the Wise Men. (“Looking For Christmas” and “Christmas With You”).

Mikes best friend Douglas Miller (DeLeon Dallas, last seen in “Actually”) and his wife Alissa (beautiful Syndee Winter -“Me And The Moon”), exchange love songs and notes. He’s over seas and she is back home somewhere in the U.S but for the moon, that cast its glow over both. The families can hardly wait to have their loved ones  leave the desert outpost and head home. (“Never Knew Love”)

One last patrol and they are home free. You and I know that home free comes with a price. On what was to be their final rounds before heading home, an unexpected explosion took Doug’s life and Mike feels responsible.

DeLeon Dallas and Mike C. Finley
Now at home, he feels Doug’s presence whenever he’s alone and no matter what his family does to cheer him up, and they can’t seem to do enough  he can’t shake the guilt around not having been able to protect his best friend.

Most of the songs in “Christmas” come from Clint Blacks 1995 holiday album (with a few extra for this show) aptly titled “Looking For Christmas”.
Liana Hunt, Kaylin Hedges and Aaron C. Finley
Black, a Country Western star is another on the list of those this reviewer has little knowledge. Like Globe’s artistic director Barry Edelstein, yours truly grew up in the Jewish ghettos of Massachusetts where everyone had a Chanukah Menorah, spun Driedel's and ate Latkes but were never exposed to  Country Music Christmas songs. 

However the musical play with book by James D. Sasser with Clint Black, choreographed by Wendy Seyb, and directed by Kent Nicholson, that barely scratched the surface of a deep story telling, really touched me in a way I thought could never be.

As I watched Finley’s pain settle in to Mike’s persona and the agony he had to live with each day it suddenly reminded me that while we are sitting and enjoying the fruits of Black and company’s labor, thousands of young men and women are struggling with PTSD, many having been sent to war four and five times.  It horrified me.  

Aaron C. Finley and Liana Hunt
Finley and Hunt are a convincing couple with great energy that rests between the two even when grappling with Mike’s adjustment to re-entering family life again. His episodes seeing the ghost best friend Douglas showing up uninvited whenever Mike is alone, and tries to convince him that what happened wasn’t his fault, is the struggle he faces every day. (“Someday”)

Another of his agonizing moments comes when Mike has to face Doug’s wife Alissa. Both handle that meeting as well as can be expected; she is more forgiving that he.

DeLeon Dallas’ Douglas, tall and impressive, lumbers in and out of Mikes mind when least expected. DeLeon is a presence to be admired as he paces himself to be just in the right place at the right time pressing his best friend to go easy on himself and enjoy the festivities. Both he and Winters’, who has a beautiful voice, in a role that needs more room to breathe, are also believable. They too make a perfect match but for a limited time as she will never hold her man again.

Katie Sapper, Liana Hunt, Kaylin Hedges and Bryant Martin as Santa
The gaggle of youngsters (about six or so) in rehearsals for the Pageant almost gives them equal time as they scramble around practicing and just being kids as they sing and dance in Charlotte Devaux costumes under Rui Rita’s lighting on Sean Fanning’s sparse set design.

Black’s Country Western music under the supervision and music direction of Matt Hinkley could be seen live from the pit above the stage. Once again, it sounded just fine to me, albeit repetitive and predictable, as is the story.  

“Looking For Christmas” is a sentimental valentine especially created for the holiday season. Some will refer to it as a Hallmark piece; it’s not so far off. It could also be one of the bookends to “Grinch” as a holiday happening at The Globe for over 20 years. With some tweaking and minus a few musical numbers, it remains to be seen. The show runs about 90 minutes without intermission.

On another note, we in this country have much to be thankful for and wish all our first responders suffering from PTSD for every day that they put themselves on the line for our safety a hearty ‘Thank You’. 
Syndee Winters
“Looking For Christmas” is a good start for a country wracked in pain to have a safe place in which to enjoy a bit of Christmas and witness the power of love.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 31st
Organization: The Old Globe
Phone: 619-234-5623
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Start at $39.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Ken Howard