Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Welk’s “Welkome Home For The Holidays” An Original Musical Starring “Days Of Our Lives" Eric Martsolf.

With everything else going on in the world, there’s a nice little respite below the hills in Escondido at the Welk Resort Theatre where co-creator Larry Rabin with co- director Noelle Marion and choreographer and co-creator Cheryl Baxter Ratliff are presenting “Welkome Home For The Holidays” in a two hour sing and dance fest through Dec. 29th.

Billed as a love letter to “The Rat Pack” TV Holiday Specials of the past, it’s a holiday/variety/ fun filled songfest with a thinly veiled story line.

With some forty plus holiday songs sung by many of your favorite local musical theatre performers, the show is hosted by daytime soap star Eric Marstolf, an amicable, easy going host with a whole bunch of charisma and a big baritone voice.

Eric Marstolf
The terrific on stage band is headed by conductor/piano Allen Everman (a find) with Mike Masessa on on drums and percussion and Martin Martiarena on bass. Eric’s quiet at home evening, wearing a Mr. Rogers type sweater in red, soon becomes the gathering place for his ‘drop in friends’. And that’s really when the party begins.

Similar to the old Dean Martin holiday shows there are ‘oldies but goodies: “Count your Blessings” (with  Erica Marie Weisz), “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “What Are You Doing New Years?” and  “Winter Wonderland”, “Marshmallow World” and of course “Rudolph The Red -Nosed Reindeer”.
Luke Harvey Jacobs, Sean Thomas Kiralla, Jacob Caltrider and Allen Everman
Those needing a religious fix include “O Holy Night” sung impressively by Misty Cotton, and “Little Drummer Boy” (visually and beautifully orchestrated completely in the dark. ‘Come they told me ‘Pa rum pump pump um- the drums were lit up in blue florescence.) It was pretty impressive and sent shivers.

The band played a bouncy “Rudolph Mambo” and “Mambo Santa” with Jacob, Leslie, Luke, Sean, Andrea, Shirley and Kya showed off their dancing skills.

Eric’s solo of “Count Your Blessings” and “What Are You Doing New Years Eve?” proved his strong chops are equal to his good looks.

Bethany’s “I Want A Hippopotamus For Chrisymas" brought the house down and the “Boogie Woogy Santa” had some wanting to hop up on stage and join the dancers. Misty, Bethany, Shirley and Erin wanted Santa to “Bring Me A Man This Christmas”. 
Bethany Slomka and Misty Cotton
And for the big surprise: an audience member was picked (ahead of time, I might add) to act out a scene with Eric to possibly be his next leading lady in his TV series. It was all fun and games a break from the non -stop singing and dancing.

The talented all inclusive cast with Kaya Cafaro (recently seen in “Addams Family”). Jacob Caltrider (33-1/3 House Of Dreams), Misty Cotton, (“Mama Mia”) Allen Everman, Luke Harvey Jacobs (“Sister Act”), Shirley Johnson, Sean Thomas Kiralla (“Addams Family”), Bethany Slomka (“Hairspray”), Leslie Stevens, Erin Vanderhyde (“All Shook Up”), Erica Marie Weisz  (“Addams Family”) and Andrea Williams, (“Sweet Charity”), gives it their all.
The Cast of 'Welkome Home"
Rory Brown designed the set including some easy chairs and of course a bar, Patrick Hoyny’s sound, Janet Pitcher’s bright and contrasting with black holiday costumes fit the mood of the holiday and Jennifer Edwards lighting design is holiday perfect.

Santa brings all the kids up on stage and sings a special song to them. Bring the whole family to enjoy traditional, pop, a Broadway nod (“Happy Days Are Here Again”) and seasonal music and dance fit for a Welk Holiday Show.

Sean Thomas Kiralla, Luke HArvey Jacobs, Jacob Caltrider, Misty Cotton and Allen Everman
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 29th
Organization: Welk Resort Theatre
Phone: 888-802-SHOW
Production Type: Musical
Where: 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA 92026
Ticket Prices: $59.00 performance only/ $79.00 pre dinner and show.
Venue: Welk Resort Theatre
Photo: Ken Jacques

Friday, November 29, 2019

New Village Arts “Around The World”: Travels And Travails Of Phileas Fogg.

Jules Vern’s 1872 classic adventure story “Around The World In 80 Days” has been made into a motion picture and adapted to several play versions most following the speedy journey/ adventure of Phileas Fogg’s travel’s and travails around the globe stopping off for quick reconnoiters in the various countries, continents and hotel lobbies and returning to the scene of the crime in time to catch all those who doubted, off guard.

New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad and (artistic) director Kristianne Kurner have taken the oft produced Vern play and added another dimension to an already over two hour production with a commissioned original musical score of twelve songs by Joseph Freeman and Renee Moreno or the Shanyannes.
Musical Director Tony Houck arranged and orchestrated the music. Unfortunately it was more of a minus than a plus for yours truly. The day I attended, the lyrics sounded garbled and out of sync with the actors on stage, their dialogue muffled by the music from the on stage band dressed in Pirate garb designed by Emily Wilson.

The musical numbers in the production are interwoven throughout Laura Eason’s adaptation of Vern’s “Around The World In 80 Days” where it will be staged at NVA through Dec. 22nd.
Frankie Alicea-Ford as Phileas Fogg
Mysterious, meticulous and methodical, Phileas Fogg (a handsome and worthy Frankie Alicea-Ford) is at Vern’s center. At his Reform Club where his whist partners are discussing a recent bank robbery where the robber got away scot-free with fifty thousand pounds from the Bank of London, Fogg offers a theory.

He describes how possible it would be for someone to rob a bank and get away with it since the world has grown smaller with the completion of the new Great Indian Peninsular Railway. It would be a mathematical fact according to Fogg, thereby eluding the law.

By staking his ideas on his facts he contradicts some of his club friends who insist that it would take three months. At this time, a twenty thousand pound wager is agreed upon that sets this tale into motion.

To win the bet, he must make all the right connections. However even without airline delays that are so much a part of our now daily lives, unexpected trials and tribulations will get in the way of his fellow travelers. And the race begins with his French, former circus performer now valet Passepartout (a talented Audrey Eytchison).
Farah Dinga and Frankie Alicea-Ford (back)
AJ Knox and Audrey Eytchison as Passepartout (front)
The trek begins on the train from London to Dover with the first stop in Brindisi, Italy by way of Calais and from there to Bombay via Suez. It is here we meet up with Inspector Fix (AJ Knox in a perfect role that suits him comfortably) who is convinced that Fogg is the thief that masterminded the bank robbery.

If you combined Colombo, Inspectors Clouseau and Poirot, Knox is their heir apparent. He hides behind newspapers, peeks around corners and is, in general a royal pain in the arse. 

His goal is to stop Fogg at his own game, slow him down in anticipation of an arrest before he sets foot back on British soil. Unfortunately for him ‘twas not the case. Of course as in all good detective stories Fogg, unaware of his suspicions, is clearly one step ahead.
Ensemble with Jasmin January in center
Eight versatile actors and a talented ensemble play several characters. All can sing, most dance (Jenna Ingrassia-Knox choreographs), others have skills not necessarily a requirement for a long and convoluted journey, but necessary for entertainment value, and entertain and please it does.  

We are invited to see a circus act with Passepartout as an acrobat and gymnast. They ride elephant and hijack a ship. Alexander X Guzman plays many ensemble roles along with some nifty hand walking. Jasmine January knocks “The Ballad of Captain Blossom” out to the high seas. Olivia Pence is Colonel Proctor and ‘others’ and Rae Henderson is Captain Speedy and ‘others’.

In each production a performer from the “Mainstage Players”, New Village Arts program for actors with special needs under the watchful eyes of Samantha Ginn, actor, teaching artist and teacher is on stage.

 The entire goings on takes place on Tanya Orellana’s ship looking deck with portholes, boxes and sundries with props hanging in plain sight including a number of flags (including the LGBTQ) representing each country visited including the city of San Francisco, ergo the rainbow.

One of the most interesting characters we meet up is Farah Dinga, another multi talented actor, who sings as well taking on the part Aouda, daughter of a wealthy merchant and recent widow. In India, Fogg rescues her after a near death mishap and the two become traveling companions, which in turn puts a little zip in Foggs step.

Ms. Dinga’s Aouda is so convincing, and yes a bit coy as the sought after and beautiful widow that she enchants Fogg to the degree that in his haste to reach his goal, he falls head over heels but doesn’t recognize it.
Farah Dinga and Frankie Alicea-Ford
Technically the production rises to the occasion with Jonah Gercke’s projections, Becky Goodman’s lighting, Farah Dinga’s fight choreography and Cassie Langan’s properties designer.

Kurner was inspired to direct Vern’s adventure tale after having traveled the world this past year with stops in Thailand, Uganda, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Italy and London. Pity she was over a hundred years to late to run into Fogg. She might have hopped on the train in Dover and had a different adventure. Having said that, her take on the entire escapade is fun, colorful and entertaining.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 22
Organization: New Village Arts
Phone: 760-433-3254
Production Type: Adventure/Musical
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Thursday, November 28, 2019

“Hold These Truths”: A Profile In Courage At San Diego Rep.

When Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was finishing up his opening statements into the impeachment testimony of Donald Trump, he addressed his father: “Do not worry. I will be fine for telling the truth.”  In the US most would agree that telling the truth ‘will set you free’. In the Soviet Union, his birth country, not so much.
Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi
In “Hold These Truths” currently in an emotionally charged, oft times funny solo play written by Jeanne Sakata and directed by Jessica Kubzansky, a profile in courage by one brave American citizen, Gordon Hirabayashi, is played out at the San Diego Repertory Theatre downtown through Dec. 8th.

As a young man, and American citizen Gordon Hirabayashi (Ryun Yu) assured himself that he was protected by the Constitution (‘because we are all American citizens’) from an unconstitutional Executive Order, 9066 that all West coast citizens of Japanese ancestry be sent to off to internment camps as declared by President Roosevelt after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1942.

How wrong he was!

At stake in both instances, is the might of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights that proclaims, “We Hold These Truths” that all men are created equal”. On trial are the ‘self evident truths’ as they assure to protect the rights of the citizens of these United States. Both Vindman and Hirabayashi are American citizens: one by naturalization the other by birth.

In some instances it’s not enough to be assured of your rights. Oft times it take years of determination, push back and sheer willpower to make your case and live your life by  having to prove them.

And so begins the sobering journey of Gordon Hirabayashi played beautifully by Ryun Yu. Yu’s Gordon reflects on his simple childhood days growing up on a farm in Seattle, when his father said to him, “The nail that sticks out is the nail that gets hit.” And hit he was, over and over again.

One might say his childhood was what he considered normal for him, a second generation, of Quaker beliefs whose parents ‘insisted on some culture’ as he relates that his mother saved enough to buy a phonograph where they listened to Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home”.  

Later on, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he became a consciousness objector, defying a curfew after the president ordered it, and defied the order to be one of the hundred of thousands of Japanese Americans to be rounded up and sent to internment camps.

His aspirations to go to college prevailed and in 1937 he entered University of Washington, Seattle where at one point joining is friends for a late night coffee and study encountered signs on the cafe doors that read: “No Japs Allowed. Japs not welcome here.” And on campus “For White Gentiles only.”

Gordon: “Our faces are the faces of the enemy.” Newspaper headlines in bold: “The Japanese in California should be under armed guard to the last man and woman. Heard ‘um up, pack ‘um off and give them the inside room of the badlands. Let ‘um be pinched, hurt hungry and deep up against it…” And still, he believed that the constitution would protect them/him. “ We were born here.”

(Sound familiar? Yours truly lived through some of the same race baiting as a youngster. And just for you know what and giggles re- read “Gentleman’s Agreement” or just substitute one ethnicity for another.)

With it all, Mr. Hirabayashi went through some harrowing times: he was in jail for 30 days for disobeying curfew and the removal order. He served time at an Arizona Honor Camp and a state penitentiary. His lawyers appealed the convictions, the courts refused to hear any of the arguments and the case eventually wound up in the Supreme Court, where they found him guilty as charged.

Only 40 years later in 1987with a PhD in sociology and a teacher abroad in Lebanon and Egypt, an appeals court heard his case that was again referred to the Supreme Court, and weaving through the legalities of the case by his legal team and the ACLU, his guilty conviction was finally overturned.

Playwright and actress Jeanne Sakata a third generation Sansei (Japanese American) happened to see a documentary called ‘A Personal Matter. Gordon Hirabayashi vs. The United States’. Surprised that she had little knowledge about the case, she was determined to meet Gordon. On a trip to Seattle she met him for the first time. Permission to interview and later write a solo play was ‘gracious and welcoming’.

The production, originally titled “Dawns Light”: The Journey of Gordon Hirabyashi” was commissioned in 2004 by the Mark Taper Forum by Chay Ye, former director of the Taper’s Asian Theatre Workshop. In 2007 it made its world premiere at East West Players. From 2012 to 2014 and a new title “Hold These Truths” has gone on to be produced all over the country with various actors playing Gordon.

Yu has been in the role since 2007, and how lucky we are in San Diego to be part of his audience as he takes on the roles of a few dozen characters moving seamlessly from one to another on Ben Zamora’s bare bones set subtly lit to perfection by Zamora as well.  John Zalewski created the sound, and Soo-Jin Lee the original costumes.

For a more riveting experience and exercise in humbleness and grace, head to downtown to see and be witness to what it looks like to have faith in our country’s democracy, the good the bad and the ugly of it.

Thank our lucky stars that patriots the likes of Gordon Hirabayashi, Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, Fiona Hill, Marie Yovavovitch, whose family fled the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution and then to Germany and growing up under the Nazi’s before coming to the US and becoming a proud citizen. After all is said and done they still believe ‘that these “Truths Hold”.  

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 8th.
Organization: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Phone: 619-544-1000
Production Type: Solo Performance
Where: 79 Horton Plaza Downtown San Diego 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $25.00
Venue: Lyceum Space
Photo: Jim Carmody

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Backyard Renaissance and David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” A Perfect Fit.

I have always considered myself an amateur numismatist. I’ve dabbled in it over the years with some help from my father who owned a grocery store and brought home, what looked to him, interesting looking ‘coins’.

We rolled pennies and dimes and I was able to complete coin books with both denominations that were minted in all three of the US Mints. It’s not rocket science but neither did I consider myself a serious coin collector.

Later on I did visit a few pawn -shops, junk stores. I went to outlets where there were serious collectors that traded coins they didn’t need to complete their collections and exchanged or bought others.
Marcel Ferrin, Richard Baird and Francis ercke
In my travels I managed to pick up a few buffalo head nickels. None of them are in very good condition because the dates are worn off. What small numbers of them I do have are in what might be rated as Good condition in the scheme of rating coins. Most coins found at random in any one of a number of off, off side street junk shops can usually be purchased for much below going price.

David Mamet’s 1975 “American Buffalo” had its opening production on Broadway in 1975 after it premiered at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. It won an Obie Award in 1975 and in the 1983 revival it was nominated for the Tony in Best Revival. It is getting a dusting off and will be ready for another Broadway run in March of 2020. So hold on and see it here first.
Richard Baird and Francis Gercke
Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company, the fledgling company just off from a year long residency at The La Jolla Playhouse and is now temporarily housed in the downtown 10th Avenue Arts is currently mounting Mamet’s 1975 “American Buffalo” playing through Dec.7th.   

It’s a perfect venue and fit as it introduces us to three seedy characters that in real time might be part of the 10th Avenue landscape you might see whilst down there.

Director Rosina Reynolds, with only three characters in this black comedy, manages to pull off the heist of the year with her excellent cast, perfect pacing and gentle nudging to build on Mamet’s language that is oft called ‘Mametspeak’. She strikes it rich with the solid gold talent pool she has at her center.

Three petty thieves/ con-men Fran Gercke (Donny), Richard Baird (Teach) and newcomer Marcel Ferrin (Bobby) weave Mamet’s story of their understanding of free enterprise as they plan to take what is clearly not theirs; a valuable coin collection with which to build their fortune.

It’s Chicago around 11:AM. Don/Donny and Bobby are cleaning up after the previous night’s card game. Talk is focused on healthy food, the importance of a good breakfast and who won the game last night.

Soon it turns to the out of town coin dealer who came into his ‘Don’s Resale Shop’ the night before and purchased a buffalo head nickel displayed in Don’s glass showcase for a bargain price of $90.00.  He and Don had settled on that price.

Don is now having second thoughts about the price and feels he was taken advantage of. He conjures up a plot to steal the collector’s entire suitcase of valuable coins that also includes THE nickel. In his scheme, Don (Francis Gercke) as mentor to the young and vulnerable Bobby (Marcel Ferrin) maps out a plan for his gopher to commit a crime that’s about as ludicrous as would be robbing a Brinks Armored Truck.

Marcel Ferrin, Francis Gercke and Richard Baird

They both seem to be on the same page of the ‘how’ when a wild -eyed over the top fuming and angry Teach comes bursting into the shop in a rant about, of all things, a piece of toast. (“Fu**in Ruthie).

Teach, a born hustler, smells that something’s going on between Don and Bobby. Before we know it all three are co conspirators in the action. They go back and forth about who’s in, who’s out. It matters not as they talk the plan to death, since it’s all smoke and mirrors; talking the talk is more important than making the heist in Mamet's world.

After Bobby fails to deliver on the plan, the paradigm changes because Teach sees an opportunity to make a killing for him and Donny. Forget Bobby. Bobby in his own inimitable way won’t go away, he’s in for ride and the money and it seems the abuse.

Baird’s Teach is a veritable time bomb ready to explode from the time he walked into Don’s Shop. He’s a ball of nerves, intimidating, misogynistic, threatening and abusive; strutting back and forth, hiking up his trousers absent-mindedly, ready for the lunge. He is one intimidating dude and as with a history of Baird’s skills and intensity, his character doesn’t disappoint. 

As owner and perhaps the most mildly mannered of the group, Gercke’s Don starts off annoyed and angry with himself for not asking more money, but still patient with Bobby until his irritation builds to a crescendo and he lets loose on the others.
Francis Gercke and Richard Baird
His arc builds slowly and before our eyes he becomes a different person. Again, some marvelous acting and interplay as the energy between the three veers off into a shambling mess.

Ferrin, giving it his first professional shot, and managing to hold his own in some pretty stiff company, is a student at Southwestern College with Ruff Yeager as his mentor.

He’s the fall guy/junkie for both Teach and Don and manages to pull off his character as a frightened and wounded bird, but succeeds in upsetting the professional’s to his own detriment. Bravo to him.  
Marcel Ferrin and Francis Gercke
Top notch technical support comes from Jessica John Gercke with meticulous detail to period clothes, to Tony Cucuzzella’s thorough inclusion of other’s castoff’s including a number of clocks, portraits of random people and some weird looking pieced mounted on the walls, posters and bric-a-bracs.

Joel Britt’s lighting design and Mason Pilevsky’s sound design with outside noises realistic to any downtown community with busses and L-trains in its hood all give the feel of authenticity.    

Sitting through a Mamet plays is an exercise in patience. They are dark and rarely can seen these days much like the buffalo nickel.  Seldom will you find one in as mint condition as this particular production.    

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Dec. 7th
Organization: Backyard Renaissance Theatre
Phone: 619- 977-0999
Production Type: Drama
Where: 10 Avenue Arts Center, 930 10th Ave Downtown San Diego
Ticket Prices: $18.00 -$35.00
Venue: 10th Avenue Avenue Arts Center
Photo: Daren Scott