Monday, September 30, 2019

SDMT “Man Of La Mancha” Reaps Benefit of Townsend’s Quixote.

Winner of five Toy Awards including Best Musical, “Man Of La Mancha” ran for 2,328 performances on Broadway and has played in countries as far away as Hungary. It has been translated into no less than eleven languages and nine different dialects of Spanish.

It has been revived several times on Broadway and if you don’t know all the words to the quintessential “Impossible Dream” you could ‘name that tune’ after about the second note.

Now, once again you have the opportunity to see it on the stage of the Horton Grand Theatre in downtown San Diego through Oct. 27th.
Robert J. Townsend 
The story of Don Quixote de la Mancha (played to perfection by seasoned actor Robert J. Townsend) is a play within a play. It is set during the Spanish Inquisition. Spanish writer Manuel de Cervantes is arrested by the inquisition after an attempt to collect taxes on the church resulted in foreclosure.  He is thrown into the dungeon for high crimes. As soon as he arrives in the dungeon, the other prisoners want to try him and burn his books, which he holds dear.

He pleads with them to give him a fair trial and not burn his books until he finishes telling them the story of his famous character, Don Quixote de La Mancha, knight errant. Arrested with him is his long time sidekick Sancho Panza (Jeffrey Landman) who adds a good bit comic relief (“I Really Like Him”).  

Heidi Meyer as Aldonza
Using props from an old trunk that belonged to him and also tossed into the dungeon after he made his entrance, he slowly and meticulously and with the help of Sancho, transforms himself into a somewhat older disheveled and wild eyed knight who is on an adventurous quest to follow his dream as he weaves an unbelievable story of chivalry and naiveté to a ruff and tumble group of prisoners.

Also in the dungeon, is Aldonza (a fiery and impassioned Heidi Meyer) the rag tag stable girl that he renames Dulcinea (“To Each His Dulcinea"). It is one the more difficult roles to fill both in look and in tone. It is she who captures the eye of Don Quixote who sees her purity as opposed to the slugs in prison who look upon her as the dungeon whore.

This is one of the more physical productions under Scott Thompsons direction and choreography (Hanz Enyeart is dance captain) seen in some time. Meyer takes the brunt of it as the scavenger’s in the barn rape her over and over again (warning: X rating). Townsend also puts in a very physical as well as beautifully realized with strong vocals (“Impossible Dream”) as both Quixote/Cervantes.

Bethany Slomka, Joseph Grienberger, Francesca Sola
Those supporting include Bill Bland as Innkeeper/Governor with strong vocals. Joseph Grienberger (“It’ All The Same”) as the Padre. Bethany Slmoka as Housekeeper. Brian Doig, Captain of the Inquisition. Francesca Sola is Antonia the self -centered niece. (“I/We’re only thinking of him”). The large cast includes no less than twenty and all are on track with the music under Musical Director Don Le Master’s baton.  

Janet Pitcher, who has been costuming for SDMT since 2013 is back at it again designing the period appropriate looking costumes. Michelle Miles designed the dim dungeon lighting to the blinding of Inquisition/Night of the Mirrors battle. Set rental is from Candelight Pavillion Dinner Theatre and Jon Fredette designed the sound.
Robert J. Townsend and Jeffrey Landman
What’s there not to like about a musical with a playlist that includes: “Man of La Mancha” (“I Don Quixote”), “I Really Like Him”, “Little Bird, Little Bird”, “Golden Helmet of Mombrino”, “To Each His Dulcinea”, “Night of the Woeful Countenance”, “A Little Gossip” and  “The Impossible Dream” just to name a few in the Dale Wasserman, Mitch Leigh (Music) and Joe Darion (Lyrics) Tony award winning “Man Of La Mancha”? After sixty plus years the music, lyrics and book still satisfies. 
Cast of "La Mancha"
If you’ve not see the show before this is a good time to see it.
If you are a dreamer like this reviewer, see it again. It will conjure up all the feelings you had for it the very first time. It’s never too late to dream the impossible dream.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 27th
Organization: San Diego Musical Theatre
Phone: 858-560-5740
Production Type: Musical
Where: 444 Fourth Ave, Downtown San Diego, CA 92101
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Horton Grand Theatre
Photo: Daren Scott

Friday, September 27, 2019

Tender, Playful Moments in In Diversionary “Girlfriend” Make Primer To Romance Come Alive.

Romance comes in many colors. But when it comes from out of the blue, words can’t define it. So was the case of Mike and Will’s (Michael Louis Cusimano and Shaun Tuazon) budding, but not so fast growing relationship in “Girlfriend” by Todd Almond (Book) and Matthew Sweet (Music and Lyrics) now playing at Diversionary Theatre through Oct.13th.

Words are not the engine that propels Mike and Will’s togetherness in Almond’s “Girlfriend”. Few words are exchanged between them but there is an energy that stokes the romance, and that energy is in Matt Sweet’s music.
Michael Louis Cusimano
From the get-go, when Mike gives Will a mix-tape of Sweet’s music with “Girlfriend” on it, and both are playing it in their respective bedrooms at the same time, one might say, ‘it was b’shert.

It’s 1993, Alliance, Nebraska. Mike and Will are in a celebratory mood. They just graduated from high school. Will empties his backpack of school books into a trash can in his bedroom. “Today is New Years Day”.

Mike is at his bedroom doing the same, but his ‘stuff’ is packed away in a box. Both hold up a copy of their own mix-tape and begin to play it on their CD and stereo’s.

That same night Mike invites Will to go on a date to the local drive-in. In fact the same holds true for the night after that and the night after that. (Will: “What’s happening? A drive in with a boy? This is the best New Years ever”.)

Shaun Tuazon and Michael Louis Cusimano
At some point in the evening Mike reveals that he has a girlfriend in another town.  That sort of changes the dynamic, but how can you take someone serious who, in earnest, tells you his girlfriend has long and thin-  like a spider arms? That was one giggle moment, watching Will shake his own arms. 

Trying to get a tentative commitment from Mike and or Will on how or if they care for each other on a mutual playing field of a few dates, is like pulling teeth. In fact, they barely speak. They do share a secret eye kinetic language that, for them speaks volumes.

But the biggest tell all is when savvy musical director Kyrsten Hafso-Koppman and her band begin to play Sweet’s music. That’s the seriousness of the evening. When the two break out in song, about 10 in all, the musical play comes alive.

The two embrace, sleep together, are unencumbered by any restrictions of other’s around them, and dance rhythmically to the music. The kiss is the frosting on the cake.
Michael Louis Cusimano with Shaun Tuazon
The lyrics tell the story; the acting brings out the best of both men. The production under the direction of Stephen Brotebeck rocks in a way that couldn’t have been predicted from the start. That’s also what makes the playful and tender moments in “Girlfriend” worth the wait to see what and if anything comes of this ‘primer to romance’ a lasting and viable affair.

The music speaks volumes: “I’ve Been Waiting, “Reaching Out”, “Looking At The Sun”, “Girlfriend”, We’re the Same”, “I Wanted To Tell You”.  The four piece band led by Hafso-Koppman on keys (and harmonizes with the men on occasion) include Melanie Medina… guitar, Nobuko Kemmotsu …drums and Christian Reeves … bass is perfect in the small Diversionary space.

As the scenes pivot back and forth between the drive in, their respective bedrooms and an open field (credit Yi-Chien Lee for the simple but functioning set of moveable cubes and furniture) where they occasionally meet, most of the disclosure of the personalities is revealed. Mike is on his way to college to follow in his father’s footsteps of being a doctor.

Will doesn’t have college in his future. In fact, contrary to Mike, Will had no future plans. Tuazon (pardon me) is his absolutely adorable and comfortable in his this is who I am, self. It’s a role made for him.
Mike’s a star baseball jock admired by most, yet under suspicion by some of being gay, and yes and bullied for it. Will is openly gay and more of a free spirit held in awe by Mike’s commitment to a future laid out for him by his own father. Cusimano is just tentative enough to see him trying to fit into his almost newly found freedom as an out of the closet gay man.

 The back and forth of finally saying goodbye when Mike goes off to college as Will stays behind is a revealing moment. It’s like watching a game of Ping-Pong and the score is slightly favored on one’s side and the other is playing catch-up.

And if catching up means they catch up with each other in a disco on New Years Eve, with bright lights and disco music blaring (Curtis Mueller and Stephen Jensen) so be it.

We learn that Will has a job at Kmart but came to hear this Band in Lincoln, Neb. Mike is on Spring Break, also there to hear the Band (“I Wanted To Tell You”). They look at each other, ‘still uncertain of how they feel’ and once again begin their dance. So let the magic begin and… “If music be the food of love, play on.”

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 13th
Organization: Diversionary Theatre
Phone: 619-220-0097
Production Type: Romantic Comedy
Where: 4545 Park Blvd.
Ticket Prices: Start at $27.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Ghoulish Romp With “The Addams Family “At Welk Resort Theatre.

If you’re looking for a fun theatrical treat, look no further than Welk Resort Theatre’s “The Addams Family-A New Musical Comedy” now playing through Nov. 10th in the cozy village theatre that Mr. Welk and family built for musical theatre lovers.
Dinner with the Addams Family

Spending time with the Adams Family, Gomez, Morticia, Uncle Fester, Wednesday, Pugsley, and Grandma, and the zombie looking Lurch, the butler (Berto Fernandez) is a haunting, macabre -but one of a kind experience.

“The Addams Family” with book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice and music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa is based on the Addams Family characters created by Charles Addams’ cartoons but the story that was Broadway bound is original.

In 1964 “The Addams Family” became a TV series and later a morning cartoon for the Sat. morning contingency of kids who tuned in to watch cartoons long before electronic devices over took their brains. In the ‘90’s several movies appeared on the big screen.
Chelsea Emma Franko, Drew Bradford, Nancy Snow Carr and Steve Gunderson
The story opens at the crypts of The Addams Family ancestors. Once a year they come out, so to speak, for a family reunion. This particular family visit didn’t end as well as expected for the ancestor’s. The gates of the crypts closed too soon leaving the dearly departed engaged in problem solving before the gates would open again for them.

Here’s the pitch: 18 -year -old Wednesday Addams (performed by the talented Chelsea Emma Franko) wants to host her boyfriend’s (swing state) Ohio family for a dinner party. It will be a first for the Addams’ to dine with ‘outsiders’. No doubt it will be an eye opener for the Beineke’s, Mal and Alice (Steve Gunderson and Nancy Snow Carr).

Cast of Addams Family-A New Musical Comedy
At the gates, Uncle Fester (an amazingly talented and cuddly cute (if you can call it that- Andrew Metzger) “The Moon and Me”, tells the ‘family’ that he needs their help with the ‘Wednesday problem’. They cannot return to their crypt until Wednesday and Lucas (Drew Bradford) are happily married. (“Festers Manifesto”)

It seems daughter Wednesday has fallen in love with Lucas Beineke a young man she met one night wandering about the park. It was love at first sight; pledges were made and a ring exchanged. They want to get married but her family has a few objections. As an outsider, there will be some getting used to well… a different way of being.

Andrew Metzger as Uncle Fester
On the other hand love has transformed Wednesday from black sack to bright and happy; from all black to bright yellow, a color her mother cannot, absolutely cannot abide (the talented Janet Pitcher costume coordinator). Wednesday confides in her father, (but not to tell her mother) that she wants the family to invite the Beineke family, to dinner for a ‘meet and greet’.

All hell breaks lose when Mom Morticia hears about the invite and dinner. She’ll reluctantly go along but for a little revenge for not being kept in the loop, decides to play the “Full Disclosure” game with the new in-laws. (“Full Disclosure”)

In the meantime mischief making son Pugsley, (Blake Ryan) steals Grandma’s (Kat Fitzpatrick) magical truth potions ‘that will bring out someone’s dark nature’. At the dinner he intended it for Wednesday but it ends up being downed by Alice Beineke (a deliciously hysterical and physically adept Nancy Snow Carr) to calm a suddenly brought on coughing fit.
Chelsea Emma Franko, Kevin Hafso Koppman and Erica Marie Weisz
Directors Larry Rabin and Noelle Marion and a sterling cast bring out the best there is with their collective talent to elevate a relatively ho hum story to a rather pleasant spell of charming entertainment.

Kevin Hafso Koppman and Ms. Weisz are a natural together. There is a chemistry between the two that ignites when he is trying to calm  mother and daughter who do not agree on much. As both as a singer, dancer, and dead pan (pardon the pun) comic his talents spill over as the very concerned and caring father while trying to cope with his suspicious and curious wife. (“Trapped”)

 Their famous tango “Tango de Amor” is one of the many happy surprises along with their “Let’s Live Before We Die” as the two make plans to travel the sewers of Paris. Yup. There’s that too.
The Addams Family
As for the stunning in all black talented and sexy Ms.Weisz, her musical pipes and characterization of Morticia are as comical as they are subtle and graceful. (“Just Around The Corner”)

In comparison, the other Mom, Alice is an uptight and disappointed in her life wife who goes bonkers after she downs the ‘magic secret cocktail revealing secrets about her up tight husband who is, pardon the expression, mortified by her outbursts. Steve Gunderson does the best he can as the cold and and stand offish Dad, who has forgotten how to be a caring human being.
Andrew Metzger with the Ancestors
As for the ancestor’s ensemble, one couldn’t ask for a more talented group. They sing and dance (Karl Warden choreographs and how about a ‘Bunny Hop’?) and pose like Greek statues on platforms.

Once again Janet Pitcher outdoes herself with the all shades of grey fitted costumes that actually take on the look of granite. Peter Herman’s wigs are generationally proper and Jennifer Edwards lighting is right on especially in the scene when Uncle Fester visits the moon.  
Guessing from the audience participation the day I attended, most were familiar with the overture from the TV theme. They were right in there snapping their fingers and swaying back and fourth as the music started under musical director Lyndon Peguda.

If you like ghoulish, you will love this show; it’s just this side of the macabre, but not to fear, it’s so morbidly funny you just might want to see it for a second time if but to believe your eyes.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Nov. 10th
Organization: Welk Resort Theatre
Phone: 1-888-802- 7469
Production Type: Musical Comedy
Where: 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA 92006
Ticket Prices: $55.00
Venue: Photo: Ken Jacques