Tuesday, November 30, 2021

“1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas” Charms and Delights New Village Arts Audiences

 What does a ‘nice Jewish girl’ do on the first night of Chanukah?  She goes to a Black Family Christmas (Party). Well…? 

Dea Hurston, philanthropist extraordinaire has chosen to branch out and pursue her passion for writing. And lucky for us in the theater world she did. Along with her creative team and collaborators  Milena (Sellers) Phillips, Frankie Alicea-Ford and Kevin “Blax” Burroughs — her first play, a musical and a winner from the start, “1222 Oceanfront: A Black Family Christmas” is currently  in a world premiere production at New Village Arts partially renovated theatre in Carlsbad through De. 26th.

Kory LaQuess Pullam and Deja Fields

What makes this different from the many Christmas plays I’ve seen?  Well, for one the characters are black save for one adopted son Javier (Frankie Alicea-Ford) who is Latinx and gay... and whose boyfriend Brian (Durwood Murray) is gay, black and Jewish, that’s different. It doesn’t get any more inclusive than that by anyones standards. 

Milena (Sellers) Phillips, Victor Morris, Kory LaQuess Pullam and Deja Fields
 

The house is decorated (Savannah Brittian) with symbols that include Kwanza Candle in the kitchen and masks, art work from different black artists. The interior of the house is beautifully crafted, warm and homey looking.

All in all, the family included in Hurston’s play, as mentioned above, is pretty much seen through a black perspective. But the overall message is that family is family and with few exceptions the Black family has it’s up’s and downs, crisis and suspicions, secrets and confessions, love /hate relationships, and its share of misunderstandings.

The Black family has lived on 1222 Oceanfront before the price of houses went skyrocketing and is now worth millions. When Dorothy Milena (Sellers) Phillips and her late husband James bought the house even as it was out of their price limit, they went ahead anyway. As the time moved closer to their moving in, the neighbors were bitching because a black family was going to be in the neighborhood. 

The Black's needed a way to come up with enough money for a down payment since the price of interest was also going up. With the help of their extended family the money came through and Dorothy hosted the family Christmas two day gathering for the length of the loan that was thirty years. Over those years traditions were made. 

Portia Gregory, Durwood Murray and Deja Fields

The traditional foods were Italian because they could only afford pasta and the fixings. Dorothy’s famous lemon aide was a specialty for her now grown son, James, JR (Kory La  Quess Pullam). In fact, he looked forward to having some as he and his now wife Aada (Deja Fields) were heading to Carlsbad for the holidays. All he talked about was his lemon-aide and the special relationship with his mother. For Aadya, she couldn’t get Dorothy to recognize her if she stood on her head and whistled Dixie. She was in marketing and Dorothy could never understand how she earned her money. 

As the show opens, Lizzy (Portia Gregory) Dorothy’s sister comes to the dinner with her specialty and food and presents.  She’s also carrying the ashes of her late husband, June, kept in Santa doll large enough to stand alone on the fireplace mantel so he can be included. Gregory is a hoot and a howl as the know it all sister who introduces Dorothy to her co -worker Victor (Victor Morris). 

Portia Gregory

Both work at the Post Office and Lizzy wants them to get together. Victor is no shrinking violet either. He’s a towering good looking ‘cowboy’ who adds a whole new dimension to the dynamics of the family. The show takes some dizzying twists and turns but that's what makes it so authentic and oft times funny. 

It’s not every day that a new musical comedy/drama is as ready for audiences as 1222 Oceanfront. With most original music (Beautiful Christmas Day”, “Christmas Morn”, “Merry Christmas to Me”, “Cowboy Christmas”) by co- creator Milena (Sellers) Phillips and of course the usual traditional Christmas music, (“Silent Night”, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”) it has a real holiday feeling especially under the deft direction of Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. 

Milena (Sellers)Phillips and Victor Morris

Phillips also has some pretty sensual moves when she remembers dancing with Victor on a Vegas trip. Dejay Fields is outstanding as a singer and dancer, who, along with Pullman make a strong and very good looking couple. The fact that everyone could sing and the entire cast looked like they were fully involved makes for a truly magical evening. Look for it to become a holiday regular. 

The creative team includes stage manager Beonica Bullard, Set and properties, Savannah Brittian, Sound designer, Violet Ceja, Lighting designer, Daniel Johnson- Carter, Costume designer Channel Mahoney & Joy Yvonne Jones Choreographer, Lisa M. Green and music adaptation & direction by John-Mark Mc Gaha.  

So, back to the question of what does a nice Jewish girl do on the first night of Chanukah?  She goes to the theatre to see a black play filled with charm, love, comedy and drama and the everyday vicissitudes of the Black Family. 


And she lights the candles the for the remaining nights!


Enjoy!



When: 2 p.m. Wednesdays. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 26.

Where: New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad

Tickets: $20 to $59

Phone: (760) 433-3245

Photo: New Village Arts

Online: newvillagearts.org

COVID protocol: Full vaccination required with at least 14 days from second shot, or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of performance date. Masks required indoors for all.



Friday, November 26, 2021

Not So Starry, Starry Night for Van Gough in Kimber Lee’s “to the yellow house”

When we think of Vincent van Gough, we think of beautiful sunflowers in full bloom and in different phases of ageing, post impression landscapes, and still life’s, oil paintings, (about one hundred sixty that we know of) portraits, and self -portraits, to say the least. His art is world renowned, and priceless. We know that now. But in Kimber Lee’s “to the yellow house” now in a world premiere production currently at The La Jolla Playhouse through Dec. 12th , sunflowers and the like were the last things on his mind.

Unfortunately for van Gough he suffered through long dark periods of depression and self- doubt.  He was plagued by every negative force that came his way throughout his life especially in the period, two years before his death in 1890, when he was searching in vain for new beginnings while living with his beloved brother and best friend Theo in the yellow house in Paris that Theo rented for the two of them. 

Brooke Ishibashi, Deidra Henry and Paco Tolson

Lee wrote the play after she read “van Gough: The Life”. “For me, this play is about somebody on a journey of figuring out “how do I do this thing that everyone keeps telling me I can’t do?” “The time structure that exists in the play-it’s essentially a memory play-….”

In a two plus hour homage to van Gough, director Neel Keller and Lee trace his tracks from his arrival in Paris at the yellow house and follows his struggles to begin anew and find himself. van Gough hopes, with the help of his brother Theo who is an art dealer, he might get a leg up to show his dark and lackluster paintings but Theo offers nothing but negative comments about his paintings. Frankie J. Alvarez as Theo, Vincent's loving brother who provides financial support is a study in stability, the complete opposite of his brother's instability.

van Gough looks for companionship and friendship from like-minded friends like Paul Gauguin, (Marco Barricilli) and Emile Bernard (DeLeon Dallas).  Through it all Gauguin would be his long lasting friend while the other two were more hail fellow well met friends yet bring some much needed humor to their roles.

Frankie J. Alvarez and Paco Tolson

Deidre Henry is an outstanding Agostina, Vincent’s par amour, Café owner and biggest fan and Brooke Ishibashi is a baker in progress at the café and the first contact Vincent makes when he ventures into town. The seven member ensemble adds more depth and humor to the struggles of Van Gough’s already unsettled life. 

Takeshi Kata’s -two tiered set gives way to dark scapes across the entire stage, with the intent of the audience seeing what Van Gough sees. “I want you to feel what I feel and see what I. see”.

David Israel Reynoso’s costumes are period are right with some color to the overall darkness especially on the women’s costumes. Palmer Hefferan’s sound design, Nicholas Hussongs realistic projections, Masha Tsimring’s lighting, and Alberto “Albee Alvarado wigs and Justin Ellington’s original music fits in with the mood of the story. They all add up to a realistic look and are true to the vision of the playwright's work.


Paco Tolson 

With a strong cast and a steadily convincing, overly morbid and grouchy to a fault Paco Tolson as Vincent, the production tends to be repetitive and depressing, in tune and tone with the moods of van Gough. With tightening and some culling “to the yellow house” will be a find in the annals of serious, historical and educational drama.   

Hat’s off to Kimber Lee for showing us a part of the determination that resides in us all. van Gough never lived to see his masterpieces. He continued to sketch and paint until the very end when he was destitute and finally took his own life, but he never gave up pursuing his dream. 

As a nice touch, volunteers were giving out sunflower masks to the audience. 

‘to the yellow house’ plays through Dec. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre.

Shows Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Thursday Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets: lajollaplayhouse.org

Proof of vaccination and masks mandatory.

Photos: Rich Soublet II

 ‘to the yellow house’ plays through Dec. 12 at La Jolla Playhouse’s Weiss Theatre.

Ticket information: lajollaplayhouse.org

Proof of vaccination and masks mandatory.



 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

“She The People” by Second City Raises a Glass to Women

                   


It was difficult to divide the opening night audience at the San Diego Rep. of “She The People” now on the Lyceum Stage through Dec. 5th as to what genders outnumbered what genders. Clearly the six women ensemble came to bury the male ego not to praise it. (All in fun of course). 

The women in the audience along with a few good men (very few) clapped, yelled and ya hood and were all over each and every act the group performed from taking turns as a group, sanctifying and praising the progress women have made over the years and pointing out there are still miles to go,  mountains to climb and finally leading up to a strong monologue from the first Woman President (Kazi Jones). 

The six women do what Second City has done since its inception in 1959 when the ‘comedy revolution/’began in Chicago; they make people laugh. It is comedy for women written by women. The show includes sketches, music and audience participation. One of my favorites, the game show “You Oughta Know’ where the chosen audience member, who was a good sport, couldn’t identify who the Sec. of State was but knew about the Kardashians.

“She The People” created and originally Directed by Carley Heffernan features for this San Diego showing Lexi Alioto, Kennedy Baldwin, Katie Caussin, Kazi Jones, Yazmin Ramos and Laurel Zoff Pelton. Elisa Wattman is at the piano and is also Music Director. 


Sketches include a number about anyone can have a  ‘gay baby’, women doing commercials demonstrating a shampoo under a waterfall tickled my funny bone and how women want men to look at their faces not their bodies so why not come out as a dinosaur and finally, but not the least last, championing for  having pockets in all women’s clothing.  

With so much material to spoof and jab at and with the men in power still dictating what women can and cannot do with their bodies and the chances of women getting equal treatment like pay in the workplace, “She The People” will never run out of material. 

And while the show was overly over the top, oft times crude and  funny as hell it is just what we need now. Some of the spoofs went fleeting by so fast that yours truly had a difficult time catching up with a few because some skits began while the audience was still laughing at the past skit.  My brain doesn’t work that fast. Sorry ladies, slow down a bit for the old fogies. But do enjoy the experience. 

Some names you might recognize from Second City over the years include Tins Fay, Joan Rivers, Gilder Radner and Amy Sedaris. And yes, there were men in the group as well: John Belushi, John Carey, Martin Short, Alan Arkin and Dan Aykroyd to name a few. 

“Second City: She the People” will run through Dec. 4, with performances at 7 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 

Photo: Timothy Schmidt

Tickets are $25 to $91. 

Proof of full vaccination or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of show time required. 

Masks are also required indoors. 

For tickets, call (619) 544-1000 or sdrep.org.

 


Sunday, November 21, 2021

For A Bit of Twisted Holiday Cheer, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” Might be Your Cup of Merriment.

The cast and director, Phil Johnson of Roustabout Theatre Compny and Christopher Durang seem to have a symbiotic relationship in Roustabout’s treatment of its current production “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” now at Moxie Theatre through Dec. 4th. 

I say that with tongue in cheek, because, well they all seem to be savoring every tasty morsel of dark humor where Durang spoofs the four or so little playlets with glee, the most polished is the parody on  Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”. 

The four cast members Wendy Maples, Walter Murray, Omri Schein and Wendy Waddell are all plugged into Durang’s warped humor rapid fire conversation and for ninety crazy minutes, you will laugh yourself silly. Lest we forget, director Johnson can be just as goofy as the rest especially if you remember him with Schein in “Withering Heights” and “She Rantala from Outer Space”. 

l to r Wendey Wadell, Omri Schein, Wendy Maples and Walter Murray

In the first skit married couple Marsha and Jim (Waddell and Murray) are locked into a 13 year ho hum marriage with littler or nothing to talk about when Murray gets a phone call from a long ago high school girlfriend. She wans to come out and visit and ‘talk’ about old times. When she arrives, he’s baffled because he barely recognizes her (she’s gained lots of weight and has had several surgeries on her face) and doesn’t remember ever being close to her. 

Maples is all over Murray with not very convincing push backfrom him much to Waddell’s chagrin. Of the trio, Maples shines as Waddell moans and groans perfectly as the injured wife and Murray frowns and looks surprised loving the attention.


Schein makes several appearances on stage, one as a waiter in a Tea Room annoyed at Murray for not liking borscht but ordering scrambled eggs instead.  In another he plays a writer who is approached by an agent (Maples) to write a play about a Rabbi who wants to marry a priest played by Waddell. That was too funny but Renetta Lloyd’ and Roz Lehman’s costumes of the Orthodox Rabbi stole that segment. 

Omri Schein, Wendy Maples, Wendy Waddell and Walter Murray  as Tom.

The most developed and black as black comedy can get is the takeoff on Williams’ “Glass Menagerie” where Schein is now Lawrence not Laura. Amanda (Waddell) calls him a cripple. Instead of her/his menagerie of animals, Lawrence plays with his cocktail swizzles. He calls them by name driving his mother crazy with his potpourri of illnesses and his refusal to meet anyone.

Murray plays Tom Lawrence’s brother who at Amanda’s urging brings home a lady caller named Ginny (Maples looking like Rosie the Riveter) for Lawrence.  She turns out to be a lesbian. And then Tom the breadwinner goes to the movies every night and brings home his own gentlemen. 

It’s all so…loud as Ginny (Maples almost screams her lines because she’s hard of hearing.  At the end of that segment yours truly was ready to give her my hearing aids. And through it all, Waddell’s Amanda is still the ‘charming’ southern bell who once had seventeen gentlemen callers in one day. But if looks could kill both her children would be dead. 

Omri Schein, Walter Murray Wendy Waddell and Wendy Maples

With an all talented cast and Johnson directing, the laughs came so fast we were barely able to catch our breaths. And for a seasonal show NOT about Christmas this one fits the bill taking our minds off the holidays and the worlds woes for at least ninety fun filled minutes.

Alyssa Kane’s simple set worked well as the quick scenes kept everything moving at rapid speed and Chloe Oliana M. Clark’s lighting is right on.

In case you are interested in any of Durang’s plays try reading or seeing if possible, “Beyond Therapy”, “Sister Mary Explains It All” and “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike”, the last was seen here at the Old Globe some years ago. 

Enjoy!

“For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” plays November 20, 21, 23, 27, 28 and Dec. 2-4 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. 

Talkbacks will be held after the Nov. 21 and 28 matinees.

For tickets: https://www.theroustabouts.org/

Photos: Roustabouts Theatre Company

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination and masks required.



Friday, November 19, 2021

“Hairspray Returns to the Big Stage at the Civic and Knocks the Audience Off Its Feet

 “Hairspray”, Broadway’s Great Big Fat Gorgeous Hit (Clive Barnes) is back for yet another go around at the Civic Theatre through November 21st. Winner of eight 2003 Tony Awards including Best Musical and directed by our own Jack O’Brien of Old Globe fame, the Broadway cast starred Marissa Jaret Winokur as Tracy Turnbald and Harvey Fierstein (the King or Queen of drag and the quintessential Edna Turnbald) as her mother, Edna. Both won Tony’s for their respective roles.

Niki Metcalf as Tracy

“Hairspray”, based on the New Line Cinema film written and directed by John Walters who was also the creative consultant for the musical, with Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan who wrote the book, original score by Academy Award nominated Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, takes place in Baltimore, 1962 where things ‘they were a changin’. 

Welcome to the 60’s sung by the Dynamites Caira Asante, Mea Wilkerson, and Renee Reid. And as an afterthought this is what was happening in the ‘60’s. 

Words like Afro, Beehive, Extensions, Perm, Pig Tails, Pompadour, Skunking and Teasing were made popular. The Civil Rights Act, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, JFK, Bay of Pigs, Peace Core, Cuban Missile Crisis and the death of Marilyn Monroe were a few items that made history in the early 60’s. That we were in for some trying times would be an understatement for years to come.

For Baby Boomers I and younger who may not remember the ‘60’s here are a few dances that thrived then: ‘Stricken Chicken’; ‘The Madison’; The Locomotion’; ‘The Handjive’; ‘The Bug’; ‘The Pony’; ‘The Mashed Potato’ and ‘The Twist’. Lord knows what the dances are called now and that would be dating me past the Polka, the Tango, Cha Cha and the Waltz. 

With a sustained energy by the entire cast compared only to the EveryReady Battery, O’Brien dusted this new touring show (first stop here) off with some updated language and a few political and local references as the production moved along like clockwork.

Overall though, the cast is one of the best balanced I’ve seen with the likes of  Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad the overweight girl with the two tone bouffant, teased to hilt who gets the hunk Will Savarese as Link Larkin the wannabe Elvis look alike), or that her best friend, Penny (Emery Hendreson) supports her to the hilts: “My mother’s going to kill me for going to jail without her permission”.)

Tonisha Harris, Niki Metcalf and Andrew Levitt

 Then as now written into the show, Tracy’s one goal after being able to dance on the famous Corny (Billy Dawson) Collins Show with its white dancers and white producer Velma (Addisonj Gardner and her conceited daughter Amber (Kaelee Albritton) is to integrate the show with the matter of her being overweight right in front of us to judge or not how capable plus sized folks can perform and compete with anyone. 

Hats off to Niki for the dynamism she brings to the show along with her fellow actor Brandon G. Stalling as Seaweed J. Stubbs andother exceptional dancer and ultimately Penny’s boyfriend.

Cast

The underlying theme of integration was a biggie then but since the  Black Lives Matter  movement, the energy in the theatre on opening night proved to be a winning point and especially when her newly found friend Mototmouth Belle (bring the house down Toneisha Harris, “I Know Where I’ve Been”) will eventually host the Collins show once a month on ‘Negro Day’. 

Then there is the matter of Tracy’s parents. Her mother Edna (drag queen star Andrew Levitt aka Nina West) is one of the most beautiful and loving Edna I’ve seen as she tries to protect her daughter from getting hurt, while her dreams of becoming a famous designer are coming to fruition.

Her husband Wilber (Christopher Swan) is just the right person to fit the bill in their loving and caring relationship. Their big production number “Timeless To Me” is worth the whole show. It’s fun, loving, caring and just sweet. It brought tears to my eyes. It sums up the feeling of the show.


Some credits are due: Scenic design by David Rockwell, Sound design by Shannon Slaton, Wigs and Hair design by Paul Huntley and Richard Mawbey, Video designs by Patrick W. Lord and  Conductor Patrick Hoagland was in the pit and life was beautiful for 2 plus hours.

The New York Times said about the show: “If life were everything it should be, it would be more like Hairspray.”

Photo by: Chris Bennion and Jeremy Daniel

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. 8 p.m. Friday. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., San Diego.

Tickets: $35 to $120

Online: broadwaysd.com

COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination required or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of showtime or rapid antigen test performed by a medical professional within 12 hours of showtime. Masks required indoors.


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Verbal Sparring in NCR’S “Ben Butler” Reminds Me of Some Great Tennis Matches I’ve Seen.

Richard Strand’s “Ben Butler” now on stage at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach through November 14th is referred to as an historical play. It’s a comedy, deals with slavery and Civil War conundrums. In fact, the blunders and convoluted legal gyrations (he was a lawyer in civilian life) surrounding Major General Benjamin Butler’s very short stint in the Union Army are actually one for the books.




Richard Baird and Brandon J. Pierce (photos by Aaron Rumley 

The fun begins first shot fired out of the box and the bantering gets hot and heavy when Butler tells Kelly that the telegram he just received informed him that Virginia seceded from the Union whereupon Kelly tells Butler that there is a Negro slave (actually there are three) in the compound (Fort Monroe in Virginia at the start of the Civil War) ‘demanding’ to speak to the Major. 

They go on for about ten or so minutes on who and what the runaway slave is doing in his fort. Does he have a name? And why doesn’t Butler know who is in his compound.? 

They move on for several more minutes about who has a right to ‘demand’ anything of the Major when finally, Mallory the now 'free slave' is brought in to see the major and for some reason Butler gets to stammering and stuttering with Mallory in the room and tells him to call him Ben.

The whole setup is quite funny while dealing with the very serious and human dilemma of slavery and what to do now that the slave is a ‘free slave’ and the complications that go along with that. Eventually Butler comes up with a plan once again, convoluted, to keep Mallory in the 'Union' fort.



Bruce Turk, Brian Mackeyand Richard Baird

Butler, played with expertise by Richard Baird, uses his commanding voice to frighten the bejuses out of his West Point befuddled Lieutenant Kelly, Butler’s adjunct (Brian Mackey), and turn the tables on the Confederate, most sure of himself, Major Cary (Bruce Turk.) 

The only one standing up to the Major General is the runaway slave Shepard Mallory (Brandon J. Pierce), who has nothing to lose but his life.  He wants asylum to escape death. To convine Butler even more Mallory shows Butler the scars on his back for having a 'different opinion'.

 

Brian Mackey, Richard Baird and Brandon J. Pierce

How they get around keeping Mallory, and what ensues along the way including the arrival of Major Cary to claim ‘his’ slave is a feast of words fit for a courtroom lawyer. Under artistic director David Ellenstein, who always has a twinkle in his eyes, Major Butler becomes a bigger than life character even though, as mentioned above his time in the military was short, and not very successful, his over the top wrangling is more than a footnote. * 

I recommend you watch Mackey’s facial expressions. They are worth more than words. 

Bruce Turk is perfect as the snotty Confederate Major. I’ll let you see for yourselves what Butler does to him. 

Pierce, making his NCR debut (hopefully he’ll come back) manages to meet Baird (Butler) on his terms word for word: “You are an arrogant oddity!” and Mallory retorts “So are you!” No minced words here. 

Set designer Marty Burnett designed the simple set consisting of a desk, chair, a cabinet against the windows for the Major’s favorite drink, sherry. To make a play like this work, both cast, crew and director have to work in harmony. 

Baird who has appeared and directed several shows at NCR is excellent as the Major. He can turn on the charm as fast as looking like he’s ready to strangle someone. He’s most convincing including his physical look that shows him at least 30 or so pounds heavier with half balding head (Renetta Lloyd, costumes and Kathleen Kenna makeup artist.) Philip Korth is credited for props and Matthew Novotny, lighting. Last but not least Aaron Rumley is stage manager and sound designer, 

If history and high stakes legal sparring is your game, I recommend you get into the action as both spectator and witness. 

*Butler went on to two terms in the US Congress as an anti-war Democrat and serving as the Governor of Massachusetts. He even ran for President. But that was a no go. After his short time as a Union soldier, Butler’s life was anything boring. He opposed President Johnson’s reconstruction agenda and was the house manager in the Johnson impeachment proceedings. As Chairman of the House Committee on Reconstruction, Butler authored Ku Klux Act of 1871 and   co-authored the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1875.

"Ben Butler” runs through November 14, 2021 at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

Shows Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets: northcoastrep.org; (858) 481-1055

Masks and proof of vaccination required. 



Monday, October 25, 2021

Cynthia Gerber Rises to the Occasion in Lamb’s “The Bell of Amherst”

 Emily Dickinson wore many titles, least of all ‘poet’ until her death in 1886. During her lifetime she penned 1800 poems of which 10 were published. She was often called a recluse and eccentric. She lived in isolation with her parents, her brother Austin, whom she adored and her sister Lavinia. She refused to answer the door when someone approached, instead looked out the window to see who was calling. She dressed in all white, and during her later years stayed pretty much alone in her room. While most of her communications were through letter writing, her wish was that they be burned after her death.


At one time Ms. Dickinson predicted she would be “The Belle of Amherst” (“I am growing handsome very fast indeed! I expect I shall be the belle of Amherst when I reach my 17th year. I don’t doubt that I will have crowds of admirers at that age” Emily Dickinson Museum*) even though she attended but only one dance and that was at her high school dance, where it seems, all her romantic inclinations were dashed when the young man she had eyes on, asked about her sister, Lavinia. But that didn’t mean that she wasn’t a romantic. Her poems and future meetings with men of interest in the literary world, tell us so.

Playwright William Luce's (“There is a mystical energy, an inner tone in her writings,” Mr. Luce wrote in the author’s note to “Belle,”) in “The Belle of Amherst” that debuted in 1976. (It became Julie Haris' signature role). The one woman show at Lamb's is just as moving, a little less somber, with Gerber in the role, as the one I watched on TV with Harris.) This one runs about 100 minutes and  captures the essence of Dickinson including several of her short poems and how her mind works in selecting a topic or words to express her ideas.

Lamb’s Players Theatre artistic director Robert Smyth chose this particular play with seasoned actor Cynthia Gerber to open their 75th season and celebrate the reopening of the theatre after an absence of almost two years as a result of the pandemic. A wise choice in both circumstances. 



Ms. Gerber, who wanted to do this show over twenty years ago, is now up to the task for the role as a more mature and seasoned actor according to Smyth. She has the chops, the experience, the nuances and the credibility, agility and personality to portray Emily in every way beginning with her approaching the audience and offering them her favorite recipe for her chocolate cake. 

A great ice breaker. 

In that period of 100 minutes (without intermission), she flitts back and forth from one side of the stage to another, designed with Maple trees in full fall colors in the background to a sparsely designed interior by Mike Buckley. Buckley is also credited for the lighting design. Projections on a set of drapes in the background gave way to Michael McKeon’s projections of family members to particular words that interested Dickinson.  Jemima Dutra designed Ms. Gerber’s white outfit and Deborah Gilmour Smyth is credited for the sound design.



Gerber begins unraveling Dickinson's life, racing, in some instances, from one thought to another in no particular order. We do learn of her parents, her siblings, her nosey neighbors, her dear friends to little tid- bits of her community in Amherst, Mass where he father was a lawyer and served in Congress to her poems that really revealed her innermost thoughts. 

If ever a role was custom made for a solo actor, Ms. Gerber embodies that role. She’s affable, joyous, oft times sad and morbid, yet reflective. In other words, she too is having a good time with Emily as was everyone in the audience the night I attended.

I give it a two -thumbs up!

Photos by T.J. MacMillan

“The Belle of Amherst” plays through November 14, 2021 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado. Masks and proof of vaccination required.

For tickets: (619) 437-6000 or https://www.lambsplayers.org



Tuesday, October 19, 2021

“Shutter Sisters” Opens Globe’s Theatre in The Round

 Unlike the sisters in “Mineola Twins” by Paula Vogel recently seen at Moxie Theater,, “Shutter Sisters” by Mansa Ra now in a world premiere production in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Mykal (Terry Burrell and Michael (Shana Wride), there is no outward look-a-like resemblance to even suggest that the two have anything in common save they share the same name, different spelling.  No. Mykal (“my mom must have wanted a boy”) and Michael have something they share that siblings from the same family rarely think about: adoption. 

OH, it’s coincidental that they both work at a Shirley Shutter Sore in Atlanta, selling shutters of all makes and brands, What else? The locations of their respective stores are on opposite ends of the city so in essence, they never met.

Mykal is black and Michael is white. Both have been divorced. One has a daughter, the other is childless both are in their fifties, both have been adopted and both have a story to tell

Shana Wride and Terry Burrell

And tell their stories, they do, of their parallel lives in search of their identity.


Set in the round, each of the M’s tell their respective stories without ever looking at the other. Director Donya K. Washington has them talking to the audience most of the time. 


 Michael tells us she has two brothers. She did not know she was adopted but was aware that she didn’t look anything like her siblings or parents. Hers is a story of conflict and not feeling as if she belonged. Frustrated and lonely her mission was to find her birth mother and her place in her life after one of her brothers blurted out that she was adopted. This happened at their mother’s funeral.


Mykal, on the other hand, grew up in a loving family. She succeeded in getting ahead in business and knew the ropes to fit in.  She was smart, aggressive and witty. Her biggest fault was in not seeing through the dangers of hooking up with the wrong guy (“He was trouble, but I didn’t mind a little trouble”) who ultimately left her on her own only to have her move back in with her mother. She overcompensated by spoiling her daughter to death only to be spurned by her. 


Both M’s needed a connection.


In telling their stories Ra has framed a series of monologues designed to fit each personality and both actors embrace their stories with pathos, humor, sadness, pride, regrets and humbleness.  Both are excellent, but the simple truth is that Burrell has the lion’s share of the of the funny and clever lines and tells them with pizazz. Wride’s share of the stories are told in a self -questioning, sort of apprehsive but determined tone.   


                            


Wilson Chin’s set is filled with moving boxes of all sizes and shaped as if someone were moving in or out of someplace. Kara Harmon designed the Shirley Shutters aprons and Zach Murphy designed the effective lighting. Sound is always a challenge in the round. Inevitably someone’s back is facing you and mikes would be appropriate. That would be my suggestion. Sound designer Chris Lane is in charge so it is what it is.  

Ra’s “Shutter Sisters” does give food for thought along the spectrum, adopted or not. There’s always that unanswered question of what helps determine who we become, Nature vs. Nurture. 


“Shutter Sisters” plays through November 7, 2021 at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Shows Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights at 7 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.

Photo: Rich Soublet II 

For tickets: www.TheOldGlobe.org or (619) 234-5623




Saturday, October 16, 2021

On the Road Again With Octavio Solis'“Mother Road”

When John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” was published in 1939 it won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for fiction., it was that well regarded. In the book, later made into a movie, it chronicles American families fleeing the Dust Bowl (Oklahoma in particular) states and headed for California where jobs were waiting for them. It’s truly a saga set in the great depression following the Joads family, struggling migrant farmers and follows them across Oklahoma to California


Dust Jacket from "Grapes of Wrath

Inspired by Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes’, Solis picks up, in a sense, where Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes’ leaves off only this time the characters, the ancestors of the Joad family, in particular William(Will) Joad (a venerable Mark Murphy) are on the road again, the Mother Road or Route 66 between Bakersfield, Ca. and Sallisaw, OK.  making the trip back. To say that along the way they were treated well or regarded with approval, would be a misnomer.                                            

Richard Jessie Johnson and Celeste Lamar

70 year old cantankerous William is dying of cancer. His last request is to meet and sign over his farm and land to the last heir and blood relative of the Joad clan. He is introduced to Martín Jodes (a handsomly perfect Richard Jessie Johnson) by Williams’ lawyer Roger (an always dependable Jason Heil.



Characters in "Mother Road"

Much to his chagrin William learns that Martín is of Mexican decent. Much to his relief he is an American citizen and migrant worker living in California. Not that he’s prejudice, he’s just a little kerfuffled that an ancestor of his could be Hispanic.


The long trip begins in Wills green Dodge pickup truck where on the way they add to their journey a menagerie of followers including a cross cultural makeup of everything and everyone indicative of what this country represents, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Along the way they pick up Mo a lesbian farm worker (Yadi Correa is pretty out there) who adds some much needed lightness and humor to the trek. She continues on the trip all the way with Martin and Will. James, (Cedric Lamar is outstanding and has been with the show from the beginning) an African American healer who saves Martín from a serious illness and gets him on the road to recovery. Others in the chorus include Javier Guerrero and Rubin Rubio. More homies hop on here and there and act as a Greek chorus of sorts filling in singing some of Solis’ music, reciting his poetry and telling stories. Others in the mix include Amelia (Celeste Lanuza) Martin’s lost heartthrob who keeps showing up looking rather celestial. They pledged themselves years ago. 

Sandy Campbell plays several roles including a waitress in a diner stop Martin and William take for a quick bite. She’s chastised by William who doesn’t agree with her attitude about the migration:( “Well, as I was sayin, y’all sure got farther than we ever did. My grandpa’s car broke down not five hundred yards from where we’re talkin right now. So we settled here. Didn’t quite have the spirit of you Joads. “Mister, I don’t know what your problem is, but you don’t judge my folks for the choices they made. To you, we’re nothin but a rest-stop meal and a potty break. But I raised a family here, and I have friends here, and the love I put in this town has been returned a hundredfold! I like where I'm livin, Mr. Joad. We don’t need your damn Oklahoma. Put that on your tab and shove it up your tailpipe." 

Jason Heil plays several characters but his main character is Roger, Williams’ lawyer and friend who finally shows his true colors when he thinks the farm should go to him. That’s another story and this is where Solis gets bogged down in the nitty gritty of too many stories that wander off, some connecting others not so much as the play comes full circle. 

Artistic director Sam Woodhouse works miracles again. Long as the play is it he kept moving at an OK pace. Charles Murdock Lucas scenery flashed on a giant screen showing the vast landscape as they drove past on their journey east. Jennifer Brawn Giddings is back doing what she does best as well, building the costumes. Chris Rynne designed the lighting and original music and sound designer is by Paul James Pentergast and Cedric Lamar is credited as movement and music coordinator and flight director. 

Mark Murphy and Richard Jessie Johnson

The entire cast along with Woodhouse deserves a two -thumbs up for consistency and endurance.  The play is well over two hours long. With some serious cutting and sticking to a more modern theme of healing the nation of its many stereotypes and letting the audience fill in with their own stories and drawing their own conclusions on how to reunite this country again, “Mother Road” would be more realistic if the audience concentrated on the heart of the story rather distracted by the side stories that were oft times difficult to place in the scheme of things.

It’s a good beginning, however for Solis and his “Mother Road”.

Where: San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum, 79 Horton Plaza DowntownTimes: 7pm Wednesdays; 8pm Saturdays; 2 and 7pm Sundays, through Oct. 31st.

Photo: Rich Soublet II.

Face masks are required.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Talented Samantha Ginn Shines in Vogel’s “Mineola Twins”

Paula (How I Learned to Drive”, “Indecent”, “The Long Christmas Ride Home” to name a few) Vogel has given us another jolting look at how history repeats itself. When I was a senior in high school, I dated a young man who smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes. Instead of the logo on the package was a picture of Eisenhower with the saying, I Like Ike”. Did He? I have no idea because politics was the last thing on my mind and Ike seemed like a good guy. Well there was that scandal about a Vicuna coat and Joe (Have you no decency)McCarthy.

Cast of Mineola Twins 

Vogel, who has a penchant for striking while the fire is hot and zeroing in on social mores and issues of the times, has created a spoof (not always funny, though) with the current production at Moxie; “The Mineola Twins” and placing them in history through three presidents or throughout the ages. Why the twins? The only set of twins I know pretty much agree on most things. Not so much the Mineola Twins from Mineola, New York, in case you were wondering. While they may look identical, (their boobs and hair or wigs tell another story) their thinking covers the gambit from ultra conservative to off the cliff liberal.

Myrna, the good twin and Myra the bad twin have made a pact. They drew an invisible line in their bedroom (Reiko Huffman sets) never twain shall meet or ‘stay out of my space’. Both spaces are occupied by one actor, Samantha Ginn who plays the good, virtuous, unsullied, chaste and above it all Myrna, while on the other side of the same coin or room Myra is a cocktail waitress, drinks, is promiscuous, rebellious, and lives life to the fullest even taking up with Myrna’s sexually repressed fiancé, Jim (Emily Jerez) in a one night fling. She ends up coming out as a lesbian and lives with her wife Sarah (Desiree Clark) and son Kenny. 

Samantha Ginn  and Emily Jerez 
Photo Moxie

The “Twins” lives take off in different directions, both fighting for their individual passions. Myra is active in a radical anti-war group. She is seen disguised as her ‘twin’ robbing a bank as part of the anti-war group’s plan. As time moves into the late 60’s and 70’s Myrna has been in and out of mental institutions, has a teenage son (Kenny Philip Magin, not by Jim) is lobbying abortion clinics and is even willing to blow one up. She’s a popular host of a radio talk show ‘Talk Back, Give Back, Bite Back’. A surprise visit from Kenny (Philip Magin) Myra’s young son (yup by Jim) who idolizes his aunt is there for her autograph. Both boys are following in the path of their aunts, not so their mothers. I guess you could say turnabout is fair play. 

Emily Jerez, Samantha Ginn, Desiree Clark

The action moves back and forth in time and is spaced into dream sequences as defined by the clothes, the wigs and the situations we are witness to. Most of the time scene changes run pretty smoothly considering Ginn and others become fast change artists. Blackouts are at a minimum and keeps the story from lagging.

All characters play multiple roles, and convincingly. Danita Lee’s costume are 60’s 70’s and 80’s right, Missy Bradstreet’s wigs (there are multiple ones) define the decades, Christopher Loren Renda’s lighting is spot on, and Matt Lescault Wood’s sound design is, as always, excellent. 

Between the multi- talented Ginn at her best, Vogel as the expert story teller (her bible stories are a hoot especially the one about Jacob and Esau) and Jennifer Eve Thorn directing, ‘The MineolaTwins’ is a great opportunity for us to take a look at how we, as a society have regressed back to the past where abortion clinics are pretty much banned, lying to the public is an everyday sound bite, shootings are but a mention in the news, women are still sex objects, democracy is on the line, and people are dying of  Covid unnecessarily

Hats off to the Moxie's for consistently bringing women’s issues to the fore.


"Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it”  (George Santayna)

 

The Mineola Twins” plays through October 24. Thursdays at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.  

For information: www.moxietheatre.com


See you at the theatre




 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Roustabouts “Book of Leaves” Leaves Much to Think About

 One of the things I miss about living on the East Coast are the changing seasons. Right about now the foliage is bright with oranges, reds and yellows. By the end of the month the leaves will fall and one can almost burry oneself in a pile of fall colors. But for Walter leaves are not his main concern. The trees that he plants on his many acres of land in rural upstate New York, and in particular, the ‘family plot’ is a day’s work in some cases. 

On this particular weekend, Walter has invited his two grown children and their partners for a tell all meeting. Walter has cancer and his time on this earth is limited. His son Prince has been looking for his dream job as an actor, much to Walters chagrin. Prince’s girlfriend Silvia or Sylvie wants him to follow his dreams and Walter’s daughter, Beth and her husband Jack came looking for some of Walter’s estate money. They are broke having made some pretty risky investments. All in all, all five characters had ulterior reasons for the visit, and none correlated with the others. 

With all that said, much of the above reveal is known only to the persons with the secrets, soon to be uncovered to siblings and parent as the play moves forward. As is the case in many families, secrets, code words, and feelings often take on different meanings to different members. Oft times speaking directly to each other is not an option, so they speak around each other and through each other and about each other as was the case of the playwright’s characters. Family dynamics is so interesting to watch as long as it doesn’t involve our own. 

Co-founder of The Roustabouts Theatre, Will Cooper (“Margin of Error”) was the recipient of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Craig Noel Award for outstanding New Play “gUnTopia” in 2020 as well as other plays in progress. With his “Book of Leaves’ currently in a full reading, and premiering on line through Oct. 10th. “Book of Leaves” was a finalist at the Playwrights Development Center in Chicago. 

Justin Lang as Prince and Maybelle Shimizu as Sylvie
Photo by Michael Brueggmeyer

This virtual reading, directed by Kim Strassburger and starring Tom Stephenson as Walter, Leigh Akin as Beth, Justin Lang as Prince, Maybelle Shimizu as Sylvie. Durwood Murray as Jack and Kandace Crystal as Alice the real estate broker all make a convincing case for their causes; some more so than others. But the bottom line in Coopers “Leaves” is that the story is compelling and forces us to take another look at our own family dynamics. 

When Walter tells his grown children that he continued to keep their Books of Leaves (when they were young they all picked a favorite leaf from the back forest of trees and wrote something about it) current to this day, they rolled their eyes in disbelief, but when they looked inside, fond memories came rushing back. Or when the circumstances of their mother’s death finally were told, it crushed Beth. Beth never saw that coming, and when Prince announced that he was going to follow his dream in spite of it all, Cooper and Strassburger manage to be direct without being hurtful, gentle without being wimpy and relevant without being soapy. 

Tom Stephensen as Walter

The staging is a bit odd as the film version was originally a reading and each actor was in essence doing a solo, never really interacting with each other. It looked like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Sometimes it worked and other times the actors, with the exception of facial movements, looked like cutouts set in a living room or tree filled environment. (Michael Brueggemyer is director of Photography and Rebecca Crigler , stage directions.) 

Stephenson’s Walter was able to overcome, for the most part with his wonderful empathetic looks, relaxed demeanor and sincere smile. Justin Lang’s Prince the name is fitting as in 'sarcastically ("What a Prince of a guy") was convincing as the errant son and Durwood Murray had some great lines as Beth’s husband who, I felt was pretty verbally abused by his wife and Kandace Crystal is quite the card as a wanna be actor, as she convinces Walter to sell his property.

(l to r) Leigh Akin as Beth, Tom Stephenson as Walter, Maybelle Shimizu as Sylvie and Justin Lang as Prince.
Photo by Michael Brueggemeyer

Roustabouts Theatre has done some interesting works in the past. Some day in the near future I would like to see Book of Leaves as a full production in front of a live audience.  As an experiment, the story did bring out some much needed family reconciliations. 

Contact theroustabouts.org for more information.

Tickets: $10.00 available through Oct. 22

Running time 2 hours.

See you at the theatre.



Wednesday, September 22, 2021

"On Your Feet" Bristles With The Beat of Its Own Music

 Moonlight Stage Productions closes out it summer season with the Broadway jukebox hit, the uplifting and crowd pleasing musical, “On Your Feet” through Oct. 2nd. 

With book by Alexander Dinelaris and directed by James Vasquez, choreographed by Carlos Mendoza, and featuring the music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine, the production bristles with the beat of its own music and right out of the starting gate “The Conga” sets the tone.

Catalina Maynard as Consuelo and Ariella Kvashny as Gloria 
Photo by Adriana Zuniga

“OnYour Feet” traces the success story of the Estefan’s from the early beginnings when a young and naïve eighteen year old Gloria (Ariella Kvashny) is introduced to the lead singer, Emilio Estefan,(Eduardo Enrekiz) in the popular group “Miami Latin Boys” later known as “Miami Sound Machine. He comes calling for her to audition for his group. (“Anything For You”, “I See Your Smile”. All in all, there are 26 musical numbers.)

To say it was love at first sight (“Here We Are”) might be an understatement but Dinelaris’ book (their true to life story) makes us wait a while as their rise to fame for the young Latin’s get to know each other. 

Eduardo Enrikez as Emilio and Ariella Kvashny
as Gloria.
Photo by Ken Jacques

Their story weaves itself through a series of excellent dancing (how about that Salsa, and Cha Cha?) with a crew of some very talented cancers under the leadership of Mendoza and musical director Lyndon Peguda.( and Oh those beautiful costumes by Emilio Sosa) his business disagreements, his management style, and how he took charge of her career. It takes us back in time to their familial roots and shows us how the two made the crossover from Latin to mainstream outlets while not diluting or avoiding political controversies along the way by giving record executives lessons on the realities of the changing faces of America. 

Ariella Kvashny and Co. 
Photo by Ken Jacques

It unfolds in Cuba on a less than successful note for their getting together when Gloria’s mother, also named Gloria (Chrissie Guerrero) and her Consuela, an excellent Catalina Maynard are first introduced.Young Gloria’s mother wants nothing to do with Emilio, his band or his promises. There was no love lost between the two until Gloria’s near fatal accident while on tour years later.

Her reasons stem from the disappointments she experienced as an up and coming entertainer in Cuba when her husband, Gloria’s father (a solid Rudy Martines) an officer under the Batista regime after the revolution was imprisoned by Castro. Finally freed from jail, and he moved to Miami to be with his family.

He volunteered to go to Vietnam where he was exposed to Agent Orange and was later diagnosed with MS. All this was brought up when her mother finally confessed to her why she was so hard on Emilio.  

Ariella Kvashny as Gloria with members of the company
Photo by Fred Tracey

Her catalogue of songs includes “Anything For You”, “Don’t Wanna Lose You”, “Here We Are”, “Live For Loving You”, “When Someone Comes Into Your Life”, “Words Get In The Way”, “Come Out Of The Dark” that she sang on stage, returning to the spotlight after recovering from her horrific accident. No one knew if she would ever walk again. History will show that she did open the American Music Awards of 1991 after nearly a year of physical therapy and encouragement from both Emilio and her mother. 

The talent runs deep throughout the bouncy show and the chemistry between Enrekiz and Kvashny is strong and convincing. Young Diego Mendoza taking on multiple kid’s roles as their son Nayib(how about the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Jeremy (and the breaking of the wedding glass?)with enough rhythm and energy to keep the lights on. Keep your eyes open for that one. 

Blake McCarthy is credited for the projection design and Jean-Yves Tessler, the lighting. 

“Get On Your Feet” with the leads out front and the Miami Sound Machine in the background (on stage), the number that closed out the show must have gone on at least fifteen minutes while the entire audience was, in fact ‘On their Feet’. 

Hats off to Moonlight for keeping the lights on throughout the summer.

See you at the theatre. 





Friday, August 20, 2021

A New Look at A Seasoned Show: “A Chorus Line” At Moonlight Stage Productions Giving The Company a Three of Three ratings of 10’s

In 1975 the Marvin Hamlisch (music), Edward Kleban (lyrics), James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante (book) and Michael Bennett (conceived and originally directed and choreographed) the musical hit Broadway and never looked back. It received 12 Tony Award nominations, winning for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score culminating with nine in all. The show ran for 6,137 performances and became the fourth longest running Broadway show ever. 

The last of the last ‘musical within a musical, “A Chorus Line” was produced at Welk Village Theatre where it was abruptly halted due to the Pandemic. It’s ironic that one of the more recognizable tunes is “What I Did For Love” sung by Diana (Milan Magana) and company that just about says it all when it comes from the life’s work of everyone in show business. 

During intermission, I had a chance to chat with Producing Artistic Director Steve Glaudini who had tears in his eyes as he impressed upon me that a dancer’s life is about love, rejection and what is done for the love of dancing, being in a chorus line, auditioning knowing you may or may not make the cut, “(Oh God I need This Job”), possibly injuring yourself and laying bare your soul for the chance of the dance. The Pandemic changed all that and in the process left many behind in its wake. But the show goes on.

Every now and then, it’s good to see it again through new eyes (I’ve seen it at least three or four times over the years) just because it is one of the quintessential dance shows of Broadway’s past (by doing the math, it’s 46 years old), not to mention it is a damn solid and good show, it gives dancers the complete floor ( it starts out with 26 dancers and is whittled down to 8) on what goes into the process of becoming a dancer, and it gives the audience a chance to perhaps, understand how much hard work is involved in making something look so easy. 

Xavier J. Bush as Richie


What the show did not have at Welk was live music with Dr.Randi Rudolp and her 16 member orchestra, a sprawling stage setup outdoors (with spot on lighting by Jennifer by Jennifer Edwards). What Welk did have and continues to a have at the Vista location is director/choreographer Hector Guerrero (using the original dances) and about ten of the cast from Welk. Some of the cast and crew have different roles, but not to worry, each one past and present are excellent. 

The premise of the show is that Zach is conducting interviews for chorus line dancers being interviewed. We also get to see behind the scenes of what it looks like as dancers to go through the audition process before even getting close to the finished product. From there the finished product and in this case, the Big Production Number and finale, “One” (that singular sensation) that always brings the house down). 

Natalie Nucci as Sheila

In charge of these auditions in this show is the director, Zach (Tyler Matthew Burk) who barks out orders to this chorus of those wannabe chosen. He does this by relentlessly probing, questioning and eliminating while all the while getting under their collective skins by having each one gives a brief background of themselves as the “I Hope I Get It” mantra is chanted in the background. This is the heart of “A Chorus Line”. 

One by one Zach prods information from each with the usual suspects and personalities standing out over and above the others. Jessica Naimy as Diana, the brash Latina, who speaks of her toughness with one of her numbers, “Nothing” while relating a touchy, feely acting class she took in school on the one hand, and on the other hand later on in the show, belting out “What I Did For Love” with more emotional tremor than what was expected of her given her tough veneer. 

Cast
 Mike (Michael Jeffrey Scott Parsons) the youngest of twelve who tells how he used to mimic his sister at her dance class by learning her steps in “I Can Do That”. 

Sheila (a terrific Natalie Nucci) is tough as nails and has been around the block several times. In her number, “At The Ballet”, she reminisces about her parents and her dancing lessons and her dysfunctional family life.  The beautiful Jennifer Knox) is Cassie, Zach’s old flame and ex live in girlfriend, have a bit of an on stage why are you here moment ‘after all is said and done and you walked out on me’? Jennifer shows her talent as she dances her solo number that lasts at six or seven minutes if not longer, “The Music and the Mirror”. 

Several of the boys speak of their homosexuality but it’s Paul (Steven Ruvalcaba)) who is given the juicy part as he recalls the pain of his early childhood, his removal from Catholic School when he confesses that he is gay, his dancing in drag after he leaves school and his parents recognition of him as a young man. That monologue opens the floodgates for the audience. Ruvalcaba is a perfect Paul. Danny Gersonde is the flaming Bobby. He sashays his stuff for all to see. 

Jennifer Knox as Cassie


Holly Echsner is on target as Val, the skinny kid with no chest no behind to speak of but a great dancer none the less.  She ends up doing bit of body reconstruction and sings about it in another show stopper “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” or (“Tits and Ass” showing off her now big breasts).

 Xavier J. Bush (Richie) is the tallest dancer I’ve seen but don’t underestimate; he can kick those babies out as far as the eye can see.  

Samuel Shea is Larry, Zach’s serious assistant who helps run the auditions and Trevor Rex is Greg the Jewish gay man who struts around like a prima donna and talks about his first encounter with a woman when it’s his turn to talk. All in all, the dancing is terrific, the musical numbers are timeless, the voices are all excellent and the passion of the dancers, on a scale of one to ten, hits a ten.  

Moonlight’s last show “Beauty and the Beast” was definitely child friendly. “A Chorus Line” is adult oriented. It is well worth to trip to Vista. 


Steven Ruvalcaba as Paul

According to fun facts on “Broadway Buzz”: director/choreographer Bennett thought up “A Chorus Line” from scratch but the famous interviews was based-hours and hours of tape of dancers sharing their life’s stories-was actually started by veteran Broadway dancers Michon Peacock and Tony Stevens in January 1974’ efore that first interview session, four of the dancers—Sammy Williams, Thommie Walsh, Priscilla Lopez and Kelly Bishop—were so nervous about the event that they met up at Walsh’s house and got stoned.

It was Neil Simon's then-wife Marsha Mason who called up Bennett and suggested (strongly) that he change the ending  and put Cassie into the show (she was not originally) to be less of a downer.

 Clive Barnes "The conservative word for “A Chorus Line” might be tremendous, or perhaps terrific."

I second the motion. 

Photo: Ken Jacques

Where: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Park, 1250 Vale Terrace drive, Vista

Phone 760 724 2100

Runs though Sept. 4th.

Tickets: $17.00 t0 $59.00

Online: moonlightstage company






 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

It’s a Memory Play. It’s a Love Story. It’s a Story of Assimilation. It’s a Trip of a Lifetime on a ‘E ’Ticket in San Diego Rep’s '57 Chevy”. Hop on Board

 There is something to said about memory plays that bring out the fuzzy feelings in some of us. In Emmy Award-winning writer, Cris Franco goes back to the days when his father Cris Sr. moved the family from Mexico to South Central Los Angeles, a culturally diverse neighborhood, where young Cris and his siblings flourished.

But nothing lasts forever and when the family grew financially, they moved to ‘the San Fernando Valley' when young Cris was only 10. In his own words, ‘where everything looked the same and lacked any diversity’. Their family stood out as the only Hispanic family in the neighborhood. On the other hand, Cris Sr. moved to a bigger shop and the family prospered even more. 


Salinas acts out in chapter and verse (85 minutes) the goings and comings of their family dynamics, of self a -confident and self -determined immigrant who bragged about coming to America ‘legally’ to give his family everything any family could dream of: ‘The American Dream’, a big screen color TV, sending his children to a private school, albeit Catholic and a big home in the burbs, like it or not. 

In his one man tour de force, Rick Salinas (of the original Culture Clash) becomes Cris Sr. and a host of characters (18 in all) including their ‘Tia’ Miss Mimi Barnes, who got him a job in a Volkswagen auto shop and a work visa to come to the America after Cris fixed her VW Bug. 

In describing his dad, Cris calls him Mexican duct tape; “he could fix anything”. His claim to fame was that he was a master mechanic, but dirt poor; “old Mexican eat the dirt poor”.  His specialty was fixing German automotive i.e. Volkswagens, but when push came to shove, his real love, next to his family was his '57 Chevy that he paid $1802.00. With this purchase, Cris felt he had achieved ‘the American Dream’. 

Rick Salinas as the Senior Franco

In his rendering, Salinas is a as busy as a queen bee in a beehive, moving all over the stage, (designed by Christopher Murillo) as an old garage, the Chevy, (“See the USA”) his home and using anything available in the mix and match of discarded clothes, furniture, an old vacuum cleaner, a wagon filled with anything and everything, ponchos to an old vacuum cleaner, and a wooden mixing spoon that he used as a shift lever for the Chevy when he was driving the family on outings on his day off. 

It is directed by Herbert Següenza (another original Culture Clash member) and artistic director Sam Woodhouse. Along with Salinas the memory play and excellent directing by the dynamic duo, Franco’s homage to his father is both heartfelt and rock bottom honest;  “a classic”,  especially when he admits that he will not follow in his father’s footsteps to follow in the family business but will become a writer instead, and lucky for us.                                  

Along with Murillo’s everything goes set design, Mextly Couzin’s lighting, Matt Lescault’s sound, Carmen Amon’s creative costumes and Fed Lanuzo’s music, Cinematography and projections/photography by Tim Powell and Elizabeth Barrett and stage manager Heather M. Brose it all comes together like a well oiled 1957 Chevy. 


Before graduating High School in mmmmm I drove a 1955 Chevy and thought I was Miss Goddamit of my senior class. 

Two thumbs up for the entire cast and crew...

57 CHEVY is available from San Diego Repertory Theatre through Aug. 15th. For show and ticket information go to www.sdrep.org

Photo Credit: San Diego Rep.