Tuesday, June 28, 2022

“Lempicka…A New Musical” At La Jolla Playhouse, An Arousing Tribute to Tamara de Lempicka!

 Robust rumors are circulating that “Lempicka A New Musical” is already scheduled for a Broadway run. With book, lyrics and original concept by Carson Kreitzer, book and music by Matt Gould choreography by Raja Feather Kelly and directed by Rachel Chavkin, it is currently at the La Jolla Playhouse through July 24th making its West Coast Premiere.

It made its world premiere in the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2018.  While stopping here for its second showing, after a Covid delay, it is hoped with some cuts and possible improvements to the lyrics, before going to The Great White Way it will improve the outcome. 

Tamara de Lempicka’s story begins and ends in L.A.  and segues back to her early life in Warsaw at the beginning of the rise of Bolshevism, to her first marriage in 1917 in St Petersburg to a wealthy Polish lawyer. Tadeusz Lempicki. They lived like royalty until their world was turned upside down. Her husband was arrested by the secret police. Giving her jewelry to them was not enough to free him. They wanted her. 

Eden Espinosa as Lempicka

Once free they left with their daughter, Kizette whom she called her niece so she wouldn’t be considered old enough to have a daughter, to Paris. There she scrubbed floors to keep the family going while Tadeusz looked and looked finally landing a job at the bank doing menial work. It was in Paris that she pursued her painting on a serious level studying with a hard assed domineering teacher, Filippo Marinetti who called her a ‘difficult woman’. 

Before she made her way to her own studio, she was encouraged by wealthy Baron, who later became her second husband, (Victor C. Chan) to keep on painting. From there, at the suggestion of her sister and with help from the Baron, Lempicka decided to become a serious painter. She went on to Académie de la Grande Chaumiere. Now she was fully engaged with Marinetti (George Abud is excellent and almost steals the show with his brilliant singing and acting) as her teacher, the same one who called her ‘that difficult woman’.

Andrew Samonsky and Eden Espinosa

 Nothing much has changed since most hard -nosed men can’t tolerate strong women. Make no mistake, Tamara Lempicka was a very strong willed woman and that’s what makes her so interesting. That and the fact that she found women as seductive as men and openly had affairs with both. Her relationship with her prostitute muse Rafaella, who frequently posed nude for Lempicka, while they carried on their affair was nothing less than blasphemous to her husband, who was also having affairs outside the marriage. Go figure. 

Not long after she gained notoriety for her works in Art Deco forms, the rich and famous Parisians were buying her works for hefty prices.  Once again, her world was turned upside down with the rise of anti-Semitism (she never forgot her Jewish roots) and a Nazi takeover. It was at this point in her life and career that she had to make haste and flee to America where we learn she had residences in both New York and Beverly Hills. 

One can’t accuse Tamara de Lempicka of having a dull life. While some of her story might be exaggerated, the production at The La Jolla Playhouse leaves no stone unturned from Riccardo Hernandez fast revolving sets offset by Bradley King’s fluorescent angular lighting, to Anita Yavich’s stunning and bold costume designs (with the exception of Eden Espinosa’s Lempicka who pretty much wore the same costume and hair style (Tom Watson) from almost beginning to end.

Eden Espinosa and Amber Iman

Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly showed us some pretty different types of dance, oft times sexual in nature but for the most part seemed like an exercise in movement. However, Peter Negrini’s projections brought us back to reality with scenes from Germany’s rising influence.

Matt Gould’s score under the baton of Charity Wicks ten piece orchestra is loud, frenetic and with a fast moving beat with no real ballads that make a connection to the time, was disappointing. Carson Kreitzer lyrics are pedestrian, redundant and don’t really add much to the overall story. They are never developed into anything that holds the story together.  

One or two bluesy numbers sung by Rafaela an extremely talented and beautiful Amber Iman and another of Lempicka’s female amours Suzy Solidor (Natalie Joy Johnson) who owned the all-female club, until it was destroyed by the Fascists, were out right on track. 

The acting is exemplary by each and every character in the show with Espinosa at the center of this very long production running at three hours, is talented. Amber Iman's Rafaela is fascinating as she seems to be the only one in Lempicka’s world to have power over her (“Stillness”), at least at times. Andrew Samonsky’s Tadeusz Lempicki her husband, has no character development. For the fact that his good looks can carry him for a while, he’s mostly just there.

Amber Iman

For her part, Jordan Tyson as Kizette, Tempicka’s daughter is allowed to age beautifully on stage from a young child to a devoted daughter and tell all (to her father) to a dedicated daughter to her mother after her return to Beverly Hills. 

Director Rachel Chavkin is to be applauded for pulling this stunning musical and story off to the degree that Broadway audiences will find it as timely a musical for the ages as did the audiences in La Jolla. With a tweak here and a tweak there, it's a go!

Dates: Through July 14th

Organization: The La Jolla Playhouse

Phone: 858 550 1010

Production Type: Musical

Where: Mandell Weiss Theatre, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive 

Ticket Prices: $25.00 -$95.00 

Web: lajollaplayhouse.org

Photo: Matthew Murphy and Rich Soublet II, La Jolla Playhouse

Saturday, June 25, 2022

“Freestyle Love Supreme” Opens Three Weeks of Improv, / Hip Hop and Rap at The Old Globe.

(from left) Kaila Mullady, Jay C. Ellis, Andrew Bancroft, and Morgan Reilly

 Many, many years ago there used to be an Improv Club in San Diego. I used to go often to see various comedians do their acts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was an evening of fun, friendship and getting to see some pretty well known and awesome stars. 

Jack Lemon once said that ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard’.  So, if you happen to find yourself at The Old Globe any one of these days through July 10th to see “Freestyle Love Supreme”, don’t think you walked in a ready made scripted Hip Hop /Rap celebration. All of what you will be seeing is performed by a group of musician/ actors in non- stop motion doing their thing. That 'thing' is Improv taken to the nth degree. 

The idea was conceived in 2003 by Anthony Veneziale, Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda. (Yes, that Lin-Manuel Miranda). Now well beyond their college days, the group has morphed into this Tony award winning show now on tour around the country. 

On the way into the theatre patrons were asked to write words on a slip of paper and drop them into a bucket. Why, you ask? Well it seems that some of the words chosen for opening night’s presentation were taken from that bucket and voila a story is created by any one of the performers on stage that night. 

Opening night cast.

According to those in the know, different actors appear on different dates. On opening night Jelly Donut or Andrew Bancroft acted as host. Others that I can remember and did enjoy was singer Morgan ‘Hummingbird’ Reilly who riffed on ‘Seasoned Croutons’. Because every audience will react differently to what’s going on on stage making each performance different, I hope they do that one again.

Two stories that came from the audience was the one about a young boy coming face to face with a cougar while at his older brother’s birthday party in the mountains with his family. The funniest was when an audience member revealed that he had driven two hours from Riverside County to San Diego to meet up with his first date. They met at the Globe that night. That garnered a lot of laughs from the audience (he packed an overnight case...just in case) and the young man looked perfectly at ease. 

The cast had a ball rapping and improving about the story and they were good. Oft times one word could take up no less that fifteen minutes to make the round robin of every cast member having their say on the same word or set of circumstances. Some of the takes went on way too long, but you be the judge. The show is 80 minutes or so with no intermission. 

Full disclosure: Hip Hop and Rap are not my most favorite forms of entertainment. The words come too fast for me to get one rap before the next is out, if you get my drift. My brain doesn’t absorb what my ears scramble to hear. As the rest of the audience clapping beyond loud might say; “Not their problem”.

 “Freestyle Love Supreme” has been around for over twenty years, so what do I know. Twenty years or so ago I might have felt differently, but folks, there you have it. If you enjoy this type of entertainment, go for it. I can tell you that from the audience reaction and participation, they were out of their seats with excitement. 

(from left) Morgan Reilly, Kaila Mullady (back), Anthony Veneziale, and Jay C. Ellis. 

Everything about the look of the production is hi tech. Nevin Steinberg is credited for the sound. Beowulf Boritt, scenic. Jeff Croiter, lighting. Lisa Zanni, costumes and Thomas Kail, directed. 

If you are so inclined, give it try for something very different. 

Dates: Through July 10

Organization: The Old Globe 

Phone: 619-234-5623 

Production Type: Hip-Hop /Improve

Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park

Ticket Prices: From $52.00

Web: theoldglobe.org

Photo: Joan Marcus

Thursday, June 16, 2022

“The Outgoing Tide” At North Coast Rep. Is Bittersweet And Heartfelt

 72 year old Gunner Concannon has a sure fire plan, all thought out in detail, to end his life and leave his family well off. Peg, his wife of fifty years (give or take) has other plans for Gunner. Her plan is to keep him safe and cared for as his dementia gets worse. Brochures of nursing homes are all over the house. Gunner will have none of it. “It’s like a roach motel, ya check in but ya don’t check out.”

Their fifty (give or take) year old son Jack is in the middle with his own tsuris to deal with. He’s in the throws of a divorce and the conflict between his parents has put him in an untenable family situation. It’s not exactly like walking on eggshells but at times it feels just like that especially when both parents tell him things they don’t want the other to know this or that. It’s kind of a running joke. 

Gunner loves throwing stones into the ocean to see how many times they skip over the water. (I did that as a kid as well only in a lake.) He loves fishing on the beach of his now permanent home on Chesapeake Bay just a walk away from everything he loves and knows, or not.  

Andrew Barnicle and Leo Marks

One thing he does not love and that’s that the idea that he be sent off to a nursing home for people with Alzheimer’s.  His wife Peg seems to think would be good for him; it has a pool; a gym and you have your own apartment. Of course, that’s when you are healthy.  But then there is A Wing…The hospital part.” It’s so depressing”. 

The tides along Chesapeake Bay are as predictable as Gunner is unpredictable; but it wasn’t always that way with Gunner. Oh, sure he always loved a good joke (PC or not,) his television likes included episodes of Cops”, he never could relate to his 50 year old son Jack, in fact when we first meet Jack along the shores of the Bay where Gunner is fishing, there is no acknowledgement of a relationship between father and son. It’s like a stranger happened along. 

Linda Gehringer

And when he tried to watch one of his shows on TV (he even put new batteries in the clicker) and it didn’t work he was convinced the TV was broken until Peg told him it was the Microwave he was pointing at. Or when he came out into the kitchen without his trousers. But ask him something that happened fifty or so years ago, he’s on top of it. 

Bruce Graham’s “The Outgoing Tide” is a bitter -sweet and yes significant play about family, about promises, and end of life issues; no holds barred. It is beautifully performed by a strong cast of three and deftly directed by Nike Doukas.  Oft times not an easy to digest topic especially when Gunner and Peg, whose love affair has always been on solid ground, is at crossroads with how and what decisions must be made.  

Seasoned cast members Andrew Barnicle and Linda Gehringer fit into the roles of Gunner and Peg like hand and glove, complementing each other and showing affection throughout. Neither role is an easy task albeit the topic, a red hot one these days and both are up to the task of convincing us they are in the middle of it.

Linda Gehringer and Leo Marks

Leo Marks has the difficult role of referee, son, father (back home in the burbs of Philly he has an incorrigible son who won’t even bathe) and his EX has not signed the divorce papers. But he hangs in there for his parents, like it or not, and things do manage to come full circle for the family but not without a lot of compromise, hugs, sobbing and resolve.  

Marty Burnett’s set is spot on with cat tails and sprigs of greenery oft seen along the waters off the Atlantic. Another high five for Burnett, Matt Novotny’s lighting, again is spot on, Elsa Benzoni’s costumes, casual beach wear and Aaron Rumley’s sound design has us actually hearing the sounds of the tide. Well done all around.

Andrew Barnicle and Linda Gehringer

Hats off the North Coast Rep. for bringing another great production to our fair city. 

Two thumbs up.

Dates: Through July 3rd

Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre

Phone: 858 481 1055

Production Type: Family Drama

Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach, Ca. 92075

Ticket Prices: Start $60.00

Web: northcoastrep.org

Photo: Aaron Rumley

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Oh, Kate! Who Art Thou? Art Thou Shrew or Art Thou Shrewd?


Mission Control! We’ve got a conundrum at hand. Shakespeare’s problem play, “The Taming Of The Shrew”,  the most misogynistic  of his plays is back in town on the Festival Stage in Balboa Park, no less, with director Shana Cooper’s reimagining of it to make it less so.  

In subterfuge, there’s lots of shimmering, slapstick, overzealous swaggering, strutting, over- exaggerated humping and pumping with musicians galore with music from "Kiss Me Kate" and Abba to name a few.

Somewhere in the mix, is Kate or Katherine (Deborah Ann Woll) the object of The Bards ‘Shrew’, a haughty, man hating female who of course has to be tamed so that her easy going, beautiful and younger and seemingly tame, sister Bianca (Cassia Thompson) may marry. And who better to tame her? Why the only one who measures up to the task, Petruchio (the youthful and somewhat charming James Udom) from Verona, who came to ‘to wive it well in Padua’. He’s also looking for someone with a huge dowry. 

Bada Boom!

“Shrew” is what “Shrew” acts, says and does and no matter how loudly she doth protest or how much progress women think they have made, Kate, as in ‘the shrew’ still serves ‘tamer’/master/ husband Petruchio. Call it comedy, if low ‘comedy’ is your thing, (it is one of Will’s earliest, and has all the elements of his later ‘romantic comedies’ including the ‘happy ending’). We can debate that point later. 

In case background info is essential this is the one about Petruchio who upon arriving in Padua from Verona discovers that Baptista Minola, (Armando Durân) a very rich Lord in Padua, has two daughters of marriageable age. The eldest is the tempestuous, ‘fiend of hell’, Kate. 

No guy would even consider marrying that one nor, is she interested. Her younger sister, the beautiful and forever wooed Bianca has at least two (that we know), men wishing to marry her, Hortensio and Grumio (Orville Mendoza and Jessie J. Perez). Did I mention that gender bending comes with the territory?  

Also, did I mention the arrival of Lucentio (a handsome suitor Jude Tibeau) has arrived in Padua to attend Padua U. but falls madly for Bianca. Oh, so many plots and subplots. This plays out to many laughs.

Before the wedding and during the (ahem courtship), Petruchio has his own way of taming Kate (“If I waspish, beware my sting”). After the wedding he drags her off to Verona but not before telling all within earshot that she is now his property and may do with her as he pleases. Back home in Verona he refuses to allow her to eat or sleep until she is completely broken (and that is supposed to be funny) and the circus of who will marry Bianca continues. 

Bringing us in and up on all the news that’s fit to print is the peppy and wordy and most of the time drunk Grumio who also happens to be Petruchio’s go- to guy er…Several other characters play multiple roles and some are quite laughable while others are not. 

All of the above is the essence of Shakespeare’s early works, however director Cooper has put a different spin on the same set of circumstances by giving Kate a few more tools by agreeing not to agree with Petruchio but having him turn some of his thoughts inside out so they both agree to agree. A clever turn of events and both, after a fashion, return to Padua as a most agreeable couple to the astonishment of the gaggle of onlookers. To the actors credit, there was a bit of a sparkle between the two upon first meeting. That helps to make it a bit more palatable. 

All of this plays out on a set designed by Wilson Chin. Topiaries of life sized men and women dressed in party outfits stand in the background while the actors play out the story on more turf below. 

Asa Bennie Hostetter designed the costumes including the look alike wedding dresses for bride and groom. That was a hoot especially after it looked like he was going to stand her up for the ceremony. 

Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting is perfect but not so perfect were the animals next door at the zoo who decided to come awake for the show. 

All in all, it was entertaining, but this old timer is still stuck in a time warp and is all too familiar with women(and men) who are abused. If I had my druthers I would rather see "Kiss Me Kate", with  music by Cole Porter. 

OH! You be the judge. Is Kate Shrew or Shrewd?

Dates: Through July 10th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Phone: 619 -234-5623
Production Type: Romantic Comedy
Where: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: $30.00 and up
Web: theoldglobe.org
Photo: Jim Cox

Monday, June 13, 2022

Mother -Daughter Team Face Off In Roustabouts Psychological Drama, “Iron”.

Rosina Reynolds

 The first sounds one hears in Roustabouts “Iron” by Rona Munro (Dr. Who: Survival) and directed by Jacole Kitchen, are the slamming of prison bars or cell doors closing. Behind those iron doors and/or bars is a lifer, Fay (Rosina Reynolds).

In a fit of uncontrollable rage, brought on by her husband’s dismissal of her, she plunged a knife into his stomach killing him. Did/does she regret it? Absolutely yes. Did /does she still love him? More than ever. Does she want to put the incident behind her? No contest. 

Outside the doors is Josie (Kate Rose Reynolds) Fay’s 30 year old daughter. Josie was a child when all this went down, and would like to jog her memory of her father, whom she barely remembers and how it was that her mother killed her father. Josie was raised by her Gran(her father’s mother), whose recent death has left Josie alone. Her only living relative, to her knowledge, is her mother. 

Rosina Reynolds and Kate Rose Reynolds

Without any pre planning Josie shows up at the prison to visit her mother after a 20 year absence. After a long discussion about prison protocol with one of the guards (Richard P Trujillo) she returns, papers filled out, for that long awaited visit. What follows is a series of visits and discussions/ disclosures between the two.  Sometimes they go smoothly, other times, no much.

Kate Rose Reynolds and Rosina Reynolds

Both women, (real life mother/daughter) seem to be coming from different ends of the spectrum; Josie wants to know more about her father whom she barely remembers and Fay wants to know about Josie and what her life is all about. 

As the visits become a weekly thing, Fay manages to redirect all of Josie’s questions into events in her life that Josie can’t help but buy into especially when Fay asks Josie if she remembers all of those times. If not, Fay fills her in on the details so another chapter of Fay’s life is thrown back into Josie’s lap.  This without once getting to the source of the killing. 

Both actors are exceptional in their respective roles. As a long times presence on many San Diego stages Rosina is considered one of the outstanding actors to play on our many stages here, even having won the San Diego Theatre Critics Award for “Angels In America”, “Golda’s Balcony”, “Wit”, “Shirley Valentine” among others. In this particular production she shows us why. She is so exceptional. Almost the iron lady she manages to knock Josie on her heels with revelations of the 20 year ago event on the one hand and on the other she shows us her frailties and insecurities when Josie prods on. She is definitely at her best at both. 

Rosina, Richard J. Trujillo, Jada Alston Owens and Kate Rose Reynolds

For her part, Kate, (Margin of Error) shows us her stuff as she is able to turn on a dime with her facial expressions, so telling that words are often not needed. Even in her joy at making her mother smile as she gives into her mother’s whims, she is all too expressive. She too is truly her mother’s daughter. 

Set in a women's prison in Scotland(yes, the accents sounded very real to these ears), Tony Cucuzzella’s prison set is stark in gray tones with a table with chairs for the purpose of the visits, a desk for the two prison guards, (Guard 1 Richard P. Trujillo and Guard 2, Jada Alston Owens) who are in charge of Fay’s every move including her visits with Josie. Both do yeoman’s work. 

Michelle Miles is responsible for the lighting, Pamela Stomploy-Ericson designed the costumes and Ron Christopher acted as flight choreographer. 

Both mother and daughter deserve a Brava for fine acting in a play that captures the true nature of the push me pull you decisions each has to make on a dime on issues like mental health, separation, uncertainties, fear, hope and belonging.

It’s a long sit, but well worth it. The play runs over two hours of intense dialogue with a bit of hometown humor thrown in for some levity.

Do yourself a favor and head out to Moxie Theatre and bring your friends to see the well directed, and exceptionally acted, “Iron”. 

Dates: Through June 25th
Organization: Roustabouts Theatre Company
Phone: 619. 568.5800
Production Type: Drama
Where: Moxie Theatre, 6663El Cajon Blvd St N
Ticket Prices: $45.00
Photo: Daren Scott

Saturday, May 28, 2022

“Turning Off The Morning News” At OnStage Should Make You Squirm in Your Seats

While writing “Turning Off The Morning News” playwright Christopher Durang (“Beyond Therapy”, “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You”), explains, in a series of notes at the end of his script: “I wanted the play the be unusual, comic, upsetting, serious, and I wanted to make the ending somewhat hopeful.” Let’s just say he achieved all of the above and then some. 

Some years before “Turning Off The Morning News” in 2018 Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” was the talk of the theatre, picking up a Tony, a Drama Desk Award, and New York Drama Crirics’ Circle Award. It was one of the most produced plays during the 2014- 15 season having played here in San Diego at the Old Globe in 2014. Will the same happen with “Turning Off The Morning News? ” That remains to be seen.

As it happens executive director of OnStage, James Darvas toiled over whether or not to produce this play; it was so far off the tracks, and too much had happened in our world between the time he read the play and decided to produce it that it might be too absurd in the face of reality to resonate anything but sick!

In the time span of three weeks, one school shooting of 19 children in Uvalde, TX, and another mass murder occurred in Buffalo, New York aimed at mostly African Americans shocked this country. Darvas said that projection manager, Salomón Maya ‘had to update his work three times in the last three weeks to keep the content as current as possible.

Salomon Maya

Durang’s cast of characters staged adeptly by director Adam Parker include Jimmy (Salomon Maya) a middle aged depressed suburbanite who has thoughts of committing mass murder at the mall and then turning the gun on himself. Or maybe he’ll write a book. This is a reoccurring theme for Jimmy. If he’s not threatening to kill in the Mall, then he threatens to kill his wife and son and then turn the gun on himself. 

His wife Polly (Carla Navarro), thinks everyone is wonderful and knows what her husband is about, but her thoughts are more concernd for her precious potted plant than her husband’s mental health. Jimmy has not spoken to his wife in three weeks. Probably because he can’t get a word in edgewise. She talks too much because she finds life overwhelming. 

They have a son Timmy (Jaden Guerrero) who shares a note with the audience, to HELP ME! He’s shy, and not very popular at school. Polly decides to home school him by giving him an assignment to review ‘The View ‘on TV

Yes, mental health does rear its head and thank goodness for that. In fact, mental health issues are at the core of this play. 

Jaden Guerrero and Carla Navarro

Across the street neighbors Clifford and Salena (Eddie Lukovic and Ray-Anna Young) are sharing a house, as friends. He’s white and she, African American, And yes, race figures into the mix as well. Clifford practices some sort of meditation to relax from the outside world. He listens to Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney while he meditates.

Clifford’s wife and child were killed by a drunken driver and Selena is recently divorced. They can’t help notice the strangeness of their across the street neighbors. The first clue they get about ‘something rotten’ across the street, is seeing Jimmy leave the house wearing a pig mask and a large trash bag and a gun strapped over his shoulder.  

Rounding out the cast is Rosalind (Heather Warren, a bit off the wall). Rosalind wears a pillowcase over her head to prevent the sun from causing any damage to her face. She has already had twenty four basal cells removed from her face.

Heather Warren and Carla Navarro

Bazar? Scathing? Satirical? Cutting? Cartoonish? Painful? Toxic? Shocking? Unnerving? Caustic? Yes! But funny? Not so much. Unfortunately, the characters in this recent play are acting out what, in reality, is happening on the streets, in churches, grocery stores and synagogues. The gun culture is taking over any sound thinking. One of the most bazar interpretations of the Second Amendment this country covets is the right to bear arms. 

Durang just has his own way of getting to the point. Even the clips of the morning news at the opening of the play are interrupted several times because these crimes are happening so fast the news can barely keep up.  There is also a laugh track in case the audience doesn't find it funny.

Scenic Designer Kristen Flores almost bare bones set can be rearranged easily but making sure the ‘plant’ has its own space. Brad Dubious costumes fit the characters well. Dylan Carter designed the lighting and Estefanía Ricalde sound design was a bit too loud for yours truly. 

OnStage has taken on a big challenge with Durang’s recent play. To come see it or not is the question. While bazar, it does deal with the casualties of a broken political system in denial of its treatment of gun laws, mental health issues that no one seems to address. We also have short memories, so yesterdays news is just that. We are all consumed with the news of the moment.  

The one thing Durang did promise and we got was some glimmer of hope in the final scenes. At least he tried. 

OnStage Playhouse is to be commended for tackling these sensitive topics, which seems to have been lost in the commotion of the morning news. 

See you at the theatre.  

Dates: Through June 19th

Organization: OnStage Playhouse 

Phone: 619.422.7787

Production Type: Black Comedy

Where: 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista

Ticket Prices: $22. To $25.00

Web: onstageplayhouse.org

Photo: Daren Scott

Monday, May 23, 2022

Cygnet’s “Mud Row” Excels Under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s Taught Direction.

 There was a time when families lived in the same house for generations. And, OH! If those walls could talk! 

In an area in West Chester, Pennsylvania in a place called Mud Row, “The Coloreds bein’ the mud of the world…livin’ in mud like conditions…would naturally be in Mud Row”. 

For three generations members the Geter family lived in that house and for better or worse, they had a roof over their heads, and memories they would like to erase. Each one would like to leave their shared history behind, but history has a way breaking down walls. 

In Dominique Morisseau’s “Mud Row” now in an excellent and taught production under Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s deft direction, the story of five women shifts seamlessly back and forth from the 60’s to 1981.  

Back then, the civil rights movement was at its peak almost breaking point and Frances ( Joy Yvonne Jones) was right in the middle of it fighting for the right to be treated equally at the food counters and equal rights for all. Her sister Elsie or grandma Elsie (Andréa Agosto) cons her way into higher society circles by dating a’ fella’ “whose opening up a world for me”. Since life doesn’t always go as planned, her two grand- daughters, Regine and Toshi, are left with the spoils: the house on Mud Row.  

Joy Yvonne Jones and Andrea Agosto

Fast forward and Regine (Marti Gobel), who is accomplished, bright, and financially secure, just learned the deed to the Mud Row house is in her name and has always been since a child.  She and her husband Davin (Rondrell McCormick) pay a visit the house, which had been abandoned for the last five years. It’s dark, musty, appears to be empty, and oh, the plastic cover on the couch is still in place and a black and white TVsits in one corner. 

They are waiting for an appraiser. The developers are circling their neighborhood and Regine can’t wait to get rid of the property and with it her ghosts of the past.  She suspects squatters are living in the house. 

Toshi (Rachel Cognata) sees things in color. Now she is in her magenta mood, the color of anxiety. Toshi and her boyfriend Tyriek (Leo Ebanks) have moved from the streets to the Mud Row house. They have been squatting there for the last three months and realize someone has been in the house since they last left. Toshi is a recovering druggie.

Marti Gobel and Rachel Cocnata

For the last nine months she has been clean but when the sisters were growing up, Toshi made life hell for Regine. She stole money, credit cards and a favorite keepsake among other things. She and Tyriek are still stealing and scamming their way through life but will fight till the end to stay in the house. 

When Regine and Davin come back the next day and they confront Toshi and Tyriek all hell breaks out. The you know what hits the fan and its game on between Toshi and Regine and on some level, Davin and Tyriek.

Cast of Mud Row

Family business isn’t always pretty and the ensuing clashes between Toshi and Regine rush out like the waters of Niagara Falls almost consuming them both. What lies ahead for the sisters and their significant others will be up to discussion yet Morisseau does offer an answer.  

Playwright Morisseau beautifully fleshes out the characters, all excellent and completely authentic, to always wanting you to understand from whence she is coming. From the differing paths Frances and Elise take to the same paths Toshi and Regine take, one can’t help but compare the generations, past and present, and the influence the changing times from the ‘60’s to the 2018 it had/has on them in the house on Mud Row. 

Marti Gobel and Andrera Agosto

Scenic designer Brian Redfern’s multi layered set servers the purpose of the different generations of the house when relatively new to the present where it has fallen into disrepair. Caroline Andrew’s lighting design from sepias to shadows is excellent as well is the projections freezing moments in history, to Melanie Chen Cole’s sound from subtle background to squeaks in the floor boards and Regan A. McKay’s costumes all fit the bill both past and present. 

See you at the theatre.


Dates: Through June 19th

Organization: Cygnet Theatre

Phone: 619. 337.1525

Production Type: Drama

Where: 4040 Twiggs Street, Old Town, San Diego,92110

Ticket Prices: Starts at $30.00

Web: cygnettheatre.org

Photo: Karli Cadell 

Friday, May 20, 2022

“Come From Away” Broadway San Diego’s Long Awaited Home Grown Musical Still Packs a Punch.

 We came, we cried, we laughed and we remembered. For those of us in the opening night audience of San Diego’s home grown musical “Come From Away” who were alive and in tune with the comings and goings in 2011, specifically September 11th 2011, you will recall the horrors of terrorist’s attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and The Pentagon Complex in Arlington, Va. using airplanes as their weapons. 

"Come From Away" premiered at The La Jolla Playhouse in 2015 and went on to Broadway where Director Chris Ashley won a Tony for Best Director of a Musical and the show itself, picked up four Olivers, five Outer Critics Circle Awards and three Drama Desk Awards.

The story a true one with Book, Music and Lyrics by Canadian husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, is a story about healing as well friendship, and the true meaning of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’.

I remember being in Las Vegas at the time and the eeriest thing that came over me was the fact that there were no aircraft in the skies above. The FAA stopped all air traffic for several days. My friends and I were there for at least one extra day until we could get a rental car to drive home. (We were running out of money).38 international planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland because on that day all 225 aircraft coming into this country were rerouted to various airports in Canada.

All in all, according to some reports, the number of flights that landed in and around Canadian cities totaled 225 and 250 and the number of passengers between 30,000 and 45,000.

This operation of diversion was called ‘Operation Yellow Ribbon’. Of the 38 that descended on Gander, a small town with a population of about ten thousand, sixty-seven hundred passengers from about 100 different countries deplaned, nearly doubling the town’s population. 

Undaunted by the overwhelming task of housing, feeding and offering solace, medicine, baby food, formula, blankets bedding and toiletries to the passengers, the good folks of Gander welcomed them, took them in, housed them, prepared meals, offered clean and warm clothes, listened to their stories, made makeshift hospitals for their animals and in effect, treated them as family. 

One might ask, how does one tell this story on stage without sounding preachy, or maudlin? 

Let’s start with the terrific orchestra (Ian Eisendrath) off to the side, and on stage playing Celtic, Irish, folk and original tunes using some of the most unusually sounding and looking instruments I never knew existed: Irish Bouzouki, Uilleann Pipes, Ney, Boshran, Djembe, Cajon and Udu.  Kiana June Weber played a mean fiddle; she took the house down at the curtain call. No one wanted her to leave the stage. 

Kelly Devine’s choreography is as simple as stomping feet and clapping, banging on tables in harmony to rousting tabletop dances to changing seating positions on the plane. 

So, begins a life altering experience that unfolds seamlessly before our eyes. “You Are Here” and “Welcome to Newfoundland”: 

Twelve actors take on the roles of both passenger or ‘plane people’ and locals and with a change of lighting (Howell Binkley), a hat, a sweater (Toni-Leslie James) and a re-formation of chairs we are either on the plane or in and around places in Gander. Ashley’s expertise direction, packs the 100 minute production into a powerful one-two punch that is still worth raving about.

Every single one of the twelve multitalented actors in the touring show, sing dance, and can turn on accents from a multitude of countries: Canada, Europe, American (from various parts of the country) African and the list goes on. 

Based on interviews at the 10th anniversary reunion both ‘plane people’ and townsfolk spoke with Sankoff and Hein about forty minutes at a stretch and excerpts from those interviews became the backbone for the story. Getting the talk, accents and rhythm down to a science gives it the look and sense of all involved the necessary homegrown feel for authenticity’ hence, “Come From Away”. 

The Captain on record in “Come From Away is Beverly (Marika Aubrey) whose story of being the first Captain of American Airlines, mother and wife as well as first female pilot for American Airlines shows itself as her concerns for her passengers out -weigh her personal concern for the other pilots out there. Taking center stage more often than not and in her own narrative she explains it all in  “Me And The Sky”. It is one of the more than fifteen original musical numbers that serve as a backup to the story. 

Standouts all, Nick (Chamblee Ferguson) is an oil engineer from England. He and Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) become sort of a thing. Bob (James Earl Jones, yes related to the James Earl Jones of theatre and Hollywood fame) a gay couple Kevin T. (Jeremy Woodward) and Kevin.J(Nick Duckart). Duckart also plays the Egyptian Chef who is the least trusted of the passengers because of his Middle Eastern background and Lana (Danielle K. Thomas) black mother of a firefighter back in N.Y., and her friend, contemporary and confidant Beulah Cooper (Julie Johnson) who walks in her steps every day; her son is also a firefighter. “I Am Here” and “Stop The World”.

Set simply (Beowulf Boritt) on a wooden planked stage with horizontal slats forming the background (they open and close) an array of boxes that housed some of the animals, about six or seven life like looking trees stand firm, the same number of mix and match tables and chairs that are moved about to form everything from airplane seats to a cafeteria setting to a mountain cliff.

“Come From Away” is one of the most enlightening and uplifting original plays I can honestly say blew my mind and left me teary eyed, and for the cynic in me, optimistic. 

Newfoundland is the only place outside the United States, where we share the steel from the World Trade Center. 

Laugh, cry, enjoy. 

https://youtu.be/4BJcwDBRcsk You might be interested in watching this You Tube video.  Prayer from” Come From Away”

When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday

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

Photographer: Matthew Murphy

Tickets: $30.50 and up

Online: broadwaysd.com

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

“Mother of the Maid” Made for Moxie’s Jennifer Eve Thorn’s Bravura Return to The Stage.

Jennifer Eve Thorn

When thinking of saints in history, the fifteenth century to be exact, one of the most read about and heard about would be Joan of Arc. Joan began having visions of seeing St. Catherine of Alexandria when she was thirteen. She claimed that Catherine was sent by God to her to lead the French Army in an attempt to conquer the English during the Hundred Years War. (Short version)

In Jane Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid” currently being staged at Moxie Theatre through May 22nd, Isabelle Arc is the center of this story, not Joan or Joanie as her mother called her. As told through Isabelle’s eyes, her teenaged daughter was somewhat belligerent, rebellious, bull headed, and oft times sullen yet still vulnerable. Sounds like some teenagers I have known.

Jennifer Eve Thorn and Mikaela Rae Macias

Joan (Mikaela Rae Macis is exceptional as Joan) was no ordinary teenager as Isabelle will tell you. Jennifer Eve Thorn who is brilliant in the role of Joan’s mother Isabelle gives a full throttle portrayal of a mother who loves unconditionally, steadfastly and at times nudgingly and grudgingly.

Thorn who aside from the fact that she is executive artistic director and one of the founding mothers of Moxie, and has been away from acting for six years, is a mother and has a teenager herself.  She is no stranger to the changing whiles of one just about heading into adulthood. 

As Isabelle, apart from being there for her daughter Joan, has the compassion and patience  to help her daughter through her most difficult of times in her life from talking about boys, with whom she had no interest but wants to dress like one, or marriage, confessing she would not make a good wife, to trying to relate her ‘visions’ to her no nonsense father Jacque, (Dave Rivas is a bit macho but that was their role in those days) who is totally put off by the whole thing, to sending for the Parish Priest, Father Gilbert to get his blessings, to entrusting her daughter to the safety of her brother Pierre (Zack King)

Mikaela Rae Macias

God fearing herself, Isabelle is convinced and nudged by Father Gilbert to take her daughter’s word that she is telling the truth.  Joan is already in good favor with the Dauphin soon to be crowned king (Charles VII) who has high praises for her and has given her unfettered access to him. During this time Joan asks and gets an army to lead into battle against the English.

 Not one to be left out of a conversation, and as the class structure goes, this peasant and faithful woman travels to the castle, which takes weeks, only to find herself soaked to the skin by the time she arrives. There she meets a Lady of the Court, Nicole, (Sarah Alida LeClair adding a bit of satirical humor to her role) where niceties and food and drinks are exchanged. Isabelle is finally allowed to see her Joan in the king’s chapel where Joan, looking saintly, greets her mother and blesses her. 

Sergio Diaz-Delgado and Sarah Alida LeClair

As history will tell, Joan was successful for a short while and her visions were coming true, but the tide turns in Act II when she is captured and turned over to the English where she was tried for heresy and sentenced to be burned at the stake. Sadly, not one of her supporters, Father Gilbert (Mark C.Petrich), Nicole or the king comes to her aid. 

Always the loving parent, Isabelle is with Joan in her cell as she prepares her frightened daughter, just nineteen, for her ultimate sacrifice.  Always the fighter and dedicated and loving mother, Isabelle fights to reverse Joan’s conviction of heresy and witchcraft. In 1456 Joan’s trail was nullified. Three years later Isabelle died and in ‘1920 Joan was officially canonized She was considered one of history’s greatest saints.

Mikaela Rae Macias and Jennifer Eve Thorn

Mother of the Maid” is as compelling and chilling to the bone  as the one seen on Moxie’s stage because of the deft direction of Desireé Clarke and the bravura acting of Thorn.  Not only are we believers, but because of the gentle prodding of these characters by Clarke, we want to be believers that what the playwright is saying is true. 

Adding to the overall beauty of this production are Courtney  Ohnstad’s  picture period costumes, Yi-Chien Lee’s sturdy set, Annelise Raquel Salazar’s lighting, Rachel MacDougall LeVine’s sound design and Amy Chini’s props. 

Can’t rave enough. You do not want to miss this. Moxie outdid itself and well deserves  audiences to pack the house to see “Mother of the Maid”. 

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through May 22.

Where: Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd., Suite N, San Diego

Photo: Desireé Clarke

Tickets: $35-$37

Phone: (858) 598-7620

Online: moxietheatre.com

Proof of vaccine and ID required as are masks.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

They Danced All Night in Bob Fosse's "Dancin'"

If it’s dancing you want just hop down to the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park and get your tickets to the Broadway Bound “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’’. It’s stopping here on its way back to New York where, my guess is the audiences will go as gaga over it as they did on opening night here where a talented, no…super talented company of nimble, double jointed and precisely timed dancers with enough endurance to perform for at least two + hours of dancing from tap to modern ballet through May 29th.

According to Fosse, “I have no interest wasting my time or energy doing traditional musicals. I like fooling with new forms, seeing what rules I can break if I push a little harder in different directions. (1978). Of course, he did do many traditional musicals This was his thinking for “Dancin’ then. As we know he did go on to choreograph several big time winners.

Jacob Guzman and Mattie Love

This is not Fosse’s first rodeo. “Dancin’” first premiered on Broadway in 1978 and closed on June 27th in 1982 after 1744 performances. Additional choreography by Christopher Chadman was added. It’s strictly a musical show. There is no story even thought I kept looking for one. But what do I know, it won a Tony for Best direction of a Musical; a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Choreography (Bob Fosse). In all, Fosse picked up nine Tony’s for his choreography in “Chicago”, “Sweet Charity”, “Pippin”, “Liza with a Z” and “Cabaret” to name a few.

Jacob Guzman

The production at the Old Globe is the first ever revival of the 1978 show. It is directed with musical staging by Wayne Cilento. The reproduction of Fosse’s choreography is by Christine Colby Jacques.  According to Fosse ‘the entire company is made up of principal dancers’, all twenty or so of them.  

Manuel Herrera offers a prologue where he tells us in no uncertain terms that ‘there is no story’, no props, or themes, so just believe. From there we snap into “Crunchy Granola Suite”  from Neil Diamond as part of Fosse’s 1978 Broadway revue “Dancin’” by the company and then roll right into my all -time favorite “Mr. Bojangles (Yeman Brown, Jacob Guzman and Manuel Herrra) from “Recollections of An Old Dancer”. 

(from left) Kolton Krouse, Ida Saki, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Jacob Guzman, and Yani Marin

The music under the musical direction of Darryl Archibald is about eclectic as one can get including a long stint of jazz and a few from some of Fosse’s musical hits, “Big Spender”, (“Sweet Charity”) “Let Me Entertain You” (Gypsy”) and “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries”, (An old, 1931, favorite), an American segment in Act 2, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”. 

There is so much to see that describing it doesn’t do the show justice. It’s one of those seeing is believing sensations, do trust. There is no story line per say, as mentioned above but there are, in some of the dance numbers suggestions of  injustice of a history past and a future not yet ready to accept full responsibility. (Getting a bit political)

Jacob Guzman, Ron Todorowski, Karli Dinardo, and Peter Chursin

However, there is more to flying through the air in this flashy production than “All That Jazz” on the dance floor. Robert Brill’s industrialized floor to ceiling mega set is pretty overwhelming. The performers are up and down and swinging through bars and metal and  steps. Finn Ross’ video design is the best I’ve seen with projections (a 30 foot high wall) filling the entire stage and lit by David Grill in breathtaking colors. Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costume design are some of the best, with Peter Hylenski’s sound, though loud, is effective. 

Jōvan Dansberry with the cast

While I hesitate to call the show overtly provocative, sexy and seductive (a nice way to say filled with sexual innuendos) it has lots of groin grinding, and suggestive moves. I’m no prude and I’m not suggesting that it should be rated but I wouldn’t recommend it for say, pre- teens.

(from left) Dylis Croman, Yani Marin, Ioana Alfonso, Ida Saki, Mattie Love, Karli Dinardo, and Khori Michelle Pertinaud

From jazz to tap to ballet to marches to a four part solo percussion starring Ron Todorowski, the Fosse show is a dancer’s paradise and a dreamer’s fantasy.


When: Through May 29. 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Where: Old Globe Theatre, 1313 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego

Tickets: $52 and up

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Phone: (619) 234-5623

Online: theoldglobe.org

COVID protocol: Proof of vaccine is no longer required, masks strongly recommended indoors but not required.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Forbidden Broadway’s Biggest Hits” Strikes Again at North Coast Rep.

“Forbidden Broadway”, Gerard Alessandrini’s (playwright-composer) forty year old spoof on Broadway musicals is baaack again, with the best of The Great Way dating back to “Annie” “Hello Dolly” , “Cats” and up to and including “Dear Evan Hanson, (or Has Been), “The Lion King”, “Frozen and “Once”, to name but a few.  

The show, which I have seen several times is pretty much the same (although it has been rewritten and updated over the years, but that doesn’t take away from craziness of it..) Just off the bat, the “Hello Dolly” spoof with Cathy Barnett as the invincible Carol Channing and the Chita and Rita show is a hoot coming from the stage and movie versions of “West Side Story”. It’s a running joke and not just in “Forbidden Broadway”. 

I was able to identify more shows than I thought I could, they came so fast and furious. Some were in your face easy to identify like “Chicago”, “The Lion King”, “Fiddler on The Roof”, and “Phantom of the Opera” (mask on wrong side if the Phantom’s face). And I did get a kick out of “Jersey Boys” with Selby, Rapier and Staudenmayer. Some might recall it originated at The La Jolla Playhouse. 

You don’t have to be a Broadway maven to get all the inside jokes, but it does help to know something about a show’s content like familiar songs, though skewed, and well -known actors of the past like Robert Goulet.  It also doesn’t hurt to know something about The Book of Mormon or Moron” either. 

It also takes a whole lot of respect that the talented group of four on stage at North Coast Rep. are busting their collective arses to make this show come alive. They include William Selby (who also directs), Cathy Barnett, Tricia Rapier and Edward Staudenmayer. Local conductor extraordinaire and musical director Elan McMahan is on the keyboards throughout the entire show.

The quick costume   changes are enough to spin heads. The costumes Elisa Benzoni (consultant) make up a big part of the show and if you look closely enough you can almost see the star behind the impersonator. 

Trisha Rapier does a marvelous Barbara Streisand impersonation as does Cathy Barnett’s Liza (As a side note, I did feel a pang of sadness when the Liza spoof came out. After seeing her at the Tony’s I thought, why not just let rest. But, I guess that’ show biz.) as she ventures out into the audience just so one of the audience members can chat. She is also spot on as “Hello Dolly’s” Carol Channing. 

With Marty Burnett designing the set, Mathew Novotny the lighting which was excellent, Dustin Cross, costume design and Aaron Rumley on sound, and it was loud and clear, you can’t go wrong with “Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits”. 

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through May 22.

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

Photo: Aaron Rumley

Tickets: $54-$65

Phone: (858) 481-1055

Online: northcoastrep.org