Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Hilarity reigns in 'One Man, Two Guvnors' at Palo Alto Players

Doug Santana plays Francis Henshall, who must serve two guvnors.

Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors,” an updated version of Carlo Goldoni’s “The Servant of Two Masters,” is a hilarious farce in the hands of Palo Alto Players.

It takes place in Brighton, England, in 1963. The one man is Francis Henshall (Doug Santana), who starts with one guvnor, Roscoe Crabbe, who was murdered.

That guvnor’s twin sister, Rachel (Katie O’Bryon Champlin), assumes her brother’s identity to claim the hand (and dowry) of his fiancée, Pauline Clench (Michelle Skinner), who’s about as dumb as they come.

However, Pauline is in love with aspiring actor Alan Dangle (Drew Benjamin Jones), who emotes most of the time.

Inadvertently Francis acquires another guvnor, Stanley Stubbers (Brad Satterwhite).

After that, things get crazier and crazier, especially when Stanley and Roscoe/Rachel have lunch in separate rooms at the same pub.

As Francis prepares to serve them, he must contend with both his own voracious appetite and an aging, tottering waiter, Alfie (Chris Mahle).

Dealing with his two guvnors requires all of Francis’s ingenuity and quick thinking. Santana is more than equal to the task, even when ad libbing.

All becomes clear as Francis (Doug Santana, center) explains everything.
Eventually everything works out. In the meantime, the audience is treated to almost nonstop hilarity thanks to the comic skills of Santana and the other 10 actors under the direction of Patrick Klein, PAP artistic director, and physical comedy director Carla Pantoja.

Adding to the fun in this British farce is the skiffle band, which sings and plays the music of Bean and songs of Grant Olding before each curtain and between scenes. It’s under the tutelage of music director Lauren Bevilacqua.

Director Klein also designed the set. Costumes are by Patricia Tyler, lighting by Ben Hemmen and sound by Grant Huberty.

Running about two hours and a half hours with one intermission, “One Man, Two Guvnors” will continue through June 30 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org.

Photos by Joyce Goldschmid

Sunday, June 16, 2019

It's back to the '50s with 'Grease' from Broadway By the Bay

Sandy Dumbrowski (Kylie Abucay, center) meets the Pink Ladies at lunch.
It’s back to high school in 1959 as Broadway By the Bay presents “Grease,” the long-running Broadway musical that has become a staple for nonprofessional companies like BBB.

The plot is thin. Sweet Sandy Dumbrowski (Kylie Abucay), a newcomer to Rydell High, tries to fit in with the more worldly Pink Ladies by telling them about her summer romance.

In the meantime, the bad-guy Burger Palace Boys are regaled by Danny Zuko’s (Alex Alvarez) stories of scoring in his summer romance.

Therefore, Sandy and Danny are surprised to learn they’re now classmates, but he pretends not to care about her. He’s too busy trying to impress his buddies.

Eventually they get back together after Sandy’s transformation with a new hairstyle, outfit and makeup.

BBB artistic director Alicia Jeffrey helms this energetic but not entirely satisfactory production. The main problem is that most performers are trying too hard. This is especially true of Danny’s crude, too loud buddies.

The Pink Ladies, led by the tough Betty Rizzo (Chelsey Ristaino), seem more comfortable in their roles.

Another notable Pink Lady is Frenchy (Kate Byrd), who drops out to attend beauty school only to flunk out there. Thanks to the Teen Angel (Daniel Lloyd Pias), who sings “Beauty School Dropout” with a fine falsetto, she decides to return to Rydell.

Then there are the good kids, who dress neatly, get good grades, take part in activities and avoid trouble. Chief among them are valedictorian Eugene Florczyk (the inimitable David Blackburn) and cheerleader Patty Simcox (Jessica Sarah Bennett).

Trying to keep everyone in line is English teacher Miss Lynch (Kathryn Han), who seems like a good sport.

The book, music and lyrics by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs evoke the ’50s rock ’n’ roll, pre-Beatles era. Led by music directors Jon Gallo and Nick Perez, with vocal direction by Pias, the orchestra, choral and solo singing all are good.

Dancing is a big part of the fun.
Choreography by Allison Paraiso and Zoë Swenson-Graham is lively and entertaining.

The set is by Kelly James Tighe with lighting by Marcia Madeira, costumes by Merissa Mann and sound by Jon Hayward.

While the show might evoke nostalgia among some viewers, this production sometimes feels like a dated parody.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Grease” will continue through June 23 at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.

Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Men who sparked WWI seen in 'Archduke'

Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler, left), Gavrilo Princip (Stephen Stocking) and Trifko (Jeremy Kahn) enjoy their train ride.

Four men behind the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in 1914 are portrayed in Rajiv Joseph’s “Archduke,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Three of them are hapless young men motivated more by longing for a sandwich and a warm bed than by strong political convictions. The fourth is an older man who longs for Slavic unification and manipulates them into the act that sparked World War I.

The younger men, strangers to one another, meet in a crumbling warehouse, sent there by Doc (unseen) to meet “a guy” who supposedly has a job for them.

First to arrive is Gavrilo Princip (Stephen Stocking), the eventual triggerman. Next is Nedeljko (Adam Shonkwiler), followed by Trifko (Jeremy Kahn). All three are “lungers,” meaning they have tuberculosis, a death sentence then.

Dragutin (Scott Coopwood) lectures on eastern European history for  the young men and Sladjana (Luisa Sermol).
Trifko leads them to the estate of the strutting Dragutin “Apis” Dimitrijevic (Scott Coopwood), who indoctrinates them in eastern European history in front of a giant map.

Meanwhile, they enjoy food prepared and served by the dour Sladjana (Luisa Sermol).

Once convinced of their mission, they board a luxury sleeper car for the seven-hour train trip to Sarajevo. It’s a new experience for them as they revel in touches like curtains, electric lights and, of course, food.

Ably directed by Giovanna Sardelli, TheatreWorks director of new works, the play is well acted and features strong design elements: set by Tim Mackabee, costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting by Dawn Chiang and sound by Teddy Hulsker. Jonathan Rider directed the fight scenes.

With its serious themes, including the young men’s search for meaning in their lives, the play is billed as a comic drama. However, it’s undermined by stretches of absurdism.

And even though it has been revised since seen in the company’s 2016 New Works Festival, it needs trimming such as in the talky first scene. Dragutin’s speeches could be shortened, too.

Nevertheless, the quality of the direction, acting and designs shows why TheatreWorks received this year’s Regional Tony Award. It’s a fitting tribute to the company and founding artistic director Robert Kelley, who will retire after this 2019-20 season, his 50th.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Archduke” will continue through June 30 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

'Mamma Mia!' here we go again at SJ Stage

Rosie (Jill Miller, left), Donna  (Adrienne Herro) and Tanya (Allison F. Rich) recall their  trio days. (Photo by Dave Lepori)
Anyone who saw Hillbarn Theatre’s recent production of “Mamma Mia!” had probably just stopped humming its bouncy tunes when along comes San Jose Stage’s production to implant them into their brains again.

As the lyrics to the title song go, “how can I resist ya?” it’s almost impossible to resist the memorable songs from ABBA, the Swedish pop group that started in the 1970s.

They include such toe-tappers as “Honey, Honey,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and many more, mostly by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

All of them are performed well by SJ Stage’s energetic cast as they form the outline for the book by Catherine Johnson.

The premise is this: Sophie Sheridan (Allison J. Parker) is about to be married to Sky (Sam Faustine). She wants her father to give her away, but she doesn’t know who he is.

Her unmarried mother, Donna (Adrienne Herro), owner of a taverna on a Greek island, refuses to talk about him. However, Sophie reads Donna’s diary entries from about the time she was conceived and finds three candidates.

Assuming she’ll know which one is her dad right away, she invites them to her wedding without telling Donna. They are Harry Bright (Keith Pinto), a British banker; Bill Austin (Jeffrey Brian Adams), an adventure writer; and Sam Carmichael (Noel Anthony), an architect.

Also arriving for the wedding are Donna’s friends, Rosie (Jill Miller) and Tanya (Allison F. Rich). The three had formed a girl group during the disco days.

Besides the music itself, much of the credit for this production’s success goes to Rich, who wears three hats. Besides playing the oft-married Tanya, she’s the show’s director and its vocal director. Associate musical director Martín Rojas Dietrich is part of the five-man, upstage band.

Pinto wears two hats by playing Harry and serving as choreographer. His choreography and Rich’s direction blend seamlessly. 

One ingenious device on their part involves the ensemble, whose members often wear masks as they dance to scenes like the overture and Sophie’s nightmare on the eve of her wedding. They also dance while they whisk set pieces in and out.

Among the standout performers are Parker as Sophie, Herro as Donna, Rich as Tanya, Miller as Rosie and Pinto as Harry.

Bethany Deal designed the costumes, including the disco trio’s spangled outfits. The set and lighting are by Michael Palumbo with sound by Steve Schoenbeck.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Mamma Mia!” will continue through July 7 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

For tickets and information, call (408) 283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Center Rep celebrates Guthrie with 'Woody Sez'

Megan Loomis (left), David Finch, David M. Lutken and Darcie Deaville belt out a song. (Photo by Kevin Berne)

When the name Woody Guthrie comes up, people most likely associate him with his most popular song, “This Land Is Your Land,” and perhaps his son Arlo Guthrie.

However, he was much more than that, as shown in “Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie,” presented by Center Repertory Company.

This four-person musical biography with its dozens of songs looks at the many tragedies in his life and the destitute circumstances that led to giving voice to his activism through his music.

Some people at the time considered him a radical, especially given his allegiance to communism, but he had witnessed firsthand the despair of people during the Depression and the Dust Bowl days.

Born in Oklahoma in 1912, he lost homes and his sister because of fires. It’s gradually implied that they were set by his mother, who died of debilitating Huntington’s disease when he was 14.

Before long, he was a wanderer, finding work wherever he could and singing his songs. One of the most vivid scenes in the show, joined with “Talkin’ Dust Bowl” and “Dust Storm Disaster,” culminates in the unprecedented April 1935 dust storm that caused him to join thousands of other Oklahomans on the arduous trek to California.

This is shortly followed by the desperation of hundreds of migrants awaiting the chance to pick fruit while the company store granted them credit that took away their cars and other belongings.

Much more transpires throughout his life with three marriages, the deaths of some of his eight children and his own death from Huntington’s in 1967.

This show was devised by music director David M. Lutken with director Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell and Andy Teirstein.

Lutken takes on the role of Guthrie while Deaville, Megan Loomis and David Finch assume many others. These multi-talented musicians play an array of acoustic instruments such as guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo, harmonica and even spoons.

As Lutken noted during the curtain call, this troupe has been performing the show off and on since 2007, but this is its first stop in California.

Running about two hours with one intermission, the entertaining, informative, energetic “Woody Sez” will continue through June 23 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.

Sunday matinees will be followed by free hootenannies.

For tickets and more information, call (925) 943-7469 or visit www.centerrep.org.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Nonstop hits and fun in 'Mamma Mia!' at Hillbarn Theatre

Tanya (Christine Capsuto-Shulman, left), Donna (Merrill Peiffer) and Rosie (Jacquie McCarley) sing "Dancing Queen."

When it comes to exhilarating fun, it’s hard to beat Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!”

This musical, with its well known, toe-tapping songs by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, just keeps bubbling along.

With Dan Demers’ sure-handed direction and a likeable, energetic cast, everything adds up to pure enjoyment.

It even has an interesting book by Catherine Johnson.

It starts when 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Sofia Costantini) is about to be married to Sky (Matt Ono) in 1999 and wants her dad to walk her down the aisle. There’s a problem: She doesn’t know who he is.

Her single mom, Donna (Merrill Peiffer), who owns a taverna on a Greek island, won’t talk about him. However, by reading Donna’s diary from about the time she would have been conceived, Sophie discovers three candidates for her dad.

Dad candidates Bill (Lawrence Long, left) Sam (Randy Allen) and Harry (Brandon Savage) arrive on the island.
Assuming she’ll know him right away, she invites the three to the island, unbeknownst to Donna. When Bill Austin (Lawrence Long), Sam Carmichael (Randy Allen) and Harry Bright (Brandon Savage) arrive, she’s furious.

In the meantime, she has invited two longtime friends, Tanya (Christine Capsuto-Shulman) and Rosie (Jacquie McCarley), to the island, too. The three of them were once a disco girls group.

Thus the stage is set for one hit tune after another: “Money, Money, Money,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” “One of Us,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” the title song and more.

Another hit is “Dancing Queen,” sung by Donna, Tanya and Rosie as they reprise their disco act. This scene also displays the talents of costume designer Y. Sharon Peng, who has created an array of outfits for the show plus the hair, makeup and props.

Then there’s the creative choreography by Zoë Swenson-Graham. Just one example is “Lay All Your Love on Me,” in which the younger men dance in wet suits and flippers.

Although everyone in the cast is commendable, Capsuto-Shulman as the oft-married, sexy, flirtatious Tanya is an audience favorite. When the company came out dancing for the curtain call on opening night, the short wrap skirt to her glittery costume fell off, so she blithely picked it up and tossed it into the audience.

Matt Ono is Sky; Sofia Costantini is Sophie.
Costantini as Sophie not only sings well but has an expressive face that registers her character’s emotions without a need to speak.

Kudos also go to Paulino Deleal for the functional set, to Grant Huberty for the sound design and to Rick Reynolds for musical direction. The musical accompaniment is recorded.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Mamma Mia!” will continue at Hillbarn Theater, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, through May 26.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.

Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Main characters approach 'The Good Book' from opposite perspectives

Wayne Wilcox (left), Elijah Alexander, Shannon Tyo and Denmo Ibrahim appear as characters from centuries ago.

“The Good Book” examines the Bible from two characters’ very different perspectives while taking them through difficult journeys of belief.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre is staging the West Coast premiere of this ever-fascinating drama by Denis O’Hare and Lisa Peterson.

Annette O'Toole plays the scholarly Miriam.
One of the main characters is Miriam (Annette O’Toole), an atheist and biblical scholar. She calls the Bible “the most powerful and dangerous book in America today.” 

To her it isn’t the word of God but a collection of stories created by many people, handed down through the ages and translated from many languages.

Keith Nobbs plays the struggling Connor.

The other is Connor (Keith Nobbs), a Catholic who calls himself a Biblehead and who wants to become a priest, at least when he’s a young boy.

He first is seen as an 8-year-old who commits his innermost thoughts to his new tape recorder. As he enters his teens and 20s, however, he struggles with his faith and his sexual identity.

Miriam must confront some of her ideas when a young journalist, played by Shannon Tyo, wants to write a New Yorker article about her. Going through Miriam’s files, the writer finds her girlhood diary and asks about her mother, who died when Miriam was about 9.

Miriam also must deal with her longtime lover, played by Elijah Alexander, a Middle Easterner whom she seldom sees because he’s an archeologist who goes on months-long digs overseas.

During Act 1, Alexander, Tyo, Lance Gardner, Denmo Ibrahim and Wayne Wilcox appear as a variety of characters like Miriam’s college students, Connor’s family and friends, and both known and unknown historical figures.

As the act ends, Miriam has been in a serious car accident and Connor is ready to shoot himself.

Act 2 finds Connor about to be released from a mental hospital and Miriam in a state of unconsciousness that takes her to important places in her life.

Eventually the two meet, and their fates become known.

This is an epic play that goes far deeper than the principal plot. It’s informative for those who don’t know much about the origin of the Bible and it’s absorbing as Connor and Miriam go through their lives. It’s also quite entertaining because of its many other characters.

Finally, it’s an impressive display of virtuoso acting by everyone, especially O’Toole as Miriam and Nobbs as Connor, thanks to their talent and to the astute direction by co-author Peterson.

The action takes place on a sparsely furnished stage with just a few folding metal chairs and tables, augmented by lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols’ projections; Lydia Tanji’s costumes, many suited to quick changes; and sound by Charles Coes and Mark Bennett. Bennett also wrote the music that’s so effectively used in the play.

Although the play is long, about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, it seems to go by quickly.

“The Good Book” will continue through June 9 in Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

Photos by Alessandra Mello