Monday, March 18, 2019

'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' deserves standing O

Joseph ((Matt Ono) delights in his multi-colored coat.

Broadway By the Bay’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” blends all of its elements into a dream production.

An early collaboration between composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and book writer-lyricist Tim Rice, it went through several iterations over several years, the latest in 1974.

BBB’s production is anchored by Chelsey Ristaino as the Narrator, who begins telling the biblical story to 11 children.

Joseph (Matt Ono), who had 11 brothers, was the favorite son of Jacob (Chris Fernandez). After Jacob gave Joseph the multi-colored coat, his jealous brothers sold him to some passing Egyptians, assuming he wouldn’t survive.

Joseph wound up in prison in Egypt, but when word of his ability to interpret dreams reached the ruler, Potiphar (Nathan Temby), he soon became his second-in-command.

Knowing that seven years of great harvests would be followed by seven lean years, Joseph made sure the Egyptians had enough stored to survive.

In the meantime, Joseph’s family wasn’t so lucky. Therefore, the starving men went to Egypt in hopes of finding food.

Most of the story is sung, but it’s clear and accessible thanks to excellent diction all around.

The music varies in style from disco to rock (Manuel Caneri as Pharaoh impersonating Elvis Presley in “Song of the King”) to country western (“One More Angel in Heaven”) to calypso.

Although it comes from early in Lloyd Webber’s career, one can hear strains of what’s to come, such as “Evita,” “Cats” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Chelsey Ristaino as the Narrator, with Matt Ono as Joseph, anchors the show.
All of the principals do well, especially Ristaino as the Narrator. She has a crystal clear voice and a strong stage presence.

The men’s, women’s and children’s choruses are outstanding, thanks to music director Alicia Jeffrey and vocal director Daniel Lloyd Pias.

Director Stephanie Renee Maysonave keeps everyone involved, maintains the right pace and inserts some amusing stage business.

Adding to the enjoyment is the inventive choreography of Christina Lazo. Costumes by Bethany Deal are spectacular, as is the lighting by Eric Johnson.

The fluid set is by Kuo-Hao Lo with an effective sound design by Zak Stamps.

During intermission of the March 17 matinee, a 6½ -year-old girl was so inspired by the show that she was dancing on a landing to the balcony while her mother waited for the restroom.

Yes, it’s that kind of show, one that deserves its prolonged standing ovation.

Running about two hours with an intermission, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” will continue through March 31 at the Fox Theater, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.

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

Photos by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin



Sunday, March 17, 2019

Basketball inspires 'The Great Leap'

Manford (Tim Liu) tries to convince Connie (Ruibo Qian) to allow him to go to China.

Playwright Lauren Yee draws from family and Chinese history in “The Great Leap,” presented by American Conservatory Theater.

Her father, Peter, played basketball in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was recruited to an amateur team that played a professional team in Taiwan in 1977.

The fictionalized plot takes place in China and San Francisco.

At first the University of San Francisco basketball coach, Saul (Arye Gross), is in China in 1971 to teach the Chinese how to play American style basketball. His translator is Wen Chang (BD Wong), who becomes the Chinese coach.

Seventeen years later, Saul’s USF team is slated to go to China to play a team there. A 17-year-old high school point guard, Manford (Tim Liu), whose late mother was a Chinese immigrant, badgers Saul to join the team. Reluctant at first, Saul relents.

In the meantime, Manford’s older cousin, Connie (Ruibo Qian), also is reluctant to let Manford go, especially since he’s so close to graduating and since there’s political unrest in China.

Once in China, Manford meets Wen Chang, who is his father, and gets swept in the Tiananmen Square uprising.

As directed by Lisa Peterson, the four actors do well with what they have to work with in this not always involving story.

Saul (Arye Gross, right) confronts Wen Chang (BD Wong).
The most interesting character is Wen Chang. He knows that in order to survive under brutal Chinese regimes, he must be insignificant. Wong does so by holding his arms close to his side and moving as little as possible.

The most unlikable character is Saul, the foul-mouthed coach who spews streams of obscenities.

Liu embodies Manford’s pesky teenage irrepressibility along with his basketball skills. Qian as Connie shows an almost motherly concern for him.

Robert Brill has designed the spare yet effective set, augmented by Hana S. Kim’s projections and Yi Zhao’s lighting. The costumes are by Meg Neville, the sound by Jake Rodriguez.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “The Great Leap” will continue through March 31 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Much music, little story in 'Marie and Rosetta'

Rosetta (Michelle E. Jordan, left) and Marie (Marissa Rudd) harmonize. (Kevin Berne photo)

“Marie and Rosetta,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, is deep in music but rather shallow in story.

George Brant’s play with music is based on the true story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer from the mid-20th century who influenced legends like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, among others. She has been called the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

This 2016 play is set in the showroom of a Mississippi funeral home in 1946. Rosetta (Michelle E. Jordan) and her entourage are staying there because black people didn’t have much choice in the segregated South.

Rosetta has discovered Marie Knight (Marissa Rudd), a singer/pianist whom she’s considering as a musical partner.

The plot focuses on their contrasting styles. Although both are religious, Rosetta is far more liberal, considering her music to be praise enough for the lord.

The prudish Marie seems to see anything fun or rollicking as sinful. Hence, Rosetta does her best to convince Marie to let loose. The transformation doesn’t seem to take long.

Because Rudd’s Marie doesn’t always articulate clearly, it’s difficult to catch some of her lines and follow the story.

That’s not the case with Jordan’s Rosetta, who speaks her mind and lines clearly.

The real highlights in this show come from Jordan’s roof-raising singing, mostly of gospel songs like “This Train,” “Sit Down” and others. She has a powerhouse voice that’s irresistible.

On the other hand, Rudd’s voice has a sharp edge, especially on higher notes or at higher volumes. She’s at her best in the quiet “Peace in the Valley.”

Music director William Liberatore supplies Rosetta and Marie’s piano playing, while Schuyler McFadden provides Rosetta’s acoustic and electric guitar playing.

The program says that all songs in the show were originally recorded by Rosetta Tharpe, who’s heard as the audience arrives.

The show is directed by TheatreWorks artistic director Robert Kelley, who notes that it was presented as part of the company’s annual New Works Festival in 2015.

The handsome set, complete with coffins, is by Christopher Fitzer with lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt, sound by Cliff Caruthers and costumes by Jill C. Bowers.

Running about an hour and 40 minutes without intermission, “Marie and Rosetta” will continue through March 31 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

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



Monday, March 11, 2019

Cross-gender casting in Hillbarn's 'Leading Ladies'

The wealthy Florence (Monica Cappuccini) welcomes Leo (Samantha Ricci, left) posing as Maxine and Jack (Adrienne Kaori Walters) posing as Stephanie, whom she believes to be her nieces.
In his notes for Hillbarn Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Leading Ladies,” artistic director Dan Demers says he loves comedies and loves to laugh.

He and the show’s audiences are getting their fill in this silly yet skillfully crafted farce.

It starts when two down-on-their-luck English actors are performing scenes from Shakespeare for a Moose lodge in York, Pa., in 1958. Their act is a hilarious mish-mash of some of the Bard’s most famous lines.

When they learn that a wealthy woman in the area is looking for her sister’s two children to share her $3 million estate with their cousin, who lives with her, they assume that the heirs-to-be, Steve and Max, are men.

However, they’re women, Stephanie and Maxine. Eager to get the money anyway, they disguise themselves as women and show up at the aging dowager’s home.

Complications arise when there’s a mutual attraction between them and the niece and a roller-skating waitress – shades of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

But there’s more. Demers also says, “In conversations with Jim Knipple, our director, we decided to explore the idea of gender-blind casting, meaning we wanted to be open to the idea that two women could play the two leading men who then play women.”

Hence the two actors are played by Samantha Ricci as Leo Clark and by Adrienne Kaori Walters as Jack Gable. Leo, the instigator, becomes Maxine, while the reluctant Jack is Stephanie. 

Audrey (Justin Travis Buchs, right) has a word with Jack (Adrienne Kaori Walters).
In another twist, the roller-skating waitress, Audrey, is played by Justin Travis Buchs.

The other actors are cast by their gender. The two most grounded characters in this crew of zanies are Florence (Monica Cappuccini), the dowager, and Meg (Sarah Benjamin), her niece.

One of the play’s best sight gags involves Florence rushing around, trailing her IV stand behind her.

If there’s a villain, it’s Meg’s fiancĂ©, Duncan (Peter Ray Juarez), a strait-laced minister who seems mainly interested in her potential wealth. When Jack and Leo show up in their female guise, he’s both jealous and suspicious.

Completing the cast are Scott Solomon as the inept physician, Doc, and Drew Reitz as Butch, his son and Audrey’s boyfriend.

The crew’s attempted staging of “Twelfth Night” on the eve of Duncan and Meg’s wedding is another hilarious scene.

Despite the complications, “all’s well that ends well,” with the right matching of couples.

It might be difficult at first to wrap one’s head around the cross-gender casting, but willing suspension of disbelief and the actors’ skill make it all work.

On top of that, many of the costumes by Raven Winter are laugh-worthy themselves.

Adding to the fun are the drawing room set by Nora Kelly, lighting by David Gotlieb and sound by James Goode.

Running about two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission, “Leading Ladies” will continue through March 24 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

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

 Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Muslim family faces conflict in 'The Who & the What'

Afzal (Alfredo Huereca) angrily reads the book by Zarina (Denmo Ibrahim, left) while Mahwish (Annelyse Ahmad) and Eli (Patrick Alparone) listen.

Love of family tops the deep-seated conflicts that arise in Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who & the What,” presented by Marin Theatre Company.

Set in Atlanta in 2013, it starts innocuously when Mahwish (Annelyse Ahmad) urges her older sister, Zarina (Denmo Ibrahim), to get married. They are the adult daughters of Afzal (Alfredo Huereca), a widowed Palestinian immigrant and devout Muslim who owns a successful cab company.

He, too, wants Zarina to get married after putting the kibosh on the Catholic man she had loved. He even pretends he’s her on Muslim dating sites to find suitable suitors.

When Eli (Patrick Alparone), a convert who has become imam of a small congregation, meets with Afzal’s approval, Zarina reluctantly agrees to meet him in a local cafĂ©.

She tells Eli that she’s writing a book about gender politics but is suffering from writer’s block.

However, her book is not so much about gender politics as it is an examination of the prophet Muhammad. It focuses on his seventh and favorite wife, who’s his former daughter-in-law.

The tradition of Muslim women wearing a veil stems from this erotic relationship, Zarina contends.

In subsequent scenes, Zarina and Eli have married, she has completed her book, and Mahwish is married but not happily.

Still later, Mahwish is divorced and seeing a man she loves.

The climactic scene occurs after Afzal reads Zarina’s book and is enraged by what he regards as blasphemy, leading to a heated confrontation.

Afzal and Zarina reconcile long after he has shut her out of his life.
Akhtar’s script is meaty, yet nuanced, especially in its portrayal of Afzal, who’s torn between deep love for both daughters and devotion to his religious beliefs, including women’s subservience to men.

Director Hana S. Sharif manages these emotional ups and downs with skill and perception, aided by four fine actors.

For people who might not be familiar with the play’s Muslim references, the program includes helpful definitions. Displays in the lobby add more background.

Tim Mackabee’s set is a modern kitchen transformed into other settings by adding a few set pieces.

Lighting is by Wen-Ling Liao, costumes by Anna Oliver and sound by Everett Elton Bradman.

Running about an hour and 40 minutes without intermission, “The Who & the What” will continue through March 24 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208, or visit www.marintheatre.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne


Monday, March 4, 2019

Foothill Music Theatre on target with 'Bullets Over Broadway'

Jocelyn Pickett is Olive and Andrew Ross is Warner.

Gangsters, molls, egotistical actors, an aging diva and an aspiring playwright all add up to fun in “Bullets Over Broadway, the Musical,” presented by Foothill Music Theatre.

Woody Allen’s musical version of his and Douglas McGrath’s screenplay is well directed and aptly cast by Milissa Carey.

Set in New York City in 1929, it’s the story of playwright David Shayne (Adam Cotugno), who has yet to see one of his plays produced.

His luck changes, or so he thinks, when nightclub owner and mob boss Nick (Steve Repetti) offers to back it. There’s one caveat, though. His dumb blonde girlfriend, Olive Neal (Jocelyn Pickett), must be in it.

For his part, David says there must be no changes in the script and Helen Sinclair (Carla Befera) must play the lead. She hasn’t any juicy roles lately, so she joins in.

Because Nick doesn’t trust Olive, he assigns a henchman, Cheech (Nick Mandracchia), to make sure she doesn’t go astray.

As rehearsals begin, it’s clear that Olive can’t act, can hardly read and has a limited vocabulary.
Not only that, but the actors keep asking for changes, but David refuses. However, Cheech quietly gives him some new dialog that sounds more genuine and meets the actors’ approval.

In the meantime, David thinks he has fallen in love with Helen even though he has a longtime girlfriend, Ellen (Allie Townsend). Moreover, Olive begins sneaking off with an actor, Warner Purcell (Andrew Ross), who has an affinity for food.

Before it’s all over, several people wind up dead, and others learn a hard lesson.

Each of the principal characters seems perfect for his or her role. All are good actors and competent singers. All have good comic timing.

The music comprises familiar tunes from uncredited sources, such as “Tiger Rag,” “Up a Lazy River,” “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” and others. They’re accompanied by a six-person orchestra, including music director Louis Lagalante on keyboard.

From left: Tim Lynch, Ron Munekawa, David Randolph Evans and John Duarte are The Four Franks.
Choreography by Claire Alexander is another high point, especially as danced by The Atta-Girls and the gangsters. The latter get lots of laughs as The Four Franks in the suggestive “I Want a Hot Dog for My Roll,” sung by Olive.

Yet another highlight is Sharon Peng’s costumes, especially for the women.

The minimal yet workable set is by Andrew Breithaupt, who makes good use of a turntable. Lighting is by Lily McLeod, sound by Andrew Heller.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Bullets Over Broadway” will continue through March 17 in the Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

Because of some of the language and adult situations, parental discretion is advised.

For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit www.foothill.edu/theatre.

Photos by David Allen


Saturday, February 16, 2019

San Jose troupe stages brilliant 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'

Brick (Rob August) tries to ignore his frustrated wife, Maggie (Allison F. Rich).

San Jose Stage Company proves the genius of Tennessee Williams with its brilliant production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

This interplay of family dysfunction shines thanks to the direction of Lee Sankowich and a pitch-perfect cast.

The action takes place in the gallery of a Mississippi Delta plantation home one summer evening in the early 1950s.

As it opens, the title character, Maggie “the cat” (Allison F. Rich), is expressing her frustration with her husband, Brick (Rob August). He drinks too much and no longer sleeps with her.

A former star football player whose career ended several years ago, he injured his ankle while drunkenly jumping hurdles at the high school the night before. Hence he’s using a crutch.

This opening scene belongs to Maggie. Rich is mesmerizing as Maggie primps  before a mirror and complains not only about Brick but also about his five rambunctious nieces and nephews, the “no-neck monsters.”

They’re the children of Brick’s older brother, Gooper (Will Springhorn Jr.), and his pregnant wife, Mae (Tanya Marie).

Big Daddy (Randall King) has a serious talk with his son, Brick.
Just as Maggie owned one scene, Brick’s father, Big Daddy (Randall King), the family patriarch, owns another as he berates Brick for excessive drinking and touches on a sore subject: Brick’s relationship with his late friend, Skipper.

He implies that it was homosexual and OK with him, but Brick vehemently denies any such inference.

In both scenes, Brick’s crutch is taken from him, prompting pleas of “give me my crutch,” just as he sometimes pleads for another drink. Hence the crutch is the symbol of Brick’s leaning on alcohol to escape reality.

Big Daddy and his wife of 40-some years, Big Mama (Judith Miller), are also celebrating the good news that he’s suffering from a spastic colon, not cancer. He feels as if he’s been given a new lease on life and sees no need to write a will just now.

However, the rest of the family knows the truth. Big Daddy has cancer that has spread throughout his body and will soon kill him. Hence Gooper and Mae try to curry his favor and gain control of his considerable estate after his death.

Despite Brick’s many problems, he recognizes one theme in his family: mendacity, the untruthfulness used by everyone for one reason for another.

It’s all quite intense thanks to the quality of Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the quality of the acting and direction.

Aiding in the process are the set by Giulio Cesare Perrone, lighting by Michael Johnson, costumes by Ashley Garlick and sound by Steve Schoenbeck.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will continue through March 3 at The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose.

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

Photos from San Jose Stage Company