Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stage benefits with 'Shakespeare in Love'

Adam Magill is Shakespeare and Megan Trout is his beloved Viola. (Photo by Kevin Berne)
Imagine history’s greatest playwright with writer’s block. How does he surmount it? Through love, of course.

That’s the premise of “Shakespeare in Love,” the movie-turned-play now at Marin Theatre Company.

As the play opens in London in 1593, Will Shakespeare (Adam Magill) is trying to write a pirate-themed play called “Romeo and Ethel.” He also has financial troubles, as do some theater owners.

Thanks to his friend and fellow playwright Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Kenny Toll), Ethel becomes Juliet and the pirates disappear. Also helping in the process is a stage-struck noblewoman, Viola de Lesseps (Megan Trout), who disguises herself as a young man so that she can audition for the role of Romeo.

She takes that tack because women weren’t allowed on stage in Elizabethan England. Instead boys played women’s roles.

Will is quite taken with the young man and eventually discovers the ruse. They fall in love, and circumstances lead to her playing Juliet rather than Romeo.

However, there are complications. First, Viola’s father orders her to marry Wessex (Thomas Gorrebeeck), whom she doesn’t love. Second, Will is already married to Anne Hathaway in Stratford.Lee Hall’s adaptation of the screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard calls for dozens of characters. MTC director Jasson Minadakis whittles his cast down to 13 actors plus one scene-stealing dog.

Hence, most of the actors play multiple roles, and most of them are Bay Area favorites. 
Chief among them is Stacy Ross, who is seen as Viola’s supportive nurse and Queen Elizabeth I, among others. Everyone else is noteworthy, too.

One interesting aspect of this production is that all of the actors sing and play musical instruments, adding to the enjoyment. Jennifer Reason is music director. There’s also dancing to choreography by Liz Tenuto. Snippets from other Shakespeare plays are 
fun, too.

The simple set is by Kat Conley with lighting by Kurt Landisman, sound by Sara Huddleston and period costumes by Katherine Nowacki.

At opening night on Nov. 28, the first act hadn’t quite come together, but the second act was much more cohesive, especially in the “Romeo and Juliet” scenes.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Shakespeare in Love” will continue through Dec. 17 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Emotions run high in 'Fool for Love' in San Jose

Allison F. Rich as May confronts Rob August as Eddie while Joshua Marx as Martin checks outside and Randall King as The Old Man watches. (Photo by Dave Lepori)

Obsession, jealousy and family secrets all figure into the tumultuous relationship in Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” presented by San Jose Stage Company.

It’s set in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert where May (Allison F. Rich) is trying to start a new life. However, there’s a complication when her former lover, the dirty and dangerous Eddie (Rob August), has found her and wants to take her back to Wyoming to live in his trailer on a ranch.

May is torn, angrily ordering Eddie to leave, then beseeching him to stay when he starts to go. Fueled by tequila, their confrontations are sometimes erotic, sometimes violent.

She’s jealous of his relationship with another woman, whom she calls the Countess (not seen), while he can’t stand the idea that she has a date that night with a local man, Martin (Joshua Marx).

Observing it all from the sidelines while he does his own drinking is The Old Man (Randall King). He’s embedded in both May’s and Eddie’s imaginations as he sometimes talks to them and relates stories about them.

Their true story comes to light when Eddie relates it to Martin while May is out of the room.

Directed by Kenneth Kelleher, this production lacks some of the emotional power seen in Magic Theatre’s revival of the play earlier this year. The play had premiered in 1983 at the San Francisco company while Shepard was its playwright in residence.

The problem here is that August gives a somewhat one-dimensional, mostly domineering performance as Eddie, and both he and Rich as May shout too much in the first scene.

Otherwise, both King as the grizzled Old Man and Marx as the decent but naïve Martin serve the play well.

The set and lighting are by Michael Palumbo with costumes by Ashley Garlick and sound by Steve Shoenbeck.

Running about an hour with no intermission, “Fool for Love” moves at a good clip without losing the plot’s thread.

It will continue at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose, through Dec. 17. For tickets and information, call (408) 283-7142 or visit

Thursday, November 16, 2017

'Beautiful' parades Carole King hits

James Clow as Don with  Jacob Heimer as Barry, Sarah Bockel as Carole and Sarah Goeke as Cynthia. (Matthew Murphy photo)

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” focuses on the early life and career of the popular singer-songwriter.
It began at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in 2013 and opened on Broadway in 2014, followed by a national tour in 2015. It has landed in San Jose, where it’s playing to enthusiastic audiences.
King is best remembered for not only the songs she wrote and sang herself but for those she wrote for others.
The show opens in Brooklyn in 1958, when Carole (Sarah Bockel) was 16 and sold her first song, “It Might As Well Rain Until September,” to Don Kirshner (James Clow), who became her publisher and mentor for many years until she moved to Los Angeles.
Much of the book by Douglas McGrath focuses on her relationship with Gerry Goffin (Matt Faucher), who became her lyricist and husband. Their marriage broke up because of his infidelity and mental instability.
Also featured are another songwriting pair, Cynthia Weil (Aashley Morgan in most performances), and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer), who became good friends with Carole and Gerry. 
With 25 songs, the show is a parade of ’60s and ’70s hits by King and Goffin and by Weil and Mann.
The ensemble dances to "Loco-Motion." (Matthew Murphy photo)
Just a few include “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Up on the Roof,” “The Loco-motion,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” “It’s Too Late,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Natural Woman” and “Beautiful.”
They’re performed by the creators as well as the Drifters, the Shirelles the Righteous Brothers and others. All are in fine voice, and most are precisely choreographed by Josh Prince.
Directed by Marc Bruni, the show features outstanding performances by everyone. Besides the principals, another bright spot is Carole’s mother, Genie Klein, played with great comic timing by Suzanne Grodner.
Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” is a musical and visual feast.

It continues at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd., San Jose, for an all-too-short run that ends Nov. 19. For tickets and information, call (800) 982-2787 or visit

Monday, November 13, 2017

Boxer in "The Royale' breaks race barrier, but at what cost?

Atim Udoffia as Nina warns Calvin M. Thompson as her brother, Jay Jackson. (Photo by David Allen)
Early in the 20th century, a black boxer became the heavyweight champion by defeating a white man.

Presented by Aurora Theatre Company, “The Royale” is based on that black boxer, Jack Johnson. Here, though, playwright Marco Ramirez names him Jay Jackson (Calvin M. Thompson).

The action begins with Jay fighting a boxer named Fish (Satchel André). They’re not hitting each other, though. They don’t even face each other.

Instead, their moves are co-choreographed by director Darryl V. Jones and boxing coach Joe Orrach. Three people seated upstage stamp their feet and slap their knees to replicate the fight’s rhythms.

Those people are Jay’s trainer, Wynton (Donald E. Lacy Jr.); his sister, Nina, (Atim Udoffia); and his white manager, Max (Tim Kniffin).

Although Fish loses, Jay is so impressed that he asks him to become his sparring partner.

After touring the country, winning fight after fight and bragging about his abilities, Jay wants to take on the recently retired champ. While the champ returns to form, their bout is highly touted, creating a national buzz.

On the eve of the fight, Jay is confident, even cocky, until Nina shows up. She describes some of the abuses that blacks, even his young nephews, have already suffered at the hands of whites because of him.

She warns that if he wins, violence will erupt in that Jim Crow era. Thus he’s torn between his desire to win and his fears about the aftermath if he does.

Although the first scene seems prolonged, the rest of the play moves right along. 

Director Jones has elicited layered performances by all five actors.

In one mesmerizing scene, Wynton, the trainer, describes fighting five other blacks when everyone was blindfolded. The last one standing picked up the coins tossed by white spectators in the venue called the Royale, hence the play’s title.

The simple set is by Richard Olmsted with lighting by Kurt Landisman, sound by James Ard and costumes by Courtney Flores.

Running a taut 90 minutes with no intermission, “The Royale” will continue through Dec. 3 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

'It Can't Happen Here' is eerily timely

Doremus Jessup  (Vic Prosak) talks with his friend Lorinda (Carla Befera). (Photo by David Allen)

As if the current political climate weren’t worrisome enough for many people, Foothill Theatre Arts presents “It Can’t Happen Here.”

It chronicles the rise of a populist presidential candidate who promises better times, wins the office and then oversees the country’s rapid demise into fascism and cruel repression.

Sinclair Lewis wrote his prescient novel in 1935 when rabble-rousing Huey Long was running for president (he was assassinated before being nominated) against Franklin Roosevelt and Hitler’s Nazi regime was rising in Europe.

Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and Bennett S. Cohen created their new version early last year, and it premiered at Berkeley Rep later that year.

Thomas Times plays Buzz Windrip, the charismatic candidate. His stump speech sounds like a revival meeting. Times is black, thus negating racial aspects, but it’s unlikely that a black man would win the presidency in the 1930s. However, Times does such a good job that it’s easy to suspend disbelief.

As Windrip gains traction, Doremus Jessup (Vic Prosak), a liberal newspaper editor in a small Vermont town, abhors what he’s doing but tries to understand his appeal. Jessup’s strongest supporter is Lorinda (Carla Befera), an innkeeper who’s also his girlfriend, even though he’s married.

The plot focuses on Jessup as his situation grows worse and worse.

Skillfully directed by Bruce McLeod, the large cast is a mix of students and community members, the latter led by Prosak and Befera, who provide solid grounding to the action.

Some other noteworthy performers are Alexis Standridge as Sissy, Jessup’s loyal daughter; and Seton Chiang, who does double duty as Bishop Prang, the evangelical churchman who endorses Windrip, and as Effingham Swan, the menacing militiaman who grills Jessup after his capture.

Design elements enhance the production with sets and projections by Lynn Grant, lighting by Dan Wadleigh, costumes by Chiara Cola and sound by Max Stanylov.

Running about two hours with one intermission, this scary play nevertheless ends on an updated, hopeful note with the actors on their smartphones texting this message: “Make America human again.” It’s worth seeing.

“It Can’t Happen Here” continues through Nov. 19 in the Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fly away with Palo Alto Players' 'Peter Pan'

Peter (Corrie Farbstein, left) tells Wendy (Brittney Mignano) about Neverland. (Photo by Joyce Goldschmid)
Palo Alto Players is staging the perennially popular “Peter Pan,” the enchanting story of an orphan boy who can fly but who doesn’t want to grow up. 

In J.M. Barrie’s play, turned into a musical by lyricist Carolyn Leigh and composer Morris Charlap, Peter (Corrie Farbstein) lives in Neverland. He and his effervescent fairy sidekick, Tinker Bell, visit the Darling children in London to retrieve his shadow.

He convinces the oldest, Wendy (Brittney Mignano), to fly with him to Neverland. They’re joined by her brothers, John (Amay Goel) and Michael (Billy Hutton). They really do fly. (Flying effects are by ZFX Inc.)

In Neverland they meet the Lost Boys and experience hair-raising adventures, most of them initiated by Peter’s nemesis, Captain Hook (John Bisceglie), and his band of pirates. Also playing a prominent role are the Warriors, led by Tiger Lily (Catrina Contini).

Directed and choreographed by Janie Scott, the show is full of wonders and imagination. For example, Neverland, not the usual tropical island, is what PAP artistic director Patrick Klein and set designer calls “an alternative, Neo-Victorian world of spare parts and steam-powered ingenuity.”

The show also is filled with fine performances, led by Farbstein as Peter, who sings, dances and acts well.  Also notable is the diminutive Mignano, an adult who’s convincing as Wendy.

Scott’s choreography also is imaginative, especially in “Ugh-A-Wugg,” performed by Peter, the Darlings, the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and the Warriors.

There’s much for kids to like, especially Nana (Eddie Standifer III), the Darling children’s nurse; and the crocodile that swallowed an alarm clock.

Music director is Lauren Bevilacqua, but the orchestral accompaniment is recorded. 

Costumes are by April Bonasera with lighting by Carolyn A. Foot.

Incidentally, Farbstein is the sister of Amanda Farbstein, who has the female lead in Broadway By the Bay’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” Their parents, Michael and Candy, were BBB mainstays for many years.

Running about two and a half hours with an intermission, “Peter Pan” will continue through Nov. 19 at Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For tickets and information, call (650) 329-0891 or visit

Monday, November 6, 2017

Broadway By the Bay is 'Singin' in the Rain'

The company ends the show with the title song, "Singin' in the Rain." (Photo by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin)
“Singin’ in the Rain,” one of the great movie musicals, was adapted for the stage in 1985 and is being presented by Broadway By the Bay.

The story by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is set in Hollywood just as silent movies are being nudged out by the talkies, starting with Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer.”

Two stars of the silents are Don Lockwood (Ryan Blanning) and Lina Lamont (Jen Brooks). They’re linked romantically by fan magazines and by Lina, but not Don, who’s vastly smarter than she.

When their studio decides to turn their next film into a musical, there’s one big problem: Lina has a screechy voice and can’t sing a note. Unbeknownst to her, it’s decided that Don’s new romantic interest, Kathy Selden (Amanda Farbstein), will dub Lina’s voice and lines.

When Lina discovers the ruse, she raises a huge stink, but of course the entire truth comes out, and there’s the inevitable happy ending.

Director Alex Perez has assembled a mostly stellar cast of actor-singer-dancers led by Farbstein as Kathy and Randy O’Hara as Don’s sidekick, Cosmo. Their talents and those of the ensemble shine in number after number inventively choreographed by Robyn Tribuzi.

Of course there’s the memorable finale to Act 1 when Don ignores a downpour to sing the title song and swing on a lamp post, just as Gene Kelly did in the 1952 film. Blanning displays his dance talents here and elsewhere, but he has such a wide vibrato that he often strays from pitch.

Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed have become classics with the likes of the title song as well as “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “You Were Meant for Me” and others. Musical director Joe Murphy and his orchestra accompany them.

An interesting aspect of this production is the subtle effort to link early advances in film technology with Silicon Valley. Therefore, some of Don and Lina’s scenes were filmed in a Beaux Arts mansion in Atherton that’s the former home of Leon Douglass.

In his program notes, director Perez says, that Douglass was “a pioneer of sound and an innovator in the early days of motion pictures.” He and Thomas Edison co-invented the Gramophone and Victrola. He also helped to advance colorization.

Kudos to costume designer Leandra Watson and set designer Kelly James Tighe. Lighting is by Michael Ramsaur and sound by Jon Hayward.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable production that runs about two and a half hours with one intermission.

It continues through Nov. 19 at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City. For tickets and information, call (650) FOX-7770 or visit