Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Singer saves self, church in 'Sister Act'

Deloris (Leslie Ivy-Louthaman, left) leads the chorus of nuns in a joyful, upbeat song.

A woman fleeing her married, murderous lover saves not only herself but also the church where she takes refuge in the musical comedy “Sister Act,” presented by Broadway By the Bay.

Deloris Van Cartier (Leslie Ivy-Louthaman) inadvertently sees her boyfriend, nightclub owner Curtis Jackson (Montel Anthony Nord), shoot and kill one of his henchmen.

Deloris (Leslie Ivy-Louthaman) goes to Eddie (David Blackburn) for help.
She goes to a police officer friend from high school, Eddie Souther (David Blackburn), who takes her to a nearby Catholic church. He persuades its leaders, including Mother Superior (Heather Orth), to disguise her as one of its nuns, calling her Sister Mary Clarence.

It’s culture shock for this black disco singer to blend in with a group of white nuns, but they accept her. She’s asked to attend their choir practice and is appalled to hear how bad they are.

Before long she transforms them into a harmonious, swinging, singing group that proves popular with the congregation, which had been dwindling along with its finances. Thus both attendance and donations grow enough to save the church from being closed and sold to two antique dealers.

Soon the choir gains media attention in Philadelphia, allowing Curtis and his buddies to track her down.

Directed by Erica Wyman-Abrahamson, the acting is terrific from the leads through the ensemble.

Mother Superior (Heather Orth, right) mistakenly confesses to Deloris (Leslie Ivy-Louthaman).
There also are some terrific singers, especially Ivy-Louthaman as Deloris and Orth as Mother Superior. Both are powerhouses who bring down the house several times, such as in their duet “Here Within These Walls.”

Music and vocal director Nicolas Perez leads 11 other orchestra members from the keyboard. The choreography is by Riette Burdick.

The right-on ’70s costumes are by Bethany Deal with sets by Mark Mendelson, lighting by Michael Oesch, and sound by Jon Hayward and Gino Vellandi.

The story might seem familiar because “Sister Act” was a popular movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. This stage version features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner.

It’s all quite humorous and entertaining.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Sister Act” will continue through Aug. 25 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 Kitaoka, Mark & Tracy Photography

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Superb acting in 'Anna Considers Mars' at Stanford

Anna (Melissa Ortiz, left) shows Shelly (Katie Rubin) and Malcolm (Christian Haines) one of the species (Aaron Wilton) she hopes to preserve with the help of their funding. 

Ever since she was a kid, Anna Aguirre (Melissa Ortiz) has wanted to go to Mars.

She gets her chance in Ruben Grijalva’s “Anna Considers Mars,” presented by Stanford Repertory Theater.

However, she has obligations on Earth, mainly her mother, Renata (Wilma Bonet), who has lung cancer and expects Anna to take care of her.

Anna also has founded the Center for the Preservation of Noncharismatic Species, endangered but ugly, disgusting creatures that nevertheless are important links in the food chain.

In the meantime, she yearns to be one of the people being sent to Mars to colonize it and preserve the human species as global warming destroys more and more habitable land.

Going there also would continue her relationship with Malcolm Phillips (Christian Haines), whom she meets when trying to raise money for the center.

Directed by Susi Damilano, the six-person cast in this futuristic, absurdist comedy-drama is superb. Besides Ortiz, Bonet and Haines, the only other actor playing one role is Søren Oliver. He appears as formally attired Carson, Anna’s virtual assistant.

The other two actors, Katie Rubin and Aaron Wilton, play a variety of roles.
Rubin plays Shelly Lawrence, a strait-laced corporate funder who has already been to Mars. She also shows up as the weird, dowdy, religious Dorothy from Minnesota. She excels in both contrasting roles as well as several others.

Wilton appears as the grotesque creatures that Anna seeks to preserve; as Darryl, her ex-husband; as Ishmael, an apish, near-naked fellow; as a greedy doctor; and as others. Like Rubin, he’s terrific all around.

Renata (Wilma Bonet, foreground) and Darryl (Aaron Wilton) watch as Malcolm (Christian Haines) and Anna (Melissa Ortiz) await liftoff to Mars.
As Renata, Anna’s mother, Bonet is wonderfully amusing and manipulative. In some ways, she’s symbolic of what’s happening to Earth. She knows that smoking has caused her illness and continuing to smoke would hasten her death, yet she can’t resists cigarettes.

Likewise, most people realize what climate change is doing to Earth, yet they continue to pursue the activities and substances that cause it.

The production is enhanced by Brooke Jennings’ character-specific costumes. Also contributing are the lighting by Brittany Mellerson, sound by Ian Walker and scenic design consultation by Sarah Phykitt.

 “Anna Considers Mars” was commissioned by Planet Earth Arts and co-produced by PlayGround, both based in the Bay Area. It comes directly to Stanford Rep after its premiere at Potrero Stage in San Francisco with the same director and professional cast. Stanford Rep is presenting it as part of its annual summer festival, whose theme this year is The Environment & Social Justice.

Running about two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission, it will continue only through Aug. 11 at the Nitery Theater, Old Union, 514 Lasuen Mall, Building 590, Stanford.

For tickets and information, call (650) 725-5838 or visit http://stanfordreptheater.com.

Photos by Mellophoto.com