Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Terrific 'Chicago' moves into San Jose

Allison F. Rich as Velma Kelly leads the ensemble in "All That Jazz."
From the very first song to the last, San Jose Stage Company’s production of “Chicago” is absolutely terrific.

It’s a great show to start with, thanks to the catchy music by John Kander, the clever lyrics by Fred Ebb and the quirky characters in the book by Ebb and Bob Fosse.

And then director Randall King has assembled a top-notch cast and design team to create a great theatrical experience.

As the title implies, the story is set in the Windy City in the 1920's, when lurid headlines dominated local newspapers.

Roxie Hart (Monique Hafen Adams) celebrates her new fame.
When a married chorus girl, Roxie Hart (Monique Hafen Adams), kills her lover, she’s arrested and sent to jail to await trial.

There she gets advice from the matron, “Mama” Morton (Branden Noel Thomas), who sings “When You’re Good to Mama.” Roxie also encounters a potential rival, Velma Kelly (Allison F. Rich).

After that, she hires a slick defense attorney, Billy Flynn (Keith Pinto), who helps her deal with the horde of reporters and photographers eager to hear her story. Among them is sob sister Mary Sunshine (Kyle Bielfield).

Lost in the shuffle is her clueless but loving husband, Amos Hart (Sean Doughty), an auto mechanic.
He has one of the show’s most poignant songs, “Mister Cellophane.” He laments that no one notices him. Even when he moves about the stage, the spotlight doesn’t follow him.

The show opens with the rousing “All That Jazz,” sung by Velma and the ensemble.

Some other show-stoppers are “Cell Block Tango,” sung by Velma and the women’s ensemble; “Razzle Dazzle,” sung by Billy and the company; and “Class,” sung by Velma and “Mama.”

These are just a few, but virtually every song is enjoyable.

Something that distinguishes this production from others that have been seen in the Bay Area, starting with the Broadway touring production in San Francisco in 1978, is that it has few of the elaborate scenic elements that are possible in larger theaters.

No matter. King, along with set designer Robert Pickering and lighting designer Michael Palumbo, keeps things simple, relying on the music and talented cast to carry the show.

Likewise, Tracey Freeman Shaw’s choreography has the signature movements from Fosse’s original despite the small stage.

Although every principal and cast member deserves accolades, special mention must be made of Rich when her Velma sings, “I Can’t Do It Alone.” Trying to convince Roxie to join her in the act that she and her sister once did, Velma demonstrates athletic, limber moves while singing – quite a feat.

Rich does double duty as the show’s vocal director.

Also noteworthy is the small onstage band led by music director Benjamin Belew from the piano.

In short, this is one great show.

“Chicago” will continue through March 15 at San Jose Stage Company, 490 S. First St., San Jose. 

For tickets and information, call (408) 283-7142 or visit

Photos by Dave Lepori

Monday, February 10, 2020

Characters confront mortality in 'The Children'

James Carpenter as Robin, Julie Eccles (center) as Hazel and Anne Darragh as Rose enjoy a dance from their past.
Combine three veteran Bay Area actors with a brilliant director and an intriguing play, and what you have is Aurora Theatre Company’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children.”

It opens with the unexpected arrival of Rose (Anne Darragh), a friend and former colleague whom Hazel (Julie Eccles) hasn’t seen in more than 30 years.

Robin and Hazel have a serious talk.
Hazel and her husband, Robin (James Carpenter), live in a relative’s cottage in an English seaside village.

They’ve been there since being forced to retreat from their farm near the nuclear power plant that suffered a meltdown after a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Because the plant has been crippled, they have no electricity until 10 p.m. and must drink bottled rather than tap water.

Playwright Kirkwood says she bases this part of her plot on the disaster that struck the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011.

Rose, Robin and Hazel are retired nuclear physicists in their 60s who had worked at the (fictional) English plant.

The play’s title refers not only to Hazel and Robin’s four adult children but also to the relatively young scientists trying to contain the damage and shut the plant down.

The never-married Rose is visiting to see if she can convince her hosts to join her and other older scientists to replace those workers and give them a chance to live longer, for the danger is deadly.

Thus Hazel and Robin must confront their own mortality, as does Rose, who has already had breast cancer. All three deal with their concerns in their own way.

Other issues concern the personal relationships among the characters. For example, it soon becomes clear that Robin and Rose have been intimate within the recent past.

There also are frequent references to one of Hazel and Robin’s children, Lauren, who’s in her 30s but who apparently has problems that aren’t made clear.

Director Barbara Damashek skillfully and sensitively guides these fine actors through the play’s emotional ups and downs. She mines both its humor, especially in the earlier moments, and the strong feelings evoked by the situation and the characters’ relationships.

She’s aided in her efforts by intimacy and movement choreographer Natalie Greene, along with set designer Mikiko Uesugi, costume designer Cassandra Carpenter, lighting designer Ray Oppenheimer and sound designer Jeff Mockus.

Altogether this production has staying power and provokes much thought.

Running about an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission, it will continue through March 1 at Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne

Saturday, February 1, 2020

ACT presents Will Eno's 'Wakey, Wakey'

Lisa (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) listens to Guy (Tony Hale).

The protagonist in Will Eno’s “Wakey, Wakey” is Guy (Tony Hale), a man in a wheelchair ruminating on what’s important in life.

In this American Conservatory Theater production directed by Anne Kauffman, it gradually becomes apparent that Guy probably doesn’t have long to live and that he’s in what might be a hospice (the set by costume designer Kimie Nishikawa with lighting by Russell H. Champa).

The play is essentially a stream-of-consciousness monologue lasting an hour or so until Lisa (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) arrives. A caregiver, she mostly listens as he continues to weaken.

That’s about it. There’s no plot per se.

Although it can become tiresome, one of Guy’s points resonated. He told audience members to recall a person in their lives who made a difference, who set off a chain of events that led to where they are today.

Various projections such as animals or a child delighting in an ice cream cone add some visual interest. They’re by sound designer Leah Gelpe.

This 75-minute play is preceded by Eno’s “The Substitution,” a 15-minute play featuring four students from ACT’s MFA program and Smith-McGlynn as a community college substitute teacher, Ms. Forester.

Ms. Forester starts by teaching one subject until the students tell her that this is a drivers ed class.

Because it’s in a boxy classroom (curtained off for “Wakey, Wakey”), the sound doesn’t travel well, making the lines hard to hear.

The total production lasts about 90 minutes with no intermission.

“Wakey, Wakey” will continue through Feb. 16 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne