Thursday, March 17, 2022

TheatreWorks triumphs with 'Sense and Sensibility' as musical

Sharon Rietkerk (left), Antoinette Comer  and Lucinda Hitchcock Cone. (Kevin Berne photo)

Two sisters left bereft by the death of their father in 1815 must fend for themselves in the musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in its regional premiere.

With book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, this adaptation often allows the characters to sing their private thoughts and emotions.

But one character who has no problem being open with her emotions is Marianne,  (Antoinette Comer), the younger of the Dashwood sisters and the “sensibility” of the title.

Her sister, Elinor (Sharon Rietkerk), is more reserved and proper, the “sense.”

After their brother, John (Nick Nakashima), and his greedy wife, Fanny (Melissa WolfKlain), leave the sisters with no home or money, a cousin, Lord Middleton (Colin Thomson), and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone), kindly offer them the use of a cottage in the country.

There they meet Edward Ferrars (Darrell Morris Jr.), who takes an immediate liking to Elinor, but he’s too shy and tongue-tied to let her know.

For her part, Marianne falls hard (literally) for the dashing Mr. Willoughby (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka), while a neighbor, Colonel Brandon (Noel Anthony), is smitten by her, too.

As the story unfolds, misunderstandings arise and secrets are revealed, but somehow everything turns out for the best.

This production marks another triumph for its director, Robert Kelley, TheatreWorks’ recently retired founder and artistic director.

It starts with the superb cast anchored by the stately, dignified stage presence of Rietkerk as Elinor.

Comer as Marianne is more open and impulsive, yet the loving bond between the sisters in unshakeable.

The three principal men – Morris as Edward, Anthony as Colonel Brandon and Herdlicka as Willoughby – are well suited to their differing roles.

Comic relief comes from Thomson as Lord Middleton and Cone as Mrs. Jennings, who’s both good-hearted and gossipy. When they made their first entrance, I fully expected them to break into “Master of the House” from “Les Miserables.”

Everyone in the cast sings and blends well, accompanied by the four-member orchestra that includes musical director William Liberatore on piano.

Augmented by a few set pieces, Joe Ragey’s scenic design relies primarily on period landscape paintings projected in a gilded oval frame.

When it comes to design elements, though, Fumiko Bielefeldt’s elegant costumes are the clear stars.

Lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt and sound by Jeff Mockus complement the effects.

Running about two and a half hours with an intermission, this not-to-be-missed  “Sense and Sensibility” continues through April 3 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (877) 662-8978 or visit

The show also will be video streamed with details to be announced.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Fats Wallers' music comes to Hillbarn with 'Ain't Misbehavin'


From left:  Majesty Scott, Katrina Lauren McGraw, Phaedra Tillery-Boughton, Dave J. Abrams and Anthone Jackson in 'Ain't Misbehavin.' (Mark and Tracy Photography)

Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory is staging a lively, high-energy production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” subtitled “The Fats Waller Musical Show.”

In this revue conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, three women and two men sing some of Waller’s best known songs of the ’30 and ’40s. They include both songs he wrote and songs he performed and made famous.

The action takes place in an after-hours Harlem gin joint with the six-member band  on a small platform. Six round tables with two seats are arrayed around the performing space.

Audience members are invited to sit at two of them while the others are used by the cast. At the first matinee, two youngsters sat at one table and seemed entirely taken by the show.

The show opens with the company performing the title song plus “Lookin’ Good but Feelin’ Bad.”

Thereafter each performer is featured. Anthone Jackson as Ken, joined by Katrina Lauren McGraw as Nell, sings a suggestive “Honeysuckle Rose.” Phaedra Tillery-Boughton as Armelia sings another suggestive song, “Squeeze Me.”

Dave J. Abrams as AndrĂ© is a terrific dancer, especially in “How Ya Baby” with Majesty Scott as Charlaine.

The likable performers, under the musical direction of Jasmine Butler, sing and blend well.

Some of the best known songs in Act 2 are “Mean to Me,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” and “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.”

(Full disclosure: I wasn’t able to stay for Act 2 because of an unexpected schedule conflict.)

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” was a Broadway hit, winning the Tony and New York Drama Critics Circle awards as best musical of 1978, along with a 1979 Grammy for original cast album. It first came to San Francisco in 1979 and has been seen there and at several Bay Area venues ever since.

Small wonder that it’s so popular. It’s filled with timeless music that can be enjoyed by all ages.

The entertaining Hillbarn production is directed by Kevin Smith-Kirkwood, who also serves as choreographer. The set is by Matt Owens with costumes by Jasmine Williams, lighting by Pamila Gray and sound by Angela Yeung.

Running just under two hours with one intermission, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” will continue through March 27 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call 650-349-6411, Ext. 2, or visit