Thursday, March 28, 2024

They love each other for naught


Kaylee Miltersen is Girl and Jake Gale is Guy. (Tracy Martin photo)

“Once” is the story of love between a man and woman that probably cannot be.

In the case of this musical presented by Hillbarn Theatre & Conservatory, the man, called Guy (Jake Gale), is busker-vacuum cleaner repair man in Ireland in 2011. The woman, called Girl (Kaylee Miltersen), is Czech. Both have musical aspiration.

Both also have lost their loves. His girlfriend has moved to New York City. Her husband, unknown to Guy, has moved on without her and their young daughter. Guy wants to abandon music, but Girl, recognizing his talent, encourages him to continue.

As their story unfolds, they and the other adults in the cast play instruments, sing and dance onstage. Characters who aren’t part of a scene sit on the sidelines and often join in the music.

Even before the show begins, the high-energy cast entertains the audience with lively songs and dances. At intermission, audience members can buy a drink at a bar set up on the left side of the stage.

Because the characters speak with either an Irish or Czech accent, they’re sometimes hard to understand, but the underlying message comes through.

Artistic director Stephen Muterspaugh directs the multi-talented actors as they create very human characters. However, his blocking sometimes has a piano or actor’s back blocking the view from far-left seats.

Francesca Cipponeri is credited with the energetic choreography. The musical director is Amie Jan with vocal direction by Joseph Murphy. The scenic design is by Christopher Fitzer with lighting by Pamila Gray, costumes by Lisa Claybaugh and sound by Jeff Mockus.

“Once” is a somewhat unusual musical, but on the whole it’s quite entertaining. It has a book by Enda Walsh with music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Mark√©ta Irglov√°.

Running about two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission, it will continue through April 7 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit





Thursday, March 14, 2024

More than bees are threatened in 'Queen'


Mike Ryan (left), Uma Paranjpe and Kjerstine Rose Anderson are featured in 'Queen.' (Kevin Berne photo)

Friendship and ethics are both challenged in Madhuri Shekar’s “Queen,” presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

Ariel (Kjerstine Rose Anderson), an ecology researcher and single mother, and Sanam (Uma Paranjpe), an applied mathematician from India, are UC Santa Cruz Ph.D. students who have been studying bee colony collapse for several years.

In bee colony collapse, the worker bees abandon the queen and disappear. Therefore, they no longer pollinate the food crops that the world needs. Continued unabated, it could lead to mass starvation.

The two women, who have developed a close working relationship and friendship, believe that agricultural pesticides have caused the problem.

They’re close to publishing their findings in the prestigious journal Nature when Sanam finds additional data that don’t agree with their previous numbers.

Their supervising professor, Philip (Mike Ryan), wants them to publish anyway, as does Ariel, but Sanam doesn’t. It’s an ethical dilemma that threatens the women’s friendship.

In the meantime, Sanam has had a dinner date with Arvind (Deven Kolluri), an Indian American financier, as a prelude to an arranged marriage.

At first, he bores her by bragging about a poker game in which he uses his skill with numbers. However, that skill interests her, so she asks him to help her find any flaw in her new numbers for the bee research.

This intriguing play, with its cast of skilled actors, is directed by Miriam A. Laube, known to many Bay Area theatergoers for her years as an actor and director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

In keeping with the bee theme, the set by Nina Ball features honeycomb panels, while the sound design by James Ard often buzzes. The costumes are by Lisa Claybaugh, the lighting by Kent Dorsey.

“Queen” runs about an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, through March 31.

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



Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Foothill stages fun, upbeat 'Legally Blonde"

The Greek chorus encourages Elle (Rachelle Schaum, second from left) to study for Harvard Law. (Photo by Misty McDowell)

It’s easy to like Foothill Music Theatre’s production of “Legally Blonde: The Musical.”

It has an energetic, likeable cast of students and community members who are fully invested in their characters, thanks to direction by Milissa Carey and choreography by Stacey Reed.

The feel-good plot by Heather Hach features Elle (Rachelle Schaum), who goes from frivolous sorority girl to legal maven, thanks to some good friends and her own intuition.

As it begins, Elle and her UCLA sorority sisters expect that she will become engaged to her boyfriend, the full-of-himself Warner (Jason Mooney). Instead, he breaks up with her because he thinks she isn’t serious enough as he pursues his plans to attend Harvard Law School and go on to a political career.

Still in love with him, Elle studies hard and gets into Harvard Law School, too. That’s where she encounters a taskmaster, Professor Callahan (Hank Lawson), as well as Warner’s new girlfriend and fellow student, Vivienne (Grace Margaret Craig).

She also makes friends, notably another student, Emmett (Andrew Cope), and hair salon owner Paulette (Sarah Bylsma).

After proving herself in court, she winds up being valedictorian of her class.

Music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin are mostly upbeat pop tunes that are sung well. Music director Michael Horsley conducts five other musicians from a keyboard behind an onstage scrim.

Yusuke Soi's simple set is lighted by Pamila Gray with sound by Dan Holland. The many colorful costumes are by Y. Sharon Peng.

Two other characters of note are Bruiser (Pippa), Elle’s six-pound Chihuahua mix, and an unnamed chocolate-colored pup. Pippa is on loan from Pets in Need and available for adoption after the show closes.

The one drawback to this production is that the women’s chorus, serving as the sorority sisters and a Greek chorus, is too squealy, especially in the opening number, “Omigod You Guys.”

Otherwise it’s a well done show that runs about two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.

It will continue through March 17 at Foothill College’s Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

For tickets and information, call (650) 949-7360 or visit