SCP closes its 49th season with “La Cage aux Folles”

By Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players finishes its 49th season with a groundbreaking Harvey Fierstein/Jerry Herman classic, La Cage aux Folles, which runs at the Sunnyvale Community Theatre Thursdays – Sundays, 21 April – 12 May. Fierstein and Herman didn’t originate the story – Jean Poiret did that in 1973 with the play that spawned multiple adaptations for the big screen and the stage. The first adaptation of the play was for the screen in the 1978 Franco-Italian comedy of the same name that received many accolades from critics worldwide. There were two sequels to the original film. The first was released in 1980, and the second followed in 1985. In 1996, the Mike Nichols/Elaine May American remake, titled The Birdcage and starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, made the rounds, and it continues to be a popular film today.

The Fierstein/Herman Broadway adaptation hit the stage in 1983 to a fairly warm reception. Over the years, several revivals have surfaced, and each garnered more award nominations than the original, all noted for their witty dialogue, accessible story, and typical Jerry Herman music that’s full of flash and zest to go with the lively choreography. SCP is presenting the 2010 version of the show.

The plot focuses on a gay couple whose son is getting married … to a woman. The story is at turns sweet, serious, and farcical as it takes audiences on a journey. The couple, Georges and Albin, have been together for ages, and together have raised their son, Jean-Michel. Though he wasn’t planed, Jean-Michel was born of a one-night-stand that Georges had long ago. Georges and Ablin have spent their careers in the entertainment industry – specifically drag entertainment. As entertainers, their lives aren’t much different than any other night club owner or performer, but the twist comes during the fateful “meet the parents” event. Their son’s fiancée’s father is an ultra-conservative politician. Somehow, even the farcical elements seem a little topical these days.

The cast is headed by Ray D’Ambrosio as Georges, and George Downes (otherwise known as WooWoo Monroe) as Albin. Their son, Jean-Michel is played by James Schott, and his fiancée Anne is played by Becca Euchler. The prospective in-laws are played by Chris Moylan and Rachel Michelberg in grand fashion.

See the full cast list here.

The production staff includes:

  • Director: Matt Welch
  • Vocal Director: Diane Milo
  • Music Director: Benjamin Belew
  • Choreographer: Anna Prenares
  • Producers: Jen Maggio & Raissa Marchetti-Kozlov

The tiny, but mighty pit includes:

  • Keyboard/Conductor: Ben Belew, Matt Bourne (one performance only);
  • Woodwinds (2 per show): Ande Jacobson, Jordan Selburn, Barb Raboy, Keith Leung (one performance only);
  • Brass (2 per show): (Trumpet) John Escalera, Rebecca Bishop; (Trombone) Jason Loveman;
  • Bass (1 per show): Michael Perry, Stephen Adkins
  • Drums and Percussion (1 per show): Bob Wylie, Christine Lovejoy

Though it won’t be obvious from the house, the orchestra will be live and sequestered down in the covered pit. That removes any danger of a dancer falling in and damaging any of the instruments.

Tickets are available online through the Sunnyvale Community Players website or by phone at 408-733-6611. A Good Reed Review readers can get a $3/ticket discount by using the code “Zaza” when ordering. Again, the show runs Thursdays – Sundays, 21 April – 12 May 2018.

Performances will be at the Sunnyvale Community Theatre located at: 550 E. Remington Dr., Sunnyvale CA 94087.

The big messages here are that it is OK to be what you are, and love will triumph over just about any hurdle thrown in its path. The ending is satisfying, and audiences will leave the theatre with smiles on their faces and songs playing in their heads long after the curtain falls.

Please join Sunnyvale Community Players for this production. You will be glad you did.


References:
La Cage aux Folles (New Broadway Cast Recording)
La Cage aux Folles
La Cage aux Folles (1979) / The Birdcage (1996) (Double Take)
La Cage aux Folles (script)

(Photos and video courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)


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“Cowboy Versus Samurai” takes a love story for the ages and turns it upside down at The Pear

By Ande Jacobson

The story of Cyrano de Bergerac has been told innumerable times. This story is a fictionalized account of a real person, and the play that started it all was penned by Edmond Rostand in 1897. The original play has been translated into many languages and adapted into other plays and movies worldwide over the years. In 2006, a new stage adaptation entitled Cowboy Versus Samurai, written by prolific playwright and screenwriter Michael Golamco, was published. The Pear is currently presenting this Golamco incarnation which moves the action to Breakneck, Wyoming, and adds a few new elements to the story.

Golamco has been quoted as saying that his play is “Cyrano de Bergerac with race as the big nose,” although there is far more involved than mere physical attractiveness. In Breakneck, there are initially only two Asian Americans in town. Travis Park (Lorenz Angelo Gonzales) is a high school English teacher. He’s a Korean-American transplant from Los Angeles who arrived in town a few years earlier in an attempt to get away from the chaos of the big city and the shambles of his life there. Chester A. Arthur (Chuck Lacson) is the only other Asian American resident. Chester was adopted by a local, white family as a baby, and he has been searching for a key to his biological heritage his whole life. Del (Drew Reitz) is the school’s P.E. teacher and a wannabe cowboy. He is a stereotypically, dim-witted jock who uses the word dumb as a noun in reference to himself, i.e., he is “a dumb.” Veronica Lee (Heather Mae Steffen) is another Korean-American who moves into town adding a third Asian American to the mix. She’s recently arrived from NYC and is the high school’s new biology teacher who shares a classroom with Travis. Like Travis, she has come to town to escape some of the big city chaos.

Chester founded BAAA – the Breakneck Asian American Alliance – to address Asian oppression, such as trying to get the local grocery store to carry tofu. Their organizational meetings are a source of witty repartee and consternation. Travis and Chester are the unlikeliest of friends given Travis is erudite and well-spoken, and Chester is kind of a militant hick with delusions of ninja-inspired grandeur. One might initially wonder what, other than race, brought these two together. As the plot thickens, it becomes clear that Travis feels a little sorry for Chester and clearly wants to help him.

Veronica’s arrival stirs the pot. Chester sees her presence as a cause for celebration and hopeful conquest. Travis sees her as an intelligent “officemate” and is somewhat smitten given their numerous common interests and histories. The only problem is that Veronica has “preferences” where dating interests are concerned, and those do not include Asian men. Enter Del and the start of the quirky, eloquent Cyrano story.

Ting Na Wang’s scenic design is appealing. A unit set is used for this production, featuring a gorgeous mural painted along the entire upstage wall. A classroom door defines the stage right boundary, and a teacher’s desk is positioned in front of the door. A moveable student desk is normally center stage, though that is moved a bit with the action. A working lamppost hugged by weeds is upstage right. A short, wooden, two-railed fence is immediately downstage of the lamppost. The fence runs along the upstage portion slightly in front of and beneath the mural. There is a cottage door on a platform stage left that is used both as a porch and a living space within the cottage, depending on the scene.

Jeffrey Lo directs this production beautifully and is assisted by Kaede Komatsuzaki. Lo’s cast isn’t completely authentic for the roles as defined, but his tight ensemble shines. Every characterization and movement is believable, even when some of the dialogue becomes rather farcical at times, particularly where Chester’s militancy is concerned. Lacson is clearly adept at playing larger venues as his exuberance and enthusiasm as Chester more than fill the space. In fact, he is slightly overpowering when viewed from the front row. All four actors show a great deal of depth and sensitivity in their portrayals. While audiences might expect Gonzales’ and Steffen’s characters to show such depth, Reitz and Lacson also evolve through the story. One very heated Act 2 exchange between Chester and Veronica is particularly gripping, each one taking verbal stabs at the other in rapid succession, each drawing the other out in bouts of unexpected honesty and deep feeling. Del too shows insights that one wouldn’t expect from his character through a discussion with Travis late in Act 2.

In the end, the story really is about love, not race. The message is that love goes far deeper than strictly the romantic variety. Golamco touches upon romantic love to be sure, but he also delves deeply into love of self, and love as friendship. Golamco makes it clear that one cannot love others if he cannot love himself. The script’s use of the letters Travis writes for Del to impress Veronica provide context and background that is both instructive and entertaining, particularly with Del’s delivery of material through those letters that is clearly not about him. They give the audience, and Del, a detailed look at what makes Travis tick.

One minor bit of inconsistency in staging is worth noting. At one point, Travis has all of the letters in hand, and he starts skimming them. The problem is that although audience members cannot read the writing, they can see through the page enough to notice that Travis is holding the letters sideways (at least they can from the front row). Perhaps this is an artistic choice to denote Travis’ life running slightly askew, or it’s an oversight.

Lo also provides the sound design for this production, and his choice of music for preshow, scene changes, and intermission provide an interesting mood mix. There is of course some country-western influence as one might expect in cowboy country, but there are also disco and pop elements, and even a hint of Hoagy Carmichael at one point.

There is some colorful language and innuendo interspersed along the way, but it is not gratuitous and instead sounds genuine in the course of the discussion. There is also high comedy in the more farcical portions of the story, particularly where Chester is concerned. While probably not appropriate for very young children, this Pear production is definitely worth a look.

What:  Cowboy Versus Samurai, by Michael Golamco
Where:  The Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View, CA 94043
When:  Continues Thursdays – Sundays through 8 April 2018

See http://thepear.org or call (650)254-1148 for tickets or more information.

(Photos courtesy of Michael Craig/The Pear)

References:
Cowboy Versus Samurai (script)
Cyrano de Bergerac


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PYT presents Disney’s perfect musical – “Beauty and the Beast”

By Ande Jacobson

Peninsula Youth Theatre is mounting an extravaganza not to be missed. Beauty and the Beast is just about the perfect musical. The fairy tale dates back to 1740, originally penned by French novelist Gabriell-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Since then, there have been many invocations of the story in various forms, from print to film on both the large and small screens. Although it wasn’t the first time the story made it to the big screen, Disney released its animated spectacular with a Broadway-like score in 1991 and then transformed it into a Broadway musical in 1994. More recently, audiences have enjoyed the live action version of the Disney story in the 2017 film of the same name.

When Disney began production of its animated version of the story, the Broadway musical team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote the music and lyrics. Although Ashman died before the film’s release, his lyrical work remained, and Tim Rice was brought in to work with Menken on the expanded version destined for the Broadway stage. Linda Woolverton wrote the book, first for the animated film, and later expanded it into the full two-act stage version. The stage musical characters are deeper, and the story tugs at the emotions of the audience.

The story is now very well-known. A spoiled young prince shuns what he thinks is a haggard old woman offering a single rose in trade for shelter because her appearance offends him. She warns him to look beyond appearances, but he’s far too self-absorbed to listen. She’s really a powerful enchantress who teaches him the most valuable life lesson imaginable. Turning him into a hideous beast, she tells him that if he can learn to love, and be loved in return, the spell can be broken. Alas, the prince isn’t the only one caught up in the curse. Everyone in his employ is also affected, and each is slowly becoming an inanimate object. And so the race is on. Can the prince break the spell before the last rose petal drops?

The result is “a tale as old as time” filled with comedy, heartfelt laments, action, and adventure for the entire family. Several new or expanded musical numbers appear in this stage adaptation that were not in the original animated film. Interestingly, the 2002 Special Edition DVD release of the animated version includes one of those expanded numbers (“Human Again”). It was originally written for the animated film but was cut for length for the theatrical release.

Director/choreographer Brian Miller and vocal director Holly Smolik have shaped two very large and enthusiastic casts to bring their vision to life with an energy that is contagious. Both Miller and Smolik have a great affinity for youth theatre, and they are experts in harnessing their actors’ unbounded energy for good. The result is astounding as these young actors (aged 8-18) strut their stuff with confidence and execute some very challenging choreography with precision and pride.

The music in this show is also beautiful. The score has a very classical feel as it adds great drama to the action, and the songs will stay with audiences long after they leave the theatre.

There will be no A Good Reed Review review of this one as I will be on the podium leading the very talented community orchestra. The musicians include: woodwinds: Doreen Oroshnik, Marty McHan, Rebecca Ritger, Steven Holmes; strings: Jaime Yuen, Karen Law, Jessica Yuen, Rob Gloster, Jonathan Erman, Dan Meyers, Stephanie Spaid; brass: Dan Swinehart, Ed Lacina; keyboards: Del Quan, Karen Adkins; and percussion: Bob Wylie. Not all musicians will be playing every performance.

This is a lively and touching show that is appropriate for all ages, so don’t miss it. Get your tickets now before they are all gone.

What: Beauty and the Beast

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA.

When: 3-11 March 2018, see: Beauty and the Beast at PYT for more information.


Additional references:

From another perspective, why call this the perfect Disney musical? Jordan Peterson talks about how Beauty and the Beast is one of the very best that Disney has to offer:

 

Beauty and the Beast: 25th Anniversary (DVD)
Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical
Beauty and the Beast: The Broadway Musical (Sheet Music)


 

In finding one’s Mecca, it’s the journey that counts

By Ande Jacobson

The Pear’s current production is another alarmingly topical piece from the not-too-distant past. This time, audiences are transported back to 1974 and the rural village of New Bethesda (properly named Nieu-Bethesda) in the Karoo region of South Africa. Athol Fugard’s play, The Road to Mecca, incorporates themes of racial and gender inequality and religious fervor that are so prevalent in the rural South African culture of the time. These issues are in the forefront of this work, at times uncomfortably so. Additionally, the themes of trust, love, aging, and artistic freedom and inspiration are explored in a powerful way. This is a challenging piece, and the Pear gives it the respect and sensitivity it deserves. Continue reading

Tchaikovsky takes the TheatreWorks stage by storm

By Ande Jacobson

Hershey Felder brings another of his unique musical biographies to TheatreWorks. The Bay Area premiere of Our Great Tchaikovsky gives audiences insight into the life of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Like the other portrayals Felder has done in previous seasons, he takes on the persona of Tchaikovsky, as well as of various people in the composer’s life. Compared to his portrayals of Irving Berlin and Ludwig van Beethoven, this one is a little different. It is different because his subject is a little different. Tchaikovsky, while a musical genius, led a personal life filled with fear, strife, and chaos because he didn’t fit the social mold demanded by his culture. The composer’s music is still front and center in this production, music that Felder dispatches with his characteristic verve and virtuosity. He is as adept at playing Tchaikovsky’s music as he is at playing the music of Berlin and Beethoven. The changes this time are that he adds a bit more of himself in the storytelling, and the story itself is much darker than the previous Felder shows that have reached the TheatreWorks stage. Continue reading

Spreading holiday spirit and wishing a very merry SaxMas to all!

By Ande Jacobson

Music is in the air this holiday season. While San Jose’s 24th Annual Saxophone Christmas is over, on 16 December 2017, 217 saxophonists playing everything from sopranino to bass saxes spread the joy of holiday music through the air at both Christmas in the Park and Vallco. To get a sense of what this event was like and raise your holiday spirits, please enjoy the following sampling of several selections from previous San Jose SaxMases. Continue reading

Saxophones and singers – the perfect holiday combination for 2017

By Ande Jacobson

Music is in the air this holiday season. While there are numerous concerts and stage productions to choose from, there are two musical events fast approaching in the South Bay that are not to be missed.

First up is the 24th Annual San Jose Saxophone Christmas on the third Saturday in December (the 16th this year). In recent years, there have been around 200 musicians (215 in 2016) playing everything from soprillo saxes (the smallest commercially made saxophone in existence) to sarrusophones and bass saxes along with everything in between. Some years, there is even a tubax or a contrabass sax (the biggest of the saxophone family). Continue reading

TheatreWorks presents the cure for holiday hype – ‘The Santaland Diaries’

By Ande Jacobson

During the holidays, the hype and family togetherness can sometimes be just a little overwhelming. It seems that it’s all about the kids, and the presents, and the singing, and the egg nog. Instead of drowning in that last one to escape, there is another remedy for someone seeking something that’s just a little less saccharine – The Santaland Diaries. What started in 1992 as a NPR holiday tradition that catapulted memoirist David Sedaris to international fame, has reached the TheatreWorks stage in their “alternate” holiday production this year. Joe Mantello adapted Sedaris’ essay into a full one-act, one-man play in 1996, and it has enjoyed seasonal success in regional, college, and in some cases even high school theatre ever since. In short, this little gem details Sedaris’ experiences as Crumpet the elf, navigating the treacherous landscape of Macy’s in Manhattan during the holiday season.

The play runs just 70 minutes without an intermission, and while it’s not appropriate for the youngsters who still believe in Santa, it will have their parents at least chuckling if not fully guffawing at poor David’s predicament as a misplaced and somewhat “low key” elf.

Jeffrey Lo directs Max Tachis in this TheatreWorks production at the Lohman Theatre on the Foothill College campus. Scenic designer, Christopher Fitzer captures the feel of the Macy’s Santaland setup with a nicely framed Santa throne in front of a small, but tastefully lighted pine forest. There’s no snow, except when momentarily provided by Mia Kumamoto’s lighting design toward the end of the piece.

Tachis is wonderful in this show. It’s not an easy task to be an engaging solo performer for an unbroken 70 minute stretch, but Tachis is up to the challenge. Before he enters the stage, the set stands open for patrons to take turns sitting in the big chair and taking pictures. Yours truly decided to take that opportunity to shoot the accompanying shot of the colorful set, signpost (next to the big chair) and all.

When Tachis first enters, he hams it up posing with the signpost for a few last photos before he instructs patrons to put their phones away for the duration of the performance. His curtain speech is a bit different than the standard recordings. It both does the job and sets the tone for much of what is to come.

Howard Ho’s sound design could almost be considered “counter-Christmas” with some rock, some eerie haunted-sounding holiday arrangements, and a bit of burlesque thrown in at just the right moment. In addition, as Tachis portrays David / Crumpet the elf introducing the audience to the different regions of Santaland, sudden horn blasts accompany the unfurling of the appropriate banners, sounding like attacks to the poor elf on stage.

Tachis, for his part, starts out as himself. Once he takes care of the pre-show business and delivers his unique announcement, he reemerges as David Sedaris, job hunter in NYC during the holiday season. As David, he recounts to the audience a conversation he had with his roommate sneering at the ads for seasonal help. He then shares that he applied to become a store elf on a whim after this discussion. Despite his having shared in some mockery with his roommate over such a position, he’s unemployed and down to his last $300 before he’d have to resort to becoming a dog walker to be able to eat and figures how hard could it be? Little did he know.

Tachis’ easy manner, sardonic delivery, and facial expressions convey volumes. Through his monologue, we come to understand that in many ways, becoming a store elf is much like any other job. The duties, however, are a bit specialized. As he recounts the interview, onboarding, and training phases, he clearly points out the unique aspects of his position. It’s evident that David really doesn’t belong in this job, but he’s going to make it work somehow.

Then David gets to the final training session when his work uniform is required. He changes on stage with appropriate snide comments about his elven wear, and a chorus of “Santa Baby” plays on as he applies the velvet costume pieces. Costume designer Jill C. Bowers hits the perfect combination of colors and textures to make his outfit memorable and authentic.

Much of what Tachis relays sounds extremely familiar to anyone who has worked in the service industry dealing with the general public up close and personal. Whether it’s the impatient or insipid customers, or his zany colleagues, audience members can picture the people he describes and, in many cases, correlate them to acquaintances from their past.

The standout scenes though are when Tachis brings out his alter ego, designed by Mark Stys. His mini-me elf puppet is adorable, and the interactions Tachis has with him are priceless. Whole conversations ensue, some involving members of the audience, some further upstage, but all with wonderful expressions and mannerisms. Tachis is quite an adept puppeteer for this production, seamlessly manipulating the mini-elf and frequently exchanging glances as they “share” the jokes together.

Being live theatre, there are moments where slight malfunctions might occur, and on opening night did occur at least once. At one critical moment, a set piece didn’t entirely cooperate when it was deployed, but Tachis adroitly delivered a situational ad-lib and didn’t miss a step. He has internalized this material to the point where it flows easily and naturally, no matter what happens.

This production won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re looking for a fun escape from the normal holiday happiness, this is definitely the show for you. It’s a little edgy, but not overly so. It’s a got a wee bit of off-color language and content, but there too, not excessively so. It gives audiences an entertaining appreciation for a seasonal job that they’ve certainly at least seen if not lived themselves. It’s clever, and the time flies by before sending folks back to their normal holiday hubbub.

What:  The Santaland Diaries, by David Sedaris, adapted by Joe Mantello

Where:  Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, Los Altos Hills, CA

When:  Continues through 23 December 2017

See http://theatreworks.org/201718-season/201718-season/santaland-diaries/, email boxoffice@theatreworks.org, or call (650)463-1960 for more information or to order tickets.

(Photo credits: Kevin Berne for all but the preshow set shot; A Good Reed Review preshow set shot)

Background References:
The Santaland Diaries / Season’s Greetings: 2 Plays
NPR: A Holiday Tradition: David Sedaris Reads ‘Santaland Diaries’

TheatreWorks packs 80 days into a fun-filled, 2-hour trip around the world

By Ande Jacobson

TheatreWorks presents Mark Brown’s adaptation of the 1872 Jules Verne classic novel, Around the World in 80 Days, and has audiences whooping at the antics on this whirlwind, 80-day adventure compressed into 120 hilarious minutes (including intermission). Although the show is billed as a holiday adventure, the only holiday aspects are the festive adornments throughout the house at the Lucie Stern Theatre, a bit of snow along the journey, and the timing of the target arrival home from the adventure. It’s good, clean, family-friendly entertainment that will have even the “grinchiest” audience member smiling. The adventure intertwines technology and romance across the globe in that bygone era of the late 19th century. Continue reading

BBB mounts a dancing spectacular that glistens in the rain

By Ande Jacobson

Singin’ in the Rain started life as an MGM film in 1952 showcasing the talents of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. It later became a classic film legend, even though it originally only enjoyed modest success. It tells the memorable story from the 1920s about the transition of the film industry from silent films to talkies, and humorously details the challenges felt by those unfortunate silent film stars whose voices were better left unheard. In the mid-1980s, the film was faithfully adapted for the stage keeping the story and all of the songs and memorable dances intact. It’s actually a little surprising that it took until the mid-80s to reach the stage given that its story fits the traditional musical mold so well. It’s an uplifting tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back in the end after a few interesting twists and complications. Then again, this show requires three true triple threats along with a well-synchronized dance ensemble, masters of tap one and all. And it requires on-stage rain, so it’s not a trivial matter to mount a successful production. Continue reading