Last fall, I had the privilege of both music directing an exciting community production of Urinetown, and mentoring a very promising young musician through his first pit experience. It’s one thing to watch a production unfold from the podium, keeping track of all the various things that a music director must, but it is quite another to watch the show develop through a young musician’s eyes, particularly one who is new to the pit perspective. This was an adult community theater production, and this young keyboard player was the only kid in the pit. Everyone else in our mighty little orchestra was an experienced adult player. Continue reading
By Ande Jacobson
The year is rapidly racing to a close, and while Christmas is behind us, the music is still something to savor. I described, with anticipation, San Jose Saxophone Christmas (SJ SaxMas or just SaxMas for short) in a recent article intended to inspire local saxophonists to join in, and urging everyone else to come see and hear this unique event. As mentioned in the article, this has been an annual holiday tradition for over a quarter of a century down in San Jose California, always taking place on the third Saturday of December. This year that was 21 December, and while that day has come and gone, 228 saxophone players delighted their audiences as they brought their instruments together for two rousing, free concerts. In case you missed it (or if you just want to relive it a little), read on. Continue reading
By Ande Jacobson
The holiday season is upon us, and there are myriad music and theatrical events to celebrate the season. It is also the heart of the football season where a different kind of theater plays out all over the country. For some, the drama is in the game itself.
For college teams, there is the battle for the bowl games, one of which often ends up being the college championship game. For the pro teams, each franchise tries diligently to win a coveted spot in the playoffs, and if they survive the elimination ladder, they make it to the biggest bowl game of them all, the Super Bowl.
There are various halftime spectacles such as college marching bands putting on riveting displays of precision marching and music, although in recent years, the bands are generally only seen by those attending the games in person. The television coverage of the halftime breaks tends towards talking heads endlessly analyzing the game. In the professional ranks, the Super Bowl halftime show is a lofty presentation going far beyond the main sporting event, and that one is shown everywhere. Big names are brought in to entertain the crowds in the expanded Super Bowl halftime display. For those watching at home or at their favorite Super Bowl party location, the commercials are yet another entertaining feature.
Finally, there is another kind of spectacle playing out in stadiums across the country, but this one engages fans from all walks of life. Some fans don team jerseys and scream their lungs out trying to motivate their teams. Others use a bit more costuming and makeup. Finally, there are the extreme fans. These are the ones who take fandom and raise it to a performance art form bringing a type of theater to light beyond the traditional halftime shows.
My friend Mark is one such fan. Through an odd sequence of events, he accidentally became a theatrical sensation because of his fandom. Today, many 49er aficionados know him as 49erMark, a man who puts on a bit of a show at every home game and even some away games. Continue reading
With SJ SaxMas just around the corner, this time of year I often fondly remember our old saxophone quartet, Peninsula Saxophonica. The group disbanded a little over a decade ago, but for a time the four of us got together a few times a month to share our love of saxophone music.
We were all affiliated with the Woodside Village Band when we formed our quartet and initially performed as part their concerts. We also played for a few outside events where a sax quartet was requested. Woodside’s director, Richard Gordon, was an avid saxophonist, and our quartet was the place where he put down his baton and picked up his bari sax to join in the music making. While the Woodside Village Band was Richard’s band at the time, in our quartet, everyone got an equal say in what we played, how we played, where we played, and we shared various administrative and directorial responsibilities. Continue reading
The Thanksgiving feast is over with friendships and family love refreshed, and it’s that wonderful time of year when holiday music is plentiful and spirits are high. Yes, it’s that time of year when the saxophones return to San Jose to start the next quarter century of a festive holiday tradition, San Jose Saxophone Christmas, or SJ SaxMas for short. Continue reading
Sunnyvale Community Players (SCP) continues its season of unconventional heroes 26 October – 10 November 2019 with Urinetown: The Musical. This one is a satirical comedy that first hit the stage in 2001. The show has book by Greg Kotis, music by Mark Hollmann, and lyrics by Hollmann and Kotis. The music and lyrics hearken back to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht both in musical style and in its lampooning of humanity’s darker propensities. It takes on the legal system, capitalism, and most grievously – corporate greed, while also focusing on social responsibility and revolution highlighting an unlikely hero. Along the way, it not only brings Weill and Brecht to mind, it also has callouts to several other musicals and parodies the Broadway musical art form itself.
What is Urinetown you might ask? SCP pulled together a little commercial with the hero of the story, Bobby Strong (Steve Roma), and an inquisitive Little Sally (Becca Euchler) to answer that question:
The story deals with a dusty town suffering from a 20-year drought. Severe measures have been put in place such that private bathrooms have been eliminated, and people are forced to pay for the privilege to take care of their most personal daily needs. Needless to say, this causes unrest and discontent in this dystopian environment, and a hero emerges to try to rectify things for the people.
Director Thomas Times, adds another layer to the concept by setting the story in the not-too-distant future (19 years hence) in East Palo Alto, an area that knows something about droughts and social separation. Times talks about his vision for the show in this Peninsula Backstage installment:
While this sounds like a very dark story, there’s plenty of humor and breaking of the fourth wall.
The Urinetown cast is ready for an audience and is guaranteed to make folks laugh, cry, and sit on the edge of their seats as they watch the story unfold. While the plot is driven by the principals (who are all standout performers in this one), the ensemble is very important. Many in the cast have studied this show extensively, and they surprised vocal director Juanita Harris with how quickly they learned the complex music in rehearsal, doing so much more quickly than is often seen at the community theater level. They also have been dazzling Derrick Contreras with their execution of his athletic choreography on the road to opening.
Ande Jacobson’s orchestra for Urinetown is small, only five players.
- Keyboard: Val Zvinyatskovsky;
- Bass: Greg Goebel;
- Percussion: Peter Wallack;
- Brass (trombone, euphonium): Jason Loveman;
- Woodwinds (clarinet/bass clarinet/soprano sax/alto sax – 1 per performance): Jordan Selburn, Kathy Switky (backup), Mark Beyer (rehearsal sub).
While most of the players are adults and are very experienced in the orchestra pits around the Bay Area, one player is enjoying his first pit experience with this show. Keyboard player Val Zvinyatskovsky is only 13 years old. While he’s an experienced and gifted actor having performed in over 20 musical theater productions with a number of the local youth theater groups in the area, his instrumental pursuits have been of a more personal nature to date. He is an accomplished pianist having begun his piano studies at the tender age of four. He has also done a bit of composition along the way. He hopes to eventually pursue a career in the arts, and he is up to the challenge of playing keyboard in the Urinetown pit in the first of many theater orchestras going forward. His big dilemma will be whether to be on stage, or under it for each of his future productions.
The artistic staff includes:
- Director: Thomas Times;
- Assistant Director: Kyle Dayrit
- Choreographer: Derrick Contreras;
- Vocal Director: Juanita Harris;
- Music Director: Ande Jacobson.
For the full staff list, see: Urinetown staff.
Tickets are available online through the Sunnyvale Community Players website or by phone at 408-733-6611. The show runs Thursdays – Sundays, 26 October through 10 November 2019. Use the code “Plunger” for a nice discount on your tickets through the end of the run. If you want an even larger discount, use discount code “TLKBCK” for the Sunday, 27 October performance only, and stay for the bonus talkback after the show.
Performances are at the Sunnyvale Community Theatre located at: 550 E. Remington Dr., Sunnyvale CA 94087.
Please join Sunnyvale Community Players for this production. You will be glad you did. Due to some intense satirical content, this show is not suitable for very young children.
(Photos and videos courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)
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Tabard Theatre Company opens its New Beginnings season on Friday, 13 September 2019 with the west coast premiere of Sherlock Holmes & the Mystery of the Crown Jewel. It’s a big story with all lots of charm and plenty of twists and turns as would be expected in a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The show’s book, music, and lyrics were written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. The playwrights have woven several clever callouts to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s source material as their tantalizing musical mystery showcases characters both familiar and new in a family-friendly story that will delight audiences of all ages. Continue reading
Sunnyvale Community Players (SCP) is beginning an explosive new season guaranteed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. To open the season, SCP is presenting an innovative production of Jekyll & Hyde. With music by Frank Wildhorn; lyrics by Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden; and book by Bricusse. The show is a musical horror-drama that’s loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story entitled The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The show made it to Broadway in 1997 following its world premiere in Houston, Texas and a national tune-up tour. The show enjoyed several subsequent tours, and a Broadway revival in 2013. Since its Broadway debut, the story has remained consistent, but the music has evolved with various songs being altered or replaced in the revival and subsequent tours.
The story follows Dr. Henry Jekyll, a London physician intent on finding a way to control the beast within everyone. He’s motivated by a personal tragedy, his father’s descent into madness. After being rebuffed by the authorities when he asks for permission to test his formula on a human subject, he continues his work using himself as his test subject, and the rest as they say is history. He effectively splits in two with Edward Hyde emerging to wreak havoc on the streets of London, and over time, Jekyll becomes unable to contain the Hyde within him. Of course there’s more to it than that. There’s the love story, there’s the friendship being tested, and there’s the schism between rich and poor throughout the city. There’s also a lot of mayhem. It’s a dark, yet thought-provoking story. Continue reading
Alex and Rowan Jeffries shared much in life. Being fraternal twins, that sharing started with their birthday. They didn’t share a room growing up, as their parents didn’t think that it proper for a girl and a boy to do so long term. From the time they were out of their cribs, they enjoyed their own bedrooms, independent sanctuaries to pursue their private thoughts wherever those took them. Even though they didn’t share a room growing up, they were very close. Now in their late 40s and well-established in their careers in academia with full professorships in their respective fields at the same university, Alex in biochemistry and Rowan in music, they shared a house. The twins lost their parents in an unfortunate accident when they were finishing up their graduate studies. Since then, they had relied on one another as their only remaining family. Neither Alex nor Rowan had ever been married. They each had broad circles of friends, but neither had time nor interest to seriously pursue any romantic entanglements. They lived in an expensive area, and while neither felt comfortable taking on the cost and burdens of home ownership alone, together they had no qualms. And of course they still had their own rooms. Their house started with four bedrooms including only one master suite. They’d converted a second bedroom into another master bedroom suite by building onto the house a bit to enlarge the closets and add a private bathroom, so in the end, they each had their own suite. One of the remaining bedrooms was their shared office, and the last was their guest room for those rare occasions when they had a visitor or two staying with them. They also had a number of musical instruments including a baby grand piano and an electric piano in their living room. Although only Rowan pursued music as a career, they both grew up playing the piano as well as a few other instruments each, and their parents had instilled in them the attitude that a house was not a home without a piano, so they kept that tradition alive. Continue reading
By Ande Jacobson
Sometimes a show touches you in ways that you don’t really expect going in. My recent run of The Will Rogers Follies was such a show. I wrote a previous commentary/promotional article chronicling the journey to opening from the pit’s perspective, and the music was both challenging and very rewarding to play, but the show became so much more than any one piece of the production. The run finished several weeks ago. Still, the story continues to linger in my mind as I contemplate how things could be if more people held attitudes like Will Rogers. The show is a musical with book by Peter Stone, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and opened on Broadway in May 1991. The story, told by the title character, takes a biographical look at the life and times of Will Rogers via musical acts, conversations, and monologues that contain many quotes from Rogers’ actual speeches and writings. Rogers was known as an entertainer and humorist, but more than that, he was a keen observer of people. He had an almost unheard of talent for poking fun, even at controversial subjects, without offending anyone. He’s also very well-known for stating that he never met a man he didn’t like. Continue reading