The ‘Shrek’ pit chronicles

By Ande Jacobson

Shrek the Musical is one of those shows that people seem to either love or hate. The story started as a book by William Steig in 1990, became a DreamWorks Animation film in 2001, and finally in December 2008 opened on Broadway as the aforementioned musical. A video of the Broadway production was later released in 2013 on DVD, Blu-ray, and as a digital download. It’s also one of those shows that keeps popping up around the country and around the world in various productions at all levels. Because it features a large cast and is very family friendly, it is a frequent favorite among youth theaters. It also continues to attract adult community theaters and even regional professional companies. Given its ubiquity, one would expect this show to be a perennial crowd favorite, and yet, within the theater community, it evokes strong reactions, both positive and negative. Continue reading

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PYT brings back the not-so-little ogre that could in Shrek

Licensed by MTI.

By Ande Jacobson

It’s time again to visit that loveable band of misfits in a story that turns a well-known fairytale concept upside down. Peninsula Youth Theatre (PYT) is mounting a colorful production of Shrek the Musical based on the 2001 DreamWorks animated film Shrek and the 1990 book Shrek!. The stage version has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, and the show has all the charm of the animated film. Continue reading

Follow Peter Green into AfterLife, his new, “unliving” state of being

By Ande Jacobson

Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is Angelina Allsop’s first published book, initially offered under the title The Dead Orphanage, and it is also the first in her Young Adult (YA), AfterLife fantasy series. The book is filled with Allsop’s unique view of “AfterLife,” as distinguished from “Life.” There are plenty of otherworldly creatures such as werewolves, witches, vampires, poltergeists, skeletons, zombies, and ghosts, as well as a full assortment of “unliving” humans not possessing any special powers when compared to their peers. Of course, all of the unliving can do a few things unheard of in the living world. Continue reading

To rewrite or not to rewrite, that is the question

By Ande Jacobson

As time marches forward, so too does a society’s use of language. Often, texts and artistic works from an earlier time can provide an interesting look into that past’s lexicon. In many ways, they can also provide a view of the social fabric of the societies in which the works originated. Over time, various words either fall out of favor, or take on new or different meanings. Additionally, the sensibilities of cultures also change. When a theater company chooses to mount a production of a work either from the past directly, or one that is based on a work from the past, should they modify the language, and/or characterizations, to conform to the cultural sensitivities of current time? Continue reading

Would you spend the end of the world on Ok Cupid?

By Ande Jacobson

The Pear Theatre shines a unique light on social media with its current production. Since the advent of social media, the psychology world has had a field day running studies that claim to prove exposure to social media increases depression, decreases depression, makes people feel more connected, makes people feel more lonely, etc. In other words, whatever you want to prove, there’s a study out there for you. In 2016, Jeffrey Lo’s new play, Spending the End of the World on Ok Cupid, debuted at Ohlone College where it had been commissioned. The story takes an unusual look at the world of social media, and specifically an application called Ok Cupid (disclaimer from The Pear: “Spending the End of the World on Ok Cupid is not produced or endorsed by, or in any way affiliated with Match Group, LLC, or Humor Rainbow Inc., the exclusive owners of the OKCUPID® trademarks”). The premise is that a modern day prophet predicted the end of the world after he first correctly predicted that half of the world’s population would disappear in an event known as “the vanishing.” With only 12 hours left to exist, disoriented people who’ve lost loved ones and friends to the vanishing take to their phones and computers to create profiles on Ok Cupid. Each is looking to make some kind of connection one last time before whatever is going to happen, happens. Continue reading

‘Frost/Nixon’ – a wily game of cat and mouse at TheatreWorks

By Ande Jacobson

News as entertainment isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, a real-life crime drama took center stage when the Watergate investigation jumped into high gear, ultimately resulting in the first ever resignation of a U.S. President. The crimes took place in the months leading up to the 1972 general election, but the public’s outrage didn’t reach record levels until two years later, when the latest TheatreWorks production’s story begins. The 2006 play, Frost/Nixon, written by Peter Morgan, opens with Nixon’s 8 August 1974 announcement that he would resign. The end of an era perhaps, but the beginning of a great hunger amongst the U.S. public. A hunger that would only be satiated if, and when, President Nixon did three things:

  1. Admit that he committed criminal acts of wrongdoing.
  2. Admit that he abused the power he had as president.
  3. Apologize for the agony that he inflicted upon the American public.

A tall order for a man who famously answered an interview question with “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Of course, in follow-up discussion on that answer, he added that he came to realize that not everyone agreed with him on that particular point. Continue reading

SJ SaxMas is coming to town!

SaxMas for the last time at Vallco in 2017

By Ande Jacobson

For some, the holiday season starts when decorations begin appearing all over town, which these days could happen as early as July. For others, it’s Thanksgiving. That feast signals the start of gatherings with friends, family, colleagues, or even among friendly strangers on the street. For others still, it’s when those ubiquitous brass quintets start playing all over enticing listeners to drop a few cents (or dollars) into their bright red kettles. None of those can hold a candle to the thrill that has enthralled San Jose on the third Saturday of December for over two decades (in 2018, it’s the 15th, the earliest possible date). That fateful day marks the holiday tradition known as the San Jose Saxophone Christmas, or SJ SaxMas for short. This year marks the 25th Annual SJ SaxMas, and it’s set to be the biggest yet. Continue reading

PYT’s Willy Wonka lets the imagination soar

By Ande Jacobson

Although the show has already opened and continues only through the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2018, this isn’t a review. A review wouldn’t be proper given this reviewer is leading the orchestra for PYT’s current production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. This is instead a bit of an introduction, and a notification to not miss a holiday lead-in that will whet the appetite and get audiences into a festive mood in time for Thanksgiving. And of course there is lots of chocolate on stage (in the pit, backstage…).

The story started out as a beloved children’s novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written by British author Roald Dahl in 1964. Children of the 1960’s and 1970’s will likely remember it fondly, with its tale of a magical factory making the most mind-boggling treats imaginable. It is said that Dahl’s personal experience with chocolate companies as a boy inspired the story. In his native England, Cadbury used panels of schoolchildren to test their new creations. In Dahl’s novel, his alter ego, Charlie Bucket, along with four other lucky children including Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee, find the magical golden tickets that give them access to tour Wonka’s factory. Charlie’s Grandpa Joe used to work at that factory until it closed its doors years before. Along the way, before Charlie finds his ticket, Grandpa Joe tells Charlie the most amazing stories from his time there.

In 1971, Dahl’s story reached the big screen in a whimsical film entitled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder as the mysterious and reclusive Willy Wonka. The movie was later adapted for the stage, first in 2004. This original stage production contains elements from both the novel and the film. With permission from the Dahl estate, Tim McDonald and Leslie Bricusse wrote the script. Bricusse also started with the music and lyrics that he and longtime musical collaborator, Anthony Newley, wrote for the film and added some new songs for the stage presentation. Newley was not involved in the stage adaptation as he had died before work began.

There have been later film and stage adaptations entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but PYT’s production is the original Willy Wonka stage version.

Director/choreographer Meg Fischer-Venuti and vocal director Holly Smolik have shaped two very large and enthusiastic casts (actors are ages 8-18) to bring their vision to life with an energy that is contagious. To enhance the visuals, Andrew Breithaupt’s sets, Leonardo Hidalgo’s lighting design, and Char DeRoin’s costumes all combine to titillate the imagination.

The music in this show is also beautiful and very well-orchestrated. The score has most of the music from the original movie, plus some additional charts that were expanded for the stage. Memorable hits include Pure Imagination, several Oompa Loompa songs that get inside your head, Think Positive, and I’ve Got a Golden Ticket. A personal favorite is also I See It All On TV which is kind of an eerie tango.

As previously mentioned, 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, Joel Greene, Rebecca Ritger, Kathy Switky, Bev Hansberry, Jordan Selburn; strings: Jaime Yuen, Ethan Dea, Rob Gloster, Jonathan Erman, Michael Firefly Perry; brass: Susan Schadeck-Chase, Ricky Martinez, Ricky Hall, Jim Deloach, Joe Kelly, Jason Loveman; keyboards: Del Quan, Doug Forsyth; and percussion: Carlos Velascos. Not all musicians will be playing every performance.

This is an imaginative, “feel good” show with a great message, and of course lots of chocolate. Get your tickets now before they are all gone.

What: Roald Dahl’s Willly Wonka

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

When: 10-18 November 2018, see: Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka at PYT for more information.


Additional references:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (book)
Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka (Leslie Bricusse Songbook)


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BayOp shows what can happen when women are pirates and kings

By Ande Jacobson

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance has long been an audience favorite ever since it debuted in New York City in 1879 (just barely). Billed as a comic opera, it’s a little closer in style to our modern Broadway musical format than some of the other works in the Gilbert and Sullivan (G&S) oeuvre. Like much of their work, it pokes fun at 19th Century life, exaggerating stereotypical societal roles and attitudes for the sake of humor. The storyline is typical G&S fare. A young man is accidentally indentured as an apprentice (and accompanied by his nurse) to a pirate instead of a pilot until he reaches his 21st birthday (not to be confused with his 21st year of life). Shortly before his release, he falls instantly in love with the daughter of a Major-General, and the two seem fated to spend the rest of their lives together, that is until a rather unique paradox complicates their lives. Now for the Bay Area Opera Collaborative (BayOp) production, strike that, reverse it (with respect to gender anyway), and you’ll find that all of the humor remains and even grows beyond expectation. Continue reading

‘Tarzan’ swings into Palo Alto in style

By Ande Jacobson

Palo Alto Players’ Tarzan is a Disney favorite suitable for all members of the family. The show is based on the 1999 animated film of the same name, with music and lyrics by Phil Collins and book by David Henry Hwang. The original Broadway show made its debut in 2006 and has delighted audiences worldwide since then. It’s a visually spectacular show with actors singing and swinging across the stage (and over the audience at times). In true Disney form, the heroes and villains loom large, and the story careens through a fairytale sequence of tragedy, joy, suspense, and finally, exuberant triumph in the familiar tale of two worlds colliding in the jungle. Continue reading