ATNU’s “Children of an Idle Brain” blurs the definition of reality

By Ande Jacobson

Each summer, A Theatre Near You takes an aspiring group of teen actors bent on pursuing careers in theatre or film, sometimes supplemented by a few strategically cast older actors, and presents an original work designed for the cast to experience, explore, and expand their theatrical awareness and depth. This year’s offering, Children of an Idle Brain, takes these eager thespians across the boundary between real and surreal. Playwright Tony Kienitz’s script begs the questions, what is reality? Are dreams real? Can one trust their perceptions? And finally, is there any crossover between one’s dreams and one’s waking life? Continue reading

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“Finks” shows how one famous family survived McCarthyism

By Ande Jacobson

TheatreWorks’ current offering is a riveting family history reaching back into one of the darkest times in living memory. Playwright Joe Gilford, son of Jack and Madeline Gilford, tells his parents’ harrowing tale through his 2013 play, Finks, currently on stage at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. His parents, like many of their friends in the entertainment industry, were brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to testify in the early 1950s. They were bullied by the committee in an attempt to get them to turn on, or “fink” on their friends and loved ones as many in the industry did to reclaim their careers after being blacklisted for holding “subversive” beliefs. Those subversive beliefs were what today would be considered pro-labor or progressive. Continue reading

PYT’s Joseph will rock the MVCPA this May

By Ande Jacobson

Peninsula Youth Theatre’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will rock the Mountain View CPA this May. This family-friendly favorite opens on 12 May 2018 and runs through the 20th. This Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice collaboration has the distinction of being their first musical to be performed publicly. The show started its evolution as a school concert piece in 1968. A Decca Records release followed in 1969, and then in 1970, the first stage production appeared. The first West End production debuted in 1973, and it finally hit the Broadway stage in 1982. Since then, the show has been revived multiple times though it’s still a very tight rock opera telling the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. The show runs just under 90s minutes (including intermission).

Director/choreographer Marcie Shapiro and music/vocal director Steve Shapiro have shaped two very enthusiastic casts to bring their vision to life. The Shapiros have been heavily involved in community theatre and youth theatre in the area. They have a great affinity for inspiring these young actors (aged 8-18) to tell the story with confidence and verve and to execute some very challenging choreography with energy and precision. Some big messages in this show are the importance of community, believing in one’s self, and making one’s dreams come true.

The Shapiros have some powerful experience with the messages in this story, and they have incorporated an adoring tribute to Eric Sun in this PYT production. Eric brought a vast community together last fall as he fulfilled a final life dream in a recent local production of Fiddler on the Roof. The Shapiros collaborated on that show as well, and although it was not specifically a youth theatre production, several Joseph cast members were also in the Fiddler cast. The story in Joseph begins in a schoolroom. The Shapiros have named the school SunDream Elementary in loving memory of this inspiring man and all that he brought to the community.

While most of the music from Joseph isn’t particularly well-known outside of the show, it is catchy and uplifting. It’s a combination of pop and rock with a little jazz thrown in for good measure.

There will be no A Good Reed Review review of this one as yours truly will be in the pit playing in band. The musicians include:

  • Bass: Andrew Lawrence;
  • Cello: Rob Gloster;
  • Drums: Jeff Baker;
  • Horn: Jerry Simon;
  • Keyboards: Steve Shapiro (keyboard/conductor), Doug Forsythe;
  • Percussion: Bob Wylie;
  • Trumpet: Ken Thomas;
  • Woodwinds (two per performance): Ande Jacobson, Asa Stern, Ron Bowman.

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: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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

When: 12-20 May 2018, see: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at PYT for more information.


Additional references:

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Cast Recording)
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (DVD)


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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