Urinetown, is it satire or a look ahead?

By Ande Jacobson

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.

The instrumentalists include:

  • 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.


References:
Urinetown: The Musical (script)
Urinetown The Musical (cast recording)
Urinetown: Vocal Selections

(Photos and videos courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)


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Find out what’s behind the facade

By Ande Jacobson

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

‘The Wiz’ pit chronicles

By Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players (SCP) opened The Wiz on Saturday, 27 April and continues Thursdays – Sundays through 19 May 2019. This closing production of its 50th season has become a quick crowd favorite for many reasons such as its stellar cast, impressive technology incorporated into the show, and of course the orchestra. With many musicals, the orchestra, while certainly not incidental, is often unnoticed. This time, music director and co-producer Kevin Surace has recreated the power of the Broadway arrangement with a 23-piece instrumental ensemble. Due to the cozy performance space and the equally cozy pit, his orchestra is spread across multiple locations in the theater as the pit cannot contain it. As a result, the music wafting through the facility is noticed in a very good way. Great care has been taken to individually mic each player and balance the entire ensemble to achieve a smooth, powerful sound. This article discusses how we got there, and what it’s like in the pit for The Wiz. Continue reading

‘The Wiz’ will make the finale to SCP’s 50th season sparkle

By Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players (SCP) is pulling out all the stops to close its 50th season. In honor of this auspicious occasion, SCP is mounting a massive production of The Wiz running from 27 April through 19 May 2019. The show isn’t often done, though it tells a familiar story that L. Frank Baum first wrote in 1900 in his children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There have been numerous treatments of his story in film, on stage, and even in print since then, but The Wiz is unique. It is the MoTown version of the story first seen in Maryland in 1974. It took its place on Broadway in 1975, and since then has enjoyed numerous revivals in Europe and the U.S. showcasing African-American culture. It follows the tale of friendship and hope, featuring Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, and of course the illustrious Wiz. The good and bad witches from the original story also make their presence known. There are even flying monkeys. What’s different? The music. The tone. The energy. Continue reading

‘Fiddler’ 2017 breaks all SCP records – L’Chaim!

By Ande Jacobson

This run just keeps surpassing itself. The Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof continues to receive not one, but two standing ovations every performance, and as of 29 September 2017 (one quarter of the way through its penultimate weekend), the run completely sold out. As written in the background pieces – promising cheers and tears, tech week chronicles from the pit, and why his run – this production means a great deal to everyone involved with the show. Rather than rehashing the background already discussed at length, this article attempts to provide some more video insights into this heartfelt journey. Continue reading

SCP’s ‘Fiddler’ 2017 – why this run

By Ande Jacobson

Half-way through, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof continues to receive not one, but two standing ovations every performance. Not only that, each and every performance of the first two weekends has drawn sold-out houses. Beyond those inside the theatre, many times lines of hopeful patrons formed hoping to take the seats for any no-shows. Tickets for the remaining two weekends (eight performances) are selling quickly.

There is a lot to love about this production for both performers and audience members alike. The story is as applicable now as it was in the period depicted talking about traditions, and dealing with the challenges of a changing world. As I wrote in my background pieces promising cheers and tears and tech week chronicles from the pit, this production means a great deal to all of us involved with the show, and for one of our dearest, it is the fulfillment of a life’s dream. This is also the biggest production SCP has ever mounted in several respects including its 38-member cast and its full 25-piece orchestra with every instrument on its own mic. And those spontaneous standing ovations at two separate times every show are unprecedented for a SCP production.

The story contains several vivacious moments, as well as some somber reflection as shown in the following tech week video samples.

 

As for the life’s dream, the special video below is from early in tech week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from a recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. The recording session was part of an interview for a major national magazine. This Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof and was broken up to cover the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We perform this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment featuring Eric Sun as he achieves a major life goal playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part. Eric’s virtuosity is impressive, but the thing that makes this production so emotionally charged is that he won’t be around much longer than the show as he is suffering from terminal brain cancer. This run is Eric’s farewell tour. As his final musical act, he will be putting his vintage 1855 Vuillaume violin down after this run to share it with promising young artists through the Eric Sun – Karen Law Vuillaume Fellowship for community-building projects.

 

Like many others in this production, Eric is also an accomplished engineer and worked his way from intern to engineering manager at Facebook picking up several patents along the way. This feature story with NBC Bay Area was filmed the first Sunday of the run, and the piece aired two days later telling how Eric reenergized his music to connect so many others in the community while he still could.

Many of the people involved with this production have done the show before in various capacities, but for all of us, this run is by far the most memorable and poignant, and audiences seem to agree.

The show continues Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Don’t miss this extraordinary production, and get your tickets soon before it’s too late.

Tickets are available online through the Sunnyvale Community Players website or by phone at 408-733-6611.

Performances are at the Sunnyvale Community Center Theater located at: 550 E. Remington Dr., Sunnyvale CA 94087.

References:
Fiddler on the Roof (Special Edition) by MGM (Video & DVD)
Fiddler on the Roof: Based on Sholom Aleichem’s Stories
Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Fiddler on the Roof: Vocal Selections
Tevye’s Daughters: Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories (Library of Yiddish classics) by Sholom Aleichem
Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
 

 (Photos and videos courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)

SCP’s ‘Fiddler’ 2017 Tech Week Chronicles from the pit

By Ande Jacobson

Starting at the end of this story, on opening night, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof received not one, but two standing ovations! Needless to say, all the hard work over the many months, and especially this final week, Tech Week, paid off. This last week was a doozy, but we not only survived, we thrived, and the show runs at the Sunnyvale Theater Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Now on to the focus of this article, the path through our final week of rehearsals from the pit.

Tech Week, or more colloquially, Hell Week, is always an adventure in the theatre, particularly for musical theatre. Tech Week is that last week leading up to opening night when all the elements are combined, both technical and artistic, which in the case of a musical also includes the music itself. Everything that can go wrong often does, but somehow, magically, it all works by the time the last element is added – the audience. Fiddler on the Roof is a big show, and this Sunnyvale Community Players production includes a cast of 38 (with around 20 of them wearing individual mics) and a full 25-piece orchestra (with every instrument on its own mic) covering every part in the licensed orchestration. By the time we arrived at the first day of tech, the cast had been rehearsing for two months, and two sitzprobes with cast and orchestra together had been conducted.

The video below is a sample from early in the week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from our recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. Note that this Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof covering the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We will be performing this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment, featuring Eric Sun playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part:

Continue reading

SCP’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ promises cheers and tears – opens 16 September 2017

By Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players’ production of Fiddler on the Roof is going to delight audiences in ways that no previous Fiddler production has. The well-known story is based on the works of Sholom Aleichem, often called the Jewish Mark Twain. Playwright Joseph Stein collaborated with composer Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick to create a captivating presentation of the lives of the people of Anatevka, a little village in Czarist Russia in the early 20th Century. Its themes of tradition vs. change, family, and community are timeless, and given the current state of the world today, they are especially timely. This Broadway favorite first hit the stage in 1964, became a highly acclaimed feature film in 1971, and is beloved the world over. Continue reading

“Shrek” – an ogre’s fairytale at SCP (opens 24 February)

shrek-bannerBy Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players’ junior production this year is Shrek the Musical. This is the full stage-version based on the 2001 DreamWorks animated film and the 1990 book by William Steig. There have been some subtle (and a few not-so-subtle) changes since the show’s initial Broadway release, but the story is still intact, and it’s a slightly twisted magical prince/princess kind of story with a happy ending and a rockin’ score. Continue reading

Solve “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at SCP

drood-sceneBy Ande Jacobson

Sunnyvale Community Players concludes its 45th season with The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This musical, written entirely by Rupert Holmes, turns the unfinished Dickens story of the young Edwin Drood on its head. From the time they walk into the theatre, the audience members will be invited to join in the fun as the Music Hall Royale tells the tale as a play within a play. Dickens never finished his novel because he had the audacity to die prior to penning an ending. As such, the company members can only go so far with the story on their own. Every performance, the company will ask the audience to vote on a variety of important plot points such as determining the identity of a detective who shows up in Act 2. They’ll also be asked to identify the murderer, because let’s face it, a mystery just isn’t worth its salt without a murderer. Finally, there will be one other outcome on which to vote, but you’ll have to come see the show to find out what. Continue reading