A World Without Religion

By Ande Jacobson

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

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‘The Will Rogers Follies’ has staying power

Will Rogers from 1922 / Photo Credit: Google Images

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

FMT presents a breathtaking new look at ‘Cinderella’

By Ande Jacobson

This summer, Foothill Music Theatre (FMT) is presenting the South Bay premiere of an exciting, fresh look at an old rags-to-riches story with its production of Cinderella. It’s still a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical adaptation of the French story, Cendrillon, ou la Petite Pantoufle de Verre, with all of the beloved songs. This 2013 revision finally took the show to Broadway for the first time and includes a modernized book by Douglas Carter Beane to go along with an updated orchestration. The show retains all of the charm and family-friendliness of the original television and Disney animated presentations while the latest changes make it more relevant to 21st century audiences. Continue reading

Playing to live vs. living to play

By Ande Jacobson

In December 2012, I wrote an article about the role of the pit musician in musical theatre. That article was written from a musician’s point of view and focused on the physical environment; equipment; training; mindset of performers who worked in the shadows; versatility that was required of pit musicians; and only mentioned compensation as a cursory aside. This article takes a closer look at the differences between pit musicians who live to play as opposed to those who play to live and discusses the challenges community theaters face with respect to pit musicians. Continue reading

‘The Will Rogers Follies’ pit chronicles in getting to opening

By Ande Jacobson

West Valley Light Opera (affectionately known as WVLO) is presenting a spectacle chronicling the life and times of Will Rogers in its production of The Will Rogers Follies. The show opens on 22 June 2019 and runs through 20 July 2019 at the Saratoga Civic Theater. Will Rogers’ personality comes through in this stage adaptation highlighting the more memorable aspects of his life. Rogers was known for offering his observations from his many travels, and while he poked fun at various controversial topics along the way, he did so gently, offending no one and appealing to people from all walks of life. This production is full of folksy charm, the color and glitz of The Ziegfeld Follies, and of course a smattering of rope tricks. Continue reading

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

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

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