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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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

‘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

“Good fences make good friends” in TheatreWorks’ ‘Native Gardens’

By Ande Jacobson

The regional premiere of a crisp, new Karen Zacarías play is the latest TheatreWorks production. Native Gardens is a very topical take on just what it means to be a good neighbor when a young couple moves into an old, established Washington, DC neighborhood. This tight, 90 minute production, presented without intermission, covers many of the issues facing the U.S. today through an extended interaction between neighbors starting with the best of intentions. Initially welcoming and friendly, the old neighbors meet the new neighbors. Over the course of the play, an intense backyard drama ensues over the position of the fence dividing the two properties. The dispute takes on monumental proportions and serves as a microcosm of the country, and perhaps even the world at large as the Butleys fight for the status quo on their side of the fence, while the Del Valles challenge their long-held views of their neighborhood, their culture, and their property’s borders. The story is at turns gentle, humorous, contentious, and thought-provoking, challenging audiences to perhaps consider a neighborly border dispute in a new light. Zacarías penned the story in 2015, and it has increased in its societal relevance ever since. Continue reading

Stanford Rep celebrates female ingenuity strikingly combining Euripides’ ‘Hecuba’ and ‘Helen’

By Ande Jacobson

This summer, Stanford Repertory Theater’s festival is aptly entitled Nevertheless They Persisted in tribute to the strength and perseverance of women throughout history striving to overcome oppression. Rush Rehm again helms the live theatrical portion of the festival, directing a work that he and Courtney Walsh (the star of the production) adapted and combined from two of Euripides’ plays, Hecuba and Helen. This new adaptation, Hecuba/Helen, is presented in two acts running approximately two hours including a short intermission. Rehm, a professor of Theater and Classics, has long noted the relevance and value of Greek tragedies, and through a stroke of inspiration pursued combining these two stories of strong women from a time and patriarchal culture when women had no official power. He sees many lessons for today’s societal turmoil in these ancient writings and is excited to bring this adaptation to Stanford Rep audiences. In his program note, Rehm reveals the relevance of Euripides’ writings from a societal perspective:

“Disturbing and terrible, recognizable and even funny, Euripides’ plays have much to offer us – a society that aggressively denies its own obvious limitations and has so little interest in the lessons of the past.”

Continue reading

‘The Sound of Music’ is enthralling audiences at FMT this summer

By Ande Jacobson

This year, Foothill Music Theatre (FMT) is presenting that long-time family favorite, The Sound of Music. The show, with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, made its Broadway debut in 1959 with Mary Martin heading the cast as Maria. Today, far more people are familiar with the 1965 film version of the show as they picture Julie Andrews singing at the top of her lungs while running around an enchanting Alpine meadow. There’s a lot to love about The Sound of Music, and it has made the stage rounds in regional, community, and scholastic theaters for decades. The music is familiar to theater-goers young and old, and the story is touching with more than a hint of danger, a danger that has recently become all too recognizable. Long time standards from the show (and the movie) include “Edelweiss”, “My Favorite Things”, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “Do-Re-Mi”, and the title song, “The Sound of Music”. There are a number of lesser known songs as well. The stage version has a few songs that were not in the movie and vice versa. FMT’s production keeps the best songs unique to the stage version, and adds a couple written for the movie to make the show more familiar to newer audiences. Continue reading

‘Homo Deus’ – will AIs replace Homo sapiens?

By Ande Jacobson

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, is the second, recent, international best seller by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. In it, Harari draws heavily on his previous book (also an international best seller) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In fact, Homo Deus can stand alone and give the reader a nice synopsis of the earlier work. Harari compresses his previous book’s crucial concepts about the various developmental revolutions that humanity has weathered into half as many pages before broadening those concepts and presenting some possibilities of where humankind might be headed in the twenty-first century and beyond. Homo Deus was first published in an Israeli Hebrew edition in 2015. The first English translation appeared in the UK in 2016, and it finally made it to the United States market in 2017. As of spring 2018, it has been translated (in order) into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Croatian, Italian, Korean, French, Norwegian, Greek, Czech, Lithuanian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian. While it hasn’t quite caught up to the 45 languages Harari’s earlier work has so far appeared in, this latest book is well on its way. Continue reading