Monthly Archives: August 2014

Consider Yourself At Home With ‘Oliver!’

By Lionel Bart
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Janis Wilson
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: August 15-31, 2014
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(August 22, 2014)

Based loosely on Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, and first premiering in 1960, Oliver! follows a young orphan caught in circumstances he cannot control, filled with laughter, misadventures, pain, and horror.

oliver-spreckels-theatre-2014-nancy-ensembleThis delightful musical opens with the comedic duo of Abby Chambers as Widow Corney and Sean O’Brien as Mr. Bumble, who use their sense of timing and strong, operatic voices to amusing effect, turning otherwise ne’er-do-well characters into beloved favorites within minutes. They are succeeded by the equally talented Peter Warden as Mr. Sowerberry, whose expressive movement reminded me of Mark Gatiss.

Bridging comedy and drama, Tim Setzer’s Fagin gave the impression of a conflicted villain with his own agenda, yet truly fond of the orphans under his care. His portrayal evoked both laughter and pity, especially in “Pick a Pocket or Two” and “Reviewing the Situation”, examples of the fine staging of director Gene Abravaya. Fagin’s partner in crime, newcomer Zachary Hasbany as Bill Sykes, looms over the stage with sinister majesty. Kelly Brandeburg’s Nancy is coquettish, yet tragic in her misplaced affections. She has a mesmerizing stage presence and lovely voice, carrying the role with ease. Most memorable of Fagin’s gang is Ari Vozaitis as the Artful Dodger, whose sauntering strut and kindly intentions warm the heart. Vozaitis becomes the Dodger with his whole being, a difficult feat for actors his age, who are often self-conscious.

oliver-spreckels-theatre-2014-nancyIn the melancholic Act Two, Eddy Hansen’s lighting design takes on a somber blue and gold filled with atmospheric London fog casting silhouettes reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes across the stage. The Paradyne projection system, developed by Spreckels Performing Arts Center, is used to great effect, causing many an “ooh” and “aah” from the audience, while at other moments the combination of still images and animation subtly enhance the story depicting scenes of Victorian London.

The brilliant set design by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano evokes the feel of a lavish production of La Bohème, offsetting the rather whimsical interpretation of Victorian era costumes and wigs, which were the only major flaw of the production.

Michella Snider’s dance choreography is light-hearted and uses the actors’ abilities to good effect, showcasing simple, yet effective crowd-pleasing steps. I was especially impressed with some of the children in the Spreckels Summer Youth Workshop, who demonstrated confidence and poise.

If you enjoy musical theatre, Dickens Fair, a good comedy, or all three, Oliver! is an entertaining evening for the whole family. “Consider yourself at home” with Spreckels Theatre Company.

‘Romeo & Juliet’ Comedy or Tragedy?

romeo-juliet-marin-shakespeare-2014ROMEO & JULIET
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Lesley Schisgall Currier
For tickets / schedule :
Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California

RUN: July 26 – September 28, 2014
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(August 17, 2014)

Possibly the most famous and lyrically poetical of Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo & Juliet has been seen in many forms. From high school stages to the sweeping musical masterpiece West Side Story, the tale has been spun in all sorts of depictions in the theatre. Marin Shakespeare’s production brings an Elizabethan simplicity to the play, mingling the bawdy comedic elements with darker emotional aspects of The Bard’s genius. Costume Designer Abra Berman and Set Designer Jackson Currier have created a stark palette of white and black, reminiscent of a chessboard, with silver greys gradiating in between, a visual depiction of the play’s themes. I have seen all sorts of color schemes used in conjunction with Romeo & Juliet before, but none struck me with such force as this one in its powerful simplicity.

The acting is the highest quality I have seen from Marin Shakespeare in several years—the entire cast pulls their weight, fully invested in their roles. Even Lady Montague (Catherine Ostler Bearden) who says barely a word, drew me into her character to the point where I felt sorry to hear she had died. Her counterpart Lady Capulet (Marcia Pizzo) marched through with the elegant disgust of Cersei Lannister, with an equal affinity for a cup of wine. Boistrous Mercutio (Jackson Currier) captured the audience with his antics, and equally so all the young men in the production. Bearing up the comedy on the female side was Juliet’s Nurse (Debi Durst) whose portrayal of a beloved friend who talks rather too much was spot on. Indeed, one of the refreshing things about the production is not shying away from bringing out the comedy. All too often, Romeo & Juliet is portrayed as a tragedy from beginning to end, whereas Marin Shakespeare’s production was closer to the feel of Guardians of the Galaxy, with a mix of action and comedy mingled with heartbreak and sorrow.

romeo juliet marin shakespeare swordfightMost impressive was Jake Murphy as Romeo, who managed to catch the passionate emotions of youth with genuine fervor, yet without going too over the top, so the effect was believable. As Friar Lawrence (Julian Lopez-Morillas) questioned him regarding the sudden switch from Rosaline to Juliet, Murphy’s protests of true love seemed absolutely truthful. The only moment that could use some tightening up was his first meeting with Juliet, where he stumbles over the lines, no doubt to seem like a tongue-tied teenager, but the result only sounds like he is forgetting a cue, rather than being a nervous lover. Luisa Frasconi’s Juliet is shrill and flamboyant, but ultimately works as an excited teenage girl. She manages to keep an innocence about her that is lost only as she sees her beloved Romeo lying dead across her knees.

Marin Shakespeare’s production is fun and energetic, with a clean production design that is a cross between Elizabethan, Victorian, and Goth. If you enjoy great poetry and an interactive evening similar to what being at the Globe might have been like, bring a picnic basket and head for Forest Meadows before the play’s run is over.