Monthly Archives: October 2015

‘Into the Woods’ in Novato

Review of Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Kim Bromley
Musical Direction by Andrew Klein and Debra Chambliss
Choreography by Alison Peltz
For tickets / schedule :
www.novatotheatercompany.org
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company & Theatre-at-Large

RUN: October 23 – November 22, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(October 23, 2015)

Novato Theater Company Into the Woods

Photo by Jon Bretan

A Tony Award winning musical that premiered on Broadway in 1987, Into the Woods was recently adapted to film in 2014. Like Once Upon a Time, the musical is a “what if?” combination of fairy tale characters interacting with each other. It can be enjoyed on a variety of levels, from child-like fun of seeing Cinderella and Rapunzel to deep psychological concerns. The book and lyrics are rich with thought-provoking moments; a person who is nice might not be good, being charming does not mean sincerity. Characters struggle to find their happy endings in Act 1 only to find them destroyed in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Act 2, partly due to their own selfishness. An overall theme of the musical is that after going through nightmares and idealized dreams, perhaps the best place to be is in between.

I grew up with fairy tales like everyone else, but not the Disney ones. I heard the older versions, mostly from Andrew Lang, where characters were rolled down the hill in spiked barrels, toes and fingers were routinely sliced off, and violent endings were the norm. Into the Woods captures the feeling of those tales; the body count is high and Cinderella’s shoes are soaked in blood. The story faces life’s difficulties head on, without sugar coating, like those early tales. Novato Theater Company brings that world into being through David Shirk’s streamlined sets and exquisite costume designs by Janice Deneau and Marie Meier. Attention to detail in this production adds to the ambiance, such as the Steward (Tom Hudgens) giving town crier announcements in place of the usual turn off your cell phones speech.

Novato Theater Company Into the Woods

Photo by Jon Bretan

Music is the primary medium of the story, augmented by strong vocalists in every role. This is a spectacular cast both as a whole and individually embodying their characters. “Stay With Me” is heart-wrenching from Daniela Innocenti Beem (Witch), “On the Steps of the Palace” by Julianne Thompson Bretan (Cinderella) captures the inner turmoil of making a life-changing decision, and Krista Joy Serpa (Little Red Riding Hood) combines comedic skill with sweet singing of an innocent girl trying to find her way. The two princes, Cordell Wesselink (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Anthony Martinez (Cinderella’s Prince) were darkly hilarious in “Agony” and their quests to find love.

Into the Woods considers social responsibility, whether a wish is truly what we want, how to handle sudden loss, what is right and wrong, and discovering who we are as a person through the long tradition of fairy tales. This is a brilliant cast to experience the musical for the first time, or return as an old friend.

Spreckels Shines in ‘The Light in the Piazza’

Review of The Light in the Piazza
Book by Craig Lucas
Music and Lyrics by Adam Guettel
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Diego Garcia
Choreography by Michella Snider

For tickets / schedule :
www.spreckelsonline.com
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company

RUN: October 9 – October 25, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 9, 2015)

Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, who lived in Italy for five years, the story weaves a vivid tapestry of daily life in Florence. The play was first performed in Seattle, and opened on Broadway in 2005. At its center, the drama focuses on the power of motherly love. Margaret Johnson (Eileen Morris) finds the strength to take control of her own life, which allows her to release control over her daughter’s destiny. The staging of this production gives the feel of Renaissance paintings come to life, with ever-moving tableaux scenes and warm simple scenery by Eddy Hansen and Elizabeth Bazzano.

Spreckels The Light in the Piazza 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The music has operatic overtones, but I found it to be pretty without substance most of the time, like icing without enough cake. A notable exception was Dividing Day sung by Eileen Morris. Her performance was awe-inspiring and hauntingly beautiful, questioning how the love of her life had slowly slipped away from her. Despite the subject matter, this musical has a frivolity to it, evidenced in Il Mondo Era Vuoto, sung entirely in Italian, with comedic interactions between the Naccarelli men.

Spreckels The Light in the Piazza 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Throughout the play is a dance motif bringing life to Margaret’s changing emotions regarding her marriage. Unfortunately, despite tolerable partnering skills, Hannah Barton, who represents Margaret’s character, is rather distracting. Her extensions have no energy to them, and her feet flop on the end, rather than pointing—an amateur mistake. Had it not been for the dancing, this would have been a much stronger production.

Spreckels The Light in the Piazza 2015

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Jacob Bronson as Fabrizio Naccarelli was believably in love, with an appealing voice that flowed well with the lyrical music. He and Steven Kent Barker as Signor Naccarelli created comic gold in their relationship. Jennifer Mitchell’s angelic voice brought Clara to life with sweet innocence mingled with abrupt petulance caused by her character’s developmental state. Eileen Morris was spectacular in her range; I enjoyed her asides to the audience, breaking the fourth wall to great effect.

The Light in the Piazza is sweet with a dash of melancholy, exploring the challenges of being a wife and mother. Spreckels brings the lush glow of Italy to Rohnert Park with a touching love story and delightful evening.

Relationships Tested in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

REVIEW OF WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
By Edward Albee, Edited by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Terry McGovern
Ken Bacon Productions and Marin Actors’ Workshop

For tickets / schedule :
kenbaconproductions.com
Belrose Theatre, San Rafael

RUN: October 2 – 24, 2015
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(October 2, 2015)

Who's Afraid of Virgnia Woolf - Ken Bacon San Rafael 2015

Edward Albee’s award-winning play of 1962 premiered at the Billy Rose Theatre on Broadway and is often known for the cinematic adaptation in 1966 with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Facing controversial themes head-on, the play examines pitfalls of marriage and relationships going sour in a post-war era when families were expected to be perfect. Interwoven is the cutthroat world of academic politics, where good people are ignored for favorites, or those seen to have “the stuff” by those in power. Terry McGovern navigates a nimble balance of humor and authentic scrutiny of dark subject matter.

Who's Afraid of Virgnia Woolf - Ken Bacon San Rafael 2015

Society is driven by an ever-present influence that changes throughout history. Today it is the smartphone, in the 1970s narcotics were prevalent, and in the early 1960s when this play is set, alcohol controlled social interactions. The director calls it the fifth character in the play; it causes violent mood swings in the characters and a disturbing bluntness to their conversations, striping away the outer mask so many of us wear. There is a sense of masculine entitlement to the play, reflecting its setting; there is no on stage interaction between the women, only mixed or men conversing with each other, which was common in the 1960s. George and Nick comment that they wonder what women talk about when they are alone.

Martha (Molly McCarthy) stumbles and blusters through an alcohol soaked evening with seeming little thought to others, until her inner insecurities are revealed. McCarthy gives a solid performance, perhaps slightly melodramatic, but in the context of the play it works well. Richard Kerrigan (George) portrays the put-upon husband, bitter and passive aggressive in his career disappointments. His mannerisms and physical performance were excellent, although he stumbled on the lines in a manner not entirely in keeping with the intoxication of his character. Georgia Thunes (Honey) gave a flawless impression of the flighty drunk, swinging from silly to morose in between being sick in the powder room. Tulley Rafferty (Nick) was almost frightening, bringing to life a character you love to hate. Eugene DeChristopher’s set design integrated with the eccentric yet cozy Belrose Theatre interior, giving the impression of a well-worn history professor’s home.

Who's Afraid of Virgnia Woolf - Ken Bacon San Rafael 2015

Due to the use of language and mature subject matter, this play is not for young people or family attendance.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? examines the challenges of knowing someone too well for too long, slipping into a rut of insults and animosity, and how easy it is to hate others when the reality is that you despise yourself. It is a modern love story, showing what happens after the Ever After. This production is compelling and heartfelt, well worth a trip to San Rafael.