Monthly Archives: April 2016

‘The Little Mermaid’ Makes a Splash at Spreckels

Review of Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Book by Doug Wright
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Michella Snider

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

RUN: April 29 – May 22, 2016
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(April 29, 2016)

The Little Mermaid Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

The Little Mermaid is a splashy spectacle of lighthearted melodies and true love, based on the Disney film. While this production is colorful and lively, keeping the smallest audience members enraptured, its origins are far darker. Hans Christian Anderson wrote the story out of heartbreak, when the man he loved was married, leaving Anderson alone and grief stricken. The little mermaid is given the choice of death or slaying the prince to receive her tail back. In an act of self sacrifice and love, she tosses the dagger into the sea, throwing herself in after it to perish, while the prince happily sleeps beside his beautiful human wife. There is no trace of the anguished original tale; Spreckels’ production is a fun and lively coming of age story that warms the heart.

From flirty mermaids in sparkling fins to extensive wirework, a production of this scale requires countless parts to move in harmony. The result is a vibrant display, such as the Under the Sea extravaganza musical number. Lighting designer Eddy Hansen worked wonders, bringing characters to life and transitioning between locations with ease. Costume designer Pamela Enz outdid herself with varied but unified creations. Abstract kelp patterns and jellyfish brought the sea to life onstage. Their choreography, by Michella Snider, mimicked gentle rippling water without becoming distracting as a background. Putting the voice talents of the cast to good use was musical director Tina Lloyd Meals, with the memorable She’s in Love, Positoovity, and Kiss the Girl.

The Little Mermaid Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Dominating the stage in true kingly fashion was Steven Kent Barker as Triton. A lost father grieving for his wife, Triton covers up his uncertainty with booming pronouncements, realizing in the end that family is what truly matters. Her sweet voice capturing a love-sick, petulant teenager, Julianne Thompson Bretan was a delightful Ariel. Her Prince Eric (Jacob Bronson) portrayed an equally naïve romantic, creating the perfect fairy tale couple.

It was Robert Finney as Sebastian whose exuberant personality was as wide as the ocean in an impressive Spreckels debut. His comedic interludes with Chef Louis (Jeremy Berrick) had the audience in stitches. Equally impressive was Fernando Siu as Flounder, who took to the half roller-skates like a fish to water, gliding in perfect comfort about the stage. His adorable crush on Ariel was well-played, and gave me new appreciation of the role. Sean O’Brien’s Scuttle was brief but amusing as he flapped about, consumed with self-importance. Mary Gannon Graham as Ursula belted out Poor Unfortunate Souls with enthusiasm, relishing her evil role, in a stunning squid inspired skirt.

The Little Mermaid Spreckels Rohnert Park

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Spreckels’ The Little Mermaid is a marvelous opportunity to introduce children to live theater. It is an enchanting vision of the world, with a magical orchestra, dazzling underwater pageant, and picturesque finale. Sell your soul to the sea witch if you have to, but swim over to Spreckels’ before this show closes.

‘All My Sons’ in Healdsburg

Review of All My Sons
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Carl Hamilton
For tickets / schedule :
Raven Performing Arts Theater, Healdsburg

RUN: April 8 – 24, 2016
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(April 8, 2016)

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography

Photo by Ray Mabry Photography

The award winning All My Sons premiered on Broadway in 1947, and has been adapted to the silver screen upon several occasions. Playwright Arthur Miller was facing a bleak future coming off the failed The Man Who Had All the Luck, and had yet to achieve his masterpiece Death of a Salesman. Inspired by the story of Wright company’s Lockland plant, which came under investigation by the Truman Committee for shipping faulty aircraft engines, the action centers around Joe Keller (Steve Thorpe) and how far he is willing to go in the name of family.

We do not feel the acute rage of a 1940s audience upon hearing of the deaths caused by Keller’s compromise, but making business decisions based on outside pressure, financial distress, and for the sake of family are relevant today, as is the terrible inhumanity caused by putting money first. It is easy to explain away and selfishly justify actions that will harm others when they are not right before us, but in the end, every person is a son or daughter. All My Sons is a heartbreaking story of families so focused on what is best for them individually, that they are blinded to the world until rudely confronted by it.

While most of the cast are exuberant but inexpert—difficult to hear and self conscious—there are standouts that gave life to the production. Steve Thorpe is Joe Keller in the flesh, a comfortable businessman who can be a tease, and is genuinely incapable of understanding why his decisions are wrong. Thorpe gives depth to an otherwise dislikeable character using his disarming charm. Portraying his son Chris is Jeremy Boucher, a regular guy who is realistically in love, not overdoing the infatuation. His abilities come into focus during the violent second act, when he is consumed with anger, but manages to keep it under control as Chris Keller would do. Angela Squire’s Ann Deever is bubbly and sweet-tempered, yet able to hold her own in a dispute.

Despite tenuous production values, Arthur Miller’s aptitude with the spoken word shines through, supported by a core of dedicated actors. While not a memorable All My Sons, the Raven Players tackle the difficult play with enthusiasm. Director Carl Hamilton’s talent for blocking is to be commended. There was an offset symmetry to the emotionally charged scenes that was augmented by triangle and trailing formations that brought out the best of Arthur Miller’s language.

‘Three Viewings’ in Unique Venue

Review of Three Viewings
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Diane Bailey
For tickets / schedule :
Church of One Tree, Santa Rosa, CA
Theatre Anew

RUN: April 1 – 16, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(April 2, 2016)

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Theatre Anew is driven by a need to present plays in unique environments inspired by the intended settings. Since Three Viewings takes place in a small chapel, they are presenting it in Santa Rosa’s historic Church of the One Tree. Built in 1873, it has a lovely quiet feel inside with nature based stained glass depictions of forests and flora. The set is a comfortable settee with flower arrangements that rotate in color based on the three stories—red for the passionate Tell-Tale, white for mournful Thief of Tears, and yellow depicting a wave of hope in Thirteen Things About Ed Carpolotti.

Because of its nature as a series of monologues, the actors have full responsibility for the success of each story, inspired by the playwright’s conversations with funeral directors, a fascination that began with his father’s death. Three Viewings premiered in 1995, and this production is set during that time period, evident in the costume design.

Tell-Tale was influenced by Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, and is a painfully accurate depiction of unrequited love. Steven David Martin as Emil is spectacular—his deep love is so palpable on stage that it brings to life the woman he speaks of without her ever appearing. We feel his exhilaration and defeat, and a difficult monologue expands with fervent desire.

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Photo by Michael Mingoia

Sandra Ish as the complex woman Mac in Thief of Tears sparkles like the diamonds her character lusts for. On the surface, Mac is a superficial gold digger who cares for no one, but when she goes for the big score at her grandmother’s funeral, the façade cracks, revealing an ocean of anguish beneath.

In the final monologue, Virginia (Diane Bailey) struggles under the weight of debtors left behind by her husband’s thoughtless business dealings. While the intense makeup was a distraction at first, Bailey’s depiction of the artless housewife coming to grips with a life crashing around her was moving and especially tragic to a generation looking toward a future where retirement is a fairy tale of the past. Virginia’s tearful realization that there might be no house, car, or provision for the end of her life is the cry of so many today, young and old.

Three Viewings is a hidden gem in Santa Rosa, and one not to miss. It is both hopeful and melancholy—an exquisite staging of Jeffrey Hatcher’s play in an apt setting.

« Older Entries