Monthly Archives: December 2016

‘HOPE’ Filled with Bittersweet Musical Memories

Review of HOPE
By Si Kahn
Directed by Elizabeth Craven
Musical Direction by Jim Peterson and Roxanne Olivia
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol

RUN: December 1-18, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 9, 2016)

HOPE Main Stage West Si Kahn

Photo by Main Stage West

HOPE is an intensely personal memoir of playwright and composer Si Kahn’s family and their journey to America. It meanders in the manner of a relative sharing tales of their youth, lingering here, jumping forward there. Stories are grouped by side of the family—act one ‘Mom’ and act two ‘Pop’. Remembrances are a mix of factual, rather embellished, and completely outrageous. The small cast switches roles frequently, which can cause confusion. One moment they speak in the voice of the writer, the next they take on a variety of characters, real and imagined. A talented group of musicians swap instruments as often as the actors change character, offering sound effects in addition to toe tapping songs and melancholy notes for softer emotions. The musical wanders a great deal, yet never fails to entertain. Elizabeth Craven’s set design of vintage trunks, suitcases, and benches sets the past in a tactile present, emphasizing how vibrant our great-grandparents were in their lives.

John Craven’s Cossack and Shoe Factory Owner demonstrate his comedic range, and he shines in “Crossing the Border”, a combined narrative and song of a soldier trying to flee the horror of war. Mary Gannon Graham’s Angel of Death with a strong Brooklyn accent turns an outlandish tale into comedy gold. Sharia Pierce owns the shoe factory story with a steely glint in her eyes, and continues to draw laughter through her impersonations. Her devotion to the yellow frying pan stands out as particularly well done.

Jim Peterson primarily plays guitar and mandolin, breaking out a trombone for a jazzy number. I rarely tear up at a play, but his tribute to Warsaw Ghetto victims, “Children of Poland”, was quietly heartbreaking, augmented by projected images from historical archives. Tim Sarter and Roxanne Olivia rounded out the musicians; HOPE’s style is primarily folk music, with infusions of gospel and Irish melodies evident in songs like “Dreamers”. It is a mix of standouts, such as the opening “Gone, Gonna Rise Again” and less compelling songs that serve as transitions or general commentary on the dialog.

HOPE follows the dreams and struggles of immigrants longing for a fresh start, passing on family stories of strength and sorrow. Even the playbill becomes part of that sharing, with immigrant backgrounds of the actors instead of the usual biographies. We learn about Pierce’s eccentric and fun Aunt Rose, and Peterson’s father performing in big bands during World War II. HOPE joins us together as a community, looking forward from a foundation of inspiration through our ancestors, with reopened eyes toward the immigrants of today who long for a safe and free country to call home.

A Broadway Christmas in Santa Rosa

Joy to the World Transcendance Theatre

Photo by Ray Mabry

Joy to the World
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Eric Jackson & Roy Lightner
Musical Direction by Matt Smart
Choreography by Roy Lightner and Dylan Smith

For tickets / schedule :
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
Transcendence Theatre Company

RUN: December 2-4, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 2, 2016)

I was introduced to the Transcendence Theatre Company back in 2004, when they were just starting out. The rumors had it that a small group of dancers and singers were trying to do good shows in the Jack London State Historic Park area in Sonoma. Then, in 2015, we went to their “Broadway Under the Stars” show and were amazed at the quality of the production.

This may be the only holiday show you see this year, but it certainly makes the holidays bright with good dancing and songs to charm the coal out of your stockings.

Singers and dancers with Broadway show experience have moved into town and are bringing their talent to Sonoma. Under the able direction of Eric Jackson and Roy Lightner, Transcendence Theatre puts a show together that highlights the music and dancing of these bright actors.

The cast come into a musical dance number for “The Christmas Waltz” right in the beginning, with high energy and (mostly) synchronized joy to warm the audience up. The music is jazz and the dance is modern: straight from Broadway with a simple background of lights and unique costumes to cheer us all, and we are off.

The show numbers alternate from large tap and jazz dancing, to couples talking about the “Twelve Days After Christmas”, to small groups talking and singing of the many parts of the holidays, romantic and mundane. The show is designed to offer variety and fun for all. There are some traditional Christmas numbers with the whole company, but this is Broadway at its best and “The Challahday Song” brings in the best of the Jewish traditional fun of “Fiddler” with Hanukkah overtones to round out the offerings.

Transcendance Theatre Joy to the World

Photo by Ray Mabry

“Joy to the World” finishes the first act with a flourish to include the “fishes in the deep blue sea”, something this reviewer was humming coming into the auditorium in hopeful expectation.

The “Little Drummer Boy” was presented as a full blown tap dance routine in the second act, with backdrop lit with stars and a clear heaven. This was followed by a “Silent Night” with three dancers slowly and quietly following the music with gestures indicating the lyrics in sign language. This juxtaposition of numbers and styles show the youthful imagination and talent of this theatre group.

The New York backgrounds of these dancers come to a head in a full-blown holiday dance line a la “Rockettes” that really rocks. This routine took guts to imagine and skill to pull off with precision, congratulations.

Santa Claus was presented through the eyes of Mrs. Claus, trying to make sure the evening would go smoothly for his journey. His elves came through as well with some quirks of their own. This was a grand introduction to the Season with energy and joy for all, and to all a great night.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. On March 11-12, they will be at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, and on March 18-19, they journey to the Marin Center in San Rafael. They return to their Jack London State Historic Park summer venue on June 16, 2017, with their Another Openin’ Another Show!.

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