Monthly Archives: January 2017

Power and Artifice Thrive in ‘Evita’

Review of Evita
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice

Directed by Lauren Miller
Music Direction by John Partridge
Sonoma Arts Live
For tickets / schedule :
Sonoma Community Center, Sonoma

RUN: January 20 – February 5, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(January 28, 2017)

Evita Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Was Eva Peron a saint of philanthropy who gave hope to a nation, or a corrupt social climber? Both views are explored through memorable music that will keep you humming for days with beloved songs such as “On This Night of A Thousand Stars” and “On The Balcony of The Casa Rosada”. A story that constantly questions itself, as examinations of history should, it does not shy away from the power of a well crafted public image that is designed to manipulate those struggling in poverty—a technique that has been used throughout the world to take control of a country. Hung in the lobby and as a dramatic backdrop, graffiti of Evita and Peronism remind the audience that the president and his wife were admired and despised in Argentina.

Set designer Bruce Lackovic creates a harsh urban environment of primitive scaffolding, keeping the projections as secondary texture, rather than dominating the stage. Occasional use of the levels adds interest, but clambering in and out, ducking under low railings is visually awkward. Music Director John Partridge discovered the synth keyboard languishing in a closet, and brilliantly arranged the score to work with a much smaller core group of musicians. The chorus also faced challenges as the harmony moved from an extensive supporting cast to only four, one of whom was replaced during rehearsals. The energy and concentration that is expended to compensate for the lack of usual chorus adds a touch of unnatural enthusiasm to the diminished cast, who do their best to fill in the gaps.

Evita at Sonoma Arts Live

Photo by Miller Oberlin

Ellen Toscano’s Evita glows with passionate stage presence. Elegantly seductive, she wins the hearts of lovers and audience alike, with explosions of righteous indignation and melting tenderness mingling into the singular woman that was Eva Peron. Robert Dornuss III (Che) is a compelling critical narrator, who shapes the lyrics with clear enunciation and a soothing voice. Michael Conte as Juan Peron and Tod Mostero’s Agustin Magaldi give her strong support with rich tones and poise on stage. The dynamic choreography of Evita is missing in this production, partly due to space considerations, and its lack of presence is felt acutely with the rather stagnant blocking. It is the story and music that form the primary emphasis of this smaller scale adaptation, and they are still a joy to experience on their own. Lauren Miller and Ruth Dunn’s costume designs are an array of glamorous luxury and work attire, standing out in the industrial background for a dramatic effect.

The bewitching magnetism of Evita infuses Sonoma Arts Live through Ellen Toscano’s enticing performance as Eva Peron, and a unique adaptation of the sprawling Broadway favorite to an intimate venue.

‘A Little Night Music’ Charming Edwardian Love Story

Review of A Little Night Music
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Inspired by a film by Ingmar Bergman
Directed by James D. Sasser
Music Direction by Craig Burdette
Choreography by Staci Arriaga
Lucky Penny Productions
For tickets / schedule :
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, Napa

RUN: January 27 – February 12, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(January 27, 2017)

Lucky Penny Productions A Little Night Music

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

In the tradition of tangled romantic comedies that miraculously create perfect endings for each couple, this adorable musical may seem a trifle dusty to modern audiences, which adds to its vintage charm. Rather like a maypole of bright ribbons, lovers are interwoven with each other in varying degrees of happiness and misery, yearning for others, and dissatisfied with their lot, despite lovely surroundings and attentive servants. Through accidental circumstances and deliberate subterfuge, the knots are unwoven and carefully tied into ideal little bows of romantic bliss, interspersed with ditties and laments. While the music does not create standouts, it is always delightful, with the amusing duet “You Must Meet My Wife”, ensemble piece “A Weekend in the Country”, and flirtatious “The Miller’s Son”.

James D. Sasser and Barry Martin’s set design rotates to fully engage each side of the stage, with tattered purple drapes reminiscent of wedding décor fluttering overhead. Taylor Bartolucci’s props make each location instantly recognizable, while keeping a minimalist feel that does not involve extensive scenery changes, so the play flows well without lengthy transitions. There are some odd choices in placement and direction, causing actors to perform with their backs to the audience, which hampers the drama and without better microphones often renders them unintelligible beneath the musicians, particularly Katie Motter’s Anne Egerman. Pianist Craig Burdette and cellist Ami Nashimoto were lovely accompaniment, even if the sound balance was off, and their vitality was a highlight of the musical.

Lucky Penny Productions A Little Night Music

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

This ensemble has sparkling chemistry, from flippant barbs to unrequited love. While over-the-top farce and more traditional musical comedy styles need to find a more universal tone across the ensemble, overall they worked well together. Sasser’s lawyer Frederik Egerman portrays a midlife identity crisis as he is torn between the young man he was and the person he has become. Ellen Brooks’ Madame Armfeldt is the grandmother you always wanted, with deliciously suggestive stories, a penchant for cards, and dash of the dreamer. Her protégé Fredrika (Charlotte Kearns) captivates with every entrance, while maintaining a Victorian sense of manners and presence. Wickedly sharp-tongued with one liners that would make James Bond jealous, Jenny Veilleux as Countess Charlotte Malcolm cut well with her delivery and expressions. Desirée Armfeldt (Dyan McBride) combines raw sex appeal with a genuine desire to be deeply loved by a stable family, and is willing to risk opening her heart to gain that ideal with the wistful song “Send in the Clowns”. Robert Francis’ Henrik Egerman gathered laughter with his melodramatic pain of secret passion and physical comedy.

Lucky Penny Productions A Little Night Music

Photo from Lucky Penny Productions

A Little Night Music is like opening a box of different flavored petits fours and trying them one after another; it is light and fluffy with occasional darker themes that leaves you entertained and in a pleasant mood, ready to believe the best of the world when it comes to love conquering all.

‘Native Son’ Challenges Perceptions

Review of Native Son
By Nambi E. Kelley
Adapted from the novel by Richard Wright

Directed by Seret Scott
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Theatre Company, Mill Valley

RUN: January 19 – February 12, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(January 20, 2017 – Preview Night)

Native Son Nambi E Kelley Marin Theatre

Photo by Kevin Berne

Trapped by circumstances and fear, a young African American is on the run, drowning in an ever shrinking world of suspicion and paranoia, until he falls shivering onto a snowy rooftop in South Side Chicago. In that moment, memories flit across his consciousness, mingling past and present, reliving the cause of his distress in an overlapping kaleidoscope of time. This electrifying 90-minute play is a window into the mind of Bigger, mingling factual events with feverish imagination in a non-linear narrative. Nambi E. Kelley draws from Edward Burghardt Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness to explain the duality of experience that oppressed minorities feel, pulling between who they are and what society expects them to be; rather than looking directly at oneself, it is always through the lens of outside perception. This can be true of racial differences and economic struggles, and is a concept that desperately needs to be understood as a reality in our current society.

Rather than using plain monologue to reproduce Bigger’s inward conflict, Kelley personifies it in The Black Rat, allowing for dynamic internal dialogue and commentary without interrupting the flow. Seret Scott’s direction keeps the core of the story clear, while deftly moving between locations and chronology through use of Giulio Cesare Perrone’s sparse wood beam set and the lighting design of Marc Stubblefield, who shifts the audience’s attention as needed.

Native Son Nambi E Kelley Marin Theatre

Photo by Kevin Berne

Native Son premiered in Chicago, with Jerod Haynes as Bigger, who is reprising his role for Marin Theatre Company. Haynes’ performance is vulnerable, allowing for an intimate connection with his character, while the physicality of Bigger’s building terror drives him into excruciating violence. William Hartfield’s The Black Rat is an ever present shadow, remarking on situations with acerbic wit and alternatively trying to restrain Bigger and taunt him, as internal voices are wont to do. He is the collected calm to Bigger’s primal emotions. Cautiously optimistic and ready to take on the world is Dane Troy as Buddy, who ambles through memories with his comic book, a timely nod to Marvel’s recent work with African American stories such as the Netflix series Luke Cage and the revised Iron Man, Riri Williams.

Kelly Wright (Hannah) is a powerhouse in this production, transforming a brief role into both touches of comedy and an anguished mother pleading for her son’s life. Adam Magill’s Jan is a starry-eyed dreamer who wants to see the best in people, but has no idea of the true darkness of their situation. Rosie Hallett (Mary) bounces with naïve enthusiasm, weaving between a giggling heiress and haunting reminder of Bigger’s tragedy. Ryan Nicole Austin is the conscience of the story—her characters love Bigger, wanting the best for him, and slowly have that hope stripped away. Her horror and isolation in the freezing snow, watching him slip away from her is grim and terrifying. She is the heart of this adaptation, demonstrating the depth to which Bigger falls when panicking about his future.

Native Son is an exacting confrontation of the harsh circumstances that surround racial minorities and the economically deprived, hemmed in by a world that ignores or despises them, demanding that they act and speak and look a certain way, regardless of internal needs. While Bigger gives in to those expectations, he feebly fights against them, angry at himself and those who forced him to see himself as a monster. This passionate and heart-pounding drama is a unique view into the soul of a man cornered by prejudice and despair.

Due to mature themes and sexual content, I recommend this play for high school age and above.

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