Cheeky Homage to the Founding Fathers

Review of 1776
Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Directed by Larry Williams
Music Direction by Lucas Sherman
Choreography by Michella Snider

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

RUN: February 10-26, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(February 11, 2017)

1776 Spreckels Theatre Company

Photo © Eric Chazankin

America’s earliest years were passionately contested, with hot-blooded colonials seeking independence, Tories who enjoyed the comfort of life as a British citizen, and those who preferred being left alone and hoped the conflict would pass. The debate came to a focal point when the Second Continental Congress met in the heat of Philadelphia to address the matter. A room filled with sweating politicians sniping at each other does not seem like fodder for a musical, or even a lively documentary; fortunately the combination of a solidly crafted book by Peter Stone and clever lyrics from Sherman Edwards transforms the representatives into larger-than-life characters filled with enthusiasm for their point of view.

Spreckels Theatre Company has pulled together an all-star cast of North Bay musical talent, filling the stage with favorites, from Jacob Bronson’s Courier in the piercingly mournful ballad “Momma, Look Sharp” to Gene Abravaya’s impeccable comedic timing as ladies’ man and genius extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin. Poetic license has been taken with the historical figures, leading to amusing songs such as “The Lees of Old Virginia” which is drenched in puns that leave you smiling and groaning simultaneously. From opening curtain to bows, the play skips along at a lively pace, spotlighting representatives for insight into the buildup of the Declaration of Independence. The 1969 musical holds up marvelously well, but shows its age when depicting women, who are largely objectified or thrust into the backdrop of domesticity.

1776 at Spreckels Theatre Company

Photo © Eric Chazankin

Conflict in 1776 ranges between arguments over whether to keep the windows open to relieve the heat, or closed to keep out flies, to a tragic debate about slavery as the horrified John Adams (Jeff Cote) confronts the smug Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Anthony Martinez). Each character pulls their weight in the story, crafting a unique individual. It is not a cardboard cutout chorus line—this musical is a gathering of giants, whether they are half asleep and drinking rum, perpetually nose in a book like Thomas Jefferson (David Strock), or striding the boards ranting at the assembly. There are no background roles, which provides a rich canvas to enjoy as an audience member.

If history classes were this exciting, it would be everyone’s favorite subject. 1776 at Spreckels turns dull congress meetings into an inventive masterpiece of comedy, laden with innuendos and fun mingling with deeper questions of what we might be willing to give up as the cost of freedom.

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.

« Older Entries