Swing Into the Jungle at Spreckels

Review of Disney’s Musical Tarzan
Book by David Henry Hwang
Music and Lyrics by Phil Collins
Directed by Gene Abravaya and David L. Yen
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Michella Snider

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

RUN: May 5-21, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

(May 6, 2017)

Humid jungle creeps across the stage in tiers of hanging vines, flora and fungi with rough stone ruins leading up a steep cliff. Enter the world of Tarzan, filled with magical adventure and talking animals, romance and wild combat with ferocious leopards. Loosely based on the pulp fiction series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, it aligns with the Disney version, although the stage production includes additional songs and deeper characterization. Elizabeth Bazzano and Eddy Hansen’s set design of an overgrown hillside is fascinating to watch actors interact with. A child in the audience gleefully exclaimed “It looks real!” when the curtains moved back to reveal another world filled with verdant plant life.

Shawna Eiermann (Kala) and Brian Watson (Kerchak) bring an intense emotional resonance to their roles as Tarzan’s adoptive parents. Eiermann’s depiction of ferocious love and fearless devotion for a child that is not even her species transcends barriers as an example that people do not need to be alike in order to feel a strong connection. Her moment with Tarzan “You’ll Be in My Heart” is genuinely moving.

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Like The Flash television series, this play mixes drama with cartoonish elements. At times it works well, especially Jane and Tarzan’s scenes of romantic comedy moving into graver decisions when her ship is about to leave. Other transitions gave me a bit of whiplash between several different styles, moving between heart wrenching acting from Eiermann and Watson to the mustache twirling villain and sidekick or dancing mushrooms and flowers galavanting across the stage. Tarzan overall is enjoyable, it is the balance between directing styles that seems confusing.

Abbey Lee’s Jane is sophisticated while capturing the character’s boundless energy and eager exploration of a new and fascinating world. Kit Grimm as Porter is the perfect father—understanding, kind and inquisitive. Michael Lumb’s Tarzan is infused with innocent wonder, and he shifts physicality during the course of the play. His shuffling on all fours using knuckles to propel himself forward gradually changes to upright, hesitant walking as he learns from Jane. The supporting cast is well chosen, from Lily Spangler’s Young Terk who has enough attitude to fill Spreckel’s formidable stage single handed to the apes with their semi-dancing antics. Return early from intermission for a mini scene of the expedition crew attempting to set up camp in the jungle before Act II officially begins.

Pamela Enz steps up with brilliant costume designs for the apes in flowing, draped fringe and multiple changes of elegant attire for Jane. Inez Viera’s make-up design adds geometric, tribal shapes on the animals, rather than a literal approach, which was visually effective.

Spreckels - Tarzan

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Swing into Spreckels for a lively evening of adventure in Tarzan with your favorite characters from the Disney movie coming to life onstage. On May 21st after the final show, stop by the theatre for a gathering honoring Gene Abravaya as he leaves on his own journey into retirement. He will be missed in the North Bay, where he re-invigorated Spreckels into the vibrant theatre it is today and has been a joy to the local community.

‘Guys and Dolls’ at Luther Burbank Center

Review of Guys and Dolls
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed by John DeGaetano
Music Direction by Les Pfutzenreuter
Choreography by Emily DeGaetano

For tickets / schedule :
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts
Santa Rosa, CA
North Bay Stage Company

RUN: April 28 – May 14, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(May 5, 2017)

Guys and Dolls - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Guys and Dolls is a beloved musical with lively songs and a heartwarming, absurd plot. Filled with heart-of-gold gangsters, gamblers, music hall girls and enthusiastic missionaries, it sashays through 1940s New York with glitzy show tunes and infectious rhythm. North Bay Stage Company presents it in concert, with live big band sound from local musicians.

While there is no set to speak of, Kathy Katz’s costume design adds a dash of color in the spirit of the show and helps define who the characters are, even if it is not entirely accurate to the time period. The Hot Box Girls in “Take Back Your Mink” are adorable, with sassy choreography by Emily DeGaetano. Their high strung soloist, Miss Adelaide (Cindy Brillhart-True), is comically delightful in “Adelaide’s Lament”, taking full advantage of the clever lyrics. Trotting on high heels, she weaves through the waiting actors for her scenes, gathering laughs from the audience in her wake of righteous indignation.

The young lovers, Sarah (Maureen O’Neill) and Sky (David Strock), sparkle with chemistry and have beautiful sound, although there needs to be better balance with the orchestra, which drowned them out in their signature duets. O’Neill’s tipsy ballad in Havana was euphoric with happiness, and Strock owned the stage with “Luck Be a Lady”.

Supporting characters in vintage inspired suits and fedoras are an amusing ensemble, including Gary Sciford’s antics as Benny Southstreet, Paul MacKinnon’s anxious Harry the Horse and Bill Stone’s ominous stage presence as Big Jule. The narrator is on book, but assists with explaining scene transitions for audience members who are unfamiliar with the fully staged production.

If you love Guys and Dolls for its toe-tapping music, North Bay Stage Company will be an evening with old friends. It is not a polished production, but the cast gives it their all for enjoyable entertainment filled with laughter and song.

Transcendence Music and Dance Inspires

Best of Broadway Under the Stars
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC

Directed by Roy Lightner and Tony Gonzalez
Music Direction by Daniel Weidlein
Choreography by Dylan Smith and Roy Lightner

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

RUN: March 11-12, 2017
Extended run at Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, March 18-19, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars

(March 11, 2017)

The Best of Broadway Under the Stars - LBC

Photo by Ray Mabry

After producing theater and music shows for 20 years, I was pleasantly surprised by the music and dance, rhythms and humor of this show. It is a pleasure to experience good productions again that fill the heart with the great energy that transcends the plodding seasons of shows many theaters are providing these days.

Good Broadway musicals leave you singing your favorite songs as you walk out into the real world. Transcendence takes these wonderful songs, and adds new choreography, costumes, singers and energy to them to bring them alive again. It doesn’t hurt to have a 30 foot thrust into the audience to let the performers sing to you up close and personal. It doesn’t hurt to have 25 professional dancers/singers with big stage experience perform singly and in unison with the best material they can find and arrange. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a big band play all the music for the show.

The Best of Broadway Under the Stars - LBC

Photo by Ray Mabry

In “Don’t Rain on my Parade”, from Funny Girl, Meggie Cansler sings as she walks downstage with a voice that fills the auditorium with unforgettable sounds and quality that condenses the entire show for us into one song. Follow this with Eric Jackson leading eight men in a signature Fosse jazz arrangement of “Bye Bye Blackbird” that honors the Bob Fosse traditional dance forms while showing us what the flock can do with good dancers.

“I Can Do That”, from A Chorus Line, allows Rachel Thomas a chance to teach an amazing new dancer, Evan Ruggerio, a new tap dance step or two—or is it the other way around? I learned what talent, guts and fortitude can do. Crazy for You gave us “I Got Rhythm”, but with the entire troupe tapping to the music, we get a broad sense of what is possible with this company, and it warms the heart and feet.

Leah Sprecher and Stephan Stubbins do Andrew Lloyd Webber and Les Miserables. Yes, I mean they really do a full medley of both, with irreverent humor and charm.

Forget the strong voices of the two for a minute and focus on the words. Having seen many shows of Mr. Webber and, of course, Les Miserables, I could place all the music. The two sets were amazing, non-stop fun.

Amy Miller, Brad Surosky and Stephan Stubbins are the executive life blood of this company. They started Transcendence as performers who wanted to make a difference in the world. True to form, they continue to dance and sing onstage, appearing as major singers in this show even after five years of guiding the company to new heights. Their dedication to professional quality is obvious.

For large vision music and dancing, the Transcendence Theatre Company is making its presence known in the North Bay. On March 18-19, they journeyed to the Marin Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael with a reprise of this show. They return to their Jack London Park summer venue on June 16, 2017, with their “Another Openin’ Another Show!”.

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