Join the Quest in ‘Man of La Mancha’

Review of Man of La Mancha
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Book by Dale Wasserman
Direction & Music Direction by Les Pfutzenreuter

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

RUN: July 21 – August 6, 2017
RATING: 3 of 5 stars

(July 23, 2017)

Man of La Mancha - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the musical focuses on an imaginative journey clinging to the hope that chivalry and lofty ideals will triumph, despite being constantly assured that “the world’s a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it.” Set in a Seville prison, a fictionalized version of the author finds himself in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition, and is called upon by his fellow prisoners to answer for his crimes. Cervantes defends in the form of a play within a play, which launches the story of Don Quixote, the madman or knight errant, depending on your point of view. The strength of this play is in its songs by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh, which I find myself humming for weeks afterward. Classics like “The Impossible Dream” and “I’m Only Thinking of Him” are memorable moments, along with the less savory tunes “It’s All the Same” and “Little Bird, Little Bird.”

Director Les Pfutzenreuter sets the scene as the doors open, with cast members on stage as if in a medieval prison, fighting over captured bugs, searching for an escape, and wearily lamenting their lot. Debi Stone gazes hauntingly toward the audience, filled with despair, wandering back and forth to an unseen fireplace. The cabaret seating gives the feeling of being in a Spanish café, along with a clever Don Quixote inspired menu. Scenic painter Ayla Decaire transforms the set into mobile blocks of stone, and the Luther Burbank Center’s appropriate brick wall is revealed between gently draped curtains.

Pedro Rodelas is an operatic Don Quixote / Cervantes, with noble bearing, a powerful voice and intense expressions that work well with his characters. The final scene as his eyes light up upon remembering that he is Don Quixote and not Alonso Quijano is beautifully moving. His partner in misadventures is Perry Aliado as Sancho Panza, who takes the down-to-earth servant and adds endearing enthusiasm to the role. Their encounters with windmills, gypsies, and muleteers leaves Don Quixote’s armor and weapons in various states of amusing disrepair.

Man of La Mancha - North Bay Stage Company

Photo by John DeGaetano

Paula Samonte’s fiery Aldonza is well acted, such as discussing a “missive” with Sancho that the knight has sent her, while she sloppily eats her soup and cross examines his motives for following the madman. Unfortunately, her voice is lost in the auditorium without a microphone to augment it, leaving the audience straining to hear her. Similar concerns appear with Susan Markcity’s Antonia; her lovely, sweet toned voice fails to carry, which renders the duet with Richard Rader as the Padre a trifle one sided.

Villainous Head Muleteer / Pedro dominates the stage with Ayrick Broin’s machismo and a dangerous whip at his side, ready to bend the world to his whims. Subtle bloody makeup after his dustup with the knight adds to the impression, and his treatment of Aldonza was tastefully directed by Pfutzenreuter while retaining the horror of her situation.

North Bay Stage Company’s Man of La Mancha captures the story in an enjoyable production with a capable cast. It is worth attending if the musical appeals to you or for an evening away from cares to join in the adventures of Don Quixote and to “follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

Get to the Cannery in Apple Blossom Time

Review of In the Mood
Adapted from William Shakespeare
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
Railroad Square, Santa Rosa
(Enter through 6th Street Playhouse parking lot)

RUN: July 13 – August 5, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(July 15, 2017)

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In the Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

Romantic sunset light envelops the ruins of an old cannery in Santa Rosa, from which Shakespeare in the Cannery derives its name. A patriotic set resplendent in red, white and blue becomes the backdrop for this Hogan’s Heroes style retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, set in World War II at the USO in Messina. Tracy Hinman’s costume designs of adorable vintage dresses, bathing suits and lineup of dashing army officers sets the tone for a boogie-woogie version of the classic tale that is lighthearted and fun for the whole family.

Denise Elia-Yen is a thoughtful Beatrice in addition to being saucily witty; she takes her cousin’s playful chiding about being scornful to heart in a contemplative performance that adds depth to the character. David L. Yen’s Benedick heavily relies on physical comedy and outrageous reactions that are highly amusing. His disgusted gagging at the mention of “love” had the audience in fits of laughter, and director David Lear uses the series of trap doors in his set design to advantage as Benedick attempts to hide during the discussion of Beatrice’s supposed affection.

In a slight twist of the story, Elizabeth Henry portrays Leonora, instead of Leonato, which works with minor adjustments, such as “be happy, lady; for you are like an honourable mother.” Her calm, stately presence centers the production, and her fierce confrontation with those caused her daughter’s ruin is formidable. In a brief exchange with Sergeant Dogberry (Brandon Wilson), Henry’s comedic timing duels well with his, augmented with support from Michal Victoria (Antonia).

Shakespeare in the Cannery - In The Mood

Photo by Alex Shapiro

The Watch is hilarious, marching in and out with a brisk “left, left, left, right, left” while bumping into one another, eating muffins and coming to attention while facing opposite directions. Wilson’s Dogberry and Brian Abbott’s Verges are quite the team, flawlessly pronouncing hopelessly ill placed vocabulary with the gravity of saints.

Finding an angle for the villains, conspicuously wearing black covers in this production, is a challenge, and Lear took a unique perspective that I enjoyed. Rather than making Don John (Stefan Wenger) the instigator, he is portrayed is rather bored and making sport of discomfort with a Loki trickster personality. It is Borachio (John Browning) whose cruelty suggests the disgrace of Hero and sinister machinations.

While this is an abbreviated retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, it fills the gaps with enchanting musical numbers and toe-tapping swing dances from choreographer Alia Beeton and costumed musicians led by Justin Pyne with favorites like “Stormy Weather,” “In the Mood” and “Taking a Chance on Love.” The finale floats with infectious rhythm, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is one of the more elaborate dance sequences I have seen in a North Bay musical.

This nostalgic romp through the 1940s with William Shakespeare’s brilliant comedy is a colorful evening of music and dance with a talented cast and creative direction from David Lear. Shakespeare in the Cannery continues to amuse and delight with this year’s In the Mood.

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.

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