‘White Christmas’ Beloved Holiday Classic

Review of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical
Book by David Ives & Paul Blake
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin

Directed by Michael Fontaine
Music Direction by Ginger Beavers
Choreography by Joseph A. Favalora

For tickets & schedule:
6th Street Playhouse
Santa Rosa, CA

RUN: December 1-23, 2017
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(December 8, 2017)

White Christmas - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

White Christmas is a vintage holiday musical, filled with nostalgia, romance, and showstopping numbers. To some, it evokes memories of sitting with hot cocoa watching Bing Crosby belting out the famous song, Vera-Ellen and Danny Kaye lightly whirling in unison to “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and luminous Rosemary Clooney from the 1954 film. To others, it is a song that appears when requesting a holiday themed music stream, without the context of a story.

Army buddies Phil Davis and Bob Wallace have made a name for themselves after World War II with their dazzling song and dance revue, and through a combination of accidental and playfully planned circumstances, board a train to a failing Vermont inn, giving up their luxury Florida vacation. To their surprise, it is run by General Henry Waverly, whose livelihood is in serious trouble. The two hatch a scheme to bring the old 151st Division to the inn for Christmas, to turn his fortunes around. Along the way, they meet the Haynes sisters, and sparks fly with the passionate duo, leading to a festive finale bubbling with holiday cheer.

White Christmas - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Brandy Noveh’s Betty Haynes is poised, with a lovely voice for “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and its rich complexity. Her irritation at Bob’s callus attitude and its transformation into admiration is subtle and well handled. Christopher Vettel’s crotchety Bob Wallace is compelling, portraying the hard shelled exterior that easily cracks when those he loves are in need. The pleasure-seeking younger couple, Judy Haynes (Morgan Harrington) and Phil Davis (Caleb Daniel Noal), ricochet through an emotional roller-coaster. Unfortunately the musical’s age shows through with a pair of ditzy showgirls who follow him around simply to make sexual innuendos.

Choreographed by Joseph A. Favalora with music direction from Ginger Beavers, sparkling chorus numbers emerge with a fun tap routine opening the second act in “I Love a Piano” and the smooth night club rendition of “Blue Skies” interrupted by comedic scene crossings from the flustered general and his staff. The dances needed further rehearsal to be fully effective, but the parade of colorful costumes from Pat Fitzgerald and jubilant stage presence of the cast, particularly Hillary St. John, is charming throughout the songs.

White Christmas - 6th Street Playhouse

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Jacinta Gorringe as Martha Watson commands vaudevillian style with sincere affection for those under her care. “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” is a highlight with humor and flair. Smelting the bit part of Ezekiel into comedic gold, Tim Hayes shuffles through the barn, grunting at the stage manager’s hysterical outbursts to rapturous laughter from the audience.

White Christmas is a holiday treat with just enough sentiment to warm the heart, lively dances, and an engaging cast. 6th Street Playhouse has caught the Christmas spirit this season with a delightful production of this classic musical.

‘Rapture, Blister, Burn’ Be Careful What You Wish For

Review of Rapture, Blister, Burn
By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Nadja Masura
For tickets / schedule :
Curtain Call Theatre
Russian River Hall, Monte Rio
Tickets: $20, $15 Students / Seniors 60+

RUN: December 1-16, 2017
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rapture, Blister, Burn in Monte Rio

Gwen (Wanda Wiemar), Don (Lew Brown) and Catherine (Lisa Posternak) in discussion.

(December 1, 2017)

Feminist ideals of empowerment and equality are juxtaposed with the messiness of real relationships in this multi-generational drama. It enfolds on a muddled canvas of frustrated ambitions through the lives of Don, a college dean, his wife Gwen, their babysitter Avery, and Catherine, an old friend who has returned to town because of her ailing mother.

Catherine is restless, and proposes teaching a summer course inspired by her popular books examining the influence of porn on contemporary culture, resulting in Gwen wondering if she should have finished her degree, rather than becoming a stay-at-home mother, and Catherine musing on the emptiness of her successful, lonely middle-aged existence. The situation is complicated by Don and Catherine’s poorly hidden affair, which forces each character to take a long, honest look at what they have become.

Unfortunately, the performance quality outstrips its material. Rapture, Blister, Burn includes pretentious intellectual discussions hung on a framework more commonly found in a sensation novel, which creates a perplexing result, rather like attending a university lecture with a group of students who spent the previous night binge drinking. While the structure is contrived, playwright Gina Gionfriddo is deeply thoughtful, willing to examine the results of the feminist movement and its practical impact on the lives of women today, regardless of age. Director Nadja Masura has taken a frank, reasonable approach to the outrageous circumstances which come to light in the play, making it easier for the audience to acclimatize to Gionfriddo’s style of presentation.

Lisa Posternak (Catherine Croll) nuances a sexy, confident woman who’s polished career has become a mask covering lack of fulfillment and hollow dreams. Her raw plea to Don at the play’s close shows us the real Catherine, who yearns for companionship. In contrast, Wanda Wiemar (Gwen Harper) whinges in an excruciating fashion only to surprise with level-headed decisions and acceptance of her character’s lot in life, for a fascinating performance. Katie Cady (Avery Willard) is a walking “goth” runway thanks to a variety of bold fashion choices, and keeps her razor-sharp mind at work, constantly pushing for answers and soaking up Catherine’s rhetoric, along with Kathy Ping-Rogers (Alice Croll) the rather spry mother who shows no signs of wear after her heart attack. Lew Brown’s Don Harper has given up on life, losing his drive for success, blissful with his day old pizza and cheap porn. It is the women who move the play forward, taking center stage.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is a lengthy, honest inspection of how feminism compromises in the face of day-to-day challenges and the reality of mediocre relationships. Curtain Call Theatre’s observant, engaging production stirs up challenging questions, and is willing to consider multiple points of view—even Phyllis Schlafly.

The Secret of Happiness is ‘Daddy Long Legs’

Main Stage West - Daddy Long Legs

Jervis (Tyler Costin) professes his love to Jerusha (Madison Genovese). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Review of Daddy Long Legs
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon & John Caird
Directed by Elly Lichenstein
Musical Direction by Dave MacNab
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
Tickets: $30, $25 Senior 65+, $15 Students

RUN: November 17 – December 10, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars

(November 30, 2017)

Daddy Long Legs is a delightful and intelligent Edwardian romance set to music, which ebbs and flows in a soft current of sound, rather than creating distinct, disjointed songs. Feather light with an edge of wit, it follows the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan who is sponsored to attend college by a mysterious benefactor. His attempt to remain anonymous crumbles as he reads her lively, engaging letters, addressing him playfully as “Daddy Long Legs” from a brief glimpse she had of his height. Curiosity gets the better of studious Jervis Pendleton, and he introduces himself without revealing the nature of their true relationship, swiftly falling in love with the clever orphan. He faces the task of admitting that he is Daddy Long Legs, risking losing her forever.

Main Stage West - Daddy Long Legs

Jerusha (Madison Genovese) muses on her letter to Daddy Long Legs (Tyler Costin). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The orchestra is as much a character in this musical as the actors, led by musical director Dave MacNab in a velvet cascade of sound carrying the audience through Jerusha’s four years of education and discovery. Missy Weaver’s lighting design and Elizabeth Craven’s set transform the miniature stage into multiple rooms, weaving between spoken letters and chance encounters for a cohesive narrative. Costume designs by Adriana Gutierrez are simple and accurate, reflecting the conservative personalities in this two-hander.

Elegant and sincere, Madison Genovese as Jerusha Abbott captures the era’s poise without sacrificing passion and candid outbursts of frustration. Tyler Costin’s Jervis Pendleton journeys from an uptight aristocrat who is sure of himself, to a warm, genuine human being capable of love and sacrifice. Their chemistry onstage is magical, with a mutual respect and admiration.

Main Stage West - Daddy Long Legs

Jervis (Tyler Costin) is torn between his two personas. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Daddy Long Legs is not flashy or sensational, it is like wandering through a field of brittle grass and coming across a perfectly formed cluster of wildflowers in gentle colors that is painfully beautiful, set apart from the surrounding desert. There is a refreshing, restorative power to this sort of play that is desperately needed.

« Older Entries Newer Entries »