San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

Funding for "Center Stage" is provided in part by Sandi and Harvey Benenson
  • “TWELFTH NIGHT” – The Old Globe

    “TWELFTH NIGHT” – The Old Globe

    One line in “Twelfth Night” seems to have inspired the entire production at The Old Globe.

    “By the roses of the spring/ I love thee so,” the countess Olivia says to the young man who’s really a young woman in disguise.

    Red roses are everywhere in Rebecca Taichman’s stunning, sunny staging. Petals fall from hats doffed and hair unfurled. They’re brought in by the wheelbarrow-full, to clutter a meandering stream upstage.

    Though the play ends on a somewhat somber musical note, there’s little darkness here, even in the cruel jest at the expense of Olivia’s supercilious steward, Malvolio. His anger explodes for a moment, and then he’s gone.

    This production is all about light and love, hearts and flowers, and falling wildly, passionately into adoration. Of course, there’s confused identity and misplaced affection along the way. And everyone learns a little about temperance and balance in ardor and elsewhere. But it all gets sorted out ultimately, and like any good comedy, especially of the Shakespearean sort, it ends with multiple matchups and marriages.

    Taichman and her stellar ensemble seem to be having a ball with the material. The language is expressed with crystal clarity, the humor is broad, physical and often hilarious. The costumes and lighting and music are beautiful.

    In a cast of strong performers, several merit special mention: TV's “True Blood” and “Hannibal” star Rutina Wesley, with her adorably spunky Viola-turned-Cesario; Sara Topham’s somberly grieving, majestically regal Olivia, who dissolves into a giddy, love-besotted adolescent; Patrick Kerr’s rubber-legged goofball, Sir Andrew Aguecheek; and multi-talented Manoel Felciano as probably the best Feste I’ve ever seen, a consummate singer, fiddler and wise fool.

    The nearly three hours fly by in this fleet-footed presentation. And on opening night, an extra touch of magic brought the evening to a close. Just as Feste started singing “The Wind and the Rain,” a light sprinkle came down from the sky. As they say in theater, and in comedy, ‘Timing is everything.’

    “Twelfth Night” runs through July 26 on the Old Globe’s Festival Stage in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 7/3/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • “WEST SIDE STORY” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

    “WEST SIDE STORY” – Lamb’s Players Theatre

    Anyone who thinks a 58 year-old musical won’t resonate should consult the daily news. There are still street gangs, and violent turf battles. One line in “West Side Story” says it all, chillingly. The hardened New York cop snarls at the Puerto Rican kid: “I’ve got the badge and you’ve got the skin.” Tell me that’s not relevant.

    Fortunately, love still crosses impossible boundaries and fosters unexpected alliances. “West Side Story” is a brilliant musical riff on “Romeo and Juliet,” set on the tough streets of 1950s New York. In both the 16th and 20th century tragedies, there’s still hope at the end that some good will grow from the seeds a fearless young couple has sown.

    Now, Lamb’s Players Theatre takes on the musical behemoth, composed by Leonard Bernstein, with book by Arthur Laurents and lyrics by a young Stephen Sondheim. His clever, cunning humor is evidenced in the comical “Gee, Officer Krupke,” a show-stopper in this production, thanks to a spectacular performance by Daniel Kermidas as the Jets’ Action.

    Michelle Alves, who performed the role in the national tour, is terrific as Anita, with her sexy moves and bittersweet, hard-won wisdom. Colleen Kollar-Smith’s choreography is wonderful, paying tribute to the iconic Jerome Robbins original, with its own spin. The dance ensemble is excellent and energetic, and the singing is superb, backed by a first-rate, onstage orchestra, helmed by Patrick Marion.

    At the center are Kevin Hafso-Koppman as a gentle, sensitive Tony, and Olivia Hernandez as wide-eyed, ingenuous Maria. They connect effectively, but their voices are a mismatch: his a smooth Broadway sound; hers operatic, with excessive tremolo.

    Under Deborah Gilmour-Smyth’s direction, the acting dominates; all the characters and interactions are convincing, though the immigrant accents are variable, and absent in the Sharks’ leader.

    The lighting, sound and costumes enhance the bi-level, metal and chain-link set. Jordan Miller’s fight choreography deserves special mention.

    While this pared-down production isn’t flawless, it’s robust, and will likely solidify during the run. If only the murderous story would become outdated.

    “West Side Story,” at Lamb’s Players Theatre, runs through August 4.

    Aired: 6/26/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • “COME FROM AWAY” – La Jolla Playhouse

    “COME FROM AWAY” – La Jolla Playhouse

    “Welcome to the Rock!”

    That’s how The Islanders spread their arms to you in the first moments of the magnificent new musical, “Come From Away.”
    It’s the same open-hearted spirit, that small-town sense of community and proud survival at “the edge of the world,” that the residents offer to all those non-locals who ‘Come From Away.’

    Gander is an airport outpost on the island of Newfoundland, which was formed millions of years ago by continental collision. Metaphorically, that kind of collision recurred in 2001.

    After the September 11 tragedy, when the American airspace was closed, a whopping 38 planes were diverted to Gander. The nearly 7000 arrivals, from all over the world, effectively doubled the local population.

    Over the course of five long days, these genial Gander folks turned into bona fide heroes, opening their homes and hearts to the strangers, whose lives were transformed by the experience.

    “Come From Away,” written by young Canadian couple Irene Sankoff and David Hein, will soften even the most hardened cynic and restore your faith in humankind. The story is based in fact; the dialogue is taken from extensive interviews with the townspeople and their unexpected visitors. And magically, thrillingly, we somehow become a part of it, too.

    We’re drawn to the many characters portrayed by a stellar ensemble of 12: the take-charge Mayor; sky-loving female pilot; bickering L.A. gay couple; two fearful New York African Americans; and an effervescent Texas gal and diffident Englishman who come together in the midst of calamity and chaos.

    It’s not just the people who draw us in; it’s also the hand-clapping, foot-stomping music, a delicious mix of Irish, folk and rockabilly, played by a stupendous onstage and under-stage band.

    In this world premiere co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine create a deceptively simple, propulsive and impeccably paced 100 minutes.

    This is the most stirring and uplifting musical to come along in years. With humor and heart, it reminds us that, even in the darkest and most desperate of times, there can be light, hope and love.

    "Come from Away,” at the La Jolla Playhouse, has been extended through July 12.

    Aired: 6/19/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • “CABARET” – Welk Theatre

    “CABARET” – Welk Theatre

    When I heard that the Welk Theatre was doing “Cabaret,” I thought, ‘This is gonna be a squeaky-clean, watered-down version with no sex or drugs. Both are intrinsic to the superb Kander and Ebb musical set in 1931 Berlin, on the cusp of the Nazi takeover. Well, I’m happy to say, it’s an outstanding production, which the theater itself rates PG-13.

    There’s plenty of innuendo and sexy moves, but no drugs, though the flighty, high-spirited chanteuse, Sally Bowles, is an addict in most versions of the 1966 megahit. Here, she merely drinks gin and her nauseating hangover antidote: a raw egg and Worcestershire sauce.

    The story, based on the John Van Druten play, “I Am a Camera,” which was, in turn, adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s novel, “Goodbye to Berlin,” tells of a young writer, Cliff Bradshaw, who’s come to Berlin for inspiration. On the train, he encounters the affable Ernst, who turns out to be a virulent fascist. Through Ernst, Cliff meets irresistible but unstable Sally, who impetuously moves in with him and steals his heart.

    Our omnipresent host is the deliciously decadent, androgynous Emcee, who’s part of every magnificent musical number – each a commentary on the action, which includes a doomed late-life romance and the encroaching takeover by Hitler and his Henchmen.

    Director/choreographer Ray Limon hews close to the two Broadway revivals starring Alan Cumming, while adding some bold choices of his own.

    At the center of it all is Jeffrey Scott Parsons as the Emcee. In stormtrooper garb or in drag, this expert hoofer displays musical, dramatic and emotional range, and a cynicism belied by his toothy smile. The rest of the leads are potent, though the accents are erratic. The deadpan, ambisexual Kit Kat chorus is excellent, and the 5-piece band, under the direction of keyboardist Justin Gray, is perfectly brash and brassy.

    The final image is chilling. As Cliff tried to tell Sally, “the party was over.” But the fizz of this “Cabaret” will leave you with fond memories – and political indigestion.

    “Cabaret” runs through July 26 at the Welk Resort in Escondido.

    Aired: 5/15/2015 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2015 Pat Launer

  • GLOBE FOR ALL – The Old Globe

    GLOBE FOR ALL – The Old Globe

    The Old Globe is takin’ it to the streets. Well, maybe not the streets, but out of the theater box and into the community.

    Renowned producer Joseph Papp created the Mobile Shakespeare program in 1957, and decades later, Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein re-animated Mobile Shakespeare while he was at The Public Theatre, bringing the Bard to underserved communities.

    This fall, he tried out the concept in San Diego, with Globe for All, a free touring production of a Shakespeare play, brought to such varied venues as a military base, centers for the elderly, a homeless shelter and a correctional facility.

    The 90-minute production featured a cast of 10 professional actors, including recent alumni of the Old Globe/University of San Diego graduate theater program. Each facility was offered a one-hour pre-show workshop about the language, themes, characters and plot of the play.

    The intention, said Edelstein, is to “overcome whatever barriers – economic, geographical or cultural” prohibit some community members from seeing or appreciating Shakespeare. “Theater in general, and Shakespeare in particular, are necessary to living a full and rich life,” says Edelstein, who directed the project’s first production, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

    I saw the streamlined show at Father Joe’s Villages, San Diego’s largest residential service provider for the homeless. What was most impressive, besides the talent and commitment of the cast, was how well they interacted with the audience (dogs, infants and all), and how rapt most of the spectators seemed to be, catching all the humor and commenting freely on the action. It was a very exciting and energizing experience.

    If the Globe can once again secure funding from local Foundations, it intends to repeat the process next year, with another play and director.

    Here’s a toast to the Old Globe for helping to bring theater to every corner of our diverse county. Bravo!

    The newly-launched Globe for All will, hopefully, be an ongoing, annual program of the Old Globe.

    Aired: 12/5/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

For an archive of all of Pat's reviews, going back to 1990, use the 'search' function at

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