San Diego's Jazz

Pat Launer, Center Stage

Funding for “Pat Launer, Center Stage” is provided in part by
Audrey Geisel and the Dr. Seuss Foundation.
  • “PAGEANT”– Cygnet Theatre

    “PAGEANT”– Cygnet Theatre

    There are beauty queens – and then there are beauty Queens. The musical, “Pageant,” while satirizing the objectification of women, adds that “something extra.” All these lovely contestants are male, though some of them – in this case, the blondes – are so convincing you might just forget.

    Once you’ve seen this comical competition, created in 1991 by Bill Russell, Frank Kelly and Albert Evans, you get the conceit. After five times – three of them with several of the same cast members – despite the abundance of glitter and glam, the show loses a little of its luster. And it’s not just the repeat viewings. Beauty pageants have faded along with the novelty of drag.

    In the effective ensemble piece that is Cygnet Theatre’s well-crafted production, there’s one unequivocal star: the costumes. Shirley Pierson has gone all out, from the froufrou ball gowns to the wacky raiment for the extraneous outer space number. The outfits strike the perfect balance between whimsy, parody and tawdry.

    Phil Johnson is once again spot-on as the smarmy host; no one oozes Lounge Lizard better. David McBean, looking especially fetching, soars again in his ventriloquist trio as Miss Deep South, though I recall greater distinctions among the three voices before, which made the frenetic reprise even funnier. Charles Osborn is amusing at the end, as sore loser Miss Texas, though with his tap dancing skills, he might be a winner some nights, since the judges are selected from the audience. But these characters, like the Glamouresse products they hawk, are cardboard and stereotypical.The massively pinkified set is only intensified by the gloriously garish lighting.

    The singing is excellent and the comedy, however cheesy, is expertly delivered.As usual, the talent competition is a mixed bag; some segments are better written, and some performers are more adept than others. But all have great gams, and they finessethe clever choreography of director James Vasquez.

    The show may be unchallenging and comfy, but it’s not campy. And when boys will be girls, that’s a gift.

    “Pageant” runs through August 31, at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.

    Aired: 8/15/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • “QUARTET”– The Old Globe

    “QUARTET”– The Old Globe

    “Art is meaningless if it doesn’t make you feel.” So says a character in “Quartet,” and the bittersweet comedy delivers.

    A 1984 documentary about Casa Verdi, a home for retired opera singers and musicians -- originally funded by the maestro himself -- inspired award-winning playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood to create a theater piece for four elderly singers in just such a place. Harwood adapted his story for film in 2012.

    Now “Quartet,” the play, is at the Old Globe, in a charming and amusing production deftly directed by Richard Seer, aided by an outstanding design team.

    The four former singers are certainly characters -- eccentric octogenarians, you might say. Cissy, excellently played by Jill Tanner, is a bit dotty, but she always tries to see the best in people. Wilfred always tries to see the breast in people. Roger Forbes is delightful as the smut-minded provocateur. Robert Foxworth is perfect as Reggie, the persnickety, pedantic one who was once, unforgettably, married to Jean. And then, by surprise, Jean appears, the fading diva who’s mortified to find herself in such a place. Broadway veteran Elizabeth Franz expertly captures the fragility behind Jean’s imperiousness.

    When the other three beg Jean to join them in the Quartet from “Rigoletto” as part of the celebration of Verdi’s birthday, she flat-out refuses. They’d sung it together in their heyday, but Jean feels they’d only embarrass themselves now, and would become a laughingstock. That she will not abide.

    The bulk of the protracted play focuses on how the foursome come together, mending old wounds, revealing long-held secrets, leaving the past behind and attempting to move forward and look ahead.

    It’s a poignant comedy, sprinkled with serious confrontations and confessions. Senior memory problems make for cheap laughs, but at least there’s no hearing impairment humor. Most impressive is the outstanding ensemble work.

    Growing old and feeling irrelevant is no laughing matter. But Harwood brings a lot of heart – and art – to the proceedings.

    “Quartet” runs through August 31, in the Old Globe’s White Theatre.

    Aired: 8/8/2014 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2014 Pat Launer

  • "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" – Intrepid Shakespeare Company

    "MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING" – Intrepid Shakespeare Company

    The badasses of badinage are back! Beatrice and Benedick, Shakespeare’s power players in linguistic legerdemain have sharpened their tongues once again for repartee and reluctant romance in “Much Ado About Nothing.”

    One of San Diego’s favorite Shakespeareans, Richard Baird, returns from his dramatic peregrinations to direct at Intrepid Shakespeare Company, bringing his prodigious skill to the beloved comedy, here centered by the redoubtable Sean Yael-Cox and Shana Wride, going head-to-head in an updated Sicily, 1931.Beatrice has rapier wit, and Benedick parries with aplomb. Both have vowed to remain spouseless, but they’re entrapped by their own protestations.

    When Benedick returns victorious from battle, he brings a valiant young companion, Claudio, who falls instantly for Bea’s cousin Hero. Trickery, betrayal, an evil plot and a fictitious death ensue before the two estranged couples are united in something resembling matrimonial bliss.

    Intrepid is dedicated to making Shakespeare’s works accessible and this production is an excellent example. The language is crystal-clear, the comedy broad but effective. A cast of 13 plays multiple roles and a few even provide occasional musical accompaniment. We get treated to the vocal prowess of Charles Evans, Jr., who plays the capricious Claudio. Danny Campbell is striking in varied guises, both nasty and nice. Matt Thompson and Ruff Yeager are stalwart as the elder statesmen, and Tom Stephenson is a flat-out hoot, milking every mangled phrase of that malaprop-spewing constable, Dogberry.

    In the black box space at San Dieguito Academy, fortuitous use is made of the set from the last show, “I Hate Hamlet.” After many a murderous tragedy and history, this is a summer of whimsy and wordplay for Intrepid. And we get the last laugh.

    The production values are simple but successful. The war of wits is electrifying. Inserting slivers of darkness into the brightest of comedies, Shakespeare once again captures the follies of love – “Much Ado” is smart, sassy, silly and seductive.

    “Much Ado About Nothing” runs through August 17, at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas.

    Aired: 8/1/2014 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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