Pat Launer, Center Stage" is provided in part by the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation.
A couple of musical classics – and something outside the theater box. It’s a good month for revivals that will revive your spirits.
First, “The Sound of Music,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final, unforgettable 1959 collaboration. The enormously popular 1965 movie guaranteed that generations would list the musical among their “Favorite Things.”
San Diego Musical Theatre boldly goes where others fear to tread, giving fresh mountain air to an excellent production that features 35 performers and a grandly impressive 23 musicians in the pit, under the assured baton of Don LeMaster.
Director/choreographer Todd Nielsen keeps the pace lively, but he doesn’t shy away from the show’s serious themes. The Nazis are an ominous presence in the second act, even coming through the audience, flashlights in hand, to search for the fleeing von Trapp family, they of the seven singing children and high-spirited governess.
Joyously inhabiting the role of the obstreperous postulant, Maria, is ebullient and irresistible Allison Spratt Pearce, an alum of the Old Globe/USD MFA program. With the marvelous support of Randall Dodge, Victoria Strong, David McBean, Jill Van Velzer and those adorable kids, the show is vocally superb throughout. Just don’t try to sing along; you’d miss this production’s marvelous sounds of music.
Speaking of wonderful singing and a delicious score, try crossing over to the dark side for a trip to “Chicago,” courtesy of the Welk Resort Theatre. Kander and Ebb’s outstanding creation, paired with Bob Fosse’s signature, angular choreography, made for a terrific 1975 Broadway show – and a knockout 2002 film. This richly satiric tale, told in jazzy 1920s vaudeville style, focuses on the denizens of Murderess Row who, thanks to systemic corruption, become celebrity criminals.
Director/choreographer Ray Limon nimbly captures the grit – and the humor – of the killer musical. Natalie Nucci is terrific as indomitable Velma Kelly. Also noteworthy are Adrienne Storrs, Valerie Geason, Casey Marshall, RC Sands and comical Sarah Errington, who single-handedly - and hilariously - portrays the entire 12-member jury during the trial scene. With just fifteen performers and five onstage musicians, this production captures all the sass and brass the beloved show demands.
And now, for something completely different -- a unique, site-specific presentation from the La Jolla Playhouse – “Accomplice: San Diego,” equal parts mystery, scavenger hunt, walking tour and interactive theater experience. In a group of ten, you’ll spend 2˝ hours solving clues that take you all around Little Italy, aiding and abetting a clique of conmen. Versions of this imaginative invention by siblings Tom Salamon and Betsy Salamon-Sufott have been a hit in New York, Hollywood and London. Don’t miss your big chance to get into the act.
Whether watching or participating, San Diego theater is as easy as “Do Re Mi.”
The San Diego Musical Theatre production of “The Sound of Music” runs through May 26 at the Birch North Park Theatre.
“Chicago” continues through June 2 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.
The La Jolla Playhouse has extended “Accomplice: San Diego” through June 2.
© 2013 Pat Launer
There are two gasp-worthy moments in The Old Globe production of the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Other Desert Cities.”
The first comes when you enter the theater, and see Alexander Dodge’s jaw-dropping set, a sprawling, drool-inducing living room in Palm Springs, with a drop-dead view of craggy mountains and stately palm trees. The second comes at the last act’s big reveal.
But both moments are just a bit diminished in effect. The house, gorgeous as it is, dwarfs the people in it. And the stunning revelation is followed by a superfluous coda that spells everything out, underscored by spotlighting the now-dead parents as their daughter tells us all that transpired in the six years elapsed since the main events of the play. How much more intriguing it would have been for acclaimed playwright Jon Robin Baitz to leave us with a frisson of ambiguity, wondering just how the daughter resolved her moral dilemma.
But, the rest of the evening is scintillating, superbly written, excellently cast, expertly acted and very well directed. On opening night, the sound balance seemed off; if an actor turned upstage, we lost some of the sparkling, whip-smart dialogue.
The Wyeths are natural entertainers: the father, a wonderfully world-weary Robert Foxworth, was an actor; Mom and her alcoholic sister – the fabulously funny and acerbic Kandis Chappell and Robin Pearson Rose – used to be a screenwriting team. The clever, pot-smoking L.A. son, spot-on Andy Bean, produces a vapid TV show.
And then there’s splendid Dana Green as Brooke, who never got over the death of her brother, and has a stint in a psychiatric hospital to prove it. After a long time in New York – for which she’s repeatedly chastised by her desert-loving parents – she’s returned with the manuscript of a new book – a memoir, all about her brother’s implication in a bombing that cause a death, and his own suicide. How her parents rejected him when he asked for help. How the whole family was complicit in his deterioration.
And oh, yes, the book is already set for publication and is about to be excerpted in the New Yorker – which will undoubtedly destroy the carefully-crafted Republican bona fides of her parents, who were groomed by Nancy and Ronald Reagan. Their offspring, along with Aunt Silda, are fierce liberals, one of many bones of contention in this barb-throwing, caustic clan.
It’s a delicious and intense visit with an amusing, not-so lovable family grappling with issues of love, loyalty and appearances… and how far folks will go to protect them. The production is beautiful, with notable costumes and lighting. The play forces us to confront our own families and choices.
Theater is best when it’s meaty, giving you something to sink your teeth into and chew on later.
“Other Desert Cities” continues through June 2 at The Old Globe.
© 2013 Pat Launer
Three days, three flawed plays. High onstage energy takes several forms: comic, linguistic and on wheels.
The oldest of the works is the controversial “Oleanna,” a 1992 creation by David Mamet, who’s often been accused of misogyny. This two-hander pits an apparently ingenuous college student against her smug, supercilious professor. She implores; he condescends. By the second scene, she’s miraculously turned from a sputtering naďf to a well-spoken, strident feminist.
Complaints about the 80-minute power-play typically suggest that the deck is stacked against the female from the get-go. But at Intrepid Shakespeare Company, as directed by Christy Yael, there’s a different imbalance. This academic, as played by Francis Gercke, is so arrogant, pedantic and self-righteous, it’s impossible to have sympathy for him. The student, in a very solid performance by Rachael VanWormer, may become angry and extreme, but you sort of root for her in bringing down this hypocritical pseudo-scholar.
Despite the palpable dramatic tension, the long string of Mametian overlapping incomplete sentences in the first scene really starts to grate.
Most of “The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler” is grating. In spite of a stellar creative and technical team, the show’s a comic and literary mishmash, a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit gone ridiculously out of control. The writer is Jeff Whitty, co-creator of the hilarious, Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q.” The director is multi-talented actor Matt McGrath. The cast includes some impressive local talent. But the plot is beyond absurd, set in the “Groundhog Day” afterlife of famous fictional personages, from the titular Hedda to the murderous Medea and hapless Mammy, from “Gone with the Wind.” Their purgatory is the “Cul de Sac of Tragic Women.” In their effort to get their fates revised by their authors, they run into Cleopatra, Tosca, Jesus and two very gay boys from the ‘60s, who get most of the good lines. Just about everything is shticky and way over the top.
Now, if you prefer your fast-paced theater on a roll, consider Circle Circle dot dot’s “Derbywise,” the latest of artistic director Katherine Harroff’s explorations of a local subculture. This time, her source material is The San Diego Derby Dolls, our own roller derby queens. The 12 scenes, backed by humorous comic book slides, flip between past, present and Dream World. We learn a bit about this tough-as-nails sport and how it’s evolved from a combative environment to one that’s more supportive. Though there are some fine performances and impressive skating, we don’t get under the skin of the characters or find out what makes them sustain their anger or love of the sport. A little more depth, and workshopping, would go a long way.
Moral of this week’s story: With new plays or old, even the best of intentions sometimes go off track.
“Oleanna” runs through June 14 at Intrepid Shakespeare Company in Encinitas.
Circle circle dot dot’s “derbywise” plays through April 20 at the 10th Avenue Theatre.
“The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler” continues through April 28, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
© 2013 Pat Launer
Sometimes, you need a bit of outside intervention to get you back on track. The knockout production of “miXtape” shows you that a little push propels you forward, urges you to move on – from stagnation or age or even illness and death. In other words, you get by with a little help from your friends.
“MiXtape” takes you back to the ‘80s, that era of outrageously unfortunate outfits and diverse musical output. Lamb’s Players Theatre’s talented Colleen Collar Smith and Jon Lorenz have mined all the rock anthems, TV-show themes and sad laments to bring us the tales of eight perpetually unsettled Gen Xers, whose lives are chronicled in mix-tapes that they made or were given, to mark their feelings and the stages of their unfulfilled lives. In the tradition of “Boomers,” this vibrant, inventive, enormously energetic creation, sung by a spectacular cast, accompanied by a sensational band, is destined for a long and triumphant run.
Lamb’s Players’ “miXtape” has been running at the Horton Grand Theatre downtown since August 2010. It closes April 28, but re-opens May 31 through August 31.
© 2013 Pat Launer
For an archive of all of Pat's reviews, going back to 1990, use the 'search' function at www.PatteProductions.com.
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