Friday, June 22, 2018

What You Need to Know about Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know

June 22-24, 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture

For her performance as Scarlett O’Hara’s maid “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind, Hattie McDaniel, in an era replete with racism and segregation, made history as the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar and win a place in the Hollywood firmament, even if that place was far in the back and near the kitchen.
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind
In Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know (currently playing until June 24 at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason), actress, singer and songwriter Vickilyn Reynolds brings Hattie to life, telling her story from being the youngest of 13 children of former slaves to pursuing her dream of performing on stage and eventually in films in the early days of Hollywood, where roles for black actors were limited and scarce.

Vickilyn Reynolds as Hattie McDaniel (photo: Alissa Banks)
In a series of loosely-joined vignettes that could benefit from tighter direction, editing and a stronger story thread, Reynolds presents Hattie as an intrepid fighter undeterred by the word no. What makes this show is Reynolds’ remarkable songwriting and singing talent. Her original songs such as "Hollywood," "When Will It Be My Turn," "Dis, Dat, Deez, Dem Day," "Any Kinda Man" and more are moving, warm and very creative. She has a belt-it-out, come-to-Jesus voice that lifts you out of your seat, and this experience alone is worth the price of admission. And, to boot, Reynolds resembles McDaniel’s in stature and feisty attitude.

Vickilyn Reynolds (photo: Alissa Banks)
Opening night was challenged by abrupt or delayed lighting and costume changes and a persistent feedback buzz, but such things can be corrected with repeat performances, especially as the show begins its USA tour.

Audiences will walk away humming a few new tunes, enlightened and entertained by the story of a legendary Hollywood icon who deserves much more recognition.
Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel: What I Need You to Know
June 22-24, 2018
Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture

Vickilyn Reynolds as Hattie McDaniel

Director, Lighting and Set Design: Byron Nora
Costumes: Kevin Mays and Mylette Nora
Stage Manager: Alyssa Champos

Tickets range from $25 - $100 and are available by emailing or in-person at the Box Office. More information about the production can be found online at or by calling (415) 345-7500.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Stories of Street and Struggle

Reflections in Black 2018
San Francisco Recovery Theater
June 1-16, 2018 (7pm Fridays and Saturdays)

at Piano Fight
144 Taylor St
San Francisco

$20 general admission but free for Tenderloin residents

A quiet but powerful agent of change in the heart of the Tenderloin is San Francisco Recovery Theatre, which for 20 years has provided “a safe place for those who are suffering, their families and those in recovery.” It’s a theater of the spirit and stories about lives lived and lost, and a haven for often-unheard voices.

Led by accomplished actor, director, playwright and SFRT founder Geoffrey Grier, SFRT’s Reflections In Black 2018 revisits an existing collection of original monologues and devised plays, and excerpts, songs and adaptations of plays and essays by African American writers and actors whose individual stories create a mosaic of what it means to be Black in the United States.

Staged in one of Piano Fight’s tiny hot box theater spaces, this production is as up close and personal as it can be as it begins with the all-too-familiar (and sometimes cliched) Twilight Zone intro music to bring us into “The Black Zone.” Grier begins to explain what will ensue only to be interrupted by The Homeless Prophet (Vernon Medearis) who had been sitting in the audience mumbling to himself and being a slight nuisance before he takes the mike to tell his story and prophecy. What follows is a series of vignettes including the story of Paul Robeson (Benn Bacot) whose story far exceeded the singular reputation he had for singing Old Man River; "Angela’s Rant," where the wife (Beverly McGriff) of an incarcerated man rants at him during a prison visit, berating him for the disappointment and pain he has caused her as he sits there in silence; the very powerful "Salaam Huey, Salaam," performed by Grier as the friend of fellow junkie Huey Newton in his last days of life on the Oakland streets. There are 10 stories in all, each with its own power.

With this production, SFRT is reaching out to much of the Mid-Market and 6th Street corridor population as well by organizing groups from neighborhood organizations to see the play free of charge, and by casting actors who are currently or have lived in the Tenderloin.

Reflections in Black 2018 is a small diamond tucked deep in the urban landscape, and it is a treasure to experience.

Reflections in Black 2018
San Francisco Recovery Theater

Vernon Medearis
Geoffrey Grier
Benn Bacot
Richard May
Eric Ward
Beverly McGriff

Encore! Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
By Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Directed by John Fisher
Produced by Theatre Rhinoceros

May 26 –  July 7, 2018
Gateway Theatre
215 Jackson San Francisco
Run time: @ 2-1/2 hours

Depressed by the news? Bored by the same old-same old? Then what you need is some glitz and glam and disco to shake it up, and Theater Rhinoceros does that with its encore of their 2017 award-winning production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert - The Musical, just in time for Pride month. Based on the 1994 movie about a group of drag queen friends on an Australian outback driveabout, this production is at the Gateway Theater until June 30, 2018.

Everyone in the cast simply revels in the joyful chaos of this show, with disco favorites such as “It’s Raining Men,” “Don’t Leave Me this Way,” “I Love the Nightlife,” “I Will Survive,” “Go West” and more keeping the audience chair-dancing. The over 100 costumes were fun and fab and feathery and sparkly as if dozens of closets were raided at once.

Felicia (Charles Peoples III), Mitzi (Rudy Guerrero) and Bernadette (Kim Larsen)
Counterpoint to the drag queens are the various outback characters, country folk with a rough edge who ain’t seen nothin’ like the show the queens put on. We feel the bravery of the queens as they venture into unknown territory onboard their pink bus christened “Priscilla”: they are vulnerable outsiders who manage to win over the toughest crowds. There are some absolutely wacky and fun scenes in the play, and some sad and shocking ones as well.

Priscilla - the fabulous ship of the desert
Rudy Guerrero brings a superb professionalism and skill to Tick (aka Mitzi), the man on a mission to see his son Benji (gamely played by the young Cameron Zener). Guerrero is a pro at singing and dancing and seems the most comfortable on the stage; he was the only one who managed to sustain a convincing Aussie accent. A few of the other actors had to work to keep up with Guerrero, and some of them were slightly off key. (Is it possible to set this play in America, which has its own deserts, small towns and country boys? It’s hard to learn an accent.)
Rudy Guerrero (Mitzi/Tick)

If you’re looking for a night of campy energy and fun, go see this production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert - The Musical -- and don’t forget your dancing shoes.


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The Musical

Director - John Fisher
Choreography - AeJay Mitchell
Rudy Guerrero - Dance Captain
Scenic Designer - Gilbert Johnson
Lighting - Sean Keehan
Costumes Robert Horek
Headdress Designer Glenn Krumbholz
Sound - James Goode

Rudy Guerrero - Tick/Mitzi
John-Thomas Hanson - Pastor, ensemble
Kim Larsen - Bernadette
Charles Peoples III - Adam/Felicia
Morgan Lange - Lars 1, Errol, Jules, Ensemble
Grace Liu - Cynthia, ensemble
Lisa McHenry - Shirley, Diva
Phaedra Tillery - Marion, Diva
David Tuttle - Miss Understanding, Lars 2, Band Boy, Young Bernadette, Ensemble
Dee Wagner - Marion’s Wife, ensemble
Cameron Weston - Bob, Ensemble
Cameron Zener - Benji