Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Very Pemberley Christmas


The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley


Brian (August Browning) keeps his distance from George (Kenny Toll) and Lydia (Madeline Rouveral)

Marin Theatre Company
marintheatre.org
Until December 16, 2018

By Lauren Gunderson & Margot Melcon
Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian

Even the happiest of holidays can stress out any family, including the residents of the Pemberley estate featured in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice. What an engine of human dramedy is this novel, inspiring numerous interpretations (including the film Bridget Jones’ Diary).

In The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have again revved up the Austen engine to create another holiday spinoff like 2016’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. The Wickhams takes place at the same time as Miss Bennet, except in the downstairs realm of the servants who work hard to create, manage and execute the holiday magic that appears so effortless to “upstairs” folk like Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (David Everett Moore) and Mrs. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Darcy (Melissa Ortiz) and guests.

Downstairs is the domain of Mrs. Russell (​Jennie Brick),  the cook and “operations manager” who bustles and fusses to keep the house running smoothly with the help of the footman Brian (August Browning) and new maid Cassie (Neiry Rojo). There’s so much to be done: orange biscuits to be baked, meals planned, wreaths assembled, decorations prepared, boots polished, and the live evergreen tree cut down and hauled inside as part of the new German novelty in holiday tradition.

Cassie (Geiry Rojo) and Brian (August Browning)

The routine moves like clockwork until a wrench is thrown into the gears, the wrench being the “ne’er do well” George Wickham (a wonderfully scurrilous Kenny Toll) who appears unexpectedly at the servants’ door at Pemberley even though he has been banned from the premises for deceitful and conniving actions regarding his relationship and bargained marriage to Lydia (Madeline Rouverol), the youngest Bennet sister who lives in a ditzy whirl of balls, pretty dresses, and flirtations with men. Lydia has come to visit her sister Lizzie without George, unaware that he’s hiding out downstairs. The whole play is fun and farcical as the staff tries to keep George and the chaos he brings away from the family.

George Wickham (Kenny Toll) sweet talks Mrs. Reynolds (Jennie Brick)
Downstairs is like the backstage before opening night. It’s also an escape for Lizzie and Lydia to literally let their hair down, explode with emotion, and munch on one of those delicious orange cookies. (MTC would do well to sell those cookies in the lobby!) And the whiff of budding romance and a new future for Cassie and Brian is heartwarming.

Lizzie Bennet (Melissa Ortiz) with her sister, Lydia Wickham (Madeline Rouverol)

One thing that MTC does well is the dramaturgical research (Laura A. Brueckner) needed to create authenticity. Courtney Flores’ meticulous costume design brings form and color to the actors’ movements, and Wilson Chin’s scenic design is packed with intriguing details to fill in the experience of working among the servants. MTC displays the research in engaging lobby exhibits to depict life just prior to the Industrial (and thus social) Revolution in England. An innovative and fun touch were the bottles of scents the characters might have experienced in the early 1800s: you could smell the spices, laundry soap, and even brandy.

All performances are solid, with Mrs. Russell, Brian, and Cassie maintaining sanity while George and Lydia rant hysterically and Mr. Darcy and Lizzie strive to maintain decorum.

This latest Christmas jaunt into a secret corner of the Pemberley estate makes for a delightful time at the theater, leading me to wonder what new story will come next year.

Photo credit: Kevin Berne


The Wickhams:  Christmas at Pemberley

Marin Theatre Company

CAST
​Jennie Brick* -- Mrs. Reynolds
August Browning -- Brian
David Everett Moore*  -- Fitzwilliam Darcy
Melissa Ortiz* -- Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy
​Neiry Rojo -- ​Cassie
Madeline Rouverol -- Lydia Wickham
Kenny Toll* -- George Wickham

CREATIVE TEAM
Lauren M. Gunderson -- Playwright
Margot Melcon -- Playwright
​Megan Sandberg-Zakian -- Director
Kevin Johnson* -- Stage Manager
Wilson Chin+ -- Scenic Designer
Courtney Flores -- Costume Designer
Wen-Ling Liao+ -- Lighting Designer
Sharath Patel -- Sound Designer
Jessica Berman -- Dialect Coach
Laura A. Brueckner -- Production Dramaturg
Dori Jacob -- Casting Director



Saturday, November 24, 2018

We Need You, Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

San Francisco Playhouse
588 Sutter Street, San Francisco
sfplayhouse.org
Until Jan 12, 2019

A Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; Book by Julian Fellowes; New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh

Directed by Susi Damilano
Music direction by Katie Coleman

Reviewed by Christine Okon

San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Mary Poppins is absolutely delightful, bringing us the spoonful of sugar we need to stomach these stressful times.

Based on the Broadway musical and the 1964 Disney film which was in turn based on the book by P.L. Travers, this version of Mary Poppins honors the shadows as well as the joy in the story of the magical, quirky nanny who saves the spirit of the Banks family (George, Winifred, Jane and Michael) in early 20th century England.

Bert the Chimney Sweep (Wiley Naman Strasser)
Class differences create contrast. The amiable chimney sweep Bert (a puckish and engaging Wiley Naman Strasser) is the chorus of the lower working class and gives us the widest perspective from rooftop to street. As the upper class moves along in their entitled sphere of wealth and profit, the striving middle class, represented by George Banks (Ryan Drummond), is in danger of becoming a corporate automaton, relishing order and precision above all else until Mary Poppins enters.

The incorrigible Banks children (Ruth Keith as Jane and David Ruskin as Michael) have burned through several nannies, much to the frustration of their mother Winifred Banks (Abby Haug), the bustling cook Mrs. Brill (Marie Shell), and servant Robertson Ay (Rod Voltaire Edora). As soon as the children voice the wording of the ad they’d like to place for “The Perfect Nanny,” there’s a knock at the door. As if by magic (and indeed it is magic), Mary Poppins appears in her crisp dress and carpetbag, ready to step into the job. El Beh gives us a solid, no-nonsense Mary Poppins, a “bit of a badass---and I like that,” as my theater companion said. Mary Poppins sees herself as “Practically Perfect” and is honest and direct; her example provides structure and guidance rooted in love, not control. She teaches Michael and Jane to own their actions and take responsibility for the repercussions of their decisions.

Mary Poppins opens up a world of whimsy and discovery, leading to some sparkling scenes where toys come to life, as in “Playing the Game,” with Gina Velez as “Valentine” and ensemble spinning in a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes as fun as a pile of unopened gifts under the Christmas tree. A big thumbs-up to costume designer Abra Berman and wig designer Laundra Tyne for creating the closest thing to a Disney animation on stage.

A Kaleidoscope of Color
Mary Poppins has friends in high places, namely, the rooftops full of “guardian angels” -- chimney sweeps--who keep the home fires burning clean. The number “Step in Time” bursts with so much energy that you feel worn out as an audience member; it’s that much fun, thanks to choreography by Kimberly Richards.

Bravo to the set, prop and lighting designers (Nina Ball, Jacquelyn Scott, and Patrick Toebe) who created the rotating stage where each setting--the rooftops and sky, the children’s bedroom, the Banks home, the park--unfolds like a pop-up storybook being read to you in an easy chair.

Mary Poppins (El Beh) arrives

The songs you know and love such as ”A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and others rekindle childhood right in your seat. The most moving song is “Feed the Birds,” said to be Walt Disney’ favorite and what the whole story is about. It’s soulfully sung by the incredible Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman, surrounded by feathered friends, calling out her simple plea for kindness from the steps of the church. Whether or not one buys seed from her reveals character, as when Michael is willing to give his sixpence away and, even more profoundly, Mr. Banks notices her and gives something without expecting return. One suggestion: It would be very effective to project an image of a sky full of birds to suggest the endless opportunities to share kindness with others.

Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman

Not only can she portray the old Bird Woman, but McGraw shows her eclectic range as the totally opposite Mrs. Andrews, the “Holy Terror” nanny of Mr. Banks’s childhood who, with her threats of a “Brimstone and Treacle” remedy bullies the Banks household until she meets her match in Mary Poppins. As a kindly old woman or a fearsome witch, McGraw’s powerful and beautiful voice fills the space in the theater and our hearts.

Bravo to director Susi Damilano for bringing us an outstanding synchronization of acting, staging, music, dance and fun. Give yourself a chance to snatch a little bit of joy this holiday season, and you’ll even get to see Mary Poppins fly!



MARY POPPINS

CAST

El Beh
MARY POPPINS

Dominic Dagdagan
NORTHBROOK/ NELEUS/ ENSEMBLE

Ryan Drummond*
GEORGE BANKS
Rod Voltaire Edora
Rod Voltaire Edora*
ROBERTSON AY/ PARK KEEPER/ ENSEMBLE

Rudy Guerrero*
POLICEMAN/ VON HUSSLER/ ENSEMBLE

Kathryn Han*
MISS LARK/ MISS SMYTHE/ ENSEMBLE

Abby Haug*
WINIFRED BANKS

Billy Hutton
MICHAEL BANKS

Grace Hutton
JANE BANKS

Ruth Keith
JANE BANKS

Sophia LaPaglia
KATIE NANNA/ MRS. CORRY/ ENSEMBLE

Catrina Manahan
ENSEMBLE

Jessica Mann
SWING

Katrina Lauren McGraw*
BIRD WOMAN/ MISS ANDREW/ ENSEMBLE

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*
ADMIRAL BOOM/ BANK CHAIRMAN/ ENSEMBLE

David Rukin
MICHAEL BANKS

Marie Shell*
MRS. BRILL/ QUEEN VICTORIA

David Stein
SWING

Wiley Naman Strasser
BERT

Gina Velez
VALENTINE/

Ruth Keith
JANE BANKS

Sophia LaPaglia
KATIE NANNA/ MRS. CORRY/ ENSEMBLE

Catrina Manahan
ENSEMBLE

Jessica Mann
SWING
Katrina Lauren McGraw*
BIRD WOMAN/ MISS ANDREW/ ENSEMBLE

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*
ADMIRAL BOOM/ BANK CHAIRMAN/ ENSEMBLE

David Rukin
MICHAEL BANKS

Marie Shell*
MRS. BRILL/ QUEEN VICTORIA

David Stein
SWING

Wiley Naman Strasser
BERT

Gina Velez
VALENTINE/ ENSEMBL


CREATIVE TEAM

Cameron Mackintosh
CO-CREATOR

P.L. Travers
AUTHOR

Sherman Brothers
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
ORIGINAL MUSIC AND LYRICS

Julian Fellowes
BOOK

George Stiles
ADDITIONAL MUSIC AND LYRICS

Anthony Drewe
ADDITIONAL MUSIC AND LYRICS

Susi Damilano
DIRECTOR

Katie Coleman
MUSIC DIRECTOR

Kimberly Richards
CHOREOGRAPHER

Nina Ball
SCENIC DESIGNER

Abra Berman
COSTUME DESIGNER

Theodore J.H. Hulsker
SOUND DESIGNER
PROJECTIONS DESIGNER

Patrick Toebe
LIGHTING DESIGNER

Jacquelyn Scott
PROPERTIES ARTISAN

Sarah Selig
STAGE MANAGER

Angela Knutson
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Shannon R. Carroll
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Maria Kosta
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Mike "Miguel" Martinez
SPECIAL EFFECTS DIRECTOR

Eliana Adise
STAGE MANAGEMENT INTERN

Caitlin McFann
STAGE MANAGEMENT INTERN

Dori Jacob
CASTING DIRECTOR

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Crazy for You: Gershwin Galore

Crazy for You  

Bobby (Conor DeVoe) and Chorus


NOV 10 - DEC 16, 2018


Bay Area Musicals

Alcazar Theater
650 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA


Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Book by Ken Ludwig
Direction and Choreography by Matthew McCoy
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo


I like a Gershwin tune..how about you?


If you also like lots of singing and dancing and don’t mind an insipid, outworn plot, then you may enjoy Bay Area Musical's production of Crazy for You, a mishmash of Gershwin songs from the 1930 Girl Crazy and other productions. For this "New Gershwin Musical Comedy" from 1992, it’s pretty dated.


Under the direction of Matthew McCoy, BAM players put their hearts and hooves into this production that was unfortunately weakened by the flimsy premise, missed comic timing (where throwaway humor was really thrown away), audio problems, and mismatched energies of some performers. But then again, it’s quite the feat to capture that big Broadway show feel on the Alcazar stage.
Bobby Child (Conor DeVoe) is a bored rich kid who’s gotta dance and tries out for the bright lights, big stage, and Broadway thrill of the Zangfeld Follies. When dispatched by his greedy mother Irene Roth (Mary Gibboney) to foreclose on a property way out West in Nevada, he meets his match in Polly Baker (Danielle Alitzio), the feisty daughter of vaudeville actors who fights to keeps the old hotel, stage, and post office running. Surprise! Love triumphs over greed but not without some mishaps, some funny, some tedious.

Polly (Danielle Alitzio), Bobby (Conor DaVoe) and Chorus

Let’s talk about what’s good. First of all, the dancing! Matthew McCoy and Danielle Chaiken do justice to Susan Stroman’s choreography for the original Broadway production. The chorus girls are a collection of quirky personalities who dance and sing in sparkly and fun costumes designed by Bruce Jennings and Ge Jia. They are a joy to see, with special standout by Danielle Chaiken as Tess, keeping a snappy wryness to her everygirl character. The chorus of “cowboys” is equally delightful, and when the entire chorus moves together it’s a dazzling spectacle.


Conor DeVoie is a exubeant dancer, comfortable in his body, and fun to watch. He has a knack for physical comedy, from his facial expressions and doubletakes to the goofy, Marx Brothers-inspired “mirror” scene he has with Bela Zangfeld (Tony Michaels). Danielle Alitzio as his counterpart Polly is equally adept with the steps but somehow kept within her own sphere of energy. Her rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me" didn’t have the soulful yearning this song was made for. As good as she was with song and dance, she seemed uncomfortable.


The main weakness is the play itself. Despite the energy of some talented people, the story is flat-footed, clumsy and at times boring. Although there are things to enjoy in this production, crazy for it I am not.


Crazy for You
Bay Area Musicals bamsf.org


CAST
Polly Baker, Danielle Altizio
Bobby Child, Conor Devoe*
Irene Roth, Morgan Peters
Bela Zangler, Tony Michaels
Lottie/Patricia Fodor, Mary Gibboney
Perkins/Eugene Fodor, Paul Plain
Everett Baker, Charles Evans
Lank Hawkins, Sean McGrory
Tess, Danielle Cheiken
Patsy, Zoe Swenson-Graham
Mitzi, Leslie Waggoner
Elaine, Alyson Chilton
Louise, Katie Baritell
Susie, Laura Morgan
Moose, Lucas Brandt
Mingo, Mitchell Mosley
Sam, Jean-Paul Jones
Harry, Patrick Brewer
Junior, Brendan Looney
Custus, Jesse Cortez
*Denotes a member of Actors’ Equity Association


ARTISTIC TEAM
Matthew McCoy, Director & Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Musical Director
Danielle Cheiken, Assistant Choreographer
Cat Knight, Stage Manager
Andrea Fanelli, Assnt. Stage Manager
Kayleigh Glenn, Assnt. Stage Manager
Kuo-Hao Lo, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Engineer
Clay David, Prop Designer
Jackie Dennis, Wig Designer
Laurence Tasse, Sound Board Op
Richard Gutierrez, Wardrobe Master
Ge Jia, Assnt. Costume Designer
Stewart Lyle, Technical Director
AC Hay, Master Electrician

ORCHESTRA
Sonja Lindsay - Trumpet
Jeremy Carrillo - Trombone
Will Berg - Woodwinds
Kjirsten Grove - Keyboard / Woodwinds
Jon Gallo - Keyboard / Conductor
Kyle Wong - Bass
Dominic Moisane - Drums