Friday, February 28, 2020

The Full Monty Is Played Out

The Full Monty

(L-R) Jackson Thea, Stephen Kanaski, Chris Plank, James Schott, Arthur Scappaticci and Albert Hodge

Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Terrence McNally

Direction & Choreography by Leslie Waggoner
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco

Until March 15, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

The 1997 British comedy film “The Full Monty,” about six unemployed factory workers who go all in to win money and self respect by becoming strippers, is full of charm, poignancy, and humor. The 2000 Americanized musical version, despite being nominated for several Tony awards in 2001, hasn’t aged well. Maybe it’s the times, maybe it’s the cliche-stuffed script, but Bay Area Musical’s production of “The Full Monty” loses momentum after the hot-pulsed opening strip tease by Julio Chavez as the sexy “Keno.”

(L-R) Christopher Apy, Chris Plank, Jackson Thea, and Adrienne Herro

Jerry Lukowski (James Schott, who tries hard and could use more voice training) is the de facto leader of a group of Buffalo steel workers wandering in the purgatory of the unemployed and disenfranchised. When he witnesses how excited his wife Pam (Desiree Juanes) and her friends become at a male Chippendales-style strip show, he hatches the idea that he, or any other man for that matter, could win money and adulation by becoming a stripper too. Fueled by his fantasy and his desire to win over his son Nathan (Christopher Apy), Jerry recruits other guys to join him, but the idea of stripping in front of a female audience triggers deep insecurities of competence, age, and body image, such as when Jerry’s overweight pal Dave Bukatisky (a lovable Chris Plank) balks at the prospect and veers toward the safe security guard job he thinks his wife prefers. 

(L-R) Front: Stephen Kanaski, Arthur Scappaticci, Albert Hodge
Rear: L-R) Back: Jackson Thea and Chris Plank 

What slows down “The Full Monty” is its predictability; one must sit through the dated, weighty script and male-female cliches to reach the end scene which, although fun, is a great relief.
Bay Area Musicals has a great track record for its wonderful musical productions, but unfortunately, “The Full Monty” falls flat.

"The Full Monty" Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Terrence McNally, Direction & Choreography by Leslie Waggoner, Bay Area Musicals, Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco. Until March 15, 2020. Info:

ALL PHOTOS by Ben Krantz Studio

Jerry Lukowski, James Schott
Nathan Lukowski, Christopher Apy
Pam Lukowski, Desiree Juanes
Teddy/Repo Man/Gary, Blake Weaver
Dave Bukatinsky, Chris Plank
Georgie Bukatinsky, Briel Pomerantz
Harold Nichols, Arthur Scappaticci
Vicki Nichols, Adrienne Herro
Malcolm Macgregor, Jackson Thea
Ethan Girard, Stephen Kanaski
Noah Simmons, Albert Hodge
Jeanette/Molly, Michelle Ianiro
Keno/Dance Instructor/Police Sergeant, Julio Chavez
Reg/Minister, David Richardson
Estelle Genovese, Jill Jacobs
Joanie/Betty, Shauna Satnick
Susan/Other Woman, Pauli N. Amornkul

Leslie Waggoner, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Music Director
Genevieve Pabon, Stage Manager
Frank Cardinale, Assnt. Stage Manager
Harley Greene, Assnt. Stage Manager
Matthew McCoy, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Designer
Tom O’Brien, Prop Designer
Stewart Lyle, Set Consultant & Technical Director
Jai Cha, Sound Board Op
Cat Knight, Production Manager
Alex Herlihy, Production/Marketing Intern

Guitar: Jonathan Salazar
Bass: Kyle Wong
Drums: Kirk Duplantis
Key 2: John Conway
Key 1: Jon Gallo

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Turn Up that Dial!


Loreigna Sinclair and Sean Okuniewicz Photo: Ben Krantz

Book and Lyrics by David Bryan
Music and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Brendan Simon
Berkeley Playhouse, Berkeley

Until March 15, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Wow. I am blown away by “Memphis” at Berkeley Playhouse in the Julia Morgan Theater.

Fantastic singing? Check.
Soul-moving choreography? Yes!
Superb direction? Praise be!
Double-dutch jump roping? Whooo-eey!

This Tony award winning musical (which had its inception at TheatreWorks in Mountain View) is inspired by the story of Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJ's to play black music in the racially-charged 1950s. Jim Crow could segregate people, but not radio airwaves.

From the beginning, “Memphis” pulls you into the music, dares you to sit still in your seat, largely due to Brendan Simon’s keen direction of the spirit of the play. It’s Saturday night in a swinging nightclub in the black section of town, and the opening number “Underground” brings us right into the mix. There’s dancing, laughing, and drinking as everyone lets loose. The live band led by Daniel Alley lays down a beat that pulses through the scene.

Into this segregated space walks a gawkish, bespectacled white guy, Huey Calhoun (Sean Okuniewicz) who is drawn to the music he loves. Okuniewicz is jaw droppingly good, and his geeky appearance belies the powerhouse singing, acting, and dancing talent that bubbles forth like a secret spring. He is a joy to watch, and there could not have been a better casting choice.

Huey approaches the owner of the record store that caters white music (e.g., Perry “Coma”) to white customers and insists that he can increase sales by spinning 45rpm discs of black music, which he does. The owner doesn’t understand black music but he does money, and gives Huey a job.

Loreigna Sinclair and Sean Okuniewicz Photo: Ben Krantz

Huey’s mission to bring black music to the masses leads him into closer contact with the amazing singer Felicia Farrell (Loreigna Sinclair, who leaves no doubt that her character is headed to stardom), along with her brother Del Ray (solid Jordan Olivier Verde) and friends like “big man” Bobby (Carious Mayberry) who spins across the stage like a wild sparkler to prove that he’s the guy who gives “Big Love.”

Loreigna Sinclair  Photo: Ben Krantz

Teenagers starved for stimulation crave the music that moves them, and Huey eventually soars to the top DJ spot in Memphis while Felicia’s career also accelerates. Such jubilance threatens the established order of racism and hatred that have a grip on whites like Huey’s mother Gladys (Deborah Del Mastro) and other more dangerous and harmful forces, some of which are sadly still with us.

Music sets the gears of change in motion, a change for the better as expressed in the song beautifully and soulfully sung by Gator (John-David Randle) at the end of Act I:

Say a prayer that change is a comin',
Say a prayer that hope is 'round the bend.
And if you pray that change is a comin', oh Jesus
Then may what you pray come true,

In  “Change Don't Come Easy,” Del Mastro makes Huey’s mother more likable and funny as she sings the gospel of rhythm and blues, and we know she’s been redeemed. That change doesn’t come easy is wonderfully demonstrated in a scene where two girls, one white and one black (Claire Noel Pearson and Kamaria McKinney), do double dutch jump roping together. (If you’ve ever tried doing this, you’ll marvel at the skill and coordination needed.)

Memphis is where Martin Luther King was murdered, but it is also the city “where all the streets are paved with soul” and music is the past, present, and future. "Memphis" the musical brings that perspective home.

"Memphis," book and lyrics by David Bryan, lyrics by Joe DiPietro, directed by Brendan Simon. Berkeley Playhouse, Berkeley, through 3/15/20. Info:

HUEY CALHOUN  Sean Okuniewicz
FELICIA FARRELL  Loreigna Sinclair
DEL RAY FARRELL Jourdan Olivier-Verde
GLADYS CALHOUN Deborah Del Mastro
GATOR  Jon-David Randle
BOBBY Cadarious Mayberry
MR COLLINS / DJ / FATHER / GORDON GRANT Charles Woodson Parker
CLARA / MOTHER Jennifer Stark
ETHEL / SELMA / ENSEMBLE Chanel Tilghman
BESSIE / ENSEMBLE  Maya Phillips
LAVERNE / ENSEMBLE  Jennifer Frazier
TEENAGER / ENSEMBLE  Hanah Rose Nardone
TRIO / ENSEMBLE  Montel Anthony Nord
TRIO / ENSEMBLE  Jeffrey May Hyche

CREATIVE TEAM                             
Book and lyrics by David Bryan; lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Brendan Simon
Music Director Daniel Alley
Scenic Designer Sarah Phykitt
Lighting Designer Cameron Pierce
Costume Designer Lisa Danz
Sound Designer Lyle Barrere
Choreographer Christina Lazo

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Wakey Up Before It's Too Late

Wakey, Wakey 

Kathryn Smith-McGlynn and Tony Hale Photo: Kevin Berne

Written by Will Eno
Directed by Anne Kauffman
A.C.T Geary Stage, San Francisco

Until February 16, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Wakey Wakey” begins with Guy (Tony Hale) inexplicably lying face down on the stage floor, waiting for a cue to begin. He climbs into a wheelchair and, like a little kid excitedly describing his first day in school to whoever will listen, begins to unspool a rambling commentary of quirky observations of little moments that delight him: cute YouTube animals, scenic landscapes, home movies, a magic eye optical illusion, and countless fast-cut images streaming on a jumbo projection screen. We are immersed in visual and auditory media whether we like it or not. Hale is engaging as Guy, a loner starved for interaction and addicted to digital technology who shares non-stop, almost desperate, bemused observations.

But he is not alone. Lisa (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) the caretaker enters; she helps Guy but does not patronize or condescend. They banter in random, freewheeling conversation about the meaning of existence and the preciousness of each moment, and we soon deduce that Guy is at the end of his life. With little time left, he scrambles to harvest small, joyful seconds that are so easy to take for granted: little kids playing, a family picnic, a parade, flowers that fill the screen, a star-filled night sky.

Tony Hale  Photo: Kevin Berne
So yes, the message is clear. Stop and smell the roses, cherish the moment, appreciate what you have, be in the Now. Celebrate life! With balloons! (which actually drop from above to cover the stage. All of this--the images, music, and lighting--are literally in your face. The visual bombardment barely allows us room to think or breathe. And it is this aspect of the play that will divide the audience. Those inclined to swipe left for continuously new sensory input might be excited, while others may see that when technology overpowers meaning, the effect can be gimmicky.

Wakey, Wakey” is like a mashup of the cinematic tone poem “Koyaanisqatsi,” the life lessons of “Desiderata,” and the silly giggles of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Despite the solid acting and innovative staging, "Wakey, Wakey" prods the audience to respond to a surprise electric shock from an ungrounded outlet.

Jeff Wittekiend, LeRoy S. Graham III, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, Emma Van Lare, Dinah Berkeley

Prior to “Wakey, Wakey” is “The Substitution,” a new A.C.T-commissioned short play also written by Eno that takes place in a community college classroom. It features Kathryn Smith-McGlynn as Ms. Forester, a substitute teacher who inadvertently widens the minds of the students who are there for driver’s ed. The cast of this play, comprised of students from A.C.T’s MFA program, is solid, showing a range of types. Whether the two plays are linked is unclear, which may cause confusion.

"Wakey, Wakey," written by Will Eno, directed by Anne Kaufmann. A.C.T. Geary Stage, San Francisco, through 2/16/20. Info:

CAST for “Wakey, Wakey”
Tony Hale*  Guy
Kathryn Smith-McGlynn* Lisa

CAST for "The Substitution"
Kathryn Smith-McGlynn* Ms. Forester
Dinah Berkeley** Jennifer
LeRoy S. Graham III** Bobby
Emma Van Lare**   Marisol
Jeff Wittekiend**  Jimmy

* Member, Actor’s Equity Association
** Member, A.C.T’s MFA Program Class of 2020

CREATIVE TEAM                     
Written by Will Eno
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Photography:  Kevin Berne
Scenic and Costume Designer Kimie Nishikawa
Lighting Designer Russell H. Champa
Sound and Projection Designer Leah Gelpe
Choreographer Joe Goode
Voice Coach Christine Adaire
Movement Coach Danyon Davis
Dramaturg Joy Meads