Saturday, December 18, 2010

Noises Off : South Valley Civic Theatre: A Fun Time at the Theatre

This show has had its run, so there's no point in a detailed review. Suffice it to say that this was a first rate production of an uproariously funny play. The cast was uniformly fine, with standouts too numerous to mention. It's such a pleasure to laugh out loud and mean it! I'll certainly be back to see future SVCT events..

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Lion in Winter : Actors Theatre of SF : A Failure of Tone and Talent

Goldman’s searing expose of royal dysfunction was a critical hit, if not a commercial one, when it was produced in the ‘60s. It’s not hard to imagine how the strange marriage of familial depravity and acerbic wit would strike a chord with the iconoclastic mood of the time.

But offering a modern sensibility to a drama set in a medieval historical context can be a daunting challenge. Should it be an outright satire; or perhaps the material can be approached with shades of grey humor, if not entirely black? And there’s always a danger that placing too much emphasis on the comedy would devolve into something reminiscent of Mel Brooks.

The key, then, would be too commit to a tone that makes sense and play it for all it’s worth. This, of course, requires consummate skill, especially when the actor is being asked to complement the tragic machinations of the plot with dialogue that often borders upon self-mockery. This high wire act could be fatal if the performer does not achieve the perfect equilibrium.

And there’s the rub of this production. It’s obvious that the process of developing a coherent intonation was sorely lacking any good creative ideas. That basic flaw, however, does not excuse the paucity of talent on display among an aimless cast desperate for a compass. A failure of such proportions is uncharacteristic of Actors Theatre. ‘Tis a pity.

Babes in Arms : 42nd Street Moon : Another Winner!

The Great Depression of the '30s was not just an economic phenomenon. To avert a descent into an emotional abyss as well, the nation almost universally embraced the ebullience and optimism provided by the American musical. The gifted songwriting team of Rodgers and Hart were without peer in their uncanny ability to mitigate the despair with memorable melodies and clever lyrics destined to become popular classics.

To capture the prevalent spirit of an ostensibly simpler time in a manner that rings true during an era where irony has supplanted sentiment would appear to be a tall order. As current events have revealed, however, history has a bad habit of repeating itself. And despite the veneer of 21st century cool, deep down people will always remain visceral creatures. The powers that be at 42nd Street Moon have never lost sight of this basic truth.

That is why virtually all facets of this wonderful production succeed brilliantly. The cast is uniformly fine, with precise comic timing, superb vocal proficiency and inspired acting performances offered throughout. Most notable are Tyner Rushing (Delores), Sophia Rose Morris (Baby Rose) and Joshua James (Marshall), who inhabit their characters with such utter abandon that they’re a sheer joy to behold. And the balletic moves of young Isaiah Boyd would do Ballanchine (the original choreographer) proud.

Direction, both acting and musical, is executed with a refreshing creative acuity. Staging and choreography for the relatively large ensemble are, in a word, outstanding. The intricate and delightful choreography composed for the two “Gus (Danny Gozart) and Delores (Rushing)” duets are just a sample of the many highlights. And the several choral numbers are delivered with enough exuberance to elicit goose bumps!

Notwithstanding the consummate skill on display, the musical is not without its shortcomings. Most unexpectedly, despite featuring tunes that have become sentimental standards, the strong political themes of the story almost eclipse, albeit entertainingly, the essential romanticism. This is due, in part, to the lack of any perceptible chemistry between the two leads, Michael Scott Wells (Val) and Alexandra Kaprielian (Billie).

Moreover, Ms. Kaprielian’s performance, including her competent renditions of perennial favorites “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady is a Tramp”, tended to emphasize the artifice of her meticulous technique over heartfelt emotion. She’s undoubtedly quite talented, but arguably miscast here. And one has reason to suspect that she was understandably intimidated by the generations of legendary singers who have covered the songs before her. That's a tough legacy to follow for anyone!

Nitpicking aside, this is without a doubt one of the best revivals I’ve had the good fortune to witness in a long time. I recommend, without reservation, that everyone march their way down forthwith to the Eureka Theatre and experience this little gem of family-friendly merriment before it becomes history once again!

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Christmas Carol : Northside Theatre Company San Jose : Nicely Done!

Dickens’ paean to the indomitability of the human spirit is the quintessential Christmas story. As such, it has been produced countless times by anyone courageous, if not foolish, enough to give it a try. That being the case, is it possible to bring something new to the perennial favorite?

Indeed, the creative folks at the Northside Theatre Company have more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Namely, a prodigious talent for lighting, sound and set design, and impeccable staging. Not to mention a keen casting sense that’s savvy enough to offer the central role to the inimitable Ross Arden Harkness. A better choice could not have been made!

Scrooge must possess a palpable gravitas to be taken seriously, and Harkness possesses it in droves. He pilots this vessel’s talented ensemble with the assurance of a ship’s captain. And his crew does not let him down, each performing their assigned duties with an infectious, unbridled enthusiasm.

Typically with companies this size, the pool of available talent from which it can draw can leave much to be desired. Remarkably, this little theatre company that could had the good fortune to harvest the cream of the crop for this outing. Supporting turns by Michael Swearington (Bob Cratchit), Melinda Marks (Belle) and Angie Higgins (Christmas Past) are particularly noteworthy. And Leah Kolchinsky (Martha Cratchit) has a singular stage presence that will serve her well as she hones her already considerable skills as an actress.

That being said, one would be remiss if I failed to address the befuddling performance of Timothy Garcia in one scene as the wildly flirtatious Topper. Although his comical approach remains true to the character as described in Dickens’ novella, Mr. Garcia adopts a campy, flamboyant tone that is glaringly out of place. To be frank, after picking my jaw off the floor it left me scratching my head!

Misgivings aside, of which there are few, one should not miss this exemplary little production of a genuine holiday classic!