By Pat Launer
In Limonade , romance is thrillin ’
But it’s a circus for Twyla and Dylan
While Lambs’ pretty much delivers the goods
On the fairy tale musical, Into the Woods.
And there’s Shakespearean magic to treasure
In UCSD’s Measure for Measure.
THE SHOW: The Times They are a- Changin ’ , Twyla Tharp tries to do for Dylan what she did for Billy Joel in Movin ’ Out. Alas.
THE STORY: Actually, there isn’t much story. It’s about fathers and sons and “Rainy Day Women” who don’t necessarily agree that you “Gotta Serve Somebody .” It all takes place in a ramshackle traveling circus, where “Everything is Broken ” by “A Simple Twist of Fate,” and no one can remain “Forever Young”; soon we’ll all be “ Knockin ’ on Heaven’s Door.” Well, that’s more or less what it’s about.
The autocratic circus-leader, Captain Arab, is abusive to everyone, especially his sensitive son Coyote; they compete for control of the circus and the attention of the lion-tamer, Cleo (a poorly defined character who may or may not be married to one of the men, may or may not leave the circus, may or may not come back to him/them. But how much do we actually care?). Anyway, Coyote does leave, and falls on hard times (on “Desolation Row,” you might say) but he connects with some women (“Lay Lady Lay”). Meantime, there’s a mutiny back at “Maggie’s Farm.” Arab dies, Coyote comes back and takes over the circus (and maybe Cleo). Who knows? There’s so much flipping, trampolining and cartwheeling going on, sometimes you can barely hear the songs. And, forgive me, but wasn’t that the point? What all this has to do with Dylan’s music is beyond me. His brilliant poetry defined a generation, an era and a sensibility. Tharp, an innovator and iconoclast, spun gold from Billy Joel’s songs with “ Movin ’ Out.” But there was fabulous dancing there, and the story was extremely well integrated into his driving vocal narratives and the Vietnam era they represented.
But there is no discernible connection between these gut-wrenching, haunting songs and this mishmash dance- ical . Actual dancing is replaced by circus acrobatics – from stilt-walking to puppetry, tumbling and juggling to bouncing balls, hoola hoops, a rope-twirler and a contortionist. Oh yes, and one brief moment of Irish step-dancing (huh?). And, might I add, calling someone Captain A- rab , even if it does come from “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” is maybe not such a great idea these days. Toward the end, to make sure no one misses the A- rab /Ahab connection, there’s a ship-sailing sequence with someone waving a Pequod pennant. Oh, boy. Despite myriad attempts for the audience to find something to connect to, we’re most likely to come away with the lyrics of a recent Dylan song (not in the show) swirling around in our heads: “I used to care, but things have changed.”
THE PLAYERS: The two lead men are excellent. Thom Sesma (last seen at the Globe in The Winter’s Tale in 1992), has the grizzled Dylan look – scraggly face hair and all — along with an aptly gritty, grainy vocal quality and hardscrabble demeanor. He does terrific work on the ‘aging Dylan’ songs: “ Knockin ’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Forever Young” and the title tune. Michael Arden is endearing and appealing as Coyote, the youthful, loving, more optimistic side of Dylan, who sees his share of the sexy and seamy sides of life. He makes his numbers seem more like a rock concert than a dance-musical, he does a fine job on “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Lay, Lady, Lay.” Jenn Colella is sadly miscast as Cleo; she’s way too country – in look and twang. She nails “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” though the staging of that number, with a cavorting dog (agile and adorable Jason McDole ) is absurd. The dancers are not sufficiently or attractively used (the contortionist is particularly icky) and they should never have been asked to sing. The band, under the direction of keyboardist Henry Aronson, is great, with the guitar and harmonic (John Jackson, David MacNab ) especially ripe, as they should be in Dylan songs. Michael Dansicker’s arrangements and orchestrations are quirky and unpredictable. And why not? Dylan himself never sings his songs the same way twice.
THE PRODUCTION: The design is highly inventive. Santo Loquasto , 2005 inductee into the Theatre Hall of Fame, has created a flexible, tumbledown look for the set and costumes. Donald Holder, who also lit Movin ’ Out, brings a lot of color and excitement to the mix. But sometimes, there’s just too much going on to appreciate the most stirring and extraordinary part of the whole endeavor – Dylan’s electrifying songs.
THE RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe Theatre, through March 19.
NOTE: The New York Post (2/15/06) has announced that, mixed reviews notwithstanding, The Times They are… will probably open on Broadway in the fall, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, after a brief stop in Chicago this summer for some fine-tuning. Needs a full overhaul, if you ask me. But Tharp is known for retooling her work even after the Bway critics have weighed in. By report, she’s planning to “hone the storytelling and add more dancing,” as has been strongly suggested in reviews. And fyi , Dylan, who purportedly saw an early preview, liked the piece very much and gave it his blessing. Go figure.
And in other news, continuing an amazing Half-Decade of Dylan, Martin Scorsese just won a Grammy for ‘Best Long-Form Video’ for his wondrous early-Dylan exploration, “No Direction Home.”
GIANTS AND WITCHES AND WOLVES, OH MY
THE SHOW: Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim’s most popular (populist?) musical, inaugurates Lamb’s Players Theatre’s 35th season (and their first foray into Sondheim-land). The show itself premiered at the Old Globe in 1986
THE STORY: What happens after ‘happily ever after? ” Sondheim reminds us to ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.’ In the first act, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack the Giant Killer and Little Red Riding Hood get just what they want. But when we meet them again in Act 2, they’re all miserable. They’re also trapped in a convoluted (sometimes silly) allegorical story of a marauding, vengeful giant (Jack stole her goose with the golden eggs – and killed her husband) who’s picking them off, one by one (Book by James Lapine). They’re all intertwined with the poor non-fanciful Baker and his Wife, who are childless because of a spell cast by their neighbor, a Witch. They have to obtain four items to break the spell (the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, etc.) which the fairy tale characters happen to possess. It’s not geared for kids, though “Children will Listen,” and it’s pretty dark at times (well, it’s Sondheim). But there are lessons to be learned: about communal responsibility, making and getting your wishes, showing consideration of others and the values we pass on to our offspring. Heady topics for heavy times. There are also some wonderful, memorable songs (oh, that oh-so-clever Sondheim), and most of them are excellently executed.
THE PLAYERS: The show got off to a sluggish start on opening night; it had all the right ingredients (although the choreography was a bit simplistic) but it lacked the energetic oomph it needs to make it soar. Still, the cast is engaging and talented: Season Marshall is especially delightful as Little Red, an adorably snappish and confident adolescent. David S. Humphrey and Jason Heil are aptly smug and smarmy as the philandering Princes (Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s ) who get the funniest number, “Agony” (which they previewed to fine effect at the Patté Awards). Jennifer Shelton makes a beautiful, sad-eyed (and lovely-voiced) Cinderella, though poor Chrissy Reynolds- Vögele only gets to scream as the hapless Rapunzel, made mad by being locked in a tower her whole life. In his dopey, doltish Buster Brown wig, Spencer Moses is amusingly dim as Jack, whose overbearing mother (Kerry Meads) rarely has a nice word to say. Ryan Drummond and Becky Biegelsen are just right as the ( Bickerson ) Bakers. They make the homey/homely couple come to life, and their relationship is quite credible. Jon Lorenz brings his impressive sound-making skills (birds, baby, cow, hen ) to the mix. Deborah Gilmour Smyth is a nasty, frightening Witch, with absolutely fantastic makeup, which she removes, practically in plain sight, to reveal the snazzy, overprotective mother within. She gets the show’s best songs: the final-breath, dying-of-the-light 11 o’clock number, “The Last Midnight” and the admonishing finale, “Children Will Listen.” But this isn’t a star-driven production; it’s the kind of excellent ensemble piece for which the Lamb’s Players are justly acclaimed. The chorus numbers are wonderfully executed, thanks to superb vocal power, and the assistance of a first-rate, 6-piece band, under the musical direction of pianist G. Scott Lacy. The use of violin, cello, clarinet and flute add considerable depth to the difficult music.
THE PRODUCTION: Mike Buckley’s colorful fairy-tale set looks like a Crayola storybook cutout, and the characters seem to ‘jump’ from their own ‘page.’ He handles the Giant with aplomb; Jack comes onstage holding a cracked half of an oversized pair of glasses. Very clever. Jeanne Reith’s costumes are character-defining with witty detail; Cinderella’s gown is especially stunning. Nate Parde’s lighting creates all the right moods, as does Greg Campbell’s sound. Robert Smyth has marshaled a winning cast and a charming production. It will undoubtedly get more assured and more energetic as the run continues.
THE LOCATION: Lamb’s Players Theatre, through March 19.
THE RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 45 minutes
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME
THE SHOW: Limonade tous les Jours , Charles L. Mee’s sweet May-December romance
THE STORY: Spring and romance are in the air. It’s Paris , in all its glory (well, on projections, anyway). Two highly mismatched, unlikely people come together (she’s a very young, exciting, hyperverbal Parisian; he’s a mid-50s, taciturn and somewhat dull American) spending all their time — from cafes to upscale shops to the bathtub and the bedroom — talking about how a relationship between them couldn’t possibly work, recounting their damaging romantic histories and doing absolutely everything to put each other off (except falling all over each other, in public and private). Can they cross the age/culture/experience Divide ? Not much mystery and really nothing much new here, surprisingly, from the always-surprising innovator Chuck Mee. But it’s so sweet, and even if we don’t love him, we can’t resist her (nutty and naughty and flighty though she may be), and we root for them even if, in our heart of hearts, we know their relationship is probably doomed. The normally political, humorously cynical Mee was happy and in love himself when he wrote this, so we forgive him. The parry-and-riposte does get a tad repetitive, and the intervening arias are a bit unnerving and unnecessary. But whathehell . It’s February, the month for love. Indulge and enjoy.
THE PLAYERS, THE PRODUCTION: Moxie Theatre has brought in a crackerjack creative team. Guest director Esther Emery provides her now-expected ingenuity to the task, as do her designers: hubby Nick Fouch, who conceived the three beige (sometimes tree-dappled) curtains that conceal and reveal, providing multiple playing areas for the quick-change settings. Mary Larson gives JoAnne Glover an array of sleek, sexy outfits. And Brian Ulery has created a fun montage, amateurishly shaky black and white (and color) videos of the pair seemingly in and around the Paris environs (excellently done). Jennifer Setlow’s lighting highlights all the right moments. It’s great fun to have Doug Jacobs back on a San Diego stage. He has so little to work with here; so few lines, so much awe-struck silence in the face of this overwhelming Young Thing. But he makes Andrew thoroughly believable, if not thoroughly likable. He’s geeky and wimpy, but we want him to succumb, take a chance, put a little drama in his life (as it were). The singing waiter (despite Arme Chandrru’s pure glass-breaking soprano) didn’t quite work for me. But it certainly is a startling addition that’s called for in the script (once, not twice. Once is sufficient). The knockout here, the scene-stealer (by text, not by intent) is Glover, whose French accent is convincing and adorable, who wears her clothes (or lack thereof) with delicious insouciance, who feels comfortable in her body and what it can do for a dress or a man. She keeps up a running stream of post-adolescent angst, but she’s so exhilarating (okay, sometimes exhausting) that you absolutely cannot resist her. And you should absolutely not miss her performance.
THE LOCATION: Moxie Theatre at Diversionary, through February 26.
THE RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
ZEALOTS AND HYPOCRITES
THE SHOW: Measure for Measure, one of Shakespeare’s ”problem plays,” the darkest of his dark comedies, with plenty of comic moments, but a plot that teeters on the precipice of tragedy. Before any happy endings ensue, all the main characters must face up to the truth of their morality and the fact of their mortality.
THE STORY: The play has engendered centuries of debate. Is it an allegory of Christian charity vs. the letter of the law? Is the Duke manipulative or wise? Is Isabella rigidly moralistic or saintly and compassionate? Is Angelo schizophrenically both respectable and villainous? And since Isabella doesn’t give an answer to the Duke’s final proposal of marriage, what’s the outcome? Plenty of problems. Unsolved, of course. But what makes the play particularly luscious today is that it deals with a corrupt, polarized society in crisis, with the uncaring rich pitted against the unthinking poor, and an added measure of the rigidly pious and the frankly depraved. Looming over all the antics is glaring hypocrisy at the highest levels of government. Imagine that!
The story centers on Angelo, the righteous deputy empowered by the Duke of Vienna to rule over a city that’s become a hotbed of sleaze and scandal. The Duke disguises himself as a friar to so he can go out and get a feel for the people and a direct sense of the moral decay. The upright, uptight Angelo embraces the opportunity to enforce his strict standards of morality, seizing on an archaic law that condemns fornicators to death. His first victim is Claudio, a young man who’s impregnated his fiancée. Claudio’s virginal sister, Isabella, who’s about to enter a convent, comes to plead for her brother’s life. Angelo’s lust is aroused by her piety and he uses his power to blackmail her into his bed. The Duke overhears the scheme and sets in motion a complicated, loopy ruse that will save Claudio’s life and Isabella’s chastity, and force Angelo to make good on the engagement he broke years ago.
The beauty of the play, as the Director’s Note puts it, is that “We are reminded that mercy is greater than justice… We must find our own strength and power, use it to reveal the ‘false’ that ‘seems true,’ and have a fun time while doing so.” Amen.
THE PLAYERS / THE PRODUCTION: Making use of every technical option in the spacious, state-of-the-art Mandell Weiss Theatre, director West Hyler has created a marvelously imaginative world, with the help of a crackerjack team of designers: set and costumes, respectively, by the 2005 Patté Award-winning Jedediah Ike and Michelle Hunt; lighting by Tom Ontiveros , Sound by Rob Esler and Lisa Tolentino , Projections by Steven Kemp and Jedediah Ike. The look is gorgeous, a multilevel suggestion of cathedral arches, halls of justice and the seedy underground (deftly defined by lighting and projection changes). The underworld has a garish Guys and Dolls look (and the character of Lucio , the dissolute, slanderous lowlife, is played very much à la Damon Runyon), though the bawdy Pompey is portrayed as a sexy, whip-wielding, leather-clad woman (the leonine Rebecca Kaasa ) who could be an escapee from the Aquila Theatre’s Much Ado next door. There’s a whole lotta sex going on in these scenes, while up above, calm composure reigns (at least on the surface, and until Angelo self-flagellates). Meanwhile, in the pit, we see the roguish prisoners pounding against the gates of their confinement. Dazzling images. Unfortunately, not all the acting is up to the level of the design and conception. It’s hard to get the image of the smug and ultra-austere pomposity of Richard Baird’s Angelo out of mind. Ryan McCarthy, who’s done a good deal of very fine work in his three years at UCSD, doesn’t quite have the gravitas for the role. He isn’t self-righteous enough to start so his comeuppance is less satisfying at the end. Brandon Taylor plays Lucio pretty broadly, but it works most of the time. Lisping Steven Lone is funny as the malaprop-spouting constable, Elbow. Dorian Christian Baucum is excellent as The Provost until, midway through, he starts speaking in modern-day street-talk, for some inexplicable reason. A.K. Murtadha is solid as Escalus , the benevolent counselor to the Duke, whose two-pronged character is generally well served by Scott Drummond. Genevieve Hardison is a believable, no-nonsense plain-Jane as Isabella, though she does seem to go right off with the Duke in the final moments, with no apparent reservation or hesitation.
Clearly, there are problems with the play, and with the production. But it’s worth seeing, as the impressive pre-graduation swansong of the prodigiously talented Hyler and Ike.
THE RUNNING TIME: 2hours, 15 minutes
THE LOCATION: On the UCSD campus, in the Mandell Weiss Theatre, through February 18.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Good Bet
LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD
Eric Anderson, who did so much wonderful musical theater work at Moonlight Stage Productions and elsewhere (think Ragtime and Cygnet Theatre’s Bed and Sofa), has just won the Joel Hirschhorn Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre. The honor will be bestowed at the 37th annual Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards on March 13. His move to L.A. has proven to be a big boon to his career. Besides playing Tateh multiple times in various Ragtimes , he recently played Ophelia in the Troubadour Theatre Company’s Hamlet: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince of Denmark – that’s right; Hamlet with the music of Prince. When Eric’s Ophelia went mad, he sang “Delirious.” He also originated the leading role of Burrs in the West coast premiere of both versions of the Wild Party (by Lippa and LaChiusa ). Next up is the world premiere of Pilgrim, which is billed as an “epic medieval love story,” featuring dungeons, dreams and revolution, and music that “blends Renaissance and rock.” You Go, Eric! Just don’t’ forget the San Diegans who loved you way back when….
ALL TOGETHER NOW, SING!
…The Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego is teaming up with Diversionary Theatre to produce a mutually beneficial gala cabaret fundraising event entitled “Trolley Follies of 2006,” so named because Diversionary is only a block from the University Height ‘Trolley” sign. Musical numbers will be performed by the Chorus, with local luminaries such as Leigh Scarritt, Priscilla Allen and Angelo D’Agostino lending their vocal talents, too. March 4 at Diversionary. 619.220.0097 or log on to www.diversionary.org .
…and, as luck would have it, on the very same night, the San Diego Women’s chorus is having a CD release party for their new album, “For the Record.” The concert is on March 4 at 7:30pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Front St. 619-291-3366, www.sdwc.org
TAKE YOUR PLACE IN HISTORY
Last chance for StoryCorps . Sign up to interview a friend, family or loved one for a 45-minute session, then take home a CD of your experience, while another copy goes to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. KPBS and SDSU are co-sponsoring the local visit. The StoryCorps Mobile Booth is at SDSU through Feb. 20, and moves to Balboa Park Feb. 23-March 5. To reserve your place in history, go to kpbs.org.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (Critic’s Picks);
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Limonade tous les Jours – a perfect (unlikely) love story for this amorous Valentine’s month
Moxie Theatre at Diversionary, through February 26.
Into the Woods – well played, well sung, well seen
At Lamb’s Players Theatre, through March 19.
Measure for Measure – a flawed but gorgeously directed and designed production
On the UCSD campus, in the Mandell Weiss Theatre, through February 18.
Restless Spirits – the world premiere, multicultural, metaphysical play needs work, but the performances are terrific.
At the San Diego Repertory Theatre, through February 19.
The Most Happy Fella – gorgeous voices, touching tale; a little dusty, but Loesser is always more
Moonlight at the Avo, through February 26.
Halpern and Johnson – poignant story; a beautiful pair of nuanced performances
A t North Coast Repertory Theatre, through February 19.
Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old To Be a Star – Lively, funny, extremely well executed.
At The Theatre in Old Town , EXTENDED through March 19.
This weekend, honor the Founding Fathers you-know-where… Hey — even Lincoln went to the theater! ( though his wasn’t the most successful sojourn)…
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.