By Pat Launer
Whoever said that a show reprise
Can’t make you gasp and drop to your knees?
Two knockout musicals made it a cinch:
“Chicago” and the perennial “Grinch.”
“A Stocking Full of Broadway” brought musical epiphany
As Leigh Scarritt performed with daughter Tiffany.
So “Mothers” were featured, hail and amen!
At Eveoke Dance Theatre and 6th @ Penn.
The flu made a hit at the Globe, knocking out cast and crew. At one time or another, nearly every major role was played by an understudy. I raced in to catch the penultimate performance when Phil Johnson stepped in for an ailing David Brannen. And I’d wanted to see Jim Chovick as Old Max anyway. I was remarkably well rewarded in both cases.
Chovick was adorably cuddly, lumbering along in his big furry, overcoated outfit as the aging canine narrator. He was delightful and endearing – and quite different from the basso profundo Ken Paige whom he’d recently replaced (due to Page’s other commitments). Johnson got no such advance notice; with only 2½ hours of actual rehearsal time under his belt, he was called in two hours before he had to perform. It was harrowing and hilarious, by all accounts. The Grinch has so many interactions, moves and props, Johnson said he felt at a total loss at first, but he was enormously helped by the cast, and when all else failed, he did shtick – some of which nearly cracked up his co-performers, and added about 15 minutes to the usual running time. He soon got his (ever-green) sea-legs in the role but he continued to keep everyone in stitches with his uproarious antics. His performance wasn’t over the top, but it sure was funny… He was a meany at first, and aptly charming by the end. All his comic timing and skill at audience interaction came into play, to the delight of both young and older theatergoers. He confided to me that at first, when he was really feeling overwhelmed and a little nutty onstage because of all he had to remember, tiny little 6 year-old Shawn Sullivan (Cindy Lou Who) proved to be the consummate professional; she was so centered, and looked in his (panicked) eyes so directly and intently that she succeeded in relaxing and re-focusing him. We know we’ll be seeing Phil and Jim around… and let’s hope that Shawn makes the scene frequently. Wow! What a little pro!
I just had to know whether the massive ticket sellout for the touring company of “Chicago” (brought to us last week by Broadway San Diego) was due to the influence of last year’s blockbuster, Oscar-winning movie or the fact that Patrick Swayze was playing Billy Flynn. What I found out was this: The tix were nearly 2/3 sold before anyone even mentioned Swayze’s name. But he certainly drew in some fans. When the “Dirty Dancing” star made his first appearance onstage, the crowd screamed as if he were a bona fide rock star. He looked good, still boyish, with a killer smile. But he didn’t get to dance very much (though he apparently got to do more than other Billys in the role). Surprisingly, when he did maneuver some moves, he didn’t give the smoothest, most assured performance. But he had a lot to live up to. This was one of the best dance ensembles I’ve seen in a long, long time. It was third-generation Fosse; the late, great choreographer created the original in 1975, then Anne Reinking remounted the New York revival ”in the style of Bob Fosse” and now Gary Chryst is credited with the “re-creation of original production choreography.” It looked spectacularly Fosse, every slouch move and tipped bowler hat deliciously reminiscent of the master. There were two male standouts in a spectacular ensemble: gorgeous Lloyd Culbreath (Swayze’s understudy) and Steven Sofia (who understudies Mary Sunshine). Not to say that the females weren’t jaw-dropping and immensely talented; they were. Swayze was probably the weak link in the whole production, though he acquitted himself well overall.
Roy Bokhour, a Broadway and touring veteran of the show, was heartbreaking as Amos Hart, the cuckolded husband of star-murderer Roxie Hart. Jennifer MacKensie Dunne displayed a smashing voice and presence as prison matron “Mama” Morton, though all the sexual innuendo was totally removed from her role, and that eliminated one delicious little extra layer often in the piece. As murderess Velma Kelly, Reva Rice (who also performed the role on Broadway) was gorgeous to look at, lithe and agile. Maybe a tad too classy for the role, but extremely engaging and talented. But she (and everyone, in a sense) was overshadowed by the luminous Mexican-born Bianca Marroquín (who left a production of “The Vagina Monologues” in her native land to join this tour). It should make her a star. She is absolutely spectacular as the media-hungry Roxie. The pixieish, red-headed Marroquín has the moves and chops of Gwen Verdon, the moxie and vulnerability of Shirley MacLaine and the million-dollar smile of Mary Tyler Moore. She’s a true triple threat who steals the show and steals your heart. If she doesn’t go places from here (besides the production in L.A.) someone significant isn’t paying attention.
I should note that, the music was as good as the singing and dancing, with 11 (of 14) of the crackerjack musicians being local. The orchestra was very hot … and very cool. Overall, this was a super production. It’s really too bad if you missed all that jazz.
M IS FOR THE MILLION THINGS SHE GAVE ME…
“Mothers” isn’t (aren’t?) what you might think. The latest creation of Eveoke Dance Theatre’s wildly imaginative, socially aware choreographer, Gina Angelique, isn’t just a paean to maternity, though Act One does capture the many faces of the matriarch: cook, cleaner, nurturer, childbearer, party planner, hostess, multi-tasker, Super Woman and overstressed caregiver. Act One has much humor and whimsy, though there’s a dark underbelly barely exposed. Then Act Two takes us down a somber, sobering path.
Angelique was inspired by her own motherhood (adorable blond Shaelyn is now 18 mos. old and was the welcoming mascot on opening night, at which Gina herself got a rousing standing ovation when she came out for a curtain speech). And as a devoted mother, she was shocked when, in March 2003, parents around the country (65% of them) were cheerfully willing to send their sons and daughters off to war. This got her thinking about all the mothers (and fathers) who’ve lost children unavoidably, uncontrollably, without choice.
This evening of dance (well, the second part, mostly) is based on multiple interviews with surviving parents, and their bios/stories hang in the hallway entrance to the theater. Powerful stuff. But even more powerful is how Angelique has interpreted and reconceived those stories, in often breathtaking ways. I found her approach here far more dramatic than the more direct narrative threads of last year’s “Rebel Women,” which included all the words of her interviewees. This was more indirect, but in its way, a lot more provocative. The music is wonderful throughout; especially poignant is the beautiful prologue to “Ash,” composed by Bridget Brigitte in homage to her mother, Dr. Marianne McDonald. The company of 13 dancers (in all sizes and shapes, another Angelique trademark) is wonderful. Especially splendid and heart-rending, in featured solos or duets, are long-time Eveokers Nikki Dunnan, Ericka Moore and Elizabeth Marks. And Butoh artist Charlene Penner makes a striking addition, on her knees the entire time, ashen-faced and dressed in frills and anklets, as the child who makes these women Mothers — and makes them mourn.
The visual imagery is eye-popping, jaw-dropping. The choreography’s endlessly imaginative, is often brutal and sometimes painful to watch. The last two sections in particular (‘Hell’ and ‘Field of Wounded Mothers’) stay lodged in the mind — one a concentration camp of intertwined bodies, the other a gut-wrenching lineup; at one point, the young girl (Penner) goes up to one mother and jumps into her arms — the ultimate fantasy return of every grieving parent.
I was sitting in the row with two separate families who had suffered the loss of a child. Both considered the production to have come incredibly close to the bone. But amazingly (and isn’t this what the arts is all about?) they both considered the evening to be cathartic. Now that’s the energy and impact of live performance. I had a hard time speaking or even moving after the piece was over. Several of the dancers seemed to be close to or beyond tears. It was the kind of experience Angelique loves to provide: humorous and thought-provoking, and most of all, inspiring — forcing us to take a look at our lives and our culture, our values and our actions. Angelique — San Diego’s precious, incomparable, choreographic force of nature — strikes again.
She can sure pack ’em in — to her clothes or a theater! Leigh Scarritt may be the original San Diego Diva, and in her cabaret show, “A Stocking Full of Broadway” (directed by Bradley Flanagan), she really gets to strut her stuff, make her lightning-fast costume changes into ever-tighter dresses, and sport an astonishing array of wigs large and small, dark and light.
There were also solos by Ric Henry and Leigh’s daughter Tiffany Scarritt. But though the others get their moment — Henry’s series of wistful ballads, especially “Kiss Her Now,” and Tiff’s knockout job on “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent — it’s really Leigh’s show and showcase. She put comedy and drama into her act (“Stormy Weather” and “Everybody’s Girl” are particularly funny) but the general tone was surprisingly melancholy, and the evening ended on a serious holiday note — “Silent Night,” with harmonious additions by accompanist Rayme Sciaroni.
A pleasant evening overall, and a command performance; the show ran in December and was such a hit that 6th@Penn brought it back for the first weekend of ’04 — and this past Saturday night, it was SRO. La Scarritt, Broadway show tunes, a cabaret act of glitz, glitter and glam, an extra weekend of holiday cheer … it was a veritable Hillcrest Happening.
THIS WEEK’S ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
“Mothers” — Eveoke Dance Theatre’s latest provocation to sit up and think — about parenthood and about loss. Beautiful, heartbreaking and wildly imaginative. In repertory with Ricardo Peralta Danza Performa’s “Camila’s Story,” through February 1.
Tickets have been sold out for more than a week already for the 7th annual Patté Awards for Theatre Excellence on January 12. If you dragged your feet and missed the tix, set your clocks and VCRs and don’t miss the TV broadcast on KPBS (channel 15, cable 11) on Tuesday, Jan. 20 at 10pm and Saturday, Jan 24 at 11:30pm (a perfect post-theater time!!). One way or another, I’ll seeya there!!
Happiest of New Years! Fill it with light, love, peace, social awareness — and theater!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.