By Pat Launer
Dads and Moms in America agree;
They’re as Fully Committed as they can be.
The Sound of Music holds the key
To American Rhythm – and “Do-Re-Mi.”
THE SHOW: AMERICAN RHYTHM, reprise of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s musical revue of the 20th century (which premiered in 2000), conceived by Robert Smyth, written and arranged by Vanda Eggington and Kerry Meads. Brought back (again) for Lambs’ 35th anniversary season
THE STORY: Like Boomers, which preceded it, this is a musical walk down memory lane, only this show crosses time and age boundaries, moving from the ragtime of the ‘20s to the swing of the ‘40s, from the rock of the ‘60s and disco of the ‘70s to the rap of the ‘90s. It’s a little too much to handle, and it do go on… ( nearly 3 hours!). There’s a bit of socio-political backdrop to each era/decade, via news headlines (wars, Depression, assassinations) and small vignettes (‘50s housewives; sending husbands off to war and getting them back – or not, etc.), but there’s no story beyond the chronology. And the criticisms from before (too much on one decade, not enough on another; songs and segments out of order) haven’t been addressed. But it’s still fun watching it all swirl around you, and listening to (parts of) old favorites from whatever eras you recall. Last time I wrote about it, I said there were 230 song snippets; I couldn’t have made that up.
THE PLAYERS/PRODUCTION: Director Kerry Mead and choreographer Pamela Turner, along with costumer Jeanne Reith, have done everything but open a history book to bring back those times and (mostly) timeless songs. It’s really just a light, fluffy reminiscence, especially spotlighting how music marks the times of our lives. For the most part, it’s successful. Purists will be frustrated by the mere fragments of songs they loved (or would love to hear again – in full). Dance aficionados may notice that only a few of the 10-member cast can execute more than basic choreographic moves (and those are: Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, Lance Smith and rubber-bodied Angelo D’Agostino). The Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers number particularly highlights the dance weakness of this cast. And not all the voices are right for the songs they’re singing. But the medleys are often quite clever. And the arrangements (by the much lamented, moved-on Vanda Eggington) are inventive and unpredictable. Each actor/singer gets a moment to shine. Highlights are: Keith Jefferson doing James Brown’s “I Feel Good;” Gonzalez-Nacer’s smoky, sultry “Stormy Weather,” “Fever” and “Cry Me a River” – and her fabulous fiddlin’; Tracy Hughes (much better at belting than in her sweet sound or upper range) knocking out “My Mama Done Told Me” and doing a mean Tina Turner for “Rollin’ on the River” – and bringing a palpable ache to the Civil Rights section; Moriah Angeline’s “Why Haven’t I Heard from You?”; D’Agostino’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and tango number; and Lance Smith doing a spot-on, big-suited Talking Heads/David Byrne for “Once in a Lifetime” and hip-swiveling through “Blue Suede Shoes” (and wearing them!).Season Marshall shows the strongest acting chops, sometimes rueful, often comic; her singing highlights are “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Stand By Your Man.” But the comedy is noticeably weaker than in the two previous incarnations I’ve seen – and so was the singing.
But the a capella harmonies are especially excellent (“Bye Bye Blackbird” is a standout), and the act-ending dance number, “In the Mood,” is powerful; the energy is also high for “The Joint is Jumpin’.” So it isn’t perfect. But it’s fun. And something is sure to trigger a memory; you can provide your own plotline.
THE LOCATION: Lamb’s Players Theatre, through August 13
BLAME IT ON MOM – AND DAD
THE SHOW: MOMS IN AMERICA , a new play, and an independent production, written, directed, designed and produced by J. Marcus Newman (the theater artist formerly known as Nonnie Vishner)
THE STORY: A little light in plot, the drama concerns a grandfather (Pop), father (Dad) and son (Son), three estranged generations of a Jewish American family, who come together in a purple apartment in Miami to dispose of the possessions of Pop’s ex-wife (Dad’s Mom, Son’s grandma) and to bury her (or cremate her, an issue that takes up a lot of time, for no particular payoff). They are all survivors of a sort: of the Russian pogroms, of the sixties, of AIDS. Some have moved on better than others. Pop is still remembering how, even at the moment he and his mother were about to be pitchforked by the Cossacks in yet another pogrom, his mother was ready to kick him out (she did so several times in his youth, and this one last time, right before she was murdered). Dad keeps talking about his awful relationship with his mother, who also abandoned him. The Son’s mother is just a little wacky and New Agey. But this play really isn’t about Moms at all. It’s about what it means to be a man, and a father and a responsible family member. Pop and Son take a little emotional journey and come out the other side with a tad of insight. But Dad is angry and cynical throughout, and at the end, he flees, as he’s done so many times before. This is the least developed character, and needs more fleshing out and re-thinking. The piece needs more arc and focus overall. But there’s some very strong dialogue and a potent moment of simultaneous reverie among the three. By the end, there are some revelations but no satisfying resolution.
THE PRODUCTION/ THE PLAYERS: Newman has reconfigured an upstairs ( un air-conditioned) Loma Portal loft into a very serviceable playing space (with metal bridge-chair seating for about 50). The set he designed is attractive (if you like lavender walls and puce accents) and nicely appointed. The direction was hard to separate from the performances the night I was there (one week into the run). The pacing was sluggish; at least one actor was repeatedly groping for lines. Newman’s snappy repartee demands brisk delivery. Each of the actors conveyed his character well, starting with a heavily accented Edwin Eigner, convincing as the aging, weakening Pop, with his horrible stories of racist Russia and an emotionally mother (her motivations unexplained). As Dad, Paul Halem plays drunk, stoned and irritated well, but his character has no dramatic arc. Still, he’s credible in his irritable interactions with his father and son. As that (attractive, well-built) Son, Jay Michael Fraley got off to a slow start when I saw the show, but his performance strengthened as the evening went on. His is the only forward-looking character, despite his HIV+ status. And he’s the only one who comes to some understanding about his family and his heritage (the bit about what he thinks the ‘K’ is for on Kosher foods is pretty funny). The long nude yoga/fight-with-father scene seems a tad gratuitous, but it works, under Newman’s taut direction; but timing and pacing are everything in a talky, dialogue-driven play. Perhaps on less hot and humid nights, the trio pulls it off. Though the play is flawed, the entire effort is laudable. Newman makes a welcome return to San Diego theater .
THE LOCATION: Guise Gallery in Loma Portal, through July 30; an official GLBT Pride event
NOTE : As if the four hats worn by Vishner/Newman aren’t enough, his excellent black-and-white photographs of attractive males are also displayed in the theater. Multi-talented man.
THE SHOW: FULLY COMMITTED, Becky Mode’s 1999 knowing, spot-on satire that severs the vein of ‘some-people-will-do-ANYTHING-to-get-a-table-at –the-hottest- New York -hotspot.’ Third time’s a charm at Cygnet Theatre
THE STORY/ THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: There isn’t much story and there’s only one player. But David McBean is back – and he’s better than ever. After moving to Seattle , and spending a year without theater, he’s feeling refreshed, and ready for a new spin on the sad/hopeful saga of Sam, the beleaguered telephone answerer at Manhattan ’s hippest, chic-est eatery. The title is the euphemism he’s forced to use for “we’re all booked up.” As he fields phonecalls from the chef, the workers and a slew of insufferable phoners, he switches from one voice, accent, dialect and nationality to another, with such lightning speed that you’re astonished – and quite certain, at the end, that you’ve just witnessed a stage-ful of performers. It’s a breathtaking feat of dramatic derring-do, like swordplay with oneself.
This time around, Sam is more grounded, and his impressive ascent from doormat to model of self-esteem and political wheeling-dealing is more stirring. There’s more heart in the proceedings now. It’s not just a tour de force showpiece; we really come to care about what’s happening to poor put-upon Sam and what he’s asked to do (ugh; that women’s toilet has to be cleaned for Mrs. Zagat, of restaurant ratings fame). Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows how close to reality this is. But Mode doesn’t take it quite far enough; the wit is quick, the characters are clever (if tiresome and irritating — even if that’s the point), but not enough is said about the rich and the overworked – except to underscore their demands of one and the demands put upon the others. Yet when you’re watching a performance like this, everything else is washed away — by tears of uncontrollable laughter.
THE LOCATION: At Cygnet Theatre, through August 13
THE ( VISTA ) HILLS ARE ALIVE
THE SHOW: THE SOUND OF MUSIC , Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final collaboration (1959). Nine months after the Broadway opening, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II died.
THE STORY: You’d have to be living under a rock not to know the tale of Maria, the overly energetic, headstrong, singing postulant, who becomes governess to the seven offspring of Capt. Von Trapp in the Austrian Tyrol on the eve of the Nazi occupation. Based on “The Trapp Family Singers,” the autobiography of Maria von Trapp, and also the German film version, the musical debuted on Broadway in 1959; the beloved movie premiered in 1961.
Interesting side-note: In 1961, Jon Voight played the role of the young Aryan telegram-guy, Rolf. Mary Martin was Maria in the original production, but the part will always belong to Julie Andrews, who’ll forever be remembered spreading her arms wide in the midst of an Alpine meadow, and singing for all she was worth.
THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: Director/choreographers Bonnie and Don Ward chose their daughter-in-law as Maria. Beverly Ward is hugely talented (too bad she doesn’t get to dance more!) and she has all the verve, spunk and charisma of Maria. She also has a terrific voice. As Capt. Von Trapp, Randall Dodge is the most controlled and reined-in he’s ever been. It isn’t a showy role, or a sufficiently vocal one for his gorgeous baritone. But he does a yeoman’s job of steadfastly maintaining the rigidity of the icy military man, until he’s blessedly melted by Maria. Their connection is believable, and that revealing dance that first unites them is especially potent. The kids are very cute, and individually they sing well (Daniel Myers does a noteworthy job at the very highest of notes; alas, his pure, crystalline soprano probably won’t last too much longer). When they’re all offstage and they sing the title tune, the von Trapp tots are less than fully on pitch. But their numbers are endearingly staged by the Wards, and Tammy Joelle Coffin is adorably adolescent as the blossoming Liesl (though as her beau, the Aryan-in-training Rolf, Justen Tjarks is a lot less assured). The nuns of the Abbey sing extremely well (mostly a capella ), but a little too often and too long. Victoria Strong is appropriately stern, gentle and vocally powerful as the Mother Abbess (who sings the anthemic “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”).
Dimitri Christy plays compromising, self-serving Max Detweiler like a Borscht Belt comedian, especially in his early scenes. As the von Trapp housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, Carly Menkin sports an excellent German accent – but she’s the only one onstage who has one. English-born Jillian Frost brings sophistication to Elsa Schraeder who is, for awhile, engaged to Capt. Von Trapp. But her clothes (set and costumes from Fullerton Civic Light Opera) are far less elegant than this wealthy (business)woman would wear, and her character is more striking and contrastive when she’s more detached: frosty and resentful toward Maria and indifferent to the children. The Wards have highlighted the Nazi segments, menacingly lining the center aisle with stern, swastika-wearing guards. Elan McMahon’s direction of the impressive, 20-piece orchestra is lively, but there are no surprise interpretations of these oh-so-familiar songs. The very traditional, sentimental approach to this treacly material only serves to underscore the show’s sappy schmaltziness.
THE LOCATION: At Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista , through July 30
.. Something WICKED this way comes… You’ve gotta know that Wicked is opening at the Civic Theatre on July 26 (playing through August 6), and the tickets sold out the first day. BUT, did you know that there will be a lottery for low-priced tix to every performance? The day-of-performance drawing will begin three hours before showtime. You arrive, enter your name and an hour later, a limited number of main floor seats will be distributed ($25, cash only; one entry per person; must be present to win; two ticket maximum, and they may not be together). Try your luck!
… DON’T FORGET THE ACTORS FESTIVAL, brought to us by the Actors Alliance of San Diego, continues through July 30 at the Lyceum. 6 different programs, 35 plays, 100 participants. Something for everyone.
… Watch out! Forbidden Broadway is coming back to San Diego !! The knockout production, direct from New York , returns for another 6-week run at the Theatre in Old Town , beginning August 8. The first visit of the uproarious Off Bway-musical spoof this past spring was such an enormous (twice-extended) success, the Special Victims Unit returns to make your head spin and your sides split. Two of the original cast members will be here again (Valerie Fagan, she of the mega-pipes, who totally nails Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Sarah Brightman and Idina Menzel of Wicked; and Kevin B. McGlynn, who’s a funnier Harvey Fierstein than Harvey, not to mention his uproarious man-eating plant, Audrey II, and Rafreaky, a funny riff on The Lion King’s Rafifki) along with another FB veteran, Nick Verina. Joining them to finish the foursome, in a wonderful tribute to San Diego and the SDSU Musical Theatre MFA program – and of course, the talent of the actor herself – will be Kristen Mengelkoch. Apparently, Gerard Allessandrini, the director/creator of the 24 year-old Forbidden Broadway franchise, was so impressed with Kristen when she stepped in during the earlier run that he’s making her an FB regular. Rock on, Kristen! And Cris, too! ( ace pianist Cris O’Bryon will be tickling the ivories… and your funnybone) for this run.
…. Homage to a master: Cygnet Theatre, in collaboration with the San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre, will present a series of staged readings of the work of late, great playwright August Wilson. Grants from the San Diego Foundation and the City of San Diego ’s Commission for Arts and Culture allow for a VERY affordable price — $5 per reading. The schedule is as follows (all readings are at 7:30pm at Cygnet Theatre): August 28-29, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (directed by T.J. Johnson); October 23-24, Seven Guitars (directed by Rhys Green); December 11 & 18, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (directed by Calvin Manson); March 5-6 Fences (directed by Floyd Gaffney); May 7-8, The Piano Lesson (directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg). Also next spring (May 5-June 10), the Old Globe will be presenting Wilson ’s Two Trains Running (directed by Seret Scott). That’s six of the ten Wilson plays that chronologue the African American experience, decade by decade, through the 20th century. Let’s hope we can snag the other four soon.
.. Songwriting, anyone?? This weekend (Sat. July 22, 2-6pm), the San Diego Music Foundation is presenting “The Business of Songwriting,” which will include panelists from ASCAP, BMI and more. Admission is free to all San Diego-based musicians, on a first-come, first-served basis. Email: contact@SDMusicFoudnation.org to see if there’s still room, and to reserve your place. At the Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon Blvd. in North Park .
… How ‘bout Playwriting? San Diegan David Wiener is having a good run. His play, An Honest Arrangement , which won Best Play in the 2006 New York City 15-Minute Play Festival, makes an appearance in the San Francisco Theater Festival on July 23, produced by New Works West. If you’re gonna be in the neighborhood, check out www.sftheaterfestival.org/index.htm
.. and while we’re on the subject of writing plays, consider “A Holiday Full of MOXIE,” the plucky, high-spirited new theater’s first Playwriting Contest. The winning presentations will receive a $300 stipend and a four-week run in the second-show slot of MOXIE’s second season. All San Diego County residents are eligible; all one-act submissions must be holiday themed and in line with the MOXIE mission”: …using the intimate art of theater to create more honest and diverse female images for our culture.” The deadline is August 11; playwrights will be notified September 1. Info and guidelines available at www.moxietheatre.com/holiday
… Flora and Arias: This Saturday, July 22 at 4pm, there will be “A Midsummer Afternoon Concert” at Quail Botanical Gardens. The operatic portion of the afternoon features music performed by soprano Elizabeth Podsiadlo, tenor Stephen Sturk and baritone (and local actor) Walter Ritter, accompanied by John Danke on piano. The second half will feature Podsiadlo and Momilani Ramstrum singing their own compositions and playing guitar, along with flutist TW Shelton and percussionist Mike Robbing. The $20 tix include appetizers, wine and admission to the gardens. For information/reservations: 858-547-8620, email@example.com
.. Got a note from actor Rhianna Basore, who’s having a blast in Paris , performing in Neil LaBute’s bash. The initial run was such a success that Théâtre les Déchargeurs asked the cast to join their season. So the show, running through August 17, will cap off the theater’s 2005-2006 season. Rhianna (who was a sheer delight as my daughter in the recent NCRT reading of Isn’t It Romantic?) can’t wait to regale San Diegans with tales of her “bohemian summer.”
… Mark it in your calendar in ink: playwright Athol Fugard and writer/scholar Marianne McDonald will appear in a fund-raising reading of Medea the Beginning by McDonald … Jason the End by Fugard. Proceeds will benefit 6th @ Penn Theatre. Sunday, August 27 only. 7:30pm. $50 donation. 619-688-9210.
And on the subject of Fugards, remember this date, too. Athol and his daughter/writer Lisa Fugard will speak at the 3rd annual Words Alive Authors Luncheon at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, October 19. For info, sponsorship or reservations, contact firstname.lastname@example.org . www.wordsalive.org.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Critic’s Picks)
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Fully Committed – virtuoso performance by David McBean, who’s better than ever (this is a reprise production)
At Cygnet Theatre, through August 13
Titus Andronicus – a lot of political references and many laughs along with the gore; as director Darko Tresnjak puts it, his production is “bloody good fun!”
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through September 30
Othello – potent production. robustly acted and directed
In repertory on the Globe’s Festival Stage, through October 1
Iphigenia at Aulis – modern production and translation make the well-presented play timeless and politically relevant
At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through August 6
Collected Stories – fascinating, fact-based premise about writers and stories and who owns what; superbly performed
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, through August 13
Mother Courage – still one of the most potent anti-war statements around; beautifully, simply, elegantly presented
At the La Jolla Playhouse, through July 23
Amadeus –a great story (whatever part of it is actually factual), very well presented by a fine, committed, beautifully dressed cast
At Lamb’s Players Theatre, through July 23
Have yourself a little Midsummer Dream – at the theater!
© 2006 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.