Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
June 29, 2012
Starving artists in New York. A gay chorus in Kansas. And one villain of Shakespearean proportion.
The deformed body and mind of “Richard III” are on fiendish display at the Old Globe, in a towering, if not exactly subtle, performance by Jay Whittaker. As conceived by director Lindsay Posner, he could be any tyrant, in any country, any era. Bounded by graffiti-flecked walls, the self-serving monster murders everyone blocking his path to the throne. Though he becomes increasingly paranoid, he enters yelling and never lets up. This Richard is less a slick, slithery charmer than a fulminating schemer, a somewhat less interesting choice.
A little nuance throughout the production would go a long way. The intensity is relentless, as are the shouting and the ear-piercing sound. Robert Foxworth and Charles Janasz provide some measured calm in the maelstrom. Judicious trimming of the text, which stretches beyond three hours, would help.
Length is also an issue in the lightweight musical comedy, “Harmony, Kansas,” a world premiere at Diversionary Theatre. It’s an earnest effort, with pleasant songs by Anna K. Jacobs and undistinguished book and lyrics by Bill Nelson. No new ground broken in the wheat fields of Kansas.
Heath just wants to be a farmer like his forebears. His lover, Julian, craves a taste of the city, which he finds in a clandestine gay chorus. Julian convinces the group to go public with a performance, but Heath refuses, fearing a threat to his business in small-town, small-minded middle America. This ruins their relationship, and another couple is also split by circumstance. But everything comes together in the end – in song, of course.
There’s a lot more singing than speaking here; almost everyone in the convincing cast of seven gets a soul-bearing solo. One standout is 16 year-old Dylan Hoffinger’s “Homo Kid from Kansas Blues.” But the real star of the show is the killer harmony, often sung a capella . The assured direction of James Vazquez and the spot-on set by Sean Fanning are notable. Overall, the musical is sweet, amusing and poignant. But it’s still just one more coming-out, self-acceptance story – perfectly timed for Pride weekend.
“Rent” would be a good show during Pride, too, but the latest local production of Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical has too short a run. It’s always a surprise that the San Diego Musical Theatre features so few San Diegans; the producers tell me they don’t come down for auditions. The one notable and exceptional local is Shaun Tuazon as the angelic drag queen, Angel. This is a high-energy, praiseworthy production, with top-notch singing and a first-rate band. The rented set is outstanding, as is Ron Kellum’s direction.
So it seems like this summer is shaping up to be a Season of Love… with a few fiends thrown into the theatrical mix.
The San Diego Musical Theatre Production of “Rent” runs through July 8 at the North Park Theatre.
“Harmony, Kansas” continues through July 22 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
“Richard III” plays in repertory on The Old Globe’s outdoor Festival Stage in Balboa Park, through September 29.
©2012 PAT LAUNER