KPBS AIRDATE: September 09, 2005
Rebels with a cause. Young folks who stand up against their society are storming local stages. Consider: Huck Finn, Romeo & Juliet and the shaggy denizens of “Hair.”
It was personal independence and racial freedom that ignited the incorrigible and irresistible Huckleberry Finn. Now he’s back, in a marvelous Moonlight Amphitheatre production of the musical “Big River,” that reminds us of what a multi-faceted, forward-thinking guy he really was. Peter Musante, a recent graduate of UCLA, is terrific, a gifted actor, singer and dancer who thoroughly embodies Huck; he interacts excellently with Keith Jefferson’s robust and resolute Jim and Eric Vest’s adorably devious Tom Sawyer. The first-rate cast of 24 works wonders with Roger Miller’s country/gospel score. The production, sensitively and energetically directed by and choreographed Kirby Ward, is true to its literary source, bringing out the drama Mark Twain intended, with all its dark insinuations of racism and slavery.
Neighbors weren’t so tolerant in old Verona, either. Romeo and Juliet, as we all know, violated the bitter enmity of their parents by falling in love. They thought their relationship would change everything, and it did, but only, alas, after both of them were dead. North Coast Repertory Theatre is making its first foray into Shakespeare, and a wonderful venture it is. Artistic director David Ellenstein has mined all the humor and bawdiness in the play. His outstanding ensemble is headed by the impossibly handsome Brennan Taylor as Romeo and sweet, saucy Rhianna Basore as his lady love. They are deliciously impetuous adolescents in heat. Their pure magnetism is contrasted with the raunchy Mercutio of Richard Baird and the comically ribald Nurse of Lynne Griffin. There’s as much joy as drama in this well-dressed but unfussy production. The language is crystal clear, and unexpected delights are uncovered in many timeless lines.
But some callow kids are rooted in their era. When the musical “Hair” opened in 1968, it was a potent response to the emotional turmoil of the Vietnam War, a reflection of the anti-establishment sentiments of American youth. The show never had much plot; it was a hippie, trippy meander through the drug-addled, anti-war, Peace Now, free love protests of those years. Fritz Theater artistic director Duane Daniels sees a lot of commonality with these years. So, he’s assembled an attractive and talented group of young people, many of them theatrical unknowns, who are willing to sing their guts out and disrobe onstage to revive those heady times. Thanks to a killer band, the music and lyrics of Galt McDermott, Gerome Ragni and James Rado retain all the original vitality … and occasional inanity. But you’ll be happy to take this trip. And if you’re inspired to act up, so much the better.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.