Blitz bombs but TheatreWorks’ Sweeney still soars

Oct 12

Blitz bombs but TheatreWorks’ <i>Sweeney</i> still soars

Tory Ross' sublime performance as Mrs. Lovett, maker of the "worst pies in London," threatens to hijack the TheatreWorks production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and turn it into Nellie Lovett: People Who Eat People Are the Luckiest People.

There's no escaping the genius of Angela Lansbury's indelible performance (captured on video) in the original production of what composer Stephen Sondheim describes as a "dark operetta," but that star turn was a Victorian cartoon, a manically genial grotesque with shadings of a real flesh-and-bone woman under all the goofiness.

But Ross is a whole lot less cartoon and a whole lot more human being.

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A Whale of a (heartbreaking) tale in Marin

Oct 08

A <i>Whale</i> of a (heartbreaking) tale in Marin

Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale, now at Marin Theatre Company is a difficult play to watch. That description might not make you want to run out and buy a ticket, but hold on. Difficult doesn't preclude greatness.

At first glance, the play, winner of MTC's 2011 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize, involves a guy in a fat suit. Granted, it's a really good fat suit (Christine Crook is the costume designer), but faking a 600-pound guy and watching an actual 600-pound guy are very different experiences. But here's the thing: what actor Nicholas Pelczar brings to that suit is extraordinary.

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Emily Skinner waltzes away with Moon’s Waltz

Oct 06

Emily Skinner waltzes away with Moon’s <i>Waltz</i>

A love letter to Emily Skinner...

Dear Ms. Skinner,I had the pleasure of seeing you perform in 42nd Street Moon's production of Do I Hear a Waltz, and I was completely captivated by your Leona Samish, the lonely American tourist who travels to Venice for a taste of life. I have fond memories of Moon's 1998 production back when they were doing staged concert productions with actors holding their scripts. That was my first encounter with Waltz, a 1965 Broadway curiosity that matched three musical theater masters – Richard Rodgers , Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents. The show, by all accounts, was a misery to create, primarily because Rodgers, lacking confidence in his abilities in the wake of Oscar Hammerstein's death, was a miserable and stubborn collaborator

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Ideation redux: still smart, thrilling, funny

Sep 28

<i>Ideation</i> redux: still smart, thrilling, funny

Bay Area playwright Aaron Loeb's award-winning play Ideation returns to San Francisco Playhouse, this time on the main stage. The play features the cast and director from its SF Playhouse Sandbox premiere last year, and some changes have been made to the play, but the results are as they should be. Ideation is the must-see play of the fall.

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Pippin in the center ring: razzle-dazzling!

Sep 25

<i>Pippin</i> in the center ring: razzle-dazzling!

Now this is how you revive a musical.Sure, you could set Les Misérables or Sunday in the Park with George in a circus with results that would likely be as baffling as they are entertaining. But when Diane Paulus was inspired to set her revival of Pippin under the big top, she was going for something more than a bright and shiny gimmick. Working with "circus creator" Gypsy Snier of the acclaimed Montréal-based theatrical circus company 7 doigts de la main, Paulus crafted a physical production that mirrored the emotional journey of the show's central character.

It's a brilliant concept and one that reenergizes the 1972 show and features its score by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson off to their greatest advantage. Pippin still feels a little like a hippy '70s musical (a good thing in my book), but this production finds something even more universal...

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I do? Crowded Fire finds fractured bliss in Late Wedding

Sep 23

I do? Crowded Fire finds fractured bliss in <i>Late Wedding</i>

San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen doesn't mind narrating his audience members' experience of his play while they're watching his play. That's part of the fun. It's also a tip of the fabulist's hat to Italian novelist Italo Calvino the inspiration for Chen's experiment with theatrical form and function in the world premiere of his The Late Wedding.

We've been here before, more or less. Chen is once again working with Crowded Fire Theater, the company behind his award-winning 2012 hit The Hundred Flowers Project (read my review here). Crowded Fire Artistic Director Marissa Wolf is at the helm of this intentionally bumpy ride...

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Irwin and Shiner: Old Hats are the best hats

Sep 18

Irwin and Shiner: <i>Old Hats</i> are the best hats

I will be the first to admit that clowns have never been a favorite of mine. Not circus clowns, not hobo clowns, not mimes, not even a lot of commedia dell'arte rigamarole. Occasionally, however, I get it – I get the comedy, I get the poignancy, I get the masterful balance of comedy and tragedy in the pursuit of laughs. And by far my favorite clowns – the ones who do it better than just about anybody – are Bill Irwin and David Shiner.

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