2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages

Dec 29

2011 in the rearview mirror: the best of Bay Area stages

Let's just get right to it. 2011 was another year full of fantastic local theater (and some nice imports). Somehow, most of our theater companies has managed thus far to weather the bruising economy. May the new year find audiences clamoring for more great theater.

1. How to Write a New Book for the Bible by Bill Cain
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Directed by Kent Nicholson

Only a few days ago I was telling someone about this play – my favorite new play of 2011 and the most moving theatrical experience I've had in a long time – and it happened again. I got choked up. That happens every time I try to describe Cain's deeply beautiful ode to his family and to the spirituality that family creates (or maybe that's vice-versa). Nicholson's production, from the excellent actors to the simple, elegant design, let the play emerge in all its glory.

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Oh, Maureen! Ms. McVerry revisits the Gershwins

Nov 02

Oh, Maureen! Ms. McVerry revisits the Gershwins

In 1993, an ebullient comedienne with a head full of red curls, danced and sang her way across the stage of the Gershwin Theatre (aka the Presentation Theatre) as the bubbly title character in Oh, Kay! a giddy 1926 musical with a score by George and Ira Gershwin.

Maureen McVerry, long one of the Bay Area’s most reliable musical comedy stars, appeared to have a grand time playing a Jazz Age baby wriggling her way through Prohibition and attempting to win the affections of the handsome Jimmy Winter.

McVerry (seen in the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival production at right) made a memorable entrance with a boat on her back. “’Are you sure this is how Gertrude Lawrence got her start,’ I remember thinking,” McVerry says on the phone from her Potrero Hill home.

McVerry is back in the land of Oh, Kay!, this time as the director. She’s helming a slightly revised version for 42nd Street Moon, which begins previews today (Nov. 2) and opens this weekend.

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Russian dressing: The vintage charms of Silk Stockings

May 09

Russian dressing: The vintage charms of <i>Silk Stockings</i>

How in the world do you follow Strike Up the Band? 42nd Street Moon’s last outing was a spectacularly charming and tuneful production of a Gershwin show that has been unjustly sidelined by musical theater history.

The problem with doing such a bang-up job with Band is that there’s still a final show in the season with which to contend.

And may I say, the finale is no Strike Up the Band. But it’s Cole Porter, so all is not lost.

Silk Stockings, a 1955 musical adaptation of the Greta Garbo film Ninotchka, is a minor work with a wildly unfocused book and a hit-and-miss Porter score.

You don’t see a lot of Silk Stockings revivals, so we have yet another reason to celebrate 42nd Street Moon’s dedication to dusting off shows that we’d never otherwise get to experience.

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Moon strikes up a triumphant Band

Apr 10

Moon strikes up a triumphant <i>Band</i>

I've seen a lot of 42nd Street Moon shows over the years, but I've rarely seen one as exuberant, funny, beautifully sung and as hugely enjoyable as Strike Up the Band. Everything about Zack Thomas Wilde's production is top notch, from the extraordinarily sharp book by George S. Kaufman and the immediately appealing score by George and Ira Gershwin to the terrific cast and the gorgeous late '20s costumes (by Scarlett Kellum).

42nd Street Moon is less in the business of presenting musty, dusty lost musicals and more in the realm of offering polished if modestly produced professional productions.
And this Band benefits tremendously from the smaller scale. More attention is focused on the satirical book (the original 1927 Kaufman script, not the Morrie Ryskind rewrite from 1930) and on the Gershwins' songs (especially on Ira's incisively wonderful lyrics).

Without the proverbial cast of thousands, we get a clearer look at just what a gem Strike Up the Band really is, and its snarky attitude about how it's commerce – not politics or even morality – that get us into war couldn't be more timely. Alas.

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Hot Babes! Even hotter tunes!

Dec 06

Hot <i>Babes!</i> Even hotter tunes!

Let it be said that Babes in Arms is one of the weirdest musicals with the greatest scores ever written. There have been weirder musicals and greater scores, but never in such striking combination.

You can see for yourself as 42nd Street Moon unfurls all the daffy delirium that is Babes in Arms on stage at the Eureka Theatre. Go for the weirdness but stay for the sheer pleasure of hearing “Where or When,” “My Funny Valentine,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “Way Out West,” “Johnny One-Note” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” in their original context.

This is the second time that 42nd Street Moon has resurrected Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 show. The first time was in November of 1999, when the cast included Darren Criss, the newest cast member on the phenomenon known as Glee.

In fact, Glee and Babes in Arms have several things in common. For one, they’re both full of talented kids crazy about putting shows. For another, they both traffic in some terrific songs. And finally, they’re both about as reality-based as Santa Claus.

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Latest celebrity couple: Lukern

Oct 29

Latest celebrity couple: Lukern

You know that annoying habit we have of combining couples' names to form one idiotic name – you know, Brangelina, TomKat, Bennifer.

Well, I have a new one. After last night's 42nd Street Moon salon saluting the work of Jerome Kern, I'd like to introduce you to Lukern. There's no more beautiful soprano on Broadway than Rebecca Luker's, and as the evening's host, Greg MacKellan, pointed, nobody short of Richard Rodgers had Kern's gift for gorgeous melody. So when Rebecca meets Jerome, beauty ensues. Hence, Lukern.

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