Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Jan 22

Sir Noël’s been Lansburied. Lucky Sir Noël.

Is anyone in the theater world more spirited than Angela Lansbury? She has been giving great performances on stages and screens of various sizes for 70 years. She has every right to rest on her laurels and be adored as the legend she is. But not right now. She has work to do.

At 89 (you'd never know it by watching her on stage), Lansbury is taking a victory lap, a final North American tour in Noël Coward's Blithe Spirit. She is playing oddball spiritualist Madame Arcati in director Michael Blakemore's production (part of the SHN season). It's a role that earned her a fifth Tony Award in 2009. To be clear, this is as sturdy a production of Coward's 1941 comedy as you're likely to see, performed with wit, sophistication and, perhaps surprisingly, heart. The cast is excellent, the design just right and the sound (in the cavernous Golden Gate Theatre) startlingly clear. But you come to this production first and foremost for Lansbury, and she is every bit the warm and wonderful genius you want her to be.

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A Kinky kick in the pants

Dec 04

A <i>Kinky</i> kick in the pants

Kinky Boots is the kind of musical comedy that leaves no unpleasant aftertaste. There's no guilt in enjoying its pleasures, and though it's not exactly an emotional feast, neither is it empty calories. This is a well-crafted, tuneful show whose only aim is to entertain and uplift. It succeeds on both counts.

A huge hit on Broadway, where it racked up six Tony Awards and is well into its second year, Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film of the same name, one of those distinctly British underdog feel-good movies they do so well over there. Harvey Fierstein, adapted the movie, Cyndi Lauper made her Broadway composing debut with the score, and Jerry Mitchell (last seen in these parts with the Broadway-bound Legally Blondereview here) directs and choreographs in his typically efficient, ebullient manner.

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Where’s the remote? Lucy lives again

Nov 13

Where’s the remote? <i>Lucy</i> lives again

Honey, in this town, we're used to our re-runs recreated with drag queens.

After seeing the likes of Sex and the City and The Golden Girls performed by the best drag queens San Francisco has to offer, I Love Lucy Live on Stage comes across as quaint and tame at best and a waste of time at worst.

An expensive exercise in nostalgia, this TV-to-stage project feels like a bloated amusement park show designed for sun-addled tourists who need to rest their feet.

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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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Verklempt with laughter: Urie shines in Buyer & Cellar

Aug 21

Verklempt with laughter: Urie shines in <i>Buyer & Cellar</i>

Michael Urie is so freaking charming it's outrageous. The erstwhile scene-stealer from "Ugly Betty" landed in a one-man off-Broadway hit more than a year ago, and he's had the good sense to take this show – the perfect showcase for his prodigious talents – on the road, just like the big stars of yesteryear used to do.

The play is Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins, a fantasia on Barbra Streisand, which is to say an examination of fame, wealth, creativity and loneliness, among other things. It's a fascinating play with deep wells of compassion for the rich and famous and for the poor and ignored.<.p>

But perhaps above all else, it's funny. Really funny.

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In (and out of) the Motown groove

Aug 20

In (and out of) the <i>Motown</i> groove

The challenge in reviewing Motown: The Musical is to be honest about its two most prominent components. The first is the clunky, self-aggrandizing book by Motown founder Berry Gordy who, at one point, has Diana Ross bat her big eyelashes and compare him to Martin Luther King Jr.. He also depicts the first time he attempted to sleep with Ross as a dismal failure, but when you're in bed with a pop legend in the making and you're writing the script, you can have her tell you everything will be OK and then sing "I Hear a Symphony" to you. It should be funny, and it is, but it's just as cringe-inducing.

The other component, and this is far, far more important, is the Motown music itself.

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