Spirited new musical Messenger really delivers

Feb 10

Spirited new musical <i>Messenger</i> really delivers

Beautiful, ambitious and with the kind of depth we've come not to expect from musicals, The Fourth Messenger is a triumph. This world-premiere work is not perfect...yet. But if any new homegrown musical were even half this good it would be considered a major success.

With a book by Tanya Shaffer, music by Vienna Teng and lyrics by both creators, The Fourth Messenger wants to tell an epic story in an intimate way, and in the most essential ways, that works. Shaffer's book brims with intelligence and wit and Teng's music feels rich in original ways, full of melody and intricacy captured expertly by musical director Christopher Winslow and his four-piece orchestra (the cello and woodwinds are especially expressive).

Director Matt August's thoughtful yet robust production...

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TheatreWorks offers Variations on a scheme

Oct 07

TheatreWorks offers <i>Variations</i> on a scheme

When Moisés Kaufman gets to the point in his play 33 Variations, there's resonance, beauty and purpose in it. For nearly 2 ½hours we've been tracking parallel stories: one in the present as a terminally ill musicologist delves into the mystery of why Beethoven wrote 33 variations on a waltz theme by music publisher Anton Diabelli. And the other in the early 19th century as we watch Beethoven, his health and hearing failing him, tackle major late-career works (his Mass, his Ninth Symphony) all while succumbing to an obsession with the Diabelli variations. The two stories do fuse in an interesting way eventually as issues of time, mortality and attention to detail bridge past and present while offering a spark of inspiration and insight into the nature of obsession.

Kafuman's 2007 drama, produced by TheatreWorks and directed by Artistic Director Robert Kelley, takes its time getting to the point. Kelley's production is thoroughly enjoyable and features some sharp performances, but the play itself doesn't cut very deep, and the whole past/present cohabiting the stage thing doesn't really work. In the crudest of terms, the play is an uneasy mash-up of Wit and Amadeus.

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TheatreWorks’ Pitmen paints poignant arts ed picture

Jan 29

TheatreWorks’ <i>Pitmen</i> paints poignant arts ed picture

Seeing some of the Bay Area's best actors collected on one stage is a pleasure in and of itself. But Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters has other things to recommend it like its unapologetic championing of the arts as an essential part of being a fully formed human being.

Bringing this true story to life are James Carpenter, Dan Hiatt, Jackson Davis, Nicholas Pelczar and, in perhaps the most revealing performance, Patrick Jones. They're all wonderful actors, and to see them interacting and playing off of one another is worth the ticket price alone.

I reviewed the production for the Palo Alto Weekly.

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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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Musical Coraline is creepy, kooky, altogether ooky

Nov 21

Musical <i>Coraline</i> is creepy, kooky, altogether ooky

A door presents itself. You enter. Suddenly you're immersed in a warped version of reality.

That's what happens to 9-year-old Coraline ,the heroine of Neil Gaiman's novel of the same name when she unlocks a door in her creaky new house. And that's what happens to audiences that venture into Coraline the musical by David Greenspan (book) and Stephin Merritt (music and lyrics) now at SF Playhouse.

This looks like a children's musical, but there's a twist. Things are pretty creepy in this twisted world. And it sort of sounds like a musical, though this is about as far away from Rodgers and Hammerstein as you can get and still be in a theater.

SF Playhouse's Coraline looks just right. The black-and-white set (by director Bill English and Matt Vuolo) looks like a storybook haunted house, and when Coraline slips through that locked door and enters an alternate reality, Michael Osch's lights kick into blacklight gear, with fluorescent colors cracking the darkness. The same is true of Valera Coble's costumes – shades of black, white and gray give way to crispy fluorescents once Coraline encounters the mirror-image "others" on the other side of the door. Oh, and the others also come equipped with button eyes – a truly creepy feature.

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Review: `Dead Man’s Cell Phone’

May 10

Opened May 9, 2009 at SF Playhouse Jackson Davis and Amy Resnick are Dwight and Jean, two lovers awash in a sea of cynicism, stationery and sentiment in Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone at SF Playhouse. Photos by Zabrina Tipton. In Ruhl’s quirky `Phone,’ we get the message««« There are few things more enjoyable, theatrically...

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