Come to the Cabaret at SF Playhouse

Jul 12

Come to the <i>Cabaret</i> at SF Playhouse

San Francisco Playhouse's Cabaret is, to put it simply, a wow. A big, debauched, delightful wow. Everything in director Susi Damilano's production just clicks. The look, the feel, the sound of this John Kander and Fred Ebb classic are all securely in place, so this well-constructed musical (Damilano is using the 1998 Broadway revival as her base) can connect directly with its audience.

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Razzle dazzle and outrage in Kander and Ebb’s Scottsboro Boys

Jun 28

Razzle dazzle and outrage in Kander and Ebb’s <i>Scottsboro Boys</i>

The Scottsboro Boys is a musical on crusade. Not for the first time in their storied career, composers John Kander and the late Fred Ebb make some of the worst human traits entertaining all the while championing the underdog and giving splendid voice to those who might be otherwise ignored or forgotten.

The crusade at hand is two-fold: Kander and Ebb, working with book writer David Thompson and choreographer/director Susan Stroman – a copacetic dream team if ever there was one – want to rescue the victims of a particularly ignominious chapter in American history from obscurity. And they want nothing short of exposing the roots of the Civil Rights Movement. They accomplish both goals, and The Scottsboro Boys is as powerful as it is entertaining, and that's saying a lot on both counts.

We've seen Kander and Ebb working this particular vein before: politics, horror, victimization and good, old razzle-dazzle. We saw it in Cabaret, where singing Nazis made the blood run cold; we saw it in Chicago, where cynicism and celebrity trumped humanity; we saw it in Kiss of the Spider Woman, where revolutionary zeal was squashed but the human spirit is not. This is not to say that Scottsboro is a re-tread in any way. There are echoes of other shows, other songs, but this compact, deeply felt show ratchets up the disturbance factor with its very form.

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David Thompson on racism, history and making it all sing

Jun 24

David Thompson on racism, history and making it all sing

David Thompson is the first to admit that regardless of the show itself, he would do anything to work with John Kander, Fred Ebb and Susan Stroman, three major theater artists with whom he had collaborated on And the World Goes 'Round, the 1987 revival of Flora the Red Menace and Steel Pier.

"Working with John, Fred and Stro has been an extraordinary gift and privilege," Thompson says on the phone from his home in Millburn, N.J. "They come from a kind of theater that really understands the craft of telling a story and telling it well. We begin every work session with 'what if' and just throw ideas out there. Working with them, they've always found a way to inspire me to do better and bigger work – not in a grand way – their talent is so huge that everybody they work with brings the best possible work they can to the table."

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Chita’s jazz…and all that

Nov 06

Chita’s jazz…and all that

Last night I fell in love with a 77-year-old Broadway legend.

Actually, I started with a giant crush that developed during a recent phone interview with Chita Rivera (read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle here), and then that crush fell off the deep end when I saw her in person at the recently re-opened Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel as part of the Bay Area Cabaret series.

About 13 years ago, when I was the new theater guy at the Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers, I had the chance to interview Rivera in person at the Clift Hotel. She was launching a Broadway-bound autobiographical show called Chita and All That Jazz. On my way to the interview, I passed a flower stand, and on impulse, I bought her a gardenia. I knew that's not what a seasoned professional would do, and my purpose wasn't to butter her up – it was more about honoring her extraordinary career. To arrive empty handed felt like...not enough. When I sat down with her and gave her the flower, her eyes welled up, and the interview was wonderful. I got a big hug at the end, and I was happy.

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It’s Curtains for Diablo Theatre Company

Feb 12

Curtains, the final collaboration of legendary John Kander and Fred Ebb (Rupert Holmes came in to finish the show after Ebb’s death), is finally taking a Bay Area bow. Diablo Theatre Company (formerly Diablo Light Opera Company) opens the show tonight (Feb. 12) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, where it runs through Feb. 28. A combination backstage...

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Theater review: `Cabaret’

May 29

Nick Gabriel is the Emcee and Kate Del Castillo is Sally Bowled in the Center Repertory Company production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret. Photos by kevinberne.com Decadence, pineapples, Nazis and prairie oysters: Life is a `Cabaret’ and then some««« Think about Broadway in 1966 when Cabaret opened at the Broadhurst Theatre. Also opening that year were...

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