Party People at Berkeley Rep: Necessary

Oct 25

<i>Party People</i> at Berkeley Rep: Necessary

There are ovations and there are ovations. The opening of an envelope gets a standing ovation these days, so the stand and clap doesn't really mean much anymore. But at the opening night of UNIVERSES' Party People at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the audience was instantly on its collective feet at show's end, applauding thunderously, shouting and hooting. The appreciative cast bowed, expressed gratitude and exited the stage. The house lights came on, and still the clamor continued. A few audience members exited the theater, but mostly the noise grew in intensity until the surprised cast had to return to the stage and bow yet again.

It seemed a fittingly over-the-top reaction to an ambitious, over-the-top show that leaves you feeling moved by the wheels of history and the vagaries of the human heart.

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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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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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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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Berkeley Rep’s Meow Meow: It’s all feline and dandy

Sep 13

Berkeley Rep’s <i>Meow Meow</i>: It’s all feline and dandy

You get the impression, watching An Audience with Meow Meow that the star, a self-styled international singing sensation, and director Emma Rice would like nothing better than to destroy the theater and finish the show from the rubble. While audience members wipe blood from their faces and grapple with their broken bones, Meow Meow will persist in singing, making jokes and lamenting the state of the world. Stripped of all theatrical artifice, artist and audience will become one, and art will have saved the world.

That doesn't happen – well, not exactly. But Meow Meow and Rice do what they can to deconstruct a nightclub act and turn it into a substantial piece of theater.

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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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