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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Forbidden Blah-way is more like it

Jul 11

Forbidden Blah-way is more like it

It must be better in New York.

I've heard about Forbidden Broadway for much of its 32-year history and enjoyed some very funny recordings on several of the cast albums, but until this week, I had never seen a production. In New York, time is generally consumed with actual Broadway, which leaves little time for the Forbidden variety.

A touring version of the off-Broadway show, dubbed Alive and Kickin opened an extended run at Feinstein's at the Nikko Thursday, and the 70-minute show was underwhelming to say the least.

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Transcendence (and show tunes!) under Sonoma stars

Jul 06

Transcendence (and show tunes!) under Sonoma stars

Jack London's words take on special meaning when uttered at the start of One Singular Sensation, the first of this summer's three Broadway Under the Stars shows from Transcendence Theatre Company in residence for a third summer at Jack London State Park.

The setting for the shows couldn't be more beautiful. The audience is seated in the ruins of a winery, and behind the stage, just beyond the crumbling stone wall, are rolling Sonoma hills, trees toward the top and grapevines climbing in orderly rows along the sides.

Fans of Broadway musicals and show music take note: you do not want to miss the work of Transcendence Theatre Company.

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SF Playhouse goes into Sondheim’s Woods

Jul 03

SF Playhouse goes into Sondheim’s <i>Woods</i>

Later this year we're going to get a star-studded, Disney-ized version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, a 1986 musical mishmash of fairy tales, grim realities and realistic ever-afters. It will be fun seeing the likes of Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp singing Sondheim tunes and bringing these tales to life.

But until then, we have real, live people doing this oft-produced show on stage at San Francisco Playhouse and making a strong case for the genius of Sondheim (especially, in this show, his lyrics).

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Depth, beauty surge through glorious Once

Jun 19

Depth, beauty surge through glorious <i>Once</i>

If every movie-to-musical transformation were as soulful and creative as Once the state of the Broadway musical would be in a much better place.

There would seem to be no less likely candidate for the Broadway treatment than the sweet and modest 2007 Irish indie film Once about a frustrated singer/songwriter in Dublin and the Czech immigrant who changes his life. It's a love story and not a love story, a musical and not a musical. Above all else, it's intimate and delicate, like a slice of life infused with passionate music transferred with great love to the big screen.

Fans of the movie (which nabbed a best song Oscar for songwriters/stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová's "Falling Slowly") let out a collective groan when it was announced that Once would be turned into a Broadway musical.

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Sondheim marries love & lyrics in melodic TheatreWorks revue

Jun 09

Sondheim marries love & lyrics in melodic TheatreWorks revue

Even Stephen Sondheim's cast-offs are sturdy enough to carry a show on their own. At least that's the case with Marry Me a Little, a 1980 revue created by Craig Lucas and Norman René. The show collects odds and ends from Sondheim's career, including songs cut from some of his big shows (Follies seems to have lost an extraordinary number of good songs), written for one-off projects or salvaged from flops.

The resulting show, using only songs and no dialogue, tells the story of two lonely neighbors on a Saturday night. The original location was New York, but the new TheatreWorks production directed by Sondheim-o-phile Robert Kelley moves the action to San Francisco and takes every opportunity to have its attractive actors shed clothing. In other words, it's aiming to be young, hip and sexy, and by and large, that tact succeeds.

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