Lovely as ever, Rita Moreno tells her tale

Rita 1
Rita Moreno dances through her past with Salvatore Vassallo (left) and Ray Garcia in the world premiere of Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup at Berkeley Rep. Photos courtesy of

She’s charming and gorgeous. Vivacious and soulful. In short, Rita Moreno is the perfect candidate for an autobiographical show.

Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup is not yet the perfect show for this legendary performer, but it provides a snazzy opening to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre season.

Written by Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone and directed by David Galligan,, the show is at its best when Moreno is taking us through the ups and mostly downs of her storied career. Act 1 is a chronological narrative, beginning with a 5-year-old Rosa Dolores Alverío boarding a ship in 1936 to take them from Puerto Rico to a new life in New York.

From her first meeting with Louis B. Mayer at age 16, Moreno was catapulted from life in the barrio to the world of hardscrabble glamour as a Hollywood starlet who, it’s interesting to note, could have chose the screen name Mitzi Margarita.

What’s so interesting about Moreno’s story is that throughout her career, she was fighting stereotype – of Puerto Ricans, of women, of Puerto Rican women. She played Indian, Siamese, Native American, Polynesian and more and says her small roles in mostly forgettable movies defined her professionally as the “resident utility ethnic.”

When she finally played a Puerto Rican so famously in West Side Story, director Jerome Robbins made her – and ever actor playing Puerto Rican – wear a thick coat of makeup that made them all exactly the same color. The white actors could have varying skin tones, but the ethic actors were not allowed that measure of reality.

Those are the kind of details that really shine in Taccone’s smart script, which mostly eschews the razzle-dazzle of the typical show-biz biography.

The first half is punctuated by photos and film clips (Alexander V. Nichols’ projections and lights look terrific on Anna Louizos’ elegant set) and bits of musical numbers. A young Moreno sits on the fire escape of her building singing along with the Pied Pipers’ “Dream” on the radio. When she falls head over heels for Marlon Brando, she sings a few verses of “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” then when things go badly, she veers into “When October Goes.”

Rita 2

Music Director César Cancino and his quartet handle the music cues nicely, though it would be nice to have Moreno sing an entire song other than “The Hate Song,” an unnecessary bit from her stint on The Electric Company, which is represented far more successfully by a film clip of Moreno singing Tom Lehrer’s hilarious “The Menu Song” with Morgan Freeman.

Aided by dancers Ray Garcia and Salvatore Vassallo, Moreno re-creates her introduction to Spanish dancing as a teenager. She also resurrects Googie Gomez from The Ritz, a role that won her a 1975 Tony Award. While it’s wonderful to see Googie, the number (she massacres “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”) is overplayed. Moreno has done this bit to better effect in her cabaret act.

Moreno, who turns 80 in December, is a captivating storyteller, and hearing what life was like for a starlet in 1950s Hollywood is chilling. She describes being abandoned at a party (by the shoe magnate who would later marry Debbie Reynolds no less) and barely escaping some serious sexual assault.

In Act 2, the chronology turns into a more free-form recounting as Moreno struggles to find work. When she gets to West Side Story, she re-creates two numbers, “Dance at the Gym” and “America,” and while it’s always great to see Moreno strut her stuff, to faithfully perform these numbers requires more than what she’s got (her knees, she admits, aren’t what they used to be). She’s a trouper, no question, but this effort seems too much when a film clip might serve the storytelling more effectively.

While it would be impossible not to feature music in the story of Moreno’s life, the power in this show is her storytelling. Though leaning heavily on Teleprompters for the opening-night performance, Moreno fascinates as she describes almost losing her mind making Carnal Knowledge and then worrying about how playing a prostitute in that movie might affect her chances of getting the gig on The Electric Company.

Though the show is 2 ½ hours, there’s a lot she doesn’t mention. For instance, when she’s struggling in Hollywood and begins to consider secretarial school, suddenly her career gets a boost when she appears on the cover of Life magazine. Very exciting but how in the world did a struggling actress end up on the cover of Life?

It’s interesting that Moreno didn’t make a movie for seven years after West Side Story, but what makes it even more interesting is that she won an Academy Award for that movie, a fact she doesn’t mention (though that Oscar, along with many other awards are on display in the lobby and available for carefully guarded photo ops).

Though she does briefly, poignantly delve into the loss of her husband, Dr. Leonard Gordon, last year, she doesn’t discuss her later career much (beyond telling off a hot-shot British director by affirming that she does NOT do Mexican madams). That’s a shame because there are doubtless stories to be told about Sister Pete, the fascinating nun she played on HBO’s prison drama, Oz.

There’s a thread through the show of identity, and how Moreno has lost it, found it and fully owned it. At one crisis point, she says, “I had made myself up beyond all recognition.” These days it seems Moreno, who has won every award on the planet and conquered seemingly every aspect of show business, knows who she is and could afford to rest on her laurels. But she powers ahead, and her story keeps spinning on. Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup will undoubtedly deepen as the run continues and the Moreno spark connects more fully with the compelling Moreno story.

[bonus video]
Here’s Moreno singing Tom Lehrer’s “The Menu Song” on The Electric Company with Morgan Freeman. Genius.

Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup continues an extended run through Nov. 12 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $14.50-$73 (subject to change). Call (510) 647-2949 or visit

Rita Moreno offers cabaret `Tributes’ at Rrazz Room

The Bay Area’s resident superstar, Rita Moreno, opens a new cabaret act at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room on Wednesday, Nov. 5. But she was recently at the Rrazz Room as an audience member for her dear friend Chita Rivera’s Bay Area cabaret debut.

“We got together afterwards and just laughed and laughed,” Moreno says.

Moreno and Rivera often joke that each has been mistaken for the other more times than they can count. Rivera originated the role of Anita on Broadway in West Side Story and Moreno won an Academy Award in the same role, but in the movie version.

So why don’t the two durable divas put an end to the confusion and do a show together?

“We’ve been hearing that for years,” Moreno says. “But what would we do? The two of us would burn up the stage.”

That’s probably true. Moreno, who will be 77 in December, seemingly never stops. The kind of energy that has won her an Oscar, an Emmy (several Emmys, actually), a Tony and a Grammy still fuels her to work on TV (in recent years she has been a regular on “Oz” and “Cane”), in concert, on the lecture circuit and on the theater stage. She regularly appears at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which just happens to be the professional theater company closest to the Berkeley hills home she shares with her husband of 43 years, Dr. Leonard Gordon.

“Every once in a while, my husband and I look out the window at the view across the bay and say `What a good thing we did moving here.’ We really love it,” Moreno says.

Shortly after Moreno moved to Berkeley in 1998, she made her cabaret debut at the now-defunct Empire Plush Room in the York Hotel. She dazzled critics and audiences alike and has since become a cabaret regular both here and in New York.

The show she’s opening Wednesday is called Little Tributes, and it started out to pay homage to all the singers and composers that Moreno admires. The show sort of took a different direction, but the title stuck, and there are some tributes – to Peggy Lee, to Harold Arlen.

“I’m doing a lot of Broadway stuff this time,” Moreno says. “I have a gift for finding the one song in a hit musical that nobody has ever heard. I did Sunset Boulevard and there’s a song that I think comes at a seminal moment in the show. It’s just electric, and people don’t know it. Norma realizes that Joe is very quickly falling out of love with her, and the song is her desperate attempt to bring him back into her arms. It’s a short but really wonderful piece. Quite dramatic. I love becoming her again for those few moments.”

Putting together a new act is a labor of love for Moreno. She keeps a pad and pencil at all times in case she hears a song she likes, and she has been known to drop $1,000 at New York’s Colony record store buying CDs that intrigue her.

Curiously, Moreno says she doesn’t think about the audience at all when piecing together a new act.

“I just have to believe that if I like it, they’ll like it,” she says. “In other words, I trust them.”

The act will feature ballads, two Spanish numbers (“One with castanets!” Moreno enthuses) and what Moreno calls the “opener of openers.”

“I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but it’s Kander and Ebb, and I bet you’ve never heard it,” Moreno says. “I don’t come in shouting like Ethel Merman or anything, but it’s really delicious.”

After the cabaret act, Moreno will do some serious thinking about her next project with Berkeley Rep.

“I have a director, (Berkeley Rep artistic director) Tony Taccone, but we don’t have a play,” Moreno says. “We’re planning something, but it will take a while because it’s something more personal as opposed to an existing play. It’s something quite original.”

She’ll also attempt to be home more enjoying her daughter, Fernanda, who lives nearby, and her two grandsons, who Moreno describes as “my heart and soul.”

“What a discovery it is to be home and cook a lot,” she says. “I love to cook and garden and just luxuriate in my beautiful house. I am quite active but not as much as before. Home has always been important, but it has become more important. Now that I’m a whole bunch older, I want to take advantage of this wonderful thing of home and family life.”

But don’t expect Moreno to become a total homebody.

“I’m not planning a retirement. I can’t conceive of such a thing.”

Rita Moreno’s Little Tributes opens Wednesday, Nov. 5 and runs through Nov. 23 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $50-$55 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 866-468-3399 or visit or

Here are Rita Moreno, Chita Rivera and (?) Bette Midler performing “America” from West Side Story at a benefit in LA:

Celebs warble through `Help’ Aug. 3

The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation’s annual gala fundraiser, Help Is on the Way 14: Blame It on the Movies, is this Sunday, Aug. 3, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

As usual, the roster of performers is impressive. Among the locals you’ll find singing songs from movies (both great movie musicals and pop songs from contemporary blockbusters) are Rita Moreno, Paula West and the Barbary Coast Cloggers (they’ll be clogging a movie song, presumably).

Among the out-of-towners are a slew of “American Idol” alumni including Frenchie Davis, Vonzell Solomon, RJ Helton (above), Constantine Maroulis and Kimberly Locke — all the AI kids happen to be in town because they’ve been performing at the Rrazz Room.

And then there are the Hollywood celebs winging north to lend a hand and raise money that will be distributed to local AIDS/HIV organizations. Here are the stars:
Marilu Henner – Probably best remembered for her stint on “Taxi,” she also performed in Chicago on Broadway.
Ricki Lake (right)- Got her start in John Waters’ original movie Hairspray, went on to have her own headline-grabbing talk show.
Maureen McGovern – One of the cabaret scene’s great talents, McGovern was, for a brief moment, the queen of disaster movie themes having recorded hit tunes from The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.
Jai Rodriguez – An Emmy winner for “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” Rodriguez has performed on stage in Rent, The Producers and Zanna Don’t.
Lauren Wood – A singer-songwriter known for her song “Fallen” on the Pretty Woman soundtrack.
Vicki Lewis – Lewis arrives fresh from her stint as Mama Rose at Sacramento’s Music Circus. She’s probably best known as the fiery redhead on NBC’s “Newsradio.”
Carole Cook – The inimitable diva of Help Is on the Way, Cook’s comedy is always an evening highlight.
Bruce Vilanch – What would an evening be without the comic stylings of the man who has made Bette Midler and the Academy Awards funny for years?

Tickets for Sunday’s event are $50-$175. Call 415-931-0317 or visit

Broadway baby Peters can still be a blast

Last night at Davies Symphony Hall, Bernadette Peters was in a good mood. Her voice was in great shape (and her shape was in GREAT shape).

In other words, Peters’ “Summer in the City” concert was a triumph.

Last time Peters was in town, she was performing a theatrical concert at the Orpheum Theatre to promote her new Rodgers and Hammerstein album. That 2001 run got scotched by illness (she says Rita Moreno gave her the flu at a Jerry Herman tribute), and she hasn’t been back since.

Friday night, she stood in front of the San Francisco Symphony, with her longtime musical director Marvin Laird at the conductor’s podium (and, quite often, at the piano), and delivered the kind of old-school Broadway razzle dazzle that has made her a beloved musical theater icon.

If you’ve seen Peters in a show, especially a long-running one, you know that she can get tired and bored, and she can let her weariness come through in the performance so that it seems she’s giving it about 50 percent. In her many appearances with the SF Symphony – 1991, 92, 95 and 98 – Peters has been hot and lukewarm. She trotted out a lot of the same songs, jokes and mannerisms, concert after concert.

This time around we saw a much fresher Peters. At 60 she has lost none of her Kewpie Doll looks – That hair! Those curves! – nor has her voice, one of the most bizarre instruments on Broadway, lost any of its appeal. I say her voice is bizarre because it is. The break between chest and head voice comes at a strange place, and her control is not always there. Sometimes the drama in her performance comes from wondering whether she can actually hit the note.

That said, Peters has learned to use her odd voice incredibly well. She has comedy notes and break-your-heart notes. She’s a smart interpreter, and as she has gotten older, she has learned simplicity can be equally as effective as the most involved vocal manipulation. That’s one of the reasons she’s so good at singing the songs of Stephen Sondheim, who was well represented in Friday’s song selection.

After an orchestral program conducted by Edwin Outwater that featured Broadway composers Sondheim, Bernstein, Gould and Styne (no mention need be made of the attempt to make the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town” into orchestral rockabilly), Laird led the orchestra through an overture that plucked out highlights from Peters’ career (Gypsy, Mack and Mable, Sunday in the Park with George).

Peters entered singing a cutesy “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy and then got serious with “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods, a song she sings just about better than anyone, and the simple arrangement for piano and cello was stunning.

Aside from a go-nowhere running joke about trying to sell a vacation home in Florida (five bedrooms, six baths, one pool), Peters was charming. She did do her “this is my back” joke when she turned to sip water, but mostly she connected with the adoring audience as she strutted through her vampy “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame” and then climbed on top of the piano for a hot – truly hot – “Fever.”

She headed back to Rodgers and Hammerstein for “Mr. Snow” from Carousel and “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific (she says she’s seen the current revival twice and that we should catch it if we can) and then surprised us with a delicate “Shenandoah” that was practically a cappella. A recent gig at L.A.’s Disney Concert Hall forced her to add some Disney to the act: a lovely medley of “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

The Sondheim section of the evening started on the Davies grand organ in a riff from Sweeney Todd that turned into a beautiful “Johanna.”

Peters sings “Not a Day Goes By” all the time, but Friday night’s version seemed somehow less acted and more natural, which made the song all the more heartbreaking. Her “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” is fun (not as fun as Andrea McArdle’s), but her “With So Little to Be Sure Of” brought weight and drama and beauty (more than the set closer “Being Alive,” which didn’t have quite the oomph it should have).

For an encore, she performed her first composition, “Kramer’s Song,” a lullaby she wrote for her dog and that accompanies her recently published children’s book Broadway Barks. Peters walked into the audience to perform the song, which is truly lovely and emotional and has more than a touch of Sondheim in it.

Of course Peters could have performed more songs from her own shows. She didn’t do anything from Song and Dance or Annie Get Your Gun or anything of note from Gypsy. But it was nice getting a mostly fresh plate of show tunes from such a delightful diva.

Visit Peters’ official site:


Cleo, Chita & Rita heading to Rrazz Room

San Francisco’s Rrazz Room has announced its fall schedule, and it’s pretty amazing, especially for theater aficionados.

The season opens in September with Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth, one of the most celebrated jazz duos on the circuit. Although restricting them to one label is chintzy. Laine’s album of Sondheim songs is one of her best, and her album of Shakespeare verse set to Dankworth’s music is stunning. They play the Rraz Sept. 2-14.

Two words: Chita. Rivera. The Broadway legend is apparently going to be high stepping her way through the cabaret circuit. A two-time Tony Award winner (The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman), Rivera was recently in Kander and Ebb’s The Visit and the Tony Award-winning revival of Nine. Her autobiographical show, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, was supposed to hit the Bay Area but never did. This will make up for it. Rivera does the Rrazz Sept. 23-Oct. 5.

When is drag never a drag? When it’s done by Miss Coco Peru aka Clinton Leupp. She brings her Ugly Coco show to the Rrazz Room Oct. 15-Nov. 2.

Local award goddess (recite the mantra with me: TonyEmmyOscarGrammy) Rita Moreno makes her Rrazz Room debut with a new musical revue of classic favorites, forgotten chestnuts and new work in a show called Little Tributes Nov. 4-23.

The gorgeous Rrazz Room is in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets range from $30-$65 plus a two-drink minimum (and there’s a full of menu of excellent Hotel Nikko food). Call 888-468-3399 or visit

High schoolers win big `Beach Blanket’ bucks

After San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom took his foot out of his mouth (he made an inappropriate comment about gay marriage), and after former SF Mayor Willie Brown introduced a film clip, and after the Beach Blanket Babylon cast throttled a song from Wicked, the Beach Blanket Babylon Scholarship for the Arts competition got under way and did what it has been doing for six years: giving high school seniors money to pursue their passion for the arts.

Monday night’s judging panel, picking a winner from three finalists in each of three categories (dance, acting and singing), included Tracy Chapman, Harry Denton, Gordon Getty, David Gockley, Chuy Gomez, Rita Moreno, Jonathan Moscone, Carey Perloff, Don Sanchez, Tony Taccone, Jan Wahl and Brenda Way. Don Bleu served as master of ceremonies with assists from Silver’s widow, Jo Schuman Silver.

And this year’s winners are, each receiving a $10,000 scholarship, are:

In the dancing category:
CHELSEA McLAUGHLIN – Eastside College Preparatory, East Palo Alto
Chelsea, who danced to Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” said she plans to study dance at Fordham University at the Ailey School.

In the acting category:
SHAYLIN HOYE – Novato High School, Novato
Shaylin, who performed a monologue from Peter Shaffer’s Eqqus, said she will attend Concordia University in Irvine. “And will you pursue acting?” Bleu asked. “I might now,” she answered.

In the singing category:
SARA LEMESH – Terra Linda High School, San Rafael
Sara, who sang an aria from A Masked Ball, plans to attend Rice University and said she has been singing opera since she was 12.

Congratulations and well done!

`Beach Blanket’ selects finalists

Every year, the Steve Silver Foundation and Beach Blanket Babylon present $10,000 scholarships to three talented high school seniors from the Bay Area.

Jo Schuman Silver, producer of BBB, announced the nine finalists today, who will then go on to perform at Club Fugazi on Monday, June 9. The winners will be selected that night.

Finalists in the acting category are:
SAIRUS GRAHAM-THILLE – San Francisco School of the Arts, San Francisco
SHAYLIN HOYE – Novato High School, Novato
KEELIN WOODELL – St. Ignatius College Prep, San Francisco

In the dancing category:
CHELSEA McLAUGHLIN – Eastside College Preparatory, East Palo Alto
TAL OPPENHEIMER – Lick-Wilmerding High School, San Francisco
ERIN STAHMER – Homestead High School, Cupertino

In the singing category:
ALEXANDRA AKIN – School of the Arts, San Francisco
SARA LEMESH – Terra Linda High School, San Rafael
ERIN SUTH – Redwood Christian Junior/Senior High School, San Lorenzo

Schuman Silver said in a statement: “I’m really impressed by the quality of the performances that we’ve received and the dedication of the students to their craft. It wasn’t an easy task to narrow down the field to just nine finalists.”

The June 9 master of ceremonies for the evening is Star 101.3’s Don Bleu. The celebrity panel of judges scheduled to appear includes: San Francisco’s Mr. Nightlife Harry Denton, Composer Gordon Getty, San Francisco Opera’s General Director David Gockley, KMEL’s Chuy Gomez, Alice Radio’s Hooman, Actress Rita Moreno, California Shakespeare Theater’s Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone, American Conservatory Theater’s Artistic Director Carey Perloff, ABC7’s Don Sanchez, Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director Tony Taccone, KRON4/KCBS Radio’s Jan Wahl and ODC/Dance’s Artistic & Executive Dance Director Brenda Way.

For information visit

Dog Bytes: `Follies,’ `Blood Mirage,’ Aurora Borealis

As ever, so many interesting things going on in Bay Area theater:

– The Oakland East Bay Symphony is gearing up for a glittery concert production of Follies, May 16 and 18 at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland. The cast includes Val Diamond (Beach Blanket Babylon), Sharon McNight, Rita Moreno, Clark Sterling and the Berkeley Broadway Singers (among others). You won’t want to miss that (visit for info). But before then, there’s going to be a “Forum on themes of Follies from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3 at the Veteran’s Memorial Building, 200 Grand Avenue, Oakland. Admission is free, and it’s sponsored by the OEBS and Stagebridge and the City of Oakland Life Enrichment Programs. The keynote speaker is Ted Chapin, author of Everything was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies (a fantastic book and must reading for anyone who cares about musical theater) and the president and executive director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. Panelists include Lucha Corpi, Bill Bell, Bonnie Bell, Glen Pearson and Barbara Oliver. John Kendall Bailey serves as moderator, and there will be performances and live music.

– The Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House (the wonderful national park on the grounds of the Danville home O’Neill shared with his wife Carlotta around the time he was writing, among others, Long Day’s Journey Into Night — if you’ve never been to this park, you owe it to yourself to make a visit and take a tour) is launching the 2008 Playwrights Theatre series. Opening the series is a new work by San Francisco writer/director/actor Jeffrey Hartgraves: Blood Mirage, the story of three adult sisters called together by their aging mother to attend a funeral and experience some shocking revelations. Blood Mirage is at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 4 in the Old Barn at Tao House. Also on the May 4 bill is Revelations, a series of scenes from O’Neill plays in which women are the principal characters. Local actor Karen Grassle (of “Little House on the Prairie” fame) is featured.
O’Neill’s Welded is at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 18. The play was written in 1922-23 and concerns a successful playwright and his wife, each seeking comfort in another relationship (he with a prostitute, she with a family friend). O’Neill wrote about the play: “I feel that I’m getting back as far as it is possible in modern times to get back, to the religious in the theater. The only way we can get religion back is through an exultation over the truth, through an exultant acceptance of life.”
Tickets are $25 (price includes transportation from Danville to Tao House — there’s no parking in the park). Call 925-820-1818 or visit for information.

– Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company holds its annual fundraiser, Aurora Borealis, on Monday, May 5 at The Pavilion at Scott’s Seafood Restaurant in Oakland’s Jack London Square. Tickets (from $216 to $316) include cocktails, a three-course dinner and live entertainment by Maureen McVerry and Billy Philadelphia (co-stars in the Aurora’s recent musical romp Sex). The live auction includes a December holiday trip to Puerto Vallarta, lunch with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik, a week in New York, a private cabaret night with Philadelphia and his singer wife Meg Mackay. Funds raised at the event support mainstage productions, education programs and the Global Age Project new works program.
Call 510-843-4042 ext. 378 or visit for information.

Lovely Rita

Happy Memorial Day weekend, Dogs.

A family member in Reno tipped me off to the following column by Reno-Gazette Journal columnist Siobhan McAndrew that ran in today’s paper.

The gist of it is that after a speaking engagement, Moreno — the Bay Area’s own diva — reportedly dropped a casual invitation to the writer and her entourage to join Moreno for dinner.

Here’s a sample from the column:

We trick ourselves into believing how nice and sweet movie stars must be because reporters, like me, interview them and make them seem refreshingly real.

We grasp for any bit of ordinary, like whether they ordered soup and crackers during the interview, and we present it to the world as proof of regularness.

I learned the hard way how stupid that is when I almost had dinner with actress Rita Moreno.

Now, I’ve interviewed Moreno on numerous occasions. I’ve dined with her. I’ve watched her in the rehearsal hall, and I’ve always been impressed by a) how smart and sharp she is and b) how approachable she is. I’ve never seen her throw her diva weight around, which is not to say she never does, but the column surprised me, and I feel like we haven’t quite heard the whole story.

Here’s another bit of the column:

Occasionally, Moreno glanced at us, but most of the conversation was about how talented she was and how she should do a one woman show. We chimed in that she was great when we could, but we gave up quickly and sat silently in awkward misery.

We here at Theater Dogs will attempt to round out the story and see if there are perhaps any other perspectives.

Tip-top ten

Happy holidays, Theater Dogs!

Thanks for reading the blog in 2006. I’ll try to make it bigger, better, funnier and fresher in 2007.

Below you’ll find my Top 10 list of favorite theater experiences in 2006. I’d love for you all to share some of your favorites as well, so use the comment feature liberally.

1.The Clean House,TheatreWorks

Sarah Ruhl’s immaculate play — is it a comic drama or a dramatic comedy? — reveals a writer so attuned to the human heart that her work may actually be beneficial to your health. This production, helmed by Juliette Carrillo, sure was. Love is a mess, Ruhl tells us. It’s dirty (like a good joke), messy and, at its best, like really good homemade chocolate ice cream.

2. The Glass Menagerie, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

The news that Rita Moreno, the Bay Area’s resident living legend, would tackle the role of Amanda in this Tennessee Williams classic was intriguing. Could Moreno handle it? Anyone who doubted Moreno’s chops was quickly proven wrong by her powerhouse portrayal of a mother desperate to see her children succeed in a harsh world. Director Les Waters gave us such a fresh approach to the play that it almost seemed newly minted.

3. Love Is a Dream House in Lorin, Shotgun Players

Playwright Marcus Gardley did a magnificent thing with this world-premiere play: He turned a neighborhood into art, and in doing so made the specific universal. Gardley immersed himself in the history of Berkeley’s Lorin District — from the recent past clear back to Native American days — and, with the help of director Aaron Davidman, managed to capture something significant about each era leading up to the present. The cast of more than 30 professionals and nonprofessionals found the heart of the piece and showed us over and over again that without community, we’re not much.

4. Hunter Gatherers, Killing My Lobster

Of all this year’s comedies, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s world premiere for sketch troupe Killing My Lobster was the meatiest. Maybe it had something to do with the onstage slaughter of a lamb at the play’s start. Or maybe it was the huge chunk of roasted meat that factors into the play’s bloody end. Whatever, this was an aggressively funny play about our primal, cave-man impulses, man’s need to hump (or kill) everything in sight and woman’s need for chocolate.

5. 4 Adverbs, Word for Word

San Francisco’s Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) ended his “Series of Unfortunate Events” books this year, but not before releasing a book under his own name. Four chapters of that book (Adverbs) became the basis for a typically wondrous production by Word for Word, the company that translates short fiction to the stage without changing a word of the original text. Kind of makes you glad Lemony Snicket is taking a break.

6. Dessa Rose, TheatreWorks

A musical about slavery sounds like a glum proposition, but in the hands of composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, glum turns into serious, which turns into transcendent. Based on the novel by Sherley Anne Williams, the story of an escaped slave and the slave owner she reluctantly befriends bears the weight of history and the healing power of music.

7. In On It, Encore Theatre Company

Canadian playwright/director Daniel MacIvor’s work isn’t that well-known south of our northern border, but based on this dynamic, beautifully directed and performed piece,
MacIvor should be in demand. Actors Ian Scott McGregor and Glenn Peters broke the fourth wall, bent time and concealed key details as they told us the story of actors who used to be lovers working on a play about their relationship. Or were they?

8. Gem of the Ocean, American Conservatory Theater

The late August Wilson received a beautiful valedictory production of his second-to-last play from ACT and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The electric jolt of Wilson’s language — “So, live!” are the play’s final words — coursed through the nearly three-hour show, but the sturdy cast, headed by Michele Shay as Aunt Ester, made it very much alive.

9. Restoration Comedy, California Shakespeare Theater
San Francisco writer Amy Freed’s effervescent comedy is based on two 17th-century comedies that wished they could have been this fresh and funny. Special mention must be made of the hilarious Danny Scheie, who played Sir Novelty Fashion who later becomes Lord Foppington, the star of the show-stopping Act 2 fashion show (Anna R. Oliver provided the costumes).

10. Permanent Collection, Aurora Theatre Company

This serious drama about race relations by Thomas Gibbons veered into polemics, but before it did, the battle between a black man and a white man over a collection of art is humane, disturbing and, best of all, thought provoking.

The best shows that didn’t necessarily originate here (or were on their way somewhere else — like Broadway) include: Jersey Boys (Best of Broadway/SHN); A Chorus Line (Best of Broadway/SHN); The Miser (Berkeley Repertory Theatre/Theatre de la Jeune Lune); The Light in the Piazza (Best of Broadway/SHN); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Stone, Nederlander, Barrington Stage Company et al); Swan Lake (Best of Broadway/SHN).

For more 2006 highlights, check out Jones for Theater.

OK. Now you…