When Muhammad Ali met Stepin Fetchit

Aug 22

When Muhammad Ali met Stepin Fetchit

Playwright (and former San Franciscan) Will Power knows a potent match-up when he sees it. In this corner we have young, preening world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali who, in the last year of his life, has shed his former identity as Cassisus Clay to become a member of the Nation of Islam with a new name and a new wife. And in this corner we have actor Lincoln Perry, better known as his show business alter ego, Stepin Fetchit, a lazy comic character that became a polarizing force in the realm of African-American stereotypes.

This pairing seems to good to be true, the invention of a clever dramatist, but no. It's true.

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Verklempt with laughter: Urie shines in Buyer & Cellar

Aug 21

Verklempt with laughter: Urie shines in <i>Buyer & Cellar</i>

Michael Urie is so freaking charming it's outrageous. The erstwhile scene-stealer from "Ugly Betty" landed in a one-man off-Broadway hit more than a year ago, and he's had the good sense to take this show – the perfect showcase for his prodigious talents – on the road, just like the big stars of yesteryear used to do.

The play is Buyer & Cellar by Jonathan Tolins, a fantasia on Barbra Streisand, which is to say an examination of fame, wealth, creativity and loneliness, among other things. It's a fascinating play with deep wells of compassion for the rich and famous and for the poor and ignored.<.p>

But perhaps above all else, it's funny. Really funny.

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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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Cal Shakes sculpts a vital, vivacious Pygmalion

Aug 06

Cal Shakes sculpts a vital, vivacious <i>Pygmalion</i>

When real life comes in and smacks Prof. Henry Higgins across the face, it's a wonderful thing to see this brilliant yet stunted man consider, perhaps for the first time in his life, that kindness may have worth akin to genius.

The force representing the real world – a world of messiness and emotion and connection – takes the form of Eliza Doolittle, an extraordinary young woman who is the intellectual if not social equal of Higgins and his superior when it comes to living life as most of humanity experiences it.

One of the great things about the California Shakespeare Theater production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion is how balanced it is.

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Raise your cosmos to Sex and the City Live!

Jul 26

Raise your cosmos to <i>Sex and the City Live!</i>

"Sex and the City" impressario Darren Star stopped by to see the San Francisco phenomenon known as Sex and the City Live!, a drag romp inspired by his HBO TV series, and his feeling was that the stage show was funnier than the TV show, and he's absolutely right.

But how could the live version NOT be funnier than the boob-tube version when you've got four hilarious drag artistes playing the lusty ladies of Manhattan and the savvy D'Arcy Drollinger directing the whole enterprise? The show has evolved from its salad days at Rebel Bar and has launched a short run (through Aug. 10) at the Victoria Theatre. The place was packed Friday night, and it seemed the audience (a whole lot of women and gay men) was lapping up every detail of the experience, from the show on stage to the shirtless guy selling shots to the cosmos on sale at the bar.

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Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great Pretender

Jul 13

Grief, puppets collide in TheatreWorks’ great <i>Pretender</i>

You don't often think of puppets and drama together, but playwright David West Read makes a strong case for the combination in the world premiere of his The Great Pretender, the first show of TheatreWorks' 45th season.

Original, funny and genuinely moving, Pretender is set in a very specific world – a "Captain Kangaroo"-like children's television program with a mild-mannered host interacting with spunky puppets – and discovers universal strains of grief, comfort and emotional evolution.

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