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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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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SF Mime Troupe rocks the boat in Ripple Effect

Jul 07

SF Mime Troupe rocks the boat in <i>Ripple Effect</i>

I must admit that for a while there, I ceased looking forward to the July Fourth debut of the latest San Francisco Mime Troupe show at Dolores Park. The productions were feeling slack or worse, forced. The writing was off and the politics came off as strident or silly rather than relevant or even entertaining.Happy to report that this year's show, Ripple Effect, is a major improvement.

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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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