Goode shines Light, Frankenstein lives

Young Frankenstein

Shuler Hensley (left) is the Monster and Roger Bart is Dr. Frederick Frankensein in the national tour of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein at the Golden Gate Theatre. Photo by Paul Kolnik

If you need proof of how lively and diverse the San Francisco theater scene can be, let me direct your attention to two wildly different shows I’ve seen recently. One is about as old fashioned as it gets, while the other is wonderfully experimental.

For sheer retro-musical theater pleasures, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein – at the Golden Gate Theatre until July 25 – is a prime example of Grade B goods. There was a time on Broadway – think the 1950s and early ’60s – when these kinds of shows populated the Great White Way. Taking the term “musical comedy” to heart, these shows have no objective other than to please its audience for a couple of hours. A few laughs, a few hummable tunes, and we’re done.

With The Producers Brooks fulfilled a lifelong passion to create a musical theater blockbuster. Now Brooks is settling into his groove with Young Frankenstein, an extremely faithful version of his classic 1974 movie (co-written with star Gene Wilder). As a recycler of his own material, Brooks sticks to the formula that worked for the movie and supplies songs that, while not as catchy as those in The Producers, are appealing.

The loosey-goosey feel of the entire production, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, Brooks’ partner on The Producers, means that the actors are free to ham it up as much as they want. Star Roger Bart, of the original Broadway production, takes that notion to heart and is hammy and winky-wink to the audience as I imagine Ray Bolger might have been back in the day.

Shuler Hensley (another conquering hero from the Broadway production) as the monster doesn’t have the freedom to yuk it up, but he’s big and green and funny, especially when performing Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Brad Oscar goes to town as the blind man visited by the monster and squeezes every possible laugh in a role originated on film by none other than Gene Hackman.

Young Frankenstein does not breathe new life into musical theater, nor does it electrify on its own merits. But it is a generally pleasing, vintage-feeling show that makes audiences happy.

Traveling Light

A few blocks away from the Golden Gate, local dance world star Joe Goode and his Joe Goode Performance Group are reviving a fascinating show that combines dance, theater, song, spoken word and art installation.

Traveling Light roams the echoing halls and chambers of the Old Mint, once a thriving center of big money and now a historic footnote waiting to be restored and revived. In the meantime, Goode and his company are the best thing to hit the Mint since gold bullion.

The audience is split into four groups to view the quartet of scenes that take place in different parts of the building. At the end of each segment, a guide takes you quickly to where the next tableaux unfurls. It’s all expertly handled, and the excitement of experiencing such a perfectly orchestrated musing on the meaning of money and value burbles throughout the show’s entire 90 minutes or so.

Mention must be made of Jack Carpenter’s lighting, which is a show unto itself – not that it distracts from the performances or calls too much attention to itself. It’s just so exquisite that I found myself wanting to watch the show again just to watch the shifting lights and shadows, especially in the segment that takes place in a courtyard that makes you feel like you’re in Ancient Rome.

Joe Goode’s Traveling Light is a must see for so many reasons – it’s bold, beautiful, impeccably produced and highly original. And you just can’t see it anywhere else.


Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein continues through July 25 at the Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30-$99. Call (415) 512 7770 or visit

Joe Goode Performance Group’s Traveling Light continues through Aug. 1 at the Old Mint, 88 Fifth St., San Francisco. Tickets are $34-$44. Please note: there are additional 10pm shows on Fridays and Saturdays. Call (415) 561-6565 or visit

Ramping up to the Tony Awards

This Sunday, the Tony Awards will be handed out.
Here’s what you need to know (and get busy organizing your Tony party — we’ve got to get those dismal ratings out of the basement so CBS will continue broadcasting the darn things).

For the first time, there will be pre-ceremony Tony Concert chock full of juicy musical numbers from all the nominated shows. In the Bay Area the concert will be at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 15 on KPIX-TV. Mario Lopez (currently playing Zach in A Chorus Line) hosts, and we’ll see numbers from 10 musicals: A Catered Affair, Cry-Baby, Grease, Gypsy, In The Heights, Passing Strange, South Pacific, Sunday in the Park with George, The Little Mermaid and Xanadu—on stage at the Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, with its spectacular, floor-to-ceiling views of Central Park South visible to viewers of the telecast.

Nominees who perform on the program include Laura Benanti (Gypsy), Daniel Breaker and Stew (Passing Strange), Kerry Butler (Xanadu), Daniel Evans (Sunday in the Park with George), Faith Prince (A Catered Affair) and Loretta Ables Sayre (South Pacific).

“We’ve tried very hard not to cannibalize anything that will be on the actual Tony telecast, but just to whet people’s appetites for June 15,” says The Broadway League’s Jan Friedlander Svendsen, who is an executive producer of the special. “We purposely didn’t want this in costume, we didn’t want big production numbers. We wanted it to feel very intimate. And we wanted to have those up-close-and-personal profiles.”

Actor nominees who are interviewed during the pre-Tony telecast include Laurence Fishburne, who talks about his role as a Supreme Court justice in Thurgood, and Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood, who reveal a touching story from the casting of their revival of Macbeth. Steppenwolf Theatre Company members Laurie Metcalf (November) and Deanna Dunagan, Amy Morton and Rondi Reed from the Best Play nominee August: Osage County celebrate the success of Steppenwolf-ers on Broadway this season—the roster also includes Martha Plimpton and Kevin Anderson—who all told represent six different Broadway shows.

“One of the issues with the Tonys is, often times, not all of our nominees are as well known as, say, Oscar nominees,” says Svendsen. “It’s great to let audiences be exposed to some of those who aren’t as well known. It’s kind of like the Olympics. Many of those athletes aren’t as famous, and one of my favorite parts of watching the Games is getting to know those athletes from a human interest side. Then I have an emotional connection with them and a more rooting interest in who’s going to win.”

The Awards, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg (thank God someone on “The View” cares about theater since Rosie O’Donnell’s departure) begin at 8 p.m. on TV, but watching the tape delay is so retro. Why not tune into the live Webcast? Past Tony winners Michael Cerveris and Julie White host. Log on to for all the details.

On the broadcast, we’ll get musical numbers from all four of the Best Musical nominees (Cry-Baby, In The Heights, Passing Strange and Xanadu) and the four Best Musical Revival nominees (Grease, Gypsy, Sunday in the Park with George and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific).

Also represented will be three other new Broadway musicals: A Catered Affair, The Little Mermaid and The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein. And just for good measure, Rent and The Lion King will also make appearances.

Video memories from past Tony winners, clips from nominated shows and a whole lot more await you at, your one-stop shop for Tony Award information.

To whet your appetite, here’s Passing Strange on “The View.”

Megan Cavanagh is into `Out of This World’

Actor Megan Cavanagh has the kind of living arrangement you might see on a TV sitcom – in fact, you should see it on a TV sitcom. Every time she tells someone about her house and her family, someone inevitably says, “You should totally write a show about that!”

Here’s the deal: Cavanagh was married, as she puts it, “many moons ago,” and she and her now ex-husband have a son who’s in high school. The ex-husband remarried and had a daughter who adores her older brother (and vice-versa). So when the ex and his wife moved from Los Angeles to Palo Alto, it seemed only right that Cavanagh, now a lesbian, and her partner pull up stakes and head north as well. Brother and half-sister get to finish growing up together, and the exes and their new mates happily allow that to happen.

But wait, there’s more! Cavanagh and her partner live next door to the ex, the new wife and the little sister. And the son’s bedroom connects TO BOTH APARTMENTS! Mom on one side, dad on the other. Cue the laugh track and run the closing credits music.

“The arrangement poses its challenges,” Cavanagh says, “but it’s actually pretty great. We love my son’s little sister – we’re her aunties. We babysit and give her music lessons, and that fulfills a baby fix in me. The best part is my son gets to grow up with his sister.”

Megan Cavanagh (right) sings with Darlene Popovic in 42nd Street Moon’s revival of Out of This World, a 1950 musical by Cole Porter. Photo by David Allen

So how about writing the TV show inspired by real life?

“I’m actually more interested in a reality show,” Cavanagh says. “You could call it `Getting Along,’ and it could follow couples after a divorce. There’s so much horrible news out there. You never really hear the good stuff, about couples who loved each other once, aren’t together anymore but decide to be mature for their kids.”

Cavanagh is one of this busy workman actors whose name you might not know but whose face – and voice – ring a bell. Cavanagh is on Logo’s lesbian sitcom “Exes and Ohs,” which she describes as a gay cross between “Sex and the City” and “Friends.” She plays Cris, who, along with partner of 10 years, Kris, operates an online pet supply business out of Seattle (the show is filmed in Vancouver). “They call it a dramedy, but it’s really more comedy than drama,” Cavanagh says. “Everything I do is comedy. I celebrated my 40th birthday in the first season – they’re so kind – but that was filmed two years ago. We’re going to film the second season, but it’s like, hello people, I’m aging. How long can I pretend to be 40? They’re writing scripts madly now, and we’ll likely film this fall.”

Though she has lived in the Bay Area for a couple years, Cavanagh still commutes to LA to do voiceover work for Nickelodeon cartoons. Most notably, she’s the voice of Jimmy Neutron’s mom. Among the other voices she provides for the network is a new show set in San Francisco in which she plays mother to kids voiced by Amy Poehler and Andy Richter. “I’m a total San Francisco mom,” she says. “I have dreds, a tattoo and drive a Harley. I booked that job right as I decided to move up here. I thought it was God’s way of saying, `Go for it!’ ”

TV and film have been good to Cavanagh (remember her as Broomhilde in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights or as Marla, the homesick ballplayer in A League of Their Own?), but the actor claims that theater is her first love. But when the TV and movie gigs keep coming along, it’s hard to commit to a stage job. After a long stretch of work in LA, Cavanagh suddenly realized it had been almost a decade since her last play. “I was flabbergasted with myself,” she says. “So I went back to Door County, Wis., where I had interned in college at the oldest resident summer stock company in the U.S. They were doing Sylvia, and I played the therapist you’re not sure if it’s a man or a woman. I had a panic attack backstage and worried that I couldn’t do a whole scene without starting or stopping like they do in TV. I was about to make my entrance. I was sweating profusely. I gave myself a good talking to, pushed myself onstage and did it – shakily. I vowed never to let so much time go by again without doing a play.”

So, these last few years, while she’s been doing the TV thing, she has also been going in and out of various productions of Menopause: The Musical (one of her stints included the Pier 39 production in San Francisco). And now she has her first post-Menopause gig: with 42nd Street Moon’s revival of Out of This World, the 1950 Cole Porter musical about Greek gods and Hollywood’s upper crust comically colliding.

The musical (in previews June 5 and 6 with opening on June 7) entered Cavanagh’s life shortly after she dove into the Theatre Bay Area general auditions. “I hadn’t done an audition since the ’80s,” Cavanagh says. “I dusted off a monologue from college that was totally not right for my age – Viola in Twelfth Night. And I sang both parts of `Bosom Buddies’ from Mame. I had been home 15 minutes when 42nd Street Moon called.”

In the show, Cavanagh plays the Hedda Hopper-like gossip columnist Isadora St. John. “I’m modeling her on Eve Arden,” Cavanagh says. “She’s a hoot – an opportunist always on the lookout for a scoop. She’ll go with a guy or a girl, whatever’s working in the moment. I get two duets with (Bay Area actor) Darlene Popovic, and we are having so much fun. There’s one number, `I Sleep Easier Now,’ that just kicks butt. We’re drinking through it.”

Cavanagh says she’s anxious for more Bay Area stage work – mostly of the comic variety – though she’s willing to shake it up. “I did the audition to face my fear, and I’m ready to go. I’d do anything that comes along.”

Out of This World continues through June 29 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$38. Call 415-225-8207 or visit for information.

Review: `Squeeze Box’

At The Marsh in San Francisco through June 29


Ann Randolph wrote and stars in Squeeze Box at The Marsh. The solo show is about her loss and rediscovery of faith.

Superb solo show squeezes out laughs, drama
«««1/2 Extraordinary characters


There are certain people who, when they recommend a show, I snap to attention and see the show. One of those people is Anne Bancroft, the late great actress who will never stop delighting me with her talent. Bancroft had this to say about Ann Randolph’s solo show Squeeze Box: “When I first saw [Squeeze Box], I was deeply moved. Ann Randolph’s amazing work, both as a writer and fellow performer, touched my heart and my mind so profoundly that I felt it belonged on the New York stage.”

Bancroft and her husband, Mel Brooks, became producers of Randolph’s show and gave it a successful off-Broadway run in 2004. Since then, Randolph has been doing Squeeze Box around the world while she has continued to develop new work. That’s what brings her to The Marsh in San Francisco. Randolph does her show two nights a week, works on new characters and new monologues and conducts workshops in developing solo shows.

Lucky us.

There’s something so incredibly theatrical about a one-person show. We have two excellent examples in the Bay Area right now – Randolph’s show and Nilaja Sun’s No Child… at Berkeley Repertory Theatre (now extended through June 11) – in which women, on a mostly bare stage, become a cast of characters that we willingly and enthusiastically see beyond the shape and size of the amazing actress creating them.

Randolph’s autobiographical story is really one of faith. When we first meet the likeable, slightly goofy Ann, she’s working a minimum-wage job at a shelter for mentally ill homeless women in Santa Monica. The job is wearing on her, and she’s beginning to feel like no matter how hard she works or how much she cares, she is not really helping the women. Her life, she concludes, has ceased to progress. She has failed to move forward and, as a result, has lost the faith that once made her want to become a saint and provide “encouragement, hope and love to those most easily forgotten.”

One of the ways Ann hopes to get some life back into her life is through a personal ad on She’s hoping to find a rugged man with a love for Brahms. The rugged look, it seems, really turns her on. “Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to homeless men,” she says.

The man she finds is Harold, a musician and weekend hiker who speaks (and feels) in a monotone. But when Ann finds out what instrument Harold plays, it’s very nearly a deal breaker. He plays the accordion, the squeeze box and the soundtrack to many a beery oompah-pah Saturday night.

Nothing in Randolph’s tale is quite what you expect. There’s a whole lot of frank sex talk (especially from Brandy, the paranoid schizophrenic crack-head whore who lives in the shelter), and Ann’s downward spiral is quite dramatic (though the 75-minute show has loads of humor). The characters come and go, with some making more of an impression than others. The hippie-ish Shoshanna is there to represent liberal hypocrisy, while Julie, the shelter counselor just arrived from Christ the King Salvation Center, is a Bible thumper in the worst possible sense and couldn’t be more insensitive to the world around her.

Though the character of Irene, a new resident at the shelter, only makes a brief appearance, she has tremendous impact. Randolph pulls her hair up into a crude bun, twists her malleable face into something akin to a pain mask and strums the guitar while Irene sings of her marital woe. It’s a funny song that turns incredibly poignant. Irene, like Ann, has lost her faith in a big way.

But unlike Irene, Ann is able to rediscover faith through Harold, and in particular, a concert performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Randolph brings the show full circle and allows her audience to taste what she experienced in that concert hall: the redemptive power of art.

As a bonus for San Francisco audiences, Randolph is doing excerpts of new work after performances of Squeeze Box. On the night I saw the show, she showed a short film called Disaster Relief that she directed and stars in. She read pieces of a monologue then costumed herself as a demented crack whore and let herself get full into the foul-mouthed, interesting character. From there she assumed the character of Carol Diddle, a landlady in Santa Monica who loathes the impoverished artists who live in her building and can’t pay their rent. Carol is a disturbing character – far more so than the crack whore. Scary.

Squeeze Box continues through June 29 at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., San Francisco. Shows are at 5 p.m. Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15-$35 on a sliding scale. Call 800-838-3006 or visit

Visit Ann Randolph’s Web site here:

Show tunes! `Young Frankenstein,’ `Xanadu’

Am I getting old and cranky or are show tunes getting crappy?

Probably a little of both, and I should say very quickly that there’s plenty of new show music that is thrilling, moving, funny, etc.

But I’ve been listening to the cast albums for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and the against-all-odds hit stage adaptation of Xanadu. And I really dislike them both.

I have friends who have seen both shows on stage. None of them liked Frankenstein very much (“overproduced,” “dull,” “not nearly as much fun as The Producers“), but all of them enjoyed Xanadu because it was able to laugh at itself (and the tickets, unlike Mr. Brooks’ show, weren’t $400).

After listening to the original cast album ($18.98, Decca Broadway), I wouldn’t pay any amount to see the show, even to see my beloved Andrea Martin, who can do no wrong and comes across better than anybody else on the disc.

Brooks’ music and lyrics are pedestrian at best, and he’s stealing from himself. If a musical motif or gag worked in The Producers, then chances are it pops up here in an only slightly different form.

Aside from Martin’s genuinely funny “He Vas My Boyfriend,” the album’s only other real highlight is Sutton Foster’s yodel on “Roll in the Hay.” I’m supremely disappointed in the material given to Megan Mullally, another favorite. Although, mercifully, Mullally’s version of “Alone,” a song cut from the final show, is included and gives her a little something to play with. If you’r a Mullally fan, as I am, I recommend skipping this disc and going straight to her quirky new CD “Free Again” with her band, Supreme Music Program ($ ). The wonky, wonderful disc ranges from “Up a Lazy River” to “Ave Maria.”

I would probably buy a ticket to Xanadu because the terrible Olivia Newton-John movie holds a place in my heart where bad musicals go to rest (right next to Grease 2 and Newsies). I’ve heard wonderful things about Douglas Carter Beane’s hilarious book and Christopher Ashley’s direction — both of which I’m sure are delightful.

But the music on the original cast album ($19.98, P.S. Classics), taken from the movie with more ELO and Olivia Newton-John songs thrown in to beef things up, is not a pleasant listen. It’s not very funny, the campy treatment of the songs makes them almost unlistenable, and Kerry Butler’s mysterious Australian accent (an homage to Newton-John) comes across as harsh, nasal and grating. Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, by all accounts the comic livewires of the show, labor to make the funny work on disc, but the laughs — at least for me — were as low as the original Xanadu’s box-office take.

Not wanting to leave this post in a negative place (I’m so California), may I recommend a CD by a group that I was turned on to by a fellow show tune lover: The Puppini Sisters’ “The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo” (Verbe, $13.98). This is the second disc by the British trio — Marcella Puppini, Stephanie O’Brien and Kate Mullins — and it’s as fantastic as the first. Tight, 1940s girl-group harmonies applied to songs both traditional (“Old Cape Cod,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing”) and nontraditional (“Could It Be Magic,” “Spooky,” “Crazy in Love”). This album is more elaborately orchestrated, which is fun, and the girls sound better than ever. Check it out.

It’s alive!

Mel Brooks’ new musical comedy adaptation of Young Frankenstein, based on his and Gene Wilder’s 1974 movie of the same name, opened in its pre-Broadway tryout last week in Seattle.

The two major critics, Misha Barton of the Seattle Times and Joe Adcock of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, had differing views on the show, which stars Roger Bart as Victor Frankenstein (that’s Fronk-en-steen), Andrea Martin as Frau Blecher, Shuler Hensley as the Monster, Sutton Foster as Inga, Megan Mullally as Elizabeth and Christopher Fitzgerald as Igor

Barton called the piece a “supersize, eager-to-please and arguably redundant musical comedy” and says, “The musical is freshest and funniest in the second act, when it stops doggedly aping the film and lets the actors concoct their own comic chemistry.”

Here’s more from Barton:

Brooks has composed some 18 songs for the show, mostly breezy knockoffs with a Gypsy or vaudeville ring and shamelessly silly lyrics (“There is nothing like a brain!”). Most tunes are calling cards (Elizabeth’s “Please Don’t Touch Me”). At least one is superfluous (“Join the Family Business”).

But there are two good vehicles for [director/choreographer Susan] Stroman’s clever choreography: “The Transylvania Mania,” blending 42nd Street hoofing with Fiddler on the Roof folk dancing; and “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which expands the film’s Monster-Frederick tap duet to the Irving Berlin song into a major extravaganza.

Adcock in the Seattle PI was more enthused about the musical, writing, “Everything about the show is an inspired revitalization of something old or very old or very, very old.” His favorite performer is Martin, who “does a 1920s Berlin cabaret-style number that could have been borrowed from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera” and proves “once and for all that true comedy can be made out of the solemn performance style of bygone German divas on the order of Marlene Dietrich or Lotte Lenya.”

Here’s a great peek at both the movie and the show from a Seattle TV station:

Check out the official Web site for Young Frankenstein.

Bialystock & Bloom say g’bye

As the song says, “When you got it, flaunt it.” But when you don’t got it, close it. That’s the advice the producers of Broadway’s The Producers are following.

After six years and 2,502 performances, Mel Brooks’ mischievous, merry musical will ring down the curtain April 22 at New York’s St. James Theatre.

When the musical opened in 2001 with stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, the noisy hype grew to a deafening roar. The show won a record-setting 12 Tony Awards and spawned the infamous “premium ticket,” which allowed greedy producers to up the price on the in-demand tickets — already a steep $100 — to $480.

If you didn’t get to see the show on Broadway or in its several Bay Area tour stops, there’s always the mediocre movie (featuring much of the original cast plus Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman). And if you’re really motivated to see the show after April, chances are you can still catch David Hasselhoff — in drag no less — in the shortened version at the Paris Las Vegas resort.

The Associated Press reports that worldwide, The Producers generated more than $1 billion in ticket sales.