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La Jolla Playhouse basks in Chaplin’s ‘Limelight’

September 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Limelight's Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin (Craig Schwartz photo)

 

 

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

LA JOLLA, California —  Right out of the gate…don’t miss Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan (book) and Christopher Curtis (music and lyrics). It is now in its world-premiere production at the Playhouse, where it  is directed by Warren Carlyle and Michael Unger. I am confident that there are big things in store for it, like a Broadway run. I never underestimate the powers of a really, really good show!

Let’s start off with Rob McClure who plays the inimitable Chaplin. He was recently seen as Princeton in Avenue Q in Broadway and the national touring productions.

When you’re good, you’re good and he good as in excellent. He is talented and has just the right look and stature of a Chaplin as he weaves his way through the Chaplinesque years and more. With Warren Carlyle’s choreography and Linda Cho’s perfect costume designs, McClure is at home as Chaplin.

He is nimble and quite adept at the silent film star’s antics of falling down, and that famous rolling up and prancing about in his duck like walk-shuffle. (“Tramp Shuffle”) with a cane that is as flexible as the star himself. Read more…

‘MiXtape’ and ‘The Full Monty’ enliven local theatre scene

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO–Recently I wove my car down to the Gaslamp District to catch the tail end of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s miXtape, a little 80’s musical review written by resident Lamb’s actors Jon Lorenz (musical arrangements) and Colleen Kollar Smith (she also choreographed) and directed by another long time resident player and staff favorite Kerry Meads. The young (at least to me) bouncy and energetic cast includes Louis Pardo, Season Marshall Duffy, Joy Yandell, Marci Anne Wuebben, Lance Arthur Smith, Leonard Patton, Spencer Rowe and Michelle Pereira.

The musical journey that they, as an ensemble and individually, take us through include songs from U2, Duran Duran, Amy Grant, Huey Lewis, Poynter Sisters and a few I recognized; Madonna, Michael Jackson (especially the dance number they did) and Billy Joel.

They embrace Generation X to its fullest giving us a flashback to the 80’s scene including MTV, big hair, leg warmers, workout outfits (“Let’s Get Physical”), a Richard Simmons look a like and an odd combination of period dress (Jemima Dutra) that, looking back was rather nondescript. (I had almost blocked that out of my memory). Read more…

A Wynn, win happening in Vegas

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

La Reve~Las Vegas style

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

LAS VEGAS–If you’re looking for spectacular, eye popping, lip drooling, utter amazement and sheer pleasurable entertainment drop in at the Wynn Resort on the Vegas Strip in Las Vegas and catch La Rêve (The Dream). you won’t be disappointed.

Created by ex Cirque creator, Franco Dragone, the show is now in its fifth year and I can’t imagine anyone not seeing it on his or her next trip to Vegas.

Le Rêve is the ultimate underwater show in the round you will see in some time. Dragone whose prints are on  “Mystere”, and “O” has taken “Le Rêve” (this is not a Cirque show) to the next level and it is one engrossing and awe inspiring experience under Brian Burke’s nifty direction.

Le Rêve, which gets its name from a 1932 Picasso painting showing a woman sleeping on a chair starts off pretty much with a woman and her lover embracing. When they part, she walks off on to a platform, snuggles into a chair, and falls asleep. Before our eyes she is submerged into the water. (There is a million gallon tank that allows performers both sea and sky access). The show then proceeds to follow her through a series of dream cycles some of which are happy, some bizarre, some controversial, some sad and some pretty sexy.  Read more…

Moonlight closes season with strong ‘Miss Saigon’

September 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Carol Davis          

Carol Davis

VISTA, California –Every now and then it’s good to look back and reflect on the deeds and actions in which our country has been involved. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned tragedy to bring us to our senses, or not. Take for example Puccini’s  “Madama Butterfly” and Claude-Michael Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s “Miss Saigon”.

Puccini wrote “Madama Butterfly” (“Miss Saigon” is based on that opera) in 1904.  The story revolves around the arranged marriage between the American, U.S. Navy Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton and his geisha Cio-Cio-San, and ends in tragedy when Pinkerton and his ship leave the port  and his Japanese ‘wife’ behind.  He later returns to the States and marries an American woman.

Cio-Cio-San, who by now has a son, waits for Pinkerton because she believed him when he told her he would return for her. I’m sure I’m not spoiling anything for anyone when I tell you he had no intention of returning for her but when he finally does, she already knows he has married the American. In her mind, the only solution for her to save face and give her child a better life is for her to kill herself.

How and why we keep repeating our mistakes when it comes to our social behaviors is beyond me. Rather than taking the high ground instead of the lowest common denominator and acting like spoiled and entitled children when we are guests, occupy or are fighting in another country is still an unanswered question. But it happens over and over again which lends itself to yet another, more up to date version of  “Butterfly”.

Fast forward to Vietnam, (the war lasted from 1955 to 1975) where once again American G.I.’s took the women of that country for their pleasure leaving behind thousands of ‘half breeds’ or ‘leftovers’; ‘children of the dust’ of Vietnamese mothers and U.S. soldiers. These children were left at orphanages or to fend for themselves and live in poverty and starvation in a country devastated by war. Neither story is about war, but the scars of war. Read more…

‘Becky’s New Car’ fun but predictable at North Coast Rep

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Carla Hartig and Mark Pinter in "Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz. (Photo: Adam Rumley)

    

By Carol Davis    

Carol Davis

SOLANA BEACH, California –Becky’s New Car, the play by Steven Dietz, is probably newer than the car our heroine Becky Foster (Carla Harting makes the tale convincing) gets from her boss as a perk for selling more cars in one night than the other salesperson at her dealership, Steve (Mueen Jahan), has sold in probably one month.

Well, maybe not. The play first went into rehearsals in 2009 but the idea was inspired when theatre enthusiast Charles Staadecker, as a birthday present for his wife Benita’s 60th birthday, wanted to commission a play as a birthday surprise. Staadecker, whose wife was a former Seattle ACT board member, approached the board to measure their interest in a new play. Fast forward, Dietz was approached and the rest, they say is history.

Becky’s New Car now being mounted on the North Coast Repertory stage has been produced only eleven times according to artistic director and director of this production David Ellenstein. It’s a quirky piece that weaves in and out of situations that at times get sidetracked and oft derailed because too much is going on for this little piece. It could substitute as a sit COM with at least five or so episodes in this two act play alone.

Our heroine if you will, 40 something year old Becky, and her husband Joe (Nicolas Glaeser is appealing and easy) and their son Chris (Kevin Koppman-Gue) appear to be a pleasant enough family unit. As mentioned earlier Becky sells cars as well as manages the office at the dealership, Joe is a roofing contractor and 26-year-old Chris (still living at home) is a psych major.

Funny thing happens one night when Becky is working late at the dealership; business tycoon and widower Walter Flood (Mark Pinter) appears out of nowhere (I must add a grey Fox worthy of a second look) wanting to buy a bunch of new cars as gifts for his employees. After she completes the sale, she gets a new car as a bonus from her boss and Walter is smitten.

One thing leads to another. Walter thinks Becky is either divorced or widowed just because the conversation veers that way. He then proceeds to woo her and she buys right into it by allowing him his assumptions. I can’t say that I blame her.

Walter is verrrry good looking, rich, suave and quite charming. And…she needs a little away time from good ol’ Joe, just because it’s a chance for something different, new car, etc, etc.  No harm intended, just a change of pace from her sameness and hey, it’s a free ride for the time being. Who can it hurt if no one finds out?

Earth to Becky watch out for mine fields!!!!!!!!!

The whole first act builds as the two become telephone friends, Steve kvetches on Becky’s shoulder about the loss of his wife, Joe is off and busy with his roofing business and Chris psychobabbles throughout. Becky goes back and forth from home to the dealership as she chats with the audience and the lighting crew (Matt Novotny) telling them/us where she is headed. Breaking that fourth wall interrupts and prolongs the momentum of a play that really doesn’t need any more distractions.

The desk of the dealership and that of the Foster living room (Marty Burnett) are steps away from each other and when she’s not busy working at the dealership and trying to balance both her worlds, like her making excuses to both her husband and her co worker for her absences, she’s getting deeper and deeper involved with the infatuated Walter who thinks he has a chance with her.

Things get more complicated before they get ironed out in act two. Suddenly Chris has a mysterious girlfriend, Kensington (Stacey Hardke is sharp as a tack) who paces him in her car while he runs for exercise and Walter’s bitter friend and ex wealthy socialite, Ginger (Glynn Bedington is at her wittiest best here) shows up competing for his attention. 

Bedington’s character Ginger adds some much needed down to earth cynicism, a little funny edge and comic relief to otherwise predictable situations and she does it like an expert.
 
Both muddle the picture and maybe add a few question marks, but it’s all done according to formula.  As complicated as the situations these characters create, they are kind of red herrings in the scheme of things that follow. It’s no secret that all will end well.  What surprises is Joe’s attitude. For that little nugget, Dietz takes the road less traveled.

Considering the convincing acting of the cast, some funny situations here and there and Ellenstein’s gentle direction, Becky’s New Car, is just another mid life crisis, funny but OK play that would do best on TV.  
 
See you at the theatre.
Dates: September 4th- 26th
Organization: North Coast Repertory Theatre
Phone: 858-481-1055
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Ste d, Solana Beach, Ca
Ticket Prices: $30.  -$47.00
Web: northcoastrep.org

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Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

‘Eleemosynary’ soft landing for Moxie’s sixth season

September 7, 2010 Leave a comment
 

Rhona Gold, Rachael Van Wormer, Julia Sachs

By Carol Davis    

 

Carol Davis

SAN DIEGO –Playwright Lee Blessing (A Walk in the Woods, Two Rooms, Cobb) wrote Eleemosynary in 1985. Funny thing about family dramas, relationships and intergenerational forces, they never seem dated. Drop my family into the Westbrook family: Dorothea (Rhona Gold), Artie (Julie Anderson Sachs) and Echo (Rachael Van Wormer), change the names to protect the innocent, multiply Echo by three, tweak the grandmother a bit (let’s just say highly opinionated and domineering) and you’ve got situations, attitudes and emotions that could run chapter and verse parallel to their lives.

Blessing was nominated for both the Tony award and Pulitzer Prize for A Walk in the Woods (seen at the La Jolla Playhouse in the late 80’s) and won a 1997 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Writing for Eleemosynary. I recall seeing the play many years ago and never forgot the title Eleemosynary because it has such a poetic ring to it and I had never heard the word before. It’s no wonder Echo cherished the word, but for different reasons.

You see Echo the sixteen-year-old daughter of Artie and granddaughter of Dorothea is caught in the middle of both their worlds. We learn that she won her spelling bee with just that word and she loves it. Eleemosynary; “of or pertaining to alms; charitable.”

In her mind, if she could just win and be the spelling bee champion, she might be able to bring her mother and grandmother closer or at least talking to each other. Life however is more complicated than just winning a spelling bee, as Echo would soon find out. 

All three women are independent, strong willed and somewhat eccentric. As the play opens Dorothea has suffered a stroke and granddaughter Echo is taking care of her–a role reversal because Artie, Echo’s mother, had left Echo in Dorothea’s care.

Dorothea taught her among other things the love of words and not just the English word. From the age of three months, she was preening her in Greek and Latin among other languages. In the meantime absentee mother Artee begins  holding phone conversations with her daughter about (of all things) spelling words.

Told in both real time and flashbacks we get a chance to see the relationships between Dorothea and Artie, Artie and Echo and Dorothea and Echo. When we first meet them, Dorothea is testing her theory that humans can fly with Artie donning a pair of homemade wings hooked over her shoulders. She tries to convince Artie to jump off the top of a steep hill with leaves piled on the bottom to break the fall. Artie asks her if she’s nuts!

Well Dorothea believed that anyone could fly with the proper wings. “I wish I could be flying myself, but arthritis has made that impossible”. She did manage to get some of it on film.

In a series of vignettes (the play is about 90 min long) we learn that the three Westbrook women are special, remarkable, eccentric. They are all bright, slightly bizarre and at odds with the norm. But Eleemosynary is not so much about the oddities as it is about examining relationships and connections, charity and love. However… they all do suffer from some form of dysfunction.

As Dorothea, the New Age spiritualist, dressed in a flowing and loose caftan (Jennifer Mash), who uses her eccentricities to allow her the freedom to do as she pleases, Rhona Gold is at her best and so believable. In scene after scene her odd behavior seems so normal, I started to question my own sensibilities.

Julie Anderson Sachs’ Artie is the toughest role to pull off. As a mother who abandons her only daughter for whatever reasons, there is always a question mark. The line she walks is even more difficult than say, flying off a steep hill.

We are told when and can even sympathize with the how of her being under the wings of an oddball mother, whose domineering personality makes you cringe that she did what she did.  But her reasons as to why she left her daughter (abandonment and loss of control) to be brought up by her grandmother are not easy to swallow. By play’s end though, director Chelsea Whitmore skillfully manages Artie’s character to be somewhat sympathetic and forgiving.

Rachael Van Wormer’s Echo, (who has played the role so often in other plays bearing other names) is the real conduit between her grandmother and her mother. While longing for her own connection to her mother and being so wonderfully allied with her grandmother, “My grandmother had a stroke, she can’t really talk. At least I think I can I can hear her though”, she shows a maturity beyond her sixteen years. She too walks a fine line bringing out the pathos of a child who wants it all to be all right with the aloofness of an adult whose core is in need of repair.

Van Wormer is both strong and compassionate while showing a combative almost vicious side when it comes to destroying her nearest competitor in the National Spelling bee. It works.

Lighting designer Karin Filijan illuminates space and time, Angelica Ynfante’s bare bones set of wooden platforms on different levels with stacks of books scattered around help define the play for what it is and Matt Lescault-Wood’s fine sound design brings Moxie’s sixth season in with a soft landing and room to spare. It’s a lovely play with a fine production to kick off a season.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Sept. 4th- 26th

Organization: Moxie Theatre

Phone: 858-598-7620

Production Type: Comedy/Drama

Where: 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Ste. N San Diego, Ca 92115

Ticket Prices: $15.00-$25.00

Web: moxietheatre.com

Venue: The Rolando Theatre

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Theatre critic Davis s based in San Diego

I’ve been ‘Cirqued’ and I love it

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment
 

Imperial Twins of "Ka" (Photo: Thomas Muscionico)

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

LAS VEGAS–The very first Cirque du Soleil Show my late husband and I saw was in 1987 in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium under the big blue and yellow tent. I still have the first press packet with mimeographed sheets of paper filled to capacity with all the pertinent information listing bios, the creation of the group along with black and white photos of the then touring troupe.

Whoda thought that twenty-three years and at least ten or so cirque shows later along with some pretty slick looking press kits, DVD’s and programs that I’d still be writing about the latest gifts brought to us by the creative teams of all the different road Cirque shows locally and the permanent ones in the mega hotels at Vegas.

Just recently I was fortunate enough to have seen both “KÀ” (MGM Grand) and “Viva Elvis” (Aria at City Center). But first let me tell you that I’ve seen all but one of the Cirque shows on the Vegas Strip: (I initially  missed “Believe” (Luxor);  “Mystère” (Treasure Island), “O” (Bellagio), “Zumanity” (New York, New York) and  “The Beatles Love” (Mirage).  However, I was able to catch them on subsequent occasions.  (I do love the slots as well.)

All of the above-mentioned shows (perhaps with the exception of “Zumanity.” have a similar thread running through them, i.e. a signature Cirque footprint if you will, like the clown carrying the bouquet of flowers that keeps getting bigger or the clown with the umbrella doing some clown business, gymnasts, bungee jumpers and acrobats.

There are a few codicils however. “KÀ” is the first Cirque show to ‘follow a scripted story line’ and “Viva Elvis” has more Elvis than Cirque. It comes under the Cirque name brand, but this reviewer’s take is that it is more of a tribute to ‘The King of Rock ‘n Roll’ than to the Cirque look although there are acrobats and a balancing act.

I’ve been wanting to see ‘KÁ’ since it opened five years ago and finally, the opportunity came on this last visit. KÀ is one of those theatrical experiences that bowl you over from the time you walk into the theatre to the time you leave. The theatre  is huge;  I felt almost ant like walking to my seat. 

The ceilings are so high (149 feet from the top to bottom) and the lighting (there are over 3,300 lighting fixtures) is rigged in barrel looking cages on poles that extend from floor to ceiling that I couldn’t help but keep looking up throughout the show.

Technically the production is such an eye popping wonder that the story of Royal Twins coming of age and the dangers and adventures they face becomes almost inconsequential and at times difficult to follow as one escapade after another ensues. But here’s a brief rundown: Royal Twins at a festival on a Royal Barge are celebrating their coming of age with martial arts exhibitions, Wushu Chinese Opera and Brazilian Capoeira. Unbeknownst to everyone on the barge, they are all in immediate danger from archers and spearmen.

The Nursemaid leads the Twin Sister off the barge to a boat escaping the enemy but a huge storm shipwrecks the ship. In the meantime the Twin Brother who is wounded by the archers’ arrows is left behind on the barge. What can I say? Both Twins are subjected to the one giant problem after another as they embark on their separate but parallel journeys. There’s a blizzard, several fights, steep cliffs that have to be conquered and scaled, brief captivities, slave cages, forest people, beach animals and finally triumph!

The skinny though is that the spectacle called KÀ is just that. This epic fantasy that traces love and conflict through a plethora of challenges cost about $165 million to mount.

Between creator and director Robert Lepage, creative director Guy Caron, theatre and set designer Mark Fisher, costume designer Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt, composer and arranger René Dupéré, choreographer Jacques Heim, lighting director Luc Lafortune, sound designer Jonathan Deans, and the list goes on, the show boasts a Sand Cliff, (one of the major performing spaces that measures 25×25 feet and weighs 80,000 lbs. and is supported and controlled by a gantry crane with 4 giant mechanical arms attached to 4 75 foot cylinders ) high wire performers, videos, illusions both in the water and out and a Tatami Deck that measures 30×30 (another performance space) and weighs 75,000 lbs. and can slide forward fifty feet KÀ is in all probability the most expensive and unique of the Cirque shows.

The costumes (there are 15 wigs, 400 pair of shoes and it took 35,000 hours to make one complete set of costumes), makeup, sound effects scenic, lighting, special effects (120 fireballs are discharged), puppets (10 larger than life and 21 miniature with a snake over 80 feet long) and video projections make KÀ an event that I would consider a must see at least once.

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Blue Suede Shoes (Photo: Julie Aucoin)

Remember “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Burning Love”, “Got a Lot O’ Lovin’ To Do”, “One Night”, “All Shook Up”, “Hound Dog” and the first time Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show? You might be about my age or a tad younger. It matters not, it was somewhat of a happening anyway.

Elvis appeared on the Sullivan Show in 1956 gyrating and hip grinding his way to causing a television sensation. It is reported that he was paid the enormous sum of $50,000 for three appearances on Sullivan. Over 60 million viewers watched the show. No wonder Elvis Presley Enterprises and CKX Inc and Cirque du Soleil partnered to mount “Viva Elvis” in 2010 the year of Elvis’ 70th birthday. What a tribute to a superstar who combined pop, country, gospel, Black R&B and challenged ‘the social and racial barriers of the times’.

What “Viva Elvis” lacks in the overall Cirque look, it makes up for in the energetic dancing and musical numbers. I was impressed that the creators Vincent Paterson (writer, director, co-choreographer), Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, Mark “Swany” Swanhart, and Catherine Archambault (all credited choreographers), director of creation (Armand Thomas) artistic guide (Gilles Ste-Croix) and musical director and arranger Erich Van Tourneau did not use Elvis impersonators but used instead actual projections and recordings of the King himself mixed with live voices and merged the two mediums as singers sing along with Elvis.  Lord knows there are more then enough Elvis impersonators walking around Vegas.

“Viva Elvis” is the seventh show of the Cirque brand and it is more of a celebration of his life and music than say “Love” (of the Beatles show) is. There is no context to understand. They are what they are and every song highlighted is danced and performed inside out by a youthful troupe of splendid dancers and an ace rock band with a brass section that brings the house down, to accompany them.

Most of the numbers performed are popular enough for everyone to lip sync; the big surprise is what’s done with them. “All Shook Up” is a gospel number, “One Night’ is beautifully choreographed by a pair of aerialists in a ballet like performance suspended from a giant steel guitar depicting the coming together and then separation of Elvis’ still born twin brother. “Blue Suede Shoes” uses a gigantic Blue suede Shoe 29 feet long and weighing 1.500 lbs. It has a slide in the middle and is a perfect vehicle for the dancers.

It has its share of acrobats and gymnasts and “Got a lot O’ Lovin’ To Do” in particular, featured a trampoline act that went on forever. The performers are dressed in as superheroes as in the Marvel Comics that were his favorite reading material as a youngster. Several of the props are authentic restored antiques and the large hoops in which the acrobats performed, were inspired by ‘Elvis and Priscilla’s actual engagement rings’. 

Overall if you are a fan of Elvis and or love a musical show that’s lively and upbeat, you’ll enjoy this one especially if you go with the knowledge that this is more a tribute to the man than anything else. All the bases are covered and all the musical numbers are performed to perfection.

One more thing, the seats in the Aria Theatre are very comfy. If you are able to get close up and personal, they are couch like and roomy, kind of like sitting in your own living room.

See you at the theater.

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Davis is a San Diego based theatre critic.

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