lA Brilliant Berkshire Summer...
lNew Musicals Marinate in Missouri...
lKaufman's Hollywood Pinafore Reborn in D.C....
Ibsen's Hedda Gabler followed, transferring from Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre, adapted by John Robin Baitz, directed by Nicholas Martin, and featuring Kate Burton in the title role. It was paired with Moss Hart's brilliantly funny Light Up The Sky, about the nerves of fickle show folk as a new play by a new playwright opens out of town. "There is no greater race of fanatics, or more severely lost or dedicated a tribe than this people of the theatre," said Hart, which was certainly apparent at Williamstown this summer.
The fascinatingly quirky Jack and Jill, by the pseudonymous Jane Martin, was this year's entry in Shakespeare and Company's "Modern Play Series." By turns wickedly funny, sensual, and fierce, this poignant drama captured the essential humanity of relationships—for better or worse—with fine performances from Allyn Burrows and Corinna May. Shakespeare and Company paired this with the most compelling piece of classic drama to have graced their stage in recent memory. Coriolanus is strong theatre—glowing with energy, touching the emotions, and provoking the mind. In the title role, Dan McCleary offers a bravura performance, playing with thunderous, unswerving vigor. Coriolanus closes Sept. 3 and is not to be missed.
To anyone who even vaguely recalls the 1939 World's Fair, a visit to the delightful musical comedy Say Yes, currently on view through Sept. 2 at Berkshire Theatre Festival, is another must. This tuneful musical by Sherman Yellen and Wally Harper, set against the background of the fair, is a throw-back to a more innocent time, a nostalgic peek back at what we were enjoying for entertainment in the few quiet years between the Great Depression and World War II. It's a lighthearted piece of song and dance to which you can take the kids and still satisfy even the most sophisticated of grown-ups. The strong cast directed by Jay Binder keeps moving the story of a timid millionaire looking for a Blue Blood for a wife so he can inherit his father's fortune. It features J. Robert Spencer as Barnaby Cross, the poor little rich guy, and Meredith Patterson as Gloria, the sought-after heiress. Linda Thorson plays a pushy Baroness who wants her daughter to become the bride, and Christianna Tisdale is the reluctant daughter who loves another.
St. Louis/Kansas City
With top ticket prices at $80 in the 4500-seat Fox, it could be a bonanza for all, but a lot of work for the cast, led by Brian Dennehy and Elizabeth Franz, who will recreate their Tony Award-winning performances. Eight performances are scheduled for the Nov. 16-21 run, including two each on Nov. 18, 19, and 21. The theatre will be dark Nov. 20.
A highly successful world premiere musical production of The Prince and the Pauper highlighted the Starlight Theatre season in Kansas City Aug. 1-6, with Ivan Menchell rewriting Mark Twain for the book, and Judd Woldin and Marc Elliott combining on music and lyrics. Robert Trussell of the Kansas City Star mentioned shortcomings caused by lack of time and rehearsal, but called it "a serviceable and engaging musical. And it has the potential to be something more." A cast of Broadway veterans included Pierce Cravens (Titanic, Ragtime) as the Prince and Cameron Bowen (Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables) as Tom, the pauper, both of whom drew praise from Trussell. Rounding out the company were Marc Kudisch (High Society, The Wild Party), Ira Hawkins (Timbuktu, Roza), Patrick Quinn (Lend Me a Tenor, The Sound of Music), Ken Jennings (Sweeney Todd, Side Show), and Marie Danvers (Phantom of the Opera).
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis also has a new musical based on an old story, and will open Everything's Ducky Sept. 8 for a month-long run. Loosely related to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling," the musical deals with Serena, who outwits a pair of coyotes who own a nightclub, and grows into stardom as a lovely swan. Henry Krieger and Bill Russell, who combined on music and lyrics, respectively, for Side Show, collaborate again, with Jeffrey Hatcher sharing credit on the book. Gil Hoppe directs, with Natalie Toro as Serena. Jonathan Brody and Bobby Daye are Clem and Carl Coyote, respectively, and Tony Capone is the Drake, an heroic type.
For only the second time in the US in over 50 years, Hollywood Pinafore (the George S. Kaufman take on the Gilbert and Sullivan masterpiece HMS Pinafore) will see a production. The American Century Theatre (TACT) has received special permission from Mr. Kaufman's daughter, Anne Kaufman Schneider, to mount this scathing attack on the Hollywood movie business under the guise of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The admiral becomes a studio head, the heroine a fading diva, and, of course, the reinvented Dick Liveeye, the 10% hounding, evil agent. Directed by TACT Artistic Director Jack Marshall, the production opens September 14th for a one month run.
GALA Hispanic Theatre has lost the space it has occupied for the past 16 years. "We knew this was coming," acknowledges GALA Artistic Director Hugo Medrano, "But it was still sudden. It is very exciting, though. We have become too comfortable, and this will give us a great push to organize a capital campaign and find a permanent space."
For the coming season, Gala will perform at the Warehouse Theatre, a storefront location closer to the center of the city. Their first production is Asi Que Pasan Cinco Anos by Federico Garcia Lorca.
This summer, the Bay Area's annual "Shakespeariences" have offered some definite highlights. California Shakespeare Festival's Hamlet, directed by Karin Coonrod with an eye toward theatre of the absurd, was notable primarily because of Steven Skybell's compelling performance in the title role. Meanwhile, the company's new Artistic Director, Jonathan Moscone, made an auspicious debut with a cleverly staged revival of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, utilizing the same designers and most of the same cast. The company's season closes with a 1920s Love's Labours Lost, directed by Obie Award-winner Lisa Peterson, and playing at the Bruns Memorial Amphitheatre through September 23.
The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival is presenting (through Oct. 1), Henry IV, Part I at Golden Gate Park, presented as "Free Shakespeare in the Park," and continues with Henry IV, Part II, which plays indoors at the Gershwin Theatre, Sept. 14 through Oct. 8. The designers (Chad Owens, set, and Cassandra Carpenter, costumes) have given the production an eclectic contemporary look, with touches of medieval Japanese. The show is another personal triumph for wonderful Ken Ruta, whose many-hued Falstaff is ably supported by Allen McKelvey (Hotspur), Michael Polak (Hal), and Tom Blair (King Henry). The play was directed by the late Albert Takazauckas, whose passing was a great loss to the theatre scene—Takazauckas was a versatile director who worked at every major Bay Area theatre company including American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Magic Theatre, and Marin Theatre Company.
Either the 2000 season ran late or the 2001 season started early, but two new productions and the return of a hit from last year have made the last month of summer an uncommonly busy time.
The Jewish Ensemble Theatre brought back Mark Harelik's The Immigrant, its crowd-and-critic-pleaser from a year ago. Running Aug. 16 through Sept. 17, the play reunites director John Michael Manfredi with actors Greg Trzaskoma, Jodie Kuhn Ellison, and Mary Bremer. Arthur Beer replaces Paul Hopper.
Planet Ant Theatre wrapped up its season with Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, in which three twentysomethings talk about the gaping holes in their lives, and somehow retain an audience's interest. The most significant thing that happens in This Is Our Youth is a fatal drug overdose, which takes place off stage and befalls a character who is only talked about. Thus, the play depends upon how well Lonergan has drawn his intelligent, verbally adroit characters, and whether the actors can breathe life into their assorted shades of unhappiness.
For the most part, the playwrights and the three young actors directed by Michelle Murphy—Travis Reiff, Miriam Weisfeld, and York R. Griffith—succeed, especially in the way each presents his or her character's physicality.
Plowshares Theatre Company has Ron Milner's Jazz Set as its end-of-summer offering. Although they play a variety of characters, the six actors in Jazz Set consistently return to portraying a band (sans instruments) on a nightclub stage in much the same way that a jazz tune, no matter how far it may range, finds its way back to the melody.
This thematic restatement emphasizes how much Milner's play is constructed along the lines of a jazz piece, with solos, duets, harmonies, choruses, and discords—all spoken. The characters are identified by their instruments (Tenor, Bassist, Pianist, etc.), indicating that, in this gig, individual personalities are playing backup.
Beyond that, each actor plays generalized archetypes and stereotypes of the African American experience that directly or indirectly contributed to jazz: soldier, sharecropper, jailbird, junkie. Their stories are told briefly, but have collective impact. As one of the musicians says, "It's not about the volume, it's about the intensity."
Martin F. Kohn