Geneva Anderson digs into art

review: Blind Boys of Alabama at Davies Symphony Hall, December 19, 2010, Bluesy Gospel for the Season

The Blind Boys of Alabama performed "Go Tell It on the Mountain" at Davies Symphony Hall on December 19, 2010. Photo: Courtesy Blind Boys of Alabama.

Last night’s performance by the the Blind Boys of Alabama at Davies Symphony Hall was magic— head-clearing, heart-opening, let loose and dance magic that got hearts pounding and spirits flowing.  The Blind Boys got together way back in 1939 at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind and while some of their original members have passed, they have found their way through nearly seven decades by belting out impeccable harmonies that beautifully blend old time gospel spirituals with blues, rock, reggae, and country.  You may have seen them on Letterman or PBS.  They have received 5 Grammy Awards, been celebrated by The Grammys and The National Endowment for the Arts with Lifetime Achievement Awards and inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  The group currently includes vocalists Jimmy Carter, Bishop Billy Bowers, and Ben Moore, and drummer Eric (Ricky) McKinnie, lead guitarist Joey Williams, and Tracy Pierce on bass. The main focus was on the core trio of vocalists, especially lead singer and founding member Jimmy Carter, a spry octogenarian, who opened by telling the audience that the Blind Boys don’t like to perform for conservative audiences.  The reverie of claps and whoops in response assured him that San Francisco was cool enough to take whatever they had to offer.  

 Though designated a Christmas concert, the Blind Boys didn’t promote that theme too hard.  Of the evening’s five holiday songs, only three were well-known standards.  Ben Moore’s soft and tender delivery of “Silent Night’’ gave souls pause while “Go Tell It on the Mountain’’ was a jazzy, organ-dominated blues that got people clapping—gospel (off beat) and normal style.  It was “Amazing Grace” set to the acoustic guitar chord sequence of “House of the Rising Sun” that transfixed the crowd.  So unexpected was this combo, that at first it was impossible to tell there was a familiar spiritual in the lyrics.  At the end of the song, founding member Jimmy Carter held a note full force for what seemed like a minute and then he did it again later– cocky and joyous.  For the most part, the trio mainly remained seated front and center until it was time to step up and grab the microphone and sing and then each shimmied and rocked in his own way.  Jimmy Carter told us all he was hungry and that about sums it up…these men are in their golden years but still hungry for life.  During a lively rendition of “Look Where He Brought Me From,” Carter walked the aisles of the symphony hall with a string of dancing audience members in toe.  While the Blind Boys might have sensed it, the crowd itself was a spectacular and wildly colorful seasonal site to behold—bold red jackets, lots of velvet, fur, and big glittery jewelry melded with traditional upper crust diamonds and tuxes.  And in the upper tier, two luscious ladies tightly packed into low-cut bright red halter dresses stood on their chairs and swayed with hands raised high to heaven, evangelical style.  Special guest acclaimed soul/blues singer Ruthie Foster opened the concert.

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” will next be performed in Los Angeles on December 20 (tonight) at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

Details: Davies Symphony Hall annual “Holiday with the Symphony Series” runs December 2-31, 2010.  The series has two remaining performances:  “Twas the Night” (Wed, Dec 22, 2010 – Fri, Dec 24, 2010) and New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball with the San Francisco Symphony (Fri, Dec 31, 2010) (For details on New Year’s Eve pre-concert dinner packages, call patron services (415) 864-6000.) (For details on special hotel packages, call (800) 441-1414. )   Tickets:

December 20, 2010 Posted by | Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dish: Petaluma Pie Company–a couple’s passion for baking, filmmaking and community converge in scrumptious pie. Grand opening is Saturday

Angelo Sacerdote and Lina Hoshino are opening the Petaluma Pie Company on Saturday, December 18, 2010, in Petaluma's Helen Putnam Plaza, in the space formerly occupied by Bella Luma Caffe. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Turns out that opening a pie shop is not as “easy as pie” but for filmmakers and bakers Angelo Sacerdote and Lina Hoshino, it is a step towards realizing their dream of having a business that expresses their values about food and community.  The Petaluma couple’s  Petaluma Pie Company has its grand opening tomorrow from 1 to 4 p.m. in the space formerly occupied by Bella Luma Caffe in Helen Putnam Plaza.  Petaluma Pie Company will specialize in serving sweet and savory pies, along with soup, salad, coffee, tea, beer and other beverages.  You may have already tried a slice during the past two weeks–the company’s “pie-let” period—when they were experimenting with pies and eliciting feedback. 

“We are trying to bring together all our values and contribute to the local economy,” explains Lina Hoshino.  “We moved here from Penngrove two years ago, bought a house, and we are big gardeners and we grow beyond what we can eat.  How do we deal with our surplus, keep things delicious, wholesome, local, and generate an income and deliver products that are affordable for people?  Petaluma Pie is a convergence of those ideas and the interesting challenge of trying to incorporate these values into real life practices.  Pie is our starting point.”

While the effort is truly collaborative in terms of dreaming up ideas for pies, Angelo Sacerdote is credited as the baker, responsible for the crusts and fine tuning of their ideas into actual pies and recipes that can reliably be replicated in small batches.  Sacerdote has a long history in food that is intertwined with creative work about food.  After stints as a cook and as a produce buyer in Upstate New York and interviewing dozens of people in the food industry, Sacerdote became passionate about how genetically engineered crops have been incorporated into our food supply without our knowledge.  His 2002 documentary “Fed Up! Genetic Engineering, Industrial Agriculture, and Sustainable Alternatives,” (Best of Festival documentary award, 2004 Berkeley Video and Film Festival) revealed that about 70% of the food we eat contains genetically modified ingredients that don’t appear on food labels and explored the lobbying interests behind this.  The project took him to California where, for the past ten years, he worked at Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC), a media non-profit organization. He used their editing facilities and had his documentary closed-captioned in exchange for apple pies. Locally, he volunteered with the nonprofit Petaluma Bounty and loved its community gardens and commitment to local food self-sufficiency and community building. “We are really excited about supporting local food systems and we’ve got some friends who are starting to get involved in local initiatives too and the dream is to work together.” 

Lina Hoshino is a filmmaker and graphic designer of Japanese and Taiwanese ancestry who spent her teen years working in the family restaurant in New Jersey and then studied art at Carnegie Mellon University and became a filmmaker.  Her most recent film, is “Leap of Faith: How Enmanji Temple was Saved,” (link to YouTube film clip), a 20 minute documentary about how Sonoma County youth put their bodies on the line during WWII to protect Sebastopol’s Enmanji Japanese Buddhist Temple from being burned down during the period of forced Japanese incarceration.  “I’m trying to push the envelope into Asian- inspired foods but I don’t call myself a baker in the sense that Angelo does.”  

Flipping through a children’s book of fairy tales and rhymes, Hoshino shows me numerous pie references, many of which are British.  “Pie is not just a British thing,” she says, “it’s eaten all around the world and pie is a good way to explore other cultures.  Of course in Asia, China, Hong Kong they have those custard pies—a remnant of the colonization—but there are many other pies too.  In Japan, too, there are numerous interpretations.”

Demand for Petaluma Pie Company's Chocolate pie has been intense. The pie is mede from ingredients sourced locally and has an eceptionally flaky crust. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The timing for Petaluma Pie is perfect.   Christmas is just around the corner; Petaluma has become a foodie destination; and pie, which has been around forever, has been acknowledged in foodie circles as “the new cupcake.”   In the past couple of months alone, there have been articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and San Francisco Chronicle journaling pie’s ascension to the top of the dessert summit.  There are pie centric shops opening up all over the country and Sacerdote and Hoshino seem to have nailed it with their diverse menu that updates old favorites and includes new interpretations.    

 “We’ve taken Petalma’s pie pulse,” explained Sacerdote.  “Chocolate is a favorite, of course, but a surprising number love plain rhubarb pie, lemon meringue and lemon-oriented things and banana cream pie.  These are favorites that we’ll offer most of time.  We will also offer a few fruit but mainly vegetable-based savory turnovers that are a wholesome meal to go.”

Saturday’s menu will feature about 6 pies—available for purchase as 9 inch pies or by the slice: walnut pie, Shaker meyer lemon pie, banana cream pie, Fuji apple pie, chestnut pumpkin pie.  Savory pies (turnovers) will include:  cheese and onion pie, mixed mushroom pie. Savory pot pies will include: seitan mushroom pot pie (vegetarian) and smoked salmon pot pie.

Sacerdote did not go to culinary school but his hands-on experience started very early. “I did a long stint with Julia Child.  I’d watch her on TV, cook, and just experiment. I’m trying new ideas out all the time.”    Hoshino loves to experiment too and is working hard to perfect a green tea cheesecake.

Sacerdote will have one “super awesome flaky crust” using a combo of butter and palm oil.  He’s tweaked the classic culinary school recipe—butter or lard, water, flour and a pinch salt.  An all butter crust was out for cholesterol issues.  His ingredients: Giusto’s (South San Francisco) organic pastry flour, Straus Creamery butter and Spectrum organic sustainable palm oil shortening.   “It’s all about ratios and finding the right ingredients that work for what you want to do.  I mix butter and palm oil together so that there are still some larger pieces of fat in there that create the pockets that make the crust flaky while tenderizing and moisture-proofing the dough.  We are small but still are making several crusts at once and I needed something that was completely reliable.”

The mushroom and goat gouda hand-pie at Petaluma Pie Company is one of several small batch daily baked savory pies that can serve as satisfying meals in themselves. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sacerdote does the preliminary dough rollout by hand then has some mechanical assistance from a dough sheeter for the turnovers that require exceptionally thin crusts.  “In our early hand-rolling experiments, we had too much crust.  “We found that if we get the crust really thin, then the flavorful ingredients are the focal point rather than the crust itself.”

Gluten free in the Pipeline: There have already been requests for vegan, no sugar, and gluten free pies. Sacerdote has perfected a gluten free crust using sorghum and rice flour that tastes fantastic and has an excellent texture and will be offering gluten free pies shortly.  The company is currently offering a vegetarian seitan (wheat gluten)  mushroom pot pie which is a delicious alternative to the traditional and somewhat tired soybean-based meat alternatives .

“We have a huge garden for a small property and we’re experimenting.” said Hoshino.  “We’re going to be using a lot of seasonal things so the menu will be changing constantly.”  So far, the couple grows heirloom squashes, pumpkins, kale, green onions, garlic, rhubarbs and berries– loganberries, raspberries, blackberries.  They have planted fig, pomegranate, persimmon, apple, pear, and walnut trees. They plan to augment what they don’t produce with local suppliers–Petaluma Bounty, local farmers and suppliers like Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc. in Sebastopol for organic exotic mushrooms.

Sacerdote pops up to show me a gorgeous French heirloom“Potimarron” pumpkin they grew.  Its name is derived from the French  “potiron,”for pumpkin, and “marron,” for chestnut, which are the two characteristic flavors of this particular pumpkin which is perfect for baking.  Hoshino shows me, a “Shishi gatani,” an heirloom Japanese Kabocha (pronounced kuh-boh-cha) or winter squash with a bumpy but lovely hour-glass shape.   The shishi gatani has a brilliant yellow-orange flesh, like a pumpkin’s, with a texture similar to a sweet potato and a sweet and slightly nutty flavor which makes it

With their warm colors and non-traditional shapes these locally-grown heirloom squash are not just decorative. Known for their amazing flavors, they are a primary ingredient in the delicious savory pies made by Lina Hoshino and Angelo Sacerdote at Petaluma Pie Company. Photo: Geneva Anderson

exceptional for baking applications.  It’s high in the antioxidant beta carotene and low in calories.  In Japan, the squash is often referred to as a Japanese pumpkin.  Hoshino uses the shishi gatani is the Japanese curry pie along with apples and vegetables.  Japanese curry is sweeter than most Indian curries and in Japan it is a comfort food which is popular but rarely made from scratch.

When you visit PPC, don’t get so carried away by the awesome pie aromas that you forget to look around.  Check out the cool “pie mirrors” on the walls made from pie pans lined with mirrors and the light shades made out of inverted mason jars.

 There’s also a wall where customers can grab a card and post their favorite pie tales.  When I last visited, there were a half dozen of so pie pales up.   “The fascinating thing about pie is that everyone has a story about pie, usually from their childhood.” said Hoshino.  “We’re filmmakers and we’re both really into stories and we’re thinking of offering a prize, a pie, for the best story.  We also have the opportunity to organize art exhibits this summer in the Helen Putnam Plaza and are looking for artists and performers who might be interested in that.”

Santa delivers a new sign: In November, the Petaluma Pie Company first made the local news when its custom-designed 3-D hanging sign was stolen, presumably as a Halloween prank.  The sign never turned up and the couple could not afford to replace it.  Earlier this week, the sign makers, Carleen Weirauch and Robert Moeller with Duncan Design Inc. in Santa Rosa, generously gifted them with a fabulous new 3-D sign to replace the missing one.  

Petaluma Pie Company's interior is warm and inviting. Owners and pie bakers Angelo Sacerdote and Lina Hoshino have created pie mirrors, a wall for customors favorite pie stories and a menu that will feature a mix of sweet and savory pies. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“It’s a crazy adventure,” says Sacerdote. “We have one oven right now and that means we will have to bake constantly– before, during and after hours—to keep up with demand and we also have to figure out how many pies to bake.” 

ARThound says “BAKE! BAKE! BAKE!”…it will probably be raining on Saturday and nothing beats a slice of warm hearty pie on a cold wet day.

Details: Follow your nose!   The Petaluma Pie Company, 125 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite D, (formerly occupied by Bella Luma Caffe)  in Helen Putnam Plaza, on Petaluma Blvd. North, has its grand opening this Saturday, December 18, 2010, from 1 to 4 pm. 

Live music from Sweet Penny Royals, free pie samples, mulled wine and ciders.  Phone: (707) 347-9743.

Petaluma Pie Company's Lino Hoshino has been talking pie with customers for the past two weeks to get a sense of Petaluma's pie pulse. Photo: Geneva Anderson

December 17, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hello Dolly! Sally Heath’s Collection of Nested Christmas Dolls at SRJC’s Mahoney Library through Friday, December 17th, 2010

Sally Heath's collection of Matryoshka Christmas dolls is on display at SRJC's Petaluma Campus Mahoney Gallery through December 17th.. Photo: Geneva Anderson

When Sally Heath saw her first set of Matroyshkya dolls in a Santa Rosa gift shop in the early 1990’s, a hobby was born.  Heath, a retired SRJC Physics instructor, and long-time Santa Rosa resident, now has 121 sets of these charming wooden nested dolls and 117 of these are on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room at the Mahoney Library on SRJC’s Petaluma campus.

A Matryoshka is a Russian nesting doll. Matryoshkas are often used as symbols of Russian culture, but nesting dolls actually have their origins in Japan, The first Russian matryoshka was made in 1890 in a folk crafts workshop near Moscow.  A Russian folk painter encountered a set of seven Japanese nesting figures representing the Seven Gods of Fortune and he and a wood turner made a set of eight alternating boy and girl dolls.  It is thought the word “matryoshka” originates from the Latin root “mater” meaning “mother.” 

 Matryoshka are most often made of wood from trees of the genus tilia. Species of genus tilia are commonly known as linden wood or lime wood (not the citrus lime tree) and as basswood in the United States. The small solid figure in the center of the nest of dolls is first turned on a lathe. The bottom half of the next larger doll is turned so the center doll rests inside it and then the top half of that doll is turned to fit on the bottom half. This bottom and top turning process is continued until all the layers are completed.

Sally Heath's collection of Matryoshka Christmas dolls is on display at SRJC's Petaluma Campus Mahoney Gallery through December 17th.. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Matryoshka are considered folk-art, kitsch and camp and come in at all price and quality points.  When Sally Heath first started collecting in the early 1990’s, the only dolls that she could find locally were from China and were sold under a label called “Authentic Models” and came in a box with a plastic cover.   She encountered her first Russian-made matroyshkya couple of years later in a Christmas Shop in Santa Fe and immediately recognized their superior workmanship and fine painting detail.  From that point on, she has collected mainly Russian-made matryoshka.

 The display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room occupies 6 cabinets.  The first and second (left most) cabinets contain Russian-made matryoshka, including Heath’s largest set which contains 15 hand-painted dolls.  The largest doll in this set is about 10 inches tall while the smallest is about the size of a peanut and skillfully painted. 

The heads of many matryoshka are greatly enlarged and the face dominates the body, a distortion which gives them a primitive but very expressive and endearing look.  “The attention to detail can be impressive” said Karen Petersen who runs the Mahoney Gallery.  “In some, the clothing is  finely embellished with glitter and flourishes.  And some of the dolls here serve as portraits of churches and important landmarks.”   

Nesting dolls come in a variety of shapes and are turned on a lathe. These round dolls are part of Sally Heath's extensive collection of nested wooden Christmas dolls on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room in the Mahoney Library on SRJC's Petaluma Campus through December 17th. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Many of the “Santa” figures in the display are not Santa Claus but rather “Ded Moroz” or Grandfather Frost, who serves as the Russian equivalent of our Santa Claus. Grandfather Frost leaves presents for children on the New Year Tree. Unlike Santa Claus, he doesn’t travel down chimneys and does not drive a sleigh pulled by reindeer. He enters houses through front doors and either drives a troika or walks with a long magical staff.

Ded Moroz is commonly accompanied by Snegurochka, or Snow Maiden, his granddaughter, who helps him deliver his toys and treats. Snegurochka’s name is derived from the Russian word for snow, sneg. She is most commonly depicted with blond hair and wearing a long silver-blue robe and a furry cap. 

A Hawaiian variant of Ded Moroz (Russian Grandfather Frost) plays the ukelele and has sunglasses. Part of Sally Heath's collection of nested wooden dolls on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room in the Mahoney Library on SRJC's Petaluma Campus through December 17th. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The upper shelves of the third cabinet and forth cabinets contain Russian-made Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.  Below these are some uncommonly shaped sets of dolls, including some round, oval and sharply pointed sets.  A number of these open at the bottom rather than in the middle.  

The last two smaller cabinets contain nested dolls from different countries, including a set of three Limoges porcelain Santa dolls which don’t really nest and each has a hinged opening at Santa’s belt. Heath says this set has doubled in price since she bought it. 

When Heath discovered the nested dolls for sale on the Internet, she went into high gear and began buying sets on Ebay.  “You can spend hundreds of dollars on these. I sort of have a limit. I try not to spend over $10 per doll.  The

A Russian Snegurochka or “Snow Maiden” nested doll most commonly depicted with blond hair and wearing a long silver-blue robe and a furry cap. Photo: Geneva Anderson

math is like this.  If I have a set of 7, the limit is $70.00 or less for the set.   The last set I went over though.  They’ve got brown fur that is hand-painted on against white and there’s some blue and the heads have lovely gems set in.  I paid the most per doll I’ve ever paid for this set. ”

Heath brings her matryoshkas out every holiday season and delights in arranging and displaying them throughout her home.   When they’re not on display, she stores them in special protective containers that she’s constructed from milk cartons and several sets can be kept safely in one big box.  She always keeps a few out in her kitchen though. “There’s just something about them that makes me smile.”


The Connie Mahoney Reading Room is located inside the Mahoney Library on Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma Campus, 680 Sonoma Mountain Parkway, Petaluma, CA,  94954.    Parking on campus is $4.00 and is by permit only and the machine requires exact change. 

 Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 1 PM Friday.   Phone (707) 778-3974.    The library will close for the holiday/semester break on Friday, December 17th, at 1 p.m.

A double set of Ded Moroz and Snegurochka nested Russian wooden dolls. From Sally Heath's collection of Matryoshka Christmas dolls on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room in the Mahoney Library on SRJC's Petaluma Campus through December 17th. Photo: Geneva Anderson

December 13, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Crossing the bridge for Babylon—Beach Blanket Babylon’s Holiday show through December 31, 2010

Beach Blanket Babylon at Club Fugazi offers a legendary holiday show with BIG zany hats and racous spoofs on our celeb culture. Photo: Courtesy of Rick Markovich.

Hats off to Beach Blanket Babylon!  If you haven’t seen this show yet, or haven’t seen it in a while, it’s a fabulous way to usher in the holidays and a great excuse to let loose and laugh.  The holiday show features a chorus line of tap dancing Christmas trees, special parodies of traditional Christmas carols, and those GIGANTIC zany hats that have made the show so famous.  The classic BBB is all there to be sure, using Snow White’s globe-trotting search for a ‘Prince Charming’ to tie together a series of satirical renditions of popular songs that skewer all the famous people who appear on a first name basis in People magazine. The holiday show takes a poke at Barak and Michelle, Bill, Hillary, Sarah (Palin) Jerry (Brown), Meg (Whitman), Nancy (Pelosi), Oprah, Elvis, Arnold, Tina, Tiger, Madonna, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Taylor (Swift), Barbara (Streisand), Marie (Antoinette and Osmond) and MORE.  The most essential elements are the gaudy, the outrageous and the downright silly.  You’ll see Louis XIV dressed in gay holiday garb with a HUGE glittery hairdo worthy of a flower show, a huge Planters Peanut dressed like Santa Claus, a chorus line of dancing French poodles, and the French Cancan performed by dancing trash cans.  And this is a show where everyone—even those playing the smallest of roles—has enormous musical talent.  The 4 person band led by Bill Keck generates a glorious musical reverie of back-to-back famous tunes.

Louis XIV bursts out in taffeta and glitter in Beach Blanket's babylon's holiday show through December 31, 2010 at Club Fugazi. Photo: Beach Blanket Babylon.

Louis XIV (Curt Branom) bursts out in taffeta and BIG glitter hair in Beach Blanket Babylon's holiday show through December 31, 2010 at Club Fugazi. Photo: Rick Markovich.

After running continuously since 1974, that’s 36 years!, you might wonder if the still show still feels fresh and vital, especially after the 2009 departure of legendary Val Diamond, the heart and campy soul of the show.  The answer is YES!  Tammy Nelson, who was Diamond’s understudy for 17 years, has stepped up and into Diamond’s hats.  Perhaps you caught her amazing 7th inning “God Bless America” at AT&T Park in San Francisco during Game 5 of NLCS dressed in the San Francisco Skyline hat.  In the holiday show, she plays Miss Italy, French Streetwalker, Jewish Mother, Cowgirl, and Fannie Mae in the LesMiserables number. She also wears the spectacular San Francisco skyline hat during the show’s finale, right next to Snow White in her BIG multilayered wedding cake hat.  BBB founder and producer Steve Silver died in 1995 but his handpicked successor, Jo Schuman Silver, has kept the creativity flowing.  The show is constantly being tweaked and updated for relevance—you’ll see references to Meg Whitman’s recent defeat, to Jerry Brown’s victory and to Sarah Palin and the Lipton tea-baggers.   But where oh where is gorgeous Gavin? 

In Beach Blanket Babylon’s Holiday Show, Shawn Ferris as Snow White travels the world in search of Prince Charming. She encounters a bunch of sassy women with BIG hair who set her straight. Photo courtesy of David Allen.

What about the main storyline itself–Snow White’s quest for her prince charming. After 36 years, you’d think that BBB would know, like we all do, that modern women who are looking for a “prince” will need to lower their expectations.  Attitude adjustment is taken care of by the savvy and zany women Snow White—played to her virginal and ditzy hilt by Shawn Ferris–encounters on her round the world search. Renée Lubin delivers an unforgettable hefty sassy Good Witch Glenda, Snow White’s main guide.  By the end of the show, Snow White’s  learned that most women want princess league perks and privileges and to find their true love BUT whether that fairy tale ending happens or not, women need to accomplish things in own right and to keep moving and growing through life.

The Sonoma connection:  Several BBB performers are from or live in Sonoma. Paulino Duran who plays Bill Clinton and Michael Phelps is from Sonoma and lives in San Francisco.  Doug Magpion who plays Michael Jackson lives in Sonoma.  And Bill Keck who lives in Sonoma has been BBB’s musical director and conductor for the past 17 years.  Keck directed the Sonoma Academy of Dance and Art’s stellar musical camp production of “School of Rock” in 2008 and he studied piano with Soulima Stravinsky, son of the great Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.   The energy from his four person band will keep you hopping all night long.

Beach Blanket Babylon couldn’t resist taking a poke at Republican Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman (Scott Reardon) who is parodied in Beach Blanket Babylon’s Holiday show though December 31, 2010. Photo courtesy of Rick Marcovich.

The show is in Club Fugazi, an intimate old-style North Beach theatre that accommodates 400.  There are cocktail tables on the bottom level and seating in the balcony. The 1913 building was formally called Casa Coloniale Italiana John F. Fugazi and was originally a community center for the Italian Colony of San Francisco.  Fugazi’s address is 678 Green Street but the portion of Green in front of the club has been renamed Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard. In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Fugazi Hall was a popular venue for the Beat poetry readings. It appears in Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”: “Noon in desolate Fugazi’s, listening to the crack.”

New Year’s Eve Show:  Beach Blanket Babylon will ring in 2011 with two special New Year’s Eve performances on Friday, December 31, 2010 at 7 p.m. and 10:15 p.m. of the traditional holiday show.  Guests at each show will receive party favors, champagne, and truffles. Both performances will include a pastiche honoring the best and worst of 2010 in Beach Blanket Babylon tradition.  The 7 p.m. show will be out by 8:45 p.m. leaving time to have dinner and attend other parties or to get home safely before the party madness begins. The second show will end at the stroke of midnight and includes dancing until 1:30 a.m.  Tickets: $85 to $165. Phone (415) 421-4222


Parking:  The area around Club Fugazi is flush with parking facilities, including valet parking directly across from the theatre.  There are two other lots on Green Street as well as two more on Powell Street and another two on Vallejo Street.  Arrive early to get in line for a good seat because seating, while purchased at different price points, is not assigned. 

Show Times: Wednesdays and Thursdays 8:00 p.m., Fridays 6:30 p.m., Saturdays 6:30 & 9:30 p.m., Sundays 2:00 p.m. & 5:00 p.m.  Persons under 21 are not admitted to evening performances, but are welcome to Sunday matinees at 2 & 5 p.m. during which no alcohol is served. 

Tickets: $25 to $80.  (415) 421-4222 or


December 12, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: God Bless us, everyone! A heartwarming performance of Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” through December 24 at San Francisco’s A.C.T. (American Conservatory Theatre)

The Ghost of Jacob Marley (A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis, left) haunts Scrooge (James Carpenter) on Christmas Eve to save his soul, warning him of the three other ghosts that will visit him. Photo: Kevin Berne

The holiday season for me means time spent with family and friends and getting back in touch with my “goodwill towards all” vibe.  Tuesday evening, after a romp through a bustling and very commercial Union Square, I had the pleasure of attending A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” and highly recommend this family-friendly classic for setting spirits right.  The performance (with intermission) runs two hours and the evening show begins an hour early at 7 pm, with additional 1 or 2 pm performances nearly every day.  This makes it a doable evening outing for families with kids or for those who are from the greater Bay Area and face a long drive home.

 “A Christmas Carol” was written by Charles Dickens and published in somber Victorian-era Britain in December 1843, when new customs such as the Christmas tree and greeting cards were just being introduced.  This was before Christmas became today’s highly commercial venture but also during a time when there wasn’t much gleeful celebration.  The novella was an instant hit, largely for its memorable characters and its realistic depictions of the hardships of the working class which people related to.  It also infused people with hope and has been credited with putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas in England and America during a stifling period.   It was pirated immediately and adapted to the stage and the rest is history.  Now in its 34th year at A.C.T., the play is a cornerstone of A.C.T.’s repertory and has become a holiday tradition for families all around the Bay Area.  Adapted by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff, and directed by Domenique Lozano, this version has been around since 2004 and has been performed over a thousand times and stays true to the heart of Dickens’ timeless story of redemption.

Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) is touched by Christmas memories of his younger self (Tony Sinclair) and his sister, Fan (Emma Rose Draisin). Photo: Kevin Berne.

 We all know the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s wake-up call and it rings ever true today.  Rich Ebenezer Scrooge was a miser and a kill joy–not very loving, giving, or even friendly.  James Carpenter, now in his fifth year in this role, doesn’t flinch from playing Scrooge’s harsh sides to the hilt but he also shows us a man who is completely and tragically unaware of how stuck and disagreeable he has become.  In Northern CA, we all know what happens when there’s no flow and Scrooge embodies the big “NO” with every ounce of his being.   

By contrast, impoverished Bob Cratchit, who is Scrooge’s clerk and whipping boy, hasn’t a schilling to his name but he has vast inner resources– a true heart of gold- and a large loving family.  Cratchit is played with genuine warmth and dignity by Nicholas Pelczar whose radiance is matched by Delia MacDougall’s portrayal of his equally good-hearted wife, Anne Cratchit.  The Cratchit’s material hardship makes the wealthy Scrooge seem all the more despicable, even pitiable, because he cannot enjoy or share the massive fortune he has amassed.   Dickens realized that if Scrooge’s imagination could be stimulated, it would be possible for him to wake up on Christmas morning an entirely new man and that’s the message of the play.  Scrooge’s remarkable transformation—ideological, ethical and emotional– is brought about by the visits of four ghosts on Christmas Eve—Jacob Marley (his former business partner) and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.   At Tuesday’s press opening, the show was full of marvelous special effects associated with the visits of each of these ghosts who led Scrooge through some very poignant and harrowing scenes from his life.  Jack Willis, who returns as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, set the pace by robustly rising from Scrooge’s bed, rattling chains and warnings amidst clouds of smoke.  The Ghost of Christmas Present, played delightfully by A.C.T.’s Steven Anthony Jones, emerged in striated green velvet as a jovial and lusty Bacchic spirit of abundance.  

And then there’s Tiny Tim (little Timothy Cratchit), the play’s emotional center, played wonderfully by young Sadie Eve Scott.  When Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present, he learns just how ill Tim really is, and that Tim will die unless he receives treatment (which the family cannot afford due to Scrooge’s miserliness). When he’s next visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all he can see is Tim’s little wooden crutch because Tim has died.  This and several other harrowing visions, lead Scrooge to reform which begins from the moment he wakes up on Christmas morning and shocks his cleaning lady Mrs. Dilber (Sharon Lockwood channeling Bewitched’s dingy Aunt Clara ) by thanking her, paying her generously and giving her the holidays off.

A reformed Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) celebrates the season with his nephew, Fred (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Patrick Lane, right), Fred’s wife, Mary (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Jenna Johnson, second from right), and the Cratchits: Bob (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program alumnus Nicholas Pelczar), Anne (Delia MacDougall), and Tiny Tim (Sadie Eve Scott). Photo: Kevin Berne.

Val Caniparoli’s choreography is fantastic—lots of lighthearted dancing and movement that show off the period costumes designed for the production by Beaver Bauer of Teatro ZinZanni.  Dickens’s lovely descriptions of the abundance of Christmas bounty are staged creatively at the start of Act 2 as “The Waltz of the Opulent Fruit,” with six charming young Bay Area actors taking on the roles of dancing French plums, Turkish figs, and Spanish onions. 


Details:  American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco.  

Remaining Performances–

7 p.m.: December 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23

5:30 p.m.: December 12, 19

2 p.m.: December  9, 11, 21, 22, 23, 24

1 p.m.: December 12, 19

Run-time: Two hours including one 20 minute intermission.

Tickets: $15-$102, available online through the A.C.T. online box office , or by phone (415) 749-2228.  For all performances, no children under the age of 5 are permitted

December 9, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment