ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Love Lavender? Mataznas Creek Winery’s 19th annual “Days of Wine and Lavender” is Saturday, June 27, 2015

Matanzas Creek Winery’s Lavender garden features roughly 5,000 lavender plants that have flourished in the estate’s magic terroir.  Spectacular terraced rows of the cultivars “Grosso” and “Provence” line the winery’s entrance and are the basis of its lavender product line.  Guests at “Days of Wine and Lavender” stroll the fragrant gardens in dazzling full bloom.  The relaxing afternoon includes sampling the winery’s crisp sauvignon blancs, luxurious chardonnays and dazzling pinots and its marvelous feast of lavender inspired cuisine.

Matanzas Creek Winery’s Lavender garden features roughly 5,000 lavender plants that have flourished in the estate’s magic terroir. Spectacular terraced rows of the cultivars “Grosso” and “Provence” line the winery’s entrance and are the basis of its lavender product line. Guests at “Days of Wine and Lavender” stroll the fragrant gardens in dazzling full bloom. The relaxing afternoon includes sampling the winery’s crisp sauvignon blancs, luxurious chardonnays and dazzling pinots and its marvelous feast of lavender inspired cuisine.  This year’s celebration is Saturday, June 27, 2105, noon to 4 PM.

Nestled between three mountain peaks in Sonoma County’s bucolic Bennett Valley, the Matanzas Creek Winery and vineyard is home to over three acres of lavender gardens.  Planted in 1991 and nurtured by the vineyard’s gardeners, these spectacular plants frame the entrance to the winery and are now in full bloom. On Saturday, June 27, 2015, from noon to 4 PM, Matanzas Creek celebrates its bounty with its festive 19th Annual Days of Wine & Lavender.  The wonderful afternoon includes Matanzas Creek’s special wines, including its latest releases of crisp, aromatic Bennett Valley Chardonnay and its exclusive, hedonistic, Journey label which includes its 2013 Journey Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Bennett Valley Pinot Noir which has hints of rose petals.  Attendance is limited at this special gathering, so guests never feel overcrowded as they stroll the expansive property, taking in the vineyards and the vibrant bust of purple.  The healing fragrance of lavender wafts through the air while the bees buzz.  Live music keeps the tempo celebratory as guests partake of special food and wine pairings to their heart’s content.  Many of these creative gourmet delights are lavender themed.

There are photo booths, opportunities to paint in the lavender fields or just zone out in comfy lounge chairs and take in the view. Not only do I love this event for the food and wine, but it’s wonderful to stock up on Matanzas Creek’s lavender bath and body products which are made with the finest ingredients and beautifully packaged.  The concentration/staying power of their fragrance and nurturing qualities are evident immediately and these products make wonderful gifts.  Don’t miss the opportunity to bliss out by spritzing yourself with their amazing Lavender Mist.  A personal favorite, used by all members of our household, is Matanzas Creek Lavender Blend After Shave Lotion which has warm spicy notes and leaves your skin as smooth as silk.

Good Deeds: The event benefits the Ceres Community Project, a non-profit that involves local teens as gardeners or chefs.  Ceres aims to bring 88,000 nutrient-rich meals to those with serious illnesses or to those in need in Sonoma and Marin counties this year.  For more information about Ceres and its wonderful classes, visit http://www.ceresproject.org/.

Details:  Saturday June 27th, noon to 4 p.m. Tickets: $95 General Public and $75 Wine Club members.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as the festival sells out in advance each year.  To purchase tickets, click here. Matanzas Creek Winery is located at 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA  95404   For more information, phone: 800 590-6464

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June 19, 2015 Posted by | Food | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: giddy, rude & ridiculous “Spamalot” is at 6th Street Playhouse through September 22, 2013

Spamalot 2It’s summer and if you’re in the mood for silly…the trotting coconuts, the killer rabbit and the knights who say “Ni” are all back in 6th Street Playhouse’s irreverent Spamalot which plays in its GK Hardt Theatre through September 22,2013.

The 2005 Tony Award-winning musical comedy by Python super-star Eric Idle, with musical score by Idle and composer John Du Prez, is a loving rip-off of the 1975 classic film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Through a medley of song, slapstick, pun, and abandonment of political correctness, Spamalot tells the tale of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail and his knights’ entanglement in a Broadway production.  Along the way, it cleverly and unabashedly exploits all the cannons of musical theater while poking itself for being a musical.

In the capable hands of Craig Miller, 6th Street’s Artistic Director, the mash-up more or less succeeds. Miller, who brought us The Great American Trailer Park Musical (2012) and The Marvelous Wonderettes (2012) and who just picked up an astounding six awards in the 2013 SFBATCC (San Francisco/Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle), once again combines strong local talent with an excellent production team.

I saw the show last Saturday evening (8/24), opening weekend.  It delivered some good laughs and some catchy tunes, against the backdrop of great sets and unexpected projections, all adding up to an appealing musical.  I can only imagine that the comedy component will get stronger over time as the actors work together more and find that relaxed sweet spot where they can really deliver up the hysterically funny and shameless gags we associate with Python brilliance.

Arthur and company’s musical journey begins in Finland, with the “Fisch Schlapping Song,” grown men being silly and whacking each other with huge fish.  The narrator soon gets the story back on track, back to a dense forest and the time of the plague, where it’s time to cart-away the bodies.  From there, it’s a romp through history as Arthur and his motley crew proceed to Camelot and become Knights of the Round Table. Their zany escapades include battling French Can-Can Girls, warring with a French fort and hurling a huge wooden Trojan rabbit as a weapon, and trying to outwit a vicious biting bunny who protects the Holy Grail.  The characters also take on the assignment of performing a Broadway musical.  One of the funniest moments comes when Robin belt outs a lament to Arthur that their production will never make it to Broadway “if it doesn’t have any Jews!”

M.P. fans will recognize familiar tunes as “Finland,” “Knights of the Round Table” and “Always Look on the Brightside of Life,” a classic from Life of Brian.  Idle and Du Prez co-created catchy tunes like “I Am Not Dead Yet” and “The Song that Goes Like This”  and many of these are reminiscent of Lloyd Webber, Rogers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim, however the silly lyrics are all Idle’s.  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” is one of the most memorable songs and, of course, is a credo that we should all live by.

“Spamalot” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse through September 22, 2013 is a medley of song, slapstick and silly fun that lovingly recounts the exploits of King Arthur and features a large cast of mainly local performers.  The original 2005 Broadway show received 3 Tony Awards and was seen by over two million people.  Photo: Eric Chazankin.

“Spamalot” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse through September 22, 2013 is a medley of song, slapstick and silly fun that lovingly recounts the exploits of King Arthur and features a large cast of mainly local performers. The original 2005 Broadway show received 3 Tony Awards and was seen by over two million people. Photo: Eric Chazankin.

Barry Martin’s King Arthur is the heart of Spamalot.  The Napa-based actor, director and co-founder of Lucky Penny Productions has natural comedic timing, a fantastic and robust singing voice, and he delivers an alternately noble and kind of daffy King Arthur whose generosity of spirit rings through all the antics surrounding him.

Arthur’s coconut-clapping page/sidekick and imaginary steed, Patsy, is played to the hilt by Erik Weiss, also a delight to behold. He’s quite young, just starting his senior year at Montgomery High School, but has a natural affinity for comedy, evident as he trots and schleps around stage beside Arthur.

Taylor Bartolucci Deguilio’s Lady of the Lake, is a spoof of all leading ladies and Broadway conventions.  Beaming Deguilio was quite sultry in an array of beautifully colorful form-fitting costumes by Pamela Johnson, but her singing voice, while energetic, was not in its usually radiant top form.  Natalie Herman (Not Dead Fred/Prince Herbert/Ensemble) had small roles but the combination of a marvelous voice and that magical “it” factor, made it her night.  After she sang just a few lines of “I am not dead yet” in Act I, I was fixed on her all night long and she got more delightful as the show progressed.

As Sir Robin, Trevor Hoffman pulled off some great dancing and singing. His Act II song “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” was one of the highlights of the evening—hysterically bemoaning the lack of Jewish entertainers in Arthur’s motley crew.

There’s not a bad seat in the GJ Hardt Theatre and the stage pops with Theo Bridant’s gorgeous lighting and Jess Driekson’s scenic design.  Alise Girard’s choreography is polished and delivers, among many feats, a chorus line of dancing divas and knights and other sundry characters.  Hats off to musical directors, Jason Sherbody and assistant David Brown for their tight coordination of 22 songs.  Backing up the singing and zany action on stage is the talented eight member orchestra that keeps the rich music flowing all evening long.  Jason Sherbody (Conductor/keyboards), Steve Parker (Reed 1), Brendan Buss (Reed 2), Toom Woodville (Trumphet), Marc Rudlin (Trombone), Lisa Doyle (violin), Ab Menon (guitar/banjo), Joel Renteria (bass), Ricardo Lomeli (drums).

Overall, ARThound goes with a line from the knights who no longer say Ni! …. ekki-ekki-ekki-pitang-zoom-boing!

Up next at 6th Street Playouse:  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Oct 25-Nov 10, 2013) Based on Ken Kesey’s novel and made famous by the 1975 movie starring Jack Nicholson, Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the story of a charming rogue who chooses to serve a short sentence in an airy mental institution rather than in prison. He realizes this was a mistake as soon as he clashes with Nurse Ratched who controls the psych ward and is a formidable opponent of his notions of nonconformity.   He quickly wins over his fellow “loonies” and accomplishes what the medical profession has been unable to do for twelve years; he makes a presumed deaf and dumb Indian talk, leads others out of introversion, stages a revolt so that the entire ward can watch the World Series on television, and arranges a rollicking midnight party with liquor and chippies.  The famous show down between nurse and patient is one of the riveting evenings of theatre. Stage Direction by Lennie Dean

Details: Spamalot ends September 22, 2013 at 6th Street Playhouse’s GK Hardt Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays 2 p.m. Tickets: $15 to $35.  For more information: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or phone 707.523.4185.

August 30, 2013 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Finding the treasure in white trash—“The Great American Trailer Park,” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Theatre is a campy musical that invites you to get your redneck on….through September 30, 2012

From left to right: Mark Bradbury (Duke), Craig A Miller (Norbert), Julianne Lorenzen (Jeannie), Taylor Bartolucci (Pippi), Daniela Innocenti Beem (Betty), Alise Girard (Pickles) and Shannon Rider (Lin) are all part of 6th Street Playhouse’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” through September 30, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

They didn’t all plan to be neighbors at the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in North Florida but the fates of a toll collector, his agoraphobic wife, a stripper-on-the-run, her crazy ex, and a trio of busty tube-topped women are all intertwined in the enchanting “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which opened Friday at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse.  Written by composer/lyricist/actor David Nehls and writer/actor Betsy Kelso, the two-act musical opened in New York in 2004, played off-Broadway and has been produced regionally and internationally ever since.  This love triangle, with its hilarious low-rent twists, has a lot of heart, a lot of dysfunction and snappy, crass, funny songs you’ll find yourself humming on the way home.  6th Street’s Barry Martin is the producer and a talented team of 7 local singers and actors round out the cast.  To add to the fun, 6th Street is encouraging all attendees to dress up in their best “trailer park” fashions and join in on the fun.

The show is staged in 6th Street’s intimate Studio Theatre where the action all unfolds just a few feet from the furthest seat.  The pre-show includes Mark Bradbury’s sign twirling display for Armadillo Arms.  The musical itself opens with the energetic “This side of the Tracks,” sung by the trailer park’s pal-gal trio (also narrators and chorus)— Betty (Daniela Innocenti Beem) the leasing agent and manager of Armadillo Arms; Pickles (Alise Girard), a hysterically pregnant teen; and Lin (named after linoleum) (Shannon Rider) whose husband is in slammer.  These gals, with their ample bewbs spilling forth from their clinging leisure wear, are neither on the “right side” or “wrong side” of the tracks, rather they’re on “this side” of the tracks.  As the women belt out tune after tune, it’s as plain as the nose on your face that these are good-hearted gals who have been through some hard times that have bonded them.  And can they sing!

Daniela Innocenti Beem made a strong impression in the title role in 6th Street’s parody, “The Drowsy Chaperone” in January.  Here, she delivers a glorious Bad Ass Betty, who’s more of an earth mother hidden under some seriously wild hair (wigs marvelously styled by Michael Greene).  Her voice is strong, appealing and memorable, anchoring song after song.  Shannon Rider, of the local Shannon Rider Band, is also impressive.

The story centers on a love triangle between toll collector Norbert Garstecki (6th Street’s Artistic Director, Craig A. Miller), his wife Jeannie Garstecki (Julianne Lorenzen), and Pippi (Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio).   Jeanie’s been agoraphobic since their son was kidnapped some 20 years ago and she stays inside their trailer timidly watching TV in a fuzzy bathrobe.  When exotic dancer Pippi moves into the trailer right next to theirs, Norbert is magnetized by her fishnet-clad bod and sexuality—and that’s way before she’s pole-danced for him.  Soon they are knee-deep into an affair.  The sparks really start to fly when Jeannie gets wind of her husband’s philandering and when Pippi’s ex shows up with a gun at the trailer park.

The show’s credibility rests on the role of Pippi and Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio delivers in spades.  She has a radiance and energy and sensuality about her that channels pop-star Mariah Carey and she puts all those netted body-hugging outfits to good use in a very authentic display of pole dancing.  Bartolucci is a stage veteran with more than 60 productions under her belt. She partners with director Barry Martin in Lucky Penny Productions, located in Napa, and the two recently collaborated on 6th Street’s Kiss Me, Kate in 2011, a production voted “Best Local Musical” in the Bay Area BroadwayWorld.com awards.  Her Pippi is a likeable, strong woman who is independent and yearning for love and her complex feelings for Norbert are apparent.

Craig A. Miller’s Norbert pulls off some great one-liners as the loving husband with a roving eye.  Miller’s acting and on stage chemistry with both Julianne Lorenzen, as his wife, and with Bartolucci as his new love connection adds a poignancy to the production.  You may remember Lorenzen’ s stand-out performance in The Marvelous Wonderettes in May (ARThound review here.)  She spends most of the musical neurotically trapped in a bathrobe but her burst-out moment is dazzling.

And ARThound has to comment a detail in the scenery that was spot on.   There’s a poster replica of C.M. Coolidge’s famous Dog’s Playing Poker poster on the wall of Norbert and Jeannie’s little trailer.  This is a personification of every man’s hopes and dreams for the future, carrying the subtle message that without risk there is no reward.  We may never know the outcome in life until we lay down our cards but the winner never folds (gives up).  And that’s the spirit that is driving the residents of Armadillo Arms.  And speaking of driving, there’s a fine poster image of Nascar’s beloved Dale Earnhardt on the other wall…I just knew that mild-mannered Norbert had racing in his blood.

Production Team: Directed by Barry Martin; Musical Director Lucas Sherman; Choreograper Alise Girard; Music and Lyrics by David Nehls, Book by Betsy kelso

Cast:  Daniela Innocenti Beem as Betty;  Shannon Rider as Lin; Alise Girard and Natalie Herman as Pickles; Craig A. Miller as Norbert; Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio as Pippi; Mark Bradbury as Duke

Dress the Part: 6th Street is encouraging all attendees to dress up in their best “trailer park” fashions and join in on the fun.

Details:  The Great American Trailer Park Musical runs through September 30, 2012 at The Studio Theatre at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with additional 2 p.m. matinee performances on Saturday 9/29 and Sundays 9/16, 9/23 and 9/30. Tickets are $15 to $25 and can be purchased by calling 707-523-4185 x101, or, visiting www.6thstreetplayhouse.com.  Advance ticket purchase recommended as the show has been selling out. Suitable for adults only.

September 13, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interview: Mary Gannon Graham talks about the art of singing badly for her new role as Florence Foster Jenkins in “Souvenir,” at 6th Street Playhouse through May 27, 2012

Award-winning actress Mary Gannon Graham, a Sebastopol resident, tackles the role of Florence Foster Jenkins, the famous socialite opera singer who couldn’t hold a tune, in 6th Street Playhouse’s production of Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir,” May 12-27, 2012. Photo: Geneva Anderson

When Sebastopol actress and singer, Mary Gannon Graham, took on the role of Florence Foster Jenkins, the famous tone-deaf diva, for 6th Street Playhouse’s production of Stephen Temperley’s  Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins, she had to learn the art of vocally decimating opera’s most beautiful arias.  Doing this authentically—impersonating Jenkins without turning her into a mere caricature—wasn’t easy.   Revered by audiences and critics in throughout the Bay Area for her fluid performances in Always, Patsy Cline and Shirley Valentine, Gannon Graham agreed to talk about her fascinating new role as the spirited coloratura whose botched high notes, disastrous pitch and intonation, and crippled rhythm delighted her enthusiastic audiences.

Souvenir, which opened Friday night, at 6th Street’s Studio Theatre, is a poignant comedy, a fantasia of memories and experiences related by Jenkins’ witty accompanist, Cosmé McMoon, portrayed skillfully by John Shillington, who sings and plays piano throughout.  It’s also a story of personal fulfillment and victory.   The story starts in 1964, on the 20th anniversary of Jenkins’ death, and goes back to 1932 and moves forward through the 12 years of McMoon’s relationship with Jenkins.  Jenkins was born in 1868 in Pennsylvania and dreamed of becoming a great opera singer but her wealthy father refused to pay for voice lessons.  When he passed away in 1909, she inherited enough money to follow her bliss, took voice lessons, became very active in social clubs, and gradually began giving recitals for her friends.  She was renowned for her annual concert at the Ritz-Carlton ballroom where she performed famous arias in elaborate costumes she designed herself, raising loads of money for charity.  Tickets to her Carnegie Hall concert, on October 25, 1944, which she gave at age 76, sold out in two hours.  The audience, consisting largely of service men, busted their seams throughout, some stifling their laughs and others not.   Gannon Graham plays Jenkins with sweetness and vibrant off-the-mark singing.

Is it more difficult to sing properly or badly? 

Mary Gannon Graham is Florence Foster Jenkins and John Shillington (right) is Cosmé McMoon, Jenkins’ accompanist, in 6th Street Playhouse’s production of Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,” May 12-27, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Mary Gannon Graham: Singing badly, and doing it well, is a lot harder than you think.  I had to learn to sing all these arias correctly first before I could go out and butcher them.  For that, I’ve had a wonderful vocal coach and opera teacher, Beth Freeman, who has been working with me a couple of times a week.  The concern was that I wouldn’t damage my own voice and that I’d sing in an authentic way.  Florence Foster Jenkins practiced non-stop—her barking wasn’t accidental, it was studied.  Our director, Michael Fontaine, has told me that I’m hitting too many right notes.  It’s strange to get feedback from your director that says ‘No, you’re singing it too right.’

What are the technical issues with her voice—intonation, rhythm, timbre?

Mary Gannon Graham:  It’s a little of everything.  When you listen to her recordings, and they are on YouTube, she was in the ball park a lot, but was basically a quarter note above or below.  One of her reviewers wrote that ‘she mastered the art of the quarter note,’ and he was trying to be kind.  Her rhythm was not always what was written.  The play is a fantasia, so a lot of it is made up.  She talks about obfuscating the tempi, how accuracy gets in the way of true singing, and how music comes from the heart and that the notes are simply guideposts left by the composer.   This is the gist of what she believed—she had her own musical interpretation and she practiced very hard to perfect it.

It’s interesting that she chose opera, an art form with such rigorous standards.

Mary Gannon Graham:  Oddly, she was also a piano teacher, so she knew something about music.  She left her father’s home after he disowned her and this was because she married against his wishes.  She married a man, Jenkins, who was about 15 years older than she was and he was a consummate cheater and he gave her syphilis.  So she left her father and then her husband and made her own way in the world teaching music.  She had this love of classical music and believed herself to be a true coloratura soprano and felt she could master the very high ranges.  I’m a mezzo and singing really high, and not using the meat and potatoes of my voice, is very difficult.  It’s awful to sing like a barky terrier, which is what we’re going for here.  This is a small intimate theatre too, so to sing lighter, and not use my full voice, is also challenging.

As a performer, are you aware enough of the audience’s reaction to tell if something has gone South?  What are your thoughts about Jenkins’ awareness while performing?

Mary Gannon Graham: I try not to pay attention to that—if you’re worried that you’re hitting you’re mark, you’re not in the moment.  If I’m playing comedy, I do need to hear the reaction, but every audience is different.  As an actor you are aware—I call it the actor’s brain—and are focusing on a million things at once, one of which might be channeling the energy the audience is giving, but it’s mainly focusing on what is happening on stage.  Florence Foster Jenkins was completely under the spell of the music.  She was enamored with Verdi and Mozart and all the great composers and music was her drug, her religion, her bliss.  I don’t think anything meant as much to her as music and promoting music.   She was quite the philanthropist, and when she charged people their $2.40 to attend her concerts, she donated all that money to charity and never kept it for herself.   She wanted to share music with the world and she heard herself in a different way and was blind to what the audience was experiencing.

She must have had been part Teflon or maybe she just didn’t care what people thought—what type of character did she have?

Mary Gannon Graham: She had this indomitable spirit and didn’t let the opinions of others dictate how she felt about herself.  She had this almost childlike assurance that what she was doing was beautiful and perfect and right.  She also had quite an ego and could be manipulative when it came to getting people to attend her performances, but it wasn’t with mal-intent.   In the play, for example, she always says ‘It was proposed that we play here,” or ‘It was proposed that we move our recital.’  She had a lot of money and I suspect that she went out and shopped herself. After her father died, she inherited this huge chunk and that’s when she went to town.  She stopped teaching piano and really pursued music—she took voice lessons and morphed into this singer.  She had wanted to do this as a child but her father said no and when it came to her late in life, she went for it.

Describe her relationship with her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon.

Mary Gannon Graham: Cosmé McMoon was not her only accompanist but he was her last accompanist, the one who played Carnegie Hall with her.   He is the only one in the play.   She actually went through several accompanists and fired them because they weren’t up to snuff.  She initially had her niece playing for her at the Ritz-Carlton.  The play starts with her interviewing Cosmé to play for one of her first public recitals.  In Stephen Temperley’s play, Cosmé’s very protective of her.  I’m not sure about this in real life.   I’d expect that anyone who played with her would have had to have been protective.  People would stuff handkerchiefs in their mouths to stifle their laughter whereas she thought they were so overcome with emotion, they were sobbing.  She saw what she wanted to see and believed that she wanted to believe.

When you played the role of Shirley Valentine, you mastered many personas.  Is this the role that most prepared you for Florence Foster Jenkins?

Mary Gannon Graham dons ostrich feathers, wings and tiaras as socialite opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins in Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir,” at 6th Street Playhouse through May 27, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Mary Gannon Graham: Every role an actor pays helps them towards the next one.  Singing Patsy Cline in Always Patsy Cline —doing so many performances—helped me find what I think is my voice, which is not Florence Foster Jenkins’ voice, and it gave me real confidence.  Shirley Valentine, as a character, goes through a transformation of courage—from being a doormat to her husband and children, to becoming this woman who has to go out on her own and make it.  Taking on characters is an act of osmosis and parts of them stay with you.  Acting is very much like fine tuning an instrument—sometimes you bring up one part and sometimes it’s another.   Aside from the singing, finding her age has been challenging—she was 25 years older than I am.  She started her singing career probably in her late 50’s and gave that Carnegie Hall Performance when she was 76.   It is not something that we, the director Michael and I, ever talked about but I suppose there is a part of me, the actor, that is aware of the passage of time.  I slowed her walk a bit and made a conscious effort to use the arms of the chairs to get up and down. I can’t explain her voice, it’s just what comes out.

How many costume changes do you make through-out the performance?

Mary Gannon Graham: I have 14 costume changes and most of them occur in the scene for the Carnegie Hall performance where Florence is singing different arias and serially dressing for each role she sings.  Florence designed her own costumes and had them custom made.  She was especially inspired by a painting called ‘Inspiration’ by Steven Foster of a winged angel and had a beautiful angel costume created for her Ave Maria aria.  Costume designer Pam Enz has really duplicated that very nicely.

Is Florence Foster Jenkins’ celebrity deserved?  

Mary Gannon Graham: She had incredible chutzpah  and did a lot to promote music.  This was the era of clubs and she was a club woman in New York, which meant she was on the boards of dozens of clubs.  She was the founder and president of the Verdi Club, a music club, and she was a celebrity within her own circle.  When she made those famous single aria recordings, she became even more popular and she believed she was popularizing really good music.  When she recorded the infamous aria “Queen of the Night,” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, she got her friends together and she played recordings of famous singers doing that aria and hers would be in the mix too and she’d ask them which one they liked best.  Most of her friends could recognize her voice and would pick her, to her delight.  When someone didn’t select her as the best, she would accuse them of not having any sense of music.

Because she promoted music so much and was such a philanthropist, I think she earned her notoriety and her fame.  And  she is more popular today worldwide than she was in her day, which is really something.  Enrico Caruso, Arturo Tuscanini, Tallulah Bankhead, and Cole Porter went to see her, not so much the general public, but she was covered in the society pages and some of her recitals were reviewed.  She didn’t give two shakes what people thought about her.  One of the great lines in the play is ‘Art cannot be ruled by caution.’  I don’t know if she actually said that, but she lived it.  If we all were our authentic selves it would be so freeing.  That’s the great lesson of this play—have courage and believe in yourself.

Mary Gannon Graham is opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins and John Shillington (left) is Cosmé McMoon, Jenkins’ witty accompanist, in Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir,” at 6th Street Playhouse through May 27, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

 Did she have children or much of a family life?

Mary Gannon Graham: No, she devoted herself entirely to her career.  No one knows if she actually divorced her first husband, Mr. Jenkins.  He did give her syphilis and she lost all of her hair, was bald as an egg, and so she always wore wigs.  She was quite eccentric.  She would carry around all of her important documents, like her will, in her briefcase with her.  She didn’t trust it to be anywhere but near her and was secretive about who her voice teachers and clothing designers were.  She had a common-law husband, St. Claire Bayfield, who she married in a ceremony that wasn’t legally recognized, and they started out romantically but ended up very good friends.  They didn’t live together but wore wedding rings and, later on, he acted more like her manager than her husband.  He’s not mentioned in the play and I’m not sure why.   She promised him all kinds of money and ironically, when she died, no one could find her will, after all this carrying it around with her.  Consequently, her estate reverted to some cousins who came forward to claim her fortune.  Cosmé actually went to court and claimed that she was secretly in love with him too and had promised him this money.  He didn’t get any of it either.

In your research what are some other interesting things you’ve learned about her? 

Mary Gannon Graham: Well, the rumors about her are legend but this is what I’ve read or been told—

She collected chairs that famous dead people had sat in.  She would buy their chairs and would say that so and so sat here.

She loved Manhattans.

She loved jewelry and wore rings on several fingers at time.

She had autographed photos of famous people all over her hotel room.

She lived at the Hotel Vanderbilt in New York but, in the play, we have her living at the Ritz Carlton.

Her Carnegie Hall performance sold out and they turned 2,000 people away.  The only other two concerts that were so successful and sold out so quickly at Carnegie Hall were for Judy Garland and the Beatles.

John Shillington and Mary Gannon Graham after Friday’s opening night performance of Stephen Temperley’s “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins,” at 6th Street Playhouse. Photo: Geneva Anderson

What we can all take away from Souvenir?

Mary Gannon Graham:  Constantin Stanislavski, the method acting teacher said, ‘Love the art within yourself, not yourself within the art.’   Florence Foster Jenkins did that.  It’s not about being good, it’s about being and trying to give the audience something that they didn’t come in the doors with.  In this case, it’s not letting other people tell you what you should and shouldn’t do and pursuing what you love with every fiber of your being.

Souvenir’s Team and Cast: Stephen Temperley’s  Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins is directed by Michael Fontaine and features Mary Gannon Graham as Florence Foster Jenkins and John Shillington as accompanist, Cosmé McMoon.

Special Event:  A post-show discussion following the Sunday, May 20, 2012, 2 p.m. performance.  San Francisco theatre writer and critic Richard Connema recalls attending the 1944 Carnegie Hall concert featuring Florence Foster Jenkins.

During the last week before he shipped out to the Pacific as an Air Force photographer during WWII, 18 year-old Richard Connema, and a few of his Air Force buddies, took the one hour train ride from Fort Dix in New Jersey to New York’s Penn Station and to the USO and got comp tickets (orchestra, no less) to see Jenkins perform at Carnegie Hall.  He recalls that the place was packed… “I’d sort of say she floated out to the stage…and she that earnestly faced the audience and began to sing.”  Hear him relate the full story at the post-show discussion.

Details:  Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins runs May 11 to May 27, 2012, at 6th Street Playhouse’s Studio Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Performances are at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 2 p.m. on Sundays; and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 26, 2012.  Tickets: $15 to $25.  Order tickets by telephone at 707.523.4185, online here, or purchase at the door.  The Studio Theatre is small and advance purchase is highly recommended.  For more information:  www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

May 13, 2012 Posted by | Opera, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” a delightful trip down memory lane showcasing 50’s and 60’s pop hits, at 6th Street Playhouse through May 13, 2012

Ashley Rose McKenna as Cindy Lou, Katie Veale as Missy, Julianne Lorenzen as Suzy, and Shari Hopkinson as Betty Jean, in 6th Street Playhouse’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” through May 13, 2012. Photo: courtesy Eric Chazankin

Flashback: It’s 1958 and prom night at Springfield High School. The live entertainment is The Marvelous Wonderettes, four best girlfriends, high school seniors—Betty Jean (Shari Hopkinson), Cindy Lou (Ashley Rose McKenna), Missy (Katie Veale) and Suzy (Julianne Lorenzen) who hit the sweet spot in four part harmony.  Baby Boomers especially will enjoy 6th Street Playhouse’s dynamic musical review The Marvelous Wonderettes, Roger Bean’s long-running Los Angeles and Off Broadway hit which won the 2007 Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Musical. Directed by Craig Miller, 6th Street’s Artistic Director, and Janis Wilson, Musical Director, with choreography by Alise Girard, the show features 35 oldies from the 1950’s and 1960’s, 28 of which are sung in glorious four part harmony. There’s no real plot to speak of, save for some fairly innocent high school antics; the drama showcases the music which is a delightful end in itself.

The girls start out with Mr. Sandman and that all time favorite, Lollipop, both popularized by the Chordettes, and then move on to Dreamlover and Hold me Thrill Me, Kiss Me, and other 1950’s classics, demonstrating a solid mastery of the beloved and quite difficult tradition of vocal harmonizing.  And the fun they’re having is infectious!  You’ll have to work out your politics for how to silence the guy next to you who breaks out in his own crackly soprano rendition of one of these oldies.  Act I’s prom theme is “All I Have to Do Is Dream/Dream Lover” and a dreamcatcher is used as a vehicle for each girl to dedicate a song to her special love.  Over the course of their special prom performance, some unexpected cracks emerge in the tight gal-pal bond—Cindy Lou steals Betty Jean’s Alleghemy Moon solo, and her boyfriend, and the two bicker about it by blowing liquid soap bubbles over each other.  The music is cotton candy sweet and so are Tracy Hinman Sigrist’s very colorful retro costumes—50’s prom dresses in pastel satins with full skirts and crinolines and matching dyed shoes.  Act I closes with the audience voting on prom queen, which is quite exciting until you discover that the ballot you and the rest of the audience has cast is hastily thrown out in a dramatic gesture made by one of the girls and never counted.

Act II is set in 1968 and picks up at Springfield High School Class of 1958’s 10-Year Reunion and the Marvelous Wonderettes open with Heatwave. During the course of the reunion, we learn what has happened in each of the girl’s lives since graduation and it turns out that each of them is suffering in some way over love.  Missy, burnt out and frustrated, has been dating the same guy for five years with no marriage proposal in site and Suzy is very pregnant and her husband is cheating on her. Each of four young women sings a powerful medley of songs that fits her situation and the girls support each other and discover strength and healing in friendship.

Katie Veale as Missy, Julianne Lorenzen as Suzy, Ashley Rose McKenna as Cindy Lou, and Shari Hopkinson as Betty Jean in 6th Street Playhouse’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” through May 13, 2012. Photo: courtesy Eric Chazankin

The show, pleasant enough, somehow aches for more depth, especially in Act II.  All the rich promise of 1968—the peak of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, riots at the Democratic National Convention, Black Power demonstrations at the Summer Olympics, Feminist demonstrations at the Miss America pageant, and so much more—is basically ignored and it appears that Springfield is just another small suburban enclave looking inward.  Never really tapping into the collective mindset of our country’s most rebellious decade, nor its rich and complex zeitgeist, seems a bit of cop-out for playwright Roger Bean who has gone on to make a career on the Wonderettes and sequels like Winter Wonderettes.  The toe-tapping music itself, though, is fabulous and 6th Street and each of its four singers deliver a thoroughly enjoyable salute to girly pop.

Highlights of the show include vibrant four-part harmony in Mr. Sandman, Lollipop, and Maybe. 

Santa Rosa resident Ashley Rose McKenna in her debut performance at 6th Street beams in Act I as the petite brunette trickster Cindy Lou.  She delivers a lush Allegheny Moon and follows through in Act II with an energetic Son of a Preacher Man and Leader of the Pack and a tender, pleading and heartfelt Maybe, with back-up by the talented ensemble, possibly the evening’s most poignant offering.

Rohnert Park resident Katie Veale also makes her 6th Street debut as Missy, a sweet nerdish girl in glasses who’s also a serious soprano, delivers a very moving It’s In His Kiss and Wedding Bell Blues as she is joined by the ensemble.

In addition to her consistently strong singing, Shari Hopkinson, part of 6th Street’s full-time team, brings compelling soul and a rich willfulness to Betty Jean, while Julianne Lorenzen adds a dose of authentic vulnerability to Suzy.   

And behind a sheer curtain in back of the stage action is the talented six member band that keeps the rich music flowing all evening long. Led by Janis Dunson Wilson (conductor/keyboards), the group includes Casey Jones (saxophones), Chad Baker (guitar), Steve Hoffman (bass) and Laurie Bilbro (bass) and Mateo Dillaway (drums).

Up Next at 6th Street Playouse:  Stephen Temperley’s  Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins recounts the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a wealthy, tone deaf socialite who dreamed of being a great opera singer.  Her efforts to become a great coloratura soprano led to fame and notoriety with annual private recitals at the Ritz Carlton Hotel; a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944; and an impressive list of celebrity fans of her day including Cole Porter, Enrico Caruso and Tallulah Bankhead.  Memories and experiences are recalled by her accompanist and friend, Cosmé McMoon in this poignant comedy that celebrates the spirit of a woman who defied criticism and followed her bliss.  Directed by Michael Fontaine, Souvenir features award-winning actress Mary Gannon Graham as Florence Foster Jenkins (who dazzled as Patsy Cline in Always…Patsy Cline at 6th Street in 2010) and John Shillington as accompanist, Cosmé McMoon.  May 11 to May 27, 2012, part of 6th Street’s Studio Theatre Series.

Another 1968, with grit and rebellion:  Witness the powerful richness of the year 1968—twelve months of culture shifting, life-changing, memory stamping events, and explore the Bay Area’s pivotal role, at the Oakland Museum’s fabulous new 1968 Exhibit, through August 19, 2012.

Details: The Marvelous Wonderettes ends May 13, 2012. 6th Street Playhouse – GK Hardt Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA, Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m. Tickets: $15 to $35. For more information: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or phone 707.523.4185.

April 30, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: “Proof,” David Auburn’s play about math and insanity,” adds up to great entertainment, at 6th Street Playhouse through Sunday, February 26, 2012

In David Auburn’s “Proof,” at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa through February 26, 2012, Alan Kaplan is Robert, a legendary mathematician who lost his mind late in his career and Dana Scott is his brooding mathematically brilliant daughter, Catherine, who cared for him and asserts that she has authored a proof that is about to be posthumously attributed to her father. Photo: Eric Chazankin, courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

What constitutes proof?   In geometry, it’s a sequence of justified conclusions used to prove the validity of an if-then statement.  In a more general sense, it’s evidence or an argument that compels the mind to accept something as true.  In playwright David Auburn’s play “Proof,” which won a Pulitzer in 2001, proving the authorship and validity of a mathematical proof enmesh a devoted daughter, her unstable father—both mathematical geniuses─with her father’s well-meaning student and a visiting sister in a poignant drama about genius, madness and inheritance.   This is a riveting production whose elements─concept, casting, staging─all cohere beautifully at Santa Rosa 6th Street Playhouse’s intimate Studio Theatre.  

Catherine (Dana Scott) functions best in the world of mathematical probability and equations but she dropped out of the University of Chicago’s math program to care for her father, Robert (Alan Kaplan), a brilliant Univeristy of Chicago mathematician who lost his mind late in his career and has spent the last several years filling stacks of notebooks with obsessive notes about observations in his daily life. The play opens on the porch of Robert’s rustic house on the South side of Chicago and an exhausted and depressed Catherine, played convincingly by Healdsburg actress Dana Scott, is mourning his death.  She cared for him through his breakdown, what looked like a promising remission, and then through his final breakdown.  In a series of flashbacks, the audience sees Catherine and her dad conversing and, at times, pouring over proofs.  They shared a very deep and special connection through their mutual love of and talent for mathematics.  The audience slowly discovers that Catherine is troubled herself and mistrusting.  She prefers to keep her talent under tight wraps and feigns ambivalence about her interest in pursuing her math education when she’s confronted but, secretly, she has made plans to pursue her studies at another prestigious Illinois University, Northwestern, which is in the city of Evanston just north of the Chicago city line, where she will not just be “his daughter.”

Mark Bradbury (right) is Hal, a PhD mathematician who is pouring over his mentor, Robert’s notebooks to find an important mathematical proof while sleeping with Catherine (Dana Scott), Robert’s daughter, who claims that she has authored the proof. Photo: Eric Chazankin, courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

Hal (Mark Bradbury), a socially awkward and well-meaning PhD mathematician who was once Robert’s protégée, is also at the cabin, reviewing Robert’s 100 handwritten notebooks for important mathematical discoveries.  Older sister Claire (Jill Zimmerman), a foreign currency analyst, who has flown in from New York for the funeral also arrives at the cabin.  Hal develops a crush on Catherine and, as she warms to him, she gives him a key to a drawer upstairs in the room where Hal has been reviewing her father’s notebooks.  When a promising set of equations is uncovered in a notebook that was in that drawer, Hal attempts to determine the true author, Catherine or her father.  Hal’s attempts to validate the proof are fraught with risks.  He’s sleeping with Catherine and also senses her fragility.  If he proves that the work is her father’s, it could destabilize her and ruin their relationship. If he proves the work is hers, then her father’s legacy will rest on work he accomplished in his early 20’s and his later years will be remembered as those spent in madness and obscurity.  We’re never sure until the end whether Robert had succeeded or whether he was deluded by his illness.  There are other proofs explored as well.  Is Catherine’s depression sufficient evidence to constitute proof that she has inherited their father’s disorder? 

It’s hard to imagine anyone more convincing than Dana Scott in the role of Catherine─brooding, moping, ambivalent, assertive, and insecure─a study in contrasts.  Most actresses, who have tackled this role, can nail the depressed aspect of Catherine’s character but Scott makes us feel that it’s entirely possible that Catherine is flirting with insanity.  Alan Kaplan delivers Robert as a kind-hearted and distracted mathematics genius who’s uncontrollably unsteady.  One moment he’s spouting wisdom and the next he seems confused.  The play’s high points all involve one-on-one scenes between Kaplan and Scott who have spent endless hours formulating theorems in a kind of connect-the dots logic to find a proof.   One of the most poignant and devastating moments comes as a flashback─Catherine comes home to find her father confidant that he has come up with the proof.  She is excited but when she starts to read from his notebook, she realizes it is filled with a logical but ridiculous rambling about the seasons and the change of weather and her hopes on many levels are dashed.   Jill Zimmerman plays the super-efficient older sister Claire as someone who means well but comes on like a freight truck, no matter what she’s talking about.  Mark Bradbury’s Hal is genuine─a sweet trustworthy nerd who carries a backpack crammed with his clothes and drumsticks and who wears his heart on his sleeve.  Paul Gilger’s charming set design─a rustic country cabin porch with maple rocking chairs, newspapers piled high, and plenty of leaves─evokes the simplicity and solitude of the daily life that Catherine and her father led while she cared for him.

In David Auburn’s “Proof,” at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse, Dana Scott is Catherine, a brilliant young mathematician suffering from depression who has put her life on hold to care for her aging father, Robert, played by Robert Kaplan. Photo: Eric Chazankin, courtesy 6th Street Playhouse

  

Click inside box to enlarge text.

 

Details: 6th Street Playhouse is located at 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Proof  has four remaining performances:  Friday, February 24, 2012 at 8 PM; Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 2 PM and 8 PM; and Sunday February 26, 2012 at 2 PM.  Tickets are $10 to $25.  Phone: (707) 523-4`85 or purchase online: http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com/box-office/buy-tickets/ or in person.

February 24, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playwright Robert Caisley visits 6th Street Playhouse this weekend (October 22-23, 2011) for special talks about “Kite’s Book: Tales of an 18th Century Hitman”

Playwright Robert Caisley, author of "Kite's Book: Tales of an 18th Century Hitman," which has its West Coast premiere at 6th Street Playhouse will be giving two special talks for the play's closing weekend. Photo: courtesy 6th Steet Playhouse

Playwright, Robert Caisley of Moscow, Idaho, the author of 6th Street Playhouse’s current West Coast Premiere of “Kite’s Book: Tales of an 18th Century Hitman,” will be in Santa Rosa this weekend for two special events associated with the final performances of his riveting play about crime and justice. While “Kite’s Book” addresses the villainy of the rich in 1750’s London and an individual who takes justice into his own hands, it’s a made-to-order commentary on Occupy Wall Street and the tyranny of the privileged.  Caisley will participate in two special talks at the theater focusing on the themes of the play.  

On Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011, Caisley presents a “Know-The-Show” pre-performance discussion of the play’s themes, his inspirations for writing the piece and some personal history on the play’s subsequent productions and how they have been important to him as a playwright and artist. The pre-show discussion will begin promptly at 7 p.m., followed by the performance at 8 p.m.

On Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011, 6th Street Playhouse Artistic Director, Craig Miller, will facilitate a more in-depth post-show, symposium style talk back with Caisley and the entire cast and crew of “Kite’s Book” for audience members who would like to stay after final curtain of the 2 p.m. Oct. 23 matinee performance.

“We hope Santa Rosa theater-goers will join us for these exciting opportunities to discuss this wonderful play and celebrate the playwright’s work,” said Craig Miller, 6th Street Playhouse Artistic Director and director of “Kite’s Book.”

For tickets or more information call 707-523-4185 or visit www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

IF YOU GO:

“Kite’s Book: Tales of an 18th Century Hitman”
By Robert Caisley

Set in London in the 1750s, “Kite’s Book: Tales of an 18th Century Hitman” is a sword-slinging, pistol-dueling, maiden-saving, jolly good time – with a fervent and poignant examination of the many variations on, and the disparities within, the human ideal that “Justice must be served!” 

Directed by Craig A. Miller
Fight Choreography by Marty Pistone

WHEN:  Through Oct. 23, 2011

LOCATION: 6th Street Playhouse,
GK Hardt Theatre
52 West 6th Street
Santa Rosa, Calif.  95401

TICKETS:    $15 to $32

PHONE: 707-523-4185
Order tickets by telephone, online or purchase at the door. Reservations recommended.

WEB SITE: http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com

October 14, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment