ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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: “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

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