ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: Cinnabar Theater rings in 2015 with the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies”—through January 18, 2015

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, (L to R) Melissa Weaver, Valentina Osinski, and Michael Van Why star in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.”  The reckless, romantic, jaded and traditional sides of Piaf’s personality are sung by four different performers. Constantly beside Piaf is her half-sister and life-ling partner, Simone Bertraut (Missy Weaver).  The audience experiences Piaf’s songs in new English translations and in their original French as spellbinding solos, duets and harmonies. Nostalgic, gorgeously lit, black and white photo projections of Piaf and Paris serve as a backdrop to the action on stage. Photo by Eric Chazankin

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, (L to R) Melissa Weaver, Valentina Osinski, and Michael Van Why star in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” The reckless, romantic, jaded and traditional sides of Piaf’s personality are sung by four different performers. Constantly beside Piaf is her half-sister and life-ling partner, Simone Bertraut (Missy Weaver). The audience experiences Piaf’s songs in new English translations and in their original French as spellbinding solos, duets and harmonies. Nostalgic, gorgeously lit, black and white photo projections of Piaf and Paris serve as a backdrop to the action on stage. Photo by Eric Chazankin

The music, singing and scenes from Cinnabar Theater’s brassy new commission, “Édith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies,” are so ingenious that it’s easy to imagine them invigorating Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris (2011) or Olivier Dahan’s “La Vie en Rose” (2007) or even the outrageously countercultural “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975).  Conceived and written by Valentina Osinski and Michael Van Why, this new musical had its world premiere on Saturday and is a gem will linger in your memory long after the last chanteuse sings.

“Beneath Paris Skies” brings together five wonderful performers and a talented five-piece band to take you on an enthralling trip to mid-century France through the eyes of Édith Piaf and her half-sister and life-long partner, Simone “Mômone” Berteaut.  No joy ride, this is a fractured fairy tale that delves into the tempestuous “Little Sparrow’s” epically messy life.  It  presents her famed song repertoire with new lyric  translations in English by Lauren Lundgren and in the original French.  Fractured is a key theme of the production as the reckless, romantic, jaded and traditional sides of Piaf’s complex personality are sung by four different performers.   Mezzo soprano Valentina Osinski, soprano Julia Hathaway, tenor Michael Van Why, and tenor Kevin Singer appear throughout the performance, each mining their juicy bits of Piaf for all they’re worth.  Aside from playing parts of Piaf, the performers take on other roles too, such as those of Piaf’s many lovers.  Suffice it to say, there’s a bed on stage and it’s frequently got more than two people in it.  It’s complicated and quickly-paced but a lifetime has cleverly been packed into two hours… and it works.   We’re given resonating personality slices and a chance to experience Piaf’s songs in dramatically different voices as spellbinding solos, duets and harmonies.

The chemistry between the singers is the glue that binds it all together.  As the small ensemble shifts through various roles and costume changes–Pat Fitzgerald has dressed the singers in Piaf’s signature black–sparks fly and we can feel their pain, their joy and the palpable crush of the green monster, jealousy.  It is pure pleasure to behold soprano Valentina Osinski in action.  She sings with a smoldering intensity and her Piaf is tantalizing, pitiful, despicable and enviable.  Osinski was honored last year with a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award.  It’s a real treat to see her in Cinnabar’s intimate space, where you can almost feel the rustle of her movements.  As Simone Berteaut, lovely Melissa Weaver delivers an equally beguiling performance.  We see a master of facial expression at work as she anguishes over loosing years basking in the shadow of her famous but dysfunctional half-sister.

 

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, soprano Julia Hathaway (foreground) is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.”  In the second part of the musical, Hathaway sings Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose,” whose lyrics, newly translated for Cinnabar by Lauren Lundgren, tell of love blissfully reclaimed. Hathaway  appeared in  “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and sang Frasquita in “Carmen” (2014) and Musetta in “La Bohème” (2009)).  In the background is Melisa Weaver who plays Simone Bertaut, Piaf’s half-sister, and is also the stage director for the musical.  Weaver is the artistic director of First Look Sonoma and has had a hand in the production of several original operas.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, soprano Julia Hathaway (foreground) is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” In the second part of the musical, Hathaway sings Piaf’s signature song, “La Vie en Rose,” whose lyrics, newly translated for Cinnabar by Lauren Lundgren, tell of love blissfully reclaimed. Hathaway appeared in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and sang Frasquita in “Carmen” (2014) and Musetta in “La Bohème” (2009). In the background is Melisa Weaver who plays Simone Bertaut, Piaf’s half-sister, and is also the stage director for the musical. Weaver is the artistic director of First Look Sonoma and has had a hand in the production of several original operas. Photo by Eric Chazankin

These are the same artists and creative team who crafted and appeared in Cinnabar’s sensational tribute Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” that rang in 2014.  As far as winning creative partnerships go, Cinnabar has a great thing going by drawing on local talents who are also multitalented—conception and stage adaptation was done by Valentina Osinski (also sings Edith Piaf), Michael Van Why (also sings Piaf and various lovers) and Lauren Lundgren (also did lyric translations), with stage direction by Melissa Weaver (also plays Piaf’s half-sister) and music direction by Al Haas (also plays guitar) and Robert Lunceford (also plays accordion).  Other musicians include Daniel Gianola-Norris (horn),  Jan Martinelli (bass), and John Shebalin (drums).

Adding to the splendor are nostalgic black and white photo projections of Piaf and period Paris, designed by Wayne Hovey, that serve as a backdrop to the action on stage.  And the intimate 99 seat theater itself has been transformed into a cozy French cabaret with small tables set-up between most of the seats so that you can get to know each other and properly enjoy your drinks along with the show.

Lauren Lundgren on translating Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” into singable English for Cinnabar: 

Throughout her life, Édith professed absolute faith in love.  She thought of it as a remedy for pretty much everything, even though, or maybe because, it’s so easy to lose, so often painful, and so damnably hard to find.  When “La Vie en Rose” came out, she was thirty and had had countless one-night stands, a fair amount of affairs, but had not yet met the love of her life.  Was she wistful, ardent, anxious, ecstatic, naïve, or cynically commercial?  With the help of outside research, I decided that she was all about fairy tale love, pure romance, without any dishes to wash or beds to make, with a definite patina of lust.  Her songs are drenched in longing, and they are also dipped in a bit shit, pardon my French.  That is what guided the translation.

“It became a quandary…how much to sanitize her vs. how much to reveal her.  …There are times when it’s a sin to deviate one iota from the meaning of a phrase and other times when its a sin not to.  And now I find myself having to inoculate you against the French that demanded a translation you’ have to pardon.  Who knows.  You may welcome a smattering of course language. … After an enormous struggle with the problem, I concluded that one can’t second guess an audience and I might as well come as close to the original as possible. (Extracted from Lundgren’s remarks entitled “Pardon My French” at Cinnabar’s Cinelounge on Saturday, January 4, 2015)

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, tenor Kevin Singer is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” Singer co-stars with three others as the legendary Edith Paif.  He also appeared in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and in “Of Mice and Men” (2014).  Photo by Eric Chazankin

At Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, tenor Kevin Singer is one of five performers starring in the world premiere of “Édith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies.” Singer co-stars with three others as the legendary Édith Paif. He also appeared in “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” (2014) and in “Of Mice and Men” (2014). Photo by Eric Chazankin

Details: There are 7 remaining performances of “Édith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies” but several of these are sold out.  Limited tickets are still available for Friday, Jan 16 (8 PM); Sat, Jan 17 (2 PM and 8 PM) and Sunday, Jan 18 (2 PM).  Cinnabar Theater is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Buy tickets online here.  For more information, visit cinnabartheater.org.

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January 6, 2015 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinnabar Theater’s “Of Mice and Men,” through April 13, 2014

 

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” starring Samson Hood (left) as Lennie and Keith Baker (right) as George.  The unlikely friends drift from job to job across the farms and fields of California, holding fast to their dream of one day having an acre of land they can call their own.  Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents John Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” starring Samson Hood (left) as Lennie and Keith Baker (right) as George. The unlikely friends drift from job to job across the farms and fields of California, holding fast to their dream of one day having an acre of land they can call their own. Photo by Eric Chazankin)

The 1937 New York Times review of the Broadway stage production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” reads “If the story were callously told, the conclusion might be unbearable. But Mr. Steinbeck has told it with both compassion and dexterity…In the bunkhouse of a ranch in CA, the story ensnares rootless lives and expands into dreams of a glorious deliverance. (Brooks Atkinson , original review Nov 24, 1937, NYT, p. 20.) It’s now seventy-seven years later and the play, performed at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater under the tight direction of Sherri Lee Miller, delivers all the potency and magic that it had back in the Great Depression when audiences could personally relate to the bleak life of migrant workers. Most of us read the novella in high school and were under strict pressure to knock out an essay on some aspect of Lennie and George’s relationship. Revisiting the story and its archetypal characters as adults is another experience all together. Miller has pulled together a team of impeccable actors who bring these tragic characters to life and revitalize their struggles. The audience on opening evening was squirming with anticipation and revulsion at the injustice of Lennie’s plight, the imploding of dreams and the ugly, unquestioned racism of the times. ­­

Set in the 1930’s, the play is carefully staged by Joe Elwick to reflect the grit and sparseness of ranch-hand life in Salinas Valley at the time. From the opening scenes at the riverbank, marked by a simple line of rocks along the stage line, to the sturdy simplicity of the handcrafted log cabin bunk house, which serves as a humble home for the workers, to Crook’s isolated room in the hay barn; the set works both as a backdrop and catalyst. And in Cinnabar’s intimate space, it all makes for a near perfect experience. I’d be willing to bet that the Broadway revival opening in April at the Longacre Theatre with James Franco as Lennie has nothing over Cinnabar’s.

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring (L to R) Kevin Thomas Singer, Samson Hood, Tim Kniffin, and James Gagarin.  After the boss’s son Curley attacks Lennie for no good reason, Lennie squeezes Curley’s hand too hard and crushes it.  Slim tends to Curley while lumbering Lennie is shocked at what he has done.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring (L to R) Kevin Thomas Singer, Samson Hood, Tim Kniffin, and James Gagarin. After the boss’s son Curley attacks Lennie for no good reason, Lennie squeezes Curley’s hand too hard and crushes it. Slim tends to Curley while lumbering Lennie is shocked at what he has done. Photo by Eric Chazankin

The great pleasure in the production comes from watching Samson Hood embody Lennie, who is mentally challenged. It’s not much of a stretch for him physically—he’s a giant of a man with huge hands and a lumbering gate that already speak volumes. But the magic is in his thoroughly convincing facial expressions and the absolute sincerity of his child-like delivery, whether he’s hunched over and trying to hide that he has stroked his little mouse to death, or is excitedly dreaming of raising rabbits and living off the fat of the land or is spilling secrets that he’s been asked to keep quiet about. Kind-hearted and simple Lennie doesn’t understand the power of his own strength or the complexity of the world or the ugliness of human nature and he is completely dependent on George to navigate his course.

 As George, Keith Baker, is an intriguing combo of protective caregiver and a go-getter with big dreams. He is gruff and impatient with Lennie one moment and then, after lashing out, he whips back to tender and sentimental. The friendship is exacts a heavy toll on George who must constantly protect and cover up for George as they drift from job to job holding on to their dream.

James Gagarin plays Curley, the ranch-owner’s son with such spite and fury towards everyone that we shudder with revulsion and feel no empathy him when his hand is crushed accidentally by Lennie.

As one-armed Candy, Steinbeck’s for foil the aged and abandoned, Clark Miller manages to convincingly convey the pain of isolation and physical frailty. The scene involving the shooting of his ancient and beloved dog will tug at your conscious. It’s made all the more dramatic by the using a real dog who is old but not so decrepit as to be near death. The idea of shooting it to put it out of its misery seems wrong and is one of the play’s more dramatic moments, beautifully navigated by Clark Miller and by Anthony Abaté who plays callous Carlson with bone-chilling precision.

After the loss of his dog, Candy has nothing to live for but after he overhears George and Lennie discussing the farm, he offers them his life savings (some $250) to go in on the farm and he has something to fix his dreams on. Steinbeck’s play is full of dreaming and, in contrast, the harsh reality of the life of itinerant workers. The men poor their blood and sweat into keeping up the owner’s ranch for a minimal wage and three daily meals—work may keep a man honest but the capitalist system is stacked against the worker who toils his entire life and never advances.

As Crooks, the black stable hand who is forced to live in the barn, Dorian Lockett is cagey, defensive and so disempowered that he is wary of everyone. The repeated use of the word “nigger” predictably drew cringes from the Cinnabar audience who had empathy for Crooks’ plight and recognized his insightfulness and warmth once he let his guard down and began to dream of a place, a piece of land, where he too could be free.

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring Dorian Lockett as Crooks.  Photo by Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma presents Steinbeck’s masterpiece “Of Mice and Men,” featuring Dorian Lockett as Crooks. Photo by Eric Chazankin

Ilana Niernberger, Curly’s vulgar wife does a marvelous job of guiding the audience through a love-hate relationship with her. At first, she appears to be a tart who flirts shamelessly with the workers and is interested in stepping out on her new husband Curly. In the barn, alone with the men, we see her vulnerability and that she is lonely and craves emotional attachment and conversation. Her flirtatious nature ushers in the play’s tragic climax. When she coaxes Lennie to stroke her hair, she finally and fatally understands that he is not able to gauge the power in his touch. Her screams for help only worsen things. As Lennie covers her mouth and tells her to be quiet, he breaks her neck.

The play’s emotional trajectory goes from hope in the American Dream to the shattering of that hope. Cinnabar has taken this great classic and elegantly brought it to life.

Run-time: Two hours and 20 min, including one intermission

Creative Team: Of Mice and Men stars Keith Baker and Samson Hood as the famous friends, George and Lennie. The ensemble of talented actors also features Anthony Abaté (Carlson), James Gagarin (Curley), Tim Kniffin (Slim), Dorian Lockett (Crooks), Clark Miller (Candy), Ilana Niernberger (Curley’s wife), Kevin Singer (Whit), and Barton Smith (The Boss). Directed by Sheri Lee Miller.

Design Team: Joe Elwick (scenery), Pat Fitzgerald (costumes), Wayne Hovey (lights), Jim Peterson (sound). This production is generously underwritten by Sandra O’Brien and Elly Lichenstein.

Details: Of Mice and Men  has been extended an additional week through April 13, 2014, at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma, CA 94952. Performances: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets: $15 for ages 21 and under; $25 for adults. Purchase tickets online here or call Cinnabar’s Box Office at 707 763-8920 between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM on weekdays. Tickets may also be available at the door 15 minutes prior to each performance, but pre-purchase is recommended as Cinnabar shows tend to sell out!   For more information about Cinnabar Theater — www.cinnabartheater.org .

March 26, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment