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Geneva Anderson digs into art

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.

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

Opera review: Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” a new production that is sure to ignite your passions, through April 15, 2012

Baritone Anders Froehlich is the captivating Don Giovanni in Mozart’s enduring classic of the same name which opened at Cinnabar Theatre on March 23, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

When Cinnabar Theatre cast baritone Anders Froehlich for the title role in their new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the classic retelling of the Don Juan legend, they were half way home.  Not only can Froelich sing, but he has the physique of a lean and muscled Romeo.  And, he so convincingly plays the part of Mozart’s suave, seductive, and morally reprehensible aristocrat, that it’s pure pleasure to sit back and experience being seduced by him.  Add to that baritone Eugene Walden’s remarkable performance as Leporello, Giovanni’s faithful but grumbling sidekick, and this production soars.  Truth be told, the entire cast is superb, the music is glorious and the production is so creative that it represents the opera’s tremendous dramatic possibilities as well a small theatre company at it best.

Soprano Kelly Britt, a 2011 graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, makes her Cinnabar Theatre debut as Donna Anna in Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni,” which runs through April 15, 2012. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the most amazing aspects of this 225 year-old opera is that it is so filled with fabulous ambiguities, that almost every production emphasizes something different.  Cinnabar’s production, staged by Elly Lichtenstein, gives us a Don Giovanni whose beguiling and complex personality is matched by the equally complex women he encounters.  After the opening night performance, I found myself ruminating on these women—what they represented in their time and what they bring to the table in the here and now.  There’s the unhinged young Donna Anna (soprano Kelly Britt), who has, in the very least, been ravished by Don Giovanni and is mourning the death of her father, who was murdered trying to defend her honor.  Normally, she’s depicted as icy cold and hell-bent on retaliation. Here, we also see her warmth and humanity.  There’s matronly Donna Elvira (mezzo soprano Eileen Morris) who has been jilted by Giovanni and she too seeks revenge and but, beneath the hurt, she still loves him and can’t free herself of her co-dependent obsession.  When she tries to protect young Zerlina from Giovanni’s reckless ways, we see a preservation instinct that we wish she’d exercise on herself.  There’s the young peasant girl Zerlina (soprano Emma McNairy), who loves Masetto but is also taken in by the suave Giovanni’s proclamations and the high life he represents.  She wants both men and, for a moment, deludes herself into thinking that this can work.  And then there is the chorus of women, voluptuous nymphs in all shapes and sizes, writhing in full sensual abandon with each other and with Don Giovanni.  The opera’s rich comic and tragic elements are driven by all these interactions and Lichtenstein has really made Giovanni’s journey—to eternal damnation—one riveting ride.

Don Giovanni (baritone Anders Froehlich, right) attempts to seduce the young peasant girl Zerlina (Soprano Emma McNairy, left) at her own wedding party. Photo: Eric Chazankin

23 year-old soprano Emma McNairy was delightful as Zerlina.   Winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s 2011 Voice Concerto Competition, McNairy’s expressive voice shows incredible range and she has a commanding stage presence. And did she snap into character!  She played Zerlina as sweet and crafty, bringing a refreshing and realistic complexity to the role.  Her pairing with William O’Neill as Masetto, her hunky intended, produced some of the opera’s most fiery moments, another example of the sizzling chemistry that makes this production pop.

Soprano Kelly Britt as Donna Anna was striking—her distinctive voice was smooth, powerful, and evocative.  From the moment she appeared, she displayed a whirlwind of emotional extremes that made the impact of Donna Anna’s rape, or ravishing, by Don Giovanni and the sudden death of her father seem very real.   The twenty-three year-old has that extra something coursing through her that produces a riveting sound, not yet honed to perfection but on its way, and that’s very exciting to experience.

First to appear and last to utter a solo, baritone Eugene Walden was a thoroughly engaging Leporello.   One of the opera’s most humorous moments occurred during his lighthearted “Catalog Aria,” (Madamina, il catalogo è questo) (Act I, Scene v).  As the beleaguered Leporello sings the amazing tally of his boss’s conquests to Donna Elvira, he pulls out a seemingly endless accordion book, chock full of women’s faces and descriptive notes, and flings it towards Donna Elvira.  This gesture so captivates and infuriates her that she engages in a tug of war with him over the book.  This is just one of Elly Lichtenstein’s clever and amusing touches whose effect is priceless.  Another of these magical moments occurs with the famous balcony serenade at the beginning of Act II.  Just behind the singer and through a widow, we see a very seductive striptease occurring between two voluptuous women in silhouette—the scene is gorgeously back lit and has all the resonant flair of a fan dance.  As the women almost get it on, you can feel the heat rising in the audience.  The sensuality is carried through to the famous banquet scene, done wine country style, with Giovanni dining on plump grapes and scantily-clad women.  In the opera’s final chilling scene, the powerfully built John Minágro, who makes a very commanding Commendatore, now turned singing statue, comes to swoop Don Giovanni to his just desserts—hell.  Froelich’s Don Giovanni’s is so intoxicating that, even on his way to hell, he still gets to us.

Cinnabar Theatre’s “Don Giovanni,” has inventive props. Here baritone Eugene Walden, Leporello, sings his famous “catalog aria” to Eileen Morris, Donna Elvira, and flings a seemingly endless accordion-style book that documents his boss’s many romantic conquests. Photo: Eric Chazankin

One of the pleasures of the hearing Mozart’s dramatic music played in the intimate 99 seat setting that Cinnabar offers is that every musician stands out.   Conductor Mary Chun and the orchestra of 10 did a valiant job, offering an elegant and cohesive blending with the voices on stages, but at times the sound seemed understated.  I had never heard the opera sung in English before, which is the only opera experience that Cinnabar Theatre provides, keeping with founder Martin Klebe’s wish to make opera accessible to all audiences.  The main advantage is an immediate understanding of the story, which means it’s very easy to take it all in and you’re not scrambling with translation.  If you know the opera in Italian, its beloved arias such as There, we will entwine  our hands (Là ci darem la mano), (Act I, between Zerlina and Giovanni) are made all the more enjoyable by singing them in Italian in your mind and checking your Italian against the English as you go.

Music by W.A. Mozart, Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, Sung in English (da Ponte’s full translation/libretto translation of Don Giovanni is available free online here.)

Mary Chun artistic director/conductor; Elly Lichtenstein, Stage Director

 

The Cast, in order of appearance: 

Leporello— servant to Don Giovanni, Eugene Walden

Don Giovanni—Anders Froehlich

Donna Anna—Kelly Britt

The Commendatore, Anna’s father—John Minágro

Don Ottavio, Anna’s fiancé—Mark Kratz

Cinnabar Theatre’s production of “Don Giovanni,” is staged and lit ingeniously. Here baritone Anders Froehlich, as Don Giovanni, sings against a dramatically back-lit window where silhouettes of sensuous delights unfold before the audience. Photo: Eric Chazankin

Donna Elvira—Eileen Morris

Zerlina— Emma McNairy

Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé— William O’Neill

Sandrina, Leporello’s love—Arden Kwan

Paul Gilger, set design; Wayne Hovey lighting design, Tracy Hinman Sigrist, costume design, Barton Smith, choreography

 

Underwritten by Frank and Mary Lou Schomer and The A to Z Concert series.

Details:  Cinnabar Theatre is located at 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North (at Skillman Lane), Petaluma, CA, 94952.  Tickets online: $35 General, $32 Seniors 65 & Over, $25 Age 22 & Under.  Tickets also be purchased before the performance but pre-purchase of tickets is  highly recommended as the theatre is small.  Early arrival is also recommended as there is no assigned seating.   For more information, call 707-763-8920 or visit http://www.cinnabartheater.org

Run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

There are 5 remaining performances:  Wednesday April 4, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 7, 2012, at 8 p.m. Friday, April 13, 2012, at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 15, 2012, at 2 p.m.

April 3, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment