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

review: “La Cage aux Folles”—lively, hilarious, heartfelt—at Cinnabar Theater through November 10, 2013

Cinnabar Theater has sold so many tickets for its risqué production of “La Cage aux Folles” that it has extended the musical through November 10, 2013.  The exotic Cagelles make their first appearance as mysterious silhouettes behind transparent screens.  Photo: Eric Chazankin)

Cinnabar Theater has sold so many tickets for its risqué production of “La Cage aux Folles” that it has extended the musical through November 10, 2013. The exotic Cagelles make their first appearance as mysterious silhouettes behind transparent screens. Photo: Eric Chazankin)

There’s a tender story of family at the heart of the Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein multi Tony-award-winning musical comedy La Cage aux Folles and Cinnabar Theater’s revival, which opened last weekend, plays it to perfection.  That makes two hits in a row for Cinnabar’s 41st season and, having recently fulfilled their subscription goal by a whopping 168 percent, the future’s looking bright for the small theatre company in Petaluma’s old school house.

This is the West Coast premiere of the revised score of La Cage aux Folles which was developed for the 2008 award-winning London revival.   In 2010, this version moved on to accolades on Broadway and the West End.  The original songs, with their emotionally grabbing lyrics, are all still there and the story, with some slight tweaks, is still intact.  Under the careful stage direction and choreography of Sheri Lee Miller and musical direction of Mary Chun, Cinnabar’s production literally soars.

For La Cage, Cinnabar’s stage has been transformed into the Saint-Tropez night club La Cage aux Folles replete with magical dancing Cagelles (chorus line) in glorious drag— J. Anthony Favalora, Jean-Paul Jones, Quinn Monroe, Cavatina Osingski, and Zack Turner.  By way of opening remarks, Cinnabar’s new Executive Director, Terence Keane, challenges the audience to guess who among the Cagelles is male and who is female.  In most cases, it’s a tough call as the make-up and acting are that good.  The production starts off artfully and doesn’t let up with the creativity or energetic rush—the Cagelles first appear as mysterious curvaceous silhouettes behind transparent screens which they then burst out of as they dance and sing “We Are What We Are,” with Georges joining in.

The story, which some audiences found shocking 33 years ago, is now a classic— Nightclub owner Georges (Stephen Walsh) and transvestite performer Albin/Zaza (Michael Van Why) have been married for more than 20 years.  Georges is also Albin’s manager.  Together they have raised Jean-Michel (Kyle Stoner), Georges’ son, the unexpected result of a one night stand with a gorgeous show girl named Sybil.  Jacob, the couple’s live-in transvestite butler, who dresses as a maid, played by the hysterically funny James Pelican, has also helped raise the boy.  When 24-year-old Jean-Michel arrives at their doorstep to announce he has fallen in love with Anne (Audrey Tatum), Georges can hardly believe that his boy is marrying a woman.  He has even more trouble accepting that Anne is the daughter of the bigoted Minister of Moral Standards, Edouard Dindon (Stephen Dietz) (who would eradicate homosexuals entirely if possible) and that the intended in-laws—Edouard and his wife Marie (Madeleine Ashe)—are coming to their house for dinner.  But it is Jean-Michel’s request that Albin not be present when the prospective in-laws visit and that their blaringly gay apartment be re-decorated that puts the household in a tizzy.

Anchoring the show is Michael Van Why’s pitch perfect performance as Albin / ZaZa, a role he reprises and seems born to.  In Act I, he comes off as a grand, self-involved diva but very soon it’s evident he’s quite maternal, compassionate and a more than a tad fragile navigating the pitfalls of middle age.  Half the fun in this production is watching Albin don various outfits and moods.  He actually dresses less flamboyantly than in some productions of La Cage but with a twist of his finger and sideways glance, he really works it.  That face, with those huge doe eyes, is hard to resist and Van Why, a classically trained singer, can really carry a tune.  From his opening solo “A Little More Mascara” to his numerous duets with Walsh, he is a joy to behold.

Stephen Walsh (left) is Georges and Michael Van Why is Albin/ZaZa in Cinnabar Theater’s poignant production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Stephen Walsh (left) is Georges and Michael Van Why is Albin/ZaZa in Cinnabar Theater’s poignant production of “La Cage aux Folles.” (Photo by Eric Chazankin)

Stephen Walsh is also amazing as Georges.  His on stage chemistry with Van Why is palpable and his tenderly rendered “Song in the Sand” and “Look Over There” are aching love songs we can all relate to.  The performance serves as a kind of opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in the past 30 years in our acceptance of gay and alternative lifestyles, so much so that many of the songs which may have once been provocative are now anthems of pride.

The couple is bolstered by a strong supportive cast, all of whom seem to be having the time of their life. One of the funniest moments happens when the supposedly uber-conservative Marie Dindon, played delightfully by petite Madeleine Ashe, discovers that the plates in the redecorated apartment (where they are supposed to be having a “normal” dinner in a “normal” home) are embossed in gold with homoerotic love scenes.  Out pops the tigress in her and she’s not getting back into the cage without a good romp.  Another standout is the vivacious Valentina Osinski as the celebrated restaurateur, Jacqueline.  And what a pleasure to see Cinnabar’s Artistic Director, Elly Lichenstein, who has opera in her veins, take to the stage as the delightful Madame Renaud and sing, beaming with pride at the magic that surrounds her.

Cinnabar’s Music Director Mary Chun is usually conducting Cinnabar’s small orchestra, but for La Cage, she plays the piano vibrantly and queues from the bench.   The clear stand-out, though, is trumpet player Daniel Gianola-Norris  whose numerous solos, some muted and some not, produced an evocative sound that left me wanting more. Gianola-Norris is a trumpet teacher at Santa Rosa Junior College and owns and operates “Music to My Ears,” a music education center located in Cotati.

David Clay’s inspiring costumes, which include an array of sensual form-fitting evening gowns and di rigueur glam accessories, make this modest budget production seem like a million bucks.

Cinnabar Theatre, with its warm feel and exceptional acting, is the best kept secret in the Bay Area.  The charming theatre seats just 99 people and there’s nothing more wonderful than attending a spectacular performance that unfolds just a few feet before your eyes. Added to that are special touches, like the delicious homemade cookies and brownies served at intermission, which are outrageously priced at just $1, and the good vibe community feeling that permeates the place. It’s almost impossible not to have a great time.

Run time: Two hours and twenty minutes.

Book by Harvey Fierstein / Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman / Based on the play by Jean Poiret.

Details: La Cage aux Folles has been extended through November 10, 2013.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets: $35 for adults and $25 for ages 21 and under.  Purchase tickets online at www.cinnabartheater.org, or call 707.763-8920 from Monday through Friday between 10 AM and 3 PM.  Advance ticket purchase is essential as this show is selling out rapidly.   Sat Oct 26 and Sun 27 are sold out.  Seating is general admission and the theatre opens about 30 minutes prior to each performance.

Cinnabar Theater is located 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, at the intersection with Skillman Lane, Petaluma, CA 94952.

Cinnabar’s Production Team:  Music Director—Mary Chun, Stage Director and Choreographer—Sheri Lee Miller, Scenic Designer—David Lear, Costumes—Clay David, Lighting Designer—Wayne Hovey

The Cast: Albin / ZaZa—Michael Van Why, Georges—Stephen Walsh; Jacob— James Pelican; Jean-Michel—Kyle Stoner; Anne—Audrey Tatum, Jacqueline—Valentina Osinski, Monsieur Dindon—Stephen Dietz; Mademoiselle Dindon—Madeleine Ashe; Monsieur Renaud—Clark Miller; Mademoiselle Renaud—Elly Lichenstein

Cagelles (Chorus Line)— J. Anthony Favalor—Sassy Sparkles, Jean-Paul Jones—Chantal, Quinn Monroe —Mercedes, Cavatina Osingski—Hannah from Hamburg), and Zack Turner—Anita Spotlight

October 24, 2013 Posted by | Dance, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Daughter of the Red Tzar,” a new chamber opera exploring Churchill and Stalin’s relationship through the eyes of Stalin’s teenaged daughter—starring Sebastopol Tenor John Duykers as Winston Churchill—has its world premiere tonight at San Francisco’s Thick House

Sebastopol tenor John Duykers is Winston Churchill and baritone Scott Graff is Stalin in the world premiere of Lisa Scola Prosek’s new opera “Daughter of the Red Tzar,” at Thick House is San Francisco through September 2, 2012. Photo: Natalie S. Moran

As Winston Churchill  prepared to meet Stalin face to face for the first time in the summer of 1942, he knew that their encounter would be tense.  Stalin was furious with the Western Allies.  He believed that they were doing little to help the Soviets, who faced the steady advance of Hitler’s army across the Russian steppes towards the oil rich Caucasus.  And although Churchill loathed the Communist state, and was aware of its mass murder, slave camps and starvation, he needed the tyrannical Stalin to hold off the Germans so that England would survive the war.  Probably as an icebreaker, Stalin’s 16-year-old daughter Svetlana, nicknamed “little sparrow,” was present for her father’s historic all-night meeting with Churchill where these two iconic leaders would cut the deal that sealed the fate of the world.   Set against this historic backdrop, another intrigue was unfolding—Svetlana Stalin had fallen in love that same summer with an older married man, Alexei Kapler, a dashing intellectual and screenwriter, whom her father despised.

Stalin promptly exiled Svetlana’s beloved Kapler to Siberia for 10 years, accuisn ghim of being a German spy, and Svetlana’s life took on a trajectory that was nothing short of operatic.  She suffered two failed marriages in Russia and then, when Satlin died in 1952, she lost her wealth and status.  She married a third time and defected to the West in 1967  where she survived an assassination plot, wrote a best-selling novel and became a powerful American propaganda tool in the Cold War, and married the noted American architect William Wesley Peters with whom she had a daughter.  She split from Peters and moved back to Moscow briefly and then on to Soviet Georgia and then back to the States where she lived in relative obscurity as Lana Peters and died from Colon cancer in a sleepy rest home in Wisconsin, in November 2011, at age 85.

Marin composer Lisa Scola-Prosek first envisioned Svetlana’s story as an opera while reading Churchill’s and Svetlana’s memoirs and decided to frame the story around the historic Stalin-Churchill meeting.  Working with director, Missy Weaver, the two drew from historical sources to fashion a libretto for “Daughter of the Red Tzar,” that is poetic, surreal and absurdly comic.  San Francisco’s Thick House Theater, in the Portreo District, will provide an intimate setting for this world premiere love story set amidst paranoid secrecy and wartime intrigue.

Acclaimed Sebastopol tenor John Duykers stars as Winston Churchill and baritone Scott Graff tackles the role Stalin.  Mezzo-soprano Crystal Phillippi is Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, and bass-baritone Philip Skinner, a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, plays Kapler, her married older lover.  Mezzo-soprano Valentina Osinskiportrays Nadya, the ghost of Svetlana’s dead mother, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who was found dead in her bed with a revolver in her hand.  Martha Stoddard conducts and Missy Weaver directs.

The modern yet lyrical musical score draws upon the rich cultures of Georgia, Britain and Russia, with folk classics from the Soviet era. A chamber ensemble features violin, cello, mandolin, accordion, piano and percussion.

“I have had a great time creating this role,” said John Duykers.  “It is well written by Lisa Scola Prosek, and exciting to perform with our excellent cast.  The research for this piece has been very eye-opening, learning more about what really happened during the second World War, and gaining a deeper understanding of Churchill and Stalin.  This is a very stimulating project”.

Dukers is well known for his role as Chairman Mao Tse-Tung in the 1987 world premiere of John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China.”  He also created and sang in the opera theatre production “Caliban Dreams,” which had a run at the El Cerrito Theatre for the Performing Arts and was performed twice last August at Sonoma State University’s Person Theatre (Read ARThound’s 8.10.2011 coverage of Duyker’s “Caliban Dreams” here.)  Duykers is respected for his fine acting ability.  When I interviewed him for “Caliban Dreams,” in August 2011, he spoke of opera as an art form in transition and referred to his production as opera theatre rather than traditional opera.  “It’s not about people standing around singing arias and more about theatre.”

Not only is Duykers a principal singer in the opera, he’s also a co-director, along with his wife producer/dramaturg, Missy Weaver, of First Look Sonoma, one of the opera’s presenting organizations.  First Look Sonoma is a new entertainment company devoted to developing new vocal works, especially by emerging composers.

Tiburon-based composer/writer Lisa Scola Prosek talks about the inspiration for her opera, “Daughter Of The Red Tzar,” which has its world premiere tonight in San Francisco.

Details:  “Daughter of the Red Tzar” has its world premiere, Friday, August 24, 2012 at 8 p.m. followed by five repeat performances: Saturday, August 25; Sunday, August 26; Friday, August 31; Saturday, September 1; and Sunday, September 2, 2012—all at 8 p.m.  Thick House Theatre is located at 1695 18th Street (between Carolina and Arkansas Streets) in San Francisco. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/251891. For more information, check www.scholavox.org.

August 24, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment