Review: World premiere of two one act plays — ‘Remember the I-Hotel’ and ‘Presenting . . . The Monstress’ (***)
Based on short stories by Filipino-American San Francisco author Lysley Tenorio, Monstress is an evening of two one act plays (“Remember the I-Hotel” by Philip Kan Gotanda and “Presenting . . . The Monstress” by Sean San José) exploring Filipino-American experience. The plays are both humorous and touching, skillfully directed by A.C.T. artistic director Carey Perloff, with excellent performances from the actors.
The International Hotel was, for many years, home to generations of Filipino immigrants in San Francisco. In the 1970s, there was an infamous eviction of nearly 200 tenants when a new owner purchased the building. In “Remember the I-Hotel,” a story is told that imagines the lives of two roommates in the hotel over many years. Their lives reflect the shared experience of Filipino Americans in San Francisco, as well as their highly personal love stories. One is gay and in love with the other (who allows one drunken kiss when they first meet); the other falls in love with a white woman with disastrous consequences. As the two very different roommates, Olgie Zulueta as Vincent and Jomar Tagatac as Nado, give outstanding performances. Zulueta captures the fire of handsome Vincent whose charismatic courage leads to his downfall and Tagatac does an excellent job of communicating Nado’s secret longings, his struggle with a surprising betrayal, and his deep sense of loyalty. These two are well supported by Kelsey Venter as Vincent’s girlfriend, Althea, and fine ensemble work by Melody Butiu and Nick Gabriel.
“Presenting . . . The Monstress” is a comic contrast to the seriousness of the first play, and it’s very funny, indeed, though with serious underlying themes on the nature of marriage and the importance of one’s self image. Checkers (Sean San José), a charming and lovable loser, is a passionate maker of B horror films in Manilla, whose trashy pictures — always starring his beautiful wife as various monsters — are facing competition from Hollywood and putting his barely sustainable career at stake. Checkers is astounded when a Californa filmmaker (Gaz Gazman, played by Nick Gabriel) offers him money for footage and even invites him to come to California — not Hollywood but just north of San Jose —to collaborate on a new film. The excited Checkers persuades his wife to accept the offer. The resulting amateurish efforts at filmmaking in the basement of Gaz’s mother’s suburban home lead to some very funny stuff. It’s a sweet and funny story, with a nice touch of romance. It is a special treat to see Olgie Zulueta and Jomar Tagatac from the previous play reappearing among a chorus of goofy narrators, playing parts that offer a striking contrast to their appearances in “Remember The I-Hotel.”
Lesley Tenorio’s short stories give themselves well to the stage, and playwrights Philp Kay Gotanda and Sean San José have brought them to life effectively. Nina Ball’s beautifully realized set and Lydia Tanji’s fine costume designs (especially the ridiculous monster outfits in “Presenting . . . The Monstress”) add a lot to the proceedings.
“Remember the I-Hotel” and “Presenting . . . The Monstress” play at A.C.T.’s Strand Theatre through November 22, 2015. For futher information, click here.
“Remember the I-Hotel” by Philip Kan Gotanda and “Presenting . . . The Monstress” by Sean San José, based on short stories by Lysley Tenorio. Director: Carey Perloff. Lighting Design: Robert Hand. Costume Design: Lydia Tanji. Set Design: Nina Ball. Sound Design: Jake Rodriguez.
Cast: Tala/Ensemble: Rinabeth Apostol. Riva/Singer: Melody Butiu. Gaz Gazman/Ensemble: Nick Gabriel. Ensemble/Understudy: Melissa Locsin. Checkers/Ensemble: Sean San José. Mata/Fortunado: Jomar Tagatac.Ensemble/Althea: Kelsey Venter (after October 18, Danielle Frimer). Dala/Vicente: Olgie Zulueta.
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Review: U.S. premiere of ‘For The Love of Comrades’ by Micheál Kerrigan at New Conservatory Theater Center
Imagine a rough and tumble coal miners’ strike in West Virginia, in the Appalachians, during the reign of Ronald Reagan. Then imagine a bunch of queers from San Francisco sending those miners money and support, and taking the striking miners into their homes while the union is protesting, during a whole year. Then, the gay guys go to West Virginia to help out the miners’ families, too, and throw fundraisers in the Castro. Well, that’s the story of what happened in Thatcher’s England and Wales, in 1984 — during the bitter, year-long Welsh miners strike. The ultimate results were a losing battle for the miners, but enduring long-term mutual support and understanding between two very separate communities. After that gay support, the miners of Wales marched with gay people for their rights in the UK, for many years.
The miners ’84 struggle against Thatcher-ism, and their coming round to comradeship with London gays is the story of “For the Love of Comrades” by Micheál Kerrigan, now playing at NCTC in San Francisco. Rarely has a political drama come out of such “strange bedfellows.” The Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) campaign inspired the 2014 film, Pride, as well as Kerrigan’s play that opened in Northern Ireland in 2013, and toured the U.K. on the 30th anniversary of the strike. Now, at New Conservatory Theater Center, directed by Jeffrey Hoffman, the story comes to the U.S., with Script Development by Patricia Byrne and Mary Connors.
The single set, a homey, cluttered apartment in London, all done up in 80s political posters, music, and paraphanalia, works well to put us back in the time of the Iron Lady Thatcher and her buddy, Reagan, who had viciously broken the air controllers as his first act. In this US Premiere of the play formerly called “Pits and Perverts” — after a gay fund-raiser concert for the miners, Sean (Mike Duffield) and Gene (Stephen McFarland) play a believable, conflicted, and troubled couple. Sean is convincing and courageous in his ardent, passionate support for the miners, who are living on the edge, making national protests against their brutal treatment. Sean is a young man with a cause, played forcefully and powerfully by Duffield. As his boyfriend, a music major, facing his final thesis/concert, McFarland gives a superb rendering of a nervous young musician/scholar coming to understand his lover’s political passions. MacFarland slowly and believably comes round to hosting the two miners who appear on their doorstep for extended stays, a beautiful turn of events in both actors’ capable hands.
The two miners who seek refuge in their place, David (Shane Fahy), and Rhys (Paul Rodrigues) are predictably put off when they realize their hosts and benefactors are “poofs.” One of the glories of the historically-based play turns out to be the slow and subtle conversion of first, David, and then the severely homophobic Rhys from fear to friendship with the gay guys. It’s really lovely to watch the transformation — believable, touching, and sensitively done. David is converted by art and music and friendship to the gay cause. The touchy Rhys is beautifully embodied by Rodriguez, worried about his wife and kids back in Wales; but he comes to understand his benefactors, however unwillingly. Touching and emotional acting here, a pleasure to watch unfold. Kerrigan shows us that those who are oppressed and exploited must join each other to survive and win — across class and cultural chasms.
The ghost of Sean’s lover who was killed in the Bloody Sunday uprising of 1971, played by Adam Odsess-Rubin comes and goes, putting Sean into fits of painful memories and insecurity. While Gene’s friend and music student Candida (Alyssa Stone) serves as a useful foil. She has middle class beliefs and has fallen for Thatcher’s anti-union progaganda. Kerrigan lets her conversion unfold slowly, as well, perhaps less convincingly than the down-to-earth miners. Great accents throughout remind us that we are in a foreign but fact-driven story. The narrative and the TV-news shots of the actual events of 1984 Britain are usually helpful backdrops, but not always. The TV reports inform us about a complex and significant strike and the long-lasting unity of “pits and perverts.” When the miners return the favor and march in Gay Rights protests, we see that the whole historical story proves that “the love of comrades” really works.
“For the Love of Comrades”by Micheál Kerrigan, at New Conservatory Theater Center through October 11, 2015. For further information click here.
“For the Love of Comrades” by Micheál Kerrigan, wth script development by Patricia Byrne and Mary Connors, U.S. premiere produced by New Conservatory Theater Center. Director: Jeffrey Hoffman. Sound: James Ard. Costume: Corrida Carr. Dialect Coach: Jenna May Cass. Scenic & Technical: Devin Kasper. Lighting: Christian V. Mejia. Stage Manager: Kaitlin Rosen. Props: Adeline Smith. Vocal Coach: Joe Wicht.
Sean: Miles Duffield. David/Lieutenant: Shane Fahy. Gene: Stephen McFarland. Jim: Adam Odsess-Rubin. Rhys/Soldier: Paul Rodrigues. Candida: Alyssa Stone.
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by Charles Kruger
Although Verdi, is of course, one of the towering giants of the operatic repertoire, Luisa Miller is a lesser work, best known for being a transitional piece that introduces Verdi’s “middle period” of masterpieces, including the much better known and well-loved “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata.”
Although it does not boast the irresistably memorable melodies for which the later Verdi is so well-loved, it has many typical elements including rousing choral passeges, sympathetic working people vs a corrupt aristocracy, and beautiful arias allowing opportunities for classic bel canto performance.
The current production is pleasant enough, and boasts beautiful staging and some lovely singing, but it fails to generate very much excitement.
Michael Yeargan’s design succeeds extremely well. Not trying to be realistic, he incorporates paintings and simple set pieces —a primitive bed to represent the home of the poor young heroine — beautiful tapestries and fine statuary to represent the palace of the duke. The mostly empty stage allows for fluid movement between the various settings and for the chorus to be presented in a simple, straightforward manner that suits the music well.
As Luisa, Leah Crocetto has several moments where she demonstrates a fine virtuosity, but for the most part her singing and acting are workmanlike. As her lover Rodolfo, Michael Fabiano fares much better, receiving the evening’s longest and most enthusiastic ovations, which are well-deserved.
The choral passages are well performed under the direction of Ian Robertson and the orchestra demonstrates its usual competence as conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
This is an opera that will neither bore nor thrill, but will certainly be of interest to fans of Verdi who will be pleased to see a less-often performed work by the master.
Luisa Miller plays for one more matinee performance at the War Memorial Opera House on September 27. For further information click here.
“Luisa Miller” by Guiseppe Verdi, text by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play “Kabale and Liebe” by Friedrich Schiller, produced by SF Opera. Director: Laurie Feldman. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Production: Francesca Zambello. Set Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Dunya Ramicova. Lighting Designer: Gary Marder. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Choreographer: Lawrence Pech. Fight Director: Dave Maier.
Laura: Jacqueline Piccolino. Miller: Vitaliy Bilyy. Luisa Miller: Leah Crocetto. Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano. Wurm: Andrea Silvestrelli. Count Walter: Daniel Sumegi. Federica: Ekaterina Semenchuk. A peasant: ChristopherJackson.
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One of the most moving stories from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima is that of Sadako Sasaki. An infant at the time of the bombing, she later developed leukemia, and as a dying 12 year old embraced the myth that promises a wish will be granted to one who folds 1,000 paper origami cranes. Sadly, she died before completing the task, but her inspiration lives on. In JC Lee’s fantasy, “Crane”, he integrates the 1,000 cranes narrative with another myth in which a crane weaves brilliant tapestries from her own feathers for a man who rescued her from injury.
Lee’s Sadako is a young woman who feels trapped in her home and escapes because she feels the need to fly. In her quest, she trudges through snow-covered mountain passes and comes upon a cabin occupied by Bradley, an artist who previously had breakout success but can no longer produce marketable work. Eventually, Sadako will produce beautiful tapestries for him to claim as his own, but only if Bradley never watches her work.
As Sadako, Monica Ho creates an empathetic character. Sadako is cynical about people’s motivations and reveals a hardened view that all that is good requires sacrifice. Yet, Ho is embraceable. You care for her. With minimal change in facial expression, she elicits sympathy, and without changing her speech pattern, she makes a single word funny.
Unlike the strong Sadako, Bradley, played by Greg Ayers, is floundering. The gallery owner who had carried his tapestries has dumped him, and he is living hand to mouth. Ayer’s expression of anxiety is palpable. He conveys Bradley’s haplessness through sad expression and doleful speech. Though he is also a likeable character, what do we think of his taking credit for work that is not his? But is Sadako really a woman, or a bird, or a friendly fantasy that drives an artist’s revival?
Director Mina Morita has orchestrated the pieces of the drama deftly. The stage is largely comprised of step ladders, boxes, and other components that look like leftovers and back stage implements. But the backdrop is dominated by a glowing moon figure with a silhouetted leafless branches, providing a strong Asian look. A playful prop device is the injured bird, represented by an illuminated bulb covered with fluffy feathers that is raised and lowered from the fly. Another distinction is Sadako’s outfit, which is a brightly layered, reminiscent of another with avian connections who is on a quest – Papageno in “The Magic Flute”.
Leon Goertzen is in support as the gallery owner, with traits one might expect – flamboyant, self-indulgent, and condescending when shedding his client. But when he sees the new work and is astonished, he turns unctuous and supportive. Goertzen is very comfortable in all those expressions. Lily Tung Crystal portrays the disconsolate mother that Sadako leaves behind and the doctor that examines Sadako at Bradley’s behest. Her roles were limited in expressive range and stage time, but Crystal was as effective as required.
“Crane” does have some slow moments, but whatever dragging effect may have been exacerbated by the discomforting temperature in the theater on opening night. Otherwise, it is clever and engaging. Because the story is sourced from Japanese myths, it is full of generally accepted Japanese symbols. The text and staging lend themselves to revealing other possible tokens for additional interpretations, giving the work a rich complexity worthy of discussion.
“Crane” by JC Lee plays at NOH Space, San Francisco, through October 11. For further information, click here.
“Crane” by JC Lee, a world premiere produced by Ferocious Lotus Theatre Company. Director: Mina Morita. Scenic Design: Kuo-Hao Lo. Costume Design: Keiko Shimosato Carreiro. Lighting Design: Kevin Landesman. Sound Design: Emily Fassler. Properties Design: Yusuke Soi.
Bradley: Greg Ayers. Mother/Doctor: Lilly Tung Crystal. Gallery Owner: Leon Goertzen. Sadako: Monica Ho.
Ubuntu: A Bantu concept meaning the essence of being a person.
“I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.”
— Zulu Proverb
Ubuntu: The name given to the [Desmond] Tutu Foundation.
“Ubuntu [is] the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
— Desmond Tutu
Ubuntu: The inspiration for Oakland’s Ubuntu Theater Project.
The Ubuntu Theater Project has just completed its third year of summer long theater festivals, doing plays from Clifford Odets’ “Waiting for Lefty” to Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “The Brothers Size,” classic and contemporary works. How did I miss two whole summers of their plays? Well, I was teaching and traveling, but now I have time to enjoy what these Drama grads from UC San Diego have brought us. They have come up North to Oakland and partnered with actors and staff from Laney College. They are creating a new theater to serve all the people of Oakland and the Bay.
When I saw their powerful and lyrical version of “The Brothers Size” in the parking lot behind Dana Myers Auto Care on San Pablo Avenue on Albany, I became an instant convert to Ubuntu. Their work is precise, thoughtful, passionate, and hitting the mark on the crisis of our time. They are working with the best new playwrights and artists from the Bay Area.
So I went to meet three Directors at their cozy office on International Boulevard near Lake Merritt, to find out more from these inspired, hard-working young guys from UCSD, Sacramento, Oakland and all round. They can tell us what Ubuntu is all about, what they are doing up here for three summers, and what expect in Ubuntu’s upcoming full year season, starting in November.
Their Managing Director, tall and angular Colin Blattel, used to live in Sacramento, but has moved back to the East Bay to run Ubuntu. He is keenly devoted to the project, the people, and the mission of this unique project. He also appeared in their recent production of Clifford Odets’ 1935 masterpiece “Waiting for Lefty.” Colin comes from a non-profit administration background and is excited to run a theater company that produces powerful plays, and has the mission of sharing diverse works with new, local audiences. They are bringing exhilarating live performances to people of all ages and backgrounds. When you sit in a warehouse showroom, a car repair shop, or other non-traditional performance site and hear those stirring voices out of the U.S. past, local theater takes on unity and meaning, again. Ubuntu. Watching the carefully choreographed movements of “Waiting for Lefty,” for example, staged in a show room for classic automobiles, you feel like part of the action — just like the union worker and audiences did back in the Depression.
Their artistic team from UC San Diego, MFA School of Theater and Dance, has collaborated with Laney College’s Drama Dept. to provide an exciting mélange of local and visiting artists. The two Artistic Co-Directors are brilliant young actors, William Hodgson and Michael “Socrates” Moran, both Oakland natives who have come back to Oakland from La Jolla to found a new cooperative UC-Laney group that could possibly form the basis of a New Public Theater in Oakland —reinterpreting classics and new plays for a new generation. Sounds like what Joe Papp did for New York in their Public Theater about 30 or more years ago, serving a whole vast metropolitan audience. They are all fired up about making plays that speak to people now. Hodgson talks about “radical hospitality” in their work. They want to bridge the class divide in their theater projects, and bring drama back to the people who live it.
They have produced plays in airplane hangers, auto shops, and at Classic Cars West in Oakland. They have worked with actors who represent all of Oakland — all the racial and cultural groups. And they have produced precisely honed plays that speak to the inequalities and the injustices that we see everyday around us. They are making us one, first in the theater, and then in our lives.
Ubuntu has a mission and a goal, and they are executing it at the highest level. They are starting their first full Fall season in December, and we can look forward to more first class work, with famous plays and works by Gardley and other local writers. Ubuntu has come to Oakland to stay — they are working hand in hand with Oakland actors and directors — they have already made a mark.
These are exciting days for a group that is bringing good news to the Oakland scene. I have seen two of their plays so far — and look forward eagerly to the new season.
On top of all that, they use a “pay-what-you-can” pricing, so no one will be left out of seeing live theater designed to make a difference, locally.
Ubuntu is a theater by and for young actors and young audiences, a training program, and an inspired group. “Waiting for Lefty” has wound up now, but you will be hearing a lot more from Ubuntu in Oakland. They are working to “invigorate and enliven our interconnectedness.” They are making connections between young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Asian and Latino—all the myriad groups that come together to make community and action and art around the Bay.
Michael Torres, Chair of Laney College’s Theatre Arts Dept, says, “Ubuntu has been a critical partner . . . providing our students with unique opportunities to learn alongside more seasoned artists, who are also still young and just as diverse as they are.”
Ubuntu is proving that we are one—let’s become part of that movement.
by Charles Kruger
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Many consider the stormy “King Lear” to be the greatest of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. Certainly, that can be argued, although deciding amongst works of genius is something of a Fool’s errand.
Speaking of Fools, it may well be that King Lear is the greatest of Shakespeare’s many fools — a kingly one, driven to madness by his own folly, his aging mind, perhaps a touch of dementia, a proud, foolish, mad, abusive old man who is, in the end, as he himself realizes, “more sinned against than sinning.”
Lear is a play rich in character, and every one of them is living at the extremes of their lives, afflicted by madness, blindness, cold, suffering, hatred, betrayal —a cast of Jobs, they are. Some respond with cruelty, some with love, some with insanity, some with compassion, and the King himself with all of that.
In one of the most famous scenes in all of literature, the King’s stormy emotional state is matched by a wild storm of nature as Lear is abandoned to the cruel and wild night and howls at the very winds in his rage.
It is an astonishingly big play, and makes astonishingly big demands on its actors. In a myriad of ways, the company at California Shakespeare Theater rises to the challenge. First, let me mention Daniel Ostling’s excellent scenic design, which features a large cage in which each of the characters is variously impounded. They are all prisoners in one way or another: of each other, of the time, of their own passions and limitations, of fate. The box or cage also serves to very effectively differentiate indoors and outdoors — a very important distinction in Lear where being exiled from the comforts of hearth and home and security are key themes. In the famous storm scene, Lear climbs to the top of this cage which breaks apart and spins as if Lear has been lifted by a tornado and spun through the sky. It is very effective.
This is a very operatic Lear, which is both its strength and its weakness. Each of the actors is superb, and the great speeches are presented as marvelous arias. The language is sparkingly clear and easy to follow, the emotions appropriately outsized. But this aria-like approach is also a serious flaw in the production. For most scenes, the actors seem each to be performing in a vaccum, rather than relating deeply to one another. The result is strangely emotionless for such an emotion-laden play, and the audience may be left impressed but relatively unmoved.
There are some exceptional moments, though. Cordelia’s adolescent awakening to adult realities in the very first scene is marvelously delineated by Kjerstine Rose Anderson. It is quite startling to watch the emotional distance she travails in this short scene, making a strong enough impact to last until the character reappears at the very end of the play. Her second performance as the Fool is less successful, perhaps not sufficiently differentiated from Cordelia. Dan Clegg does stand out work as the bastard Edmund, full of delicious villainy and evil, seductive charm. Also worth remarking upon is Aldo Billingslea’s Earl of Kent, especially as he disguises himself as a commoner, to serve his King even after having been sent into exile.
As Lear, Anthony Heald has the requisite size and emotional range to compass the part. He is at his best alone on stage, raging at the storm, but seems oddly disconnected from his fellow actors, as mentioned previously.
Overall, this Lear is satisfying and correct, accessible and intelligent, full of well-crafted moments, but lacking some emotional flow amongst the actors. It is a fine evening of theatre, but does not deliver the catharsis which should occur in a fully successful production. In summary: fine, but flawed.
“King Lear” plays at the Bruns Amphitheatre through October 11. For further information, click here.
“King Lear” by William Shakespeare, produced by California Shakespeare Theatre. Director: Amanda Dehnert. Scenic Designer: Daniel Ostling. Costume Designer: Melissa Torchia. Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind. Sound Design/Composition: Joshua Horvath. Resident Fight Director: Dave Maier.
King Lear: Anthony Heald. Goneril: Arwen Anderson. Regan: El Beh. Cordelia: Kjerstine Rose Anderson. Kent: Aldo Billingslea. Albany: Sam Misner. Cornwall: Craig Marker. France: Patrick Alparone. Gloucester: Charles Shaw Robinson. Edgar: Rafael Jordan. Edmund: Dan Clegg. Oswald: Patrick Alparone. Curan: Sam Misner. A Doctor: Craig Marker. Various Knights and Attendants: The Company.
by Charles Kruger
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
Let’s cut to the chase about this remarkable production. Stephanie Blythe as Mrs. Lovett offers one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen on any stage. Hearing and seeing this phenomenal piece of work qualifies as one of the great theatrical experiences in a lifetime of theatregoing. More on that later.
If Blythe’s creation is truly transcendent, it is not created in a vacuum. The entire production is full of wonders, from the marvelous design of Tanya McCallin to the carefully considered direction of Lee Blakeley, to the 43 piece orchestra conducted with bracing muscularity and precision by Patrick Summers. (James Lowe will wield the baton on 9/26 and 9/29.)
Musically, it is wholly satisfying. Sondheim’s genius is given full sail. Careful listening will reveal subtleties of interval and rhythm, motif and orchestration, dynamics and detail barely addressed, let alone polished, by most companies. Sondheim’s lyrical gifts are so remarkable, that they sometimes overshadow his dazzling musical expertise. That is not the case here. However, the lyrics are not short changed either. The diction, from chorus to principals, is crisp and clear, and the added help of supertitles is icing on the cake. Nothing is lost or short changed.
Director Blakely has taken great care with the staging, never settling for the easy or the obvious. A fine example is the opening chorus, in which the story of Sweeney Todd is being told to a child held on a man’s knee (“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd….”) whose mother rushes up to pull him away. Later in the same sequence, the staging emphasizes the different emotional takes on the story between the male and female chorus members, which foreshadows the very different kinds of madness shared by Mrs. Lovett and Mr. Todd. This kind of subtlety is on display throughout the entire opera.
As Sweeney, Baritone Brian Mulligan lives up to his stellar reputation. His voice rolls out effortlessly, and his characterization of the confused and rage-addled Todd is haunting from start. His brokenness is heart breaking. Heidi Stober and Elliot Madore, as the young lovers Johanna and Anthony, perform their solos and duets with charming lyricism and panache. As Tobias, Matthew Grills offers an impressive and delicate pianissimo in “Nothing’s Going To Harm You” that elicited enthusiastic bravos.
And now to Ms. Blythe. If Stephanie Blythe’s performance were seen on Broaday, it would surely garner a Tony nomination, at the very least. Recognized as one of the leading opera singers of her generation, mezzo-soprano Blythe sings Sondheim’s complex score with exquisite grace and precision, revealing nuances previously unsuspected. Her acting, too, is of the highest quality. Her Mrs. Lovett is a complex, sensuous, thrilling, profoundly human comedic creation, never a caricature. Her performance of the great comic music-hall inspired aria, “By The Sea,” is nearly perfect. Check that: it is perfect. It is surprising to hear this novelty number sung with operatic force, but Blythe makes us believe in it because the operatic rendition in her hands is not a mere trick of performance, but a perfect realization of the oversized emotions that are overtaking her character. The result is nothing less than transcendent.
“Sweeney Todd” has two more performances at the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday, 9/26/15, and Tuesday, 9/29/15. For further information click here.
“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A musical Thriller” music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, from an adaption by Christopher Bond. Co-Produced by SF Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and the Paris Théâtre du Châtelet. Conductor: Patrick Summers/James Lowe (on 9/26 & 9/29). Director: Lee Blakeley. Production Designer: Tanya McCallin. Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Sound Designer: Tod Nixon. Choreographer: Lorena Randi. Dance Master: Lawrence Pech. Fight Director: Dave Maier. Assistant Conductor: Tson Deaton. Costume Supervisor: Christopher Verdosci. Wig and Makeup: Jeanna Parham.
Sweeney Todd: Brian Mulligan. Anthony Hope: Elliot Madore. Beggar Woman: Elizabeth Futral. Mrs. Lovett: Stephanie Blythe. Johanna: Heidi Stober. Bird Seller: James Asher. Tobias Ragg: Matthew Grills. Adolfo Pirelli: David Curry. Beadle Bamford: AJ Glueckert. Judge Turpin: Wayne Tigges. Jonas Fogg: James Asher. Trio: Alan Cochran, Christopher Jackson, and Chester Pidduck. Quintet: Kathleen Bayler, Laurel Porter, Chester Pidduck, Torlef Borsting, and William O’Neill. Ensemble: Kathleen Bayler, Michael Belle, Torlef Borsting, Alan Cochran, Mary Finch, Christopher Jackson, Claire Kelm, Bojan Knežević, Sally Mouzon, Erin Neff, William O’Neill, Philip Pickens, William Pickersgill, Chester Pidduck, Laurel Porter, Michael Rogers, Carole Shaffer, Jere Torkelsen, and Richard Walker.