Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Pride Company in its fifth season is presenting a brilliant production of Terrence McNally 1995 Tony Award winning drama Love! Valour! Compassion! It is strange that this city with its large gay population has never mounted a production of the play. Several years ago the Berkeley Rep presented an excellent production.
We saw the original New York production in 1995 with Nathan Lane, John Glover, Stephen Bogardus and Stephen Spinella. I compare the Pride Company production favorably with that production. The major difference is that the current staging is on a smaller intimate stage and it really brings out the closeness between the audience and the players. You can almost feel as if you are part of the cast of seven actors on stage. What helps also is that the seven actors portraying the friends are all outstanding in their roles.
The plot of the McNally's play is relatively simple. Seven friends leave the city behind for three summer holiday weekends of rest and relaxation at a beautiful and remote farm house north of New York City. During these three sojourns the friends hash out their passions, resentments and fears, and find bonds of friendship. There is intrigue, romance, revelation and hilarity. Add to this great quantities of wit, pathos and sexual tension. These friends will fall in love and fall from grace, hurt and forgive one another, form couples and break apart. The play illuminates an assortment of funny, bewildering and inspiring mutations on contemporary relationships. The play is an enticing series of monologues and spirited ensemble scenes.
You can say that this is one of McNally's most satisfying tapestry of emotions. The dialogue is witty and tough and some of it reminds me of a Chekhov play. After you leave the production, you feel that you have gotten to know these characters as individuals and not just stereotypes.
Buzz, the Nathan Lane part, is played by P.A. Cooley. He is outstanding in the role as the energetic, showtune-loving man whose demeanor epitomizes what many people visualize gay men to be. He is living with AIDS, but he is still healthy. Needless to say he has the best campy lines with many of his remarks coming from Broadway musicals. Cooley has the role down pat.
The great tempter Ramon is played by super hunk Aldo Pasano. Not only does he have a great body but he can act. He plays the passionate Puerto Rican dancer who attempts to seduce the blind lover of the host Gregory. The host is played by Andrew Nance and his performance is top drawer. His blind boyfriend Bobby is played by Oscar Davila, a new and upcoming actor with an excellent stage trained voice. He does a marvelous job. Outstanding also is Brian Linden who is able to portray both brothers John and James. He plays brother John who is real pain in the ass; he ticks off everyone in the group. Whereas he is all darkness, this same actor portrays the sweet twin brother James who comes to the house part way through the summer. He is sweet, charming and possesses a mothering quality that make you want to curl up against him and give him a hug. An amazing performance by this actor.
The cast is rounded out with Jeffrey Larson as Arthur and Steven Rhyne as Perry. Both turn in great performances as the conservative and professional gay couple who have been together for 14 years. As Perry says with tongue in cheek, "We are the perfect role models". Perry is also the narrator of the play. I have been following Steven's career during this past year as he has become a staple in the 42nd St. Moon concert musicals. Not only does he have a good voice but he is a great dancer. It was good to see him in a "straight" role where he does not have to rely on a script in his hand.
Mc Nally's dialogue is so ferociously honest and funny and the performances are so uniformly fine that this is one of the best productions that the Pride Company has mounted. There is frontal nudity in the production but it is natural. The swan lake scene in the third act is campy and very funny. In fact, they all look good as ballet dancers. Ed Decker's direction is crisp and to the point. The play runs until thru March 4 at the New Conservatory Theatre.
Theatre Works has ushered in a brand new classy musical that should be a hit when it plays New York. The company is presenting the world premiere of Bill Russell and Henry Krieger's Everything's Ducky. This is a whimsical musical satire, updating the classic fable of The Ugly Duckling to the sassy, brassy sendup of a country chick's journey to big city swandom.
Theatre Works has feathered its nest by presenting this musical to us in the Bay Area before it travels to other cities and hopefully to New York next season. One SF critic said it should play on Broadway but I disagree with him. It should play off Broadway and I firmly believe it will become a smash hit when it hits the big town. It has the makings of a cult hit like Little House of Horrors. It's smart and hip and wonderfully funny. The score by Russell and Krieger is tuneful and lyrics are smart.
The composer and lyricist were so happy with the West Coast premier of their Side Show at Theatre Works, they made arrangements with the company to present their latest work for its World Premier. The company obtained the services of New York and Los Angeles actors to sing and act in this production. As a result the company has a smash SRO hit on their hands.
The plot is fun. In this fanciful tale, Serena is a young duckling whose uncommon appearance evokes derision from the citizens of the barnyard. Confident that she can make a difference in the world and fine true love if only given the right opportunities, she leaves the yard to journey to the big city. Naive and trusting, she soon falls into bad company, however, ending up at "Poultry in Motion", an underground club where tender young ducks dance for drooling wolves and coyotes, despite the national ban on meet eating. Narrowly escaping being sold for food she meets up with a fashion photographer and a modeling agency executive who turn her into the hottest supermodel of the day. However Sereana finds that fame and money do not make her any happier, nor do they bring her closer to her ideal mate.
To complicate matters she mistakes a "wolf in wolf's clothing" who tells her that he is the son of the Big Good Wolf. The wolf convinces Serena he is a good wolf by singing "A Helping Paw" when ever she gets into trouble. However we find out he is really the son of the Big Bad Wolf when he sings the hilarious song "I Eat Meat." The music and lyrics are two of the high points in his campy show.
The score is thoroughly enchanting and it is Kreiger and Russell's best work since Dreamgirls. It's laden with catchy upbeat melodies from swing, soaring ballads, jumpin' jive numbers and rousing gospel tunes. The book by Jeffery Hatcher is rich in jokes, one liners, corny puns and social satire. Some of the puns are really out of left field such as when the wolf says "duck and geese better scurry" a direct line fromOklahoma or when the wolf says a famous line from the film Casablanca "Of all the duck joints in all the towns in all the world, you walked into mine".
The musical boasts a splendid cast of Broadway and LA veterans. Angela Robinson who played Lady Liv in the Duke Ellington musical "Play On" plays Serena. She sings with a magnetic verve and she most certainly is not an ugly duckling. She has a powerful voice that is well suited for her numbers. She is amazing as she goes through different changes from being naive to becoming sophisticated. She has several outstanding numbers, the best being the fervent gospel energy song "Don't Start Playing My Swan Song" at the end of the show.
Danny Burstein plays several roles. He does a hilarious parody of a fashion photographer with a gay Spanish accent. He is like a male Chita Rivera. He also plays the fey dancing director of a TV show in the second act and he is a real camp. He has many Broadway credits including Company, ,Titanic and I Love you, You're Perfect, Now Change.
David MCDonald was marvelous as the wolf; he really is a "wolf in wolf's clothing." He comes straight from Les Mis on Broadway. David has a magnetic golden baritone voice and he has three of the best songs in the musical: "You Look Good Enough to Eat", "A Helping Paw" and "I Eat Meat". The lyrics to these songs are smart and very capricious. McDonald is no stranger to the composer since he was in the original cast of Side Show in New York.
Gina Ferrall brings down the house as the fashion maven goose Galinda. She stops the show singing an "inspirational" song "Wipe the Egg Off Your Face". She has a Merman voice to match Ethel herself. Ferrall played Madame Thernardier in Les Mis on Broadway plus she toured in the role in the first, second and third companies of the musical.
The gum cracking Mallard sisters are played by Andrea Chamberlain and J.B. Wing. They come off like dizzy twins with little or no brains. The Coyote Brothers Bobby Daye and Josh Prince are a hoot. Both young and damn good song and dance men. The latter was in Little Me with Martin Short recently. Karen Murphy, another Broadway veteran, plays several roles including the sympathetic Aunt Leda whose big number is "You've Got Wings to Fly". She has a strong voice. Oh yes, there is a Prince. His name is Prince Drake (get it?). He is played by the engaging Michael McEachran as a not too bright but sincere playduck.
The set design is like a cartoon, somewhat like the set of You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, but much more clever. There are pop up book and picture postcard flats that makes this production charming. One great set is the big city backdrop. It is the animal version of Times Square with marquees for animal musicals like Best Little Henhouse in Texas, Swan Lake and of course Cats. There is even a marquee for the play Animals in America.
The costumes are wacky with each character wearing some sort of animal apparel. No, it is not like The Lion King. These are becoming costumes that show the characters they portray. There are even bubble wrap designer gowns.
Director Gip Hoppe does a splendid job of putting all of this bewitching musical together. It is a wonderful reminder of how much fun musical comedy can be. Mr. Hoppe is best remembered for his play Jackie, An American Life that recently played on Broadway. The Theatre Works production runs to Feb 13.