Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Insignificant Others started with a stage reading in May 2005 in San Francisco. There were four workshop performances at the Jon Sims Center in January 2006. The New Conservatory Theatre Center presented the musical as part of their in-concert series during the summer of 2006 under the director of George Quick where it played to sell out crowds. The San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle awarded it the best original musical of 2006.
L. Jay Kuo's fast-paced musical has returned with an expanded cast of great, young, energetic singers and a quintet of fine musicians for a good commercial production. Once again, George Quick helms the delightful production that has much heart.
The twenty-seven songs consist of pop and showstopper tunes, jazz and alluring romantic ballads. The composer/lyricist shows influences of William Finn, Michael John La Chiusa and Adam Guettel in his style of music. The whole reminds me of those wonderful musicals that I used to see in Greenwich Village in the 1970s and '80s.
Insignificant Others follows the romantic idiosyncrasies of five friends - two gay men and three straight women - who move to San Francisco from Ohio seeking love and adventure. They fall in love, both with the people they meet, but also with San Francisco itself. The musical has a strong feeling of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City," which depicted life in this city in the mid 1970s.
The show has no central theme but various subplots expertly meshing together. There is the story of unrequited love on the part of Luke (Andrew Sa) who loves his best friend Jordan (Jason Hoover) who loves the ambiguously oriented co-worker Erik (Justin McKee). Jeannnie (Erin Diamantides) and Kristen (Lillian Askew) are roommates who fall in love Andrew (Kevin Maldarelli) without realizing it. Margaret (Sarah Kathleen Farrell) seems to fall in love with men who are gay or have shortcomings in the lower part of the body.
George Quick has assembled a great cast of youthful energy-driven singers and dancers. Most of the numbers are trios, quartets or quintets but each leading character has solid vocal chops when called upon to perform a solo piece. Sarah Kathleen Farrell, a combination of Nancy Walker and Lea DeLaria, brings down the house with the naughty suggestive lyrics to "Plumbing" about her date with a man who turns out to be a woman. She sings a marvelous, sensuous song called "Eleven" where she finally finds her dream man who is also a hairy ape of man. She sings the songs with much gusto.
Lillian Askew plays cute little airhead Kristen who sounds and acts like Kristin Chenoweth. She has that adorable little voice to put songs over in her duets. She especially shines in the lovely and sentimental "Christmas in the City." Andrew Sa has a captivating voice in renditions of "Some Many Things" and "Was Any of It Real." His moving acting and singing, expressing the hurt of unrequited/obsessive love, is heartbreaking. Justin McKee gives a poignant interpretation of the lovely heartfelt song, "There's a House." Jason Hoover has a pleasurable voice in "Gay or Straight" which reminds me of the big number in Legally Blonde (Jay Kuo assured me he had the line first). Erin Diamantides gives out great vibes in the big production number "Who Would Jesus Hate," which is a politically camp take on religious intolerance. Kevin Maldarelli has excellent vocal chops in duet numbers with the female cast members.
Outstanding are the four young back-up singers and dancers, Dane Paul Andres, Bobby Bryce, Alex Rodriquez and Mary Kalita. They do three frenzied put-downs of Starbucks that are side-splitting. The three males are also dazzling in drag, wearing sleeveless blue gowns as the Supremes in a dream sequence in the second act. This brings down the house. The gospel number "Who Would Jesus Hate" is unbelievable as the cast comes out singing and jiving the good old gospel hand clapping beat.
Insignificant Others could stand some trimming in the first act, since the first two scenes don't properly establish all of the romantic inner workings of the five characters. The only one that really stands out is the love triangle between Luke, Jordan and Erik. The second act is perfect. It is well constructed, and the music works perfectly with the action. All of the outstanding productions numbers are in this act.
Insignificant Others runs through August 26th at the Zeum Theatre at Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth Street at Howard, San Francisco. For tickets go to www.isomusical.com.
Photo: Edward Casati
The unrivaled Queen of Cabaret Andrea Marcovicci recently returned to the Empire Plush Room to present the world premiere of her new show Marcovicci Sings Rodgers & Hart. This harmonious mix of music and history is one of the best presentations she has ever done. It is worthy of an Off-Broadway production.
One of the great gratifications of this artist's show is the brainpower with which she put both history and music together. She digs deep into Lorenz Hart's psychic and his association with Richard Rodgers. There are facts that I never knew about one of the greatest song writing teams of the 20th century.
Backed by the great Shelly Markham on piano, who is without peer, and the stunning musicianship of Daniel Fabricant on bass, Andrea presented a wonderful show with her enchanting voice. She interprets song lyrics in a quirky, speech-song that is a pleasure to hear, and her lower register is cool. She radiates charisma as she breaks the fourth wall between her and her audience.
Ms. Marcovicci came out in a sparkling top and long back dress, going right into a melody of "Where or When," "Jupiter Forbid" and "Sing For Your Supper." She sang updated lyrics by Hart for "The Lady is a Tramp." One of the highlights of the night was when she sang Rodgers and Hart's first published song, "Any Old Place With You," written in 1919 for a show called A Lonely Romeo. Andrea brought out a chart to show the genius of Lorenz Hart as he rhymed places on the globe in his own inimitable way ("I'm gonna court ya in California"). The artist sang the first Rodgers and Hart song that she ever performed, a poignant rendition of "He Was Too Good to Me," cut from Simple Simon.
Next were songs that are rarely heard, such as "I Gotta Get Back to New York" from Hallelujah, I'm a Bum and "What's the Use?" from Lido Lady. There were standards such a "My Heart Stood Still," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "I Didn't Know What Time it Was." She was droll in the ego song, "If I Were You."
The artist said Lorenz Hart was the greatest writer of unrequited love songs, such as "Falling in Love With Love" and "It Never Entered my Mind." She talked briefly about Hart's homosexuality and that he never had a partner in his life. She alluded to the idea that he was secretly in love with Richard Rodgers who was straight, married with children. She believes that the lyrics to song "Can't You Do A Friend a Favor?" from A Connecticut Yankee were a secret love letter to Rodgers. She touched on the lyricist's drug problem and how his mysterious friend Doc Bender was a procurer for both sex and drugs for him.
Andrea closed the two-hour show with a passionate rendition of "My Funny Valentine" that brought tears to my eyes. The fans would not let her go, so for an encore she did a swinging arrangement of "Blue Moon."
Andrea Marcovicci appeared at the Empire Plush Room, Hotel York, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through July 29th.
Connie Champagne is performing as the legendary Judy Garland in Goodbye Yellow Brick Road at the New Conservatory Theatre Center through August 12th. This is not Judy singing her old classics but what the singer might have sung if she were alive today. There are songs penned by modern contemporary composers, such as Rufus Wainwright and Elton John, and showstoppers from Jerry Herman.
I am a strong Judy Garland fan since I worked with her at Warners on A Star is Born and I knew her very well when she did the television series for CBS. I have seen so many try to imitate the star; most of them over-exaggerate her nervous ticks and run-together banter. Connie Champagne does not imitate the star but inhabits her aura with just the right mannerisms down pat. She is positively uncanny. There were times I thought I was back on the Warner's lot watching Judy do "The Man That Got Away."
Connie Champagne does a 90-minute smooth-paced show with a 10-minute intermission in the intimate theatre at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. She opens with "As If We Were Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard. Just as you wonder how she can top that opening number, she does, with "The Way We Were" (Marvin Hamlisch, Marilyn and Alan Bergman) and Jerry Herman's rousing "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles and "It's Today" from Mame.
Connie pays a tongue in check salute to The Wizard of Oz with Dewey Bunnell's "Tin Man," Scott Hoffman and Jason Sellard's "Return to Oz," Charlie Small's "Be a Lion" and Russ Rentler's "Scarecrow's Lament." Connie admits she got most of these songs from iTunes.
She shows her great sense of humor playing a homosexual gentlemen singing William Finn's "Republican" and gives heartfelt renditions of Maury Yeston's "Unusual Way" from Nine and Scott Frankel and Michael Korie's "Another Winter in a Summer Town" from Grey Gardens . She also beautifully sings Peter Allen's "All I Wanted Was the Dream" and "Dream On" and performs a bouncy interpretation of Freddie Mercury's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Ms. Champagne shows her best Judy rendition with Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables that brings goose bumps to your skin. She is fabulous singing "Wig in a Box" by Hedwig composer Stephen Trask. She ends her gig with Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." However, the audience demanded an encore and she came back out with a marvelous reading of Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls. The audience demanded even more and out she came to sing Judy's classic "Over the Rainbow" by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg.
The talented artist does very little conversation between songs but she does offer some references to the late Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli. She says tongue in cheek, "It's marvelous for me to be singing again," and when she talks about composer Rufus Wainwright, she asks the audience "Do you know Rufus?" When most of the audience shakes their heads no, she says "Me neither." She talks about how Judy wanted to play Mame but the money men at Warners did not want her.
Joe Collins gives excellent backup on the piano and even joins in on a chorus of a song. He has devised incredible arrangements for her in every number. F. Allen Sawyer helms a very smooth 90-minute presentation of the diva. Brian Morse has devised a simple set with the big letters JUDY on a screen in the background. Theresa LaQuey designed two outstanding costumes for her. In the first act she wears a basic black top and skirt and in the second act a more colorful outfit of green sparking discs.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road plays through August 12th at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets go on line to www.nctcsf.org or call 415-861-8972.
Photo: Kent Taylor