Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Color Purple, Golda's Balcony and Guys and Dolls

An Emotional Production of The Color Purple

Felicia P. Fields and Stephanie St. James
The exciting The Color Purple plays at the Orpheum Theatre through December 9. The musical returned to its roots when producer Scott Sanders originally asked Berkeley resident Alice Walker if he could make a musical from her famous book. She responded yes.

The Color Purple's book is by seasoned librettist Marsha Norman, and the imaginative, infectious score and lyrics created by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray are exhilarating. The music is rooted in gospel and rhythm and blues with effective lyrics throughout the two-hour forty-five minute production. The musical is almost a folk opera, with scene after scene of mostly singing, with very few lines of dialogue. There is even a "Greek chorus" of three church women drolly commenting on what is happening in the play. The result is a solid, skillfully executed piece of musical theatre.

The Color Purple plots Celie's (Jeannette Bayardelle) appalling life journey with self-worth and veracity. The musical differs from the Stephen Spielberg movie, which had a soft quality - this musical is rock hard. Jeannette Bayardelle gives a brilliant interpretation of Celie as she projects a line of communication to the audience. Her change from being a mousy wife to a vibrant entrepreneur is awe inspiring. Her singing is astounding, especially on the songs "Somebody Gonna Love You" and "I'm Here." Her voice sounds incredible, not just in solo but sharing the duets, particularly with LaToya London as Celie's sister Nettie. London's voice has a wonderful resilient quality, especially in the opening of the second act singing "African Homeland" and reprising the title song.

Felicia P. Fields as Sofia and Stu James who portrays Harpo almost steal the show as the bickering couple. Ms. Fields gives a star-making performance as the defiant Sofia. Her powerful vocal cords are outstanding in "Hell No" and, along with members of the cast, she brings down the house.

Michelle Williams is out of this world as the sensual Shug Avery. She has everything that is required for a sexy woman and she portrays a fundamental sizzle in her renditions of "Push Da Button" and "What About Love?". She displays a softer, golden voice in "Too Beautiful For Words."

Rufus Bond Jr. gives a powerful performance as Mister. He effectively plays the character's monstrous behavior with unforgettable despair at the end of the musical. With a commanding voice, he delivers an excellent interpretation of "Celie's Curse." Special credit should go to Lynette Dupree, Kimberly Ann Harris and Virginia Ann Woodruff as the comic church lady busybodies who reminded me of the "Pick a Little" ladies from The Music Man.

Donald Byrd's choreography is full of energy in the pulsating dance in "African Homeland." Brava to Gary Griffin for directing a highly emotional show. Brian MacDevitt's lighting is dynamic and sets by John Lee Beatty are excellent.

The Color Purple runs through December 9th at the Orpheum Theatre, Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained through or at Ticketmaster outlets or the box office at the Orpheum Theatre, Market and 9th, San Francisco.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

Camille Saviola Gives a Commanding Performance in Golda's Balcony

Camille Saviola
Broadway actress Camille Saviola (Mama Maddelena in the original production of Nine, Mama Morton in Chicago) is Israeli Prime Minster Golda Meir in the thought-provoking, one-woman drama, William Gibson's Golda's Balcony. TheatreWorks is currently presenting the 90-minute intense drama at the Mountain View Performing Arts Center.

Golda's Balcony premiered Off-Broadway at the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre in March 2003 and then moved to Broadway to the Helen Hayes Theatre in October 2003 with Tovah Feldshuh playing the feisty prime minister. It garnered positive reviews from New York critics, was nominated for the 2003 Drama League Award for Best Play, and earned a Tony nomination for actress Tovah Feldshuh.

The original 1977 version by William Gibson starred Anne Bancroft and ran for three years on Broadway. However, the playwright was so dissatisfied with the results that he re-envisioned the material. The revised production takes place during the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which a harassed Meir considers using her nuclear arsenal to defeat the Egyptians. Ms. Saviola puts a different spin on the character than Tovah Feldshuh did when she appeared here in a touring company. It's a more ethereal performance as the prime minister is trying to justify to future generations and her own ideals that she should use the bombs from her secret arsenal at Dimona.

Camille Saviola appears in aging makeup and thick padding to add pounds. She looks every inch like the Prime Minster of Israel. Meir agonizes over having to use nuclear bombs if her armies are near defeat. She talks about her bitter Russian childhood and how her father nailed boards across the door to keep out a pogrom. She looks back on her marriage to the gentle Morris and how they came to Israel to live almost in poverty in a kibbutz. There are wonderful stories about how she urges an elderly concentration victim from Bergen-Belsen to remain imprisoned on the British island of Cypress to allow a child to enter Israel in her place.

Camille Saviola makes the character believable. She makes a stage presence as a serious and compassion leader of a country that could dissolve if they do not win the war. It is a tour de force of brilliant acting as she leaves her desk on a platform on the stage and comes to center stage to talk directly to the audience.

Duke Durfee's open set is different from the touring version. The desk is high up on a wooden platform surrounded by large boulders covering the right and left side of the stage as if she is in a bunker. Projection Designer Chad Bonaker shows scenes of her childhood, her generals, like Moshe Dayan who she said was a womanizer, the war maps and the thundering jets that finally come from the United States. Sound Designer Cliff Caruthers uses the sounds of harsh bomb explosions to fling us into the horrors of combat.

Golda's Balcony runs through October 28th at TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St at Mercy, Mountain View. For tickets call 650-903-6000 or visit

Their next production will be William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Middlefield Road, Palo Alto opening on November 28 and running through December 23rd.

Photo: David Allen

A First Class Production of Guys and Dolls

Rick Hilsabeck and Burke Moses
American Musical Theatre of San Jose recently presented Frank Loesser/Abe Burrows/Jo Swerling's Guys and Dolls. Director Stephen Bourneuf assembled a great cast of New York and local actors to present this musical fable based on characters by Damon Runyon.

I first saw the show at the 46th Street Theatre during the winter of 1951 and since that time I have seen many productions, including the excellent one by the Royal National Theatre in 1982. The Piccadilly Theatre in London recently revived the show in a production that won the Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical of 2006.

Guys and Dolls is the personification of musical theatre. The lively musical does not have a commonplace or unnecessary song in the Frank Loesser score. As a Newsweek critic said, "This is why Broadway was born." Guys and Dolls is based on the short story by Runyon called "The Idyll of Sarah Brown" and has songs like "A Bushel and a Peck," "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat," "If I Were a Bell" and the title song, which have become classics.

American Musical Theatre of San Jose secured the original set from the 1992 Broadway revival for this production. The entire cast of singers and dancers were splendid. Burke Moses (Broadway debut as Sky in New York, created the role of Gaston on Broadway in Disney's Beauty and the Breast and was in Frogs) as Sky Masterson shunned the Damon Runyon rhythms for his own particular phrasing. He showed a strong singing voice on "My Time of Day" and Luck Be a Lady."

Rick Hilsabeck (Broadway Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) was excellent as Nathan Detroit. He looked like a well seasoned gambler, and his comic desperation looking for a place to have the big dice game was right on the mark. He showed good vocal cords singing "Sue Me." Michele Ragusa (Urinetown, Ragtime, Titanic, A Class Act) was captivating as Miss Adelaide, a splendid match for Hilsabeck with life and legs in her outstanding numbers, such as "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink." She did not overdo Adelaide's nasality in "Adelaide's Lament."

Sarah Uriarte Berry (Broadway Beauty and the Beast as Belle, The Light in the Piazza as Franca) showed a natural ease and magnetism as Sarah Brown. Her rendition of "I'll Know" and "I've Never In Love Before" had a pitch perfect resonance. Michele Ragusa and Sarah Berry were harmoniously energizing in their duet "Marry the Man Today." Roland Rusinek (Broadway The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, A Christmas Carol) delivered the goods as Nicely-Nicely Johnson with "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."

Stephen Pawley (ANTSF productions of Gypsy, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat plus many local appearances in the Bay Area) was very good as Arvide Abernathy with soft vocal cords on "More I Cannot Give You."

Matthew Brandon Hutchens (Irving Berlin's White Christmas) played various roles. He was effective as the drunk and the emcee of the Hot Box revue. The dancers under choreographer Vince Peace were full of life in "The Crap Game Dance," "Havana" and "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat." The orchestra provided great backup under the direction of William Liberatore. Tony Walton's scenery still looked fresh. Costumes by Tommy Marquez were first rate, especially the outfits worn by the Hot Box girls. Under Stephen Bourneuf's direction, the dialogue bridging between numbers was perfect. He kept the musical moving smoothly.

Guys and Dolls played at the San Jose Performing Arts Center, 255 Almaden Blvd. San Jose through October 21st.

Coming up next is Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar for six performances only December 27 through December 30. For ticket please call 1-888-455-7469 or visit

Photo: David M. Allen Photography

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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