Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Grey Gardens, Little Shop of Horrors and

Three Stunning Singers in Grey Gardens

Dale Soules and Beth Glover
Theatreworks is presenting the first post-Broadway production of the scandalously scrumptious musical Grey Gardens. Based on the Maysles brothers documentary, the two-act musical was adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Doug Wright and has a score by Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie. Grey Gardens depicts the intriguing journey of the unconventional Edith and Edie Bouvier Beale who became East Hampton's most notorious recluses (Jacqueline Kennedy was Edith's niece).

Grey Gardens will not be to everyone's taste, and it certainly helps to see the documentary on these two notorious outsiders first.  I found the musical bold and very imaginative. The playwright's approach brings an emotional inquisitiveness to Edith and "Little Edie" that is nothing short of pure genius. It's a poignant account of their lives, overturned by events between 1941 and 1973. The mother-daughter relationship in the second act shows a confrontation of bitter words, and yet there is a healing process that follows.  This is an intelligent celebration of two rebelliously eccentric personalities.  The two acts are set in two different time periods, and each is as different as night and day.

Scott Frankel's music is marvelous, sparkling and melodic, while Michael Korie's lyrics are clever and urbane. A good example is in the first act with Edie Beale (Elisa Van Duyne) in a love duet with Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. (Nicholas Galbraith), who has political ambitions and sings, "I need a leading lady with me neck and neck/To help me lobby for a campaign check." Edie retorts, "The only lobby I know is the Martin Beck."  The soft shoe duet in the first act by Edie and Edith (Beth Glover),  "Two Peas in a Pod," is a pure delight.

Beth Glover gives a consummate performance in the dual role of Edith in the first act and Little Edie in the second act.  She miraculously morphs from the attention-famished society matron who loves to sing to the touching, frustrated eccentric 46-year-old woman in the second act. Her opening number in the second act, "The Revolutionary Costume for Today," is catching and reminds me of the patter songs that Kay Thompson used to sing. Glover captures Edie's physical mannerisms and Long Island drawl.  It's a staggering double performance by this gifted singer. Her closing number, "Another Winter in a Summer Town," is passionate.

Dale Soules, who understudied Mary Louise Wilson in the role of Edith Bouvier Beale on Broadway, is very touching in the role in the second act.  Her song "Jerry Likes My Corn" is a poignant display of motherly warmth toward a 17-year-old boy played by Nicholas Galbraith.  She is masterful with her strange voice singing "The Cake I Had" while sitting in bed.

Elisa Van Duyne shines as Edie Beale in the first act. Her vocal cords are pitch perfect in her renditions of "The Girl Who Has Everything" when everything is going so well for her as the fiancée of Joe Kennedy, Jr. Elisa is heartwarming when singing "Daddy's Girl" with the creamy voice of Nicholas Galbraith joining in on the chorus.  Both have great synchronization when singing "Goin' Places."

Paul Myrvold gives skillful performances as J.V. "Major" Bouvier and has strong vocal chops singing "Marry Well" and when portraying Norman Vincent Peale in "Choose to Be Happy." Both Michael Winther, who plays Edith's alcoholic homosexual piano player, and Anthony J. Haney, who portrays the butler in the first act and the gardener in the second act, are effective in smaller roles.  Youngsters Kathryn Foley as Jackie Bouvier and Carolyn Di Loreto as twelve-year-old Lee Bouvier are appealing in the first act.

William Liberatore leads a great sounding orchestra in the multifaceted melodies while J.B. Wilson has designed the front of a shingled East Hampton house that splits open to a lovely high market living room in the first act and a downtrodden bedroom in the second act. Pamila Grey's lighting is bright and cheery in the first act, changing to interesting mood lighting in the second act. Costumes by Cathleen Edwards are authentic apparel that would have been worn by the wealthy family in the first act. Bravo to director Kent Nicholson for putting on this most difficult show and making the whole evening a fascinating look at the Beale sisters.

Grey Gardens plays through September 14th at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View.   For tickets call 650-903-6000 or visit  Their next production is Radio Golf opening on October 8th and running through November 2nd at the Mountain View Center for the Arts.

Photo: Mark Kitaoka

An Engaging Production of Little Shop of Horrors

The Willows Theatre Company is known to put on first class musicals with the best available talent in the Bay Area.  Their production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's Little Shop of Horrors is no exception.  This rock musical is appealing and highly enjoyable with a small cast of excellent singer/actors.

This spoof of Roger Corman's 1960 low budget horror film could be said to be the only blood and floristry musical.  The musical has a litany of buoyant influences including Motown, rhythm and blues, polka and even tango. The title tune by a trio—played by Sara Barreto Worthing, Tracy Camp and LeNeac Weathersby—sets the upbeat pace of the show. All are harmonically stimulating.

I first saw this clever little musical on Halloween Night 1987 at the Orpheum Theatre on Second Avenue. in New York.  The show ran 2209 performances at the Off-Broadway theatre.  It is the third longest running musical in the history of Off-Broadway, running for five years. It is also the highest grossing production in Off-Broadway history.  Since that time, I have seen two additional productions, including the Broadway production at the Virginia Theatre.

The comedy takes place in Mushnik's Skid Row Florists. The set looks like a run down floral shop with derelicts lying about the outside of the shop (one even falls off the stage).  The plot centers around loveable nerd Seymour (Ricardo Rust) who shows his boss, Mr. Mushnik (Dale Murphy), a strange new plant that he calls Audrey II (sung by Wendell H. Wilson) named for his love interest Audrey (Meghan Doyle). The floral shop becomes famous and the plant continues to grow and grow, and demands to be fed.  It's like a giant Venus fly trap that eats only human blood.  Needless to say, that is where the "horror" comes into the musical.  As to what happens—you just have go and see it.

Ricardo  Rust (Convenience at NCTC, Cats at the Willows), who looks and acts like a little puppy dog, is excellent as Seymour. His clear voice singing "Grow For Me" and "Suddenly Seymour" is refreshing. Both Rust and Meghan Doyle (1776, Cabaret, Jesus Christ Superstar, Cabaret) are perfect choices for their roles.  She looks and acts amazingly like Ellen Greene in the original Off-Broadway production.  Doyle has smashingly wonderful vocal cords in "Somewhere That's Green" and the duet "Suddenly Seymour."

Shaun Carroll (many Shakespeare festivals including Lake Tahoe, Oregon and San Francisco) plays many roles, including the sadistic dentist, a media expert, and even one in drag.  He plays each role effectively. He is especially outstanding when singing the hilarious sadistic "Dentist" song, gleefully dwelling on the pleasure of inflicting pain. Dale Murphy (Virago Theatre Company production of Candide) gives a good performance as Mushnik.

Tracy Camp (Caroline, or Change) as Crystal, LeNeac Weathersby (Cats) as Ronnette and Sara Barreto Worthing as Chiffon harmonize superbly on the title song and on "Downtown" and "The Meek Shall Inherit." Jon M. Marshall (Merrily We Roll Along, The Spitfire Grill) has a terrific, powerful voice as Audrey II.   When he says "Feed me," he really means it. Wendell H. Wilson (The Full Monty) does a fine job keeping the evil plant moving and growing.

Aiyana Trotter's set design is excellent, with the front of the shop opening up to display the run-down interior.  Robert Anderson's lighting design is perfect and Robin Speer has designed some good '50s type outfits.   Dan Uroff's choreography gives the production a Motown look that is first rate.  Richard Elliott has directed a smooth-paced production.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through September 14 at the Willows Theatre , 1975 Diamond Blvd (in the Willows Shopping Center), Concord.   For tickets call 925-798-1300 or visit for more information. Next is a new political comedy, Lying in State, which opens on September 29th and runs through November 2nd.

Dadaism vs. Lypsinka in

Audiences at the New Conservatory Theatre Center usually see one or two-act plays with natural conversations based generally on gay themes. They are in for surprise when they see this 55-minute avant-guarde production with dreamlike video and sounds that immerse the hour with eroticism, emotional tension and distorted characters to a background of opera arias, Grace Field's singing, thunderous sounds of 100 tap dancers from a Busby Berkeley Warner Brothers films, and even a little of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." 

Montreal Mirror calls Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard "nothing short of genius," and I agree with this statement since they are most certainly genius in presenting this strange yet fascinating production. They have taken lip-synching to a new level.   Lawson does the acting while Pollard does all of the technical stuff.  The boys are presenting an act called Zona, which is about an actress descending into madness. She attempts to find her genuine voice while with each step she regresses into lunacy.  It's heavy stuff as she goes through accusations, guilt and amnesia. opens up on a shadow play with a woman (Stephen Lawson) and baby, with a romantic aria from Puccini's Madame Butterfly coming from a soundtrack.  The bizarre drama has the same artist, now grown up, lip-synching Anne Baxter accepting the Sarah Siddons Award in All About Eve. Her audience consists of little fluffy Teddy bears sitting at the end of the stage. She looks like Liza Minnelli mouthing the words of Anne Baxter.  There are scenes when this talented artist lip synchs the voices of Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer. The projections are stunning in this scene.

One of the most interesting scenes takes place as Stephen Lawson, dressed in a black gown, comes out with a little black lacquered box which he opens up to show the audience a very small living room set. A projection of this set is then put onto a screen in the same dimensions. A miniature actress appears in the projection lipsynching Bette Davis from a scene in All About Eve. It is very ingenious.  There is even a little "musical" with the sound of tap dancers dancing up a storm in one of the early films from Busby Berkeley plus a 1931 Gracie Field recording of "Just One More Chance" with Lawson mouthing the words.   One scene could be tightened with Lawson screaming and screaming and screaming as if from a soundtrack of a Universal horror film.   It goes on much too long. There is a video of a naked man with a bear head that causes great consternation to the actress.

The production is weird but for something different from the typical productions that the New Conservatory Theatre presents, it is a work of art in both sight and sound. ran through August 31 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave off Market Street, San Francisco.  For tickets please call 415-861-8972 or online at  

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

- Richard Connema

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