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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Emotional Production of Laura Schellhardt's Upright Grand

Also see Richard's reviews How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Andrea Marcovicci

Three very talented actors dominate the Lucie Stern stage in TheatreWorks sentimental comedy drama Upright Grand by playwright Laura Schellhardt. This is a successful combination of a poignant drama and snappy comedy that explores the intricate dynamics of family relationships.

Upright Grand is about an aspiring composer and pianist at a local bar, Pops (Dan Haitt), who spends his days in his rehearsal room with nothing but his music and upright piano for company. Pops is a so-so songwriter who capitalizes his nightly stints with personal soliloquies, inserting popular songs such as "Smile", "Moon River" and "Somebody Loves Me."

Pops has an unforeseen kindred spirit with his 12-year-old daughter Kiddo (Renata Friedman). She is a precocious and rebellious pianist who has a natural affinity for Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She has just been expelled from Catholic school for writing "life is crap" on the school wall and is now enrolled in a more artistic venue at Julliard. Over the 85-minute one-act drama, Pops cultivates the young girl's articulate talent, from a child practicing scales to an internationally sought after classical pianist. It's hard to say what is more difficult for her father: watching her growing up or watching her surpass him. All of this is complemented by live piano accompaniment by Brett Ryback as "The Accompanists" and told with the playwright's signature wit and wordplay.

Renata Friedman is wonderful as Kiddo. She easily morphs from a precocious teenager to a sophisticated world class classical pianist. Dan Hiatt is absolutely superb as he instills Pop with authenticity with love, commitment, pride and finally envy. Brett Ryback is admirable as the accompanist, playing mostly with his back to the audience under the musical direction of William Liberatore. His portrayal of Kiddo's Russian teacher at Julliard is outstanding.

Meredith McDonough's direction is smooth and sensitive while Kris Stone's stylish stage design with an upstage reflecting mirror and a revolving set with a skeletal grand and operational upright pianos is outstanding. Cliff Caruthers' inconspicuous sound design and Paul Toben's lighting give full support to the super acting of the three actors.

Upright Grand plays through August 10th at TheatreWorks at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Coming up next is the Donald Margulies Time Stands Still at TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. For tickets please call 650-463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org


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

- Richard Connema



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