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Arlington, My Beautiful Laundrette and
Bebop Baby: A Musical Memoir

Also see Jeanie's reviews of November and Coney Island Christmas and
Richard's reviews of Ideation and Amaluna


Victor Lodato's Arlington a Thought-provoking Character Study


Analisa Leaming
Photo by Jennifer Reiley
The Magic Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere of Victor Lodato's Arlington with music by Obie Award-winning composer Polly Pen. The one-woman 60-minute musical centers on Sara Jane, a sprightly, loquacious young Army wife whose husband is serving in Afghanistan.

Arlington is a complete sixty-minute "modern opera style" show with Analisa Leaming singing the role of Sara Jane. She has a striking soprano voice in a song fest that is mostly in the style of a Philip Glass opera. She cheerily greets the audience ("It's a sunny day. Thank God ... Hasn't the rain been awful? I just ... I'm not a rain person.") As the musical drama continues, she has outbreaks of enthusiasm over the most trivial things: weather reports, television news, her favorite food (chard), and the endearing eccentricities of her husband. You get the feeling there is something disturbing about this woman. She is just too happy. Toward the end, after seeing the charred remains of Afghan women and children lying the fields and ditches of the country, she does wonder if her husband was involved in the killing. She also wonders why there are American troops in Afghanistan.

Analisa Leaming permeates the character with lustrous susceptibility. You can tell that loneliness does not suit Sara Jane since she is a gregarious woman. Leaming's voice has a superb evenness and control, even when the mood changes as she sings about the horrors of war. Jeff Pew plays piano in the background and sometimes joins in a duet with Leaming. He has a very pleasing voice and you wish he had more to do in this one hour "mini-opera."

Jackson Gray's direction is skillful. Eric Flatmo has designed a sunny living room to match the mood of Sara Jane. Jeff Rowling's lighting is light and cheery but turns to a darker tone, especially when Sara is talking about the horrors of war.

Arlington runs through December 8th at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd, Building D, 3rd floor, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org. Up next at the Magic is the world premiere of Taylor Mac's "HIR" opening on January 29th and running through February 23rd.


A Fresh Production of My Beautiful Laundrette


Javi Harnly and Robert Rushin
Photo by Lois Tema
New Conservatory Theatre Center is presenting the United States premiere of My Beautiful Laundrette through December 22nd. Andy Gram and Roger Parsley's adaption of Kureishi's 1986 screenplay is cleverly staged under the direction of Andrew Nance. The story unfolds more cohesively on stage than in the Stephen Frears-directed film.

My Beautiful Laundrette takes place in 1985 in Margaret Thatcher's England. The plot centers around Omar (Javi Harnly), a well-bred Pakistani boy doing his best for his aged and incontinent father (Ravi Bhatnagar) while desperately trying to please his crooked uncle Nasser (Keith Stevenson) who fixes him up as the manager in a loss-making rundown launderette. Omar runs into Johnny (Robert Rushin) who was his close friend in high school. Johnny is gay and has joined a conservative organization (The National Front). Since Johnny is jobless, Omar hires the young man to be his partner in the new enterprise. Omar soon discovers that he has the "hots" for his partner and soon there is a sexual relationship. There are other characters who come into this two-hour drama: a white-boy hating cousin Salim (Daniel Redmond), the long suffering white mistress of the Uncle Rachel (Cat Luedtke), and the uncle's rebel daughter Tania (Radhika Rao).

Homosexuality was a big issue when this film came out in Britain in 1986. It was very unusual to see a gay relationship in British films at the time. American films were not presenting this touchy subject either. However, the themes of love and homophile attitudes are as fresh now as they were in the film.

The complete cast retains a credibility with sincere British/Pakistani accents thanks to dialect coach Patricia Reynoso. Javi Harnly as Omar and Robert Rushin as Johnny nail the playful passion of childhood friends who have turned to being lovers. Javi Harnly captures Omar's drive and his anger beautifully. Robert Rushin is perfect as a rebel against the current society in Britain.

Keith Stevenson is splendid as Uncle Nasser. He brings out the comedy in the play as the wheeler-dealer uncle who intends to teach Omar to "squeeze the tits off the system." Daniel Redmond, who is British and has performed at the Old Vic and the Royal National Theatre, is outstanding as the nastily racist Salim. Ravi Bhatnagar gives an impressive performance as the quietly alcoholic Papa while Cat Luedtke gives a moving performance as Uncle Nasser's Caucasian mistress. Rounding out the cast is Radhika Rao, who gives a vibrant performance as the feisty Tania.

Andrew Nance had the difficult task of making every character have an interesting backstory so the audience can understand their point of view, even if they do not agree with each character's actions. He succeeds in this task.

My Beautiful Laundrette plays through December 22nd at the Walker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit www.nctcsf.org. Coming up next is Avenue Q opening on December 6th and running through January 12th.


A Groovy Production of Bebop Baby: A Musical Memoir

Margo Hall, one of San Francisco's most talented actress/singers presented her musical memoir of growing up in Detroit with her loving stepfather Teddy Harris Jr., a music pioneer who formed The New Breed Be Bop Society Orchestra that became popular in the Midwest. He also worked with such legends as the Supremes, Paul Butterfield and Aretha Franklin. Margo's real father divorced her mother when Margo was young, and she did not see or hear from him in all that time. This 80-minute piece, recently presented on the Z Space stage in a brief limited run, is a tribute to her stepfather. Along with this memory-drama was a terrific, grooving 16-piece orchestra directed by Marcus Shelby.

The undeveloped plot of this rocking drama is that Margo is going to have a public tribute to Teddy Harris Jr., so she returns to her childhood home in Detroit to search for some of her stepfather's unpublished works. She discovers that her biological father has moved back into the home and he wants to reconnect with her, but Margo is having none of that. She starts to rummage through cardboard boxes in the basement that may contain unpublished songs. In the process, memories emerge through song and dance with three very talented singer/dancers: Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, who also played her father; Dawn L Troupe who played her mother; and Halili Knox who played her sister.

The multi-talented Margo Hall not only sang and danced up a storm but wrote some of the lyrics for these songs. The marvelous score was orchestrated by Marcus Shelby, and Sheila Balter directed the fast-paced piece.

There was a skillful complex tango melody for Abdul-Rashid and Dawn L. Troupe called "What a Crazy Pair." Their dancing was exquisite. The cast excitedly sang and danced a carefree "Supreme Medley." Margo Hall was sublime singing "My Baby Girl" which segued into "Midnight Lullaby." I particularly liked the terrific rendition of "The Circus Song" which had a beat similar to Ravel's "Bolero." The orchestra was flawless in a melody composed and arranged by Teddy Harris, Jr. called "MTKM."

Bebop Baby: a Musical Memoir played November 19 through November 23 at Z Space, 450 Florida Street, San Francisco. For a lineup of coming attractions at Z Space, visit www.zspace.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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