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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Out of This World, Pericles and Jacques Brel


42nd Street Moon Brings back Cole Porter's Out of this World

42nd Street Moon is presenting Cole Porter's Out of this World through June 29th. This is Greg MacKellan's newly revised version which was a smash hit in 2000. Greg received permission from the Porter Foundation to rewrite a new version in 2000 and since that time the classic musical has been presented at England's Chichester Festival Theatre in 2004 and last year in Los Angeles.

Out of this World is a deliciously saucy farce about Greek gods and Hollywood movie types on the loose in 1950s Athens. MacKellan's version has been completely changed from the original, with the character Helen O'Malley now being a movie star named Helen Vance. Most of the story has been reset in Hollywood. He also restored some of Dwight Taylor's stylish and zippy pre-Broadway dialogue of 1951 and installed new characters like Isadora St. John, who looks and acts like Louella Parsons the Hollywood gossip columnist. The pieces are being performed by the same characters who originally sang the songs in the Broadway musical. Greg has replaced the romantic song "Hark to the Song of the Night" sung by Jupiter in the last scene to "You Don't Remind Me" sung by the randy god.

Out of this World is one of my most favorite Cole Porter scores. I fell in love with the music after seeing the show at the New Century Theatre in New York during the winter of 1951. The plot of this new version is much more comprehensive than what I saw in Manhattan. The score is a sublimely witty achievement, with some very classic songs such as "From This Moment On," "Use Your Imagination," "What Do You Think about Men?" and the lilting "No Lover For Me."

Greg MacKellan has brought back three members of the 2000 cast: Darlene Popovic as the goddess Juno, Steve Rhyne as Mercury and Stephanie Rhoads as Helen Vance. All three are splendid in their roles.

Darlene Popovic brings down the house in a hilarious duet reprise of "Cherry Pies Ought To Be You" with Megan Cavanaugh, who is terrific as Isadora St. John. Popovic is side-splitting in the lamentable song "Nobody's Chasing Me" ("The breeze is chasing the zephyr/The moon is chasing the sea/The bull is chasing the heifer/But nobody's chasing me"). She is completely madcap in "I Sleep Easier Now," with some of the most clever lyrics by the great Cole Porter ("When I was prettier/In bed I did not read Whittier/When I was dreamier/I supped with an old French premier.")

Steve Rhyme is terrific as Mercury. He has a dynamically clear voice when singing "Use Your Imagination" and the boastful song "They Couldn't Compare To You." His enunciation on the intelligent catchy scat lyrics is perfect, and his acting is sharp and quick as Mercury.

Stephanie Rhoads as Helen sinuously executes "Use Your Imagination" in duet with Steve Rhyme. She is sublime in the rendition of "I Am Loved" and vibrant in "From This Moment On." There are times when she looks like the late Marilyn Monroe.

C.J. Blankenship, who portrays Jupiter the most lecherous of the gods, opens the musical section with his powerful voice in "I Jupiter, I Rex" backed by a great, exhilarating chorus. He shows his authoritative vocal chops in the romantic ballad "You Don't Remind Me" in the second act. Juliet Heller as Chloe has a lovely voice when singing "Maiden Fair" and "Where, Oh Where."

Michael Cassidy is wonderfully fey as Apollo. Dyan McBride, returning to the stage as Venus, is charming. Brandy Collazo shows great dance moves as Anthea. Peter Budinger, with a "Superman" body, is fine as Mars. Kristin Clippard is great portraying Diana, Virgin Goddess of the Hunt. She gets a few laughs from the audience in several of her scenes.

Bill Olson as Art O'Malley gives a first rate performance. Lillian Askew is charming as Minerva. Twenty-four-year-old Andrew Willis-Woodward is the new kid on the block and this marks his second 42nd Street Moon appearance in the triple roles of Bacchus, Harry and Strephon, a local shepherd. He is someone to watch and displays great moves in the chorus. He has no actual solo but in the chorus his voice is heard.

Choral work by the whole cast comes across with great musical dexterity, especially in the opening number "I Jupiter, I Rex." Jayne Zaban's choreography is effervescent for the small stage. Once again David Dobrusky on piano and Nick DiScalia on reeds give great backup for the cast. Dobrusky even gets to sing a note in the musical. Louise Jarmilowicz has designed some nice white, flowing costumes for the gods and goddesses.

Out of this World plays through June 29th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-255-8207 or visit www.42ndstmoon.org. Coming up is the company gala concert at the Alcazar Theatre on June 30 with special guests Klea Blackhurst, Nancy Dussault, Andrea McArdle, Leland Palmer and Susan Watson.


Shakespeare's Pericles is a Wonderful Arabian Night Fantasy

Pericles
Delia MacDougall and Christopher Kelly
California Shakespeare Company begins its 34th season with a marvelous production of Shakespeare's rarely produced play, Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The play, written around 1606, was probably co-written by George Wilkins, a playwright who worked 1603-1608. The drama was very popular with theatregoers at the time. It was later performed during the Restoration Era but its pseudo-na´ve structure was not appreciated with the neoclassical tastes of that era. < /B>

Pericles disappeared from public view until the middle of the 19th century, when it appeared with many scenes deleted since it dealt with incest and prostitution, against Victorian notions of decorum. The epic drama has become popular today with performances in the United Kingdom and this country. This marks my third time seeing it, and the first time I have seen it in this country. I saw Paul Scofield play the title role after the war and later a production at the Swan Theatre in Stratford with Nigel Terry playing Pericles.

This two-hour forty-minute sprawling epic about the ambitious journeys of the Prince of Tyre contains incest, a virgin menaced in a house of ill repute, a contract killing, a bloodthirsty stepmother, a kidnapping by pirates, unsullied priestesses and miraculous cures. Now, who could ask for anything more?

Director Joel Sass has assembled a cast of only eight wonderfully gifted actors playing almost fifty roles. This is staged with great humor and in an "Arabian Night" style that smacks of those Columbia films based on Sinbad voyages. He has staged this with a theatrical flamboyance that makes for great entertainment.

Pericles takes a little while to warm up, with the opening scenes of the Prince of Tyre (Christopher Kelly) answering the riddle ("I am no viper, yet I feed/On mother's flesh which did me breed ... I mother, wife and yet his child/How they may be, and yet in two/As you will live, resolve it you") of the incestuous Antiochus (Ron Campbell) and a contract is out on him for answering the conundrum correctly. The intrepid Pericles leaves Phoenicia to wander the Mediterranean for many adventures.

Scenes such as Pericles meeting fishermen who wear yellow straw costumes straight out of a movie of ancient Japan with the actors speaking with almost English-Japanese accents are brilliantly done. The highlight of the first act is the hilarious scene of the ironically comical King Simonides (Danny Scheie) and his sensual daughter Thaisa (Delia Macdougall) and the antics of the tournament with actors on "horses" competing for the hand of the daughter. This looks and sounds like a scene from the Yiddish comedies that used to play in the Lower East Side of New York.

The second act features a wild and side-splitting scene involving Marina (Sarah Nealis), daughter of Pericles and a virgin, in a whorehouse while Bawd (Delia MacDougall in a fat suit), playing a superb madam of the house along with Boult (Danny Scheie) as her put upon servant.

Everyone in the cast is super. Christopher Kelly (Macbeth at the New Victory Theatre) gives a winning performance as Pericles. He is fine looking, righteous, and very heroic in his role as the Prince of Tyre. Ron Campbell (many productions at Cal Shakes including Triumph of Love, Restoration Comedy) with a heavy Scottish accent is lasciviously menacing as the King of Athens Antiochus. He is laughably quarrelsome as a fisherman and side splitting as a stuck-up knight.

Danny Scheie (many Cal Shakes productions including Triumph of Love, Restoration Comedy) is brilliant as King Simonides with a Jewish accent. Dressed in a gorgeous Arabian Nights outfit and a large turban he brings down the house with his antics and his asides to the audience.

Delia MacDougall (Cal Shakes King Lear, Man and Superman) is beguiling as Pericles' young queen Thaisa and hilarious as the head of the house of ill repute. Domenique Lozano (Cal Shakes production of Triumph of Love, Nicholas Nickleby) gives a strong performance as Dionyza the evil stepmother.

Sarah Nealis (Cal Shakes King Lear, Nicholas Nickleby) gives an appealing performance as Pericles' daughter Marina. Alex Morf (A.C.T performer in The Rainmaker, The Government Inspector) is uproarious, especially as a crazy knight on a "horse" prancing about the stage.

Shawn Hamilton (15 seasons at Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis) is mesmeric as the narrator. He appears as a mystic African soothsayer with crisp enunciation speaking the words of The Bard.

Kristoffer Barrera, Allison Brennan, Daniel Duque-Estrada and Marin Lee all are effective as members on the ensemble.

Set Designer Melpomene Katakalos has designed an enchanted set with rich oriental carpets and fabric tents laid on top of a sand-covered stage. In the center is a huge twisted tree trunk with an opening where the actors enter and exit the set. Raquel M. Barreto's costumes are stunning harem pants, turbans and robes. The score by Greg Brosofske has a sensual Middle Eastern style.

Pericles plays through June 22nd at the Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 Gateway Blvd. Orinda. For tickets call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org. Their next production will be Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband opening on July 2nd and running through July 27th.

Photo: Kevin Berne


Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Marin County

Jacques Brel
Noel Anthony Escobar, Robert Brewer and Alison Ewing
Marin Theatre is presenting the musical revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris as the final offering of its 2007/08 season. The original American musical revue of songs of Jacques Brel opened Off-Broadway in 1968 at The Village Gate Theatre in Greenwich Village and ran for more than four years. There was a film version which was released by the American Film Series that I remember seeing as a special event. It has been revised many times including a new production that opened Off-Broadway at the Zipper Theatre in New York in 2006.

Director Ken Nicholson has taken twenty-seven songs of the Belgian composer from both the 2006 revival and the 1968 original. He has also assembled four very gifted young singers—Noel Anthony, Robert Brewer, Alison Ewing and Kristin Stokes&mdashto sing the complex melodies and lyrics of Jacques Brel. Each has wonderful vocal cords in solos, duets, trios and quartet numbers.

Choreography by Cassie Beck is sinuously executed by the four singers. Video by Erin Gilley and Scenic/Lighting Designer by Kate Boyd are incredible. They add to such songs as "Madeleine," "Old Folks" and "Carousel." The rapid-paced two-hour revue opens onto a screen where the audience sees Jacques Brel singing at a concert in Paris. His image appears thoughout the whole production.

Jacques Brel often has ungainly English lyrics that hit the audience with climaxes that go well over the top. The melodies are as multifaceted as the lyrics in many of his songs. The revue provides cutting comments on the cavalcade of life as seen by the European composer. His prime subjects are love, loss, sex and class, and the music is often as severe or melancholy as the story.

Alison Ewing mournfully opens the revue with the somber "Le Diable (Ça Va)" ("men kill each other willingly, then pray for peace in loud laments") and the whole cast frantically singing and dancing a topical song of 1920's "Marathon."

Alison Ewing (Cabaret in Paris and on Broadway) has the voice and moves for Brel's songs. Her voice is very reminiscent of the great Edith Piaf in the standard "Ne Me Quitte Pas". She evokes Ms. Piaf's roughness and fragility. The artist's rendition of the anti-war "Marieke" is moving.

Kristin Stokes (Theophilus North, Brooklyn Boy, The Secret Garden) has a voice of impressive range and variety in all of her songs. She is sublime in her rendition of "Old Folks" and gives a reflective recollection of a grand romance in "I Loved." Her duet with Robert Brewer in "You're Not Alone" is poignant.

Robert Brewer (Beggar's Holiday, Into the Woods, Bat Boy, Sex) has great baritone vocal chops in the anti-war song "The Statue" in which a soldier is memorialized with a monument to his reputation and good quality, and reveals his immorality. His duet with Kristin Stokes in "You're Not Alone" has pitch perfect resonance.

Noel Anthony (Miss Saigon BATCC nomination and West Side Story BATCC nomination) with a commanding voice is passionate in his interpretation of a sadly remembered summer love, "Fanette," and good natured in "Funeral Tango." At the end of the first act he is supported by all of the cast who are superb in the rousing "Amsterdam." His duet with Robert Brewer in "Bachelor's Dance" about a young man going off to war and a trio with Brewer and Alison, "The Middle Class," about a trio disdaining their elders, are outstanding.

The quartet is harmoniously energizing in "Madeleine," about a lady who never shows up for her date, and "Brussels," a clever song about Jacques Brel's hometown. The piece de resistance is "Carousel," a kaleidoscopic catalog of a carnival which is musically speeded up to brilliant crescendo.

The singers are solidly backed up by a trio led by Steve Sanders on piano, drums and vibes; Matt Montgomery on accordion, violin, guitar and mandolin; and Sascha Jacobsen on bass. Sound designer Will McCandless is a great asset to this production.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris has been extended through June 22nd at the Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Ave. Mill Valley. For tickets please call 415-388-5208. For more information go to www.marintheatre.org.

Photo: Ed Smith


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

- Richard Connema



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