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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Cabaret, An Ideal Husband and Oh My Godmother!

SF Playhouse Presents an Earthy and Boisterous Production of Cabaret

Cabaret
Lauren English & Band
Director Bill English has put a new spin on Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, playing at the SF Playhouse through September 20th. The whole production centers on the relationship of Herr Schultz (Louis Parnell) and Fraulein Schneider (Karen Grassle) and the wonderful way that Sally (Lauren English) sings the song "Cabaret" in the second act.

The Kit Kat Boys and Girls—consisting of Laurie Nellesen, Rana Kangas-Kent, Lily Tung Crystal, Bobby Bryce and Norman Munoz—are brilliantly bawdy and rambunctious, thanks to the choreography of Barbara Bernardo. Brian Yates Sharber as the extremely fey Emcee is marvelously lewd in the role, and his singing is gleaming and expressive with great sensual moves, especially on the songs "Money" and "Two Ladies."

Lauren English, who plays the role of Sally until August 27th (when Kate Del Castillo will replace her through the end of the run), is very good in the part.  She plays Sally with hints of vulnerability. Her big number, "Cabaret," in the second act is terrific.  She builds on the vulnerability of the character at the beginning of the song and comes through with a great slam-bang finish.

Louis Parnell and Karen Grassle are luminous in the roles of Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider.  Their love song "It Couldn't Please Me More" is poignant. Karen Grassle gives a heartfelt dramatic reading in "So What?" and "What Would You Do?".  Louis Parnell has the German accent down perfectly in an outstanding portrayal of the Jewish suitor.

Tania Johnson is very strong as Fraulein Kost when she sings the German folk song "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."  Will Springhorn Jr. makes a good appearance as the up and coming Nazi, Ernest Ludwig.

Daniel Krueger plays the difficult role of Cliff very well. This is not a showy role; however, he has a pleasant voice and manner. His duet with Lauren in "Perfectly Marvelous" is well done.  Martin Rojas-Dietrich conducts the seven-piece orchestra. It is the most hilarious, raunchiest orchestra I have heard in a long time.

Director Bill English has selected patrons seated at cafe tables to create the notorious Kit Kat Klub.  His direction is first rate.  However, some of the scenes on the extreme right and left side of the stage may be difficult for anyone sitting at those tables located in the first two rows to see. Sets and props by Kim A. Tolman are sparse but effective.  Mike Oesch's lighting gives the whole set a great nightclub look, and Valera Coble's costumes for the Kit Kate Boys and Girl are excellently bawdy.

Cabaret plays at The SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco through September 20th.   For tickets, call 415-677-9596 or visit www.TicketWeb.com.

Photo: Zabrina Tipton


A Handsome Production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband
Sarah Nealis and Elijah Alexander
California Shakespeare Festival is currently presenting as their second production of the season an opulent production of Oscar Wilde's social comedy An Ideal Husband.

An Ideal Husband has become my favorite Oscar Wilde play after seeing three productions over the years in the United Kingdom.  This marks my second time to see an American production and, strangely enough, both have been set on an outdoor stage.  I readily admit that I would rather see this droll play in the confines of a closed proscenium stage theatre since the outdoor wilds seems to clash with the intimate, oh so very British story. That said, Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone presents a sterling production of the great Irish playwright's work.

An Ideal Husband is Wilde's most serious social satire. The first scene most certainly is wickedly funny showing the clichés that those of the upper class of British society say during the London social season. This is a story of blackmail and political bribery, and Wilde shows that society as a pit of naked self-interest. One could almost equate this with today's political scene in world politics. There is a series of sardonic twists and turns that lead to predictable wars of words, disclosures and, finally, a reversal of circumstances.

Director Jonathan Moscone has assembled a sterling cast of actors for this lavish production. Michael Butler gives a commanding performance as the "ideal" politician Sir Robert Chiltern, who is being blackmailed by the venomous Mrs. Cheveley, played superbly by Stacy Ross. She portrays the role as a viperous yet oddly vulnerable blackmailer.  Julie Eccles is excellent as Lady Chiltern, as she watches her "ideal" husband's pedestal degenerating to dust. The confrontations between the husband and wife are the most dramatic scenes I have ever seen in this classic play.

Elijah Alexander has all of the best Wilde witticisms and is very good as Lord Goring ("To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance").  It takes a little while to get accustomed to this fine actor's interpretation of one of the drollest characters in British theatre. He enters the first scene too much of a fop. Wilde's quips don't need overplayed physical comic acting.  In fact, it should be the opposite.  However, this New York actor gets into the role, especially in the second act, with his confrontation with the evil Mrs. Cheveley.   The altercation between the two is well done.

L. Peter Callender is perfect as Lord Caversham. He has the most wonderful upper class British accent that I have heard by American actor in a long time. Joan Mankin is marvelous as the hoity-toity Lady Markby, and her penetrating ramblings with the brilliance of Wilde's wit are marvelous.

Danny Scheie almost steals the first scene as Vicomte de Nanjac, looking like Charlie Chaplin and sporting a crazy middle-European accent. The black wig must have been stolen from the Warner Brothers property department since it looks like the same haircut that Peter Lorre wore in The Maltese Falcon. In the second act, Scheie is a scream playing Phipps, Lord Goring's butler. He has only two words—"Yes, sir"#151;but he repeats them over and over again in different styles.

Delia MacDougall and Nancy Carlin are delightful playing upper class ostentatious habitués of London society with such lines as "I hate being educated"; "So do I. It puts one almost on a level with the commercial classes, doesn't it?")  Sarah Nealis is delightful as the jaunty spoiled Mabel, Robert's younger sister.

Annie Smart's opulent sets are eye catching with a very large mural that looks somewhat like a bad Maxwell Parish painting dominating the set.  Meg Neville's costumes are gorgeous, especially the gown worn by Stacy Ross as the wicked blackmailer. Bravo to Lynn Soffer who coached the actors on their fine upper crust accents.

An Ideal Husband plays through July 27th at Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 Gateway Boulevard , Orinda. (Take Hwy 29 to Walnut Creek and exit at Gateway just past the tunnel).  For tickets, call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org.  Their third production will be Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya opening on August 6 and running through August 31st.

Photo: Kevin Berne


Oh My Godmother! is a Charming San Francisco Fable

Oh My Godmother
Scott Phillips and Brandon Finch
Ron Lytle's delightful gay Cinderella musical has finally come to San Francisco. This lovely little show got its start at the Alameda's intimate Altarena Playhouse in 2005 and it became an immediate success. It took three years to cross the Bay Bridge to the Zeum Theatre where it is playing until July 26th.

Oh My Godmother! is the classic Cinderella story told from a cheeky gay viewpoint.   Cinderella is now a timid, lovely boy named Albert (Brandon Finch) dealing with his atrocious stepmother (Jennifer Tice) and the two crazy stepsisters, Esther Hazy (Lisa Otterstetter) and Esta Lieber (Julia Etzel).  Of course, the poor lad has to do all of the housework and he is always being chastised for being gay. Rather than a magical fairy godmother, Lytle's musical features the fey manager of a drag shop in the Castro called The Beaded Lash. He is called Godmother through the production.

The upbeat musical features Prince (Kyle Payne) being raised by two men, Oscar (Steve Yates) and Truman (John Erreca).  There is also a "best friend," overly fey Payne (Tomas Theriot), who is a real pain in the ass to Albert. All this along with chorus boys and girls makes for a real fun two-hour twenty-minute musical.

Ron Lytle's score is bright and cheery. It is very reminiscent of Jerry Herman and Disney musicals.   The lyrics are sassy and clever; some have a touch of Cole Porter or Noel Coward.  There are a lot of zany one-liners and fast paced and snappy dialogue.

The three scene changes could be tightened a bit, especially in the last part of the second act, and possibly a song could be put into this section to straighten the script.

A very talented cast has been assembled, with some of the actors playing their original roles once again.  Brandon Finch is captivating as Albert. He has a melodiously sweet voice, especially in the songs "CinderAlbert" and "Midnight." Kyle Payne is excellent portraying Prince and has great vocal chops when singing "Who Am I?." Fortunately, he does very little camping in the role, making this an evenly balanced production.

Scott Phillips, who originated the role of the Godmother, once again is terrific, especially since he uses drag instead of magic to make Albert's happiness come true.  Prince's flamboyant gay parents played by Steve Yates and John Erreca (he originated the role) are a real hoot. Erreca reminds me of Nathan Lane in The Birdcage.

Jennifer Tice (also originated the role) is first rate as the evil stepmother who looks and acts like Cruella de Vil.  The two stepsisters, Lisa Otterstetter as Esther and Julia Etzel as Esta, are properly bitchy, especially when they all sing "Bitch."

Outstanding is Tomas Theriot as Payne.  He is wonderfully way over the top as the fey friend—he would make even Paul Lynn blush. His voice and the way he struts his stuff in "Look at the Way" and "Somebody for Everybody" is uproarious. The ensemble numbers include "San Francisco, Home Sweet Home to Me," a real rousing upbeat song that could replace the old Jeannette MacDonald song, "San Francisco."

Choreography by dance captain Libby Wood is sparkling, with great, young, energetic dancers and singers, including Caleb Haven Draper, Ken Handler, Donny Landers, Gilbert Michael and Jessica Payne. Ralph Bodman has designed a nice little set of Victorian home cutouts while lighting direction by Ellen Brooks is bright and cheerful. John Lewis has designed some great drag outfits for Brandon Finch.

Tom Shaw's seven-piece orchestra is wonderfully skilled with the score. They play up to the left side of a long stage that gives the audience full attention to the voices of the cast.  Ron Lytle's direction keeps the action moving along at a fast rate and he occasionally uses a curtain where the actors sing while the set is being changed.  One interesting side note is the program that looks like a Playbill has been changed to "Gaybill."

Oh My Godmother! plays at the Zeum Theatre, located at Fourth and Howard Street in Yerba Buena Gardens through July 26th.

Photo: Justin Chin 


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

- Richard Connema



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