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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Long Story Short, Craig Jessup Sings Noël Coward
and Mame


An Entertaining Evening with Long Story Short

A Christmas Carol
Pearl Sun and Ben Evans
TheatreWorks, in a co-production with Pittsburgh's City Theatre, is presenting the world premiere of Long Story Short, a new musical by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda at the Palo Alto Lucie Stern Theatre through December 28th. Four years ago this talented duo presented Striking 12 that has played Off-Broadway to good reviews.

Long Story Short is a pleasant, entertaining chamber piece that follows the relationship of two seeming opposites, one Jewish, one Asian-American. In quick, MTV style, over one hour and fifty minutes the audience sees the initial meeting, the marriage, the birth of the first child, the death of the child, the agony the parents go through, the birth of a second child, the wife having an affair with a colleague, the couple breaking up, then getting back together, and finally settling into old age with many pills to get them through the golden years. The musical reminds me somewhat of The Last Five Years, presenting Charles (Ben Evans) and Hope's (Pearl Sun) adult life through bits of dialogue and sixteen songs. Most of the songs are very light, pop rock-style ballads. There are some nice ballads, such as "There She Goes," and a good bawdy duet, "Live Like This." Lyrics by Valerie Vigoda are sometimes impish.

Ben Evans and Pearl Sun are engaging performers with agreeable voices. On opening night Ben Evans was over-miked, overpowering Pearl Sun's more melodic voice. Pearl Sun is successful in portraying a person who ages from young to old age while Ben Evans seems to stay the same throughout the whole performance. One begins to think he is Dorian Gray.

William Liberatore's four-piece ensemble in the pit is a very good asset to the on stage proceedings. Neil Patel's set design is minimal and functional with a glorious large antique bed, which, per the storyline, was handed down from Charles' Jewish grandfather and parents. Lighting by Andrew Ostrowski is effective and it flickers representing a passage of time. Tracy Brigden's direction is fast and efficient. Long Story Short is one of those two-character plays with music that will play well in various regional companies through the country.

Long Story Short plays at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Street, Palo Alto through December 28th. For tickets, call 650-903-6000 or go to www.theatreworks.org. Their next production will be the zany comedy Twentieth Century opening on January 14 and running through February 8th.

Photo: Mark Kitaoka


Craig Jessup is Noël Coward

I have to paraphrase one of Noël Coward's great songs when I say I have been to a marvelous one-person show at the jewel of a theatre called 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. Craig Jessup Sings Noël Coward, presented on one day only, was a wonderful nostalgic afternoon of listening to the Master (a nickname given to Coward to indicate the level of talent and achievement in so many of the entertainment arts). Coward was the best all-rounder of the theatrical and musicals worlds of the 20th century, a true Renaissance Man.

Bay Area entertainer Craig Jessup has been presenting the essence of Noël Coward for several years now. In 2003 he recorded An Evening of Noël Coward on CD. This talented artist has managed to capture the timing, humor and emotion of the legendary Coward. He does not imitate, but becomes the great entertainer.

I crossed paths with Noël Coward in Hollywood and in London at the Ivy Restaurant, the entertainer's favorite dining establishment for years. I can say without hesitation that watching Craig Jessup I thought I was seeing the celebrated man on the stage again. Craig sang the best of Coward's songs, including both his droll and romantic songs. Craig came on stage dressed in a velvet jacket and a silk ascot. Seated at the piano was the debonair pianist Ken Muir ably assisting the Master for a great evening of entertainment.

In the first act Craig had a screen for slides to tell the story of Noël Coward. He opened the show with "I Travel Alone" and then went into the background of the renowned entertainer. From there Craig went into the hilarious song "Mrs. Worthington," not only singing but dramatically acting with great self-confidence. The artist sang the little known song that Noël wrote when we was very young called "What's Going to Happen to the Tots" and segued into the lovely "Somewhere I'll Find You".

Noël Coward entertained the troops everywhere during World War II (I was stationed briefly in New Guinea and saw one of his shows at Port Moresby), and Craig sang "There is Bad Times Just around the Corner." Craig was a first rate Coward singing "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" from his Broadway show Sail Away. He concluded the first act with the charming "A Room with a View" segueing into "If Love Were All" and a reprise of "I Travel Alone."

The second act was a shorter version of Coward's great gig that I saw at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas in the early 1950s ("I was paid $35,000 a week to play at the hotel. I was the highest paid entertainer during that period"). The songs such as "Nina" "Why Must the Show Go On?, " "I Went to a Marvellous Party", "Mad Dogs and Englishman," "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" and "Uncle Harry" were the very essence of Noël Coward's sophisticated wit and humor. Craig ended the show singing the enchanting "Come the Wild, Wild Weather" and "I'll See You Again."

Craig Jessup unfortunately did the show for one day and night only, on December 6th at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. There is a chance he might bring the show to San Francisco in the spring. Let's hope so, since anyone who loves Noël Coward should see this show.


An Audience Friendly Production of Mame at the Willows Theatre

The Willows Theatre of Concord is presenting the 1964 Tony Award winning Mame through December 28th. Mame and I go way back—I first saw Angela Lansbury as Mame and Beatrice Arthur as Vera Charles at the Winter Garden in New York and I immediately took to this eccentric, vivacious musical with its sophisticated telling of Patrick Dennis's madcap Auntie Mame. In London in 1969 I saw Ginger Rogers play the title role. I was fortunate to be part of the Phillip Lathrop's camera crew at Warner Bros in 1974 when Lucille Ball took over the part of the wild and crazy Mame. Since that time I have seen several actresses as Mame, including Celeste Holmes and Jane Russell. Each actress has provided a different spin on the free-wheeling character. There was a revival in the summer of 1983 at the George Gershwin Theatre with Angela Lansbury repeating the role. By that time, the musical had become passé and it ran only 41 performances. Since then, few regional companies have attempted to stage the musical, mainly because of out-of-date book.

The Willows production is an audience-friendly event for those who have never seen Mame on stage. For a semi-professional production, some of the scenes lack timing. Some of dialogue that should zing and pop is frequently flat, burdened with gratuitous pauses in the first act. The second act is done very well, especially the hilarious scenes involving Mame and the stuffy upper class parents of Patrick's fiancée.

Terry Darcy D'Emidio is very good as Mame. She plays the role straighter and less flighty. She has an excellent voice in the Jerry Herman classics "Open a New Window," "We Need a Little Christmas" and "If He Walked Into My Life." Cynthia Rodgers Baggott is very droll as Vera Charles. Her duet with Mame in "Bosom Buddies" is fun. Veteran actor Ron Pickett steals the second act with his hilarious campy Mr. Upson. John Walbolt has a nice, distinguished voice as the older Patrick. Katie Anderson makes a funny Agnes Gooch and does a good job with "Gooch's Song." The complete cast is fine in the big production number for "Open a New Window."

Adam Puglielli has designed an interesting set. He uses projections of New York on a semi-round, white background and uses only a minimum of props with a turntable to show the apartment of Auntie Mame. Richard Elliott's direction is sharp and efficient, especially in the second act. Musical director Tim Hanson uses a digital audio workstation called Cubase, developed by a German company named Steinberg, for a successful orchestral effect.

Mame runs though December 28 at the Willows Theatre, 1975 Diamond Blvd, Concord. For tickets call 925-798-1300 or visit www.willowstheatre.org. Their next production will be Be My Baby opening on February 2nd and running through March 8th.


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

- Richard Connema



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