Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Twelfth Night or All You Need Is Love, Pearls Over Shanghai and Putting It Together

Shakespeare Meets the Beatles in Twelfth Night or All You Need Is Love

Marin Shakespeare is presenting the world premiere of a hip new show called Twelfth Night or All You Need Is Love. Artistic Director and co-adapter and director Lesley Currier says it all when she comes out onto the outdoor stage of the Amphitheatre and tells the audience, "If you came to hear Shakespeare, I suggest you come back next week when we present Julius Caesar. This production is more Beatles then the Bard's comedy." There are 40 songs featured in this fast-paced production, including those made popular by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Sonny and Cher, Carly Simon and Bob Dylan.

Twelfth Night or All You Need Is Love looks like a production straight out of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, with candy-colored costumes by Abra Berman and a cartoon set with peace symbols by Mark Robinson. The actors sing along with the original recordings. This is an audience-friendly production for people you want to go to the theatre to just have a good time.

Directors Lesley and Robert Currier have assembled a large cast to fill the outdoor stage at Dominican University. William Elsman as Duke Orsino and Jack Powell as Malvolio stay true to the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare's words. William Elsman gives a stylish performance and has great vocal chops in his songs. Jack Powell is outstanding in the role of the vain person with the yellow stockings. He takes on such a tone of arrogance and self-righteousness that his behavior virtually cries out for his subsequent comeuppance. He is wonderful when reading the supposed love letter from his mistress Lady Olivia.

Cat Thompson is the sexiest Lady Olivia I have ever seen. She reminds me of Cyd Charisse with those beautiful long legs of hers. Alexandra Matthew gives an imaginative performance as Viola and she brings out the wit and meaning of the dialogue. Alex Curtis, a newcomer to the Marin Shakespeare Company, plays the twin brother with great vitality. This actor is so full of energy in a dance that on opening night he fell of the stage, almost right into my lap. Fortunately, he was not hurt. One of the great highlights of the production is Alex Curtis and Cat Thompson singing along to the Sonny & Cher song, "I Got You Babe."

Robert Currier gives an inventive performance as Sir Toby Belch and does a lot of belching in this production. He is precisely funny without being overbearing. Sir Toby is surrounded by his cronies, the clueless Sir Andrew Aguecheek played completely over the top by Camilla Ford (the first time I have seen a woman play this role) and Maria, charmingly performed by Shannon Veon Kase, who adds an earthy twinkle to the role. Steve Budd as Sebastian's companion Antonio gives a teasing performance as he wants to bed his companion Sebastian in the worst way.

Duke Orsino is surrounded by a group called The Valentines. They are straight out of the Hot Box club scene in Guys and Dolls and I kept thinking they were going to sing "Take Back Your Mink." Lucas McClure gives a fine performance as Feste as he wanders about the stage singing Bob Dylan songs. Terry Rucker is funny as Sri Yogi Maharishi who looks like he came out of a Bollywood movie. The rest of the large cast, including the Flower Power Kids and the police officers, do what they can with small roles.

Sound designer Billie Cox selected the fine songs from the Beatles era while Cynthia Pepper devised some energetic dance moves for the cast. Lesley and Robert Currier helm this over the top comedy cast which sometimes looks like a Marx Brothers or Three Stooges comedy.

Twelfth Night or All You Need Is Love is in repertory with The Importance of Being Earnest and Julius Caesar through September 27 at the Dominican University of California, Grand Ave. San Rafael. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or visit

Photo: Morgan Cowin

A Wild and Audacious Production of Pearls Over Shanghai

The world famous underground troupe the Cockettes are back and presenting the psychedelic farce Pearls Over Shanghai at the intimate Hypnodrome Theatre through September 20th. With music by Scrumbly Koldewyn and book and lyrics by Link Martin, this razzle-dazzle show was a huge success way back in 1970 at the Palace Theatre here in San Francisco. It opened a year later at the Anderson Theatre in New York and was well received, although it was said that one very famous actress walked out of the show after the first act wondering how she had been talked into seeing this Theatre of Ridiculous production. Russell Blackwood turned to the Theatre of Ridiculous tradition of Charles Ludlam and Charles Busch and did a semi-staged truncated version at the Bleecker Street Theatre with some of the original Cockettes several years ago. This is the production that is being enjoyed by hip audiences at the Hypnodrome Theatre.

Pearls Over Shanghai is very loosely based on John Colton's scandalous 1926 Broadway play, later turned into a deliriously decadent art deco film noir by Josef von Sternberg in 1941. The plot is a comic mock operetta about white slavery and miscegenation set in 1937 Shanghai China. The production is filled with singing sailors, witty whores, foolish immortals, handmaidens and henchmen, all set to music reminiscent of 1940s and '50s musicals. Somehow, I could not help thinking of the Chinese musical scene in The Drowsy Chaperone.

The supporting cast of over twenty, wearing the most opulent Asian costumes presents an eye-popping and toe-tapping musical. Thanks to original Cockettes Tahara and Billy Bowers, who lent their considerable talents to resident costume mistress Kara Emry, the outfits are authentic and reminiscent of the sumptuous 1930s Orient as well as the psychedelic splendor of the 1960s San Francisco. They are stunning.

Scrumbly Koldewyn, dressed like someone out of a Marlene Dietrich movie, plays background piano for the shenanigans on the stage. There are kvetching songs like "Cruising, Sweet Temple Bells," "Endless Masturbation Blues," "Palace of Trash" and "We're Saying Fu to You."

A terrific cast includes sassy newcomers, sexy sailor boys and some of the original members of the legendary Cockettes. It's a mix of show biz professionals and pretty amateurs representing the white girls being sold into sex slavery. The pros like Russell Blackwood as Mother Fu, Rumi Missabu as Madame Gin Sling, Gabriel A. Ross as Sebastian and Lanny Baugniet as Wu Wu have good, strong voices. Even Russell Blackwood, who looks like Genghis Kahn, does a little tap dancing to some of the songs.

Katya Smirnoff-Skyy gives the show some class portraying a high-class whore named Petrushka. In her distinctive voice she sings "Jaded Lady" and "I Can't Stop Wandering." Once again, she uses her Gabor sisters accent to strikingly play the lady of the evening.

The Hypnodrome Theatre is one of a kind. It has 46 seats plus two Turkish Lounge beds where couples can sprawl on a luxurious pillow bed to watch the show. It also has private boxes that include "Heaven" and "Hell," "Pharaoh's Tomb" and "Padded Cell." Persons sitting in those boxes have a heightened psychedelic experience during the "opium" blackout sequence.

Pearls Over Shanghai plays at The Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth Street, San Francisco through September 20. Katya Smirnoff-Skyy will be guest star for the rest of the run of the show. You can purchase tickets online at

A Pleasing Performance of Sondheim's Putting It Together

Amy Dondy, Ty Blair and Scott Gessford
The Custom Stage is presenting Sondheim's Putting It Together through August 15th at the Off Market Theatre in San Francisco. This marks the fourth time I have seen this entertaining show featuring some of Sondheim's greatest songs. This is a revue with a difference, since it this tells the story of five people, their wishes, their peccadilloes and their passions. The story is thin but it does contain a little of Edward Albee, Kaufman and Hart and a whole lot of Stephen Sondheim.

I saw the original pre-Broadway run at the Mark Taper with Carol Burnett, John McCook, John Barrowman, Susan Egan and Bronson Pinchot in 1998. I also saw the New York production in 1999 with George Hearn replacing John McCook and Ruth Henshall replacing Susan Egan. The SF Playhouse did a sterling version last year on their stage.

Putting It Together is narrated by a mysterious stranger (Luke Anthony) and the audience is presented with the emotional stories of Married Man (Ty Blair), Married Woman (Amy Dondy), Young Woman (Giana DeGesio) and Young Man (Scott Gessford). All of this fits together as flawlessly as the conundrums that Sondheim so distinctively loves.

Amy Dondy vocally and dramatically gives solid textures of the master's compositions. She not only sings but acts beautifully in "The Ladies who Lunch" from Company and "Could I Leave You?" from Follies. She is very droll singing "My Husband the Pig," a song cut from A Little Night Music.

Scott Gessford has a good, strong singing voice rendering "Live Alone and Like It" from Dick Tracy and "Marry Me a Little" from Company. He is harmoniously energizing in his duets with Amy Dondy and Ty Blair. Ty Blair has a wonderful distinctive voice in his duets with Scott Gessford, "Pretty Women" from Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods' "Hello Little Girl," where they are joined by Giana DeGesio. He does an ebullient solo on "Good Thing Going" from Merrily We Roll Along. Giana DeGesio has a sultry crooning voice in "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy and does a plaintive rendition of "The Miller's Son" from A Little Night Music.

Outstanding is a new vivacious singer from Houston, Texas, Luke Anthony. He opens the show with "Invocation and Instructions to the Audience" from The Frogs. He has a certain rakish smoothness when singing "Bang!," a song cut from A Little Night Music and "Buddy's Blues" from Follies, where he comes out into the audience and sits on persons laps (including mine).

The whole company is captivating singing "Putting It Together" and "It's Hot Up Here" from Sunday in the Park with George and "Old Friends" from Merrily We Roll Along. Rona Siddiqui offers great back up on the piano. Artistic director Brian Katz and executive director Leah S. Abrams direct a smooth and fast-paced show that is very audience pleasing.

Putting It Together plays at the Off Market Theatre. 965 Mission Street, San Francisco, through August 15th. For tickets call 1-800-838-3006 or visit at Their next production will be Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles opening at The Next Stage at Bush and Gough Street, San Francisco, on September 29th.

Photo: Brian Katz

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

- Richard Connema

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