Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Shrek the Musical, The Man of Rock and Babes in Arms

Shrek the Musical is a Flamboyant Colorful Musical

David F.M. Vaughn and Ensemble
The Shrek the Musical tour recently played the Orpheum Theatre through January 2. The Dreamworks production is part adult fairy tale, part Broadway musical, and part live enactment of the 2001 hit animated film. It's a theme park extravaganza that families will enjoy.

Shrek the Musical opened in New York on December 14, 2007, where it received mixed reviews. It ran for 441 performances and was nominated for eight Tony Awards. The subsequent national tour went on the road with some changes from the Broadway version, including a new opening and the addition of a couple of new songs ("Donkey Pot Pie" has been replaced with a new number called "Forever"). Also, the sets have been reduced.

The show is more political and makes fun of Disney's animated features such as Pinocchio and The Three Little Pigs. There are parodies of The Lion King and 42nd Street with tap dancing opening the second act. There are fart jokes and a few "theatre insider" references that many theatre buffs will get. There is a cheerful mixture of bright musical numbers, especially the songs "Big Bright Beautiful World" and "Who I'd Be" penned by Jeanine Tesori. Her score grows stronger in the second act with songs like "The Ballad of Farquaad," "Forever" and "This is Our Story." David Lindsay-Abaire's book and lyrics include various pop culture references. Josh Prince's choreography is energetic with some entertaining dancing rats and blind mice scampering about the stage.

Shrek's two directors, Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, each have contributed to this upbeat musical. Moore's direction is more contemporary, droll, and of the current humor of today's audience, while Rob Ashford's is the customary Broadway musical direction. Sometimes the two types of direction clash, resulting in uneven scenes. Tim Hatley's costumes are spectacular and the details of each outfit are flawless. His design for Gingy the Gingerbread Man looks and sounds exactly like the character in the film (the voice is done by Aymee Garcia). The dragon puppet is awesome and it takes four puppeteers to manage this huge beast.

Eric Petersen as Shrek does an admirable job of emoting through layers of green latex. He shows good baritone vocal cords on his numbers. Haven Burton as Princess Fiona has an appealing voice with a wide range. Both are a hoot singing the flatulent "I Think I've Got You Beat." Alan Mingo Jr. is agreeable as Shrek's sidekick Donkey. He uses Eddie Murphy's voice but tries too hard to get laughs in some scenes. David F.M. Vaughn, who plays the role of Lord Farquaad on his knees, almost steals the show with his side-splitting performance. The visual of his twig-like legs in some numbers is absolutely hilarious. Blakely Slaybaugh is very good as Pinocchio, with a nose that grows when he tells a lie. However, he uses a falsetto that causes his articulation and delivery to be hard to understand. Carrie Compere is terrific as the singing voice of the dragon. The new song composed for the dragon, "Forever," gives her a chance to wonderfully belt.

Shrek the Musical was full of young children the night we attended the show. They were transfixed by the antics of the characters on stage. The musical ran through January 2nd at the Orpheum Theatre. Visit for information on upcoming stops on the tour. The next Best of Broadway production will be the Tony and Pulitzer Prize musical Next to Normal opening on January 25 and running through February 20 at the Curran Theatre.

Photo: Joan Marcus

The Man of Rock a Rocking Good Musical

Climate Theatre is a state of the art theatre laboratory in the heart of San Francisco. They have been called a "vital scene and vibrant avenue for some of the most dynamic and promising crossover and experimental work around" by the SF Guardian. For two years this little company has been working on a rock musical of the 1980s. It recently came together with a rock score by Kenneth Flagg and Daniel Heath's bang up script for a talented cast. Kenneth Flagg has written for stage, film and television for the past 15 years while Daniel Heath's play Seven Years premiered at the SF Playhouse Sand Box Series last year.

The Man of Rock is based on George Etherege's restoration classic The Man of Mode. It has been given a totally grand makeover and now takes place on the Jersey shore, circa 1986. This is the story of Dorimant, a rock 'n' roll womanizer who schemes to lose his current girlfriend Suzie Love in order to conquer the prim and proper Antoinette, aka Toni. There are subplots in the two-hour show, including the introduction of J.J. Rock himself who speaks in incomplete sentences, like many rockers in the late 1980s. Weaving through this fast-paced show is a secondary plot involving a closeted gay kid who is afraid to tell his verbose father Old Bellair that he is gay.

Adam Yazbeck, who spent two seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, gave an exceptionally eye-catching performance as Dorimant. He has a true theatrical voice that is pleasant to hear. Lance Gardner did a perfect comic impersonation of an old rich man, as Old Bellair. His manner of walking and talking as this somewhat verbose individual was very good. He also morphed into a wild and crazy drummer of the rock band. Danielle Levin was hilarious as the mother of Antoinette. Michelle Maxson gave a brassy performance as Suzie Love. Rounding out the cast was Will McCandless as Dimitri who looked and sounded like he just got out the film Dumb and Dumber.

Ken Flagg has written eight new "righteous" songs ranging from great late-'80s style rock that Alice Cooper might have written and a countryfied ballad, "Gimme a Reason," sung and played beautifully by Arwen Anderson. Patrick Alparone, with stringy hair down to his shoulders and in tight leopard skin pants, rocked as J.J. Rock, giving a pop-eyed performance as the zaniest rock star you have ever seen. He beautifully morphed into the shy gay boy in some of the scenes. It was an outstanding performance.

The "bitchin'" rock trio consisting of Chadd Ciccarelli on bass, Joshua Hertel on guitar, and keyboardist Dane Johnson, was great rocking out the sound. Thanks to sound designer Will McCandless for providing a perfect sound for the group; it did not blast out of the 88-seat theatre and the vocals could be heard. Director Jessica Heidt mockingly evoked the sights and sounds of the era with affection, while costume designer Rebecca Cross provided the look, with pleated, teased, bleached, dyed and fried tresses. Outfits for J.J. Rock and band were rowdy and wonderful. Bravo to dramaturg Janna Segal for giving the cast great New Jersey rocker accents.

The Man of Rock played through December 23rd at the Traveling Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida Street, San Francisco.

A Fun Production of Rodgers & Hart's Babes In Arms

42nd Street Moon recently presented the granddaddy of all "barn musicals" with one of the greatest musical scores ever written: Rodger and Hart's Babes In Arms. There are such classics as "My Funny Valentine", "The Lady is a Tramp" "Johnny One-Note" "Where or When" and the title song. Many theatregoers have seen the 1950s rewrite of the musical but in 1999, New York's Encore series restored the original script and score which was presented by this company.

I was an 11-year-old during the summer of 1937 and my parents took me to New York for our annual theatre vacation. One of the shows we saw was Babes In Arms, which featured Mitzi Green in the role of Billie Smith. The cast also had the young Dan Dailey, Alfred Drake, Robert Rounseville, Ray McDonald, and the Nicholas Brothers. After I hard Mitzi Green sing "My Funny Valentine," it became one of my most favorite songs.

Babes in Arms is the quintessential "hey kids, let's put on a show" musical. It was a great socio-political satire the '30s, with a wealthy southerner agreeing to bankroll the kids' production on the condition that an African-American couple (the Nicholas Brothers) would not appear in the all-white show. This was a real shocker in late 1930s America. The musical is also an ongoing riff on socialism, as one of the boys declares himself a Communist and the showbiz kids should share the wealth if the show was a success.

Babes in Arms is set in 1937 in a coastal Cape Cod town. The kids are left alone by their vaudeville parents who are going out onto the road during the summer. The authorities are threatening the young people that they will have to go to a state owned "work farm" since they cannot take care of themselves. Young energy-driven Val LeMar and his girlfriend Billie Smith decide to put on a Broadway type musical that will make them all self sufficient.

Rich Southern bigot Lee Calhoun says he will finance the show but it has to be called "Calhoun Follies," and the "black kid" Irving can't do his song and dance number in the all-white show. This just isn't done in this country, says this diehard. Of course, Lee Calhoun gets his just due by the end of the first act. The kid will go on and to hell with segregation. Just how the kids get the money involves aviator Rene Flambeau from Paris.

Michael Scott Wells as Val and Alexandra Kaprielian as Billie were delightful singing and dancing "Where or When" and "All at Once." Michael Scott Wells acted with sincerity and charm and had great vocal chops in his duets. Kaprielian with a lovely full voice brimming with unreciprocated love sang "My Funny Valentine" and gave a smooth rendition of "The Lady Is a Tramp." Danny Cozart as Gus and Tyner Rushing as Dolores were charming singing "I Wish I Were in Love Again." Sophia Rose Morris was fetching as notable child star Baby Rose who becomes a member of the gang. She did a nice rendition of "Johnny One-Note"; however, I wish she would have belted out the song more. Sophia showed good vocal cords for "Imagine" in the second act.

Isaiah Boyd as Irving showed terrific dance moves on "Light On My Feet." It was a showstopper and he whirled about the stage with imaginative dancing. Zachary Franczak was excellent doing two roles, that of the southern "gentlemen" Lee Calhoun and the French aviator Rene Flambeau. Jonathan Shue was very good as the self-proclaimed Communist Peter who wins the Irish Sweepstakes. The rest of cast, consisting of Annie Donahey, Ben Euphrat, Joshua James, Dirk Leatherman, Corinne Proctor are Gabriel Stephens, were first rate in both singing and dancing sequences.

Dyan McBride's direction was fluid with Zack Thomas Wilde's choreography full of life, especially in the "dream ballet" sequence. Dave Dobrusky on piano was once again a great access to the production. Set Design by Sarah Phykitt was simple but effective, with good outfits of the 1930s by costume designer Louise Jarmilowicz.

It was a pleasure to see these kids singing and dancing their hearts out to entertain the audience in a good old fun, clean, clever and tuneful musical. Babes in Arms ran through December 19th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Coming up next is And All That Jazz: A John Kander Salon Evening starring Karen Ziemba for one night only on January 27th at the Alcazar Theatre. The following production will be George and Ira Gershwin's Strike Up the Band opening on April 6 and running through April 24th. For tickets call 415-255-8207 or visit

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

- Richard Connema

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