Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Musical of Musicals, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Octopus

A Gutsy Production of The Musical of Musicals

Dani Marcus and Quinn Van Antwerp
San Francisco Bay Area theatergoers finally have a chance to see the plucky little musical, The Musical of Musicals, now be presented by Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek.

The Musical of Musicals has two smart lyric writers, Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart, with Rockwell contributing upbeat melodies. Milissa Carrey, Mark Farrell, Dani Marcus and Quinn Van Antwerp give winning performances in all five of the mini-musicals. It took a lot of chutzpah for Rockwell and Bogart to satirize the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb.

Rockwell and Bogart take one simple, corny melodramatic plot about an innocent girl, her charming and heroic suitors, a menacing landlord and rent that's past due, and rewrite the story in different styles as though penned by the famous Broadway composers. These five mini-musicals are deliciously merciless. The first one is Corn, put-on of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!. The pianist-narrator Brandon Adams describes the scene as "Kansas in August." The audience first sees "Mother Abby" (Milissa Carey) in the corner singing what sounds like a Rodgers and Hammerstein song. There is Big Willy (Quin Van Antwerp) who sings about his willy and June (Dani Marcus) who is cute as a button. There is the evil Jidder (Mark Farrell) who likes to look at dirty pictures. Zingers come fast and furious. Willy even sings is his powerful voice a version of ",Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" using the clever lyric "the lark has taught the chipmunk to read the Bible." There are little bits of melodies and lyrics from Carousel, The Sound of Music and South Pacific put in for good measure.

The second scene, called A Little Complex, is set in The Woods Apartment Complex. If you love Stephen Sondheim's music, this one you've got to see. It is the best of the five as far as I am concerned. The four sing "Irony," "Ambiguity," "Dissonance" and "Angst," which seem to appear in all of Sondheim's musicals. Some catchy lyrics such as "don't feel obtuse because it's a bit abstruse" run though the whole scene. Mark Farrell shines in this segment as the landlord, a "mad and murderous painter" who must have neurotic June, played by Dani Marcus, pose for him. There is a wild mixture of Company, Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George in this zany scene.

The third scene is Dear Abby, a great spoof of Jerry Herman's music. We get smatterings of Hello Dolly!, La Cage aux Folles, Mack and Mabel and of course Mame. Milissa Carey is wonderful as Abby (Mame) who comes down the stairs dressed in a sparkling grown singing "I can't sing or dance, yet I'm the star of the show." However this segment goes on a tad too long.

Following the intermission, the four zany singers/actor perform in Aspects of Junita, which of course is a parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. Rockwell and Bogart reserved their sharpest cutting remarks ("I've heard that song before") for Webber, whom they impale during this overexcited scene. Dani Marcus as Junita is marvelous as she appears in a window upstage, high above the audience singing something a little like "Don't Cry for Me." Mark Farrell is a real hoot as he hams it up as the Phantom.

The last scene is a jazzy Kander & Ebb lampoon, Speakeasy, a Cabaret/Chicago style musical that also borrows from Liza with a Z with Mark Farrell splendidly manic as the emcee and Milissa Carey with a priceless Lotte Lenya voice playing Fraulein Abby. Her lounging on the chair singing is side splitting.

Brava to Mindy Cooper who not only directs this rapid paced show but choreographs as well. Brandon Adams provides great back-up on the piano and narrates some of the show. Cassandra Carpenter designed some authentic Broadway costumes to fit each scene, and Robert Broadfoot's sets are a great asset to the each scene. The lighting by Kurt Landisman is especially first rate in the Corn number.

The Musical of Musicals runs through June 21 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1600 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets please call 925-943-7469 or on line at

Photo: Alessandra Mello

An Intriguing Production of Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

R. Hamilton Wright
There have been so many productions both on stage and screen of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I thought there could never be another version of this morality fable. However, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has taken the melodramatic aspect out of this provocative drama and has given us a completely different version of the Stevenson classic.

San Jose Repertory in a co-production with Arizona Theatre Company is presenting a new, stylish and edgy version of the traditional tale. Jeffrey Hatcher's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has one actor portraying Jekyll and one actress playing Elizabeth, the love interest of the playwright's creation of Mr. Hyde. Four other actors portray several characters, including various manifestations of the evil man. The playwright has given overhauled the traditional story. The honorable and theoretical implications are now different from the original story. Elizabeth Jelkes as a chambermaid who is drawn to the evil Hyde. The monsterish man seems to have some sort of goodness within himself, especially when it comes to his romance with Elizabeth.

R. Hamilton Wright as is excellent as Dr. Jekyll, an incensed moralist. This man has a certain amount of humanity about him and the actor shows the character's moral decay step by step, and he does it realistically. Anna Bullard gives a winning performance as Elizabeth. She shows great moxie between her trepidation and distress. Her Elizabeth is in love with the human side of Mr. Hyde.

Ken Ruta gives a sterling performance as the cynical and sturdy attorney for the doctor. He also plays one of the Mr. Hydes in several scenes to great effect. Mark Anderson Phillips brilliantly plays the wicked Mr. Hyde. He is correctly sadistic and hateful, yet also enigmatically and precariously attractive. You can't take your eyes off this actor playing the evil Mr. Hyde. His movements are perfect, even when he is in the background when Dr. Jekyll is talking in the second act. Phillips also plays Dr. H.K. Lanyon with a perfect Scottish accent.

Carrie Paff plays various roles, including Mr. Hyde. She is properly inflexible and emotionless as Jekyll's servant and then turns in a dodgy, malevolence presence as Hyde. Stephen D'Ambrose gives polished performances of several characters including a fierce Mr. Hyde. Alan Kaiser and Danielle Perata have small non-speaking parts; both are effective in these tiny roles.

Director David Ira Goldstein gives the one hour and fifty minute production a piercingly paced, stunning staging. Kent Dorsey's set is a dazzling, attractive wood-paneled Victorian surgical theatre dominated by a jarringly red door. Jekyll's laboratory rises from the floor. Dawn Chiang's lighting is fantastic as there are red and green lights to strengthen the Jekyll to Hyde alterations. Robert Carlson has devised an energizing score to heighten the suspense. Anne Oliver's costumes are authentic Victorian outfits.

Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ran through June 8th at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio. San Jose. For tickets please call 408-367-7255 or go to . Their next production will be Reduced Shakespeare Company All the Great Books, abridged opening on June 21 and running through July 20th.

Photo: Kim Fuller

Steve Yockey's Octopus Packs Quite a Wallop

Liam Vincent and Eric Kerr
Magic Theatre and Encore Theatre Company are currently presenting Atlanta playwright Steve Yockey's Octopus, now extended through June 21. There have been so many gay stories that center on AIDS and promiscuity that the theme has become a cliché. However, the playwright presents it in a new and rather unique way.

Octopus, a fast-paced play, does not seem to know what direction it wants to take. There are realistic scenes between a young gay couple who are suddenly confronted by AIDS. The playwright uses, in metaphysical terms, an octopus that lives under the sea ready to inundate both the young and old couples The play becomes very metaphorical after a rain soaked telegraph man knocks on the door to hand them a telegram. Water comes pouring into the front of the stage and later everywhere in the apartment becomes allegorical. Even the last scene is reminiscent of a Greek tragedy.

Octopus has been called "a post modern love story." The men in this play don't discuss their sexuality, they don't struggle with being gay, and they don't seem to be concerned about the way society judges them. There is an indecisive nature about relationships in the gay community at the present time. The "gay plague" of the '90s is not thought of by today's youth since there are many drug therapies today. However AIDS, like the octopus, can still deliver a dose of toxic poison to any one who does not take precautions.

The 70-minute drama is about a young couple, (Eric Kerr) Kevin and Blake (Patrick Alparone), who have been together for a year and are about to have an "adventure" with older couple Andy and (Brad Erickson) Max (Liam Vincent). They met this longtime couple in a local bar and it seems this will be fun because as Kevin assures his lover "it is just sex."

Blake is a bit unsure of this group sex act and they agree to stop the action when either one feels uncomfortable. However, several weeks later things are not what they used to be. The octopus has entered the young couple lives as one of the four has been found to be AIDS positive.

A jovial all-wet (Rowan Brooks) telegram delivery boy enters the scene, bringing revelations and questions that should have been asked before the two couples had a four way sex act. He appears several times in the production and he is completely wet all of the time. In the background behind the apartment door we see streams of water coming down.

As a gay male, I don's mind looking at naked men. However, as an avid theatre fan, gratuitous nudity irritates me. The opening scene is the four men completely naked before going into the bed. It is supposed to titillate the audience and undoubtedly sell more tickets. It would have been just as good if the men climbed into the bed with their briefs still on. The stage turns black and anyone with any imagination would know what was going to happen.

A scene during the first part of the drama is a creative metaphor of the lonely, weary Brad Erickson at the bottom of the ocean. He is dying of AIDS and he vaguely reminds me of King Lear howling out his anguish while an invisible octopus of AIDS hurls thunderbolts at him. The symbolism is too baroque and overwritten to be effective. Brad Erickson is excellent as the warrior but he uses poetic words which becomes tedious.

Patrick Alparone and Eric Kerr give impressive performances as Blake and Kevin. Patrick is particularly outstanding in his confrontation with Eric Kerr after the "adventure." He has a wonderful way of laid-back natural acting, and the timing between two is right on the mark. Brad Erickson is first rate playing a jaded queen in the first scene.

Once again, Lian Vincent gives a brilliant performance as the cynical Max, with a splendidly layered, heartrending portrait of culpability, fury, bewilderment, lust and loss. He is brilliant as Max gives his confessional monologue while giving reasons for his refusal to assume responsibility when his lover is dying of AIDS.

Rowan Brooks gives a mysteriously embryonic performance as the waterlogged telegraph boy. The play becomes bizarre when he enters the apartment door for the first moment.

Set Designer Erik Flatmo has designed a detailed middle income apartment with a huge poster of Bjork on the wall. He also has created an effective means of water flowing through the apartment at the end. Kate Warner's director is to the point as she keeps the blackout stage scene flowing effectively.

Octopus has been extended through June 21 at the Magic's Sam Shepard Theatre located in Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-441-8822 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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