Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Zanna, Don't! and Moore Love For the Holidays

A Cute and Clever Production of Zanna, Don't!

Price Adam Troche Jr. and Brian J. Patterson
It has been over five years since I saw this candy-colored musical at the John Houseman Theatre with Jai Rodriquez playing Zanna. The "musical fairy tale" was an Off-Broadway hit about an alternative high school where gay kids are popular and rule the school (the members of the chess team are the real athletic warriors and not the football team). There is even a women's mechanical bull riding team, and pink is the school color.

Zanna, Don't!'s San Francisco debut production is being presented at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Director F. Allen Sawyer has assembled eight young, energetic singer/actors, some making their first professional stage appearance in this two-act fun musical.

Zanna (Price Adam Troche, Jr.) is a waif-like lad with a magic wand who fixes up the love-disadvantaged teenagers. Chess champion Mike (Timitcio Artusio) is linked to football player Steve (Stephen Foreman), and Roberta (Cindy Im) nestles up to Kate (Katrina McGraw), thanks to the magic wand of Zanna. But, horrors upon horrors, something goes wrong when Steve and Kate fall in love with each other during the school's drama presentation about the military!

The score, with music and lyrics by Tim Acito and additional lyrics by Alexander Dinelaris, is a mixture of disco, pop rock, country and romantic ballads. Much of it is generic; however, the pieces fit the action of the plot. The book by Tom Acito and Alexander Dinelaris is clever with references to Broadway shows like Grease, Anyone Can Whistle and Jesus Christ Superstar. Sometimes the ballads become a bit too sugary, and some are less musically refined than others. But, on the whole, it is an entertaining score. The country western number "Fast," a jovial homage to Pasty Cline performed by Brian J. Patterson, Rodney Earl Jackson and Miquela Sierra, is enjoyable.

Cute and petite Price Adam Troche, Jr. (a senior at San Francisco State University) is a cross between a young Robert Blake and Robert Clary without a French accent. He has a sweet, ethereal glow about him, and his honeyed vocal cords are excellent in "Zanna's Song," "'Tis a Far, Far Better Thing I Do" and "Someday You Might Love Me."

Timitcio Artusio (studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music) portraying chess champion Mike has a crystal clear voice rendering "I Could Write Books" and "I Think We Got Love," a duet with Stephen Foreman as football player Steve (hs performed mostly in East Bay Theatres), who also has a very good voice. His duet with Katrina McGraw (mostly in Young People's Teen Musical Theatre) in "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is pleasurable. Ms. McGraw has also agreeable vocal cords.

Brian J. Paterson (Take me Out, In Gabriel's Kitchen at NCTC) usually plays "butch" roles, but he extends himself as an overly fey Tank. He is a real hoot in the role, displaying a strong voice in "Straight to Heaven." Rodney Earl Jackson (Young People's Teen Musicals) is hilarious, especially as a fluttery bluebird that flies about the stage. Cindy Im (National Theatre of Paris, Theatre Dijon Bourgogne) gives an appealing performance with a full voice as Roberta. Miguela Sierra (Songs for a New World at CCSF) is first rate as Candi.

Choreography by Stephanie Temple is bright and energy driven. Kuo-Hao Lo's sets are cartoon-like while costume designer Jeffrey Lalonde gives colorful sprightly outfits to the cast. John Kelly's lighting is bright and optimistic. F. Allen Sawyer gives a fast-paced, enthusiastic direction to the two-hour musical. Musical director G. Scott Lacy's keyboard accompaniment is dexterous and cheery.

Zanna, Don't! has been extended through February 1 in the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or visit Opening on January 23rd will be Tennessee in the Summer. It runs through March 1, 2009.

Photo: Lois Tema

Darlene Love and Melba Moore in Moore Love For the Holidays at the Rrazz Room

Two legendary performers, recording artist Darlene Love and Broadway diva Melba Moore, recently appeared at the intimate Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko. This wonderful duo was backed by Bay Area pianist Tammy Hall and a swinging quartet of great musicians.

Melba Moore, who won a Tony award for her performance as Lutibelle in the original production of Purlie, which I was fortunate to see in 1970, is still a force of nature. The 60ish diminutive artist dressed in a black pants suit with rhinestone lapels still has that infectious voice that is wonderful to hear. She still retains that amazing four-octave range. She belted out songs like "You Stepped Into My Life" and "Lean on Me," was sublime singing "The Long and Winding Road" and sang several songs from Hair. Her rendition of "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In" were gutsy. Of course, when she sang "Purlie," she brought back memories of that wonderful musical.

Darlene Love has a dynamic voice. For forty years she has been a recording star with several hit albums of rockin' music. Darlene was brought to the attention of Phil Spector who was looking for a lead singer for "He's A Rebel," which released under The Crystals' name. Asked if she knew about this, Darlene said "So What? The man just paid me triple scale." She figured it was a cute song but it was probably going nowhere. She was wrong since it became a mega hit. Her rendition of the song in this show was powerful with a perfect nuance of the lyrics. (In 1997 a jury awarded Love over $263,000 for back royalties from Phil Spector.)

Darlene Love looked fabulous with her striking blonde hair; when she sings, she rocks the house. She sang "Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home" and segued into "Da Doo Ron Ron" with the audience joining in on the lyrics. She captured the emotional impact when singing "Night of Peace" and "At Last." Her rendition of "River Deep Mountain High" showed flawless intonation. She concluded her spot with the wild and wonderful "Heat Wave," and Melba came up on the stage for a pulsating duet of "Dancing in the Street." It was so infectious that many of the patrons in the club got up and danced.

Darlene Love and Melba Moore's Moore Love for the Holidays played through January 4th at the Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason Street, San Francisco.

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

- Richard Connema

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