Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Wicked, Tough Titty and A Picasso

Wicked Returns to Home Town San Francisco

Teal Wicks and Kendra Kassebaum
The spectacular big green money machine Wicked has returned to its hometown San Francisco for an open-ended run at the Orpheum Theatre. This is an audience-friendly show with a good Stephen Schwartz score, an admirable Winnie Holzman book, and some very good musical staging by Wayne Cilento.

Everything looks fresh in Wicked and it certainly is a great improvement on what we saw in the pre-Broadway run six years ago.  It has been trimmed and a few extraneous trappings have been stripped away. This is the kind of show that will make audiences happy, as the songs generate a mood, create motion and just make everyone joyful at the end. It's one hell of a show.

The expressively complex shift of the Wicked Witch of the West from a repulsive figure to a heroine is beautifully accomplished by Teal Wicks. She is as hardhearted an Elphaba as I have seen. She has amazing singing chops on "I'm Not That Girl" and "No Good Deed." Her duets with Kendra Kassebaum as Glinda are harmonious on "What Is This Feeling?" and "For Good."  Kendra Kassebaum has wisely chosen not to imitate Kristin Chenoweth's style. She is not as perky but gives a poignant performance, especially in the second act.  She also displays vivacious singing chops on "Popular" and is believable as a snob who is cutely manipulative.

Carol Kane is scrumptiously eerie as Madame Morrible. David Garrison is very good as the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He has a folksier, more genial charm than the Wizards I have seen in the past.  He is correctly groveling in "A Sentimental Man" and does a great enthusiastic rendition of a vaudeville man in "Wonderful." Nicolas Dromard is cool as Fiyero, who has plenty of street smarts.  He has terrific voice singing "Dancing Through Life" and "As Long As You're Mine."  DeeDee Mango Hall has refreshingly re-crafted the role of the crippled Nessarose. It is one the best renditions of the character I have seen. Boq, Nessarose's assistant, is charmingly played by Eddy Rioseco.

Wayne Cilento's choreography has a vigorous pulse with some showstopper dance numbers.  Susan Hilferty's costumes are opulent and reminiscent of Dickens characters. The goat mask worn by Tom Flynn playing Doctor Dillamond is awesome. Eugene Lee's set is breathtaking and very impressive. There are myriad of lights all over the stage; the color green is featured.

Director Joe Mantello has pulled out all stops to make this a wonderful fantasy, with flying monkeys, a gigantic dragon head with flashing eyes high above the stage, and a huge moveable iron mask of the Wizard, plus oddments of other familiar Oz characters.

Wicked in an open-ended run at the Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco.  For tickets please call Ticketmaster 415-512-770.

Photo: Joan Marcus

Tough Titty Is One Tough Play

Adrian Roberts and Kimberly Herbert
Oni Faida Lampley's story of an African-American woman's protracted fight against breast cancer is beautifully accomplished. It is a moving confirmation of the late playwright's struggle for life.  This is no soap opera or dry scholastic exercise. The one hour and 45 minute drama is guileless and droll as well as quite honest about the cancer's impact on Angela's physical capacity, confidence and marriage.   She is one tough cookie as we see her from age 13 in a Catholic school praying to St. Angus.

We see that Angela (Kimberly Herbert Gregory) wants to have a fun life, boyfriends and excitement growing up; however, in later life she is married with child when her friend Imani (Elizabeth Carter) feels a lump on her breast and takes her to an oncologist (Edward Nattenberg).  Angela receives the news of the tumor but goes into complete denial.  This dialogue with the oncologist, in which she rages against the injustice that this can't be happening to her, is powerful.  She has no family history, does not smoke, eats proper foods and sees no black women in the cancer pamphlets.  She agrees to have a mastectomy even though her husband Shaka (Adrian Roberts) and mother (Michele Shay) are against it.

During the second act we jump seven years forward.  Angela is taking all sorts of drugs and chemo, and is even thinking of traveling to Mexico where they have a system of drinking your own urine to defeat the tumor.  Shaka is now doing all of the household work due to the weakness of his wife.  The combative arguments by these two are powerful.

Kimberly Herbert Gregory (New York ... and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi) is brilliant as Angela.  She morphs from a bright-eyed 13-year-old Catholic schoolgirl to raging in adulthood about the cancer and finally accepting the fact that she must live one day at a time.  It's a tour de force of great acting.

Michele Shay (Hecuba, Seven Guitars, Gem of the Ocean at A.C.T) is engrossing as the mother Sheila.  Her strong vocal cords as she tells her daughter not to go the route of the mastectomy are perfect. Adrian Roberts gives a powerhouse performance as husband Shaka. Jeri Lynn Cohen, Lily Tung Crystal and Edward Nattenberg play various roles effectively.

Director Robert O'Hara's staging is fluid and he deploys understated elements on the simple design of suggestive panels and marble benches of Caleb Levengood's set. Sara Huddleson's soundscape of resonant heartbeats is awesome.

Tough Titty played through February 22 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Ft. Mason Center, Marina Blvd, San Francisco.  Coming up next is a new play by Lloyd Shy called American Hwangap opening on April 4th. For tickets, call 415-441-8822 or visit  

Photo: David Allen

Jeffrey Hatcher's A Picasso Is a Taut, Smart Wartime Thriller

Carrie Paff and James Carpenter
Jeffrey Hatcher is one of America's most prolific playwrights and a master of clever dialogue. His work on A Picasso is no exception.  It recently played San Jose Repertory Theatre with two of the Bay Area's finest actors: James Carpenter and Carrie Paff.  This is a thought-provoking examination of art and its meaning.  The tight drama takes place in a vault below the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris on a late October day in 1941. Pablo Picasso (James Carpenter), who is living in Paris, has been picked up by the Gestapo to be interrogated by German art expert Miss Fischer (Carrie Paff). There is to be an important exhibition in Berlin and the famed artist has three pictures stored in the vault.

The Nazis believe Picasso to be a reactionary artist and they want to burn two of his paintings publicly to show his "degenerate" feelings. They believe his famous painting of the "Battle of Guernica" is very political and anti-Nazi. What transpires in this fast-paced, intelligent 75-minute piece is a cat and mouse game between the adversaries.

Picasso is to work a deal with the secretly simpatico Miss Fischer to renounce the testimonials he has given on two of the three paintings. He must choose which one is his own and thus save two of the works from the bonfires.  Miss Fischer needs only a single work to feed the flames in Berlin. There are many plot twists in this mesmerizing drama.

James Carpenter has transformed himself to look and even talk like the famed artist.  He is terrific as the flamboyant painter who takes each of the three portraits in turn—one from his boyhood, another from his thirties and one freshly minted—and tells a story about each. There are many Picasso-isms in this play ("As a child I drew like Raphael, it took the rest of my life to draw like a child").

Carrie Paff gives an exemplary performance as the art-smitten interrogator from the German cultural ministry, Miss Fischer.  She fluctuates between sympathy and hostility toward the artist, brilliantly at a moment notice. Miss Fischer even talks about her admiration of Picasso's art while growing up in a household full of great art.

Jonathan Moscone's approach to this intelligent drama is first class.  He has caught the cat and mouse game perfectly to make this a thrilling night of entertainment.  Erik Flatmo has designed an effective set of an underground art warehouse with cases of paintings on shelves piled high to the rafters and an extra long flight of stars leading to the upper part of the stage. Meg Neville's black on black femme fatale costume for the interrogator is marvelous.

A Picasso played through February 22nd at San Jose Repertory Theatre Company, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose.  Their next production will be the world premiere of The Kite Runner, based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini and adapted for the stage by Matthew Spangler.  It opens on March 21 and runs through April 19th. For tickets call 408-367-7255 or visit

Photo: Pat Kirk  

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

- Richard Connema

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