Oliver! at the 6th Street Playhouse (Aired: November 20, 2019)

6th Street Playhouse
November 15 – December 15, 2019

Tony Award and Academy Award-winning Oliver! brings to life the harsh streets of Victorian England from Charles Dicken’s novel Oliver Twist. Follow Oliver, a malnourished orphan in a workhouse, as he escapes to London and finds acceptance amongst a gang of pickpockets. When he is wrongfully accused of a crime, he is rescued by a wealthy benefactor. His new, comfortable life is threatened when the girlfriend of one of the pickpocket leaders is forced to kidnap him back to the gang. Filled with spirited, memorable songs like “As Long as He Needs Me,” “Food, Glorious Food,” and “Where is Love,” Oliver! is a musical theatre masterpiece.

By Lionel Bart
Directed by Patrick Nims

Friday & Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday at 2:00 pm
$35 Adult
$33 Senior (62+)
Sunday at 2:00 pm
$38 Adult
$36 Senior
Thursday at 7:30 pm
$32 Adult
$30 Senior
Under 30—All performances $22
Value Seats—All performances $25
Stage Seats— $10 Not available for all performances. Seats will be arranged at theatre’s discretion for safety of patrons and actors.
Friend of Season Subscriber Price—$30 (Contact the Box Office)

G.K. Hardt Theatre
6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
(707) 523-4185

Novato Theater Company Presents Sweeney Todd (Aired: November 13, 2019)

Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd is an exceedingly difficult show to produce.  More opera than musical (San Francisco Opera actually did a production in 2015), the vocal demands alone create a significant casting challenge for most theatre companies. The complexities of Sondheim’s score and the requirements of the set design add to the degree of difficulty for any company seeking to produce this monster of a show.

But with two roles that are ‘bucket list’ entries for many actors, the North Bay will see three productions this season of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’s tale. Marin’s Novato Theater Company and Theatre-at-Large have joined forces to be the first with their co-production running in Novato through November 17. 

The characters of Sweeney Todd and pie shop proprietor Mrs. Lovett have been around since 1846 and have appeared in numerous stage and film adaptations. Sondheim’s 1979 Broadway production’s headliners were Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury while Tim Burton’s 2007 film starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

After exile and imprisonment, Benjamin Barker (Bruce Vieira) returns to London to seek vengeance on the villainous Judge Turpin (Charles Evans) whose machinations led to the death of Barker’s wife and separation from his daughter Johanna (Julianne Bretan) who is now the Judge’s ward. Under the name Sweeney Todd, he opens a tonsorial parlor above the bake shop of Mrs. Lovett (Alison Peltz) who admittedly makes “The Worst Pies in London”. Soon Todd’s need for vengeance and Lovett’s need for meat for her pies leads to an unholy partnership.

Co-directors Vieira and Kim Bromley manage to overcome most of the difficulties small theatre companies face with a production of this scope. The vocal work is excellent as is the seven-piece orchestra under the direction of Judy Weisen. The roles have been well cast, though the preference for vocal ability over performance skill is evident. The leads are first-rate as is the supporting work of Dominic Quin-Harkin as rival barber Adolfo Pirelli, Fernando Siu as Pirelli’s assistant Tobias, and Jane Harrington as a beggar woman.

The villainy level of the Judge and his foppish assistant Beadle Bamford (Mauricio Suarez) is surprisingly low while the blandness level of Johanna’s suitor Anthony (Cordell Wesselink) lamentably high. 

But they all can sing, and with songs that range from delightfully amusing ditties to impassioned love ballads to dark dirges, that’s an understandable priority.

Sweeney Todd is not a cheery show but these are not cheery times. Enjoy?

’Sweeney Todd’ runs Thursday through Sunday through November 17 at the Novato Theater Company Playhouse in Novato. Thursday through Saturday performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

For more information, go to novatotheatercompany.org.

Wait Until Dark at 6th Street & Between Riverside and Crazy at Left Edge (Aired: November 6, 2019)

Local theatres seem to be in a New York state of mind with two very different shows set in the Big Apple running on North Bay stages. 6th Street Playhouse brings the somewhat ironically titled Wait Until Dark to their Monroe Stage while Left Edge Theatre puts their audiences somewhere Between Riverside and Crazy.

Wait Until Dark playwright Frederick Knott only wrote three plays but two of the three (the other being Dial M for Murder) have become theatre standards. Film adaptations have led to increased audience familiarity with the material, robbing them of a bit of the suspense that Knott built into his scripts.

Photographer Sam Hendrix (Steve Cannon) has unwittingly transported a child’s doll full of heroin from Canada to New York and left it in the care of his sight-impaired wife Susi (convincingly played by Olivia Marie Rooney). Soon a trio of very nefarious gentlemen (portrayed by Ezra Hernandez, Matt Witthaus, Justin Thompson) arrive on the scene determined to get the doll surreptitiously by playing a deadly game of impersonation.  

Director Meghan Hakes has a good cast at work here, but the show’s MVP has to be lighting designer Vincent Mothersbaugh. Without giving too much away, lighting plays a big role in this play and Mothersbaugh delivers.  

‘Wait Until Dark’ runs through November 10 on the Monroe Stage at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. Thursday through Saturday performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

For more information, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com

Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a stack of theater awards. It’s an odd mixture of comedy and drama that at its heart is a story of families – father/son, son/fiancé, father-figure/son, and the ‘brotherhood’ of law enforcement.   

Retired New York City police officer Walter “Pops” Washington (played by Corey Jackson) is living in a rent-controlled apartment with his recently paroled son Junior (played by Sam Ademola), his son’s fiancé Lulu (Pilar Gonzales) and their friend Oswaldo (an intense Jared Wright).

Walter’s former partner Audrey (Sandra Ish) and her fiancé Lt. Dave (Mike Schaeffer) are trying to get Walter to sign off on a settlement agreement stemming from a police shooting. The powers they represent aren’t above threatening Walter with the loss of his home to get his signature. Walter, who always seems pissed, gets really pissed.

It’s a solid production, and credit director Argo Thompson for bringing some theatrical diversity – both in casting and subject matter – to the area.    

‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ also runs through November 10 at Left Edge Theatre at the Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts in Santa Rosa. Thursday through Saturday performances are at 8pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

For more information, go to leftedgetheatre.com

Luna Gale at the Cinnabar Theater (Aired: October 23, 2019)

The term “MacGuffin” was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock to describe objects or events that took place in his films that were necessary to begin the plot and motivate the characters but were essentially irrelevant. It may be harsh to refer to a baby as a MacGuffin, but the title character in Luna Gale, running through October 27 at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater, is just that.

She’s the newborn of meth-addicted parents Karlie (Miranda Jane Williams) and Peter (Zane Walters). After bringing their baby into an emergency room, they’re met by Caroline (Liz Jahren), a social worker who informs them the baby will be taken out of their custody while they receive treatment for their addiction. Faced with the choice of placing the infant in foster care or with Karlie’s mother Cindy (Gina Alvarado), Caroline recommends placement with the child’s grandmother. It’s a decision she soon regrets.

Cindy, an evangelical Christian, seeks to gain full custody of the child with the support of her influential pastor (James Pelican). Caroline thinks the mother’s move will be devastating to her daughter’s recovery, but Cindy thinks Karlie’s a lost cause. She wants to save the child (in more ways than one.)

Overworked and out of time as her tight-laced boss (John Browning) supports Cindy’s request, Caroline devises a plan to stall the custody hearing. Will this agnostic sell her soul to save three others?

Playwright Rebecca Gilman has written a devastating look at the social services world. Underfunded and frequently unavailable, our nation talks a good game when it comes to the treatment of damaged individuals but often fails to deliver.

Director Jessica Litwak brings a stylish directorial approach to the material that, while visually interesting, detracts from the text.  The show opens and closes with movement pieces and when cast members are not in a scene, they’re dressed in lab coats and act as shelves, flag poles, etc. Rather than absorb what’s being said, one ponders why there’s an arm sticking out of the refrigerator holding a banana.

When they’re not scenery, the cast is acting the hell out of the script. Liz Jahren gives a towering performance as the social worker exhaustively swimming against the tide of an entrenched bureaucracy. Williams and Walters are quite effective as the troubled parents. Pelican gives an interestingly restrained performance as the church leader.

Not as depressing as it sounds, Luna Gale is a tribute to all those fighting the good fight – professionally and personally. There’s still hope.  

‘Luna Gale’ runs through October 27 at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

For more information, go to cinnabartheater.org

Sovereignty at Marin Theater Company (Aired: October 16, 2019)

There aren’t a lot of plays that explore Native American history or the modern-day social and political issues that continue to challenge that community. Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Sovereignty, running at the Marin Theatre Company through Oct. 20, attempts to do both in about two hours.

Sarah Ridge Polson (Elizabeth Frances) returns to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma seeking a position with Attorney General John Ross (John Waid) with the hope of enforcing the Violence Against Women Act on tribal lands and perhaps getting the opportunity to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 Oliphant decision. That decision declared that Native American Tribal Courts had no criminal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans.

Things are complicated by family history. Sarah’s ancestors were part of the Cherokee nation who agreed to the Treaty of New Echota which ceded all Cherokee territory east of the Mississippi to the United States and led to the Trail of Tears.  Ross’s ancestors considered those that supported the treaty traitors and put many of them to death.

So begins the back and forth between the two centuries that tells the story of the Cherokee nation, the abuse they suffered (and continue to suffer) at the hands of the United States government, the two families, and how the decisions of the past continue to haunt the present.

Playwright Nagle is also an attorney which would explain the very legal approach she took to her script. In her zeal to enter all the facts of her case, she enters all the facts of her case through reems of expository dialogue in which her characters come off more as court clerks citing cases than co-workers and family members engaged in conversation. 

It’s not the fault of director Jasson Minadakis’s talented cast (the majority of whom are Native American) that the dialogue they’re given to deliver often seems straight out of a History Channel reenactment or that one character leaps from charming goofball to vicious thug in a seeming-millisecond.    

I left the opening night performance thinking that rather than cram two centuries worth of history into a single play, audiences might be better served with a series of plays (à la August Wilson) that tone down the legal-ese and up the humanity quotient.   uerecsa Huer

There’s a lot of good work on stage and the information imparted by Sovereignty is important (and sadly little-known), but theatre needs to be more than just a staged legal brief.

‘Sovereignty’ runs Tuesday through Sunday through October 20 at Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. Tuesday through Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

For more information, go to marintheatre.org.

Gypsy at the 6th Street Playhouse (Aired: October 9, 2019)

In sports, the term ‘ringer’ generally refers to the practice of using a clearly superior competitor in order to gain an unfair advantage. In theatrical terms, it can be used to describe the importation of outside talent in the hope of drawing a larger-than-normal audience. In both cases, the hope is that the player/performer will hit it out of the park.

6th Street Playhouse has a ringer in their cast of Gypsy, running through Oct. 20, in the person of Kathy Fitzgerald. A successful character actress with featured roles in several Broadway hits (Wicked, The Producers), Ms. Fitzgerald takes on the challenging lead role of Momma Rose in what many consider to be the greatest American musical.

Momma Rose will stop at nothing to make her daughter “Baby” June (Gigi Bruce-Low) a star, keeping her perpetually young as they cross the country with a third-rate vaudeville act. When the grown up “Dainty” June (Melody Payne) tires of the child act and elopes with one of the young men from the troupe, Momma Rose turns her sight to frequently dismissed second daughter Louise (Cecilia Brenner, then Carmen Mitchell.) With vaudeville dying, they’re reduced to appearing at a low-rent theatre that turns out to be a burlesque house.  When the main ‘attraction’ is unable to go on, Momma Rose sees the chance to make Louise a star, if only for a night. The shy and retiring Louise soon becomes Gypsy Rose Lee.

The book by Arthur Laurents is complimented by the classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim score that contains such classics as “Let Me Entertain You”, “Together Wherever We Go”, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”, and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”.

Director Jared Sakren got a ‘two-fer’ with the casting of Ms. Fitzgerald as she’s joined onstage by her husband Roger Michelson in the role of Herbie, the harried agent who’s hopelessly in love with Rose.  He’s quite good and is often the emotional heart of the show. Carmen Mitchell also shines as the coming-into-her-own Louise.

Production values are spotty, with the show visually flat until late in the second act when bright costuming by Pamela Johnson and lighting by April George elevated the show. The same can be said for Ms. Fitzgerald’s performance.

To return to sports parlance, she spent most of the show hitting singles and doubles and didn’t really get a great at-bat until the show’s conclusion with “Rose’s Turn”.  

It was a solid triple.

‘Gypsy’ runs through October 20 at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

For more information, go to 6thstreetplayhouse.com

Merman’s Apprentice – October 2, 2019

It’s a virtual Merman-palooza in the North Bay as two theatre companies present ‘musical fables’ with Ethel Merman connections. Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse has Gypsy running through October 20 while Sonoma Arts Live has Merman’s Apprentice, an original musical with Merman a character, running through Oct. 13.

Merman’s Apprentice is a throw-back to the classic Broadway musical – a simple plot, larger-than-life characters, a little schmaltz, and lots of songs to tell its story.

Plucky 12-year-old Muriel Plakenstein (plucky 17-year-old Emma Sutherland) runs away to Broadway and runs right into her idol Ethel Merman (Dani Innocent Beem). Merman, about to begin a short run in Hello, Dolly!, is impressed with Muriel’s knowledge of her career and takes her under her wing. The next thing you know Plakenstein is set to star in an all-juvenile version of Dolly! for producer David Merrick (Patrick Barr).Or is she?

Playwright/lyricist Stephen Cole, a friend of Merman’s late in her life, joined up with composer David Evans to come up with this theatrical valentine to her and to Broadway. As the first full production of the show, co-directors Jaime Love and Larry Williams had no playbook to follow. Adding to their challenge, Cole and Evans were also present for the final week of rehearsal, so last-minute changes continued to be made.

The opening night performance went very well, but a few more changes should be considered. The first act overran a natural concluding moment and continued for two additional songs. The second act ran under thirty minutes. The acts should be better balanced.

There’s nary a note of any Merman standard to be heard in the show, but Cole and Evans’s score evokes the feel and sound of classic Broadway with lyrics that are often clever – one jarring anachronism aside. (I highly doubt a song ostensibly written in the 1940’s and sung in 1970 would reference FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in a dress.)

Emma Sutherland as the title character is a dynamo in the role. She more than holds her own with the estimable Dani Beem, who catches the essence of Ethel Merman while wisely avoiding any attempt at impersonation. There’s a nice ensemble at work with Julia Holsworth and Sean O’Brien a lot of fun as Ethel’s Mom and Pop.

A theatre-lover’s treat, the exceedingly pleasant Merman’s Apprentice is what All About Eve would have been in the hands of Walt Disney.

‘Merman’s Apprentice’ runs through October 13 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center in Sonoma. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

For more information, go to sonomaartslive.org.

Curtain Call’s The Haunting of Hill House and Raven’s Arsenic & Old Lace (Aired: September 25, 2019)

Halloween comes early to North Bay stages with two productions more commonly seen around that particular holiday. Monte Rio’s Curtain Call Theatre recreates The Haunting of Hill House through September 28th while Healdsburg’s Raven Players present the serial-killing comedy Arsenic and Old Lace through September 29th.

Shirley Jackson’s 1958 novel The Haunting of Hill House is considered by many (including Steven King) to be one of the finest horror novels ever written. Adapted for film twice (and currently a Netflix series), F. Andrew Leslie adapted it for the stage in 1964 and its that version that is being presented.

Curtain Call’s previous genre production (Dracula) was undone by a leaden script. This time, it’s uneven performances that are problematic. Casting is often a challenge for smaller community theatres and this West County troupe is no exception. Where they excel is with scenic design. They somehow manage to get really interesting sets onto their tiny hall stage and can also be counted on to have some effective technical elements. Here, they do a good job in creating an atmosphere of fear and suspense through lighting, sound and special effects.

It’s an earnest production good for at least a shiver or two.

‘The Haunting of Hill House’ runs through September 28th at the Russian River Hall in Monte Rio. The Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8pm.

For more information, go to curtaincallrussianriver.com.

Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring’s tale of the Brewster sisters and their proclivity for poisoning lonely, old gentlemen, has been an audience pleaser for over 75 years. The popular 1944 film adaptation directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant as nephew Mortimer Brewster contains what most film aficionados (and Grant himself) consider the debonair star’s worst performance.

Unfortunately, it’s that performance on which Michael Hunter appears to have based his interpretation of the role. The eye-popping, face mugging approach to the character didn’t work on film, and it doesn’t work on stage.

Other performances in this Joe Gellura-directed production do work, including Rebecca Allington and Priscilla Locke as Abby and Martha Brewster, Sophia Ferar as Mortimer’s girlfriend/fiancé, and Eric Yanez as a play-writing cop on the beat. Steve Cannon is actually a touch Karloff-ian as murderous brother Jonathan Brewster (Boris Karloff originated the role on Braodway) and the reliable Robert Bauer is amusing as Jonathan’s sidekick Dr. Einstein. Michael Romero is a bit young as Teddy, but his appearances bring much-needed energy to the proceedings.

With dated references and its raison d’être (Karloff) long gone, Arsenic is starting to feel old.

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ runs Friday through Sun through September 29 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 8pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

For more information, go to raventheater.org.

“Nuts” at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre (Aired: September 18, 2019)

While technically not set in a courtroom, Tom Topor’s Nuts, running now at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre through Sept. 29, has all the elements of a classic courtroom drama – a defendant, a judge, a prosecuting attorney, a defense attorney, and witnesses. However, the question of Innocence or guilt of a crime is not to be answered here but whether a defendant is competent to stand trial.

Set in a hearing room in the psychiatric wing of New York’s Bellevue Hospital, State Supreme Court Judge Murdoch (Dwayne Stincelli) will determine whether Claudia Draper (Heather Gordon) will stand trial for manslaughter or be committed to a mental hospital for care. District Attorney Franklin Macmillan (Chris Schloemp, whose suit should have garnered him a contempt citation), along with Claudia’s mother Rose (Bonnie Jean Shelton) and step-father Arthur (Dodds Delzell), are determined to see her committed. Claudia, with the help of attorney Aaron Levinsky (David L. Yen), is determined to have her day in court. 

The play runs in real time with three acts of about 40 minutes each and two ten-minute “recesses” between the acts. The first act consists of testimony from Dr. Herbert Rosenthal (Peter T. Downey), the state’s evaluating psychiatrist. In the second, the parents testify and in the concluding act Claudia takes the stand in her own defense.  

Set Designer Argo Thompson utilizes the entire Studio Theatre in recreating the claustrophobic confines of a Bellevue hearing room, so much so that when the court officer (Scott Wagman) instructed all in attendance to rise, some audience members stood up.

Director Joe Winkler has an A-list cast at work here with particularly good work done by Downey as the smarmy psychiatrist and Delzell as the deceptively doting stepfather. The talented Gordon has little to do but appear perturbed in the background for the first two-thirds, but she gets to shine in the last act when her response to one of the DA’s questions turns into a brutally blunt monologue.

The play, written forty years ago, probably seemed more daring at the time with its story of an educated, upper middle-class woman with family secrets who turns to prostitution. Now it plays like an extended episode of Law and Order: SVU.

Its points about our flawed mental health system and the power of the patriarchy are (sadly) still valid, but they are wrapped in what is basically an unexceptional legal drama told by exceptional actors.

‘Nuts’ runs through September 29 at Left Edge Theatre in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 8pm. The Sunday matinee is at 2pm.

For more information, go to leftedgetheatre.com

Eureka Day at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center (Aired: Spetember 11, 2019)

A recent New York Times headline asked the question “Can a Play About Vaccines Be a Laughing Matter?” Bay Area audiences can answer that question themselves by attending one of two current productions of the play in question – Jonathan Spector’s Eureka Day. You can catch it Off-Broadway in New York, or you can go to the North Bay’s Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park where it’s running through September 22.

Commissioned and produced by Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company in 2018, Oakland-based playwright Spector’s look at how the leaders of a Berkeley Charter School deal with an outbreak of the mumps won that year’s Bay Area Critics Circle Award for Original Script. Not really a debate on the issue of vaccinations (it’s clear in the play where Spector stands), it’s more a look at how the attempt to find common ground on certain issues is an exercise in futility.

Everything you need to know about the school becomes clear in the first minutes. Gathered in the school library, the members of the School’s Executive Committee are discussing whether to add “Transracial Adoptee” as an option for prospective parents on the school web site. As everything at Eureka Day is decided by consensus, a lengthy debate ensues between Head of School Don (Jeff Coté), and parents Suzanne (Sarah McKereghan), Carina (Val Sinckler), Meiko (Eiko Yamamoto), and Eli (Rick Eldrege). This debate and its various amusing sidetracks set you up for the even larger debate to follow.

The school is notified that one of their students has contracted the mumps and the County Health Department is prohibiting students with no documentation of immunity from returning to school. How will the consensus-minded board and the parents deal with an issue that has no consensus?

Hysterically, it turns out, as the first act ends with a brilliantly scripted “Community Activated Conversation” (their term for a Facebook Live session) between the Executive Committee and the parents that is gut-bustingly funny.

So yes, a play about vaccines can be a laughing matter. The second act shows that It can also be somber, serious, and enlightening. Director Elizabeth Craven and her pitch-perfect cast give life to Spector’s infuriating, moving and completely recognizable characters who manage to give us insight into why some people choose to believe what they believe without validating those choices. 

Sometimes agreeing to disagree just isn’t enough. Can we all agree on that?

‘Eureka Day’ runs through September 22 at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm. There’s also a Thursday, September 19 performance at 7:30pm.

For more information, go to spreckelsonline.com