The Last Ship at the Golden Gate Theater (Aired: March 11, 2020)

The plight of British laborers dealing with the changing economic world in the 1980’s has been a major plot element in a number of successful musicals. From the redundant steel workers of The Full Monty to the striking coal miners of Billy Elliot, the issue of (mostly) men dealing with job elimination often took a backseat to more “feel good” plot points, be it a group of men doing a striptease act or a boy wanting to learn ballet.

The Last Ship, playing at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre through March 22, ups the labor quotient to about fifty percent with the other half a traditional romance. The show, with music and lyrics by Sting, had its Broadway debut in 2014 and lasted only three months. It’s been revamped with a new book by director Lorne Campbell and Sting doing eight shows a week.   

It’s the Thatcher era and the employees of a Northern England shipyard have been told that the ship currently being built will not be finished and most of the workers let go. Those who are asked to return to scrap the ship will do so at a significantly lower wage. This doesn’t sit well with union leader Jackie White (Sting) who’s trying to figure a way out while dealing with some (ahem) “health issues.”

Meanwhile, Gideon Fletcher (Oliver Savile), who abandoned his girlfriend Meg Dawson (Frances McNamee) seventeen years earlier, has returned and Meg is none too pleased to see him, at least until the finale.

The show is obviously a labor of love for Sting, but the incongruity of the two storylines is just the first of many obstacles that prevent this show from setting sail. They never really gel as the show clunkily moves from one to the other before awkwardly merging at the end. Thick accents make dialogue often incomprehensible, and musically the show is all over the map. Sometimes the music soars and sometimes it just lays there.

The cast does what it can and occasionally bring a third dimension to two dimensional characters. McNamee comes off best and while Sting – who was upstaged by his cod piece in David Lynch’s Dune – does his best to not upstage his castmates, come on, it’s Sting.

But if Sting wasn’t in the show, would there be a compelling reason to see it? With Sting in the show, is there a compelling reason to see it?

My answers are the same.

‘The Last Ship’ runs Tuesday through Sunday through March 22 at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. Dates and times vary.

For more information, go to

The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Rancho Cotate High School (Aired: March 4, 2020)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame finally makes its North Bay debut with a production offered up by a local music education center. Cotati’s Music to My Ears is presenting the musical at the new Rancho Cotate High School Theatre Arts Auditorium in Rohnert Park through March 8.

A blend of Victor Hugo’s gothic novel and Disney’s 1996 animated musical, the show never made it to Broadway but has met with some success with regional and community theatres. Rohnert Park’s Spreckels Theatre Company scheduled it in a season a few years back, but pulled the darker-than-you-would-expect-with-the-name-Disney-attached entertainment for a more “family friendly” show.

Hugo’s 15th century-set tale of the Cathedral of Notre Dame’s bell ringer Quasimodo (Chris DeSouza), his guardian Archdeacon Frollo (William O’Neill), and a gypsy girl named Esmeralda (director Aja Gianola-Norris) is a monster of a show to produce. Operatic in scope, the production benefits immensely from the involvement of San Francisco Opera member O’Neill as both performer and choir director. A chorus is integral to this show, and there’s a 28-member one on stage throughout.

DeSouza, who is deaf (as is Quasimodo), communicates beautifully through American Sign Language while actor/singer Ezra Hernandez provides the speaking and singing voice. This had to add a significant level of complexity to the production and credit must be given to all involved for making it work so well. While many cast members utilize ASL in the show, the March 6 performance will be fully ASL interpreted.  

Gianola-Norris makes for an entrancing Esmeralda, and there’s good work done by Alanna Weatherby as narrator Clopin and Blake Chandler as the dashing Phoebus. The ensemble is filled out by performers of a variety of ages and abilities in fulfillment of the producing company’s vision that participation in theater is for everyone.

While there’s good costuming by Caitlyn Clark, the performance I attended was lacking in technical finesse. There’s no set to speak of and haphazard lighting and missed sound cues were a constant distraction. To add insult to injury, someone pulled the fire alarm during the final scene and the theatre had to be evacuated. After receiving clearance, in the best tradition of “the show must go on”, it did.    

The nobility shown by the cast and audience in dealing with that situation makes for a good summation of this production. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a noble effort.

The Music to My Ears production of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ runs through March 8 at the Rancho Cotate High School Theatre Auditorium in Rohnert Park. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinee is at 2pm. The Friday, March 6 performance will be fully ASL interpreted.

For more information, go to

Urinetown at Spreckels Theater Company (Aired: February 26, 2020)

If your taste in musicals runs to the light, bouncy, and life-affirming, you might want to take a pass on the Spreckels Theatre Company’s latest production. If, however, your taste runs more to the dark and twisted, then you won’t find Urinetown, the Musical too draining. It runs in Rohnert Park through March 1.

Set in a dystopian future where decades of drought have led to the regulation and privatization of water intake and outtake, the show by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis made quite a splash on Broadway in 2011 and was nominated for ten Tony Awards (winning three.) It’s an odd combination of satire, parody, social drama, and love story.

The show opens at Amenity #9, the “poorest, filthiest urinal in town” where citizens line up to pay for the privilege to pee. Failure to pay or to be caught urinating in public leads to banishment to Urinetown, a place from where no one has ever returned.

The Urine Good Company, headed by the dastardly Caldwell B. Cladwell (Tim Setzer), seeks to hike their outrageous fees even more. This doesn’t sit well with Amenity attendant Bobby Strong (Joshua Bailey) who’s soon fomenting rebellion. Complications ensue when he finds himself falling in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Julianne Thompson Bretan). Will their love be strong enough to break the stranglehold her father has on everyone’s bladder? Spoiler alert! Nope. As Officer Lockstock (David Yen) makes clear in his introduction, this isn’t a “happy” musical.

Actually, it’s barely a musical at all. It’s more of a single-themed Forbidden Broadway-type revue with each musical number reminiscent of another show. “Look at the Sky” smells of Les Misérables, “What is Urinetown?” brings Fiddler on the Roof to mind, and “Run Freedom Run” has shades of Guys and Dolls or even How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in it. The show’s best number may be its only non-referential one – “Don’t Be the Bunny”.

Director Jay Manley has an excellent cast at work here. Bailey and Thompson Bretan bring earnest demeanors and terrific voices to their characters. Setzer obviously relishes in Cladwell’s villainy. Yen keep things whizzing by with his humorous exposition, often in tandem with Denise Elia-Yen’s Little Sally. The show also benefits from a strong ensemble.

Michella Snider’s choreography also pays homage to other Broadway musicals, and Lucas Sherman and a five-piece orchestra handle the musical responsibilities with aplomb. 

Urinetown may leave a bad taste in the mouth of some, but if you’re in the mood for something decidedly different then, by all means, go.

‘Urinetown, the Musical’ runs through March 1 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; the Sunday matinees are at 2pm; and there’s a Thursday, February 27 performance at 7:30 pm.

For more information, go to

A View From A Bridge (Aired: February 19, 2020)

Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, running now at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse through February 23, may not be his best play (that’s Death of a Salesman) or even close to his most produced work (probably The Crucible). What it is is a punch-to-the-gut look at of one man’s destructive obsession and the ramifications of that obsession on his family, his friends, and his community.

It’s sometime in the 1950’s, and Italian-immigrant attorney Alfieri (Joe Winkler) wants to tell us about a client whose case has stuck with him. That client is Eddie Carbone (Edward McCloud), a dockworker on the piers of New York. He lives in a Brooklyn flat with his wife Beatrice (Mary Delorenzo) and his 17-year-old orphaned niece Catherine (Nina Cauntay). Conflict first arises between them when Catherine is offered a job that Eddie does not want her to take. That conflict is compounded by the arrival of Marco (Matt Farrell) and Rodolpho (Erik Weiss), nephews of Beatrice who arrive in the country illegally and who Eddie has agreed to harbor. Rodolpho soon takes a liking to Catherine and vice-versa. Eddie has a problem with this, and his concerns go way beyond normal father-daughter issues.

Eddie wants Rodolpho gone, and after his attempts to convince Catherine that Rodolpho just ain’t “right” fail, he makes a decision that will tear his family, his community and himself apart.

Director and co-scenic designer (with Martin Gilberston) Jared Sakren adapts the stripped-down approach taken by many contemporary productions and it works. The intimacy of the Monroe Stage does work against it at times – particularly during the fight scenes – but it also heightens the tension in others.

McCloud is strong (though a bit vociferous) as Eddie, as is DeLorenzo as the suffering wife who clearly sees what Eddie refuses to see about his feelings for Catherine. Cauntay impresses as the obliviously beguiling Catherine and Winkler excels as the voice of reason who Eddie refuses to hear.

Character actors Weiss and Farrell do okay with their roles as literally “fresh off the boat” Italian immigrants, but I sense that dealing with an accent limited their abilities to delve deeper into their characters. Weiss does ultimately connect in a confrontation with Catherine. 

Issues of honor, justice, the law, and even immigration are dealt with here, but at its core it’s a well-told classic Greek tragedy of a man and his self-induced downfall.

‘A View from the Bridge’ runs through Feb. 23 on the Monroe Stage at 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm.

For specific date and time information, go to

Alter Theater’s Ghosts of Bogota (Aired: February 12, 2020)

A vacant downtown San Rafael storefront is being haunted by the Ghosts of Bogotá. They are characters in playwright Diana Burbano’s darkly comic autobiographical look at a group of siblings dealing with some disturbing family history. It’s AlterTheater Ensemble’s latest “pop-up theatre” and runs through Feb. 23.

Siblings Lola (Liva Gomes Demarchi), Sandy (Carla Pauli), and Bruno (Eduardo Soria) arrive at their late grandfather Saúl’s Bogotá apartment to arrange for his funeral. He is a man who will be mourned by no one, especially by the sisters who he sexually abused, but familial duty requires them to handle his interment.

The apartment is cold, stark, and haunted by its previous inhabitants. Soon the sisters are engaging with the spirits. Sandy deals with the ghost of Saúl (Tony Ortega), who is trapped in the apartment because he knows if he leaves, he’s destined for hell. Lola finds herself in conversation with her grandmother Nena (Leticia Duarte), challenging her to explain why she dealt with her husband’s physical abuse of her and sexual abuse of others. Her explanation is haunting in its own right.

Bruno is the odd man out. Born in the United States after his mother relocated there, he never knew his grandfather and cannot relate to him as anything but a doting distant relative.  This may explain Sandy’s antagonistic attitude towards Bruna and his care-free, pansexual lifestyle. How dare he find joy in something she relates to trauma and pain?

All of this unfolds under the watchful eye of Jesus (Noe Flores) who, when he’s not residing in a jar, is content to observe quietly. When he does speak, it is not in the Biblical language, or with the attitude, one would expect from the son of God.

Wickedly humorous at times, gut wrenching at others, it’s clearly Burbano’s attempt to exorcise her own ghosts. Director Alicia Coombes facilitates that exorcism with the help of a very strong cast. Pauli, Gomes Demarchi, and Soria feel like siblings and make that unspoken bond palpable. Duarte blends compassion with hard-bitten reality as the grandmother. Ortega may be menacingly one-note as the despicable grandfather, but that is how the sisters see him. Flores makes for a very unique Jesus. 

The storefront setting presents challenges, particularly with scene transitions, but the cold and emptiness works in its favor. As passers-by stopped to peer quietly through the windows, it was as if another group of ghosts had arrived. They should have come in.

AlterTheater’s ‘Ghosts of Bogotá’ runs through February 23 in the vacant store located at 1200 Fourth Street (at the corner of Fourth and B Streets) in San Rafael. There’s a Wednesday, February 12 performance at 7:30pm. The Friday and Saturday evening performances at 8:00pm; and the Sunday matinees are at 2pm.

For more information, go to

Marin Theater Company’s Noura (Aired: February 5, 2020)

It’s Christmas Eve and a family readies their home for guests. Gifts are placed under a tree. Food is prepared. Mass will be attended. Millions of Americans will do the same. 

This is the first Christmas this family will spend as American citizens. Eight years after fleeing Iraq, Noura (Denmo Ibrahim), Tareq (Mattico David) and their son Yazen (Valentino Herrera) have gained naturalized citizenship as evidenced by the arrival of their new passports. The Americanized names on the passports (Nora, Tim, and Alex) are a sticking point for Noura, though. She feels as if her past, and more so her identity are being erased.

It’s the first of many conflicts explored in Heather Raffo’s Noura, a co-production of the Marin Theatre Company and San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions. It runs in Mill Valley through February 9.

One of the guests expected at Noura and Tareq’s home is Maryam (Maya Nazzal), a fellow refugee and college student they have been sponsoring but have never met.  Her condition upon arrival sets up another conflict though, curiously, her future employment in weapons development does not and barely registers with the folks who fled the bombardment of their homes.

Rafa’a, a childhood friend of Noura’s (Abraham Makany), will also attend and yes, he will be the source of conflict as well. Then again, when is a scripted Christmas dinner anything but an opportunity for secrets to be revealed and conflicts to come to a head?

Denmo Ibrahim is terrific in the title role and never more so than in the show’s quietest moments. She communicates as much with her visage as she does with the script. Mattico David, who’s played the role of Tareq off-Broadway, is also excellent as Noura’s husband who, despite his protestations, has not left quite everything from the old country behind. There’s good supporting work from Nazzal and Makany.  

Playwright Raffo packs a lot into her 90-minute examination of a woman on the edge. Noura’s issue of the loss of her identity through assimilation runs deeps but there’s a lot more going on with her. Past decisions have come back to haunt her, and her desire to make everything right may have the opposite effect. We’ll never know as the Kate Bergstrom-directed play concludes on an ambiguous note after a drawn-out ending.

While a bit overstuffed (believe me, there’s a lot more going on than I’ve indicated), Noura is an interesting take on the modern émigré experience.

‘Noura’ runs through February 9 at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley. Tuesday through Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm; there are Saturday and Sunday matiness at 2pm.

For more information, go to

Mary’s Wedding at Main Stage West (Aired: January 29, 2020)

Plays and films set during World War I are few and far between, at least compared to those that use the Second World War or Vietnam as a framing device. It’s been a little over a century since the Armistice, and while there have been a few books and films on the subject – like Sam Mendes’ 1917  – “The Great War” just doesn’t occupy the collective consciousness of the American public; probably because of the half-dozen or so wars that followed “the war to end all wars.”

Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte’s Mary’s Wedding, running now at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West through Feb. 1, deals with the romanticism and realities of war as experienced by two young residents of Alberta, Canada – Charlie Edwards (Sam Coughlin) and Mary Chalmers (Sharia Pierce).

Charlie enters the theatre and informs the audience that it’s 1920 and tomorrow is Mary’s wedding. What we will be seeing is the dream Mary has the night before her betrothal. We see how the two met and their awkward courtship. We hear how Mary’s upper crust British mother disapproves of her relationship with a “colonial”.  We learn that Charlie will soon be off to war.

Mary’s dream floats between their time together and their time apart. Charlie’s letters home to Mary come to life as the realities of the horrors of trench warfare and mustard gas overtake the perceptions of glory and honor that accompany battle. Charlie, whose only remembrance of literature learned at school is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, soon finds himself riding into the Valley of Death.

Part memory play, part fantasy, and part Ken Burns PBS documentary-influenced historical drama, Mary’s Wedding is an incredibly effective piece of theatre. Director Missy Weaver’s deft handling of Massicotte’s script manages to make the multiple transitions of time and space feel seamless. This is due in no small part to the performances of Coughlin and Pierce.  Working with not much more than a few hay bales, a saw horse, a helmet, and an umbrella, the actors make you see them astride a horse, or on a ship, or deep in a trench.

The wedding gown-draped Pierce also plays Charlie’s commanding officer, which as strange as it sounds, actually works quite well for reasons that are made clear in the play. 

Can the totality of the cost of war be absorbed by a single individual?  Mary’s Wedding reminds us that, sadly, for millions the answer is “yes”.

‘Mary’s Wedding’ runs through February 1 at Main Stage West in Sebastopol. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 8pm; the Sunday matinee is at 5pm.

For more information, go to

Heisenberg at Left Edge Theater (Aired: January 22, 2020)

Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre kicks off the New Year with Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg. The two-character dramedy about a May – December romance runs through February 2.

The title does not refer to either character, but to German physicist Werner Heisenberg. The Nobel Prize winner is best known for his 1927 uncertainty principle that, in its simplest definition, states that there’s a limit to what you can know with certainty about one thing at any one time.

What’s that got to do with a 42-year-old American single mother and a 75-year-old Irish butcher in London? Everything.

Alex Priest (John Craven) is sitting in a London railway station minding his own business when Georgie Burns (Shannon Rider) approaches him from behind and kisses him on the neck. She quickly apologizes to Alex and explains that he reminded her of someone she recently lost. The uber-extroverted Georgie then initiates a lengthy one-sided conversation in which she repeatedly contradicts herself. The ultra-introverted Alex finds himself caught like a deer in headlights, eventually sputtering “Why are you talking to me?”

It’s not giving too much away to say that these two disparate characters will end up together, but credit playwright Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) for never giving us any sense of certainty about their long-term prospects. Motormouth Georgie makes us wonder if the two have any prospects at all with her repeated verbal barrages of inconsistencies and outright lies about who she is, but Alex’s interest in Georgie is piqued, as is the audience’s for the show’s 85 intermissionless minutes.

The great leveler between these two is loneliness, and nobody plays world a world-weary soul better in these parts than John Craven. Rider’s challenge is to bring vulnerability to a character who comes on like a runaway train. She succeeds in letting us see what Alex sees. They venture into an uncertain future together, each on their own terms.

The Carla Spindt-directed performances are complimented with some strong technical work. Lighting by April George and sound by Joe Winkler allow Argo Thompson’s minimalist set to easily transform from a train station to a butcher shop to a bedroom to Hackensack, NJ.

At one point in the show Georgie asks Alex “Do you find me exhausting, yet captivating?” The same question could be asked of this show, and the answer would be a resounding “yes”.

‘Heisenberg’ runs through February 2 at Left Edge Theatre in the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 8pm; there’s a Sunday matinee at  2pm.

For more information, go to

Harry’s Top Torn Tickets of 2019, Part 2 – The Plays (Aired: January 15, 2020)

Comedies and dramas occupied North Bay stages for the bulk of 2019. Here, in alphabetical order, are my Top Torn Tickets, the best and/or most interesting comedic and dramatic stage work done in Sonoma and Napa counties in the past year:

After Miss Julie (Main Stage West) Just one of several outstanding productions at this little theatre dynamo, this tale of a classic love triangle set during a time of political upheaval was brutal in its portrayal of what people are willing to do to get what they want.

Eureka Day (Spreckels Theatre Company) This dark comedy about a charter school and the issue of vaccinations was hysterically funny but may have hit too close to home for some.

Faceless (6th Street Playhouse) Expatriate Craig Miller returned to direct this crackling courtroom drama whose combination of religious, political, personal, and legal conflicts made for a gripping evening of theatre.

Hamlet (Spreckels Theatre Company) Most theatre companies try to contemporize Shakespeare to appeal to a modern audience. Director Sheri Lee Miller and company proved it works just fine as-is.

The Laramie Project (Raven Players) Another show whose run was cut short by fire and PG&E power outages, this beautifully staged documentation of a community’s reaction to a horrendous crime was a stern and too-oft-needed reminder to those who think ‘it can’t happen here’ that it can.

Luna Gale (Cinnabar Theater) Liz Jahren’s towering performance as a social worker at the end of her rope and great ensemble work allowed this show to get past its directorial idiosyncrasies.

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Spreckels Theatre Company) Who knew that an extension of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice would turn out to be the best Christmas show of the season?

Of Mice and Men (Cloverdale Performing Arts Center) An American classic presented in a stripped-down version that retained all the power of Steinbeck’s original takedown of the American Dream.

Rapture, Blister, Burn (Lucky Penny Productions) Venturing out of their usual comfort zone of family-friendly musicals and boisterous comedies, this Napa company scored a hat trick with this contemporary look at gender roles – terrific script, strong direction, and superb acting. They should produce more like this and audiences should go see it.

This Random World (Left Edge Theatre) – This collection of vignettes about the randomness of human connections had everything from laugh-out-loud comedy to touching drama. Everything, that is, but an ending.

Congratulations to the entire North Bay theatre community for a great year on-stage and Happy New Year to all!

(Photo: Liz Jahren plays Caroline in Cinnabar’s Luna Gale; one of Harry’s Top Torn Tickets of 2019 – Eric Chazankin/Courtesy of  North Bay Bohemian)

Harry’s Top Torn Tickets: The Musicals (Aired: January 8, 2020)

After having attended over one hundred Bay Area theatrical productions in 2019, it’s time to clear out the file cabinet of a year’s worth of theatre programs and select my Top Torn Tickets. Here, in alphabetical order, is my list of the best and/or most interesting work done in the musical genre by wine country theatre artists in the past year:  

‘Cinderella’ (Spreckels Theatre Company) I had a problem with the story line (a bit too much Prince Charming for my taste) but this production had great voices and clever stagecraft. 

‘Forever Plaid’ (Lucky Penny Productions) Get past the hokey pretense and you’ll find that as jukebox musicals go, this was a pretty darn entertaining one.

‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ (Spreckels Theatre Company) This macabre musical ended up a casualty of the Kincade fire and PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs with its run cut short. A true shame that more folks didn’t get a chance to see it and Tim Setzer’s tour-de-force performance.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ (Santa Rosa Junior College) Thank God Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first musical was the last musical that the SRJC theatre folk had to do in a high school auditorium.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (Cinnabar Theater) One of the most entertaining musicals of the last half-century got a terrific staging in Petaluma and had audiences clamoring to see more Seymour, proving that you can’t keep a bad plant down.

‘Matilda the Musical’ (Napa Valley College) This delightful production showed that the youth talent pool in Napa is deep.

‘Merman’s Apprentice’ (Sonoma Arts Live) This original musical featuring Dani Beem and Emma Sutherland as the title characters got its first full staging in Sonoma and, with a few rewrites, just might have legs.

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ (6th Street Playhouse) This fictional look at the gathering of four musical giants with an impressive set and imported talent was the closest thing to a touring production this area has seen in a while. And oh, that music.

‘My Fair Lady’ (Sonoma Arts Live) A charming lead performance from Sarah Wintermeyer anchored a luverly show with some stellar supporting work by Chad Yarish and the ubiquitous Tim Setzer.

‘The Sound of Music’ (Santa Rosa Junior College/Sonoma State University) The hills of Rohnert Park came alive with the sounds of this musical, a harbinger of good things to come when the SRJC’s Burbank Auditorium reopens in the spring.

Next week: Top Torn Tickets: The Plays!