There’s no denying it. Music is a powerful force. Music can express the deepest of human emotions. And there are, obviously, many different styles and forms of music. One could easily make the argument that no two forms of musical expression better convey the depth of human feeling than do OPERA and the mighty SPRITUALS that grew out of slavery and the African-American experience.
Right now, two different opportunities await you in the Bay Area to experience the power of both musical forms.
Let’s start with opera.
In Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff,” the last of 30 operas the Italian composer wrote in the late 1800s, the emotional and financial stakes are high for everyone, but the comedy is as broad as the girth of its title character.
Now running in an intimate English-language adaptation at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, the story of Falstaff is borrowed from William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. The debt-ridden Sir John Falstaff – played with delightful expressiveness by Jo Vincent Parks – is a plus-sized inebriate with an exaggerated appreciation for his own attractiveness and charm. When he runs out of money with which to pay his bills, including the tab for all the beer and food he ingests, Falstaff attempts to solve his money problems by seducing two different local married women, Mrs. Ford – played by Eileen Morris, who practically glows with charm and mischief – and Mrs. Page – Kim Anderman, quite good as the less flashy of the two wives. Both merry wives are beautiful and, most importantly, rich.
When they discover Falstaff is courting both of them, they launch a scheme to expose and embarrass Falstaff. Their plan is complicated by certain subplots – one involving Mrs. Ford’s jealous husband (William Neely, who’s hilarious), the other involving the sweet, secret love affair between the Ford’s daughter Nannetta and a poor local boy.
As directed by Elly Lichenstein, who brings plenty of wicked silliness and disarming funny business to the story – aided by strong musical direction from Mary Chun – “Falstaff” is classic fluff, but it’s fluff with tremendous heart and some spectacular operatic melodies.
Melody and heart are traits shared by the brilliant, beautifully written, flawlessly acted “Choir Boy,” by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Directed with stunning intensity by Kent Gash at Marin Theatre
Company, the play is set at the fictional Charles Drew Prep School for Boys, a prestigious all-black boarding school.
As a new year begins, tensions boil when the all-but-openly gay student Pharus – a stunningly good Jetani Alladin – is made the leader of the school’s all-important a cappella choir.
The choir presents classic black spirituals in contemporary arrangements, and the uplift they give Pharus, a true believer in the power of music, helps guide him through what turns out to be a very rocky year.
The music, by the way, is awesome, with the cast all able of blending into some jaw-dropping harmonies.
A coming-of-age story with tremendous insight and lovingly observed characters, this lyrical thought-poem of a play is not just about bullying and prejudice and homophobia. Yes. It touches on those things, but at its heart “Choir Boy” is about friendship and self-acceptance.
Wonderfully crafted and beautifully staged, “Choir Boy” is about what happens when a person is finally accepted for who they are. It’s about the transcendent power of a simple song, and the power of a single voice when they are finally allowed to sing from the heart.
“Choir Boy” runs Tuesday–Sunday through June 28 at Marin Theatre Company. www.marintheatre.org.
“Falstaff” runs through June 28 at Cinnabar Theater, www.cinnabartheater.org
I’m David Templeton, Second Row Center, for KRCB.