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Theatre Review: “The Lion King” @ SHN Orpheum Theatre, 11/08/12

The Lion King - what else is there to say about this show that hasn’t been said before? It opened on Broadway fifteen years ago on October 15, 1997 at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Fifteen years… millions of audience members, thousands of reviews, and still last night’s Wednesday evening performance in San Francisco was sold-out. Well played, Disney. Well played.

Since opening, it’s changed theatres on Broadway (from New Amsterdam Theatre to the Minskoff Theatre), opened on the West End and Las Vegas, and there has been multiple national/world tours. There has been seven cast albums in seven different languages (most recently the 2011 Spanish cast). In April 2012, it was reported that The Lion King is the highest grossing musical of all time: $853.8 million. It is currently one of the highest grossing musicals on Broadway each week — easily making the million dollar club. The Book of Mormon is its current rival for top box office grosses.

So, how was the show last night? After all of these years, is it still worth it to see it?

My answer: yes and no.

If you’ve never seen The Lion King, then I recommend getting a ticket for the San Francisco production (unless you plan to see it in New York City).

It’s based off one of my favorite movies of all time. The music, characters and story shaped my childhood. And after all these years, I still love it. (If you need a detailed review of the show, then check out my review of the Las Vegas production.)

The touring production has some obvious limitations in regards to the set and costume design. In the opening scene, while the animals are parading in, you are literally awestruck at the sight of the beautifully designed costumes (created by the now infamous and talented Julie Taymor), but because the stage is not raked (on an angle), the stage picture looks incredibly cramped and not as beautiful as I remember when I saw it in Las Vegas. The adaptation of the set for the tour was well-done, but when you have seen what Disney’s money can create in a theatre that The Lion King calls “home”, it wasn’t as magical.

The performances, by all of the leads, were great — no real stand-outs, or ground-breaking performances besides Rafiki (played by the hysterical Buyi Zama). Everyone was solid. The real stand-out performance was the ensemble. Their vocals, dancing and support they brought to the show was stunning!! One of my favorite numbers in the show, “He Lives in You” was fantastic; it gave me goose bumps.

All that said, I still felt the show was a bit tired last night. It was a Wednesday night (even though it was a sold-out and pretty enthusiastic crowd) and I thought the cast was phoning it in a bit. Maybe, it was just me because I was super tired, but most times theatre reinvigorates and energizes me, but The Lion King didn’t do either. It was still enjoyable, but since I know every line in the show, I couldn’t help be a bit bored. The five year-old sitting in front of me was loving every second of it (until about the middle of the second act when it was clearly past her bed time). And in general, the audience loved it; they leapt to their feet to give the cast a standing ovation at the beginning of the bows.

It’s very clear why it’s been running so long!

It’s a magical night of theatre. If you’ve seen it, I wouldn’t necessarily run to grab tickets, but if you are bringing a little one — it will be a magical night for them! The show is a little long, so if their (or your) bedtime is early, you might want to try a matinee.

 

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Theatre Review: “War Horse” @ Curran Theatre (SF), 08/03/12

It’s funny. All of my friends who have seen War Horse have told me to rush to the theatre and see this. I’ve ignored them, partly because when I was in London I found out it was coming to Broadway so I decided to wait. And then once it was in New York, I found out it was coming to San Francisco so again, I decided to wait. That really wasn’t the smartest decision I could have made.

Whatever you do, do not wait to see this production at the Curran Theatre.

This was one of the most creative and incredibly emotional pieces of theatre I have ever seen. The story-telling, puppets, and music blew me away.

About three years ago, I had the opportunity to take a backstage tour of the National Theatre. While backstage, we were up close and personal with the life size horses. I was taken aback by their sheer size and beauty. It was unbelievable. I didn’t understand how they would be used on stage, but I was already convinced that this piece of theatre would be interesting to see.

The three puppeteers that control all the elements of the horse literally breathed life into a puppet. Each horse had their own personalities and after a moment, you actually believed that the horse was real. It’s amazing that they were able suspend our disbelief in this way.

This show based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel was adapted by Nick Stafford (in association with Handspring Puppet Company) to feel like a movie screenplay. The way the music, written by Adrian Sutton, moved the story along and created suspense and relief in emotional moments literally played out like a soundtrack of a movie. I’ve never seen live theatre use music this way in a play before. It turned out to be absolutely thrilling.

I was crying by the end of the show I was so emotionally engaged with the lead, Albert Narracott (Andrew Veenstra – a BYU graduate) and his relationship with his horse, Joey. The relationship between these two reminded me of the relationship I had with my dog growing up as a child. A bond between an animal and a human can be incredibly fierce and those lucky to have had that bond knows the strength that can come from it. This moving story shows us this strength with incredible beauty and grace.

Please don’t do what I did and put off seeing War Horse. Run and see it.

This is a piece of theatre that is going to be with me for a very long time.

 
 

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“The Book of Mormon” musical is headed to San Francisco

It’s true! The Book of Mormon musical is coming to San Francisco starting November 2012. It is only playing for a limited five weeks and I’m sure will sell out in minutes (just like what happened in Denver)!!

The Book of Mormon is the first show to be announced as part of the SHNSF 2012-2013 season. The remaining four shows on the season will be announced at a later date.

The Book of Mormon won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical and the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album. Currently, the only way to guarantee tickets for this strictly limited engagement is by becoming an SHN subscriber today by calling (888) 746-1799 or visiting www.shnsf.com. Group and single tickets sale date will be announced later.

Listen to a few of the tracks from the Grammy winning album here: (parental advisory warning)

“Hello!”

“I Believe”

“Tomorrow is a Latter Day”

 
 

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2011 February Bay Area Theatre Guide

And I thought January came fast. While I only saw a few shows in January, I saw some majorly epic productions.

First, I saw newly revamped version of Love Never Dies which was a train-wreck. Then I saw the over-publicized Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark and loved it. Last, I saw the touring production of Next to Normal which blew me away and tore out my heart out (again).

There’s several shows that are still running from January into February, so make sure you check out last month’s suggestions as well.

Broadway Cast Poster1. Next to Normal at Curran Theatre (SHNSF) in San Francisco – I realize that this was on my list last month, but technically this show doesn’t close until February 20th, so it’s first on my list for February as well.

I was blown away by this cast. I wrote in my review: “It’s rare to have a touring production be just as exciting as the Broadway production. I didn’t think the tour of Next to Normal could do it, but they passed expectations by a mile. Do not miss this production of Next to Normal.”

WebsiteTickets

2. Avenue Q at Orpheum Theatre (SHNSF) in San Francisco – I love this show so much. I saw the non-equity touring cast of Avenue Q at Broadway San Jose a little over a year ago and enjoyed it immensely even though theatre was way too big for the production. I have a feeling that the Orpheum Theatre will be a bit big as well, but you’ll still laugh and laugh and laugh.

Here’s an excerpt of my review: “If you’ve seen it, then beware that the intimacy of the Broadway version is all but lost in the expansiveness of the theatre and the jokes might not be as shocking (since you already know them), but you’ll still laugh. While, overall the performers are super talented, they unfortunately don’t compare to the original cast. Knowing all of this, you’ll still end up laughing and having a great night of theatre!”

I have a feeling my review will be similar. Runs February 15 – 27th, 2011.

Website | Tickets

3. Big River at Contra Costa Civic Theatre: The irrepressible Huck Finn helps his friend Jim, a slave, escape to freedom at the mouth of the Ohio River. Their hilarious, heartwarming adventures bring to life the novel’s colorful characters in a brilliant celebration of pure Americana. With a jubilant score of Cajun, country, gospel and blues, Big River is a rousing, high- spirited show that sets your hands to clapping, your feet to stomping and your heart to rise within you! Winner of seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Score and Book, this is one the whole family will enjoy!

February 11 – March 13, 2011.

Website | Tickets

4. The Dresser at San Jose Rep: It’s 1942 in Britain and the smell of death is in the air. The sirens howl, signaling another air raid, but inside the crumbling walls of a regional theatre in the provinces the aging actor, Sir, prepares to give his 227th performance as King Lear.

Norman, Sir’s devoted, fuss-budget dresser, is barely able to take care of himself but faithfully assists Sir in near feudal servitude, massaging his ego, pampering his intellect and even creating sound effects for the Shakespearean production by Sir’s struggling troupe. This touching and poignant tribute to theatre, friendship and the human spirit in the face of great strife – be it war or one’s own debilitating mortality – proves that “the show must go on.”

January 27 – February 20th, 2011.

Website | Tickets

What shows are you planning on seeing in February?

 
 

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Theatre Review: “Next to Normal” @ Curran Theatre (San Francisco), 1/26/11

Next to Normal at the Curran Theatre is an absolute triumph!

This was the sixth time I’ve seen Next to Normal. I first saw the production right after it transferred from Off-Broadway at the Booth Theatre, while it was still in previews. I didn’t know anything about the production and I was absolutely blown away by the show. Ever since then, Next to Normal has been one of my favorite musicals of this decade. Its raw, emotional story about mental illness is simply heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. Since that night, every time I’m in New York I try to fit Next to Normal into my schedule. I’ve seen most of the Broadway understudies (though I never did get to see Brian D’Arcy James) and most recently I saw the replacement cast featuring Marin Mazzie and her husband, Jason Danieley, respectively, as Diana and Dan Goodman. Every time I’ve loved it but I never expected that the touring production of Next to Normal would have this much emotional punch.

It ripped open my heart all over again.

Opening night in San Francisco felt like I was seeing a totally new production of Next to Normal and yet everything was the same. The lights, set, and music were all the same. There was no expense spared in regards to the technical area, but the adjusted sound design created almost a new show for me. I heard new harmonies, different characters were highlighted in group songs, and the focus just wasn’t on Diana Goodman (Alice Ripley). Asa Somers, who plays Ripley’s onstage husband, Dan, held his own remarkably against the powerhouse, Tony-winning performance by Ripley. Somers’ vocals were incredible — some of the best vocals I have ever heard on a Broadway stage and they blended perfectly with his son’s, Gabe (Curt Hansen), vocals. Case in point: “I Am the One (Reprise)” literally took my breath away. Somer’s performance added an intensity to Dan that I’ve never seen before.

And then there’s Emma Hunton who plays the jaded, sarcastic daughter, Natalie. Her crystalline vocals never stopped being impressive. Her rendition of “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” was spot-on and the audience loved it. I had my doubts that anyone could top Jennifer Diamano’s Tony-nominated performance, but Hunton held her own. She added more sarcasm to her role and was more extroverted in her feelings – less emotionally manipulative and more present, overall. All of this emotion just kept growing until Natalie and her mother, Diana, finally have a heart-to-heart in the song, “Maybe (Next to Normal)”. My heart broke as they sang this song. Hunton raised the stakes in a way that created a beautiful arc to Natalie’s character.

Henry (Preston Sadleir), Natalie’s boyfriend, also rounded out the fiercely talented cast. I’ve always seen the original Henry, Adam Chanler-Berat, play the role so it was great to see a slightly different take on Henry. Sadleir did a hellavu job with the role and complemented Hunton’s intensity with his calm/easy-going personality. Just as I saw the deeper parallels to Diana and Natalie’s journey, I saw more parallels to Dan and Henry’s emotional discovery and subsequent loss. Even Dr. Madden/Dr. Fine (Jeremy Kushnier) felt more “present”. His genuine rock-star persona got a lot of laughs at the beginning of Act 1 and the audience was eating it up!

The incredibly talented director, Michael Greif, created a deeper arc with all of the characters in this production and really pushed them to find an even greater depth to the piece. No longer was Alice Ripley holding the show together by her overwhelming intensity — everyone complemented her intensity by taking an even bigger risk emotionally. At points, Ripley struggles vocally to get every note out but you don’t care because her dramatic intentions are so intensely motivated. There’s never a second on stage when you don’t believe that she’s not actually struggling with bi-polarism/schizophrenia. Her Tony-winning performance should not be missed. I can’t stress that enough.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote, “No show on Broadway right now makes as direct a grab for the heart — or wrings it as thoroughly — as “Next to Normal” does. This brave, breathtaking musical, which opened Wednesday night at the Booth Theater, focuses squarely on the pain that cripples the members of a suburban family, and never for a minute does it let you escape the anguish at the core of their lives.” It’s still true in every way. This Pulitzer Prize winning musical should be seen by everyone.

It’s rare to have a touring production be just as exciting as the Broadway production. I didn’t think the tour of Next to Normal could do it, but they passed expectations by a mile. Do not miss this production of Next to Normal.

 

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2011 January Bay Area Theatre Guide

The new year has begun! Welcome to 2011!

With all of the craziness of the holidays, I wasn’t able to get my theatre picks up for January until now. Luckily, several shows are opening in late January which gives you (and me) plenty of time to organize our theatre wish-list for January.

I spent the beginning of December seeing the touring production of Shrek (which I thought was abysmal), the puppet masterpiece, The Composer is Dead at Berkeley Rep (which didn’t have much of a plot or presence) and the new musical, Backwards in High Heels at San Jose Rep (a fun delightful show with no heart). To be honest, I was a bit let down by all three productions and it drove me to a much needed theatrical break. After all, I did see over 60 productions last year alone!

While I spent my holiday in London, I had the chance to see the newly revamped Love Never Dies. Again, I was let down by the changes that Andrew Lloyd Webber had made and was quite disappointed.

I’m off to New York City for a quick weekend, where I’m seeing Spiderman and American Idiot (with Billy Joe Armstrong). I can’t wait to report!

So here’s to a new year and a new month with hopefully a better slew of shows than this past December.

Broadway Cast Poster 1. Next to Normal at Curran Theatre (SHNSF) in San Francisco – Out of all the shows that you should buy tickets to, this is the one. I know this touring cast will be good because it has the Tony Award winner Alice Ripley is in it. I’ve seen her perform several times and her performance is incredible and not to be missed.

Next to Normal has become one of my favorite musicals of all time. I’ve seen it five times on Broadway and I’m looking forward to seeing it again in San Francisco in a new theatre, with almost a new cast.

Out of all the shows that are coming to San Francisco, I can’t stress enough that this is the show that you should buy tickets to and see! It’s absolutely a beautiful show and worthy of the Pulitzer Prize that it won! I’ll be there opening night.

Website | Tickets

2. Clybourne Park at ACT (San Francisco) – Home is where the heart—and history—is in Clybourne Park, a “buzz-saw sharp new comedy” (The Washington Post) that cleverly spins the events of A Raisin in the Sun to tell an unforgettable new story about race and real estate in America. Act I opens in 1959, as a white couple sells their home to a black family, causing uproar in their middle-class Chicago neighborhood.

Act II transports us to the same house in 2009, when the stakes are different, but the debate is strikingly familiar. Adamant provocateur Bruce Norris launches his characters into lightning-quick repartee as they scramble for control of the situation, revealing how we can—and can’t—distance ourselves from the stories that linger in our houses.

A West Coast premiere.

January 20–February 13, 2011

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3. Grease at Broadway San Jose – Unfortunately, I will be out of town for the full week of this run, so I will not be able to see it. I’ll be honest and say that Grease isn’t my favorite musical (by any means), but I’m hoping it will be a fun production filled with upcoming Broadway talent.

If you do have a chance to see this show, let us know what you think! I’m very curious to see how it all turns out.

Hopefully, you were the winner of our ticket giveaway!

Opens January 18th – 23rd, 2011.

Website | Tickets

4. Compleat Female Stage Beauty at City Lights Theatre Company - Embracing a period of British history that’s ripe with gender & social intrigue, Kynaston, the most famous portrayer of female roles in seventeenth century London, is brought to ruin when King Charles II changes the law to allow women to act. His journey embarks down a road of revenge and self-awareness as Kynaston strives to take his place on the stage once again.

City Lights is known for stretching boundaries and I’m sure that they are at it again. It also features several great Bay Area actors!

It opens January 2oth and runs till February 20th, 2011.

Website | Get Tickets

5. Sylvia at Bus Barn Stage Company – Empty nesters Greg and Kate have moved to Manhattan where Greg finds Sylvia, a golden lab/poodle mix, in the park and brings her home. Greg is smitten by Sylvia’s unconditional love and the romantic triangle that results begins to eat a serious (and riotous) hole in Greg and Kate’s 22 year marriage.

This endearing romantic comedy about a marriage and a winsome canine is a tasty (dog) treat not to be missed.

January 27th – February 19th, 2011.

Website | Get Tickets

6. Clue at Boxcar Theatre – A play based on a movie based on a board game. The 1985 cult classic is adapted for the stage with every side splitting joke intact and even a few new ones thrown in for good measure. Peering over a life-sized board game, the audience watches from six feet in the air as six guests and a bumbling butler navigate square by tiny square searching a mansion to find out who killed Mr. Boddy.

Was it Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with the wrench or Ms. Scarlet in the lounge with the candlestick? With secret passages running underneath the seats, and multiple different endings, this completely ripped off production is the most original yet.

January 7th – February 5th, 2011

Website | Get Tickets

On My Radar:

  • The Dresser at San Jose Rep – It’s 1942 in Britain and the smell of death is in the air. The sirens howl, signaling another air raid, but inside the crumbling walls of a regional theatre in the provinces the aging actor, Sir, prepares to give his 227th performance as King Lear. Runs January 27 – February 20, 2011. Website
  • Holes at Hillbarn Theatre Company – Holes is a modern grown-up fairy tale with a charming ending that comes full circle after a variety of perambulations. Opens January 27th – February 13th, 2011. Website
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at South Bay Musical Theatre – Great show directed by Walter Mayes. Opens January 29th – February 19th, 2011. Website
 
 

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Theatre Review: “Shrek” @ Orpheum Theatre (SHNSF), 12/01/10

With newly minted posters and marketing graphics, Shrek The Musical, opened at Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco to a big monstrous thud. When it opened on Broadway in December 2008, it received mixed reviews — critics generally loved the magical sets, costumes and performances by Brian D’Arcy James (Shrek), Sutton Foster (Fiona) and Lord Farquaad (Christopher Seiber). The touring production of Shrek The Musical, literally takes everything good about the show and strips it down to nothing. It became a boring, magic-less show that can’t be saved because of the mediocre score by Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie and Caroline, or Change) and bad re-direction and staging by Jason Moore (Shrek The Musical on Broadway) and Rob Ashford (Promises, Promises and Thoroughly Modern Millie).

One of the biggest beefs I have with this production was the incredibly bad sound design. Throughout the entire show, it sounded muffled, not balanced with the small orchestra (that featured 11 local musicians) and altogether a big muddled mess. Whenever the fun chorus of misfit fairy-tale characters were on stage, it felt like they were miles away and I had one of the best seats in the house (center orchestra – row M). Whenever the two leads, Shrek (Eric Petersen) and Fiona (Haven Burton) sang together, the sound would instantly become mush. I’m generally familiar with the score and for minutes on end, I had no idea what anyone was saying. For a show that’s based in comedy, it’s hard to be funny when no one knows what you’re saying.

I saw Shrek The Musical in February 2009 – right after it opened – with the full original cast. I walked out of the Broadway Theatre and remember thinking that while it wasn’t my favorite musical of all time, it was delightful and magical. You could see $24 million dollars on the stage and it was a technical masterpiece with set pieces moving in ways I had never seen before. I knew it was going to be hard to re-create Shrek as a touring production, but the producers and designers seemed to find the easiest (and usually less creative and effective) way to tell the story. Even the choreography was dumbed down. (It was most noticeable in the semi-tap routine, “Morning Song”, at the top of Act 2.)

Instead of moving set pieces that changed effortlessly, while Shrek and Donkey (Alan Mingo, Jr.) were on their journey to find the princess, they literally ran around four trees in countless amounts of scenes. I understood what they were doing, but the re-staging of these numbers fell flat and looked messy and direction-less. It was amateurish at best. Overall, the entire re-design was non-imaginative and really affected the show as a whole. The magic was lost.

There are also a few changes to the script, music and characters. While, I’m not going to list all of the changes, the main change was the dragon song. The song, “Forever” replaced the Broadway version of “Donkey Pot Pie” (a mess of a song). This particular scene has been a headache for producers and writers since the beginning. I actually enjoyed the new song and the spectacular life-like puppet dragon was incredibly cool. But you actually never see the Dragon’s persona, played by the fierce Carrie Compere, on stage. She sings everything off-stage which is a huge mis-step. We want to see her!

Overall, the performances by the cast felt like they were “phoning it in” and not playing to a very generous sold-out crowd at the Orpheum Theatre. This might be partially attributed to the bad sound design because their performances never reached past the second row of the orchestra. Eric Petersen’s (Shrek) voice was fantastic, but again, a lot of his dialogue and jokes were missed. Haven Burton (Fiona) lost all of her “funny” since Broadway. Haven, who played Gingy in the original cast, almost stole the show with her incredible gingerbread-like voice and comedic timing. All of that spunk and energy seemed to be gone. I’ve also seen her perform Fiona’s song(s) at a Broadway Teacher’s Workshop in NYC and it was excellent in every respect. But for some reason, her performance just didn’t work. There was no chemistry between her and Shrek and the timing felt off — maybe we can just chock it up to a “bad” night.

Obviously, the show markets heavily to the children and families, but if with all of the changes that producers/directors/composer made for the touring cast, why not make the show run a little shorter? Why not pick up the pace a little more, so that the younger crowd (meaning children ages 5-11) don’t fall asleep half way through the second act? It’s a long show — clocking in at around 2 1/2 hours (we got out at 10:45pm) and the movie is only 90 minutes! I was squirming in my chair about half way through the second act, so I can’t imagine what a five-year old thought of it. I only recommend taking your kids to this, if they can actually sit that long, because the last thing you want to do is watch the show from the tiny screens in the lobby.

And the added song, “I’m a Believer” (that was featured in the first movie) at the end of the show, as a bonus curtain call, was a hot mess. Cut it.

As you can tell, I was underwhelmed in generally every area. I expected more from this tour. A lot more. I thought they were going to be able to find the magic in this off-beat fairy-tale, but the touring production of Shrek The Musical provides only a few laughs (usually regarding gross bodily functions) and one or two hummable melodies with nothing but thoughtless direction at a plodding pace — not a good recipe for any show.

 

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2010 December Bay Area Theatre Guide

And just like that, we are into the holiday season and this, of course, brings us some holiday and family-friendly shows! Several Bay Area theatres have already begun their runs of their holiday shows and several are opening the first weekend of December. In any event, you have plenty of great theatre to choose from.

I started my holiday season off right, with Every Christmas Story Ever Told at San Jose Stage Company. This is a hilarious off-beat comedy show that is an updated look at every Christmas story ever told… It’s hysterical and should not be missed, especially if you are tired of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Every Christmas Story Ever Told at San Jose Stage Company – Join Stage for this fast-moving, irreverent comedy that takes holiday cheer to the extreme! Every Christmas Story Ever Told is a fond and furious look at the holiday classics and traditions we all remember. From Frosty to Rudolph and the Grinch to It’s A Wonderful Life, no pop culture holiday icon is spared in this whirlwind of holiday merriment.

Make sure you get a ticket to see this! It’s fantastic!

Be sure to enter The Broadway Critic’s ticket giveaway and win two tickets! Back by popular demand!

4 out of 5 stars

Website | Get Tickets

Shrek, The Musical – Orpheum Theatre (San Francisco) – Shrek, The Musical, based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks film that started it all, brings the hilarious story of everyone’s favorite ogre to life on stage.

In a faraway kingdom turned upside down, things get ugly when an unseemly ogre – not a handsome prince – shows up to rescue a feisty princess. Throw in a donkey who won’t shut up, a bad guy with a SHORT temper, a cookie with an attitude and over a dozen other fairy tale misfits, and you’ve got the kind of mess that calls for a real hero. Luckily, there’s one on hand… and his name is Shrek.

I saw this on Broadway (on kid’s night) and I can 100% say that it’s totally kid-friendly. While, adults can enjoy this musical as well, I felt it should have been performed/showcased/premiered at some type of theme park instead. I hear they’ve updated a few scenes (most notably the horrible dragon scene) and I look forward to seeing the changes.

If you are thinking about going up to San Francisco with your family this holiday season, make sure you get tickets to Shrek. Your kids will thank me! You can see this show at the Orpheum Theatre from December 1st, 2010 to January 2nd, 2011.

Website | Get Tickets

The Broadway Critic’s Theatre Review: Shrek @ Orpheum Theatre (SHNSF), 1 out of 5 stars

The Composer is Dead at Berkeley Rep – The show must go on? But the actor is mute, the director is crying, the dancer is lazy—and the composer is dead! This holiday season, Berkeley Rep presents a deliciously silly world premiere from beloved Bay Area artists. Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead features text by bestselling author Lemony Snicket and a score by (living) composer Nathaniel Stookey.

Did you check out the tracks and videos that I previously posted. If not, go here.

I’m very interested to see how this translates to the stage. It runs till January 9th, 2011.

Website | Get Tickets

The Broadway Critic’s Theatre Review: The Composer is Dead @ Berkeley Rep, 1.5 out of 5 stars

Backwards in High Heels at San Jose Rep – I’ve been looking forward to this show for awhile now. I recently interviewed the musical director, Tim Robertson and I gave away five pairs of tickets as well!

This intimate musical dances its way through Ginger’s life with unforgettable music, show-stopping dance numbers and a captivating story that chronicles her journey from hometown to Hollywood and from one love affair to another. Funny, moving and a visual feast, Backwards In High Heels is a toe-tapping, swirling, gliding account of her ambitious public and private life.

It runs until December 19th, 2010.

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The Broadway Critic’s Review – Backwards in High Heels – The Ginger Musical @ SJ Rep, 2.5 out of 5 stars

A Christmas Memory at Theatreworks – WORLD PREMIERE – Sure to delight the entire family, Truman Capote’s enchanting masterpiece springs to life in this big-hearted musical treat. A wistful memoir of cherished youth, it chronicles the 1930s friendship of a shy boy and his eccentric aunt—misfits who launch kites, haunt speakeasies, and mail fruitcakes to everyone from Jean Harlow to President Roosevelt!

The music is by Larry Grossman (Snoopy!), lyrics by Carol Hall (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) and the book by Duane Poole (Make Someone Happy). It’s a world premiere and I’ve heard it’s full of Christmas cheer. I’ll be checking this one out on opening night, December 4th, 2010. It closes on December 26th, 2010.

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Hairspray at San Jose Children’s Musical Theatre (Marquee Production): Hairspray delighted audiences by sweeping them away to 1960’s Baltimore, where the 50’s are out — and change is in the air. Loveable plus-size heroine, Tracy Turnblad, has a passion for dancing, and wins a spot on the local TV dance program, “The Corny Collins Show.” Overnight she finds herself transformed from outsider to teen celebrity. Can a larger-than-life adolescent manage to vanquish the program’s reigning princess, integrate the television show, and find true love (singing and dancing all the while, of course!) without mussing her hair?

This will be my first production at SJCMT and I’m looking forward to seeing Hairspray because the last time I saw it, I had a standing-room ticket on Broadway (and it was a long 2 1/2 hours).

With only nine performances, you will want to make sure you schedule this one in!

Website | Get Tickets

On My Radar:

  • A Christmas Carol at ACT (San Francisco) – The Bay Area’s favorite holiday tradition returns to A.C.T. with a sparkling, music-infused production of A Christmas Carol. Featuring mean ol’ Scrooge, adorable Tiny Tim, those deliciously spooky Christmas ghosts, and a multigenerational cast of dozens, A Christmas Carol is a celebration of goodwill that you’ll never forget. Website
  • Coraline at SF Playhouse – Poor bored Coraline. She’s left to rattle ’round her perpetually distracted, workaholic parents’ house all by her lonesome. This is the West Coast premiere of Coraline. This doesn’t close until January 15th, 2011. WebsiteGet Tickets
  • White Christmas at West Valley Light Opera: The dazzling score features well-known standards including “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, “I Love A Piano” and the perennial favorite, “White Christmas”. An uplifting musical, enjoyable for the entire family, it arrives in time to guarantee that Saratoga will have an unusual “White Christmas” this year.  Website
  • A Tuna Christmas at Bus Barn Stage Company: It’s Christmas Eve in tiny Tuna Texas, and a gallery of 22 zany citizens lives’ intersect as they attempt to celebrate with their tradition Yuletide activities. Website

Until next month…

Did I miss anything?

 

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Theatre Review: “Dreamgirls” @ Curran Theatre, 09/26/10

There’s not much to say, except for this production of Dreamgirls was stale. It’s a story that focuses on relationships of the the three Dreamettes (later known as The Dreams) – Effie, Deena and Lorrell. With no thought to any of the real relationships, director Robert Longbottom, made his cast work overtime as they tried to connect with each other amidst the sterile environment of the stage. This lead to over zealous performances that became self-indulgent, drowning in disingenuous sentimentality.

First, it was struggle to divide the two worlds: on-stage and off-stage. Again, I place the blame on Longbottom and the set designer, Robin Wagner. While they were trying to be clever with the beautiful moving lighting panels, it became extremely disjointed. The lighting panels became the star of the show. It became a guessing game on how the panels were going to move next and trust me, it was pretty fantastic.

I never felt like I was a part of the action – always an outsider looking in. I could never connect; I never cared.

There was a brief moment in the second act when Deena (Syesha Mercado) and Effie (Moya Angela) sang “Listen” that I connected and got goose-bumps. It was fantastic. Ironically, “Listen” is a new song that was inserted in this production that was recently featured in the movie version of Dreamgirls. (Apparently, Beyonce wanted her shining moment in the movie so “Listen” was written just for her.) Syesha Mercado soared on this particular song. It finally showcased her vocal talent. Part of the reason they shined in this song was the lighting panels were non-existent at this point. The panels had moved far enough upstage that they weren’t upstaging the performers (like they did most of the show).

Angela’s rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” had superior singing but her acting was border-line self-indulgent. Every sentence and feeling was over exaggerated to extent that again, I was taken out of the show. She didn’t let me in. The crowd loved it; I somehow missed it.

I will say that Chester Gregory killed it. He played James “Thunder” Early with such charisma that he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, including myself. We ate it up. He’s a true star.

For a show with so much passion, I left the theatre feeling passionless. It was completely and utterly stale.

 

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2010 October Bay Area Theatre Guide

September started with a bang! I saw 8 shows last month all over the Bay Area ranging from San Francisco to Berkeley, down to San Jose and everywhere in between. Berkeley Rep’s Compulsion starring Mandy Patinkin was by far the best show of the month. It was a riveting new drama that shouldn’t be missed. It plays until October 31st; make sure you see it. You can read the full review here. Broadway San Jose’s sizzling hot dance show Burn the Floor was also a highlight this past month. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

October is gearing up to be another exciting month of theatre. I have seven shows lined up in the Bay Area. I’m also taking a 6-day trip to New York City and packing in 9 shows! I’ll be reviewing them all, so make sure you come back to check the reviews out. I’m seeing three brand new shows – Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and The Scottsboro Boys. It’s going to be an epic trip.

If you can’t make it to New York, don’t worry, there are some great shows playing in the Bay Area – direct from NYC – that you won’t want to miss. Plus, The Broadway Critic is going to be giving away tickets to several shows over the next few weeks! Keep up-to-date on Facebook and Twitter!

Here is my schedule and what I recommend seeing:

Sweeney Todd at Sunnyvale Community Players: I mentioned Sweeney Todd last month, since technically it opened on September 17th. I was so busy seeing everything else, I almost forgot about it! I’m finally going to be able to check out this production on October 1st. I can’t think of a better way to start my October with the gruesome demon barber of Fleet Street.

The only time I’ve seen Sweeney Todd was at ACT, a few years back, when the John Doyle version (the actors playing instruments) was performed. I walked out of the theatre not knowing what had happened. I was confused and frankly I hated it. After seeing the movie, I finally understood what the story was and who the characters were. I’m now intrigued to see a non-instrument-toting production, so I’m hoping Sunnyvale Community Players will change my mind on this Sondheim classic.

Website | Get Tickets

Reasons to be Pretty at San Jose Stage Company: First off, make sure you check back soon for a ticket giveaway to Reasons to be Pretty - should be happening in the next couple of days! A 2009 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, Neil LaBute’s bristling new comedy puts a ferocious cap on a trilogy of plays that began with The Shape of Things and Fat Pig. America’s obsession with physical beauty is confronted headlong in this brutal and exhilarating work, in which a slip of the tongue has a tsunami effect on man’s relationships, romantic and otherwise. Simultaneously sentimental and uncompromising, Reasons To Be Pretty is a gorgeous play.

It features Halsey Varady, Robert Brewer, Allison F. Rich and Will Springhorn Jr. – I can’t wait to see this! It runs till October 24th.

Website | Get Tickets

Banana Shpeel at Golden Gate Theatre (San Francisco):

THIS HAS NOW BEEN CANCELLED!

According to a few sources on Twitter it’s because the ticket sales were so poor in Toronto that they decided to cancel this particular show indefinitely.

Website

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at 42nd Street Moon: I won’t be able to make it to opening night, so I’m seeing this a little later in its run, but I wouldn’t miss seeing Meg Cavenaugh as Pseudolous and Mike Rhone as Hysterium. It looks like a stellar cast. The fast-paced, witty and irreverent musical hit is a departure for Moon (42nd Street Moon usually produces unknown or forgotten musicals) but they decided it was a must to celebrate Sondheim’s 80th birthday. I happen to agree!

It’s truly one of the funniest shows ever written. The role of Pseudolus has been played by some amazing performers– Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, and now, Megan Cavanagh is added to the list.

It opens October 6th and runs only three weeks till October 24th. I have a feeling that this one might sell out fast, so grab your tickets soon!

Website | Get Tickets

Rain at Broadway San Jose: The second show that Broadway San Jose is bringing to the Bay Area is called Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles. Bay Area audiences will have the unique opportunity to experience this multi-media Beatles tribute just as Broadway audiences are getting their first look (a production opens at the Neil Simon Theatre the week previous). The Denver Post calls it “the next best thing to seeing the Beatles,” Rain boasts a repertoire of nearly 200 Beatlemaniac favorites, ranging from such beloved songs as “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude” to classic hits including “Revolution” and “Come Together.”

Since I’ve never had the opportunity to hear the Beatles perform, I’m really looking forward to seeing this show! As always, the Broadway San Jose productions are only in town for one week, so you have to plan your week around it. It opens October 25th and they are out of here on Halloween.

The Broadway Critic is going to give away tickets to this show as well!

Website | Get Tickets

West Side Story at Orpheum Theatre (San Francisco): I have to say that I didn’t really like the revival of West Side Story on Broadway. I thought it was cast all wrong (except for the unbelievable Karen Olivo) and because I couldn’t understand half of the show (they sung a lot of it in Spanish) I didn’t care about anyone dying in the end. Apparently, they have changed a lot of the Spanish back to English and obviously, this is a different cast than who I saw on Broadway, so I have my hopes up again. The revival in New York City is closing January 2nd.

It’s going to be at the Orpheum Theatre from October 27 till November 28th. If you’ve never seen this classic Broadway show, then definitely buy tickets. The show is a must-see so let’s hope, that this cast lives up to West Side Story’s grandeur.

Website | Get Tickets

Becoming Britney at Center Rep: How does a Pop sensation wind up bald and trapped in her own musical? Becoming Britney is a caustic (but loving) PG-13 fable that chronicles the rise…the dip…and the salvation of a foolhardy celebrity phenom. The hit of the New York Fringe Festival – “It’s a production that oozes sass!” – raved NYTheatre.com – the Bay Area’s own sensation, Molly Bell, brings Britney home for it’s West Coast premiere. It’s a new Musical, y’all!

Join me for opening night on October 30th. I can’t wait to see Adam Barry in this!

It runs October 28 – November 14, 2010

Website | Get Tickets

On my Radar (but don’t have a date to see it yet):

  • 1st Day of School at City Lights Theatre Company : As the children head off for the first day of school, their parents decide to try a “first” of their own behind closed doors. A new ritual is added to the typical ‘first day of school’ routine, one that will bring laughter and self-discovery to the adult participants. I heard it was hysterical!  Website
  • Stompin’ at the Savoy at Tabard Theatre Company: A world premiere musical produced in collaboration with San Jose Jazz that celebrates the music of the Big Band era and evokes the floor shows of the era, including opportunity for the audience to dance. I’ll be hosting a ticket giveaway to this show! Website
  • Glory Days at Royal Underground Theatre Company: Four high school friends reunite one year after graduation to discover how dramatically their lives have grown apart. While they attempt to reconnect and understand each other’s differences, nothing can compare to the glory days of high school when life was simpler and all appeared right with the world. If you want to see one of Broadway’s biggest bombs, then check it out. I’m totally intrigued. Website

Anything I missed?

 
 

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