Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Seussical the Musical"& "The Tempest" : been awhile...

It's been a while and I don't even know where to begin. I mean, I really really don't even know where to begin. The one reason why it has been so long is because of all the everything that's been going on with me, my life, the everything that surrounds me and makes up this universe that I perceive as my own.

I do want to share the latest reviews that have accompanied my last 2 shows: "Seussical The Musical" and "The Tempest".

-------- "Seussical the Musical" --------

The Berkeley Playhouse succeeded in keeping this production ever-new, without deviating from the script, by adding the talents of aerialist Kimberly Miller to the circus scenes. Miller’s sinuous inversions and deft aerial skin-the-cats mesmerized the audience and worked well with the other visual elements of the set. It’s hard to imagine Julia Morgan thinking her signature wood beams of this lovely venue, (originally St. John’s Presbyterian Church and Sunday School) would be used to secure aerialist sashes.
Strong vocal numbers by Nicole C. Julien, as Sour Kangaroo, and Sarah Mitchell as Mazie added much to the production. Julien packed the Sour Kangaroo role with energy and style, bringing it from a lesser role to a more dominant one.
Seussical the Musical will continue to make audiences pine for the the far-away Solla Selew through August 14th.

San Francisco Bay Area TheaterSeussical the Musical

Berkeley Playhouse Julia Morgan Center for Performing Arts
4 out of 5 stars
William Hodgson is The Cat in the Hat William Hodgson is The Cat in the Hat

Photo by Larry Abel

Eye from the Aisle: SEUSSICAL at Berkeley Playhouse—enough to make a Grinch grin

When approaching the Julia Morgan Theatre Center at the premature hour of 7 pm on Friday night last, I was confronted by many miniature homunculi which caused me to gasp and grasp tight the hand of my companion. She reassured me that they were only children. I was not anticipating them. I don’t get out much, except to go to theatre, and thankfully they are seldom there since they make noise and fidget.
It was the Berkeley Playhouse—which I had hitherto eschewed for the above reasons, and out of a preference for tragedy and irony. And to make matters more dire, this was SEUSSICAL, THE MUSICAL, god help us all. But I had been invited by a creative colleague, so I held my breath, if not my nose, and deigned to attend.
For all my Grinch-like persona and curmudgeonly mien, I must unequivocally and highly RECOMMEND this production to everyone, regardless of age. The Broadway-worthy performances of the cast are the first reason. Indeed, the performances are so engaging that the rug-rats—probably a third of the audience—are for the most part quiet and rapt for the entire two hours plus.
The second reason is that Theodor Seuss Geisel’s doggerel is embedded in most every contemporary American’s consciousness: since 1950 his books have been read by Greatest Generation parents to their Boomer children, and I must assume the tradition has been passed down the generations. Behind the seemingly saccharine and simplistic plot lines and rhymes are a reflection of adult conundrums, models of compassion, and some curious world-within-world cosmic perspectives.
The casting and direction of Kimberly Dooley is inspiring. She may be the luckiest director around to have assembled this cast of perfection—almost as if drawn from the books themselves or from some Seussical central casting. Or she may be an incredibly inspiring director who helped mold them to this peak. Ms. Dooley’s choreography on an individual basis ranges appropriately from the flashy to the athletic to the comically emotional.
The lead who played Jojo the night I attended iswunderkind Nandi Drayton. There is always something special about a child actor who is a seasoned pro at ten. The kind of talent, that, when she auditions, you can imagine the accompanist turning around from the piano, mouth agape. And I didn’t recognize she was a girl playing a boy which is the perfection of any breeches role.
Aerialist Kimberly Miller wraps herself “Cirque du”-style in two scarlet sash curtains, inverts, dangles, swoops and splits to our wide-eyed inhalations and oooo’s. There are no weak links in the cast, and everyone more than shines.
The musical direction of Tal Ariel, who is new to musical theatre, has enabled these marvelous performances. A jazz, rock and blues pianist and teacher and commercial producer and composer, he has an outsider’s touch that infuses a realism to the music and a strong beat that moves the young actors. He treated us gray hairs to some pre-show surprises, featuring “White Room” by Cream as one of the warm up instrumentals; it was a breath of fresh air, and much better than some prissy and pretentious show-tune. He put a great band together, and they rock the house while supporting the singers. The first act, the night I attended, had a bit too much bass which obscured the lyrics—incredibly important to Seuss; but much to the credit of the sound tech and the band, they fixed it for act two.
Not all is aesthetic perfection. The ground plan of a laterally bisecting scaffold foreshortens the deep Julia Morgan stage and truncates much of the action by eliminating interesting diagonal movement. Too often a horde of an ensemble is lined up laterally on the stage. The stage pictures are most effective when five or fewer actors are in the scene. The set dressing of immediately recognizable flowers and fronds emblematic of the world of Seuss take us to that childhood place even in the preset. While many of the costumes are straight from the books, the clashing colors and stripes and patterns when crunched together in the cramped playing-space make the eyes recoil.
Used to be that the way children learned theatre was to act with adults, model their performance pon those pros, then do it their own way only better. The Berkeley Playhouse has revived this part of performance pedagogy, and the teen and child actors more than hold their own in accompanying their betters. It’s amazing, all the incredible art, talent, and schooling that exists here in this little city of less than 110K. And the Playhouse is quickly working its way to being counted as another Berkeley treasure as directed by the artistic sensibilities of Elizabeth McKoy and the executive and education expertise of Jerry Foust.
If you’ve got kids, don’t miss it. Like all good (and smart) children’s entertainment, there is as much there for Dad and Mom as for Sis and Bud. If you don’t have kids, but you were raised on Seuss, take a chance on this critic’s word and have a good time. I never knew what I was missing, and you’ll feel the same way, too.
Music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics and book by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Kimberly Dooley
Playing through August 14th
2640 College Ave., Berkeley CA

Click here to find out more!
William Shakespeare's fantastical tale of sorcery and spirits, without the magic. Not only is the mastermind Prospero a scientist, not a magician, but so is his slave Caliban, who's more often depicted as a dim-witted subhuman or simple exploited native. The air spirit Ariel is eliminated entirely, replaced by a machine. An inventive writer/director who's done thrilling adaptations of Homer and Orwell in the East Bay, Tracy has reimagined the play with the "steampunk" aesthetic of sci-fi set in the Victorian era.

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