Category Archives: Theatre

A Dear Evan Hansen Halloween

I haven’t done a Halloween costume since my Bend It Like Beckham costume a dozen years ago, when I was disappointment that nobody noticed my dyed black hair. This year I put in a lot of effort (and bad sewing) to do Dear Evan Hansen, this year’s Tony Award winning Broadway musical. I’ve been told by my roommate that it’s too obscure. We’ll see. If even a few folks at my Street Fair get it, I’ll be happy.

I made my “cast” out of soft white fur, so I can bend my wrist and use my hand. That’s especially important because I’m a lefty. Since the song Waving Through A Window is performed before Connor signs Evan’s cast, I left off his name. The only striped polo shirt I could find was a men’s XXL, so I took in the sides and shortened it. I wish the stripes were closer to the one Ben Platt wears in the musical. I photoshopped the map together (“Navigating Adolescence: A Map For Parents” for the song Anybody Have A Map) and cut the window out of cardboard.

Sincerely, me.

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Time and The Conways & Matthew James Thomas

As a fan of Matthew James Thomas, I’ve been following his Broadway play Time and The Conways. Following how? Through google alerts, rehearsal photos, press photos, reviews, Broadway sites, YouTube videos, and tweets from cast and audience members. Since I’m in San Francisco, I won’t get to see the play.

Matthew James Thomas did an “Ask Me Anything” interview for BroadwayRadio last week. The first two questions interviewer Kaitlin Milligan asked him were ones that I submitted. Milligan guessed that I’m a he— that’s okay, though! My second question about going back in time and changing things wasn’t specifically about Pippin, but I’m always happy to hear more about that production. I agree with Milligan (at the 25 minute mark) that the internet allows fans like me to connect with Matthew James Thomas from afar. Thank you, Kaitlin Milligan, BroadwayRadio, and Mr. Thomas!

 

Photo credits: Rehearsal photos by Jenny Anderson. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

More interesting questions and answers: https://www.broadwaybox.com/daily-scoop/five-burning-questions-with-matthew-james-thomas/

For other posts here about Matthew James Thomas, click on his name in the tags below. (I’m quite proud of my screen capture collection!)

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World Premiere: The Prince of Egypt

Yesterday, my friend and I went to see the new stage musical The Prince of Egypt at the Mountain View Center for The Performing Arts. It’s a TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production in collaboration with Fredericia Teater in Denmark, where it will be staged in April with a Danish cast and the same actor playing Moses. The musical is directed by Scott Schwartz, son of the composer Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the songs for the film and additional numbers for this stage version.

The drive down to Mountain View from San Francisco, where we live, is a lot longer than I realized. I don’t have a car, so I don’t get out of the city often enough. We got there early, and parking was easy.

When we went got inside the theatre, I asked the young woman at the information desk for the location of the stage door. She looked somewhat alarmed and asked me why I wanted to know. Wow, really? I always like to visit the stage door after a show to meet to some of the actors. She explained that she wasn’t allowed to take people backstage, but that’s not what I was asking. Anyway, she pointed out the door, not at the side or back of the theatre, but in the lobby far too close to a women’s restroom. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our seats were in the second row of the balcony on an aisle in the center section. There was very little leg room, but the sight lines were fine and the raked seating allowed me see over the folks in front. Unfortunately, the family in front of us had a small boy, about 7 years old, and when seated, he couldn’t see over the solid balcony wall. His mother told me they asked for a booster seat, but the theatre doesn’t have them. I think the Center staff should accommodate small children better, and they should warn folks with kids about that first balcony row. There were quite a few children in the audience, being a matinee for a musical based on a popular animated film.

It became immediately clear during the opening song that the balcony acoustics are very poor. The sound was muddy, especially during solos. It also wasn’t loud enough. I don’t know if the problem is with the mics or the theatre acoustics or both, but it was disappointing.

The set design for The Prince of Egypt utilized a roughly diagonal platform with irregular curved edges, raked at the back. The background was a flat scrim with a wide solid piece, well above the stage, used for various projections—palm trees, arches, hieroglyphics, stars, mountains, etc. The dancers/ensemble moved an assortment of lightly-colored “stones” to create walls, barges, seats, and thrones throughout the show. When Moses was enjoying the hospitality of the Midianites in the desert, patterned rugs and colored tent walls were used instead of the stones. The set was enhanced by the lighting design, especially the lighting projections, including ones suggesting sand dunes and reflections on moving water. The balcony was a good place to view and appreciate these effects.

The dancers and the choreography by Sean Cheesman were excellent. Whether playing river waves, chariots and horses, the burning bush, or actual people, the dancing ensemble was the best aspect of the production. Jason Gotay as Ramses and Diluckshan Jeyaratnam as Moses were both winning and energetic as young princes. Jeyaratnam is perhaps not mature enough for the authority required in the second act. All of the actresses were consistently good and had beautiful voices, including child actor Natalie Schroeder as young Miriam and young Leah. David Crane’s Aaron was the easiest soloist to understand from my balcony seat, so I especially appreciated his performance.

Back to the stage door. There was a long line for the women’s bathroom after the show. The women were facing the bathroom with their backs to the stage door a few feet away. I watched a number of performers open the stage door and hit the women. Definitely a design flaw, and another issue that the theatre staff could easily address. Several of the ensemble came out to the lobby, and I got to say a quick hello to Alison Mixon, Dominic Dagdagan, and Ramone Owens.

I have not seen the original animated film, so I had no preconceived ideas about The Prince of Egypt. I have seen the DVD of the 2004 stage musical The Ten Commandments with Val Kilmer as Moses. (And Kilmer voices Moses in The Prince of Egypt film.) I tried not to compare the two, but I was very curious to see if baby Moses floating in the river was handled better. I’m happy to report that dancers playing water waves carrying the basket along to Pharaoh’s wife was much more effective.

Wait, Pharaoh’s wife?  In the Bible, it’s Pharaoh’s daughter that adopts baby Moses. I re-read some of Exodus today, and it’s short on details but it does specify this. The names of the Pharaohs, the relationship between young Moses and young Ramses—these are not in Exodus. A lot of the story we’re familiar with comes from Cecil B. DeMille and The Ten Commandments, especially the 1956 version. Still, I found it jarring when The Prince of Egypt strayed from the familiar, especially at the end.

There’s a reason this musical is called The Prince of Egypt, and not Moses or Let My People Go. In fact, it might be more accurate to call it The Princes of Egypt. Moses and Ramses are both central characters, with the primary focus on their relationship, to each other and to the other members of the royal family. The anguish that Moses expresses at the deaths of the Egyptian first-borns (the song For The Rest of My Life) seems more heartfelt than what he expresses for the suffering of his people. Ramses tells Moses that he changed his mind about releasing the Hebrew slaves because Moses betrayed him and the family. Moses comes back with “It’s not about YOU!” Ramses’ fervent reply, “It’s always about ME!” got the strongest reaction from the audience.

Driving home from the show, my friend and I tried to pinpoint what was missing from The Prince of Egypt. Not all the songs are memorable, with only When You Believe moving enough to inspire a strong emotional response. It’s obviously a challenge to bring freshness to a well-known story, but the dancing helped a lot. I waited to read reviews until I had the chance to judge for myself. I have to agree with Lily Janiak who writes about the secularization of the story. Except for the brief but effective burning bush, it’s not really clear that the God of the Hebrews is guiding Moses. The Egyptian religion gets a longer introduction in the song Ma’at. Even the song When You Believe (“Who knows what miracles you can achieve, when you believe, somehow you will, you will when you believe”) is open to interpretation. Is it God performing miracles through you, or is it believing enough in something? Anything? Yourself?

Is The Prince of Egypt ready for Broadway? I don’t think so. Am I glad we made the effort to see it? Definitely. Especially when followed by a dinner of Indian food. There’s nothing like plagues and parting the Red Sea to work up an appetite!

Photo credits: The Prince of Egypt stage photos are by Kevin Berne for TheatreWorks. The theatre photo is my own.

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Zachary Quinto at the Castro Theatre

Last night I went to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre to see Zachary Quinto “in conversation.” It was part of the California Independent Film Festival.

I was one of the first arrive in the non–VIP line outside the theatre. Once inside, I got a seat in the fourth row. A young Chinese woman sat next to me, and she could barely contain her excitement. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I told her I’d only seen Zachary Quinto in the Star Trek movies and Snowden. She’d seen more of his work, but neither of us watched Heroes.

Quinto was interviewed by Derek Zemrak and another fellow whose name I missed. They sat in comfy chairs on one side of the Castro Theatre’s shallow stage. When Quinto first sat down, his chair reclined back la-Z-boy style, which got a laugh. The rest of the hour-long interview he was thoughtful and serious, but he seemed very much at ease.

Quinto discussed his television and movie roles, particularly Heroes, American Horror Story, and So Notorious. He loves doing theatre, and he talked about his roles in Angels in America and The Glass Menagerie. When the conversation turned to Star Trek, he described his audition process and his relationships with the other cast members and Leonard Nimoy. He also shared his reasons for coming out and the LGBT+ organizations he works with, especially the Trevor Project and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Then the discussion moved into some of the projects he’s involved with as a producer.

I met Tab Hunter a couple of years ago with his partner Alan Glaser at a screening of the documentary Tab Hunter: Confidential. It was interesting to find out that Quinto is working with Hunter and Glaser on a movie about Tab’s relationship with Anthony Perkins. It’s still in the early writing stages.

Quinto answered some questions from the audience, and then Zemrak presented him with the festival’s Maverick Award. We applauded and the interview was done. I waited with Leah, my new enthusiastic friend, in the foyer afterwards. Quinto signed a few autographs and posed for some photos. I took a photo of Leah and Quinto, then we went outside for a quick photo of him with his award. We watched him get into an SUV and drive away. I said goodbye to Leah with the promise of keeping her informed about other fun events in the city.

Now I need to finally watch Heroes!

Leah & Zachary Quinto

Derek Zemrak & Zachary Quinto with Maverick Award

 

(I would have taken more videos, but I forgot to charge my camera battery!)

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The A.C.T. Young Conservatory: Homefront

 

Growing up, I often went to see friends perform in musicals put on by San Diego Junior Theatre. JT is the oldest continuous children’s theatre program in the United States. I joined JT in high school, mostly working on stage crews because I can’t sing or dance. I got the role of the housekeeper in The Sound of Music only because she doesn’t have to do either. Living in San Francisco now, I miss seeing the kids perform, especially after attending  JT’s 60th anniversary celebration in 2008. Fortunately, there are talented young people performing here in the Bay Area.

Last night, I took a friend to see the A.C.T. Young Conservatory production of Homefront at the Strand Theater. The Young Conservatory is a professional training program for performers age 8 to 19.  This was the first time we’ve seen one of their productions, and it was also our first time at the Strand. It was a wonderful evening.

Homefront is a musical set during WWI. The three Kolemeir children are sent from Germany to stay with relatives in Vienna, Illinois, just before the United States joins the war in 1917. In Vienna, Curt Jensen has already enlisted in the US army and impatiently waits to turn 18. His sister Kathleen longs for Red Brady, whose twisted knee makes him unfit to serve. Instead, Red embraces the anti-German campaign at home, led by the former boyfriend of school teacher Gretchen Parker. The war may be far away in Europe, but it will change the lives of everyone in Vienna.

The A.C.T. Young Conservatory has many talented performers, so the lead female roles in Homefront are double cast. We attended the second performance, which meant six of the girls were doing the show for the first time with an audience. Everyone was great. Caroline Pernick (Emma Kolemeir) has a sweet face and an even sweeter voice. Kathryn Hasson is fierce as Else Kolemeir. Young Alex Cook (Horst Kolemeir) is vulnerable and affecting, and we were genuinely concerned for him in the second act. I have to confess, both Casey Schryer and Cole Sisser stole my heart as the Jensen siblings. We enjoyed all of the performances, and I’d like to go again to see the other cast.

I also enjoyed chatting with the mother of one of the cast members during the intermission. After the performance, there was a ‘second opening night’ reception in the foyer with cake and drinks. Everyone was invited, so I congratulated some of the cast while my friend enjoyed the refreshments. At JT we always got our programs autographed by the cast, and I was wishing they did the same here. (Yes, I really would get autographs if others were doing it. Even at my age!)

The German accents in Homefront brought back memories of my star turn as Frau Schmidt in The Sound of Music. I tortured my friend on the way home with my favorite line. Just try saying “He never used to whistle for us when his wife was alive” with a German accent. It’s a tongue-twister!

Go see Homefront if you can. It runs through August 19th.

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Life Lessons from Pippin

How to separate the drama nerds from the fantasy geeks: mention Pippin. A drama nerd will start singing Corner of the Sky.

Pippin is a Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote Godspell. It’s about a young prince’s search for something meaningful to do with his life. Pippin was the son of Charlemagne, but the musical is not a faithful historical narrative. Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the original 1972 Broadway production, which starred John Rubinstein (Pippin) and Ben Vereen (Leading Player). Pippin’s grandmother Berthe was played by Irene Ryan, best known as Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. I grew up believing the story that she died onstage during a performance of her song No Time At All. Not true, but it still makes a good “what a way to go!” story.

As a teen in the late 1970s, I was a little bit obsessed with Pippin. I knew the music and lyrics from the cast album long before I saw it onstage. A friend took me to a student production at UC Irvine in 1982, with the musical re-imagined as a futuristic space opera with loads of silver lamé. Then, in 1985, I worked with John Rubinstein at the La Jolla Playhouse (described here) which got me listening to the Pippin original cast album all over again. William Katt and Ben Vereen appeared in a filmed stage version in the early 80s, which I saw on videotape many years later.

Fast forward to 2013, and Pippin is back on Broadway. I watched the Tony Awards that year, so I was aware of the production and saw the musical number performed during the ceremony. I was also vaguely aware when the touring version came to San Francisco in fall 2014, but my budget was tight and my mind was on other things. Mostly I was busy pouting because I had to stay home while friends were at a festival in Utah.

Last summer, I finally listened to the Pippin Broadway revival cast album. My first impression was that Matthew James Thomas has a pretty voice, but it’s very different from John Rubinstein’s. I went to YouTube to see if there were any Pippin videos. And here we go, down the rabbit hole again!

I’ve now watched everything I can find with Matthew James Thomas, going back to The Bill in 1999. I was sad that he deleted his twitter account before I had the chance to follow him. I purchased his UK series Britannia High on DVD, watching it once through before my region-free DVD player packed up and died (boo). Then I actually cried when I found out that the San Francisco Pippin tour brought both Matthew James Thomas AND John Rubinstein to my doorstep, and I missed them. Thomas had given his last performance on Broadway, but he came back and filled in for the touring Pippin when that actor was put on vocal rest. John Rubinstein toured with the show as Charlemagne. Even if the tickets were beyond my budget, I could have gone to the stage door to meet the cast and see Rubinstein again. Heartbreak!

The biggest lesson learned from Pippin? Pay attention to what’s happening around me. Instead of wishing to be somewhere else, make the most of what’s right here. San Francisco isn’t perfect, and it’s way too expensive, but a lot of events are free or cheap.

(click to see better version)

Happily, Matthew James Thomas is now back on twitter. He was cast in a pilot called Shelter for NBC, but it wasn’t ordered to series. I wish him the best, look forward to seeing him onscreen again, and hope he comes back to San Francisco. (John Rubinstein, too!)

If I could have one MJT wish granted, since I can’t travel back in time to 2014, it would be to hear his Fenwick solo from the musical Diner.

Matthew James Thomas (Fenwick) in Diner. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

Photo sources:

San Francisco Pippin tour: Review: A masterful ‘Pippin’ showcases Paulus’ bold vision

http://www.delawaretheatre.org/diner (Fenwick photo)

Screen captures made from YouTube videos, particularly from the official Broadway Pippin channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/pippinmusical/videos

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Stage Door (8): Charles Dance, Conleth Hill, & Game of Thrones

Another in series of stage door encounters with interesting actors.

I just finished binge-watching all six seasons of Game of Thrones. A couple of years ago I tried to watch it, but I only got through two episodes before deciding it was too brutal. I’m tougher now. With so many actors I like, and all that gorgeous Ireland scenery, I wish I’d joined the party sooner.

Over the years I couldn’t avoid plot spoilers, but there were still plenty of shocks and surprises. At this point, there’s not much I can say about Game of Thrones that hasn’t been said already. I love the characters I’m supposed to love (Arya, Tyrion, Brienne, Davos, etc), hate the ones everybody hates (Joffrey, Ramsey), wonder why baby Sam grows slower than any other child in Westeros, and wish I’d counted how many times Casterly Rock is mentioned.

Years ago, I saw two of the Game of Thrones cast members perform in plays in London, and I met them at the stage door with my camera.

In early 2001, I saw Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister in GofT) in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The other cast members were Paul Rudd, Paul Nicholls, and Jessica Lange. My seat was right up close to the stage, which normally is too close but was just right for this one. Lange didn’t come out to meet anybody afterward, but the three men did. This was before gathering at the stage door after a show was popular in the West End, so there were only a few of us waiting. This was also before digital cameras, so I didn’t realize that my photo of Rudd caught him with his eyes shut.  He was very friendly, and Charles Dance was very gracious.

 

Soon after, I went with two friends to see Stones in His Pockets with Conleth Hill (Varys in GofT) and Sean Campion. We laughed so hard, our ribs ached by the end. It was fantastic, with just the two men playing multiple roles, including women. We were the only ones waiting afterward. While we were waiting, Stefanie Powers came out the stage door. She must have been in the audience. I recognized her immediately, but I didn’t want to bother her. Hill and Campion came out together, and they were friendly and fun. I don’t usually pose for photos (I prefer taking them), but my friends grabbed the camera and I got sandwiched between two fantastic actors. Lucky me!

With Conleth Hill & Sean Campion

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