Category Archives: Theatre

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.

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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MANOS: The Hands of Felt

One of the worst movies ever made, some say THE worst, is MANOS: The Hands of Fate (1966).  Aficionados of bad cinema have embraced this piece of  little gem and kept it from disappearing into obscurity.   Well, some sick talented folks up in Seattle have put together a puppet show that combines the behind-the-scenes story of making the film with the movie itself, and they even added song and dance numbers!  Since I can’t get up to Seattle to witness it in person, I’ve joined the Kickstarter campaign to make it into a film.   Hey, for five dollars you get the download AND your name in the credits.  (I’m really excited about that credit part.)   Join in and become a footnote key player in the continuing evolution of the MANOS phenomenon.  The Master will be so delighted.  MANOS campaign on Kickstarter

Manos Poster

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Remembering Jack Tygett

Earlier this week, Jack Tygett passed away.  In San Diego where I grew up, he was a popular teacher, director and choreographer.  He danced in movies like Mary Poppins and Oklahoma.  He also had roles in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1965) and The Wild Wild West (The Night of the Puppeteer, season 1, 1966).

The news of Jack Tygett’s death brings back memories of the spring and summer of 1981.  I was a senior in high school and member of San Diego Junior Theatre.  I got a call from a friend offering me the job of rehearsal secretary for Starlight’s production of Flower Drum Song.  Starlight (San Diego Civic Light Opera) is a summer theatre company that performs musicals in a large outdoor amphitheater in Balboa Park.  Lots of kids from the Junior Theatre program go on to do Starlight, and I was already planning to submit a resume with the company that summer.   I was thrilled to be offered a position.  Jack Tygett and his wife Marge were the director and choreographer of Flower Drum Song, and I met them the next day.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

April 17, 1981     Casa Del Prado, Room 207
Jenny Woo, Jimmy Saba, Beverly Davis, Lori Hood, Lara Tepper, Jill Brow, Audrey Pritchard, Tori Purdom, Steve Moramarco, Eileen Bowman
All these people from [San Diego] Junior Theatre auditioned today for Flower Drum Song and The Wizard of Oz.  I came to the first audition totally unprepared for what I’d meet.  The first person I met is my director, Mr. Jack Tygett.  He reminds me of Red Buttons.  Mrs. Tygett is okay, too.  I was sooo hungry.  They had food from McDonald’s, but it was Good Friday so Mom wouldn’t let me eat any.  I felt like a baby running over to her to see if I could eat.  We narrowed it down to a few kids.  I kept losing my audition sheets.  After the auditions, I went and got my driver’s license (!!!).

Yeah, the things that are worth writing down at age 18 make me cringe now!  Once I ditched my mother by getting my driver’s license, it felt like I spent every waking moment working (or playing) on Flower Drum Song.   We held fifty rehearsals, but there were also lots of parties and post-rehearsal meals, and even a road trip to Magic Mountain.  I spent many hours at the Tygetts’ home with the cast, and I also got to know daughter Nan Tygett.  Even when I screwed up, the Tygetts always treated me with warmth and patience.  They accepted me as a member of their big extended theatre family.

Flower Drum Song requires a large cast to play Chinese and Chinese-American characters.  The Tygetts cast the best dancers and performers who auditioned, many of them students who’d worked with the Tygetts before.  We had some Japanese performers, many Filipinos,  a lot of dark haired Caucasians, and even a pale blonde or two.  I learned a lot that summer about different Asian cultures, and I also ate my first lumpia and sushi.

I lost touch with the Tygetts after that summer.  Four years later, I was working at the La Jolla Playhouse on Merrily We Roll Along with some students from USIU, where the Tygetts taught.  I asked one of them about Jack and Marge.  This was when I learned that Marge had passed away.  I was saddened by the news.  Now that Jack has joined her, I’m sure there’s a lot more dancing in heaven!

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Tony Awards 2012

There were two different Tony Awards tonight.  I want to see the OTHER one.  What I watched on CBS was not an awards program.  It was a three hour trailer for Broadway musicals, with a few breaks for some hurried awards.  Just the ones people care about, though.  No time to actually show the boring stuff, like choreography and book and anything with the word “design.”   Oh, and make sure those presenters say the names and read the winners without taking a breath.  Don’t let the winners talk long enough to bore anyone, even though it’s the biggest night of their lives.  And go overtime anyway.  Make sure this show is interesting to the people who don’t actually watch awards shows…but, wait.  Hey, that’s a novel concept.  Let’s put on a show for the folks who aren’t watching!

I complained just as much last year, so feeling like a broken record here.  What’s different this time?  My patience.  If the folks behind the broadcast aren’t going to show viewers the parts we want see, we won’t bother paying much attention.  Now, this is not to say that there weren’t some good moments.  Neil Patrick Harris is always on (“50 Shades of Gay”) and his mash-up of award-winning songs was delightful.  He made fun of going overtime, which he can get away with.  Not everyone can.  Other delightful moments: Harvey Fierstein in swim trunks and an inflatable pool ring.  James Corden flustered and awed when accepting the acting award for One Man, Two Guvnors.  Hugh Jackman graciously receiving a special award, presented by his wife.  Nina Arianda’s genuine glee for winning the acting award for Venus in Fur.  Matt Stone and Trey Parker just being their awesome selves.  Steve Kazee (best actor for Once) honoring his mother, who died of cancer on Easter.  And hey, they didn’t broadcast the In Memoriam.  Tragic.

All those musical numbers.  I’m on overload.  Since I can’t sing or dance, I don’t feel qualified to judge, but I will say this.  I saw Evita in London in 1980 with Mark Ryan as Che, and I listened often to the original cast album with Mandy Patinkin.  I know that Che is supposed to feel contempt for Eva Peron, along with begrudging admiration.  I have no idea what Ricky Martin’s Che was feeling.  Right after his performance, Mandy Patinkin and Patti Lupone came out to present.  It was cruel.

Congratulations to all the Tony winners.  I’m sorry I didn’t get to see most of you receive your awards.

Each year, I hope that next year they will get it right.  Another year like this one, and I’ll stop waiting and stop watching.  Sorry, NPH.

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Happy Birthday, Hadley Fraser (2012)

Today is Hadley Fraser’s birthday.  Currently playing Javert in Les Misérables, this West End performer is about to take a quick break from the stage to appear in the movie version of Les Mis.  (He’s playing the army officer who calls out to the student revolutionaries, “You at the barricades, listen to this!  No one is coming to help you to fight!” and all that.)   My friend and guest blogger extraordinaire, Scolytinae, has written this fine tribute to Mr. Fraser, in honor of his special day:

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Happy Birthday, Hadley – the Metal Monkey

According to the Chinese, people born under the Year of the Monkey are good at mastering anything they put their hands to and are highly successful. Those born during the period of the Metal Monkey are motivated by constancy, are self reliant and stylish, and have a good memory. Quite an accurate description of the lovely Mr. Hadley Fraser, who is, by anyone’s standards, having an amazing year.  From a triumphant return to the West End in Les Misérables, the show that marked his professional debut 10 years ago, to a stunning performance in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Hadley hasn’t stopped working.  He has filming for the Les Misérables movie still to come next month.  But it’s not been all high profile public performances. In his quiet and unassuming manner, Hadley has also lent his support to charity by taking part in Les Mis Gives, performed shows and cabarets alongside friends and colleagues and, most recently, lent his magnificent voice to the concept album for the prospective new musical The In-Between by new young writer Laura Tisdall—all fitted round a demanding 8 show a week schedule as Inspector Javert, without fuss or fanfares.

He may disagree, but I feel he lives and breathes music in all its many and varied forms. Yes he can (and does) belt out a West End show stopper onstage, but just listen to him perform some of his own beautiful compositions for Sheytoons, or deliver the beautiful ballads of friend Scott Alan, and you begin to appreciate the depth of talent he has. Acting, singing, arranging, writing—he seems to epitomise that monkey by indeed mastering anything he puts his hand to.

As his year in the West End nears its end—his last performance is on 16th June 2012—I can’t help but wonder, what’s next for Hadley? Whatever it may be, rest assured he will have an army of dedicated fans wishing him all the best as he embarks on the next phase of an amazing career.

So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I say “Thank you” and “Happy Birthday, Mr Fraser!”  Enjoy your day, because you certainly deserve the very best that life has to offer.

Thank you, Scolytinae, I couldn’t have said it more eloquently.  I too wish Hadley Fraser a great birthday.  May the cake flow, and save me slice of champagne!  (Perhaps we shouldn’t have started celebrating so early…)

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