Wednesday, July 20, 2016


L to R - Cynthia Thomas, Tony Perry, YVONNE,
Anise Ritchie and Ron Christopher Jones in
"Ain't Misbehavin'". Photos courtesy of North Coast Repertory

"Ain’t Misbehavin’", a sassy and toe-tapping tribute to the music of legendary piano-playing jazz musician, composer and all-round entertainer Thomas "Fats" Waller, is knocking the socks off audiences at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.

The high energy show directed by award-winning actor-singer-producer-director Yvette Freeman, who is familiar to audiences for her roles in the popular and long-running NBC drama “ER” and "Orange is the New Black", deftly stitches together 20 Waller songs taking us on a nostalgic trip back to those radio days of the 30s 40s and 50s and the heyday of nightclubs like the Cotton Club in Harlem.

Waller was a real force in the jazz genre of the 1930s and 40s. His canon ran the gamut from his comedy songs like "Your Feet’s Too Big" and "This Joint is Jumpin’" to winsome songs like "Ain’t Misbehavin’", "Honeysuckle Rose", and "Keeping out of Mischief", being just a few among many.

Cynthia Thomas, YVONNE and
Ron Christopher Jones in "Ain't Misbehavin'"
at North Coast Repertory
Director Freeman has gathered her creative cast of singer/dancers from San Diego, Los Angeles and New York. There is very little that escapes her keen directing eye. Freeman herself was a cast member of the First National Company, of "Ain’t Misbehavin’" on Broadway and around the world.

Joining Freeman is choreographer Julia Lema - who was an assistant to the original Broadway choreographer Arthur Faria - and now has successfully met the challenge of remounting the dance numbers for the intimate stage of North Coast Repertory Theatre.

Anise Ritchie and Tony Perry in
"Ain't Misbehavin'" at North Coast Repertory
The talented and pizzazz-laden five member cast includes YVONNE as Charlaine, Cynthia Thomas as Ammelia, Ron Christopher Jones as Andre, Anise Ritchie as Nell, and Tony Perry as Ken. With 20 songs in the show each performer gets to shine. Stand out numbers include the title song, wonderfully performed by the company, Ron Jones then leads the company in the sly and entertaining number "T Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do", Cynthia Thomas delivers "Squeeze Me" to the delight of the audience, while Anise Ritchie’s smoldering "I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling" and her "Mean to Me" numbers are memorable, while a pert YVONNE really swings nautical in her "Yacht Club Swing" number.

Ron Christopher Jones and Tony Perry
in "Ain't Misbehavin'" at North Coast Repertory
Ron Jones and Tony Perry team up to explain about “The Ladies Who Sing with the Band" and Tony brings down the house with his hilarious rendition of "Your Feet's Too Big". The Company scores big time with two splashy numbers: "The Joint Is Jumpin'" and "Spreadin’ Rhythm Around".

The ladies look lovely in their costumes designed by Anastasia Paulova, and the gentlemen really get into their characters with some colorful, snappy and cool-looking Paulova-selected threads. And of course the music is terrific with a beat that makes it hard to keep one's toes from tapping, thanks to the five-piece band that features piano man and conductor Kevin Toney, along with drummer Danny King, bass player Greg McKinney, trumpeter Julian Davis and tenor sax and clarinet by Malcom Jones. Lanny Hartley serves as the Musical Director for the production.

The Company (YVONNE, Tony Perry, Cynthia Thomas,
Ron Christopher Jones and Anise Ritchie) in
"Ain't Misbehavin'" at North Coast Repertory
The sets and lighting by resident designers Marty Burnett (set) and Matt Novotny (lights) are always first rate and lend a visual appeal to all of the musical numbers.

"Ain’t Misbehavin’" at North Coast Rep Theatre is a delightful evening of song and dance from one of America’s iconic composers and performers. Don’t miss this musical tribute to the great Fats Waller.The show runs through August 7, 2016.

-- Jack Lyons

Monday, July 18, 2016


Wayne Wilcox as Edward Ferrars and Sharon Rietkerk as Elinor Dashwood
in The Old Globe’s production of "Sense and Sensibility".
All photos by Liz Lauren, courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
When it comes to precious stones, diamonds in particular, there are precious few that are flawless. However, when it comes to musical adaptations of classic source material, the field is wide open.

San Diego’s venerable Old Globe Theatre is currently staging a vibrant, engaging and thoroughly delightful production of Jane Austen’s "Sense and Sensibility". Austen’s timeless classic tale of romance and manners in late 18th century England is lovingly re-imagined by Tony-nominated composer/lyricist/librettist Paul Gordon. Gordon also penned Austen’s "Emma", another smash musical production that was seen at The Globe in 2011. It appears that Mr. Gordon is going to be two for two in winning musical adaptations from the pen of the superbly talented and clever Ms. Austen.

This dazzling production brilliantly staged by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines (who makes her Old Globe directing debut with this production) is vividly directed with assurance, style and elan. There is something refreshing and positive to be said about artistic directors like the Globe’s Barry Edelstein, who imports talented and creative theatre artists and acting companies in a cross-pollination exercise, like Gaines’ mainly Chicago-based actors now gracing the boards as cast members in "Sense and Sensibility".

Megan McGinnis as Marianne
Dashwood in "Sense and Sensibility"
Playwright Gordon’s musical re-imagining of Austen’s 200 year-old novel of the same name is not only faithful, but is beautifully realized with his rich and lush score along with many winning two-part harmony numbers sung by Megan McGinnis as Marianne Dashwood and Sharon Rietkirk as Elinor Dashwood, becoming almost Mozartian in its precision and clarity. Both leading ladies are wonderfully in-the-moment actors as well as gifted singers.

Sharon Rietkirk as Eleanor Dashwood
in "Sense and Sensibility"
The production is chock full of clever and insightful musical numbers. Stand-out crowd pleasers include: ‘Lavender Drops’, and ‘Somewhere in Silence’, both sung by Ms. McGinnis and Ms. Rietkirk.  ‘Elinor’, is nicely sung by Wayne Alan Wilcox as Edward Ferrars, a shy suitor to Elinor, who together with McGinnis and Rietkirk form a fine trio to sing ‘So the Poets Say’ later on.

Sean Allan Krill as Colonel Brandon delivers a haunting and an achingly poignant falsetto rendition of the song ‘Lydia’, in a tender memory moment to his late wife. Krill also scores again with his bittersweet lamentation concerning an older gentleman’s pursuit of a much younger woman (Marianne) with the song ‘Wrong Side of Five and Thirty’.

Sean Allan Krill as Colonel Brandon and Paula Scrofano
as Mrs. Jennings in"Sense and Sensibility"

‘House with a View’ sung by Lord Middleton (Brian Ray Norris) and Mrs. Jennings (Paula Scrofano) provide the lighter and comedic moments in a production that is full of deft directorial touches and performances.

This wonderful fourteen member cast/ensemble is a potent combination with nary a false move in its flawless execution. Not only are the performers strong and sure in their performances, they have the knowledge and the experience of working together many times for director Gaines at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. For this production, familiarity definitely ‘breeds success’ which is a big plus for Globe audiences.

Megan McGinnis as Marianne Dashwood
and Peter Saide as Willoughby
in "Sense and Sensibility"
In the technical department the creative team led by director Gaines is outstanding. The Old Globe Theatre has few equals when it comes to providing a large technical arsenal available to fulfill the director’s creative staging requirements.

Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet creates a stunning, eye-popping, and dominating architectural touch to his wide space-staging components that demand precise execution when flying various set pieces, including three large (8 feet by 8 feet) framed oil paintings, two chandeliers, an on-stage swing (shades of Sir Peter Hall), and a host of other clever designer and directorial touches that are a visual feast for the eye.

Megan McGinnis as Marianne Dashwood
in "Sense and Sensibility"
Complementing Depinet’s sublime visuals is the highly nuanced and mood-inducing lighting design by Donald Holder, who supplies just the right amount of light to see and appreciate the gorgeous period-perfect costumes designed by Susan E. Mickey.

The production is further enhanced by a nine piece orchestra under the baton of music director and conductor Laura Berquist. There is really no substitute for a live orchestra when presenting a musical; the audience likes it and the singer/actors respond to it. It’s a luxury worth every penny is costs to have live music. Musical theatre doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to entertainment.

"Sense and Sensibility" is a splendid musical production not to be missed by Jane Austen lovers; it’s just one more example that quality live theatre is alive and well at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.  The production performs at the Donald and Darlene Shiley stage through August 14, 2016.


Rachel York as "Little Edie" and Betty Buckley as Edith
Bouvier Beale in "Grey Gardens" Photo by Craig Schwartz
“Grey Gardens”, the musical currently on stage at the Ahmanson Theatre, received ten Tony nominations in 2007, going on to snare three wins: Christine Ebersole for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Mary Louise Wilson for Best Actress in a Featured Role, and William Ivey Long for Best Costume Design.

It was such an immensely popular production that it was re-imagined in 2015 for a short run in Seattle by playwright Doug Wright, Scott Frankel the composer, and Michael Korie the lyricist, and then into a new 2016 production now in Los Angeles.

“Grey Gardens” is once again being staged by the award-winning director Michael Wilson who helmed the production back in 2007. His cast in this 2016 production stars a sensational Rachel York as ‘little’ Edie Beale/Edith, and a terrific Betty Buckley as Edith Bouvier Beale.

Sarah Hunt and Rachel York in "Grey Gardens"
Photo by Craig Schwartz
In short, “Grey Gardens” is the story of an alpha female mom, Edith Bouvier Beale played by Betty Buckley and her daughter Edie Beale played by Rachel York and the odd assortment of friends and eccentric relatives. It’s the classic tale of a love-hate relationship between a celebrity mother and her daughter who happen to be very prominent people in New York society. It is also an inverse study of the ‘rags to riches’ story so popular in American culture. The Beales of tony East Hampton, Long Island, lived in a 28-room mansion and led a life of luxury, until the Wall Street crash of 1929 reduced the family to a lifestyle bordering on poverty and squalor behind their mansion walls.

Bryan Batt and Rachel York in
"Grey Gardens" Photo by Craig Schwartz
The production boasts a supporting cast of solid performers led by Bryan Batt as George Gould Strong, Edith’s staunch, supportive and effete piano-playing companion and friend, along with a wonderful Sarah Hunt as ‘little Edie’ in Act I. Josh Young portrays Joseph P. Kennedy (JFK’s older brother) in in this show who is about to become engaged to ‘little Edie (a creation of playwright Doug Wright that never took place in real life).

Davon Williams, Peyton Ella, Katie Silverman
Simon Jones and Sarah Hunt in "Grey Gardens"
Photo by Craig Schwartz
In Act II, Young plays Jerry, a neighbor who helps around the crumbling house. Simon Jones plays JV ‘Major’ Bouvier, the curmudgeonly father of Edith who arrives to deliver some of the funnier lines like, “marriage is for the tax codes and Mormons.” Davon Williams plays the redoubtable butler Brooks Sr. and Brooks Jr. while Katie Silverman as the young Jacqueline Bouvier and her little sister Lee played by Peyton Ella, round out the cast.

Rachel York in "Grey Gardens"
 Photo by Craig Schwartz
Betty Buckley in "Grey Gardens"
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Speaking earlier about love-hate relationships, I harbor some misgivings about the production as to its overall impression.

Yes, it’s a ten Tony nomination production, and yes, audiences lap it up. However, if I had to sum up this musical show it would sound something like this: It’s a show that definitely has a Broadway successful look and feel to it. But it is way over produced; the producers didn’t leave out one single cliché. Despite the music and lyrics which are necessary for a musical, the production is too long.Two hours and forty-five minutes including one intermission with 24 musical numbers tests the audience’s staying power.

Betty Buckley and Rachel York in the decaying
mansion "Grey Gardens" Photo by Craig Schwartz
Director Wilson leads a creative team that includes Scenic Designer Jeff Cowie, who delivers a stunning visual stage space for the actors. In Act II the aging of the once luxurious mansion is almost worth the price of admission itself. The costumes by Ilona Somogyi are pitch-perfect for two time periods that span 32 years; the lighting design by Howell Binkley (he designed the lights for “Hamilton”) and the sound design by Jon Weston are first rate. The production design is by Jason H. Thompson, with choreography by Hope Clarke. The music direction is under the baton of Kevin Stites.

“Grey Gardens” performs at the Ahmanson Theatre through August 14, 2016.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Marsha Stephanie Blake as Lady Macbeth and Jonathan
Cake as Macbeth in the Old Globe production of
Macbeth - All photos by Jim Cox
It’s been said that there are only 36 plot lines for even the most brilliant and inspired playwrights to render. The progenitor and genius for English speakers in this regard is Shakespeare. The master of plot, the conductor and orchestrator of emotions, the person most responsible for inspiring playwrights over the last 400 years.

There are four great tragedies from the pen of Shakespeare that are considered the bedrock of English literature: ‘Hamlet’, ‘King Lear’, “Othello’ and ‘Macbeth’. All deal with flawed individuals who fall victim to their own ambitions and search for power in all its forms.

Jonathan Cake, Marsha Stephanie Blake
San Diego’s venerable Old Globe theatre complex (three venues), launched the 2016 Summer Shakespeare Season in the Lowell Davies Outdoor Festival Theatre with a stunning and powerful portrayal of ‘Macbeth’ by acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) actor Jonathan Cake in the title role. The production also stars Marsha Stephanie Blake as Lady Macbeth. Despite her petite stature, this Lady Macbeth is a formidable schemer and partner in crime with her husband as both are driven by the intoxicating and lethal cocktail of ambition and power during the age of the Divine Right of Kings.

Hollywood over the years has glamorized the Middle Age period in history, taking a lot of dramatic license in the process. In reality, life was a harsh existence with a life expectancy of between thirty and fifty years of age. The driven and ambitious had to make their marks early to succeed. Remember, Alexander the Great was just twenty-one when he sat down and wept because there were no more countries to conquer.

Jonathan Cake
‘Macbeth’, in short, is a story of ambition on steroids, by a man who believes through prophecy that he is destined to become the King of Scotland. To ensure that the prophecy becomes a reality Macbeth, together with his wife, hatches a plan that includes deceit, betrayal, and murder as a way of obtaining the ultimate adrenaline rush and power trip – becoming the King and Queen of Scotland.

Under the deft direction of Shakespeare scholar Brian Kulick, this ‘Macbeth’ production has been updated to a visual setting more or less around the time of World War I. However, the language, spirit, and murderous intrigues that Shakespeare loved so dearly are still present. It’s a clever way to update the core story that is familiar to all without sacrificing any dramatic elements or story points as conceived by the Bard.

Kulick also spices up his vision of ‘Macbeth’ with an outstanding and diverse company of players. The company boasts twenty-one actors. Standouts include: Timothy D. Stickney as a strong Banquo, Clifton Duncan as a grieving Macduff, Daniel Petzold as Malcolm, Jerome Preston Bates as Duncan, King of Scotland, Brian Keane as Ross, James Joseph O’Neil as Lennox, Ally Carey as Lady Macduff, Talley Beth Gale as Gentlewoman, and those three troublesome Nurse/Witches; Makha Mthembu, Amy Blackman, and Suzelle Palacios who deal in prophecy, mystery, and paranoia.

The cast of "Macbeth" at the Old Globe
It’s a splendid ensemble cast that generates enough energy and on-stage chemistry to light half of San Diego. The potent performance of Ms. Blake and the towering performance of Mr. Cake is just the icing on this blood-soaked Scottish pastry that makes this dark and villainous tale so compelling. And just as in Emile Zola’s ‘Therese Raquin’, the lovers are haunted by visions of their dead victims that prevent them from enjoying the fruits of their crimes.

Jonathan Cake, Clifton Duncan
The creative team for ‘Macbeth’ led by director Kulick has Scenic Designer Arnulfo Maldonaldo create a large space stage that encompasses a hospital setting, a large dinner party area and strategic spaces for other scenes that move the story along. The Lighting Designer Jason Lyons (no relation) nicely paints Maldonaldo’s set in nuanced, mood-inducing lights, and Sound Designers Sten Severson and David Thomas supply the appropriate sound effects.

Costume Designer Oana Botze creates beautiful costumes for Lady Macbeth, Lady Macduff, and the other women; however I was struck by the blandness of the male military costumes created by a lot of designers of late. They all appear to resemble the dark gray look of WW II German soldiers, and I’m perplexed as to why the style appears to be the standard for new designers. All, that is, except for that magnificent Field Marshall coat draping the shoulders of Jerome Preston Bates as King Duncan. That costume had better be under lock and key every night. It’s a beauty.

‘Macbeth’ is one of Shakespeare’s masterpiece plays that is not mounted very often. It would a pity to miss it. This splendid production is performing in the Lowell Davies Outdoor Festival Theatre and runs through July 24, 2016.