Posts Tagged Allison F. Rich

The Toxic Avenger – Play Review


Musical comedy “The Toxic Avenger” based on Lloyd Kaufman’s film of the same name, originally derived from book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan, is currently playing at The stage (www.thestage.org) in San Jose.  It is a silly show tackling a serious subject and features a talented cast that performs zillion roles.  Addressing the issue of climate change, the show shies away from becoming preachy or depressing. It begins with the lyrics

Global warming’s up ahead
The experts think we’ll all be dead
But they don’t know we’re here to fight

Image result for toxic avenger, san joseIt is a story of heavily polluted New Jersey town where Melvin Ferd III (Will Springhorn Jr.) resolves to get to the bottom of the cause of pollution and is pitted against town’s greedy, power-hungry and seductive mayor Babs (Allison F. Rich) and her gang of thugs. The mayor’s for-profit corporation is the cause of town’s growing pollution but the mayor is entirely focused on growing her bottom line.

Here’s a place between heaven and hell
Don’t need a map, just follow the smell
A place filled with filthy air
A place full of dark despair
A place you have no prayer
A place called New Jersey
New Jersey
Jersey, the Garden State
Ther’s an exit called the thirteen gee
Right off the turnpike where it smells just like pee
An exit no one dares get off:
An exit where the children cough

Image result for toxic avenger, san joseWhen the mayor’s thugs and Melvin engage in a fight, Melvin falls into a vat of toxic waste and emerges as a heroic green monster with superior strength. Melvin’s nagging mother (also played by talented Allison F. Rich) does not the express slightest shock and instead reiterates her disappointment with her son. Her lack of shock at the sight of her son is shocking in itself and at the same time her superb acting makes it feel like a natural response of a nagging mother to a child not rising up to his talents. It is all hilarious.  Melvin also reconnects with his blind love interest, Sarah (Courtney Hatcher). Sarah does not know that it is Melvin and falls hopelessly in love with who she believes is the superhero who saved her from the town’s thugs.

He’s strong and sweet and lives with his mother,
He saved my life so there is no other.
Such a man and man is he macho
Spicy cool like a bowl of gaspacho
Someday he’s ganna be my big, my big french boyfriend!

But Sarah soon gets an opportunity to touch Melvin’s ugly and scarred face and her love abets with the same speed as it had begun to overflow. When scorned by his sweetheart, broken hearted and depressed Melvin goes from being a town hero and a legend to a town pariah. However, Sarah soon changes her mind after she gets a talking-to by Melvin’s mother who explains “If blind people don’t like ugly people, than who will” and she and Sarah’s friends make a practical point that – after all
All men are freaks
It’s a burden every woman shares as she travels down life’s roads

Superbly directed by Jonathan Rhys Williams, the play is hilariously funny and witty. Cirby Hatano’s set is eye catching wasteland with scattered drums of toxic waste. Video design by Vijay M. Rajan occasionally fills the gap in the narrative and adds fantastically funny comic touches. When the fight ensues between the  hero and the thugs, blood is scattered or limbs are severed on the projected screen rather than on the set. The 80s style rock style songs are played by an onstage rock band directed by Brian Allan Hobbs.

The Toxic Avenger is produced at San Jose Stage at a critical time in our history, when depressing developments on the issue of climate change makes us feel both upset and helpless. Toxic Avenger is just the hero we need to transport us for a short while, to a place where we are not entirely helpless, and our righteous commitment enables us to find love and perfect solution for the cause of climate change. The Toxic Avenger will be playing at the Stage in San Jose until July 16, 2017 and tickets are available at www.thestage.org .

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“Disgraced” – Play Review


Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer prize-winning play “Disgraced” playing at San Jose Stage theater, takes the audience on a deep dive into the complexity of identity formation, change and dynamism of identity, and also identity destruction.

The entire drama plays out in a tastefully decorated, beautiful Manhattan apartment, occupied by Pakistan born, Amir Kapoor (Damien Seperi) and his caucasian wife, Emily (Allison F. Rich). Amir is quickly climbing the corporate ladder at his Manhattan law firm and has so wholeheartedly embraced the American dream with its trappings of wealth and success that in order to get a better acceptance, he passes himself off as an immigrant from India, when a partner assumes him to be from India. That is an early peek into the close cousin of identity and the complex arena of stereotypes, where Pakistan generates stereotypes of terrorism and India of engineers and education.  If Amir may be embracing fiscally conservative values, his wife Emily is a bleeding heart liberal. While Amir is hiding aspects of his identity and rejects everything Islam, Emily seeks out liberal causes and implores her husband to stand up and fight for what is just and on behalf of those falsely accused of terrorism related activities, in the aftermath of 9/11.

Image result for disgraced, san jose stageEmily and Amir are hosting a dinner party for their elite, high-powered friends, Jory (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), a lawyer from Amir’s firm and her husband Isaac (Jonathan Rhys Williams), a curator at the Whitney Museum. Just as Amir denounces everything Islam, Emily constantly contradicts his criticism of faith and insists on finding “beauty and wisdom in Islamic tradition”. Her paintings draw on Islamic art and she insists that the Muslims gave the world a “visual perspective”. She has created an Islamic piece of art and is hoping that she will get her big break through Isaac.  Isaac is Jewish but critical of Israel’s military actions in the region. His wife Jory is African-American and is fully aware of the impact of racial profiling.

As the story advances, through various twists and turns, a complex picture and many questions emerge. Do people feel pressured to renounce their “other” cultural identities in order to gain mainstream acceptance and climb the ladder of success in America? Do people suppress rather than erase, sometimes with bitterness, their primary identity, even as they embrace mainstream values? Amir shares the story of growing up Muslim where his mother not only wanted him to embrace his culture and religion but also taught him prejudice against “others”. Albeit he embraced mainstream values but deep inside he felt rage.

Image result for disgraced, san jose stageThe fascinating aspect of this play is that it centers not just around Amir’s story. Jory has her own identity battle, as does Isaac and in fact, Emily has her own identity issues.  At an individual level, there are multitude of factors that contribute to a person’s identity, including geographic location where one grows up, one’s religion, one’s peers, parents, teachers, siblings, as well as one’s personality and temperament.  However, when others perceive an individual, they tend to simplify and often judge or assume someone’s identity based on one or two factors that matter to the perceiver. At societal level what creates infinitely amazing kaleidoscopic reality is how diverse identities of multitude of people collide and intersect at multiple levels, especially when invited to focus exclusively on identity, as in the current political environment.  

And finally, constant and extreme pressure to prove oneself, to suppress one’s innate identity and everything it meant in one’s formative years; real or imagined pressure to renounce one’s faith, religion or culture in order to fit in, to prove oneself, takes an incredible toll on a person. The stress can manifest in diverse ways including depression, addictive behaviors, violence, and irreversible adverse impact on health. At least one or two of these are manifested in this story.

San Jose Stage Theater (www.thestage.org)  has always brought bold and relevant productions and participated in raising important questions and promote crucial dialog in our society and this play is immensely pertinent in the current political, cultural environment. Great kudos to the production team, to Ayad Akhtar, to Director William Ontiveros and the entire creative team.  

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The Night Alive: Play Review


The Night Alive, written by Conor McPherson and directed by Tony Kelly, is a kind of nativity story focusing on compassion and kindness although the beginning seems like it’s anything but that. The play starts by providing a glimpse into the slice of anguished lives of a few lost souls and faint but clear glimmers of hope appear by the end.

Image result for night alive, san joseTommy (Randall King) rents a room in his uncle Maurice’s (Julian Lopez-Morillas) old Edwardian house in Dublin. Uncle Maurice lives upstairs and though critical of Tommy, he also loves him.  Tommy’s friend, Doc (Lawrence Radecker) is Tommy’s little sidekick who also frequently sleeps in the room and helps Tommy with odd jobs.  They scrape by from day to day work and live amidst junk-filled squalor of the room. As the play begins, one night Tommy rescues a young prostitute, Aimee (Allison F. Rich) and bring her home to get her cleaned up. Aimee has no place to go and she ends up staying, for that night and another and another.

Tommy has been estranged from his wife and kids and does not have anything significant to look forward to in life. But a sort of friendship develops between Tommy and Aimee and it brings a little sunshine into his otherwise dark life.  Friendship also sprouts between Aimee and other men. Doc is a little slow and at first he is not quite approving of the loss of his sleeping place and of his friend’s attention. Uncle Maurice is also somewhat disapproving at first. Deadpan humor while all these lost souls are trying to find their bearings in a situation of change and chaos is often heart-breaking but things start to get resolved and just as there is emergence of hope for a kinder gentler life, the story takes a turn.

Image result for night alive, san joseAimee’s ex-boyfriend Kenneth (Jonathan Rhys Williams) comes looking for her and completely disrupts their lives. Is that not how life often unfolds for people with lower means and resources, and keeps them imprisoned in a vicious circle where while they continue to live, life in a true sense seems to emerge every now and then but continues to stay out of their reach?  For this group, as life unfolds in the moment, as they live without dreams, goals and a future, their little attempts at humor seem like attempts to grab fleeting happiness, whenever they can. Doc once brings a book titled “How to survive life-threatening situations”, and reads from it. As the audience laughs at totally non-helpful suggestions outlined in the book, a question lingers, how does one survive life that has nothing to offer?

If however, the ending is good, rest does not matter. Play ends ambiguously, albeit at a place where a little hint of hope, a faint flash of faith emerges.  Sometimes love and kindness may just be enough to open a future of possibilities.

The Night Alive is playing at www.thestage.org in San Jose till December 11, 2016.

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Venus in Fur – Play Review


Dynamics of power are always infinitely interesting.  Add to the mix, sexuality, erotica, and pure physical attraction, and you have a volatile mix, perfect for a theatrical production.  San Jose Stage had a full house on the opening night of David Ives’ “Venus in Fur”.  Tony nominated Best Play (2012), has received multiple awards and has also been made into a Roman Polanski film, which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

English: Leo with Fannie (Leopold von Sacher-M...

English: Leo with Fannie (Leopold von Sacher-Masoch and Fanny Pistor Bogdanoff, note the whip). Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836–1895) – Austrian writer and journalist, who gained renown for his romantic stories of Galician life. The term masochism is derived from his name. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vanda, an aspiring actress arrives late for her audition for a play based on the nineteenth century erotic novel, when Thomas Novacheck, a playwright-director is about to leave.  Thomas is condescending, he talks over Vanda, interrupts her, and does not believe she has the capability for the role.  To his credit, Vanda seems totally unprepared, unprofessional, is spewing curses, is bursting with energy, even erotic energy, and seems an unlikely candidate for the role.  The power dynamics are in favor of Thomas and notwithstanding her many challenges of coming for an audition on a rainy, stormy day, he is about to throw her out, but gets interrupted by a phone call from his fiancee.

Vanda seizes the opportunity and steps into a costume to begin her reading.  As they do the reading, Thomas discovers, to his great dismay, that not only has Vanda come prepared with props and costumes for both, but almost seems to have mastered the play, literally and in spirit.   A prepared employee can have the boss wrapped around her finger and the power dynamics shift again.  The source material for the play comes from 1870 novel, Venus in Furs by Austrian author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, which also happens to be the origin of the term “masochism”.  

Venus with a Mirror

Venus with a Mirror (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the reading progress, the power dynamics shift again and then again, as Vanda and Thomas step in and out of their roles as Dunayev and Kushemski and step back into character, almost seamlessly but also quite discerningly, if that is possible.  Dunayev says,Why should I forgo any possible pleasure, abstain from any sensual experience?  I’’m young, I’m rich, and I’m beautiful and I shall make the most of that.  I shall deny myself nothing.”  Ahhh the reach of power that comes with it all.  But then again who wields the power, one who writes the script or one one who plays along?

As the reading progresses, they share their histories, their kinks, pulled by magnetic attraction towards each other, they fight it when out of character, but fully exploit it, in character.  They concede that while people may render themselves explicable, people do not find themselves easily extricable  And these stories where people are unable to extricate themselves, make for great theatrical productions in capable hands like Director Kimberly Mohne Hill and actors Johnny Moreno (as Thomas and Kushemski), and Allison F. Rich (as Vanda and Dunayev).  Venus in Fur is running at The Stage in San Jose, till March 1.  For tickets, please go to www.thestage.org .

 

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Bonnie & Clyde – A Musical


At the height of the Great Depression, between 1910 and 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow rose from being Texas nobodies to becoming lovers, thrill seekers, folk heroes, criminals, and FBI’s “most wanted”.   The musical “Bonnie & Clyde” at San Jose Stage www.thetage.org, is based on the book by Ivan Menchell, and electrifying lyrics are by Don Black, with music by Frank Wildhorn.

The cast is fabulous.  Allison F. Rich and Cliff McCormick in the role of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are superb as America’s fascinating outlaws.  As Bonnie & Clyde leave Texas, their robberies and crime spree spreads through Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Missouri, killing at least 13 people.  Their prophetic lyrics point to the nature of things to come.

Clyde & Bonnie
We are wasted ’round here
We’re too good for this place.
We weren’t born to live
And die in Texas!
This is my plan- there’s no plan B
And this world will remember me.
You and this world will remember me!

Bonnie is not the only one lured by the picture or riches & luxury painted by Clyde.   Bonnie is not the only one keen to loose her “egg-stained apron”, yearning for “somethin made of satin”.  Not long after Bonnie & Clyde embark on the adventure of crime and its rewards, they are joined by Clyde’ brother Buck Barrow (Will Springhorn), as he ignores all warnings from his wife Blanche Barrow (Halsey Varady).

The barrow brothers together enjoyed the brief stint of crime and adventure, before all  hell broke loose.

Clyde & Buck Barrow
We are the heroes who
The people look up to
And brother that feels great

Director, Michael Navarrta and Musical Director, Allison F. Rich, along with the entire creative team have done a fantastic job of recreating this drama, that in the words of Garland Thompson, “really wants to be a movie”.  Special shoutout to Projections Designer, Garland Thompson, Videographer Chris Eldridge, and Stage Manager, Jason Nall for seamlessly blending in video projections with the set, to make this adventure come alive.  As Bonnie and Clyde and their gang, escape from captivity, evade the police, and keep jumping the state lines, the video projections as backdrops add meaningful information, and are vivid and imaginative.

Don’t miss this show that will take you on an unforgettable journey of crime and adventure.  As Randall King, the Artistic Director says, “This is the perfect way to close out the season with guns-a-blazing”.  This show will be running at The Stage in San Jose, now through July, 27.  For tickets and other information, go to www.thestage.org.

English: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, somet...

English: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, sometime between 1932 and 1934, when their exploits in Arkansas included murder, robbery, and kidnapping. Contrary to popular belief the two never married. They were in a long standing relationship. Posing in front of an early 1930s Ford V-8 automobile. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Threepenny Opera – Play Review


Virgil Thomson has called Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” “one of century’s most powerful creations” and Bob Dylan said about the music “I was aroused straightaway by the raw intensity of the songs”.  Powerful lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, were originally set to music by composer, Kurt Weill and it was Elisabeth Hauptmann who maintained the raw intensity of the lyrics when originally translating them into English.  The translation of the dialogs and lyrics for this production was done by Robert MacDonald and Jeremy Sams.  It is absolutely incredible that the musical that was originally produced in Germany, in 1928, as a scathing social and political critique about the clash of the haves and the have-nots, echoes true today.

SJStage_TheThreepennyOpera2On the sidewalk, one Sunday mornin’ 
Lies a body oozin’ life 
Someone’s sneaking ’round the corner 
Could that someone, perhaps, perchance, be Mack the Knife?
You betcha!!

Tattoo covered Jonny Moreno, as Macheath, with the words HUSTLER tattooed on his chest, is the fierce king of the 1930s Berlin’s underbelly, where the women admire him and cops make deals with him.  Moreno’s acting is fantastic and his voice commands respect.  The bagger king Peachum also runs his little kingdom where he trains the baggers on concocting tales of woes, to generate maximum sympathy from the donors.  No one can bag on his turf without prior permission from Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, who get a commission from all bagger earnings.  Paul Myrvold and Susan Gundunas last seen together at The Stage, in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, are fabulous as colorful Peachums.  With all the respective turfs well defined, there is a functional system that keeps things organized, up to a point.  But in the end, Macheath’s undoing happens because of the women.  With two wives and his visits to the whore house, his women love him and hate him, in equal measure.  Monique Hafen is fabulous in the role of innocent Polly Peachum (the bagger king’s daughter).  She marries Macheath, unaware of his prior marriage and other passing interests.  Halsey Varady as astute heroin shooting druggie, Jenny Diver, is superb. SjStage_TheThreepennyOpera3

Director Kenneth Kelleher, Musical Director Richard Marriott and Vocal Director, Allison F. Rich have done a marvelous job in capturing the underbelly of 1930s city streets of Europe, where alliances shift rapidly and the downtrodden have their own code for survival, where you gotta watch your own back.

This absolutely spell binding performance is undoubtedly “not to miss” play of this quarter.  Kudos to Artistic Director, Randall King and Executive Director, Cathleen King for bringing such evocative, edgy, intense productions to San Jose Stage.   For tickets, go to http://www.thestage.org.

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Reefer Madness – The Musical —— Play Review


“Creeping like a communist, it’s knocking at our doors
Turning all our children into hooligans and whore”

ReeferMadness 12

ReeferMadness 12 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Originally released as “Tell Your Children”, Reefer Madness is a 1936 anti-cannabis moralistic propaganda film that depicts, through a series of melodramatic events, the effects of cannabis.  It was so over the top and ridiculous that it made a great cult topic for originally unintended subject.  The film became an item of unintentional comedy among advocates of legalizing marijuana and cannabis policy reform.  The musical satire had a challenge to make it even more ridiculous.

The musical, currently playing in San Jose, is based on a book by Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney, with music by Dan Studney.  Giulio Perrone, Michael Palumbo, Stephen Massott, Lydia Lyons, and Jean Cardinale deserve major kudos for fantastic set, lighting, stage, and costumes design.  And hilarious lyrics by Kevin Murphy, steal the show.

“someone’s got to dare to take a stand
Can’t ignore any more, it could be your son or daughter
With a deadly stick of reefer in their hand!
They’re heading straight for
Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness! Reefer Madness!”

As high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana and one unintentional puff gets them addicted, their lives go on a downward spiral.  It starts with giggles and a pretty woman walks the stage with a board that says “reefer makes you giggle for no good reason.”  But the decent into madness continues, as Mae and Jack  (superbly played by Allison F. Rich and Gabriel Grilli), lure high school students.  Mae however, prefers to sell to customers her own age but is not able to contradict or leave Jack, who is controlling and abusive, because it’s “the stuff” that makes her stay.  Ralph (Will Springhorn Jr. and) and Sally (Jill Miller) help sell cannabis to young students, and they get Jimmy Lane (Barnaby James), a young college student with a sharp mind and in love with a young woman, get hooked on cannabis.  Story of Jimmy’s decent into madness, and later of his girlfriend, Mary (Courtney Hatcher), who comes to the “cannabis headquarters”,  looking for Jimmy, is a tale of manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, murder, electric chair, and finally redemption, by Jesus himself.

As the ridiculous story unfolds, despite the divine call, “Just say no to the marijuana! (Listen to Jesus, Jimmy!)”, Jimmy refuses to listen.  The warnings are uncanny, from relatively benign to extreme, “reefer gives you potty mouth”; “reefer makes you a pathological liar”; “reefer kills poor old men”; “reefer makes you sell your babies”;” and more.  Finally, destined to go to hell, from his electric chair, Jimmy appeals to Jesus, “if you save me, I will heed the words you gave me” only to be reminded by Jesus (Gabriel Grilli), “You didn’t (Listen to Jesus, Jimmy) It’s too late for absolution, I’m just here to watch the execution”.  But all’s well that ends well and there comes a last minute, Presidential pardon, forgiveness by Jesus, and the play ends with these lyrics.

“Now you’ve learned the truth about the menace dark and dread
Take a stance or there’s a chance that God may strike you dead
For putting up with Reefer madness!  Reefer madness!

This satirical comedy is certain to throw you in uproars of laughter at how far the society can go and whip up the frenzy, in the name of righteousness.  Reefer Madness is currently playing at The Stage in San Jose www.thestage.org .

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Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” – Play Review


Persuasion by Jane Austen – Play Review

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Beginning April 3, San Jose Stage Company is showing Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”, adapted by local Bay Area playwright, Jennifer Le Blanc and directed by Kenneth Kelleher.  In the words of Randall King, Artistic Director of the San Jose Stage Company, “The intimate setting of The Stage venue is the perfect environment to revel in Miss Austen’s characters, who must negotiate a complex code of conduct in order to survive, much less achieve their ends.  The story is indicative of Austen’s great talent, razor sharp, laced with irony and wit, and remarkably phrased.”

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, who allowed herself to be “persuaded” to end her engagement with Captain Wentworth, a man she loved, but one without fortune.  Maryssa Wanlass, in the role of Anne Elliot, is beautiful, calm, cerebral, poised, and graceful.  In the opening scene, she second guesses her earlier decision about Captain Wentworth, and confides to her guardian, Lay Russell, “But I am now persuaded that in spite of the disapproval at home and the anxiety attending his prospects that I… I should have been happier, had I…”  Jane Austen was unhappy about the level of persuasion employed by the society, on young people, particularly young women, regarding their marital choices.  It is ironical that matronly and kind Lady Russell (played by Susan Gundunas), appears to be the only voice of maturity and reason, in the family, while she was in fact the reason Anne had first rejected Captain Wentworth.

As for Anne Elliott’s father, “Vanity was the beginning and the end of Sir Walter Elliot’s character; vanity of person and of situation.”  Paul Myrvold does a superb job in the role of Sir Walter Elliot and later as Admiral Croft.  Mrs. Mary Musgrove, (played by Halsey Varady), Anne Elliot’s younger sister, is nervous, fretful woman, fortunate to marry Charles Musgrove (very well played by William J. Brown III).   While Anne was looking after her sister Mary, Captain Wentworth (superbly played by Will Springhorn Jr.), reenters her life.  Everyone around Anne and Captain Wentworth, including Charles Musgrove, his sisters Louisa and Henrietta (Juliet Heller & Allison F. Rich), and his mother (Donna Federico) are completely unaware of their earlier relationship and the emotional turmoil brewing inside Anne and her love.  While Captain Wentworth is occupied by attentions of Louisa Musgrove, Anne is also pursued by her wicked cousin, Mr. Elliot (played by Paul Stout).

Circumstances have given Anne a second chance to marry for love.  Will Anne now follow her heart?  Austen makes fine arguments about women as “rational creatures”, whose stories would take different turns, but for the fact that the women’s stories are recounted “through history and books, nearly all of which have been produced by men, and many of which castigate women’s inconstancy and fickleness”.  During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for women, marriage was the only ticket out of the class they were born into.  Practicality dictated that they use reason, over emotion.  Despite these constraints, Austen’s heroines demonstrate that they can think rationally, display a fair measure of autonomy, and crave independence.   Jane Austen’s heroines marry for love, not practicality.  And it just happens that guided by love, their chosen path leads them to the man who is worthy of their love, is well regarded in society and very wealthy.  Isn’t it every woman’s dream, even today? Not surprisingly, time does not dim the popularity of Jane Austen.

Persuasion is playing at The Bay Area’s Premiere Off-Broadway Theater, The Stage www.thestage.org , in San Jose, from April 3 to April 28, 2013.

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