Posts Tagged Robert Kelley
It’s remarkably powerful, it’s touching, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it’s intimate, it’s deeply personal and political at the same time. Based on autobiographical graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, the play Fun Home focuses on the theme of sexual identity. Through very powerful and familial context of father-daughter relationship, the musical explores the cost of living in the closet and the possibilities that open up, on coming out. Fun Home has won several awards including Lucille Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Obie, Award, and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and has garnered five Tony Awards including “Best Musical”.
While prejudice remains as a dark and ugly presence in the world today, Fun Home helps us see the costs that societies, families and generations bear due to hidden and overt biases. Born in 1930s, a husband and father, Bruce Bechdel (James Lloyd Reynolds) lives a closeted life. A caring husband and father, Bruce hides a big secret that diminishes his accomplishments, at least in his own mind. He channels his frustration into an obsession with cleanliness, obsession with dressing his daughter in girlie attire and looking for secret avenues to fulfill his desire. He has built a beautiful family with his wife, Helen Bechdel (Crissy Guerrero), his sons, Christian (Jack Barrett, Dylan Kento Curtis), John (Billy Hutton, Oliver Copaken Yellin), and his daughter Alison. The play mainly centers on his relationship with his daughter, Alison. Moira Stone (as narrator Alison), Lila Gold (as young Alison), and Erin Kommor (as older Alison) are all super fabulous in their roles and vividly bring out the complex father-daughter dynamics at various stages in the story. When Alison grows up and goes away to college, she meets Joan (Ayelet Firstenberg) and experiences love’s first stirrings. Terrified and excited, Alison tries to quosh the feelings at first and later explores them and comes out as a lesbian.
Special kudos to scenic designer, Andrea Bechert, fabulous stage manager, Randall K. Lum and assistant stage manager, Emily Anderson Wolf for beautiful staging and scenes. Robert Kelley is a brilliant director and in Fun Home, the story of impact of prejudice is brilliantly told.
Somewhere between the father who felt compelled to live a lie his whole life, and a daughter who finds the environment and courage to seek fulfillment on her own terms, lie the simple truths about both the suffering and cost of having to hide who you truly are, and the joy of embracing your whole self. Great kudos to Alison Bechdel for embracing her whole self and finding to courage to share the story. It was Lisa Kron who was an early fan of the story and with Bechdel’s blessing, teamed up with composer Jeanine Tesori and adapted the graphic novel for the stage, as a musical. In blending this beautiful human story told through pictures with stirring lyrics, the trio has carved a straight path to the human heart.
This is a not-to-miss play of this theater season. Tickets are available at www.theatreworks.org .
“We are the four immigrants” thus begins entirely engaging and ravishingly gorgeous musical, at Theatreworks Silicon Valley premiere, at Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre. Playwright and composer, Min Kahng adapted the theatrical production from a comic book by Henry Kiyama and tells the story of new immigrants from Japan from 52 comic strips, beginning in 1904.
Unlike the European immigrants who landed on the East coast, often fleeing religious persecution, the immigrants from Asia came for new opportunities and to realize the American dream “I’ll break the mold and make my mark”. While the immigrants from Europe encountered discrimination along the lines of poverty, new immigrants from Asia also had to deal with racial prejudice.
This musical tells a universal tale of people leaving their homeland for any number of reasons and then search to find a life and make a home in the new land. The musical speaks of such adventures of four men, Charlie (Hansel Tan), Fred (Sean Fenton), Frank (Phil Wong), and Henry (James Seol). These are four incredibly talented actors who deliver a stunning performance of riveting dances and engaging lyrics as they talk about their experiences; weaving in significant historical events like devastating San Francisco earthquake, US Government call to join the military in world war II, racial bias and Government denial to grant citizenship, even to war veterans. These men also have obligations back home and from time to time experience the guilt and shame of not rising up to expectations; for instance, when they fail to send money home in a timely manner. Search for a life partner often raises questions about areas where immigrants are tied to known customs and traditions and where these collude in their simultaneous quest to embrace the modern ways of new homeland.
Gradually, these young men in Henry Kiyama’s comic strip mature and make a life in their new homeland. They each in their own way, embraces and blends the old and the new. Whilst they began with sweeping floors and making sacrifices, they learn that not only they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work but their new homeland requires them to be engaged members in the community; standing up for and demanding their rights. They sing with satisfaction, “I know I have something remarkable to share with the world”. We also learn that motherland is never forgotten, as we hear them sing with longing, “Kurusato”.
Great kudos to Leslie Martinson for brilliant directing and casting. Four male actors are joined by Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K Carnahan, Catherine Gloria and Lindsay Hirata who play a variety of male and female roles with aplomb. Also great kudos for superb use of props and stage to Marcy Victoria Reed and Christina Larson.
As the founding director of Theatreworks, Robert Kelley has announced his retirement after 50 years of dedicated stewardship, we must acknowledge the incredibly bold and perception changing performances that have been brought to stage under his helm. Such an incredibly warm influence to counter the current cold reality of increasingly anti-global, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-diversity vibes coming from Washington D.C. True to Theatreworks’ core values, these phenomenal productions are not only fabulously entertaining, they also gently guide us to learn and be better informed, to embrace diversity and to shift our point of view to one that is more global and more inclusive.
For this theater season, I am selecting, “The Four Immigrants” running at www.theatreworks.org till August 6, 2017 a must-watch-play of this theater season. In true spirit of Silicon Valley where the production took shape, it is extremely innovative, highly entertaining, solidly engaging and brilliantly done.
Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart, set in MaGrath family kitchen, is a story of sisterhood. Anyone who has lived with sisters would agree that sisterly bonding is strong, it’s sweet, it’s sorrowful, it is sassy, it’s surreal, it’s serene. The play that just opened at Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, takes the audience on the complex journey of sisterhood.
Part of the literary genre known as “Southern Gothic”, the play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. Mix of tragedy and dark comedy, the play is set in 1950s, in a small town in Mississippi. The youngest sister Babe (Lizzie O’Hara) is out on bail, after briefly being jailed for shooting her husband (who is injured in the stomach but survived the shooting). Middle sister, Meg (Sarah Moser) is just out of the psychiatric facility and has arrived at older sister Lenny’s (Therese Plaehn) home to gather in support of Babe through her court trial.
It is obvious that all three sisters are having a bad day, perhaps a bad life. Babe is entangled in an abusive relationship, Meg joyfully embraces life only to be challenged at every turn, and Lenny celebrates her 30th birthday alone in the kitchen, trying to blow out her candle on a cookie, making wish after another wish. The sisters are brutal towards each other one minute and supportive and encouraging, the next. It all comes together to create a touching tapestry of sisterhood, family, and deep ties that provoke great sorrow and also provide strength when strength is needed to get through life’s biggest challenges.
Beautifully directed by Giovanna Sardelli, special mention also goes to Stage Manager, Ashley Taylor Frampton and Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf, for fabulous stage design. Major kudos to TheatreWorks’ artistic director, Robert Kelley for bringing a bold and honest story, told from a female perspective, as he says, “in a year that has already focused on America’s women in so many unexpected ways”. As a million women are set to march in the nation’s capital, and so many more all over the country, in a show of solidarity and strength that emerged from spontaneous rallying cry via social media, to repudiate sexist, racist, misogynystic and divisive rhetoric that has colored current political and social climate in the country, this play focusing on women’s passion, insight, frustration, and bonding, is very timely. It is also telling how a bunch of loony sisters can overcome and prevail when they bring their passions and bond together, over some sugary desserts :).
“Crimes of the Heart” will be playing in Mountain View till February 5, 2017 and tickets can be purchased at www.theatreworks.org .
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” opened at Theatreworks, Saturday night, and received a standing ovation from the full house. The story, based on the book by Hugh Wheeler, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is about the power of evil to infect everything and everyone, in its wake. And in the words of Theatreworks’ Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, Sweeney Todd is “about our ways of dealing with evil: countering it with virtue, disarming it with humor, crushing it with force, or transforming it into art”. And what a fine work of art it is in this theatreworks production.
The story of Sweeney Todd is set in London in 1940s, during the time when London was blasted by German bombs. Fifteen years prior, a barber was unjustly convicted and sent to Australian prison and has now returned to extract his revenge from the system. Specifically, he wants to extract revenge from the evil Judge Turpin (Lee Strawn), and his lackey, a portly, greasy, evil man, Beadle Bamford (Martin Rojas Dietrich).
David Studwell, in the role of Sweeney Todd, is devilishly magnificent and the first person he charms and snares into his evil scheme, is Mrs. Lovett (Tory Ross, who is equally magnificent). While Sweeney Todd has been deeply wronged by the system, is motivated by vengeance, and does the disturbingly gory work with his bare hands, Mrs. Lovett, a pie seller, trying to run a challenging business at a difficult time, is entrepreneurial, charming, and is purely driven by profit motive. She works with her hands, tenderizing the meat (if we forget for a minute the source of that meat) and baking it into artful, tasty pies. The force of evil is so powerful, it sucks you right in. When Mrs. Lovett declares, “we got a nice respectable business now”, it almost makes you want to root for her to rescue Sweeney from his obsession with vengeance and escape with her to a cottage by the ocean. When smug judge Turpin comes for a shave, to get ready to seduce his ward, Joanna (gorgeous Mindy Lym), who is Sweeney’s daughter, whom he has kidnapped and raised, you almost root again for Sweeney to complete his task and give the judge his due.
When the judge escapes, instead of heaving a sigh of relief, you almost want to tell Sweeney, “what made you wait, you had him”!! This timeless tale is as much about the demon barber, as it is about the evil lurking in all of us. If it is not consciously checked, the evil will suck you right in, if not by doing, than by thinking. Special kudos to fantastic musical direction by William Liberatore and superb staging by Marcy Victoria Reed and Emily Anderson Wolf. Don’t miss this incredible production by theatreworks. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .
I had him!
His throat was there beneath my hand.
I had him!
His throat was there beneath my hand.
No, I had him!
His throat was there and now he’ll never come again.
Mrs. Lovett: Easy now, hush love hush
I keep telling you, Whats your rush?
Todd: When? Why did I wait?
You told me to wait –
Now he’ll never come again.
There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
And it’s filled with people who are filled with sh*t
And the vermin of the world inhabit it.
But not for long…
They all deserve to die.
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
Because in all of the whole human race
Mrs. Lovett, there are two kinds of men and only two
There’s the one staying put in his proper place
And the one with his foot in the other one’s face
Look at me, Mrs Lovett, look at you.
Don’t we all deserve to die?
Even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief
We all deserve to die.
“I feel I have hit bottom and then a trap door opens and I go further down and find another way to be sad”. Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) is the host of iconic children’s TV program and is struggling with the loss of his wife and longtime puppeteer partner. He has lost his enthusiasm and is contemplating retirement. Show’s director, Tom (Michael Storm) has other ideas. He wants to continue the show and he brings in a new puppeteer Jodi (Sarah Moser) to replace Mr. Felt’s wife, and to work the puppet, Francis.
In addition to being nervous, Jodi could not measure up to the role and fill in the big shoes of the original person. However, Mr. Felt devotes a weekend to train Jodi in little nuances of puppet show, and Jodi turns out to be a great student. Mr. Felt also feels rejuvenated, and he develops a close bond with Jodi. After Jodi’s training, they are ready to share her skills with the Director Tom, and fellow puppeteer, Carol (Suzanne Grodner). Mr. Felt was not prepared for the reaction from Carol.
It becomes apparent that this close knit team had much work to do, when it came to dealing with the loss of the team member, wife, and a close friend. They could not simply put back the pieces, replace the old team member with a new one, and move on. They needed to work through their grief, their anger and sadness, feel it, share it, mourn, cry, and rejoice in the happy memories, before letting go and moving on.
The show too must go on. However, it does not have to go on as it always did in the past, pretending that there wasn’t a major upheaval, a huge crisis, and a deep loss, that the team was dealing with. Can this moment of crisis be an opportunity to get real with the little members of its fan club, the children?
Great kudos to the Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, for continuing to expand the perspectives of the audience, through the medium of live theater. Writer, David West Read has written a simple story, that has much depth and combines comedy and tragedy, that mirrors life. Director, Stephen Brackett has done a fabulous job in helping it come alive, on stage. As always Stage Manager, Jamie D. Mann has done a superb job in creating TV set, complete with clappy closet and Carol’s (the puppet) barn.
Special credits to the Casting Director, Leslie Martinson, and extremely talented cast, who not only played their roles, but played the roles of the puppets, and/or relating to the puppets, in that it seemed like it was a talented cast of seven, Steve Brady, Suzanne Grodner, Michael Storm, Sarah Moser, Carol, Francis, and Meatball Moose, (eight, counting Mr. Felt’s wife) . What a treat!!
Do not miss the show; it is good for the laughs and good for the soul. “The Great Pretender” will be running at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, till August 3, 2014 and tickets can be available at http://www.theatreworks.com.
Director Robert Kelley has done it again; a superb job of bringing the classic “Little Women” by Allan Knee, based on the original novel by Louisa May Alcott, on stage at www.theatreworks.org . This classic tale of four sisters is brought on stage in the form of a musical, with lovely lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and music by Jason Howland, under musical director, William Liberatore. It is playing in Palo Alto, at Lucie Stern Theater, until January 4, 2014. The play is set in 1868, during the time of the civil war, in New England. Costume Design befitting the period is beautiful and the credit goes to Fumiko Bielefeldt and creative scenic design is by Joe Ragey.
Alcott wrote the novel “Little Women”, based on familiar references from her own life. In the play, the father of four girls (the March sisters), is away, fighting in the war, leaving their mother, Marmee, (beautifully played by Elizabeth Ward Land) to run the household full of four young women. Emily Koch is absolutely stupendous as Jo the second sister, an aspiring writer, who is feisty, a non conformist, loves books, and spurns traditions. Jo has a hard time getting her book published and is told to come up with a “better” plot. The play opens with a musical about her book and she asks “better than what, better than this dazzling plot?” In an era when women were to do as they were bid, Jo reaches high, and she is confident, she will attain what she is reaching for.
While Jo finds solace in her writing, her younger sister Amy (superbly played by Arielle Fishman) is both jealous of Jo and desirous of what may be within Jo’s reach. Amy is vivacious and full of life. When Jo and eldest sister Meg are invited to their first Ball, Amy is so jealous that she burns to ashes, Jo’s half written novel. Jo sings “I will never fall asleep again” and it falls on Marmee to make peace between the two sisters. Sharon Rietkerk plays the oldest sister, Meg, who is the family beauty, is simple, sweet and easily falls in love with John Brooke (played by Justin Buchs), and Julia Belanoff does a fabulous job as Beth, the youngest sister who is sweet, sensible, satisfied with her herself and sadly succumbs to an illness.
Little Women is a story of the four sisters, growing up, finding love, rejecting love, supporting one another through life’s trials and tribulations, getting beaten down by life’s struggles, overcoming them, attaining their dreams, and holding the family together by a tie that binds. Matt Dengler (as Laurie, grandson of the March family’s neighbor), Richard Farrell (as the old and crusty neighbor with a soft heart), Justin Buchs (as Laurie’s tutor), and Christopher Vettel (as Jo’s professor) have played their roles nicely and they add the right touch of yang to the yin of the March women. I love the cast in this play and Elizabeth Palmer as stern Aunt March is also wonderful.
But it is fantastic Emily Koch as Jo, whose performance makes this a show to remember. There are many warm, funny, sweet moments in the play that the sisters enjoy. And yet, in the end, it is the heartbreak that ignites Jo to write a novel that brings her recognition and fame, and it is her writing that helps her overcome the heartbreak, and adapt to the changing family.
This is a beautiful not-to-miss play of the season, to start off the holidays filled with family celebrations. The opening night performance was completely sold out and the audience gave a standing ovation. Book your tickets early at http://www.theatreworks.org .
The new musical, “Being Earnest”, based on Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, perhaps one of the wittiest plays in the English language, is presented by Tony Award nominee Paul Gordon and Emmy nominee Jay Gruska, at the nationally acclaimed TheatreWorks. Musical direction is by William Liberatore. It is TheatreWorks artistic director, Robert Kelley’s stagings and scenic designer Joe Ragey’s sets, that help transport the story to London’s Carnaby Street and the country estate of Mr. Worthing, and steal the show. If, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing”, this play is both sincere to Wilde’s clever critique of the hypocrisies of the society in which Wilde lived and stylish in its presentation. “Being Earnest” has costumes designed by Fumiko Bielefeldt, lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt and sound design Jeffrey Mockus. The play is reset to 1965.
The play opens with Algernon Moncrieff receiving his friend, Jack Worthing, superbly (played by Euan Morton and Hayden Tee respectively), at Moncrieff’s London home. Gordon and Gruska have done a fantastic job in muscalizing the classic, with superb lyrics. Jack has created an alter-ego, Ernest, to escape the drudgery of his conservative lifestyle, in the country. He has fun in London, as Ernest, and explains away his frequent absences, to his ward in the country, by saying that he has to visit his wayward brother, Ernest. In London, Jack falls in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (played by Mindy Lym) who readily accepts him, claiming, “my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.” Upon hearing of the secret engagement of her daughter to Jack Worthing, Lady Bracknell (superbly played by Maureen McVerry) interviews Jack and finds him unsuitable when he reveals that he is an orphan and was found in a handbag by a charitable gentleman, who raised him. Lady Bracknell says, “To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life”.
At Jack Worthing’s country home, Ms. Prism (played by Diana Torres Koss) is in charge of Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (played by Riley Krull). Algernon wishing to pursue Jack’s “beautiful” ward, unbeknownst to Jack, arrives his country home, claiming to be his younger brother, Ernest. Cecily has always been intrigued by the wickedness of “Ernest”, and when Algernon tries to explain that he is not wicked, she says, “If you are not, then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy”. Algernon professes his love for her and inquires whether she would still love him, if his name were not Ernest. She says, “I might respect you, Ernest, I might admire your character, but I fear that I should not be able to give you my undivided attention.” While the script has been pared down to include the songs, it retains some of the most witty original dialogues. Now there are two love stricken men looking to get rechristened by the rector, Dr. Chasuble (played by Brian Herndon). Meanwhile, Lady Bracknell considers the social possibilities of two pending marriages. To Algernon, unconcerned about society, she says, “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”
This is a beautiful, must-see rendition of Wilde’s lampooning of the shallow social mores of Victorian society. It is full of superb lyrics and famous dialogues, gorgeous scenes and amazing acting. The young lovers, beautifully play the roles of flippant characters, lacking depth, and deliver Wilde’s witty and sparkling lines, with aplomb. In the end, ironically, Lady Bracknell, most shallow character of all, and keeper of traditions, reflects upon Mr. Worthing’s obsession with the name Ernest, for the sake of his love “My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality.” “On the contrary, Aunt Augusta,” he replies, “I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of being Earnest.”
If I were to watch only one play this season, I would select this one. “Being Earnest” is currently playing at TheatreWorks www.theatreworks.org in Mountain View.
Alex Goley, playing Huckleberry Finn, a fictional character from Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in “Big River”, written by William Hauptman, is outstanding. The entire big cast, including James Monroe Iglehart, playing runaway slave, Jim and Scott Reardon, playing Tom Sawyer, do an equally superb job, in this TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley Presentation.
In this classic story, set in 1840s, Huck, the son of the town’s vagrant drunkard, “Pap” Finn, is a vagabond who is taken in by the Widow Douglas and her sister, Ms. Watson, after Huck has fallen into some money. They try to civilize Huck, believing it to be their Christian duty as captured in the lyrics, “You better learn to read and you better learn your writin’ Or you’ll never get to heaven cause you won’t know how”. Soon Huck’s father takes him back. However, Huck quickly tires of his father, perennially in a state of hallucinatory drunkenness, and Huck manages to fake his own death and escape from his father to Jackson’s Island. The child is growing up fast and he asserts his identity, “I, Huckleberry, me, Hereby declare myself to be Nothin’ ever other than Exactly what I am, And I’ll never change for no one, No matter what they say”. It is then that Huck coincidentally meets up with Jim who is running away and after a brief struggle with his conscience, Huck decides to help Jim escape slavery, even though he is certain he will go to hell, for being a abolitionist.
The rest of the story is about Huck and Jim’s adventures on the “mighty Mississippi”; “Look out for me oh muddy water your mysteries are deep and wide” and “Hell, there ain’t no way to measure Why I love you more than I did the day before”. As if, as a warning to the seriousness of their actions, a boat carrying runaway slaves back to their masters passes them in the night. As Jim and Huck try to stay hidden, they hear the defeated slaves singing, “Crossing to the other side I will worry ’bout tomorrow, When tomorrow comes in sight. Until then, Lord, I’m just a pilgrim, Crossing to the other side”. Propelled along on this journey, with unforgettable songs, Jim and Huck pick up two con men who try to swindle the heiress Mary Jane and then sell Jim. During this time, at one point, Huck plays a horrible trick on Jim by assuming the guise of a slave hunter. Jim is not amused and he rebukes Huck for his poor sense of humor, and demands an apology. This is not just a story of friendship but of freedom and human dignity. After some soul searching Huck realizes that Jim, though a black and previously served as a slave, is a human being and deserves an apology. And together, they sing, what rings true even today, “Just like the earth, just like the sun, Two worlds together are better than one. I see the friendship in you eyes, That you see in mine. But we’re worlds apart, worlds apart”. (These are my most favorite lyrics). Huck makes a plot and resolves to try to free Jim, despite all the odds stacked against him, as he sings, “once again I am waitin’ for the light to shine, I am waitin’ for the light to shine, I have lived in the darkness for so long, I’m waitin’ for the light to shine”.
The adventurous journey of two friends, with their colorful encounters with people along the Mississippi river, is beautifully captured, with lyrics sung by the talented cast, against the backdrop of absolutely superb staging. Kudos to the Stage Manager, Gregg Rehrig, for such an outstanding job. Legendary Roger Miller has delivered the essence of American history, with awesome lyrics, that are brought to life by Musical Director, William Liberatore. Robert Kelley, the Artistic Director and Phil Santora, the Managing Director have re-created this not to be missed timeless classic that celebrates the prevalence of the human spirit, against all entrenched prejudices. It is running at the beautiful Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, till December 30, 2012. For tickets and more information, go to http://www.theatreworks.org/shows/1213-season/bigriver .