Katie was out of town, so I got to go with Brittany to SHN’s Chicago tour. I’m a big fan of musicals, and I think more people would be if they gave them a chance. Chicago is a great entry point, with its relentless energy, dark humor, sexy style and classic Fosse pizazz. This cast was great and the show was a whole lot of fun. If you really need another nudge, Seinfeld‘s J. Peterman (John O’Hurley) has awesome personality as Billy Flynn, and of course, Bianca Marroquin is amazing as Roxie. Here’s Brittany’s report:
Thanks to the 2002 film version of the Broadway classic Chicago most people have an idea where they stand when it comes to this play. Since Broadway touring casts tend to be pretty uniformly great, we thought rather than do a normal Drama Talk & Drinks review of the show, we’d go backstage and give you some insights into why you might want to see this current production in particular, now open at SHN’s Orpheum Theater until November 16th.
After a quick backstage tour, we sat down with Christophe Caballero, swing and understudy for Mary Sunshine, and Adam Pellegrine, who plays Harry, Martin Harrison, and is part of the ensemble, to talk about what it’s like to perform in SF and what’s special about this current production of Chicago. Skip to the end if you want our quick and dirty assessment of the show, but Adam and Christophe had some fun things to say.
Brittany: What’s it like to perform for a San Francisco audience?
Fortunately for all of us, theater is alive and well in the Bay Area. Between some great shows and inspiring conversations, Drama Talk & Drinks is seeming more and more hopeful for lively, challenging and engaging performance around here. I dunno about you, but I am feeling jazzed to get out and see some theater. More on that soon. In the meantime, Brittany and her boyfriend took his mom to Berkeley Rep to see their new show, Party People. Here’s their report:
[(l to r) Christopher Livingston (Malik), Steven Sapp (Omar), and Reggie D. White (Solias) perform in UNIVERSES’ Party People, a high-wattage fusion of story and song that unlocks the legacy of the Black Panthers and Young Lords at Berkeley Rep. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com]
When parents visit, finding events with reasonable decibel levels can sometimes be a challenge. So when Brittany’s SO’s Mom was in town, they decided to treat her to a night at one of the best theaters in the Bay Area, Berkeley Rep, to see their current show Party People. Since the play is partially about fostering intergenerational dialogue, we figured why not do a Drama Talk & Drinks Parent-Visit edition!
Brittany: One of the biggest problems with the current theatre scene, at least in my opinion, is it tends to play it too safe and fall back on what’s already been done. We see so many revivals and classics being remounted, and even with new plays lots of topics have been revisited ad nauseum. There’s definitely something to be said for timeless theater, but it’s hard to stay relevant without taking some risks. This play takes risks.
Katie & Brittany sat down with Eric Reid, who is starting a new theater company aimed at providing meaningful roles for people of color. Which is awesome. SF has a real diversity problem. Specifically, the African American population is disappearing. And there is far too little effort being made to address this. Eric missed a World Series game to talk with them, so the least you could do is look at his flyer (below), which is also awesome. Here’s their report:
A press release came across our inbox about a new-to-us theater company called Theatre Madcap that was doing a “deliberately diverse” production of True West. Even though we knew we couldn’t make the show to review it, we were intrigued. So we asked the Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Eric Reid, to coffee to tell us about his company and his show.
Katie: Tell us about Theatre Madcap.
Eric: We started it, my wife and I that is, about 2 and a half years ago. We started it really because as a black actor I’m frustrated that I can’t find a lot of roles for myself, or If I’m auditioning for something it’s always “ethnicity ambiguous” roles, nothing really for black folks or persons of color at all. So I thought if it’s going to be hard to be in theater, I might as well do it myself and struggle for moi.
Katie was busy, so Brittany brought a friend from the theatre world to a crazy, bloody, sexy, puppety show that sounds like a lot of fun. Here’s their report:
Katie is a bit of a buzz-kill when it comes to Halloween (sorry Katie). She hates dressing up, doesn’t like scary movies and gore makes her queasy. Brittany, on the other hand, has her requisite costume box in the closet and grew up on Tales From The Crypt. So when we got the press release about Thrillpeddlers Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Debutant and Katie was busy, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to call in our friend Michael St. Clair, a lecturer in the Theater and Performance Studies department at Stanford who’s been known to wear a costume even outside of Halloween reverie, to come along and review the show.
Brittany: So Michael, for your introductory Drama Talk & Drinks review, what did you think about the show?
Michael: It was brilliant. It was at least 50% more fun than I expected it to be.
B: That was, in my opinion, absolutely delightful.
M: If you don’t like comedy/sex/violence, or lots of gore, of fake blood, or demon summoning, or things flying in your face, it’s not the show for you. But if you like those things . . .
B: And like kinky fetish stuff . . .
M: Spiced up with a bucket of blood and terrible things . . .
Last month I saw Old Hats at ACT. Bill Irwin is amazing. It was a really fun show, but I think that title would keep younger audiences away. If the theatre wants to get a new generation coming out, and they need to, they should really adopt a more modern naming convention, as this does this column. Katie & Brittany recently saw The Late Wedding, and while the title may not get you out of your chair, they say the play is worth it. Here’s their report:
[photo by Pak Han]
About a year ago Katie read a play called The Hundred Flowers Project by Christopher Chen in Theatre Bay Area magazine. She liked it so much she told Brittany “Whenever another Christopher Chen play is produced, we need to go”. That time arrived. Crowded Fire Theater Company commissioned the world premiere of Chen’s new work, The Late Wedding, and it’s now playing at The Thick House.
Katie: I really enjoyed the freshness of the format and devices Chen used. It really brought the audience into the story, and I liked that. I thought the staging was really neat, and the set was awesome. It was so inventive and the use of the space was creative, just that alone is worth seeing.
Brittany: I was continuously interested. At times I felt like the play was throwing me around, but it was fun how the playwright acknowledged it. I loved the asides to the audience, where they said, “That was weird huh, this is why” or “Relax and just go with it”. In the opening monologue we’re told to “trust the play and let it take you somewhere”, so after that I was open to it taking me anywhere, even though I didn’t always know where it was going.
Katie & Brittany saw Pippin, yes Pippin, and really liked it! It sounds pretty sweet. And while we’re (they’re) speaking (writing) of Bob Fosse and Ben Vereen, check out The Jazz Singer, the final scene is one of my favorite in all of cinema. Here’s their report:
An over-educated privileged youth graduates college and desperately searches for something meaningful to do with his life. He tries war, drugs, casual sex, Burning Man-esque orgies, social revolution, religion, and even farming, but still feels unfulfilled. This may sound like every millennial we love to hate, but this time the youth is a prince, the son of Charles the Great, the Ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, and his ennui is the driving coming-of-age story behind the 1972 hit musical Pippin, which won the Tony for best revival in 2013. This lesser known Broadway classic has oddly been Brittany’s favorite musical since she was a little kid (maybe she identified with the privileged angst), so when we found out the tour was coming through SF, Drama Talk & Drinks had to go.
Katie: Wow, so I had no expectations walking in. It’s a musical I’ve heard nothing about, aside from what you’ve told me. So the whole time I was like WHAT! There was a lot going on, and I was a bit overstimulated, but not in a bad way. It was a lot of fun. A real spectacle. It was spectacle spectacle spectacle until the end, and even that was spectacle. I kept trying to guess what the original was like.
Brittany: AWESOME! Yay, I’m glad you liked it. I come into this show with the craziest bias, because I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only people under the age of 30 for whom this is a favorite musical. I watched the movie of the original with Ben Vereen in it at least 100 times. So whereas you were trying to figure out what was revival what wasn’t, I was thinking, “Okay, that dance is the same”, “WHOA, that’s different”, throughout the whole show. It was great seeing what a fresh take on this show can be, and I liked it!
Katie & Brittany checked out Motown the Musical, and it sounds pretty great. Here’s their report (with a couple notes from me at the end, I couldn’t help myself, sorry):
We were very excited but also very skeptical about seeing Motown The Musical. (We are always at least a little skeptical when it comes to musicals based on already written music) Of course we knew of Motown Records, but didn’t know much about the man who founded it, Berry Gordy, so we were very interested to see how Broadway was going to tell this story.
Katie: I want some more Motown!
Brittany: Me too! The set was insane! There were many times that I was just like how are they doing that??
K: I was really into all those moving screens with media on them. For a second I thought they were projections but realized that they were large TV’s.
B: Amazing production value and cast. Everyone was beautiful and talented. It was disgusting.
K: It was like being taken back in time and attending a Motown concert. When the Marvin Gaye character started singing “What’s Going On” I almost started crying. I was extremely entertained but the only time it got a little slow was at the end of the second act.
B: I loved that since it was opening night Berry Gordy and the director came up after the show. And it was cool to hear the director talk about how this is exactly what we need right now, music that brings people of all ages and colors together, dancing and being kind to each other. And at the end of the first act “What’s Going On” was being sung during video of protests of the day and all I could think was wow, so timely and so on point. Not that it wouldn’t have been amazing otherwise, but the resonance with what’s happening in the world right now and what this play is about was really in sync.
K: Right, and yet I loved hearing these songs in context of the time period and what was going on in history.
B: The girl who played Diana Ross was so good. She was basically her generation’s Beyonce, and that woman pulled it off flawlessly. People should definitely go see it. There was a real story to tell and they did a great job telling it.
K: I could not stop smiling when little Michael Jackson was singing! So freakin’ adorable!
The Verdict: If you love Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, The Jackson Five and being “wow’ed” by talented singers, this is the event you will want to treat yourself to. This was everything you expect and hope for from a Broadway touring show. Amazing set, ridiculously talented actors and being thoroughly entertained for two hours.
The Drama Talk: We were afraid that this musical was just going to be hit song after hit song with a random plot shoehorned in. Instead it was more about what was happening at that time. That’s what really worked, it wasn’t just actors breaking into a song that everyone knows, just because. You really feel like you are at a Motown concert.
The Drinks: We were really excited after the show, so knew we wanted a good, strong cocktail. We decided on a place that was only a couple of blocks away from the theater that we had never heard of called Oddjob, which we found out opened 9 months ago. [They lost me at "bespoke mixologist mastery" - Ed.] Though pricey (our drinks were $14 each) they were really, really good. [Also, re: Oddjob, "working man's cocktail room" with $14 drinks . . . sorry, continue. - Ed.] We both ordered the “For Your Eyes Only”. Such a treat! Oh, and the “secret” entrance is to the left of the building, down the alleyway. Great way to end our entertaining evening. [Oh, secret alleys? Done it. - Ed.]
Motown the Musical runs through 9/28 at the Orpheum Theatre and tickets can be purchased through their website. Ticket prices vary from $45-$200 depending on where you sit. ALSO, another way to go is to grab some of the limited number of $40 rush tickets available two hours prior to curtain at the SHN Orpheum Theatre Box Office. It’s cash only and only 2 tickets per person, and are subject to availability. There are also tickets available on Goldstar for $69-$80.
Brittany & Katie do this column because they love theater. They really do. And so it is with two heavy hearts that they delivered this review of Patterns, at The New Stage in Hayes Valley:
“Wall-size video projections surround the audience with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of love in life.” This was the description we read when we got the invitation to check out Patterns a one woman performance piece. Sounds awesome right? We thought so.
After the show, at the line for the bathroom
Man in line: Did you guys get it? Katie: Nope. Brittany: Nope. Man in line: Ok good, me neither.
The Verdict: This piece feels like a over-thought and over-indulgent Master’s thesis. It’s definitely interesting but not necessarily enjoyable.
The Drama Talk: Amy Munz, The New Stage founder and the creator and performer of Patterns is obviously a talented artist. But Patterns feels more like an artist’s contemporary take on Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, than a piece designed to entertain. The show kicks off with screaming manic laughter and devolves from there. Although The New Stage concept of immersing the audience in video projections is intriguing, the positioning of the screens made us feel like were were watching a tennis match. We had to constantly readjust and look from side to side around fellow audience members heads to catch obstructed views of the dream-like video projections. It was tiring.
Video of what looks like a cow being disemboweled plays while the character of a young girl delivers a disjointed schizophrenic monologue (not about cows getting disemboweled, mind you). It felt like a bad joke. Munz might be trying to alienate the audience, but the performance fails to actually assault the senses (largely because video screens are obscured) while playing into every stereotype of the out of touch ACTOOOR. The characters, though vibrant and distinct, lacked an arc. There wasn’t really a story to speak of, just flashes into the psyches of unstable women. Without a story, without a character arc, and with obstructed video screens which nearly gave us whiplash we didn’t really enjoy the show. This piece has so many promising elements, but this execution falls short.
The Drinks: After the show we couldn’t wait to get a drink and sort through what we just saw, luckily Sauce was very nearby. Sauce is a quaint little bar and restaurant under a boutique hotel. Katie had the moscow mule and Brittany had the American Honey Side Car. They were tasty and strong and helped us relax after a hectic performance piece that left our heads spinning and neck aching.
This week, Katie & Brittany went to see a musical based on a movie that sparked a romance that turned into a Broadway show and then came to our little town. Here’s their report:
Remember the 2006 movie Once? I know it was a long time ago but we still remember getting “Falling Slowly” stuck in our heads.
So we were really excited to check out the stage adaptation of Once last week. The musical was nominated for 11 Tony awards and won 8 of them. Between the critically acclaimed movie and all the awards, needless to say, we went into this show with extremely high expectations.
Katie: What I’ve noticed about going to SHN shows is that the production value is so high and the actors are so talented that even if it’s not an amazingly written show it’s always really entertaining. Always.
Brittany: It’s true. Once is so interesting. It was more like real life, which means depressing. At the end I definitely was left saying “Wait that’s it? That’s the end?” No happy ending here. Which I guess is refreshing because most Broadway shows are tied up in 2 hours.
K: Yeah, tied up in a pretty bow with a happy ending and we are left with a dun dun dun di di di dun di di. Not Once. But what beautiful music and amazing talent.
B: It’s really music anyone would like. I would listen to it with someone who didn’t like show tunes and I wouldn’t be embarrassed.
K: One thing that I struggled with was the format of the show. The fact that the set was a pub, but even though we are in a realistic pub setting it’s used mostly as other locations, like the vacuum shop, the music store, his house. It would have worked better for me if the set was not a specific place. I thought they were going to be a little more creative with turning this movie into a musical but instead they grabbed moments from the movie and threw it awkwardly on a stage designed as a pub. Luckily the actors and the music were so good that was enough to make it work. But for me I don’t think it was an example of great writing or a well constructed musical.
B: They really did themselves a disservice by having such a detailed set behind them which made it harder for your imagination to transform it into other things. It was a beautiful set though.
K: Really beautiful, really detailed. Just not needed. I thought they were going to take the story and the music from the movie and present it in a different, a very creative, theatery way, which didn’t exactly happen.
B: I’ve never seen the movie so I didn’t come in with certain expectations or context. It took me a little bit to get into the staging, but they were good enough actors that midway through the first act it worked for me. I did really like the stylized movement.
K: I just feel that they should of taken it further. I mean there is already a movie. I can sit in my living room and watch the movie. What is going to make me want to see this on stage? And it’s that, it’s the stylized movement, it’s the musicians – who did a really good job – that’s why I’m going to want to see it live.
B: And I think when they went there it was really good. All of the musicians were amazing. I do wonder how I would be feeling if I saw the movie.
K: I think you would have had a different perspective. The production was really well done though. It was a concert with a story. The lead girl was so good. Her voice was almost like a violin. So beautiful. Loved how the lead guy would get crazy on the guitar. The music definitely makes it worth going.
The Verdict: Once is a great night out. The actors are super impressive. As always SHN brings through a tour with Broadway level sets and production values.
The Drama Talk:
While some of us struggle to walk and text at the same time, these actors act, sing, play the accordion, change the set and dance in front of an audience of 100′s all without skipping a beat. If you haven’t seen the movie, wait. The play doesn’t elaborate as much on the film as we may have liked, so if you can keep the plot a surprise, you may enjoy the show more.
This production offers a special opportunity to go onstage before the show and during intermission to have a drink, so we did just that. Brittany had a beer and Katie had a chardonnay. As we were sipping our beverages, that were served in a plastic SHN sippy cup, actors came onstage and started playing music . . . right next to us . . . in arms reach. A really cool experience worth the really expensive unremarkable drinks. You don’t need to get a drink to be on the stage though, just get to the theater early since they limit the number of people allowed on stage at a time.
Katie & Brittany saw the new show at the Magic, and it sounds pretty compelling. Also, good title.
by Christina Anderson
directed by Ryan Purcell
1896: the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. A father and son board a ship heading for Africa on a mysterious mission with an opinionated young woman. On the open sea, an unexpected detour resurrects family secrets and reveals true intentions, fundamentally changing the course of their journey and their lives forever. Magic is delighted to celebrate the return of playwright Christina Anderson, “whose work will be transforming America’s Stages for decades to come” (American Theatre Magazine) after her term as our 2011 Playwright in Residence.
Despite our weariness when it comes to trekking to the Marina, we keep going back to Magic Theatre at Fort Mason because they consistently produce inventive and professional shows. They might not always be to our taste, but they are always in good taste. As we overheard another patron say as we entered “Magic Theater is where you go when you want to see real theater.” The world premiere of Pen/Man/Ship by Christina Anderson stayed true to this trend.
Katie: I was entertained, I was invested in the characters, I wasn’t blown away, but I liked it. It was an intense story that was on the sad side, but it was really well done.
Brittany: I liked it too. It felt a little long though, especially the first act. It’s funny because most the time when shows don’t have an intermission it bothers me and I’m like “Ahh, give me a break, I need a break.” This is a show I feel like could have been cut down with no ill effect and done without an intermission. We lost a chunk of audience members at intermission, which is too bad for them because I thought the second act was really strong.
K: Yeah, It had really slow start but it picked up at the second act. The second act was intense. Overall, they cast really great actors and had an amazingly inventive set, lighting design and costumes.
B: It was set in an interesting time period, during the time of Jim Crow laws, after the emancipation of slaves, but slavery is still really fresh in a lot of people’s minds. The show took an interesting look at the hierarchy within the African American community, which doesn’t often get talked about in theater. Although it was definitely a show grappling with the African American experience, a lot of the themes and family drama it explored told a universal story too.
The Verdict: If you love drama this show doesn’t hold back in that department. Go see it, and stay for the second act. It takes a while for the story to warm up, but once it gets going it gets powerful.
The Drama Talk: Overall an entertaining, intense, well told story about a different time. As usual Magic doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to design. An impressive set, lighting and sound give the small cast just enough to set the scene, without distracting from their raw performances, especially the knockout performance by Adrian Roberts who played Charles.
The Drinks: If you haven’t been to Fort Mason’s Off the Grid on Friday nights this show is a great excuse to check it out. Grab a bite before the show and a drink and do some skee ball after the show. It really makes for an entertaining Friday night out. The night we went was pretty chilly, it’s almost Summer after all, so we both got warm spiced wine and stood under a heat lamp (of which there were plenty) while discussing the completely different world and time we just experienced.