Thursday, June 15, 2017

"The Legend of Georgia McBride" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"The King is Dead. Long Live the Queen." If ever a slogan fit a show, this is it. We loved everything about Matthew Lopez's "The Legend of Georgia McBride," a celebration of not only the world of drag but the dreams and ambitions of us all.

Adam Magill is brilliant as Casey, an Elvis impersonator in a small beach town in the Florida panhandle. Casey's luck has run out -- not only are he and his wife broke, but she has discovered she is pregnant. He then loses his Elvis job at a funky bar on the beach, having been replaced by the cousin of the bar owner. The new act is made up of two drag queens, Miss Tracy Mills (Kraig Swartz) and Anna Rexia Nervosa (Jason Kapoor).

Kraig Swartz and Jason Kapoor could not be better. But Adam Magill is off the charts. Casey must fill in for Anna Rexia Nervosa when she becomes too drunk to perform. The scenes where Miss Tracy instructs the straight Casey on how to dress and act like a woman are absolutely priceless. "Tits up and testicles tucked," she says and Casey gamely straps on his high heels and teeters out to the mike.

Many surprises follow. Casey is good at it -- really good! Audiences start filling up the bar. Bar owner Eddie (John R. Lewis) is ecstatic and keeps adding more shows. The only one who has been kept out of the loop is Casey's wife, Jo (Tatiana Wechsler), because Casey is embarrassed to admit he has been wowing the crowds as a drag queen. This leads to touching moments where Miss Tracy and Anna Rexia speak frankly to Casey about the outcast lives they have been forced to live. Casey realizes he must face his own fears of failure. The lesson here is: we are who we are.

With such grand  humor and slapstick buffoonery, "Miss Georgia McBride" closes gaps between us and teaches us to open our eyes as wide as we can.

The inclusion of Lady Gaga's "I Was Born This Way" as the grand finale number is genius. Perfection. Just like the rest of this lovely show.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is proud to give FOUR STARS and a BANGLE OF PRAISE to "The Legend of Georgia McBride." The Four Stars are for Story, Acting, Directing (Kent Gash) and Set/Lights (Jason Sherwood and Kurt Landisman). The music is perfect. The show is funny and important -- a rare combination. And we can promise that Tammy Wynette never knew "Stand By Your Man" could sound this good.

"The Legend of Georgia McBride"
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through July 2, 2017
$22 - $72

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Hershey Felder, Beethoven" ☼ ☼ BANG

We have seen Hershey Felder in his memorable "Irving Berlin," one of our favorite evenings of theater in recent memory. I wish I could say we enjoyed "Beethoven" nearly as much. Sadly, this Felder performance is funereal. (The set is a grand piano in a graveyard.) The costumes are dark, the set is dark and, above all, the story line Felder has invented, that of the son of a best friend of Beethoven's narrating an outline of the composer's life, is without energy or excitement. There is little connection with the audience. And, amazingly, for a show about one of the greatest composers in the history of western culture, there is far too little music. When Felder plays piano, we enjoy the timeless melodies so many of us grew up with. But there is far too much talk and too many forgettable characters.

Beethoven himself is portrayed as bombastic. Perhaps this was so. But between Beethoven's bombast and the narrator's strained sadness, there is little. Yes, it is a tragedy that Beethoven went deaf so early in his life, but surely there must be something else in the maestro's life we could learn about? Something else must explain his massive outpouring of creativity? Yes, his father beat him. So...that's it?

Hershey Felder is worth seeing at any time. But we wish this show were more about the composer 's music and less about the actor's craft.


 The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants TWO STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE to "Hershey Felder: Beethoven." But be forewarned: if the music of Ludwig von Beethoven could not squeeze another star out of those of us who grew up playing and venerating his music, it may not do so for you either.

A BANGLE OF PRAISE, certainly, for "Ode to Joy."

Mountain View Center for Performing Arts
500 Castro Street, Mountain View
EXTENDED through July 9

Friday, June 9, 2017

"Grandeur" ☼ ☼ ☼

It is rewarding for an audience to absorb pieces of a story and have them come together at the end to reveal the heart of the show. Perhaps we have war and revolution and the vastness of a snowbound continent, but ultimately we care more about Zhivago and Lara. Our brains love the details, but our hearts are involved with more intimate matters.

Sadly, the opposite seems true in the World Premiere of Han Ong's "Grandeur." There is no big story, only details. If you are an ardent fan of the words and music of the late Gil Scott-Heron, you may relish the story of the older Scott-Heron (Carl Lumbly), towards the end of his life, being interviewed by the young and fawning journalist Steve Barron (Rafael Jordan). Scott-Heron reveals little, he speaks in riddles that the younger man takes to be signs that his hero has not lost his touch. Scott-Heron's sort-of-niece, Miss Julie (Safiya Fredericks) has a role that feels undefined -- except that she certainly shares Scott-Heron's revolutionary ideal.

In real life, Gil Scott-Heron, even in his prime of the early 1970s, was an acquired taste. Brilliant at times but also a substance abuser, his reputation suffered as he continued to decline to show up at his concerts. For some fans, this was a plus -- the poet refusing to knuckle under to the demands of the commercial marketplace. But though he is played to KJAZ-deejay laconic perfection by Carl Lumbly, our story is not with Scott-Heron, who remains static, but with Steve Barron. Will this young man become a true hero, or is he simply another opportunistic writer attempting to further his own career by scoring cocaine for the old man and then writing about the experience?

The Supertitles at the beginning of Act 2 suggest the latter.

World Premieres are often raw and things always change as the show advances. We are aware that we are watching historical fiction, that no such encounter as is enacted here ever really occurred. So we wish we were left with something at least moderately uplifting. It is somewhat surprising that Scott-Heron's estate would allow such an unflattering, if fictional, portrait.

 RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "Grandeur" Three Stars. Any show with Carl Lumbly is worth seeing and loose ends will become tied up as the run proceeds. We particularly enjoyed Ray Oppenheimer's subdued lighting, which becomes part of our understanding of this latter part of Scott-Heron's life. Also, Sara Huddleston has thrown in some terrific blues guitar at the show's beginning and during intermission.

The CD spoken of in the show, "I'm New Here," is real. It was the comeback album that never quite came back. The CD was released in 2010. Scott-Heron died in 2011.

The Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason, San Francisco
Through June 25, 2017