Monday, July 24, 2017

"The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga" NOT RATED

Min Kahng's "The Four Immigrants" tells the story of four Japanese nationals who come to America in the beginning years of the Twentieth Century. It is based on a manga, or cartoon series, drawn by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama in the 1920s. The artist is one of the four characters depicted in our story.

We can assume that Act One would have been better had we been able to take the music in context with the cartoon story; as it is, the computer foul-up on Opening Night left the songs to stand perilously on their own. Act Two was better, when we could see the cartoons, the actors settled into their roles and their songs felt less derivative. We very much liked "Furusato," a more traditional song sung by the ensemble without attempts at the pseudo-ragtime that haunts the rest of this score.

We enjoyed the ensemble, but particularly Phil Wong as Frank (The Footware King), who stands out as the most accessible and understandable of the four.


The San Francisco Theater Blog has decided to not rate "The Four Immigrants," as technology sadly rendered this performance unrepresentative of the final product. The show was a hit at last year's New Works Festival so we are certain it will find its footing.

"The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga"
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 6, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

"La Cage Aux Folles" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !

In all entertainment, first come the stars, then the imitators. Most often we are stuck with watching people attempt to reproduce the original, a song here, a setting there. Then, if we are lucky, we get to see the real deal, the show all the imitators have been imitating. Now we understand what the fuss was all about.

Thus it is with the San Francisco Playhouse version of "La Cage Aux Folles," directed by Bill English. It has everything -- acting, dancing, intelligence and heart.

Jean-Michel (Nikita Burshteyn) has been raised by his two dads, natural father Georges (Ryan Drummond) and George's partner Albin (John Treacy Egan). Now, Jean-Michel wants to marry...a woman! Samantha Rose plays Anne, Jean-Michel's hopeful bride.

However, in order to win Anne's parents' approval, the couple must first introduce them to Georges and Albin. A homophobic, conservative French politician, Anne's father's consent will be next to impossible to attain.

 And Albin will have to be mollified. And the world as it is will have to become the world it never was. Which is possible in the theater.

 When all fails, resort to blackmail.

There are no false steps here. The show stands the test of time and this ensemble of actors brings pleasure and fun into a trying situation. Egan's Albin brings Nathan Lane to mind, while Drummond makes us smile, even when singing the melancholy showstoppers "With You on My Arm" and "Look Over There." We love Jacquelyn Scott's roundabout set, and Kimberly Richards's choreography adapts well to the small space a company of fourteen manages to inhabit. Everyone in the cast can sing, but special kudos to Nikita Burshteyn, who has a clear, soaring voice.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ !
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS with an EXCLAMATION POINT! to "La Cage Aux Folles." We might make it FIVE STARS, but usually we get a handsome payoff for one of those, like first in line at the post-show buffet or an extra cream puff. Didn't happen. So we will settle for FOUR STARS with an EXCLAMATION POINT OF THANKS. Anyone who loves musical theater, or great art, or just enjoys hearing songs written by a master, ought to hurry down to San Francisco Playhouse while tickets are available.

"La Cage Aux Folles"
San Francisco Playhouse 
450 Post St., San Francisco
(Second floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
Through Sept. 16


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

San Francisco Mime Troupe 2017: "Walls" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

We sat on the Press Blanket next to Dick Cheney! Sadly, Ed Holmes has retired after 28 years with the Mime Troupe, but we asked him to show us how he performed Cheney, surely the most beloved and reviled character of recent Mime Troupe history. The secret: he can sneer out of both sides of his mouth at the same time.

Only the Mime Troupe has a Press Blanket.

The current show,  Michael Gene Sullivan's "Walls," has fine acting, good songs and a lot of big laughs. In light of last November's election it is great to once again see farce only on a Berkeley stage, not the national stage.

This year's subject is immigration. As Breitbart News duly noted, "Walls" is about a lesbian relationship between an illegal alien and an immigration cop. Marilet Martinez is Zaniyah Nahuatl, who has come across the border looking for work. She is alternately perky and traumatized. Velina Brown plays Agent L. Mary Jones, Zaniyah's lover and protector, while Rotimi Agbabiaka plays numerous roles, including the refugee store-owner Bahdoon. Martinez, Brown and Agbabiaka are all excellent but the show gives its best laughs to Lizzie Calogero as the unpronounceable Irish immigration official Cliodhna Abhabullogue. Calogero is a wonderful physical comic and leads us to a conclusion obvious to everyone except Breitbart news.

Perhaps because The Mime Troupe has been around the Bay Area for so many years, there are always those who expect a company of actors to come up with answers to complex societal problems. We think part of the solution is to have a great time on a sunny afternoon in a local park, listening to live music and watching fine actors maneuver across a tiny stage.

"Walls" has done it again. It wouldn't be summertime without the San Francisco Mime Troupe.


The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "Walls" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise for all four actors. By Labor Day the show will be even tighter but can't be any more fun. By the way, Bretibart, you are right. There is a red star in the SFMT logo.

San Francisco Mime Troupe 2017: "Walls"
Various parks around the Bay Area
Weekends through Sunday, Sept. 3
See SFMT.ORG for complete schedule