Tuesday, December 20, 2011

" Yes, Sweet Can" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

We love "Yes, Sweet Can" more and more each time we see it. Although the show is more or less the same since our last review (July, 2009), it has more focus now and is funnier. If possible, the performers have gotten even better.

Each of the four + performers are virtuosi when it comes to performing their particular specialties, but they also have a lot fun performing as an ensemble. This is what we take home more than anything else: they love doing their show. It's infectious. As the night goes on, the audience whoops and hollers along with them.

The show is short -- good for today's U-Tube attention spans -- with each performer having maybe ten minutes for his or her own specialty, in addition to clowning around with the others. Kerri Kresinski swings and suspends herself from fabric...

...Matt White's push-broom dance routine just gets more and more astonishing each year...

...Beth Clarke convinces you she is going to fall off the slack rope -- but doesn't...

...and Natasha Kaluza has one of those faces you cannot take your eyes off. She is tall and graceful and very, very funny. She also happens to be able to do absolutely anything with a hula hoop.

So much fun. The fifth wheel, trumpeter and d.j. E.O. adds a very welcome touch of live music to the performance. There is more of this than previously, and we could use even more. All the music is great, but when E.O. plays along the show is soulful as well.

It's too bad that "Yes Sweet Can" always has such short runs. It's a perfect Christmas gift -- kids will love it, though it's not, per se, a children's show. It's just honest and fun. Everybody loves that.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Yes, Sweet Can" Four Stars, one for each performer/dancer/acrobat. The fact that they keep getting better each year bodes well for their future. Who is our favorite? It's hard to beat that dancing broom.

TIP: Buy the cheap seats. It's a very small theater and it doesn't matter where you sit.

"Yes, Sweet Can"
Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th Street (at Mission Street)
Through January 1 (but there are two different shows. Check Mission Dance Theater calendar. There are also a few afternoon shows.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"The Wild Bride" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ! BANG BANG

We're not sure how you top this one. The Berkeley Rep production of Kneehigh's "The Wild Bride" has everything we expect from both companies at their best. Kneehigh's last production in the Bay Area was the spectacular "Brief Encounter" at A.C.T., and "The Wild Bride" is every bit as irreverent and mode-bursting. It's a brilliant show.

What's the best part? Perhaps it's that the six person cast can all act, sing, play numerous musical instruments, dance and do acrobatics. (We'll bet you suspected, but never knew for sure until now, that the devil is actually a drummer.)

Perhaps it's the performances themselves. As The Girl, Audrey Brisson is almost frighteningly beautiful and innocent.

OK, so she has a little problem in this picture, what with the bloody hands and all the mud, but you can trust us here. Later in Act one, as she grows into The Wild, her part is taken over by Patrycja Kujawska, who confronts the devil with an electric violin solo that seems to have been cloned from "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

In Act Two Eva Magyar takes over, as The Woman. She is the ballerina. It is her confrontation with the devil that gives us the ending we were hoping for.

In the meantime, Stuart Goodwin plays two terrific parts, as The Girl's Father and then The Prince.

(Hey, Diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me!") Stu Goodwin seems to have a great time on stage.

Ian Ross (the Musician) performs on every instrument in the book, sometimes two at a time.

But The Devil himself, played by Stuart McLoughlin (who played the candy vendor in "Brief Encounter"), is as evil as evil can be, while also perhaps the most virtuosic of the performers. We want him to fail miserably, but we also want him to keep mashing that upright bass.

It is a very nice touch that McLoughlin, as the Devil, is so tall, and Brisson is so short, that we fear for her safety the moment we see them together. On his knees, The Devil can stare straight into The Girl's eyes.

For this reviewer, though, the best part of "The Wild Bride" is that the story, if simplistic, has enough meat on it to keep us interested, while allowing our brains to disengage for the evening and pay attention to the shenanigans of this outrageous cast of performers.

It's a short run -- only until New Year's Day. Berkeley Rep has saved the best for last.


We know we have never done this before, but The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is having a lot of trouble rating this show. It could be a Five Star Show. It may be the finest thing we've seen all year, but we also have an Archive Button. We notice that we gave "Brief Encounter" FOUR Stars and FOUR BANGLES OF PRAISE! And Brief Encounter had Noel Coward songs. Stu Barker and Carl Grose's songs in "Wild Bride" are good, but not all that memorable (why are Englishmen always so attracted to that Robert Johnson crossroads story?), though the cast sings the, umm, Hell out of them.

All right, envelopes, please, ladies and gentlemen.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Wild Bride" Four Stars with an Exclamation Point and Two BANGLES OF PRAISE. Truly, the only thing stopping this show from being a five star show is the quality of the songs themselves, and only in comparison to "Brief Encounter." How silly is that? Still.

This is nonetheless a spectacular rating for a spectacular evening at the theater (the reason for the Exclamation Point). Director Emma Rice earns one BANGLE herself for somehow keeping this giant circus in motion. The other is for Stuart Goodwin. Not only does he make us laugh as the Prince while understanding his dilemma as The Father, but he also gets off the best line in the show. It has to do with the Royal Pair. I mean Royal Pears. You'll understand later why it rates its own BANGLE OF PRAISE.

Don't miss "The Wild Bride." Or we're gonna git'cha.

"The Wild Bride"
Berkeley Repertory Company
2025 Addison Street, Berkeley
EXTENDED Through January 22, 2012

Monday, December 5, 2011

"A Secret Garden" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"A Secret Garden" was first published in 1911 by Francis Hodgson Burnett and set in Yorkshire around 1906. In Robert Kelley's TheatreWorks production we get all the trappings of a 'holiday show' -- wealthy Englishmen, innocent children, good people who are good and bad people who are bad. Dear Mom has died and Sad Dad is trying to cope. But don't let that deter you for there is a great deal more to this production.

The welcome difference here is that the music, especially in Act One, is interesting and involving (it doesn't hurt that we get to hear it played live by an excellent orchestra). Every member of the cast can really sing. Little Mary (played by sixth-grader Angelina Wahler) has a voice that matches her grown-up stage presence, while Joe Cassidy as good Uncle Archie, Noel Anthony as conniving Uncle Neville, and Courtney Stokes as Martha the chambermaid all perform stereotypical parts with a great deal of heart, not to mention enormous voice boxes.

The show stealer, however, is the side character Dickon, played by Alex Brightman, who seems to be channeling Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. We wish he were on stage more.

The show has pedigree. Burnett's original children's story was a tremendous hit in England and America when it first appeared. She was already renowned for her extremely successful "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1886) and "The Little Princess" (1905). "A Secret Garden" became a Broadway musical in 1991, adapted for the stage with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Luci Simon (Carly's older sister).

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "A Secret Garden" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. It is certainly not overstuffed holiday turkey, you get excellent trimmings besides. If there is one problem it is that the vaguely Irish-Scottish sameness of Luci Simon's music tends to wear thin halfway through Act Two. Still, the marvelous "In Lily's Eyes," sung in duet by Anthony and Cassidy, is a magnificent song and deserving of the BANGLE all by itself.

"A Secret Garden"
The Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlewood Road, Palo Alto
Through Dec 31
$19 (student) - $71

Photos by M. Kitaoka and T. Martin

Friday, December 2, 2011

"I Didn't Sign Up For This" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The promise that we felt with Julia Jackson's then-incomplete "I Didn't Sign Up For This," when we saw it back in April, has been excitingly fulfilled. The show, which relates the story of a female couple trying to adopt a baby, features the very talented Jackson playing many characters, including herself, her partner, herself as a small child, people from the adoption agency, the birth mom, the birth mom's mom, the birth mom's boy friend, a therapist, a social worker...and we know we've forgotten more than a few.

She does it all with body language and vocal inflection. Some of her set pieces are of two different characters interacting with each other. She moves in and out of character with no more than a turn of her head or a very minimal light cue. Props: one folding chair.

And what a story. $41,000 for a white baby, $15,000 for a black baby. Trina, the birth mom, who is trying to kick alcohol while Clarence, the baby's father is doing his best to get away from crack. The story kicks you in the gut and then makes it all better with a belly laugh. But none of this would be possible without a performance as strong as Julia Jackson's.

Sadly, the show is done for the year. Jackson hopes for a long run in April, and when that happens we will urge you to run to see it.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Julia Jackson's "I Didn't Sign Up For This" Four Stars. In a city of standout solo performers, Jackson can hang with any of them. Imagine a combination of Sara Felder and Ann Randolph -- and you come close. She is another of the fine performers honing their craft with W. Kamau Bell at the Solo Performance Workshop. We're sure we'll be seeing "I Didn't Sign Up For This" in the future, perhaps in a larger venue.

Julia Jackson: "I Didn't Sign Up For This"
Stage Werx Theatre
(NEW ADDRESS:) 446 Valencia Street between 15th and 16th Streets, San Francisco