Sunday, December 4, 2016

"Daddy Long Legs" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The story is formulaic and the music breaks no new ground. So why did we love "Daddy Long Legs" so much?

1) The two leads (Hilary Maiberger as Jerusha and Derek Carley as Jervis) are magnificent, together and apart. Many songs are classic duets, but in others a unique background vocal arrangement brings the two characters together even when their locations are far apart. It is hard to over-emphasize how effective this is.

2) A two person cast can be deadly if the two actors have little chemistry together. This is not a problem with Jerusha and Jervis. But boy do they make us wait for that first kiss.

3) John Caird's book, adapted from the more-than-100-year-old story by Jean Webster, is perfect. Caird is no lightweight, having written the books for Les Miserables and Candide among others, and he is a master of understatement. There is only one moment, in Act Two, when we feel the action drags, and that is probably the fault of the one song in the show that is excessive ("Charity"). The boy is in love. The girl is in love. No time to stop and sing about it. Chop chop.

4) Paul Gordon gives us songs that stick with us, like "The Color of Your Eyes," "The Secret of Happiness" and "Christmas in Manhattan."

But, in the end, it all comes down to beautiful performances by -- (See No. 1).

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is delighted to put "Daddy Long Legs" under the mistletoe. You will love the production as much as the performances. Sidle up and give us a smooch. You'll be glad you did.

One Star each for acting, writing and music, with another for Fumiko Bielefeldt's perfect period costumes add up to: FOUR STARS!

"Daddy Long Legs"
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through Dec 31

Friday, December 2, 2016

"She Loves Me" ☼ ☼ BANG

Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick's musical "She Loves Me" ought to be entitled "She Loves Me First," because we know that they went on to write the music and lyrics for the incomparable "Fiddler on the Roof." But they wrote "She Loves Me" first. If there is one problem with the season's new San Francisco Playhouse musical production it is a lack of memorable songs. There is cleverness, and a lot of wit in the humorous numbers, but you will search in vain for "Sunrise, Sunset" or "Tradition."

We enjoyed watching Katrina Lauren McGraw (above, left), alone or in ensemble. Nanci Zoppi (below, right) is a standout as Ilona Ritter, the shop girl who longs for romance. Zoppi has a loopy stage presence that counteracts the cool of some of the others.

Jeffrey Brian Adams plays Georg. Georg loves Amalia (Monique Hafen) and Amalia loves Georg, but, you know, a lot has to happen first. Adams plays his usual under-motivated, detached role, while Hafen is at her absolute best when they take the wraps off and let her be Luci Ricardo, like in the delicious "Where's My Shoe?" and "Vanilla Ice Cream."

We applaud the decision to utilize live musicians and place them where we can see them play, instead of in a pit or, worse, using a pre-recorded track. This makes all the difference in the world. There were some unfortunate squeaks but we will take the small pains to enjoy the larger pleasure.

The ensemble of Katrina Lauren McGraw, Leah Shesky and Ayelet Firstenberg are standouts. And we always love Joe Estlack. The musical good-bye each shopper receives upon leaving the store reminds us there was a time before Amazon.


Each season, the San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division looks forward to the Christmas musical at San Francisco Playhouse. These days, we all need escapism. In our opinion, though there are lots of things to like about "She Loves Me," we can't help wishing the music grabbed us more.

TWO STARS with a BANGLE OF PRAISE for making us wish shopping was still this much fun.

"She Loves Me"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
2d floor of Kensington Park hotel
Through January 14, 2017

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Miss Bennet" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

This reviewer drove through the traffic to Marin Theater Company with a sense of dread at having to see yet another Jane Austen story. Enough English foppery, enough aristocrats, enough, enough enough! But surprise, oh ye Doubting Douglas! The World Premiere of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon's "Miss Bennet" reveals the very reason we go to the theater: to be surprised and elated at the power of great writing and beautiful acting.

Where "Pride and Prejudice" stopped, Gunderson and Melcon take over. The last remaining daughter, Mary Bennet, unmarried and consigned to a rural life where her only companions are her books and her pianoforte, has arrived for a family Christmas at Pemberley, the estate where elder sister Lizzie has settled with her husband Mr. Darcy. We find that Mary, boring and unappetizing where Jane Austen left her, has received a shot of Lauren Gunderson and become a modern, capable, brilliant and attractively independent female.

Martha Brigham plays Mary to our delight, alongside Adam Magill as her equally out-of-place romantic interest Arthur de Bourgh. Magill is a young Tim Burton, tall and possessed of a cornucopia of facial expressions, mostly variations on the theme of bewilderment.

Brigham brings Mary a delightful wistfulness under her guise as resigned spinster. That Mary and Arthur will get together is unquestioned; the question is can these romantic bumbleheads pull it off in only two acts.

We love the entire cast. The two married brothers-in-law, Mr. Darcy (Joseph Patrick O'Malley) and Mr. Bingley (Thomas Gorrebeeck) are perfect as gentlemen itching to have anything at all to do. They delight in taking poor Arthur under their wing. Laura Odeh plays Anne de Bourgh, who in the Jane Austen story was jilted by Mr. Darcy when he chose to marry Lizzie Bennet. Now, she is back and about to get jilted again, but not until she gets in her licks.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division, recently relocated into the Two No-Trump Tower, awards "Miss Bennet" Four Stars. Everything works. Acting, directing (Meredith McDonough), sets (Erik Flatmo) and costumes (Callie Floor) could not be better. Those with November hangovers can receive a welcome December tonic at Marin Theater Company.

"Miss Bennet"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Dec. 3 through Dec. 18