Sunday, May 20, 2018

Jesus Christ Superstar ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

Go see the Ray of Light production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" at San Francisco's Victoria Theater. The brilliant twist of an all-female cast adds a dimension to the original show that makes it feel new. Dancing, singing, acting and directing are spectacular. The set is first rate. We left the theater feeling like we had seen a Broadway production.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Weber and Lyricist Tim Rice were in their early twenties when their rock opera debuted in 1970, a new period for post-"Hair" Broadway. The concept of Jesus being the pop star of his day was both loved, on Broadway, and reviled in Christian hinterlands.

But times have changed in half a century. Ray of Light effectively brings mixed media into the new show, with TV screens featuring network bubbleheads treating Jesus's last days in Jerusalem like every other silly and sensationalist newscast. It is a satisfying touch of modernity to see demonstrators on TV carrying signs that say "RESIST ROME!"

Jesus is played by Janelle LaSalle. Her entrance, afro soaking up the spotlight as her followers part to allow her through, is stunning. She sings more like an angel than a prophet.

We loved Maita Ponce as Mary Magdalene. She sings two of the show's most famous numbers, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and "Everything's All Right." Ponce is very special and we will hear a lot more from her.

Another standout is the evil Caiaphas, sung and acted by Heather Orth. Her deep alto projects malevolent power. She is beautifully cast and played with power.

And let us not forget to mention Costume Designer Maggie Whitaker's clothing all the High Priests in sleeveless power dresses, each in a primary color.

Judas (Jocelyn Pickett) is a strong singer but may be somewhat miscast. As an actor she is given few chances to project any doubts Judas may have had. This may be the director's choice, but it is questionable. In the end we are led to believe she just cheaped out and ratted on her friend.

Well, maybe she did.

Disciples can sing. Apostles can sing. Everyone can dance. One walks on water. What a show.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼ BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Department gives "Jesus Christ Superstar (female version" a very high rating of Four Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE. The BANGLE is for the delightful twist of the female cast. Director Shane Ray told us one of the reasons he chose to cast the show this way is there are so many brilliant female actors in the Bay Area who come to audition. Aren't we the lucky ones.

 "Jesus Christ Superstar" (female version)
Victoria Theater
2961 16th St., San Francisco
Through June 9, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"An Entomologist's Love Story" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The plight of the male firefly. He flashes his light and waits for a female to respond. When she does, they mate. When they are done, he dies. In some cases, she eats him. What's a guy to do?

Lucas Verbrugghe plays entomologist Jeff. He shares an office with entomologist Betty, played by Lori Prince. They flashed their lights with each other for a semester when they were much younger. Now, they are just pals, though there is still some lightning between them, whether they admit it or not.

Enter Lindsay, exactly the kind of woman Betty has been telling Jeff he will someday fall for. Played by Jessica Lynn Carroll, Lindsay is young, innocent, pretty and has great legs. She needs Jeff to take a look at some suspected bedbugs. Their lights flash immediately, to Betty's dismay.

Betty, meanwhile, keeps seeking out the wrong kind of guy. When a real possibility opens up with Andy, played by Will Springhorn, Jr., she is conflicted. Should she? Shouldn't she? But Andy is a worker and Betty is an intellectual. Workers do not get to date the queen, in either the insect or human worlds.

Director Giovanna Sardelli has been with this show since it began at Theatreworks Silicon Valley, and it shows. She knows these characters. Melissa Ross's book is very funny and each actor brings something different to the table. Jeff is calm and looking for stability, Betty is a scientist who loves to solve everyone's problems except her own, Lindsay is smarter than her cuteness would suggest and Andy was just born on the wrong side of the tracks. He would probably be perfect for Betty, but it's never going to happen.

SF Playhouse's staging and sets are always as good as anyone's in the city, but Nina Ball outdoes herself this time with an office that turns into a park bench. The only caveat is that in the real America there are no thirty-five year old scientists who have offices that big. But this is the theater. We come to pretend.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "An Entomologist's Love Story" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. It allows us to laugh at our own mating rituals, while offering a lot of heart and hope. If Melissa Ross ever decides to attack the class conflict between Andy and Betty this show could become deeper and more lasting. We love it like it is, but it might grow into something unforgettable.

"An Entomologist's Love Story"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post St., San Francisco
Second Floor of Kensington Park Hotel
Through June 23, 2018

Thursday, May 10, 2018

"Marjorie Prime" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

One of the finest new plays we have seen in years, Marjorie Prime has stayed with us. The year is 2062. The Senior Serenity company has devised a computer application to store a person's memories in a robot that looks and acts like the person's late spouse. The robot is called a Prime. Armed with many shared memories, the Prime can be a companion for the Senior. Senior Serenity says companionship is important.

Joy Carlin plays Marjorie, a lady in her eighties who is forgetting more and more as she ages. She has been provided with Walter Prime, who Marjorie has chosen to have look young and handsome like her late husband Walter did in his thirties. Played by Thomas Gorrebeeck, Walter Prime freaks us out with his calm, all-knowing manner, and our unease does not dissipate, even when we realize Walter Prime is not the real Walter.

The Primes learn who they are by asking questions. Of course, the answers they are given are filtered through the aging person's view of his or her life. These stories become truth to the Prime, whether or not they were true in real life. We see that memory and reality are not always the same. Memory itself becomes less important than which memories we choose to hold on to.

Marjorie's daughter Tess (a brilliant performance by Julie Eccles) is having trouble coping with her life, made worse by a tragedy we slowly discover, one which has been ignored and forgotten by Marjorie. Tess's husband Jon (Anthony Fusco) tries desperately to hang on to Tess, to no avail. In time, we will meet Tess Prime and Jon Prime and this is where things get really crazy.

And wonderful. Jordan Harrison's story is intriguing and Ken Rus Schmoll's direction is the perfect blend of confusion and revelation. WORD OF WARNING: If you have an elderly parent, Joy Carlin's performance will hit close to the bone. Be prepared.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "Marjorie Prime" FOUR STARS. It has everything we love in a show -- fine acting, writing, direction and the extra dimension of surprise. Marin Theater Company has a winner on its hands.

"Marjorie Prime"
Marin Theater Company
397 MillerAvenue, Mill Valley
Through May 27 (MUST CLOSE! DO NOT WAIT!)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"Tinderella" ☼ ☼ ☼

A two-act comedy with an intriguing concept, "Tinderella" has some very funny moments, particularly in Act One. "Cinderella in the age of Tinder" gives us the young princess searching for love as well as dealing with her wicked sisters, a handsome young prince, kind of, golden slippers that turn out to be dazzling high heels, and a roommate who Disney never imagined. The roommate steals Act one. Ah, if Act 2 had only kept it up.

Rose Oser wrote the book which has many pluses, but the lyrics by Weston Scott and music by Christian B. Schmidt give us little to hang our hat on. Yes, this is a farce, and we should not hope for dazzling lyrics and soaring melodies, but the most entertaining song in the show is called "Dick Pix" and consists of a bunch of guys jumping around taking selfies of their private parts while singing "Dick Pix! Dick Pix! Dick Pix!"

Tinderella has two standout performers. We loved Juliana Lustenader as Meg, the blonde straight girl, and Branden Noel Thomas as Dylan, her gay (and large) roommate. Dylan convinces Meg to go on Tinder to meet the love of her life, though he has had no luck finding his. Lustenader stays in character and sings beautifully, while Thomas has a big, gospely voice. We wish he had been given a vehicle to show it off better.

The music, in general, is upbeat. At the curtain of Act One we were excited to see where the show would go, and how the characters would develop. Act Two begins with two excellent songs ("Super Cool Party" and "Slow Grind Love Song") but it's all downhill from there. The side-story of Marcus (Jackson Thea) and Julie (Sarah Jiang) bogs down because Marcus is so incredibly vacuous. Everyone knows Sarah will do what she wants and Marcus will forever remain a doofus.

We love Meredith Joelle Charlson's choreography, made even more impressive by the small stage. We were also impressed with the ensemble singing, especially the crew of Andrew Chung, James Seifert and Ryan Wakamiya. Don't get me wrong: "Dick Pix!" is hysterical.

RATINGS ☼ ☼ ☼ 
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives "Tinderella" an A for effort and a B for the cast. This translates as Three Stars. We hope some rewriting of Act Two is in store and we would love to have a song in our heads besides three guys shouting "Dick Pix! Dick Pix! Dick Pix!"

Custom Made Theater
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
Through May 26