Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category
I’m back for my annual musings on the finest SF/Bay Area live performances of the year (#whatiattended)! As always, there’s a very healthy dose of opera, musical theatre, and jazz here, so they are more than well represented. And, I’m well aware of some great shows I had to miss because of my budget, or other commitments, but alas…it’s still a scrumptious array. Reflecting on these is a favorite way I savor and reexperience them once again.
What were your favorite Bay Area performances of the year?
1) Champion, Opera Parallèle, SFJAZZ Center
This unique jazz opera by Terence Blanchard is about the life of world champion boxer Emile Griffith, including his struggle with trauma-related dementia. A deeply affecting, tragic story, with gay content that was very impactful on a personal level. It features a great score, which deserves to land on the stages of the top American opera companies. It was heading to the Kennedy Center next, so it at least also had that audience. Unfortunately, it’s up against Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird” (featuring Lawrence Brownlee), so I fear it’s doubtful two jazz/jazz-oriented operas can have major legs. But, I get ahead of myself. This evening (Feb. 27th) had a sense of event, with Tuck and Patti, and Terence Blanchard in the audience, and lingering in the lobby afterwards as well. And we had the good fortune there of briefly meeting the contemporary opera legend, baritone Robert Orth, who passionately played Howie Albert.
The opening scene was so alive it reached out and grabbed the audience. The orchestral palette was rich, with the percussion and bass real stand outs. The orchestral hand-clapping-as-percussion really resonated. Former Merolini Karen Slack lit up the stage as Emelda Griffith, as did Arthur Woodley as the elder Emile, who was devastatingly real. The Herman’s Hole/”pussy” scene, with its fluid sexual expression was compelling and confusing, reflecting his confusion and the surrounding culture. Victor Ryan Robertson as Benny ‘Kid’ Paret was also very touching, a great physical actor, with a pleasing lyric voice in the midst of all the dramatic voices. A couple of scenes featured an actual boxer/dancer/percussionist who moved onstage in an unstoppable fashion.
Some lighting/projection cues revealed glaring flaws, and a couple of voices sounded tired. Also, where we sat there were frequent challenging sight lines, but it was thrilling to experience this opera in a true hall to jazz.
2) Dolly Tour: Pure & Simple, Shoreline Pavilion (Mountain View)
Not much needs to be said about this legendary woman. There may be many great drag impersonators of her, but there is only 1 Dolly. Her mix of goodness, simplicity, and yet worldliness and acceptance seems to be without peer.
It was a lovely night out as well, reminding me of concerts of my youth at Riverbend in Cincinnati. My favorite songs/moments included “Little Sparrow/If I Had Wings,” “9 to 5,” and two vocal quartets: “I’ll Fly Away,” and “The Seeker,” which skewed more towards bluegrass. Also, “Coat of Many Colors” and her new single “Pure and Simple” were really lovely.
I was in some disbelief that she sang it all live. The nuance and tone was so fresh…as if she was 25 again. She offered many quotable moments. When inviting a handsome band member to the spotlight for a featured musical moment, she shared: “I said I was married I didn’t say I was blind.” Her costumes take a page from Elvis’ book…bell bottoms and sequins for days!
3) Cabaret, National Tour, Golden Gate Theatre
The Emcee, Randy Harrison surely brought in audience based on his Queer as Folk celebrity, but he exceeded my expectations on stage. He offered a more solid, robust voice and technique than I expected, and than most of this role previous exponents had. I also appreciated that he used his voice in a somewhat less caricature-y fashion. He expressed plenty of lithe, engaging movement as well.
Andrea Goss, a petite Sally Bowles, was fantastic, offering a gamine, pixie appeal. Her small-scale delivered a big presence and impression. My date, who has seen a dozen or so Cabaret productions put her in his top 3…the slew of past celebrity Sallys not holding up real great by comparison.
As is often the case with this show, the love story between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz tugged on many a heart string. The set design, and how it was used was engaging throughout, integrating the orchestra in an authentic way, true to the milieu.
It was another stunning year of live performance in the Bay Area and beyond. I’m forgoing reviews this time, thanks to grad school demands. I’m grateful yet again for the embarrassment of riches…one of the many reasons I gladly call San Francisco home!
1) Matt Alber @ The Rickshaw Stop
Presented by SF Bear Pride
With NAKIA, Jeb Havens…
Program incl.: Monarch, The River, Velvet Goldmine, Old Wallingford, Tightrope, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Field Trip Buddy, Hide & Seek, Always (ACAP), End of the World, Yellow, New York, Old Ghosts…
A taste of Matt live
2) Pink Martini @ The Hollywood Bowl
With China Forbes, Storm Large, Saori Yuki, Ari Shapiro…
Program incl.: Brazil, Zundoko bushi, Splendor in the Grass, Eugene, Hang on Little Tomato, Get Happy/Happy Days medley, And Then You’re Gone/But Now I’m Back medley, Yo Te Quiero Siempre…
3) Mephistopheles, San Francisco Opera
With Ildar Abdrazakov, Patricia Racette, Ramón Vargas, Marina Harris…
4) Anything Goes, Broadway Tour, Curran Theatre
With Rachel York, Fred Applegate, Erich Bergen, Alex Finke…
In the midst of the embarrassment of riches jcm partook in this year, above all, it was the year of the art song, “Hasa Diga Eebowa,” and contemporary american opera (and THIS without even having seen Moby Dick ;-(. This was particularly good news for art song and american opera, as it’s more the norm to bemoan their demise these days.
In capturing the highlights of the year, the performance and production were weighed most heavily, but in the case of new material, the script and score were of course considerations. Oh, and who can help some personal biases slipping in? Not jcm (ie: West Side Story = the greatest show ever written)! SO, here goes…
1) Sandrine Piau, (Susan Manoff, piano) CalPerfs, Hertz Hall
It was as if a gentle, gamine spirit had landed for just an hour or two, gracing us with her rare magic. She left us transfixed, susceptible to the whims of her potent storytelling. The program was studio-ready in its refinement and attention to detail, yet never bland or white-washed. She uses her lyric instrument to full advantage, painting a broad palette of tones and expressions. The very satisfying program featured french, german and english sets of Fauré, Bouchot, Chausson, Mendelssohn, Strauss and Britten, followed by a generous set of encores: “Voyage a Paris,” “Clair de lune,” and Strauss’s “Madchen Blumlein.”
Karina Gauvin, (Michael McMahon, piano) Weill Hall at the Green Music Center
The Bay Area has been given a great gift in the form of the new Green Music Center. In structure it is reminiscent of the great Musikverein of Vienna. It is nearly all wood, which is visually rich, and acoustically perfect. In a word, intoxicating. This was the inaugural recital of the hall’s vocal series. They programmed very well, especially as Karina’s Bay Area appearances are rare. Highlights included: “Le Printemp” by Hahn, “Phylidé” and “L’Invitation au Voyage” by Duparc. For her encores, she performed Weill (ie: Weill Hall) and the Scottish “Ae Fond Kiss.” The latter was deeply satisfying. Her english diction is stunning, and her textual delivery particularly soulful. On a personal note, her sister and mother were in the audience, just a few rows in front of me. She shared that this was the rare performance they were able to attend, and dedicated a song to her sister. A special night indeed.
2) The Book of Mormon, National Tour, Curran Theatre
It takes you by the balls, and won’t let you go. I’ve rarely seen the kind of go-for-broke commitment from a cast as this. 21 year-old Grey Hensen, who played Moroni and Elder McKinley, as well as Jared Gertner as Elder Cunningham stole the show. I live for Gavin Creel, but oddly he seemed not to embody the role as much as to act it. Surely he’s settled into it by now, or will fully by its UK West End run. The first 20 minutes have to be the most perfectly crafted portion of almost any Broadway show I’ve seen LIVE. You know…those laughing-and-crying at the same time moments? The vocal power in the ensemble numbers was very impressive. Having an 8 year-old behind us in the audience made the profanity and vulgarity seem even more raucous and saucy.
It’s time for my third annual Top 10 round-up. These don’t attempt to be comprehensive reviews…but rather an Amuse-bouche of the most stellar performances I witnessed by the Bay, in ’11. How in the world can I compare a Pop Star to a Handel opera, you ask? Well…I warm up the jcm-ulator, and out come the tabulated results. It doesn’t lie. I seem to be trending towards opera, with musicals taking a back seat. Why? They sing louder, higher and without mics?
1) RING Cycle, SF Opera details
With the carefully crafted characterizations of a stage play, this Cycle was a well-deserved hit and had the city abuzz with Wagner. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde was an utter triumph, equal parts true Wagnerian and singing actress. Stunning SFO leading role debuts were offered by Heidi Melton as Sieglinde, and Daveda Karanas as Waltraute. There wasn’t a weak link in the cast. Francesca Zambello’s concept was fortunately not too heavy-handed, largely staying out of the way of the story and score…more often informing it, and only periodically misstepping. I found the Industrial Revolution concepts throughout Das Rheingold to be the most iconic and potent. However, the mythic Die Walküre was the emotional highpoint, featuring the burnished, virile tenor of Brandon Jovanovich’s Siegmund. Siegfried was also surprisingly engaging. I had the good fortune of serving as Super Captain and Supernumerary in Walküre and Götterdämmerung.
2) Stacey Kent, Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel details
I fell in love with her voice three years ago. After stalking her tour schedule for a Bay Area performance, I got to experience her art live at last. She’s a real pixie…a gentle spirit, with a frail flutter to her vibrato. She completely transported me and her audience, casting a convincing spell. Her palpable, loving connection to her band leader, sax player and husband Jim Tomlinson added to the glow. She embodied “less is more,” drawing us in, rather than overworking her numbers in a too extroverted manner. Her set included lots of brazilian and french songs unfamiliar to me, some off her just released album. Come back soon Stacey!
It’s that time again! I’m serving up my second annual Top 10 LIVE Performances of the year. It’s a follow-up to my ‘09 list. Sadly, there are no Broadway shows on this list. I plan on remedying that in 2011!
1. Die Walküre, San Francisco Opera (Details)
This production offered one of the finest casts that could possibly be assembled for this opera (and The Ring) in the current operatic landscape. The production said some new things, and offered a few fresh perspectives, but didn’t try too hard, or overshadow the score. Maestro Runnicles is a Wagnerian master, and he and the orchestra rose to the occasion again. Yeah, I was a “Supernumerary” in the production, but I was able to watch much of it from the orchestra during rehearsals, and even accounting for my bias, this would still takes my top spot. Enjoy my full review here.
2. Scalpel! The Musical, Brava Theatre (Details)
Can you say fun? It had me at the opening number, with countless heals and drag runway walks. It was the first show I’ve seen in the Brava, and I immediately loved this venue…the warm lighting, the urban ambience, and the straight, raked seating offering direct views. Even with all the camp and hijinks, the entire cast was completely committed to the material. This was the second mounting of the show, and my fingers are crossed that it returns yet again. Apparently, there was a bit of a curse on the production, with multiple cast injuries (including a very unfortunate broken leg for leading man, Mike Finn), but they pushed through, with some quick and fortuitous replacements and prevailed. Picturing Sara Moore as “poop-raking” TV reporter Kitty Kelly (“Hardballs” host) still makes me laugh.
3. Heidi Melton: Salon at the Rex, The Rex Hotel (Details)
To hear Heidi Melton plead in spoken french AND debut her chest voice was alone faint-worthy, and positively scintillating. And, to hear her in repertoire much outside her core operatic rep and comfort genres was a treat (ie: Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill cabaret, and Korngold songs). Her rendition of Berlin’s “Always” left not a dry eye in the audience. (Her Noe Valley Chamber Music Recital a few weeks before was also very beautiful). No thanks to the Adler “Future is Now” concert, which was on the same night, the recital was over all too soon (evidenced by a jcm quotation here and here)! I stuck around and imbibed and dined at the bar…I wanted to savor the spell Heidi had cast.
Coincidence or Trend?
Being a performer and actor can offer an amazing glimpse into the self. Not only does one get to unlock and explore parts of oneself that were dormant or only in the subconscious, thereby evolving one’s own sense of self, and actual self. But, it can also reveal how one is perceived by others, and more simply what one’s “type” is. Typecasting is of course when one’s dominant or determined traits are used to pigeon-hole one into a certain character type.
I recently spotted a compelling coincidence in my casting and performance history in recent years. Time and time again I’ve walked into auditions with one role that I felt I wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t get, and time and time again that has been THE role I HAVE landed. But, with my current role (and three in the past), this coincidence became recurrent enough to emerge as a clear pattern or trend. I wanted to dig deeper to understand it.
The Wouldn’t/Couldn’t/Shouldn’t Roles
First there was “West Side Story”, at Broadway By the Bay. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be a Shark, and although I dream of being Tony, I don’t have his requisite high notes in this life. So, I went down the list of Jets to decide which roles to target. I saw that Diesel was the Jet chosen for the fist fight with Bernardo, and immediately scratched him off my list (along with Baby John). I felt that would require someone bigger, more muscular, more imposing than me, as he is the “toughest of the gang”.
Then there was “Into the Woods”, at Ray of Light Theatre. I targeted Rapunzel’s Prince…the male “seconda donna“-of-sorts to Cinderella’s Prince. Cinderella’s Prince is dashing, charming, the epitome of straight masculinity, and felt it was probably all a bit too much to live up to. I was also open to the smaller role of Steward (or, “Stew”, as we liked to call him).
Next was “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, also at BBB. I wasn’t interested in pursuing the leading role (Adam), but was game for any of the seven brothers…well, except Frank (aka “Frankincense”), because I saw that he was prone to fighting, and just generally prickly. That wasn’t me, I thought. I’m calm, easy-going, a “good guy”, more of a follower, and team-player.
Most recently, I auditioned for “Hair”, at ACLO. I decided on a different strategy this time…to mark no specific roles on my audition form. I felt that I’d been seemingly so off in targeting the role(s) best suited to me that this time I would leave it up to fate, the spirit, the casting director…anybody but me. However, I was VERY close to writing down just Woof, Claude, and “Tribe”. That’s right, I would have left off Berger, because he’s a charismatic leader with a BIG personality, animal sexy, and a rabble rouser. Can you say high bar/triple threat?
Well, it’s obvious by now that I was cast as Diesel, Cinderella’s Prince, “Frankincense”, and Berger.
So, what did I uncover in this trend, and creating these characters that initially felt out of reach?
- On a superficial, purely physical level, I’m on the taller side of average height, with a full jaw and dark hair and eyebrows, which tips the scales in favor of being typecast in these sorts of roles.
- Getting under their skin allowed me to see the importance of exploring characters that are less obviously tied to my own temperament, and find deeper, more complex connections. From a psychological perspective, I haven’t been fully in touch with my “shadow side”, and the level of intensity and strength I can portray by drawing from it.
- Yes, there are roles that allow one to easily draw directly from one’s own well of life to create them, and on the flip side, roles that are simply outside of one’s appropriate range or reasonable reach…but, there’s a lot of middle ground for “stretching”. My personal “dial” for discerning this threshold seemed to be a bit off. Hopefully, I’ve re-calibrated it well to find my challenge/success “sweet spot”.
- Perhaps there’s some karma at work here? I think of it as somewhat comparable to this…Don’t you ALWAYS run into the people you’ve wronged or have unfinished business (in the least likely places, ie: a Safeway aisle)?! Or, if there’s something you need to learn in the world, doesn’t the universe always present you with an opportunity to unlock it? Each of these unexpected roles has done exactly that, and taught me that I need to walk into, not away from the biggest challenges that scare me most.
- I need to continue to believe more in myself and my abilities (YES, a lifelong journey), and aim my trajectory upwards.
I still fondly recall one of my previous director’s character metaphors. He encouraged me to consider Bruce Lee, who embodied strength with a compact frame (albeit, a RIPPED one!), and through nimble movement, and cunning.
As to whether I met all or enough of the demands of any or all of these roles, well…I leave that to the audience to decide. And, I’m not even touching on how the variable of ability (ie: singing, dancing, acting) also plays into this equation. That’d require a novel.
I’m thankful that theatre has offered me this sort of enlightenment. I look forward to being in touch with the greater breadth that shedding my own self-imposed limitations on “type” allows. Perhaps you can identify ways in which you set up wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t barriers for yourself?