Category Archives: american conservatory theater

ACT’s Tosca Project closes on July 3

San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Lorena Feijoo and A.C.T. core acting company member Jack Willis (pictured at the famed Tosca Café) are part of the multidisciplinary cast of The Tosca Project. Photo by Kevin Berne.

American Conservatory Theatre at San Francisco presents a collaborative project with the San Francisco Ballet in a world premiere dance theater production of The Tosca Project. This piece is a result of a three year collaboration between San Francisco Ballet choreographer Val Caniparoli and A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff, with a cast of dancers and actors. The story is inspired by San Francisco’s Tosca Cafe.

It sounds fascinating, and I’m interested in how artists can switch across theatrical mediums. Pascal Molat has shown ballet audiences that he can act, but can he convince the A.C.T. audience he can act as well? And doesn’t Lorena look fabulous?

A sailor (Pascal Molat) and his girl (Lorena Feijoo) dance a duet to Rosemary Clooney singing “What'll I Do?” Photo by Kevin Berne.

Lorena Feijoo (center) with members of the Tosca Project ensemble (Peter Anderson, left, and Rachel Ticotin, right). Photo by Kevin Berne.

A sailor (Pascal Molat) and his girl (Lorena Feijoo) share a last moment before he heads off to World War II. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Please report back if you’ve seen it – click here for more information and tickets. Check out the SF Chronicle review, here. The Tosca Project closes on July 3 after being extended due to popular demand, with A.C.T. core acting company member René Augesen, Milwaukee Ballet principal dancer Julianna Kepley, and Bay Area ballet dancer Jekyns Pelaez join the ensemble for the extension performances.

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll

When I look back at my favorite plays, I’m often fuzzy on the details, but most of all, I remember a feeling. For Broadway’s revival of Awake and Sing a few years ago, the feeling was a slowly breaking heart of a family falling apart in spite of their tightly clenched fists, hiding a loyal guarded love. History Boys was a feeling of lively razor-sharp wit with a cruel twist. The beauty of plays lies in its transparency, where a tenuous naked world is woven with no music or dancing to hide behind. If a play is successful, I get sucked into its world and get lost in it without realizing it. At American Conservatory Theater’s Rock ‘n’ Roll, the bottom line is that I waited the entire play but never got lost in its world. Spanning the time period of the 1960′s through the 1990′s, going from England to war torn Czechoslovakia with ideals of Marxism and a love of rock and roll in a tumultuous world, the play follows the lead character Jan and the people in his life. Rock ‘n’ Roll was a theatrical spinning merry-go-round, where I was on the outskirts looking in, waiting to get on. But it never stopped to allow me to get on. If I focused hard enough, I would catch glimpses – a witty crack here, a satiric jab at society there, a flash of fiercely tender humanity and love. But in general, things were a blur as the play would march on, wrapped up in its own world with no regard for its audience.

I hardly think I was alone in this sentiment. In general, the audience was a very quiet audience, stunned even in dark scene changes to make the effort at applause. Laughs were more laughs of recognition (“Oh, I actually understood that joke“) rather than genuine merriment. A few rows behind me, there was a woman who was laughing quite loudly and proudly a little too long each time, as if to broadcast her comprehension of what was just said.

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She was mostly laughing alone, I might add, in a completely silent theater. I am reminded of a NY Times article on another one of Tom Stoppard’s plays, his gargantuan Coast of Utopia, in which the journalist writes about an audience’s reluctance to admit that they don’t get Tom Stoppard. In an article titled, “‘Utopia’ Is a Bore. There, I Said It.”:

Some may fear, as my new acquaintance from the plaza did, that to admit dissatisfaction or outright dislike is to advertise one’s intellectual obtuseness or philistinism. The coercive reasoning goes something like this: Everyone says it’s brilliant; I am bored; therefore I am not smart enough to appreciate its brilliance. The play isn’t a failure: I am.

Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been exposed to Tom Stoppard’s writing before, but I have no qualms about saying that I did not understand Rock ‘n’ Roll. My friend immediately deemed it elitist and blatantly exclusive of its audience, and it’s hard not to disagree with her. It’s never a good sign if there are nine pages of program notes that go along with this play, including a time line of relevant history (rock ‘n’ roll, American, and world history) which is basically a requirement to see this play; without having memorized it, I was left wondering who Dubcek and Havel were that the actors kept referring to. If I had understood it, I may have said that this was a brilliant play. Yes, there were moments of smart writing with a core of humanity and loving relationships, but most of it was smothered by a perplexing blur.

My reservations about this play were inherent in the play itself, and not in the production. Directed by ACT’s Carey Perloff, the cast was superb with lots of local homegrown talent. The cast was led by San Francisco native Manoel Felciano as Jan, a rather reserved role that failed to showcase Felciano’s talent and charisma. Rene Augesen as Eleanor/older Esme and Jack Willis as Max were the standouts in this cast, where both actors injected a dose of much needed liveliness to the play. The set design by Douglas W. Schmidt, as shown in the photo above, was imaginative albeit puzzling – the bottom up view was never used literally, and I was left wondering, was it designed to give a sense of open sky in a claustrophobic view? A sense of dreaming while laying down? A world turned on its side? Who knows, the entire play was a big puzzle but a mildly pleasing one.

Maybe this play is for people who grew up in that era, or for Communists, or for rock ‘n’ roll lovers. Maybe it’s just my luck that I don’t relate directly to any of those topics, but the fatal flaw was that this play did not convince me to care.

Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll plays at ACT until October 18th. Click here for more info.

Other takes:

Jolene’s Best of 2007 list

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Best performance of the year: Two shows come to mind -

I spent as much space in a scary moment in Joshua Bell’s show than the more positive aspects of the show, but thinking back in 2007, Bell’s fresh and innovative take on a beautiful yet overfamiliar piece really brought it to life, and it shines in my memory as one of the best performances of the year. Two runner ups, in two pieces that really stand out just because they were so fun: Miami City Ballet’s “In the Upper Room” and SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Best male performer of the year: Raul Esparza in Company, Herman Cornejo spicing up a random collection of pieces at ABT’s first program at Cal Performances in the Le Corsaire pas de deux.

Best female performer of the year: Felicia Fields in the Color Purple, Lea Salonga as Fantine in Les Mis.

Best new discovery of the year: Miami City Ballet

Best regional production of the year: My discovery of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre was a great one, in which I still feel the effects of the quietly moving ripple that was after the quake. Another fun one was Expedition 6, at a much smaller local theater. Just wondering how many more local gems remain to be discovered?

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue: Project Bandaloop at Orange County’s Fall for Dance on the outdoor walls of the OCPAC.

Favorite televised theater event: Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances on PBS

Biggest theater obsession: Jersey Boys

Most anticipated performance for 2008: Company on PBS, watching Alvin Ailey for the first time, SF Ballet’s 75th anniversary season, esp the New Works Festival and Giselle!

The Color Purple Tour

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Before I saw this show on Broadway, it was hard for me to relate to the story of The Color Purple since I really had nothing in common with the main character – the main character grew up destitutely poor, was molested and abused – but I’m glad that my sister made me go see it. I saw it on Broadway the week after LaChanze won the Tony for Best Actress, and completely fell in love. I’m usually not emotional at shows, but

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for some reason, this show hits a harmonic on my heart and sets it off in a dangerous way. This show left me in embarrassing body-wracking sobs and moved me in ways that no other show had ever done before. It’s always made me wonder about its effect on me, and my scientist mind makes me think things like, ‘If I listen to the soundtrack, would that also make me cry? What about The Color Purple is sufficient to make me cry?’ And with this viewing, I think I found the answer – what makes me so emotional is that the orchestration and the music is so well written. When Celie has her baby and is singing her first and only song to her newborn baby, the song she sings actually embodies a mother’s cry. You can even see how Celie’s song is affecting her body, as if she is singing with her whole body, heart, and soul.

It also has some of the funniest moments ever staged, thanks to the unbelievable performance of Felicia Fields. From the first moment when she struts across the stage that makes me laugh, she solidified in my mind, that really great supporting actors are the actors that completely inhabit their roles, and are really hard to replace (other examples: Jack on Will and Grace, Jon Gallagher Jr. in Spring Awakening). I’m still upset that she didn’t win the Tony award that year. Her role as Sophia encompasses the funniest lines of the show, as well as the most rousing, as well as the most heartbreaking. It’s a huge journey her character takes at every performance.

And when I saw that Felicia Fields was on tour, I knew I would have to buy a ticket. And I did.

For me, the standouts of the show weren’t the stunt-casted LaToya London (from American Idol) or Michelle Williams (from Destiny’s Child), although both of them were very good. It was Felicia Fields, with her breadth of acting and who always brings down the house with “Hell No!, and Jeannette Bayardelle as Celie. Bayardelle was a bit of a surprise – granted, when I saw LaChanze, I wasn’t particularly moved by her performance (perhaps she was overshadowed by Fields in my mind?), but Bayardelle was really a force to be reckoned with. Her powerhouse voice brought down the house, from the moment she cried to her baby to the moment she stands up to her husband. (It seems a bit unfair to Michelle Williams, but Bayardelle’s voice completely overshadowed Williams’ singing voice during their duets).

Michelle Williams made for a very sexy Shug Avery, and she is an amazing performer; her rendition of “Push Da Button” brought down the house. What was lacking a little lacking was in her quieter singing moments, especially compared to Jeannette Bayardelle during their quieter duets. LaToya London made for a great Nettie, although her part was too small for her to truly shine.

Overall, what a great show. Go see it if, like me, you didn’t really want to see it. And let me know if it has such an emotional impact on you, maybe I’m just an anomaly.

Currently playing at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. Check the website below for tickets and the rest of their tour.

The Color Purple Tour

More shows coming up this week: Berkeley Rep’s After the Quake, and either The Tosca Project (which I blogged about previously, a collaboration between ACT and SF Ballet), or the Miami City Ballet, a company that I’ve always wanted to see perform Balanchine. I really can’t decide between the two!

Overload?

Is it possible to be “theatered-out”?

This occasion was caused by the last minute appearance of my favorite theater partner, Jen. We saw Sweeney Todd on Thurs (yes, again, and I loved it even more the second time around), thought about going to see Expedition 6 but didn’t quite make it, and then I met up with other friends to see Joffrey Ballet at Cal Performances for matinee today. Afterwards, I went into the city and even walked up to the box office for tickets to see Jeremy Denk (replacing Itzhak Perlman last minute) with the SF Symphony tonight but just knew I wouldn’t make it home tonight if I went.

What’s going to happen when I have more options, such as the SF Opera (who are off tonight) or the SF Ballet? I’m so screwed. It’s really testing my ability to say “no” when it comes to my favorite hobby.

Reviews on these shows coming soon. Going to collapse very soon, am exhausted to even use subjects for my sentences.

Former SF Ballet Dancer Named Artistic Director of the Joffrey

How cool is this? Ashley Wheater has been named the artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet. It’s great to see dancers from the SFB go on to do really cool things in the ballet world. He’s going to be the new Malcolm McDowell character in Robert Altman’s movie, The Company. (I hope he’s nicer than Malcolm McDowell, but who knows, maybe all artistic directors are like him??)

More entries coming soon. Sorry things have been a bit slow on this site, things have been swamped for me – both at work and at play! As I’m sure many of you know, the Jersey Boys are leaving northern California for a good while now. (I think the Jersey Boys singularly count for a good chunk of hits on this site.) The SF Cast’s last performance is on Sunday, with the Sherry cast having left Sacramento last weekend. The past few weeks with the Jersey Boys have included, for me, two backstage tours, two dinners, two late nights at a bar chatting over beers, a few interviews, and lots of fun memories! Whew, it’s just exhausting thinking about it.

Another random fact: Sweeney Todd was on Goldstar Events yesterday. It lasted for about 2 hours before all the available tickets sold out. Keep an eye on it if you want to go. And go see this show!! It is absolutely amazing. Oh wait! I just checked, and possibly more tickets were released? Go now, tickets will disappear soon. Goldstar is actually about a dollar cheaper than the Union Square half price ticket booth, in case people were wondering.

I’m also going to see what this weekend brings. In addition to doing a Western blot (which are ruling my

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life these days), I’m going to try to nip out for a trip to SF to check out Expedition 6, in addition for a bout of ice skating, which I haven’t done in forever. I’m busy, but I’d rather be busy than bored. Life is good.

EDITED TO ADD: Joffrey Ballet is coming to northern California through Cal Performances on Oct 4-6. Perhaps we’ll see more of the Joffrey Ballet now that Ashley Wheater is the artistic director? I hope so! Click here for more info.

Bill Pullman’s Expedition 6 and ACT’s Tosca Project


San Francisco Chronicle photo by Lea Suzuki

Left: Karl Hanover, Right: John Behlmann in Expedition 6

 

At first glance, the fact that this theater piece is directed by Bill Pullman nor the fact that this piece is about the Columbia shuttle disaster did not catch my attention. But reading more into it, it’s caught my curiosity. I’m always a sucker for theater that incorporates dance and music in a play (such as Coram Boy). Expedition 6 uses low trapezes to simulate a sense of anti-gravity through space. Add live music? And then add John Behlmann, who was the sergeant who brings in the pepper in Journey’s End? I’m there.

 

John Behlmann

 

The mixed reviews are a little disconcerting however. I’m afraid it’s going to be another Across the Universe, Julie Taymor’s latest project/movie. Great artistically and visually in theory, not so great when put into practice. I suppose I’ll have to see for myself.

The world premiere of Expedition 6 is playing at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco in association with the Chabot Space & Science Center until October 7. Click here for details.

This imaginative docudrama explores the personal and political life-and-death crisis of two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut stranded in space after the Columbia Shuttle disaster. Pullman uses a company of eight actors, movement, live music, and low-flying trapezes in this stylized new work based on writings by astronauts, NASA reports, and other primary source materials.

I was also reminded of this show when a very nice caller from the American Conservatory Theater called to ask me to be a subscriber. Aside from the discomfort of saying that my schedule and my budget doesn’t allow me to subscribe except to a select few theaters, he mentioned the Tosca Project, a collaboration between ACT and my favorite, the San Francisco Ballet. All I can find about this show is, however, the fact that it already passed. The caller was saying it’s playing again at the Zeum Theatre at the Yerba Buena, but I couldn’t find any more information about it. This show also gets points in my book for having the most attractive picture of Muriel Maffre that I have ever seen.

 

Yes, Maffre’s the one that’s upside down, with actors Jody Flader and Gregory Wallace

This show also includes my favorite ex-SF Ballet dancer Joanna Berman (I can almost forgive her for leaving as soon as I moved closer to SF), Pascal Molat (as a “paranoid druggie”), and Maffre, whose character is described as a “a weird, sexy French lesbian who wants to get near the poet.” Absolutely irresistible!

When you combine two different art forms into one, is the effect exponentially additive? I suppose not always, but it’s experimental and creative – I love it.

Broadway posters

I’m currently trying to put my thoughts together to write about John Doyle’s version of Sweeney Todd, which I saw a few nights ago on its national tour. It is an insurmountable task, because in short, it was the most original piece of theater that I have probably ever seen. It doesn’t help that my respect for this show multiplied several times with the Q&A session with John Doyle, the amazing Tony-award winning director, before the performance. He is a creative genius and the way that he thinks is just… really cool. I love how he thinks about the details, and uses a lot of symbolism and forces the audience to get fully involved in the production. I also love how he started out in small community theaters, and so with that comes a set of practical skills that still manages to fit in with the production at hand, on many different levels. It also helps that he is humble and very charming.

In the meantime…

A press meet occurred with the cast of Pygmalion, which is being done on Broadway in New York. Starring Claire Danes (blatantly obvious from the poster), Jefferson Mays, and Boyd Gaines, it’s being directed by the same director (David Grindley) of Journey’s End, one of my favorite shows on Broadway this past spring. Claire Danes is definitely an unusual choice to play Liza, but I certainly hope that she can meet the challenge. She really needs to have a flair for comedy, and I hope Claire Danes can rise above her usual portrayal of a pouty ingenue. I would go see this show in NY because of the rest of the cast, especially Jefferson Mays and Boyd Gaines, both of whom were absolutely brilliant in Journey’s End. I loved how a critic described Boyd Gaines’ performance as “quietly devastating”; his character was portrayed in such an understated way that was piercingly heartbreaking. And Jefferson Mays is just amazing; I would go see him to play the smallest role, in any show.

Stunt casting at its best. You’d think this was a one-woman show…

Who’s making love to the camera??

David Grindley, Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays, Claire Danes, and Jay O. Sanders

Also, Billy Elliot is dancing its way onto Broadway in Sept 2008! It was announced unconventionally via a poster in Shubert Alley. With music by Elton John, it’ll be a fun show to see this fall.

Looking for Fall

Happy Friday, everyone.

I am not like a lot of people – I get really exhausted towards the end of the week because I usually pack my days and weeknights with activity. Then usually I stay in on Friday (watching TLC’s What Not to Wear in my pajamas), cooking dinner, etc. before I’m up and rearing to go on Saturday morning.

And thank God, theater season is back! The summer doldrums are slowly drying up, and lots to look forward to.

  • SF Symphony tickets now on sale! Go get yours now, here. The season opens with the Opening night gala on September 19, with the beautiful Renee Fleming.Ticket prices make it impossible for me to attend (ranging from $130 – 250), but the program is absolutely fabulous, with a good mix of classics and contemporary (Copland, Ravel, Adams, Puccini, and Prokofiev). Galas should be extravantly decadent, not modest! This one is.

© Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved.

And, because it’s a Friday (for no other reason, of course), I’m going to post the following below. Hey, it’s tied to Avenue Q, which is closing at the Orpheum this Sunday. (It also reminded me of a comment Jen made yesterday on this blog.)

Tickets on sale and more broadway secrets

Happy Friday, everyone.

Summer doldrums have definitely set in. It feels like how 110 in the Shade must have felt like – waiting for the rain to come. And it’s coming soon! Be prepared, here are some important ticket dates:

  • John Doyle’s Sweeney Todd tickets currently on sale! Click here to get yours, can’t WAIT for this show.
  • Berkeley Repertory Theatre single tickets for its 40th anniversary season go on sale on August 19.
  • San Francisco Symphony tickets go on sale on August 30.
  • SF Ballet Nutcracker tickets go on sale on September 4. If you haven’t seen Helgi Tomasson’s new production of this magical ballet, you have to see it. It was one of those shows where I was smiling the entire time. It brings back such personal memories for me as well.
  • Avenue Q is currently playing at the Orpheum Theater in SF! Press coverage of the tour have come out, with the usual descriptive words of “irreverent”, “hilarious”, and “touching”.

On a random note: broadwaysecrets was particularly good this week. Some of my favorites:

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I just finished the 7th Harry Potter book two nights ago, staying up til 3 am reading it. I don’t know about having a musical about it, but I love the casting choices made by whoever made this.