Editors' Picks: July 2015
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
You already know that TBA’s journalism is undergoing huge changes. Well, you’re looking at another one of those changes right here: beginning this month, we will publish “TBA Editors’ Picks” on a monthly basis, instead of once every two months. Additionally, alongside the picks made by TBA’s communications manager Laura Brueckner and listings editor Kim Cohan, we will publish one set of picks written by a guest editor, someone with a strong relationship to our organization who shares our passion for Bay Area theatre. This month, our guest editor is Alan Kline, TBA’s marketing resources manager and an irrepressible aficionado of musicals.
Editors’ Picks: Laura Brueckner, TBA communications manager
The Emperor Jones
New City Company at Cyclone Warehouse, San Francisco
Jul. 10-Aug. 2
The Emperor Jones is a rarity: an aggressive, stylistically challenging play that garnered both critical raves and commercial success when it opened—in the mid-1920s, no less—and with a complex, larger-than-life lead role written for an African American actor to boot. The play that launched Eugene O’Neill’s career, Emperor Jones has had a fascinating production history, including a world-premiere New York run lasting 204 performances; a second run starring a talented up-and-comer named Paul Robeson (you may have heard of him); a multi-state WPA Federal Theatre Project run that included a terrifying-sounding marionette version staged in Los Angeles in 1938; and a 100% sold-out run produced eight years ago by the Wooster Group, which, as part of its tightly layered “post-dramatic” aesthetic, presented legendary white, female actor Kate Valk in blackface as Jones, inspiring both breathless accolades and fiery criticism. The phenomenal Carl Lumbly stars in this production, which will be staged in a San Francisco warehouse. Visit their Brown Paper Tickets page (because that's the only online spot other than Facebook we can find).
Carl Lumbly as Troy Maxson in Marin Theatre Company's 2014 production of August Wilson's Fences, with Margo Hall (Rose) and Steven Anthony Jones (Bono). Photo: Ed Smith
Life Is a Dream
California Shakespeare Theater, Orinda
Jul. 11-Aug. 2
Bay Area audiences are in for a treat with this production: Cuban dramatist Nilo Cruz, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna in the Tropics, drapes his poetic language on the dramatic framework of the enduring Spanish classic, Life Is a Dream. Sean San Jose leads the cast as the (anti-)hero Segismundo, a prince, wrongly imprisoned, who is bent on vengeance; among the rest of the impressive cast is Jomar Tagatac, charged with providing welcome comic relief as the clown, Clarin. Several noteworthy offstage artists are contributing to this project too, including Dave Maier (fight director) and Cliff Caruthers (sound designer). Visit calshakes.org.
SF Playhouse, San Francisco
Jul. 11-Sep. 12
There’s really nothing to not like about the most unsingable masterpiece of American musical theatre. (Seriously, sing something from Company right now, I dare you.) And its investigation of the perils of ambivalence and where the grass is actually greener when it comes to romantic commitment is likely to feel even more poignantly relevant in the digital app-mediated dating culture of the Bay Area today. TBA Award winner Monique Hafen shares the stage with TBA columnist and Bay Area treasure Velina Brown, whose voice alone is enough to make me swipe right on this production. Visit sfplayhouse.org.
Editors’ Picks: Kim Cohan, TBA listings editor
Call Me Miss Birds Eye: A Celebration of Ethel Merman
Acoustic Voice at ACT’s Geary Theater, San Francisco
Get ready for some good ol’ traditional Broadway belting—without a microphone. Written by Jack Tinker and directed by Frank McCarty, Call Me Miss Birds Eye celebrates the life of one of Broadway’s greatest: Ethel Merman. The revue delves into her family life, how she handled rejection and stood strong against musical theatre’s most famous composers. In fact, the title of the show comes from Merman’s reply to Irving Berlin, when he attempted to change lyrics in Call Me Madam just a few days before opening: “Call me Miss Birds Eye,” she said. “It’s frozen.” The revue is performed Bel Canto; a traditional Italian vocal technique that centers around the lyrical, unamplified projection of the voice, a technique which has all but disappeared in today’s rock- and pop-heavy, uber-amplified musical theatre world. This North American premiere is produced by Australia’s Acoustic Voice, a musical theatre company that works exclusively with Bel Canto technique. Visit act-sf.org.
Martin Grimwood, Denise Wharmby and Don Bridges perform in Call Me Miss Birds Eye: A Celebration of Ethel Merman at ACT’s Geary Theater.
Project Ahab; or, Eye of the Whale
Central Works at the Berkeley City Club
Jul. 18-Aug. 23
Take Moby Dick, plop the story into the early years of the ecology movement and tweak the plot—from “kill the whale” to “save all whales”—and the result is this new musical. Or more simply put: “Ahab goes after the whalers.” Project Ahab comes from writer Gary Graves, musical director Ben Euphrat and director John Patrick Moore, created using the collaborative play development process for which Central Works is known. Set in 1973, the musical will draw from traditional seafaring music as well as folk and pop tunes from the ‘70s, including local Berkeley icon Country Joe McDonald and the Youngbloods’ Jesse Colin Young. More information here. Visit centralworks.org.
The Desk Set
No Nude Men at Exit Stage Left, San Francisco
July 9-25, 2015
Four women researchers’ careers are threatened by new technological advancements. Sound familiar? William Marchant’s The Desk Set was adapted into a rom-com in 1957, but the premise and themes are still incredibly relevant today. The play touches on gender roles in the workplace, ever-changing expectations in the post-tech boom world and the very real presence of technology, which for decades now has affected work availability throughout the world. No Nude Men has kept the comedy in its original 1950s setting, giving the audience a nice window to draw connections from more than half a century ago to today’s problems and essential questions. Visit theexit.org.
Editors’ Picks: guest editor, Alan Kline, TBA marketing resources coordinator
Matilda the Musical
SHN at the Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco
Jul. 15–Aug. 15
Roald Dahl is one of Britain’s most popular children’s authors. Despite almost a dozen film adaptations of his novels, somehow no mainstream theatrical adaptation of his work was created for five decades. The Royal Shakespeare Company filled that gap in 2011 and beat the record for most Olivier Awards for a musical in the process. Dramatist Dennis Kelly (Love and Money), wry musical comedian Tim Minchin and Tony Award-winning director Matthew Warchus (Broadway’s God of Carnage) may be an unlikely team for what is ostensibly a children’s show, but the source deals with abusive adults, isolated children and growing up in a non-Disney-fied world, balanced with Dahl’s trademark empowerment, humor and hope. Ongoing runs in London and on Broadway suggest they’ve nailed it—and now that it’s on tour, SHN has ensured San Francisco was its second stop. Visit shnsf.com.
The Broadway cast of Matilda, the Musical. Photo: Joan Marcus
TheatreWorks, Palo Alto
Jul. 8-Aug. 2
If Memphis is any indication, when TheatreWorks brings a musical from their New Works Festival to the main stage, it’s best to pay attention. This time, director Meredith McDonough returns from Louisville to direct Triangle. Frequent collaborators Curtis Moore (composer) and Thomas Mizer (lyricist) join Joshua Scher (colibrettist) to tell two love stories: one revolves around the victims of the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the other involves a modern-day scientist whose lab has been built on the site of the destroyed factory. With a modern musical sound à la Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years), this musical explores not just the nature of love, but how society gets in its way. Visit theatreworks.org.
Lorraine Hansberry Theatre at Creativity Theater, San Francisco
If there were an award for most resilient Bay Area theatre company, it would go to Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. Despite having to relinquish two performance venues and endure the loss of its two founders, the company has rallied and stayed active by partnering with local theatres. The latest season ends with Thurgood, in which artistic director and Bay Area powerhouse Steven Anthony Jones stars as Thurgood Marshall. Playwright George Stevens Jr.’s one-man play reflects on the first African American Supreme Court Justice’s achievements and passions. Margo Hall (an acting finalist twice over at last year’s TBA Awards) takes the director’s chair for this timely look at a civil rights and legal hero. Visit lhtsf.org.