Monday, July 25, 2016

The Best Goodbye

The Best Goodbye

According to playwright Gill Sotu, this review was filled with errors. Because I have no way of knowing how the review erred, other than in the spelling of his name, I have deleted it.

Charlene Baldridge

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Gay Marriage and Ruthless!

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Witness: A Gay Marriage

Company of A Gay Marriage
Photos by Kaleb Scott
After a decade of contented coupledom, songwriter Jack (Tom Andrew) and his conventionally employed partner, Brian (Michael Lundy), tied the knot, mostly because of the recently enacted law regarding same-sex marriage but also because they love one another.  Ever since they made it official, things have been going sour in their relationship. Or was it the boon of Jack’s hit song, sold to Carrie Underwood, that turned the tide by providing the long-dependent Jack his own income?

At any rate, they’re acting more like Brian's long-wed hetero parents, retired criminal prosecutor Morty (J. Marcus Newman) and his homemaker wife Eileen (Patricia Elmore Costa). Certainly Jack's divorced sister Karen (Sherri Allen) is no role model. And yet, when Jack leaves Brian without warning, having developed what he considers destructive and abnormal feelings (he literally wants to kill Brian), each flies to these very relatives seeking understanding and succor.
Andrew and Lundy as the newlyweds
On the surface a comedy, A Gay Marriage, billed as “a new play about what happens after the honeymoon ends” (written and directed by Ronnie Larsen), is incisive and insightful, providing wisdom and truth as enacted by this fine, committed and impressive ensemble.

Sadly, A Gay Marriage runs only through July 31, Wednesdays at 8 and Fridays and Sundays at 7pm at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd., San Diego. A Gay Marriage plays in alternating repertory with Larsen’s comedy about you-know-what, Making Porn. Schedule and tickets ($25) at

Apparently word of mouth sells tickets

Stellar pair: McBean and Bowman
Photos by Daren Scott

Word of mouth about Moxie Theatre’s production of the near cult musical Ruthless! must account for the nearly filled house Thursday, July 21. The spoofy piece, with book and lyrics by Joel Paley and music by Marvin Laird, is co-directed by Leigh Scarritt and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, who cast it to the nines. Scarritt provides her own Leigh Scarritt Productions “kids” (students and members of her singer/actor youth ensemble) to portray elementary school thespians whose drama teacher (Jeannine Marqui) is casting a musical titled Pippi in Tahiti.

A frustrated performer unaware, Judy Denmark (Eileen Bowman) has an 8-year-old daughter named Tina (Madison O’Donovan) who covets the title role of Pippi. When it goes to Louise Lerman (Hayley Silvers) instead (her parents sponsored the production and provide costumes) Tina becomes the Pippi understudy, in part to assuage her anger. Promptly, she goes “bad seed” and arranges for Louise to die in a jump-rope accident.

McBean as Sylvia St. Croix
There are many other film associations, situations, characters and performances that keep the musical moving along after it starts to grow tedious, and it does, despite so many ghastly/wonderful one-liners; however, the performers pull it off, including the amazing about-to-be second-grader O’Donovan, who has enough poise and vocal chops to be two decades or more older than she is. She’s like the niece in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, only her star turn lasts all evening.
Launer as LIta
As if Bowman and O'Donovan weren’t enough, the list of delicious, seasoned performers is extraordinary. In a role that could have been written for him, David McBean, who can do no wrong here) portrays Sylvia St. Croix, a sarcastic, pushy agent, who shows up in Judy’s kitchen after seeing Tina perform at the Rolling Hills Home for the Aged, and asks Tina, “How would you like to be a star?”

Others include real-life theatre critic Pat Launer as Lita Encore, a theatre critic who happens to be Tina’s grandmother (and who even gives her a bad review!); Cashe Monya, who becomes Judy’s housekeeper when Tina goes to prison, and Judy wins two Tony Awards; and perhaps the most subtle and funny of all, Shirley Johnston as a lesbian journalist who comes to interview Judy. As most all do, she, too, has a secret agenda. And then, the night I saw the show, longtime School of the Visual and Performing Arts teacher, Neil Rothschild played the two line, 11th hour role of Judy’s husband, Richard. This actor in this cameo varies every night but none will display better timing and naiveté than this one.

O'Donovan and Bowman
as reunited daughter and mother

Funniest songs in the show are “I Hate Musicals” (Launer), “Teaching Third Grade” (Marquie), and “I Want the Girl” (McBean); and of course the climactic “Ruthless!” sung by Bowman, McBean and O’Donovan. The end is rather “Hamlet,” but that makes Richard’s entrance even more hilarious.

I met McBean’s niece and his mother in the lobby before the show. The child’s major complaint in viewing Uncle David's performances thus far has been that her he never has enough gowns. He surely does this time, thanks to costume designer Kate Bishop, whose “Pippi” costume achieves a high mark of some kind. Missy Bradstreet’s wigs are a hoot; Johnston provides choreography; set and properties by Angelia Ynfante and lighting by Sherrice Mojgani. David Scott did what he could with the venue’s challenging acoustics.

Ruthless! plays at 7pm Thursdays, 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays through August 7, Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego 92116. $30, or 858-598-7620.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Ion's 20th Century and NCRT's "Ain't Misbehavin'

Charlene Baldridge
Photo: Ken Howard
People Will Do Anything to Get the Part

In the Off the Radar series at the Elaine Lipinsky Stage (Blkbox @Sixth at Pennsylvania) in Hillcrest, ion theatre presents (through July 24 only!) Tom Jacobson’s incendiary The Twentieth-Century Way.

Colton Iverson and Richard Johnson in ion's incendiary The Twentieth-Century Way
Photo by Daren Scott
The work concerns two actors – debutant Colton Iverson as Brown and ion veteran Richard Johnson (Jesus Hates Me and Lydia) as Warren – who show up for a Hollywood film audition. No one is there to conduct the audition. When Warren arrives, Brown has been waiting for more than an hour, proof he really needs and wants the part. While they’re waiting – apparently to audition for the same role – they size each other up as men do. Warren suggests they do a little improv to warm up and show each other what they've got in the way of acting chops.

The improv scenario is 1914 Long Beach and the action involves detectives and newspaper men involved in rounding up and reporting on men involved in anonymous sex. Those acquainted with the work of John Rechy will recognize the ever-recurring scene.
Iverson and Johnson
Photo by Daren Scott
Over the course of an increasingly brutal sexual encounter the two actors do show each other everything they’ve got, overt and covert, through the creation of numerous characters, some of them seductive, all the while maintaining calm, deliberate and cool actors’ approach.

Not for those who object to clinical language, nudity and simulated sex, the piece (produced by Glenn Paris) shows off the skills of two fine actors: Iverson, purposefully insecure and willing to do anything to get the role, and Johnson, always in control as the manipulator. Claudio Raygoza once again demonstrates his genius as director and designer, creating relentless suspense with Jacobson’s astonishing piece, which is certainly full of laughs (nervous and otherwise) despite the increasing suspense and darkness.  It is Hollywood writ true.

Meanwhile, Johnson grows in stature (he’s in the upcoming Airline Highway), and has the most gorgeous butt currently on San Diego stages. 

In his bio Iverson calls The Twentieth-Century Way “this behemoth of a play.” It is that, indeed. or (619) 600-5020.

Recreating ‘Fats’

Many years ago at the interval of what was likely the regional premiere of the 1978 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Fats Waller Musical Show, I remember this overheard remark – one of my favorite overheard remarks of all time – at the interval: “They’re all black, and there’s no plot.  What kind of musical is this?”

Lest there be any doubt as to the genre, Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue comprising the pianist/composer’s spicy, jazzy, bluesy oeuvre, for the most part. In addition to Best Musical, the list of the Tony Award winners included performer Nell Carter and director Richard Maltby, Jr. The other performers, whose first names forever identify the characters in the musical revue, were Charlaine Woodard, Armelia McQueen, André de Shields, and Ken Page. Several of them appeared on San Diego stages, most notablyTony nominee André de Shields, who created the role of Noah “Horse” Simmons in Jack O’Brien’s original production of The Full Monty.

At North Coast Repertory, under the capable guidance of director Yvette Freeman, a veteran of the New York and international touring productions of Ain’t Misbehavin’ (she replaced Carter), the
The company of Ain't Misbehavin'Photo by Aaron Ruumley
company (the one-named Yvonne, Cynthia Thomas, Ron Christopher Jones, Anise Ritchie, and Tony Perry) soars, especially in the more relaxed second act, which contains such enjoyable numbers as “Your Feet’s Too Big” (with its devastatingly funny lyric “Your pedal extremities are colossal”), “The Viper’s Song,” “Find Out What They Want and How They Like It,” the sublimely sung “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue,” and “Fat and Greasy.”

A dynamite instrumental combo is elevated house right, comprising pianist/conductor Kevin Toney, Danny King (drums), Greg McKinney (bass), Julian Davis (trumpet) and Malcolm Jones (reeds). They alone would be worth the admission cost in anyone’s theatre.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ continues through 7pm August 7 at North Coast Rep, 987 D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach ( or 858-481-1055). Then it moves for a brief run August 11-14 at California Center for the Arts, Escondido ( or 800-988-4253).

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hershey Felder as "Maestro"

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
The Classical Experience -- 'Maestro"

One of the most enjoyable musical experiences of the year – and certainly the prolific Hershey Felder’s best Composer’s Sonata profile* so far – plays at San Diego Repertory only through July 17, so you’d better take action to be there. The fully ripe and satisfying work is on to a New York engagement in September at 59e59, and Felder will not return to San Diego until January, when he presents his Tchaikovsky at the Rep.

Hershey Felder (Bernstein in background)
Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro” is a lavishly detailed survey of Bernstein’s wondrous and tragic artistic and personal life, in which the composer/conductor’s desires were completely thwarted, in which he amassed knowledge from the best, enjoyed the pleasures of home and hearth and children, and yet was frustrated by lack of satisfaction in two areas.

After achieving fame as the composer of West Side Story, Bernstein (1918-1990) wanted first and foremost to be recognized as a serious classical composer. Right up there with that desire, but certainly not overt, was his eventual acceptance and fulfillment of his lifelong bisexuality. After many years of happy marriage and three children, Bernstein left his wife, Felicia, for a short-lived relationship with Tom Cothran. Soon after, Felicia contracted cancer and died in 1978. The remorseful Bernstein returned, and they share a redemptive parting at her deathbed. Felder also gives us some idea of Bernstein’s Ukrainian-Jewish roots, including his disapproving father, afraid his son would never be able to support himself as a musician.

At an early age, Bernstein fell in love with his cousin Lillian’s grand piano. He took $1 piano lessons from a teacher whose talents he surpassed in a year. Then it was on to $3 piano lessons he paid for himself by teaching, and then, on to playing for parties while at Harvard University. These brought him connections with conducting and composing royalty such as Aaron Copland, Fritz Reiner, Dmitri Mitropoulos, and Serge Koussevitzky (who took him to Tanglewood), and Bruno Walter. Their influence was profound and some  may have been his lovers. 
At age 25 when Bernstein was “ready to conduct the universe,” he got an emergency call to conduct the New York Philharmonic in a worldwide radio broadcast of (among others) Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture and Richard Strauss’s Don Quichotte. A little more than 10 years later, he became the conductor of that orchestra, and later became renowned for his television series, “Young People’s Concerts.”

The glory of Felder’s work is his integration of story and glorious music by Gustav Mahler (Bernstein was his champion), Wagner (Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde) and Gershwin (piano works), plus, at telling moments, his own music (“Someday” from 1957’s Broadway phenomenon, West Side Story). He both sings and plays parts of all this music and presents a soft-spoken Bernstein, as he says, for us to love or hate. But certainly to admire.

Hershey Felder conducts as Bernstein
Bernstein’s own compositions have yet to be fully recognized for their genius. Among my favorites are his Mass, performed here locally by La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, and of course his much revised opera/operetta Candide.

Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro” is directed by Joel Zwick, with scenic design by François-Pierre Couture, lighting and projection design by Christopher Ash, sound design/line projection by Erik Carstensen, and associate direction by Trevor Hay.

Performances Wednesdays through Sundays through July 17. or 619-544-1000. If you go, be aware that the elevator that takes one from Street level to the theatre is not in operation. Ask for special assistance by phoning the box office.

News Flash, July 10: From one who knows, the elevator is now in operation. Still a good idea to phone. 

*Others in the Composers Sonata series are Beethoven, Irving Berlin, Frederic Chopin, George Gershwin, Franz Liszt, and soon, Tchaikovsky.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Saturday and "Sunday"

Charlene Baldridge
80 years ago
Sunday in the Park with George

Friday night at San Diego Museum of Art’s Copley Auditorium, ion theatre, in association with San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA), opened its production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1984 Broadway, Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park With George, co-directed by ion Producing Artistic Director Glenn Paris and Kim Strassburger, with musical direction by Mark Danisovszky. Executive Artistic Director Claudio Raygoza is the producer. The first professional production of the work in San Diego, Sunday in the Park with George continues Tuesdays-Sundays through July 16.

If you’re a Sondheim devotee like I, you’re not seeing Sunday in the Park for the first time (I saw it at The Goodman in Chicago many years ago and the painting was on view at the Art Institute one block away—the Art Institute was my home away from home when I was studying voice in the Loop). I plan on buying a ticket to see it again.
Melissa Fernandes as Dot
and the company of Sunday in the Park
Photo by Daren Scott

Be assured the ion company is as good as that seen anywhere, starting with the leads (Melissa Fernandes as Dot/Marie and Jon Lorenz as Georges/George) and moving right through the entire company of 14 to the smallest, Louise, the Child, played by 5th grader Katrina Heil.

Jon Lorenz as George, who returns to La Grande Jette
in Act II
Photo by Daren Scott
Others in the outstanding company (where else such a gathering of San Diego’s finest?) are Stewart Calhoun, Morgan Carberry, Devlin, Walter DuMelle, Priti Gandhi, Patrick Gates, Jesse MacKinnon, Lizzie Morse, Julia Nardi-Loving and Wendy Waddell.

Sunday in the Park with George concerns the French painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891), his innovative, post-impressionist style (pointillism), and his utter concentration on his work in progress, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. In Lapine’s book for the musical, Georges’ obsession causes him to neglect Dot, his mistress, who also poses for him (“I love your painting; I feel I’m fainting” in the opening, title song). Ultimately she leaves him and marries Louis, the Baker (Charlie Gange) and soon after gives birth to Marie, Georges’ daughter. She and Louis move to America. To thrilling effect, every character in the musical’s first act appears in Seurat’s painting, which also opens Act II with “It’s Hot Up Here.”

Mixing up the centuries in Act II:
Fernandes as Dot and Lorenz as her grandson,
Photo by Daren Scott
Each actor plays a different character in the musical’s much shorter second act, which takes place 100 years later in a museum. Lorenz plays Georges’ artist grandson, George, and Fernandes plays Dot’s daughter, Marie, George’s mother, now an old woman in a wheelchair. George, a successful sound sculptor stuck in a rut, searches for meaning – (“we leave only two worthwhile things behind, art and children”). George feels like he’s got a good thing going but he’s been doing it over and over again and it’s killing his creative purpose. His assistant leaving him to return to NASA is a real wakeup call. And it isn’t until he gives credence to his heritage through reading Dot’s notebook and returns to La Grande Jatte that he gets the inspiration to move forward.

Though Sunday in the Park has deeply amusing lyrics, and harkens both back and forward in his oeuvre musically, the work is as impressionistic as the impressionists, as forward-looking as the then soon to be erected Eiffel Tower, it is quite unlike any other musical, even one by Sondheim. Interesting to note that Georges’ artistic principals are based on scientific theory of color; and George’s art is based on mathematics of sound and color.
The work in progress: Dot & Company
Photo by
Daren Scott

Many theatergoers are confused by the musical’s abrupt disconnect between the acts and fail to admire the piece as a total, moving investigation into, and celebration of, the singular, obsessive, artistic process, and a constructive exhortation and celebration of the challenge faced by those who live on the periphery of an artist’s inability to connect. Somewhere in the vastness of Act Two’s eternity Dot gets it, and somewhere, as well, George realizes the vastness of artistic possibilities at his fingertips. That’s why the second act is so vital to the whole.

There’s no rake in this auditorium, so plan to arrive early to select a seat with an unobstructed view. The stage is elevated. The musical is accompanied by two grand pianos, house right, one manned by Danisovszky, the other by the excellent Daniel James Greenbush. Kudos to the company for clean diction and to the un-credited sound designer and sound operator Spencer Lynn for the cleanest sound ever in this auditorium, at least from my front row seat far house left, where noise from the restaurant outside the doors occasionally intruded. I just chalked it up to murmurs from the river.

Other designers are projections designer Blake McCarty; costume designer Janet Turner Pitcher; lighting designer Christopher Loren Renda; and scenic designer Matt Scott.

 Sunday in the Park with George: continues through July 16; Tues @ 7pm; Thurs & Fri @8pm; Sat @ 2pm and 8pm; Sun @ 2pm. Actual dates are: Fri July 2, 2pm & 8pm; Sun July 3, 2pm; Tues July 5,
7pm; Thurs July 7, 8pm; Fri July 8, 8pm; Sat July 9, 2pm & 8pm; Sun July 10, 2pm; Tues July 12, 7pm; Thu July14, 8pm; Fri July 15, 8pm; Sat July 16 2pm & 8pm.
Where – The James S. Copley Auditorium at The San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, San Diego, CA, 92101
Tickets – General Admission: $45; Senior (60+): $35; Military: $35; Student: $35. Discounts
available for ion and SDMA members. or (619) 600-5020.

The Fringe and I Sputter Out

Saturday morning, I took an internationally aware friend to see Bin Laden: The One Man Show, knowing how much he would appreciate what I consider the finest of the Fringe. He did. And I enjoyed seeing the well-researched, terrifying piece again, coming away with an even greater understanding of its intent and the threat we still face on a daily basis. Today in Baghdad. This week in Istanbul and Bangladesh.

Samuel Redway as Bin Laden
Photo courtesy SD Fringe Festival

 Saturday afternoon I went down to the Spreckels only to find A) no parking, and B), I’d bollixed up my schedule, and C) the elevator at the Lyceum was out of order so I could not get to Nations of San Diego Dance. So after spending $10 to park and after seeing one horrible, interminable, nameless show at the Geoffrey, I gave up and came home, an ignominious conclusion to an otherwise favorable Fringe Festival. Lessons: things do not always go smoothly, one I’m still learning at 82, and energy is no longer inexhaustible.