REVIEW – Geeks Vs. Zombies – The Pear Theatre

I spend what I’m sure most would consider an inordinate amount of time planning for the Zombie Apocalypse. This is not a concept (read: eventual presumed circumstance) that causes me any type of anxiety mind you, on the contrary; true preparedness affords you yoda-like calm even in even the most intense of post-election scenarios. Zombie experts all pretty much agree, it’s not a question of if, but when and at least I have time and a plethora of pop resources available to me to help inform my Z-Day plan. Given this pastime of mine, you can imagine that I sat down to the Pear Theatre’s Geek Vs. Zombies with an arsenal of “knowledge” and premeditated arguments ready to color my feeling about the show. I’m thrilled to report that a) no actual zombies sighting have been confirmed to date, and b) I found the show to be a delightful love letter to the flesh eating undead and the geeks who idolize them.

While I’d say the overall plot arch wasn’t entirely original or wholly unpredictable, the dialogue is natural, funny and so packed with geek references/homage that I pretty much fangirled all over the theater (sorry, my bad). With a Kevin Smith kind of clever, supported irreverence and a healthy dose of dorm room one-uppery, the banter flows and paces enjoyably. Sure there are some crass jokes, language some might find tasteless or unnecessary, but I thought the commitment to the world of the characters permits it all. Plus I’m not a little bitch when it comes to four letter words or dick jokes. I imagine those on the outside of (many) inside jokes would be justified in scratching their heads at 3 people audience right finding it hard to catch their breath from laughter, but those are also the kind of people that would probably put baby in a corner. It should be noted as well that hearing “Salacious [B.] Crumb” uttered on stage was kind of a religious experience. I feel the world could totally benefit from more, non-ironic, completely legitimate, accurate descriptive mentions of Jabba the Hutt’s slave Jester. I feel in this moment THAT’s what would make America great again, people. Take note world leaders, I think the writers are on to a lot of things here. With verbal and visual gags galore, it’s important to also acknowledge there’s heart served up with those braaaaiiinnsss and that brief-but-key and intentionally present sentimentality is brought to life (or back to life?) every bit as much as the joking by a cast of talent clearly enjoying itself.

Indeed, not only was the source material 10,000% amazing, but the handling of it, especially by our fantastic four (Loomis, Wallace, Blair, and Macready) was charming, natural and oozed with chemistry. The casting achieved evil genius status as our loveable anti-hero quartet raised the bromance bar, demonstrating some serious Geek Squad goals. There’s a Stand by Me kind of bond among the boys/men/man-children/dorks, and their honest rapport is depicted with the balance of both bold, over-the-top and understated, subtle choices. Based on performance alone, if THEY are the last four guys left to repopulate the human race after the Z.A, it’s all gonna be totally copacetic. Our tour guide Milo’s deadpan is certainly something you’ve seen if you frequent Bay Area Theater and the delivery really couldn’t have been more perfect for this show. The entire ensemble possesses and executes courageous comic timing and I appreciated a grounded yet perky performance from our omniscient entity.

The soundtrack easily warranted its own bow at curtain call setting tone and expectation even before the show started. Harvey Danger, Muse, Beastie Boys, Lord of the Rings, this is pretty much the playlist I’m going to queue up in my own Jeep after that first Zombie sighting. Speaking of first zombie sighting, without any spoilers, MOST ACCURATE MOMENT EVER. Totally spot on realistic reaction. One of many favorite moments, executed so perfectly it felt like 4K 3D with Dolby Surround Sound. I may have audibly yelled “Yes.” I can neither confirm nor deny.

Technically this show didn’t need much and that’s mostly what they settled on. The set was simple but certainly functional, the fight choreography did what it needed to, and the makeup was in no danger of fooling anyone there was a real zombie infiltrating the cast. Costumes were perfectly “normal” (10-1 most of the actors brought their own outfits in what may have been a little bit of totally awesome type casting) and there were some oddly designed or executed lighting, but none of that detracted too much from the wit, snark and geekalicious performances.

In glorious summation, my take-aways from this production were ample.

1) Validation for 90% of my own Zombie Survival Plan – I’m on the right track

2) A much needed laughter ab of steel workout (look out Thor).

3) Realization that my beloved 80’s just can’t get a break

4) A two hour break from thinking about anything aside from how much I felt a part of this conversation

I know this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of brains, but I personally adored this show and found it to be exactly what I needed on a Saturday night. Jabba no doubt would let Salacious live to jest another day. At the very least, if you’re a sci-fi inclined, video gaming, zombie film-loving, comic book aficionado and/or identify as a card-carrying geek, I feel confident you will find this time even better spent than a LAN party. No cheats and no codes, level up and assemble to the Pear! Geeks Vs. Zombies scores 4 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a silly (and let’s face it, empirically informative) romp, ripe with clever phrasing, pleasing performances  and  topical/contemporary humor. Geeks Vs. Zombies play through December 18th at the Pear Theatre in Mountain View.

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REVIEW – Mary Poppins – Hillbarn Theatre

When it was announced that Hillbarn Theatre would produce Mary Poppins, I must admit I flinched a bit. It’s a pretty iconic entity and it traditionally requires significant budget and space to pull off a relatively complex production. Additionally, you have a film (not to mention Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) to compete with in terms of overall expectations. It’s a huge risk (for which I always support a company for taking) and one I looked forward to seeing. While the theater has succeeded in some large, spectacular shows in the past, this endeavor for me posed too many obstacles to buy into fully.

With a few exceptions, the talent in this production was up to the task. Overall, clearly very well cast. Our Mary Poppins looks, acts and sounds the part to a tee/tea! Our children, Jane and Michael Banks steal the show with their comfort in and commitment to their characters. Mrs. Banks had substance and wit and vocally satisfies. Mr. Banks wasn’t maybe I strict and rigid as I’d expect (which made his arch a tad weaker) but I enjoyed 2nd act Mr. Banks a lot. I wanted more charm and mystery in Bert, but he handled the fun and challenging choreography well and his Bank Chairman was enjoyable. Katie Nanna and Robertson provided some sweet comic timing and slapstick as did a stellar dog puppet that graced the stage multiple times. Mrs. Andrews possesses the most formidable set of pipes on the stage and the rest of the ensemble was solid all around.

Now that we’ve had our spoonful of sugar, let’s address the medicine in the room. Flight. I imagine OSHA, our litigious society and the like have quite ruined flying for audiences and theater companies on any kind of a budget. Surely though, there must have been another way to achieve Mary and Bert’s flight in a way that was less … ridiculous. It took longer to hook and unhook Bert and Mary on stage than I think they actually spent flying. The rigging was loud and visible. It wasn’t a case of pretend you didn’t see the wires, it was awkward and distracting. The hooks for the rigging disrupted the otherwise lovely costuming in many occasions and in the end the bang was more of a wimper with regard to that particular effect. If Mary and Bert had to fly (and I suppose many would say it would have been a bigger letdown had they not) I think it would have behooved the production to make different choices. Employ illusionists, magicians, engineers, imagineers, think outside that box however you have to, but I emplore the theater world to solve this problem for productions in seasons to come. Personally, I’d have much preferred to see the theater make fun of the fact that it had some flight limitations by using puppets (shadow or otherwise) and a clothesline over the approach they took. The alternative low tech solution might be cheesy, but at least they would be intentionally so. While maybe it didn’t bother the children in the audience, I just couldn’t “suspend” my belief when it came to the suspension.

Aside from flight, the biggest challenges for me with this show came down to matters of balance. The orchestra (while I fully appreciate their quality of playing) was far too loud from where I was and mics seemed to complicate matters for most cast members. Indeed, the actors seemed to struggle to hear themselves and each other over the volume in numerous places and tempos even went astray at time.

Additionally, balance (or lack thereof) impacted how sets were used in this unique theater space. While it never ceases to amaze me how entire sets can appear out of nowhere at this theater, there were many short scenes and long scene changes. The problem wasn’t in the quality of the sets (they were fun and functional), but the interruption in flow. While perhaps a novelty at first, the elaborate changes grew cumbersome and dragged on before the end of the first act.

While the spirit of the Mary Poppins story is whole-heartedly infused and the talent mostly present, I left feeling the choices (and maybe this particular show, full stop) were just too big an undertaking for this theater at this time. In a case of one step forward, two step back, it just had too many things that detracted from the things that were done well.  While I was hoping for a more magical evening, even if it meant stripping down some of the technical tricks to fit the space, the result is a slightly less supercalifragalistic 3 out of 5 jewels in review tiara for what ultimately felt like a more amateur production in many ways than Hillbarn is known for. Mary Poppins plays through December 18th at the Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City.

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REVIEW- Phantom of the Opera – Broadway San Jose

There’s something driving crowds to the theater still to see Phantom of the Opera, but aside from nostalgia and a few good songs, I’m not really sure what that driving force is. I’m one of those very rare folks that has never experienced the show live, despite having grown up listening to the soundtrack. Having never seen the original version, I can’t comment personally on the changes/updates that have been made to this production, but I will say several people I talked with who have seen both versions weren’t thrilled with the parts left out and I wasn’t sold on many of the parts “left” in. It’s a rare miss for me and Broadway San Jose and it’s a bit hard to reconcile the difference between reputation/expectation and the impression I was left with after the performance concluded, but I will try to analyze the best I can.

The biggest challenge for me is that there wasn’t much more to the musical than the music and the music alone didn’t tell a full, complete story. Musical Theater can’t typically win me over with JUST great music. It also kind of needs a plot. A thin one at least. With at least one character that you feel strongly about. A villain you hate, a hero you root for, a love story you can believe in. If it doesn’t have that, it can skate by on some REALLY good gimmicks if the music is solid enough or even if the cast is strong enough with the material they have to work with. I can honestly say I wasn’t rooting for any of these characters and that’s where I got lost and never recovered.

In one corner you have a bitter deformed, as-best-we-can-tell sub-par composer who uses fear, blackmail, extortion, and physical violence (including murder) to basically get whatever he wants including a chorus girl. In the other corner we have a demanding, past friend/lover/not really sure exactly what their relationship was – or age difference is – or how much time has really passed since whatever happened, happened guy, who thinks he can just hop right back into said chorus girl’s life and tell her what to do. Then you have the chorus girl who is afraid of the bitter deformed dude, yet sort of uses him to further her career, but plays the other guy for “protection” more than love and then flip flops back a few times. I didn’t like this triangle, but more importantly, I didn’t buy it. At the end of the day, what the script/book was deficient in in terms of basic exposition could have been solved with really good chemistry, but sadly, I felt nothing.

The music IS nice. Not my favorite, but yes, nice and technically the vocal skills of this cast were undeniable; notes were hit. Not ALW’s best maybe, but perhaps his best known. It seems that every other song is a relatively iconic one, true but again, you can’t rely on that to carry the show. If a musical performance is “good” we feel the emotions through the vocal interpretation, we don’t need to understand a single word or read a super title to grasp the full, deeper meaning. That’s kind of the cool thing about music, that the emotion of the singing can tell us everything we need to know about that moment. IT can fill in huge, gaping plot holes. And, yet, this cast didn’t.  Chemistry I thought was superbly lacking and when combined with the bizarre structure of the show it just proved downright frustrating.

Technically while well executed, the special effects felt very dated to me. Cheesy pyrotechnics do not a show make in this case, which is odd coming from me, because I do like me some fire and spectacle. Our infamous chandelier effect was quite frankly underwhelming and laughable. The much lauded grandeur of Masquerade, was far smaller in scale than I was expecting and the costuming especially in that scene left me wanting.  On the plus side though there was a lovely revolving stage with stairs that appeared and disappeared with sufficient mystery and panache, and the sound design was winning; exceptional even I’d say in some places.

Perhaps the expectations were just too high. Perhaps I’ve seen too much really, really good theater on this stage as of late. Perhaps I personally just expect more story and more spectacle. Any which way I look at it though, I just didn’t leave that performance a Phan-girl. 2 ½ jewels in the review tiara for a show that left too much to the imagination, and relied seemingly too much on some songs and nostalgic reputation for a newcomer like myself to engage.  Phantom of the Opera plays through October 2nd at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown San Jose.

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REVIEW – Motown the Musical – Broadway San Jose

I’m not going to lie, going into Broadway San Jose’s Motown the Musical I thought there was a good chance I might be about 20 years too young to fully appreciate it. You’d think I’d be trusting enough by now, but clearly I still need reminding. You’ll be happy to know, I was wrong and once again theater and music demonstrated their innate power to bridge a variety of gaps and transcend generations (among other things.)

The audience was primed Tuesday night and their reactions became part of the show for me, making it even more enjoyable. All it took was a chord or a couple of notes before the audience let out a collective knowing and nostalgic gasp… THIS was their favorite… oh THIS one… no THIS IS THE ONE. The mere silhouette of sports-coated men or women striking powerful poses, set this crowd into an “I love this song” frenzy.  An introduction in the first few minutes to the evening’s Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson had the audience whooping and whistling like teens (which they/I were/am certainly not). I didn’t have the heart to tell them, it wasn’t REALLY Marvin and Smokey… but I soon found out that that fact made very little difference.

I can’t verify, but along with audible moans and sighs that peppered the audience during a soulful stripped down “Mercy, Mercy Me” I may have also heard the actual quivering of loins. I don’t think I was misinterpreting the signs that some of the ladies sitting nearby found themselves in a baby making mood after that particular performance; which is super weird because news flash –  its a song about pollution. But dammit, it was the sexiest song about pollution apparently ever sung. The original songs surely hold a power over people, but the cast tasked with singing them for this show, seemed to live up to all expectations.

To say our Mary Wells for the evening was a crowd-pleaser would be a gross understatement. She possesses the kind of vocal power that I bet notes dream being born from. Our Diana Ross gave a perky and convincing performance as well, both vocally and from an acting standpoint. Smokey brought it. Berry Gordy sold it. I enjoyed the entire ensembles colorful portrayals of real personalities.

The female harmonies in particular are so distinct in Motown, and we really don’t have anywhere near the equivalent amongst our modern Top 40. One of the reasons the music has surely survived and is still so revered, certainly is that unique, powerful quality. The background singers WERE the music. They were heard over a solo. They never felt like they were in the “background” to me and being reminded of that was an unexpected enjoyable take-away.

And, then there was young Michael Jackson. That’s a big name to live up to and our young actor nailed it. Dynamic, charming, charisma to spare and a voice paired with moves to match. I love seeing naturally talented kids bask in the glow of an audience and this kid was on fire, in his zone and loving the response. So many great moments, but the brief Jackson 5 scene was easily my favorite.

Along with supreme voices and great storytelling through acting, this show is one that makes it hard to not move in your seat. Indeed, this is a show that brings the “noise” and the funk and there was a lot of seat jive going on. The birth of boy band swagger, or MAN BAND Swag would appear to be Motown. Move over In Sync. Not so fast 98 Degrees. As if Backstreet Boys. If you weren’t already schooled in showmanship, our cast was ready to show you how it’s done. Oh, and they GOT IT DONE, AND THEN SOME. Great choreography and execution, no complaints at all there.

While a few original songs written specifically for the show serve only to tie the mostly overly-convenient and somewhat contrived plot device of a retrospective, the show moved so quickly, it didn’t bother me too much. Sure the structure is formulaic and a bit weak, but it really doesn’t detract noticeably from the star-studded song book which packs in a LOT of music and humor into 2 ½ hours.

While totally necessary to tell the story, and certainly key in demonstrating the power of music and the determination and bravery of Berry Gordy, the depiction of the racial tension is painful for me to watch; perhaps even more so in light of recent, very public examples, that we still have a long way to go to correct perceptions, practices, and injustices. While head-shakingly sad, this aspect of the show was certainly another example of why the music and the story remain so relevant.

Though the show was clearly about the music (and the fabulous band!) the spectacle was fully present and supported technically. Colorful lights, clever projections and a fluid set unobtrusively kept us aware of chronology and framed the talented cast as they moved from location to location and through time.  A golden hairbrush goes to those in charge of the wig design and care! Every coif and up do was kept 100% on point even during what seemed like some impossibly quick changes.

I was surprised overall how fast this show moved and how fun it was. 4 ½ out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a quick paced, jam-packed, lightly historical look back on some damn entertaining music from musical icons. Motown the Musical plays through Sunday, June 26th, at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown San Jose.

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REVIEW – The Wild Party – San Jose Stage

The Wild Party may well be the illegitimate musical bastard that resulted from a drunken orgy between Cabaret, Three Penny Opera, Bonnie and Clyde, Chicago and a snuff film. Full of appalling, damaged, depraved, and generally vile, predatory characters, it doesn’t take long to determine that you’re probably not going to “like” many of these party guests; that while there’s humor and certainly some sexy that’s brought to this dark, debaucherous table, the lovefest is probably not going to extend past the “4th wall”. That being said, like cleaning under your fingernails, it’s a bit repulsive in nature, but the end results is ultimately strangely satisfying. The sooner you stop thinking these characters could all benefit from an infinity of therapy sessions or that more than a few of them would ever contribute positively to society, the sooner you’ll enjoy the raucous ride of theatrical amphetamines that is San Jose Stage’s The Wild Party.

This play is bold, occasionally shocking and at times even possibly arousing. There’s a dirty, rebellious decidedly necessary immorality that runs through it; what really equates to a very basic, fundamentally human thread. As I‘ve already mentioned, these are unlikable, twisted… let’s just call it like it is… pretty effed up people. There’s not a seemingly legitimate or even genuine attempt to justify many of the choices these substantially flawed and in some cases tortured souls make. It’s also totally not important that we like them in order for use to care about them. Well, some of them. And, when I say care, I mean just a little, JUST enough. Arguably they’re not “good” or even “nice” people, but they are by no means flat. They’re written with sufficient dimension and I think played with even more layers than the text and music probably suggest.

It’s a show musically mixed with prohibition age jazz, torch songs, and advanced, contemporary musical theater components. It’s also a very… belty score, with occasional discord and quite a bit of yelling which I felt was definitely too loud and too abrasive at times. The band (who masterfully executed the challenging range and extreme pace changes of the score) was definitely too loud and as was much of the singing which combined for an effect that felt too extreme for the intimate space. Like the characters, I’m not sure I liked all the music, but it entertained, told a story and made no excuses. Certainly the sound challenges can be worked out over time, and in so doing I’m sure will highlight the tremendous strength and skill of the actors rather than detract from the excellence of the production.

Our cast of actors do a tremendous job with the dysfunctional make-up of the play, giving in almost all cases, a vivid depiction of real people (even though they are rhyming and singing on a stage). Burrs is genuinely frightening and simultaneously magnetic. His rage juxtaposed against his clowned gaze was suitably disturbing. His pipes and commitment to the character clear. His sickening co-dependency with Queenie was convincing on every level. It’s these kinds of roles and performances that make me hope there was not an OUNCE of typecasting… and that I’d sincerely be nervous to run into the actor in a dark alley.

Queenie was a role made for this actress, who has played many great roles on this stage and others. I’d rank this performance as one of her best. She’s confident and powerful on stage and her legs certainly as the script dictates, possess their own sphere of influence.

Kate was performed with a special balance of self-destruction and moxie. Her plight was underscored with a special self-deprecating humor that the actress had a very secure handle on. She is well-intentioned and simultaneously a siren of self sabotage, her arc is interesting and well-defined. Where she could have gone pathetic and victimized, she owns her flaws and unapologetically schemes to a predictable end.

Black was sincere and had the presence to pull off the role, but I would say I didn’t personally buy the requisite chemistry with Queenie to create the means that justified the end. The understanding, bond and portrayal of the Burrs/Queenie disaster was perhaps just too intense for me to commit fully to a Black/Queenie pairing be it for show or for real.

The ensemble each get their time to shine be it in song, dance or both and it shines particularly bright for Madelaine True, who is kind of show-stopping every time she opens her mouth. Eddie and Mae got my vote for most likely to succeed despite some obvious anger management issues on the part of Eddie.

The highlight for me was easily the most appropriately inappropriate choreography I’ve seen to date and some of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. Creative, sexy, provocative and stylish, it worked to tell the stories and not just fill time. It was unabashed, intentional, gritty, indeed crass at times and yet seemed perfectly in sync with the character choices. It set an expectation and did not hold back. I’m not ever a fan of a dream ballet, and while this production maybe has more of an opiate-laced dance interlude, it was one of the more perfect moments for me of the show.

The set design was impactful even before the show starts: a functional, aesthetically pleasing, layered, metaphorical set that did more than hint at the sexual heat driving the players and the personal cages that restrained and restricted them. Along with clever staging, effective lighting and edgy costuming the technical elements struck a perfect chord of textured, uninhibited taboo and criminal sensuality.

This is a trigger happy production (in all senses of the word) and if you’re at all sensitive or squeamish about topics such as sexual violence, promiscuity, graphically simulated sex acts, adultery, drug use, physical abuse, rage issues or guns, consider yourself adequately warned. Short of nudity, essentially every “line” was either crossed upon the initial downbeat or perhaps was exiled from the shows inception. All the prudish disclaimers aside, a deserved 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for the unquestionably ballsy and aptly named “Wild Party.” Leave your morality and judgement at the lobby and just accept your role as voyeur to this impressive dose of decadent degeneracy and wicked wantonness. The Wild Party plays through July 17th at the Stage in Downtown San Jose.

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REVIEW- Disney’s Newsies – Broadway San Jose

Dude [dood, dyood, doooooooooooode] – interjection – 1. an expression of shock, approval, sympathy, or other strong feeling. 2. The word Susannah used approximately 137 times during Broadway San Jose’s production of Disney’s Newsies, because OH MY GOSH IT WAS SO FREAKING AWESOME. Prior to Tuesday I was able to count the number of standing ovations I have given on one hand. Dude, this show, this cast, this crew, this set (OH MY GOSH THIS SET IS UNREAL!) got me on my feet for the sixth time in my entire life. Just get your ticket already, DO IT, it will put a smile on your face.

I love this cast. Dude, like, I really love them. I want them to perform every show I see from now on. Chicago? Yes. They could do it. Othello? I bet I would like it if they were cast. Spring Awaking? That one too. Death of a Salesmen?  I’d probably pay double. Seriously, can we make this happen? Can someone get on that, please? If not, can I just put them all in my pocket and pull them out for parties? They’re the best. Not a single cast member phoned it in. Each of the ridiculously talented, impossibly well-cast actors performed flawlessly and were clearly having a blast while doing so. They are present, contagious, charming, charismatic, and down right mesmerizing . Every one of them (that needed to be) was a bonified triple threat. Jack Kelly – exquisitely brash and rustically dashing. Katherine – a quintessential juxtaposition of slightly conflicted demur trailblazer and romantic independent social rebel. Each of the newsies individual and committed to their totally believable characters. Pulitzer – a delicious villain if ever there was one. Even Mr. Jacobi and Hannah nailed their one liners memorably. Everyone counted, everyone mattered, everyone delivered. There wasn’t a single weak link and everyone got to shine with the enthusiasm of a child that just realized they want to be on stage in front of an adoring audience forever!

The show itself had a beautiful combination of everything you could ever want in a show.  Drama, comedy, a swell of pride for a cause, a bit of history, BROOKLYN, romance (WITH BRILLIANT CHEMISTRY), plot twists, tension, stunning harmonies, a kid with some serious moxie, theater inside jokes, gender equality, civil disobedience, a set to make your head spin (HAVE I MENTIONED THE SET!?), and all in less than 2 1/2 hours which FLEW BY! This is also a dance show with numerous powerful, high-quality production numbers from the get go. The choreography isn’t weird, archaic, recycled choreography either, oh no, its exciting, fresh, creative, fun and in many cases totally manipulative of gravity. The synchronicity was impossibly tight, fluid and packed with emotive storytelling. The material and style is so well suited to the skills of this cast it just looks effortless. And, how they move in their costumes without a rib, slip or cap falling off is a miracle in and of itself.

Now… this set I speak of. It’s not just me. It’s award-winning, but this geek was afraid she would set the sprinklers off  as a result of her brain exploding. A million and one high fives please for both the set and lighting designers as well as our skilled-beyond-belief Stage Crew. Let’s hear it for IATSE people (and the cast members that help with scene transitions too). Seriously. There are literally 85,000 things that could go wrong in this show with all the moving pieces, projections and bodies flying about, and absolutely zero margin for error. The stage pictures that are created as a result of the genius design are awe-inspiring and damn near tear inducing. Aside from 1, ONE, chair falling off a table… I saw NO errors. And I was looking. I’m king of a jerk that way. I mean I don’t WANT there to be errors, obviously, but it’s live theater and inevitably stuff happens and its nice to see how a cast and crew reacts when things do go wrong. Frame that call book, give the stage manager a raise, the exceptional technical execution was in a league of its own.

Even the audience was in synch and stellar. On time. Polite. Dude, not a single cell phone out during the show (THANK YOU!). If we had had our way we wouldn’t have stopped clapping for 10 minutes after the first dance number, which not unlike the opening episode of Breaking Bad, you kind of wonder HOW CAN THEY SUSTAIN THIS KIND OF INTENSITY… and then they totally do it again and again (and then some) for 2 more hours.

Standing O aside, other personal milestones this show has accomplished include only the second ever INTERMISSION TWEET OF AMAZEMENT, more CAPITAL LETTERS in a single document than I have ever used before (and I write a lot of yelling emails), as well as the admission that I would TOTALLY SEE THIS SHOW AGAIN. So… for what it’s worth, clearly I was impressed with this one. In case that hadn’t been made clear at this point.

It was an absolute pleasure to be in the theatre on  Tuesday. My admittedly high expectations were met and exceeded many times throughout this production. DUDE; 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for an absolutely fantastic production of what  I wish I experienced every time I went to the theater. The bar has been raised. Newsies plays through Sunday, May 15th at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown San Jose.

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REVIEW – Too Much, Too Much, Too Many – Dragon Productions Theater Company

It’s taken me a few days to process Too Much, Too Much, Too Many. That’s a good thing mostly. I like plays that make you think. But, it’s a play that touches on themes that are hard. That’s also good in this case, but hard none the less. Plays that upset me are not ones I usually enjoy, but this one might qualify as an exception. As we deal with an aging population and one that sees the devastating effects of diseases of the mind and memory that we can’t yet cure, these cathartic plays are cropping up more and more. Coping plays. These are personal, far too-close-to-home themes for me to be honest… and thus the emotional barrels are fully loaded coming into this production. That predisposed emotion both validates and artificially amplifies an experience I think; but I suppose every life experience has that potential – to move you more or to repel you further from the moving reality witnessed from the dark of an audience.

It’s at first a disjointed play. Abrupt. A staccato presentation almost until a good third of the way into the first act. This seems partially intentional in its effort to authentically represent the key themes. What we know and what we think and what is repeated and what is clearly missing, all plays a part in the pacing and the style of the storytelling.

There were a few parts that were seemingly unpolished or awkward though, perhaps less deliberate. There were some lapses in generally good chemistry between the 4 characters, some staging that was obscured, and a few minor sight line challenges disappointed here and there. The music, though nice, seemed primarily anachronistic as well; neither clearly narrating nor transitioning, neither ambient nor serving as a clear memory for the play. And, I wasn’t sure of the location to be honest. There’s mention of Midwest cities and a drive, and it’s clear it’s a small town, though accents seem almost southern. Not sure it mattered, but it nagged at me for a spell. This play requires a bit of patience, it’s a bit frustrating at times, but the bright moments are absolutely priceless and well worth being there for.

And, the brightest of the bright was the character of Rose. How she is written and performed is indeed the standout of the production. There is genuinely heartbreaking, beautiful poetry in her speech and her story and the delivery is impeccably poignant and enthralling. She is balanced, devastating, and humorous and the entire audience breathed in her complete circumstance effortlessly. She is a tribute to love and to loss and we could not take our eyes off her. She slays this performance any way you slice it.

Emma is troubled and distant as is requisite for her journey and her performance and her arc definitely warm to you along with the rest of the play. Our Pastor is likeable, sweet, and a lovely counterpoint to Emma’s closed off, calculated, sabotaging demeanor. James is confusing at first to be sure, but it becomes clear why that’s the case as we progress.

I’m always interested to see a play I’ve never seen before and in this case never even heard of before. At its core, it has some challenges, but overall once we invest, once we let down our guards and let it in, the performances and the message in the prose do present silver linings, resolution that is both sorrowful and sweet, and a play that is supremely liberating. 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a strangely romantic and painfully sentimental piece sure to resonate with many. Too Much, Too Much, Too Many plays through April 10th at the Dragon Theater in Redwood City.

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