Monday, December 31, 2007
Here's the list with my comments...
“Pillowman” (Berkeley Rep)... I missed this but I heard it was just amazing.
“Sweeney Todd” (ACT)... I saw this and it was wonderful except for the character of the Judge having been watered down.
“Anna Bella Eema” (Crowded Fire)
“Argonautika” (Berkeley Rep)
“Tings Dey Happen” (The Marsh)
“Man and Superman” (Cal Shakes)
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Best of Broadway)... I saw this. I sat in the front row and was blown away. Stunning performances.
“Avenue Q” (Best of Broadway)
“Kiki and Herb’’ (ACT)
“Blackbird” (ACT).. I loved it. Some of the critics thought it was awful.
“Angels 2” (City Lights)... congratulations to City Lights! It's great to see a small theatre on the list. This was a wonderful show.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
You can read the article here.
Or just take a look below..
To get an idea of just how good Bay Area theater was in 2007, consider that the first three picks here will likely end up on my lifetime Top 10 list; or that 2007's best-of list could easily have included at least 10 more entries.
This was also a good year for new works -- Bay Area audiences, particularly those consisting of middle-school-aged girls, were the first to fall in love with the musical version of "Legally Blonde," which launched here, then became a hit on Broadway. San Francisco's Magic Theatre launched a number of shows, including "Rust," "Pleasure and Pain" and "The Crowd You're In With."
It was also a season of new and exciting looks at older works, with American Conservatory Theater's presentation of "Sweeney Todd," Berkeley Rep's production of "Oliver Twist," and the Willows Theatre's innovative take on "Cats."
The Top 10
1. "Man and Superman," California Shakespeare Theater -- A three-hour production of a century-old work is risky, even if the playwright is George Bernard Shaw. That's particularly so when it is performed outdoors on often-chilly summer nights in the Orinda hills. But the gamble paid off big for Jonathan Moscone and his Shakespeare Theater. The production, which included the often-omitted "Don Juan in Hell" portion, was a flawless masterpiece of theater.
2. "Argonautika," Berkeley Repertory Theatre -- This piece of very contemporary theater gives an exciting new look at the old myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Thewildly innovative play offered a breathtaking blend of technical theater with sharp writing and memorable acting to be one of the season's best.
3. "Sweeney Todd," American Conservatory Theater -- The minimal retelling of Stephen Sondheim's astonishing musical about a revenge-seeking barber who slashes the throats of his customers so they can be made into meat pies offered a fresh and exciting look at the musical. It played in San Francisco at the start of its national tour.
4. "Defiance," Playhouse West -- The words from that old Buffalo Springfield song, "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong," echo through your mind during this short, troubling play about social and political ills bubbling just below the surface at a military training camp. The disturbing show unfolded in Playhouse West's tiny Walnut Creek theater and was an excellent reminder why this intimate theater company must stay alive.
5. "Oliver Twist," Berkeley Repertory Theatre -- The classic Dickens story of the plight of an orphan boy in 19th century London became a horrifying vaudeville show from the 1800s in this memorable retelling of the Oliver Twist story.
6. "Death of a Salesman," A Traveling Jewish Theatre -- Arthur Miller's signature play about the American Dream got a clear-eyed new look from the San Francisco theater group, which sought to explore the story's Jewish roots and hit the stage with a sparkling revival.
7. "Mousetrap" Center Repertory Company -- This Agatha Christie mystery, which has been playing London since Queen Elizabeth was young, is the play everyone knows, but nobody's seen. It got a rousing, attractive and wonderfully wrought production from Center Rep, who signed on an all-star cast to join in the whodunit fun.
8. "Cats," Willows Theatre Company -- This is not a play that normally makes Top 10 lists, but the Willows Theatre version is the exception. The production moves the cat tale from a junkyard to a schoolhouse to become a tribute to a teacher cat, and a show that makes much more sense and is considerably more entertaining then the overstuffed Broadway tabby. It plays through Dec. 30.
9. "Driving Miss Daisy," CTA Crossroads Theatre -- This is a touching tale of an older Southern Jewish woman and her relationship with her black driver. It was a wildly entertaining story, simply presented by the small Walnut Creek theater company by a hugely talented cast.
10. "Sex," Aurora Theatre Company -- Mae West wasn't just another come-hither face. The '20s prototype sex-bomb was also a playwright and an expert at highlighting and exploiting her particular charms. She wrote this show in 1923, the vice squad closed it on Broadway, and Berkeley's Aurora Theatre revived it hilariously.
These are the shows that were, for one reason or another, disappointments -- they weren't necessarily bad or poorly done, just presentations that didn't quite work.
1. "My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish, & I'm in Therapy" -- This was a nice, gently funny show that played as if it had been written in the late '50s or early '60s. It was well done, but just didn't deliver the anticipated laughs.
2. "Moscow Cat Circus" -- Cats, onstage, doing tricks. There, that's everything you need to know about this. Now, find something better to do with the rest of the 90 minutes of your life.
3. "Romeo and Julian," Butterfield 8 Theatre Company -- This bold, gender-bending retelling of the Shakespeare play was a gutsy experiment, particularly for a suburban company, but it just needed a bit more work on adapting the script.
4. "Blackbird" -- This ACT show came with a hard-edged reputation, as it candidly explored the aftermath of a man's relationship with an under-age girl. It did, but the intimate story got lost in the enormous American Conservatory Theater.
5. "Expedition 6" -- This production at the Magic Theatre, about astronauts in danger of losing their lives in outer space as the Iraq war unfolds on Earth, had some promise, including actors dangling like puppets above the stage to simulate weightlessness. But the show opened too soon, and might have worked with some tinkering and editing.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Tim Burton has finally created his masterpiece. The new film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is one of the most provocative and artistic musicals ever made. You’ll barely realize that you’re watching a musical even though the actors are singing for practically the entire film. The entire cast is superb due precisely to the fact that none of them are primarily singers. They are all accomplished actors who have been able to deftly perform the musical numbers with subtlety and poignancy.
The film has the best opening credits I have ever seen. As the stars names cross the screen you follow a trail of blood through the sewers of London while a haunting orchestration of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd plays in the background. It’s mesmerizing.
The entire movie has a dark feel with some sort of blue filter on the lens that adds a kind of coldness. Johnny Depp is just magnificent. His Sweeney is troubled, loving, evil, hurt and compassionate all at the same time. Depp, one of the best screen actors of our time, deserves an Oscar for this performance.
Five Top Sweeney Todd Moments
5. Sweeney’s doing in of Judge Turpin. Damn that was nasty! But the Judge had it coming. All of Sweeney’s other murders were relatively painless – a simple slicing of the juggler. But he decided to give the Judge (played superbly by Alan Rickman) the daily special.
4. Sacha Baron Cohen’s sock. Here’s what I guess must have happened. During the shooting, Mr. Cohen’s irrepressible comic side took over and he stuffed the aforementioned sock in his pants giving his character, Signor Adolfo Pirelli, a quite tumescent package. Burton saw this, decided it was hilarious and used it to film the most hilarious two shot ever recorded in the history of film.
3. The musical score. It was simply wonderful. Listen to it. I’m not talking about the vocals, only the score.
2. The final scene. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it’s awful and touching all at once.
1. Johnny Depp. His acting is flawless, he can sing despite the doubts of many, and he embodies the character completely. Let’s be happy that Russell Crowe didn’t get the part.
Go see this movie on the Big Screen. Don’t wait for the DVD.
My Prediction: Oscar for Best Picture, Oscar to Johnny Depp for Best Actor.