Everyone loves a good underdog story. But when you add some mobster shenanigans, drug use, copious sex, betrayal, death, and four blue-collar guys belting out more than 30 epic oldies like a jukebox on amphetamines, you've got Jersey Boys, the musical.
Chronicling the bittersweet saga of The Four Seasons, the 1960s rock n' roll quartet, the play -- directed by Des McAnuff -- traverses more than 40 years of the Boys' lives together from the streetwise corners of New Jersey to the glinting lights of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The play opens rather strangely -- in Paris of all places -- with a black rapper flanked by B-Girl dancers circa 2000. Tommy DeVito (played by the rakish John Gardiner) steps into the gyrating mass, freezing the action, and directly addresses the audience. He tells us the rapper was singing Oh What a Night (Ces Soirees), the 1963 hit from the Four Seasons. Yup, they got that big -- Europe big.
Each of the Boys takes over narration for part of the show, offering their own takes on the group's rise to stardom. It works well and offers the audience the occasional breather from Nick Cosgrove's relentless falsetto (more on that in a minute.)
Four seasons (get it?) demarcate the passage of time -- and the boys' different perspectives -- with pop-art projections over the stage. The set, designed by Klara Zieglerova, is fairly stark -- toggling between chain-link fences, scaffolding, bar stools and neon signs -- but transforms the space seamlessly and simply, allowing the music to take center stage.
Poet, novelist, and short story writer Gary Soto is known for his unsentimental, leanly written portraits of Chicano life in the Fresno of his youth, some of which are geared toward adults, others toward young readers. He is less known as a baker of biscotti, which he brings in bundles as gifts to interviewers, and only slightly better known as a playwright. In and Out of Shadows, which premieres at the Marsh S.F. this weekend as part of the Marsh Youth Theater (MYT) program, is hardly Soto's first play, yet the medium of theater still feels new to him. The text of the musical comes from interviews with undocumented youths in Richmond and Pinole; MYT participants conducted the interviews, and Soto shaped them into a play. We talked to Soto about writing for the stage, his collaborative process, and the remarkable timeliness of the project.
The Book of Mormon, the incredibly popular Broadway musical from the geniuses behind South Park (Trey Parker and Matt Stone), which has won 6,000 Tony Awards (actually nine, including Best Musical), is gracing the San Francisco stage. And like the new iPhone and Pound Puppies on eBay, the show's run sold out immediately.
But don't worry, there's still hope.
This past weekend was the opening night of Disney's The Lion King, and we'd first like to tell you that attendance is mandatory. Regardless of anything else in this review, or anything you may read in any other review for that matter, The Lion King is absolutely and undeniably not to be missed -- by you, your children, or any of your friends and family. This has been a public service announcement from the Foundation for Spreading Unbelievable Amounts of Joy.*
(*Definitely not a real foundation, but probably should be.)
Andrew Jackson, title character of San Francisco Playhouse's 10th season opener, doubled the size of the United States, and it's no coincidence that the theater company itself begins this anniversary season in a new space with twice the seats. Formerly in a 100-seat venue on Sutter Street, the company has moved a block away to what was once the Post Street Theatre, and the space has never looked better. Though gorgeous, with details like a coffered ceiling and Gothic moldings, the theater had its share of problems: It was cavernous, at 729 seats, and the stage seemed trapped inside its proscenium arch, which distanced actors from the audience.
I love it when theater companies take a classic and really re-vamp the hell out of it. If you think you have seen Les Misérables, I assure you, you have not seen it like this. Inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo, Cameron Mackintosh presents a 25th anniversary production of the timeless musical. Using the imagination of Hugo's art, and bringing it to life on the stage, you are transported to Hugo's vision of 19th-century France. The sets were dazzling, one even taking the form of a boat on the rough seas.
Arrive early to the Boxcar's production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and stay late. Director Nick Olivero has both expanded and condensed the groundbreaking rock-musical, and in all the right places. Don't worry; the mutilated genitalia that gives the show its name is still intact -- that is to say, it suffers no more slicing and dicing than the script requires.
The musical, with a book by John Cameron Mitchell and music and lyrics by Stephen Trask, follows Hedwig (née Hansel), who wants to escape his East Berlin home by marrying Luther (Reggie D. White), an American. But to get married, not only must he pretend to be female; he must also undergo a full physical exam and thus a sex-change operation. But as the song "Angry Inch" recounts, the operation goes horrifically awry: "When I woke up from the operation ... I was left with a one inch mound of flesh where my penis used to be, where my vagina never was." In other words, Hansel went "six inches forward, five inches back," and what was left made him Hedwig.