News Column

Musical magic in San Francisco and Sonoma County

October 17, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 17--Television can be stimulating, films are fun, and live drama just might improve your mind, but there is nothing quite like a musical.

Once live actors start singing and dancing, wonderful things can happen.

"The thing about musicals is that if they're done right, there is nothing more magical or thrilling or satisfying," said Douglas McGrath, author of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."

The musical adaptation of King's life and career is wrapping up its pre-Broadway run this weekend at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco.

But it's just one of at least half a dozen musicals, ranging from classics to revivals to newer shows, causing a stir this fall from San Francisco to Sonoma County.

In San Francisco, offerings from producers SHN (Shorenstein-Hays-Nederlander) include not only "Beautiful," but the iconic "Wizard of Oz," including all of the songs from the 1939 movie.

And in November, SHN is bringing back "Book of Mormon," a satire about missionaries in a remote village, which had a sold-out run in the city two years ago. There are still some tickets left for the return run.

In Sonoma County, the latest crop of musical productions includes "La Cage Aux Folles" at the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma, "Brigadoon" at Spreckels Performing Center for the Arts in Rohnert Park and next month, "Les Miserables" at Santa Rosa Junior College.

"When you see a great musical, it totally takes you out of everything you know. It takes you out of the world, because people don't go around singing in the real world," McGrath said.

"And it's so thrilling because the whole point of entertainment is to divert you from your own life, to give you a rest and let your mind recharge."

At the Spreckels Performing Center for the Arts, Managing Director Gene Abravaya has built a growing audience with a string of musicals, starting with "Wizard of Oz" last year, followed by "Camelot," "A Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum" and Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," based on his 1974 film.

Currently, Spreckels is staging "Brigadoon," the classic Broadway hit by Alan Lerner and Frederick Lowe about a magical city in the Scottish Highlands that appears to mortal eyes only once every century.

A new computerized projection system installed at Spreckels last year allows the theater to combine modern special effects with traditional stagecraft, Abravaya said. In "Young Frankenstein," the original baron, who created the original monster, descended from a portrait on the wall and floated down the stairs.

"We've taken an old form of entertainment and we're updating it. We're entering a new era," Abravaya said.

But musical theater will always draw its power from live performers as well, he added.

"Because it's live and happening in front of the audience in real time, that's where the excitement is coming from," he said.

At the Cinnabar Theater, Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein sees the current production of "La Cage Aux Folles," based on the 2010 Broadway revival of the 1983 hit, as good family fun.

The family in the play consists of a gay couple, Albin and George, who run a drag nightclub, and George's son, who has just gotten engaged to a woman from a conservative family. (Robin Williams and Nathan Lane played Albin and George in "The Bird Cage," the 1996 film version of the original play.)

Sonoma County singer and actor Michael Van Why, who co-starred as Albin in a popular run of "La Cage Aux Folles" at the 6th Street Playhouse in 2009, returns in the role for this production.

"What is wonderful about this piece is that it has found its audidence, and it's a broad audience. It's a family show, with a twist," Lichenstein said.

"And the music tells the story in a way that words and actions alone just can't."

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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(c)2013 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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