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Flora Lynn Isaacson

Flora Lynn Isaacson

Divine Sarah!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Ensemble Photo by Robin Jackson

New Works at Ross Valley Players presents a delightful and entertaining new musical, The Divine Sarah by June Richards and Elaine Lang on stage now through April 7 at the Barn Theatre in Ross.

Lovely live music by Jon Gallo (Keyboard/Music Direction) and Diana Lee (Cello), fine direction by Jay Manley and the cast’s outstanding acting, singing and dancing bring Sarah Bernhardt’s incredible story to life. Co-producers Michael Cohen and Gina Pandiani hope this play will “honor Bernhardt’s artistic brilliance and inspire audiences with her passion, determination and resilience.”

Forty years ago Richards and Lang wrote and staged a reading of the play that included fourteen songs and ensemble music, but a full production never happened. Then a few years ago, Richards and Lang updated the script keeping the original music and songs in place. Next Manley agreed to direct the piece for Ross Valley’s New Works. He calls the show “a true labor of love,” and describes French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) as “a pioneering woman…magnetic…able to cast a spell on the great playwrights of her day,” (Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde and Edmund Rostand to name a few). He hopes the production brings “excitement, respect and awe for this magnificent star.”

Merrill Grant is brilliant playing Sarah, first as a young woman, then through the years as she develops into an accomplished actress and international celebrity. Grant’s singing is amazing and so is the voice of Lucas Michael Chandler who stands out in the role of Jean Mounet Sully, a fellow actor who became Bernhardt’s good friend and lover.

The other cast members show extraordinary talent and range playing multiple roles including Alexandra Fry (young Sarah /Regine), Keith Jefferds (Oscar Wilde/Czar Alexander III) and Robin Schild (Victor Hugo/Mark Twain). The rest of the company (Amy Dietz, Anna Joham, Julia Ludwig. Brad Parks and Ron Talbot) shines—their singing, dancing and acting adds much to the production.

Kudos to Ronald E. Krempetz (Scenic Design), Michael Walraven (Technical Director), Michael Berg (Costume Design), Michele Samuels (Lighting Design) and Lucas Chandler (Choreography) for the imaginative set, lovely costumes, creative lighting and wonderful dancing. Special recognition goes to John Diestler for giving the audience a look at the real Sarah Bernhardt with “Block” digital images of her placed all around the stage.

The New Works program presents new, original works by Bay Area playwrights and consists of a full production and staged readings on two nights each season. Along with The Divine Sarah, the four readings this season are AI Threesome by Joe Wolff, Dead People by Bridgette Data Portman (March 17), Cowboy and Widow by Lynn Lohr and Lance Belville with music by Dolan Ellis, Wayne Hamilton and Eric Peltoniemi and Swing Set by Keith Jefferds (March 24).

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarias, directed by Mary Ann Rodgers, May 10-June 9.




Bees and Honey–Well Done!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Marin Theatre Company presents the West Coast Premiere of Bees and Honey, a new play by Guadalis Del Carmen on stage now through March 10.

In an interview with the Theatre Times Del Carmen explains the play is “about love…we’re taught that love is this perfect and beautiful thing that can magically fix everything, but everyone leaves out the part about love being hard work. To see two people of color (specifically Afro-Latinx) on stage having a real and raw relationship is rare.”  Karina Gutierrez’ excellent direction and the extraordinary talent of Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Manuel) and Katherine George (Johaira) bring Del Carmen’s powerful love story to life.

As the play begins, Juan Luis Guerra’s bachata song, “Como Abeja al Panal” plays in the background while Manuel and Johaira talk about the thrill of dancing to bachata music (popular in their shared Dominican culture). They reminisce about how they met before they got married and their first dance together. The lights dim and the music gets louder as they begin dancing in complete sync with one another. Their movements are rhythmic, sensual, intense and demonstrate the strong connection and passion they feel for each other.

But the spell is broken as the lights go up and the next scene takes us inside the couple’ small apartment.  As the story develops, their individual differences, work challenges, family conflicts, gender roles and sexuality all come into play illustrating how even the most loving relationships can be difficult.

The play requires both actors to express a broad range of emotions. Lendeborg Jr.’s acting is especially impressive when portraying his character’s vulnerabilities. George exeplifies her character’s ambivalence, frustration and sorrow.  Their performances are authentic, heartfelt and deeply moving.

Carlos Antonio Aceves (Scenic Design), Jeunee Simon (Intimacy Coordinator), Mark Ellis (Dance Consultant) and Kate Boyd (Lighting Design) all deserve special recognition for their contribution to this incredible show. In fact, all of the creative team and show staff makes it a memorable experience–not to be missed!

Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company is Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song, directed by Richard Mosqueda, May 9-June 2.

Don’t Miss Spamalot at NTC

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Photo:  Top Row:  Nicole Thordsen (Sir Robin), Izaak Heath (Sir Lancelot), John Griffin (Sir Bedevere) & Michael Coury Murdock (Sir Galahad). Bottom Row:  Michael Hunter (Patsy) & Bruce Vieira (King Arthur). Photo by Jere Torkesen & HariettePearl Fuggit

Novato Theater Company’s current production Spamalot is an amusing and fun-filled musical on stage now through March 3. Based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the play won Eric Idle a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005. This show is entertaining from start to finish thanks to excellent choreography and musical staging by Marilyn Izdebski who also produced the show.

The creativity of the director (Larry Williams) and production team along with the large cast’s fine acting, singing and dancing bring this hilarious parody of King Arthur’s legend to life. A wonderful live band features Daniel Savio (Keyboard, Conductor), Christopher Hewitt (Keyboard), Zack Miller (Bass) and Dean Cook (Drums). Savio’s musical direction brings out the best of John DuPrez’ and Eric Idle’s original music.

As Act One begins, the “Historian” (Bethe Jensen) appears on a castle balcony and provides an overview of life in England around the year 900. Incredible sound and energy comes off the stage as the music begins and the large ensemble performs the first song and dance number “Fisch Schlapping.”  Next Bruce Vieira gives a powerful performance of “King Arthur’s Song”.  He is a commanding yet comical King Arthur leading the quest for the Holy Grail.

Another highlight in Act One is a delightful rendition of the song “I’m Not Dead Yet” featuring Kevin Allen (Not Dead Fred), Nicole Thordsen (Sir Robin) and Izaak Heath (Sir Lancelot). The next scenes showcase the extraordinary talent of Dani Innocenti Beem as the Lady of the Lake. She sings “The Song that Goes Like This” beautifully with Michael Coury Murdock (Sir Galahad).

Other stand out performances include John Griffin as Sir Bedevere, Jere Torkelsen as God, Sir Not Appearing & Brother Maynard and Paul Hogarth as The French Taunter & Minstrel.  The four main dancers (Abigail Burton, Shino Yamagami Cline, Olivia Ekoue Totou and Hannah Passanisi) add much to the show especially as “Laker Girls” (complete with pom-poms) and “Showgirls” as the setting moves to a Vegas-like Court of Camelot. Kudos to Tracy Bell Redig for her bold costume design.

In Act Two, King Arthur and his side-kick Patsy (Michael Hunter) get lost in the forest. They are soon joined by the full company for the play’s signature song “Always Look on the Bright Side.” Other stand out songs include Beem singing “Whatever Happened to My Part,” and Allen performing “Where Are You/Here Are You” as Prince Herbert.

Right before the finale, Arthur, Patsy and the Knights sing “The Grail’s Been Found” then the full company ends the show with a wedding scene reprising the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Soon the whole audience is singing along and smiling.

Coming up next at Novato Theater Company is Noises Off by Michael Frayn, directed by Carl Jordan, June 20-July 14.



RVP’s Our Town–Superb!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Jaeden Sanchez and Steve Price in Our Town

Photo by Robin Jackson

Ross Valley Players’ current production of Our Town is superb.  The show runs now through February 25 at the Barn Theater in Ross.  Director Chloe Brozan and the talented cast bring Thornton Wilder’s classic American story to life.

Following the play’s premiere in 1938, Wilder wrote “the audience was deeply absorbed…there was much laughter and applause.” The next run flopped in Boston but the Broadway show was a hit winning Wilder a Pulitzer Prize. At the time Eleanor Roosevelt said the play “moved and depressed her.”  Her description ironically reflects the play’s main theme–that life is both “awful…and wonderful,” yet each moment should be treasured because “it goes so fast.”

As the show begins, it is clear this is a “play within a play.” The set is sparse, the stage mostly empty until the “stage manager” (played exquisitely by Lisa Morse) welcomes the audience and describes the small town and people of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Morse is especially good at introducing characters and explaining events as she enters and exits the stage speaking directly to the audience.

The story focuses on two families and the changes in their lives during the years 1901-1913, especially the love that develops between George Gibbs (Jaeden Sanchez) and Emily Webb (Tina Traboulsi). Sanchez beautifully captures both his character’s youthful hope and later grief. Traboulsi is extraordinary and her range outstanding as her character matures and changes over time.

The rest of the cast (composed of both younger and older actors) is equally brilliant, especially Michael-Paul Thomsett (Dr. Gibbs), Lauri Smith (Mrs. Gibbs), Steve Price (Mr. Webb), Jennifer McGeorge (Mrs. Webb) and Ann Fairlie (Mrs. Soames). Price is convincing as a loving father and a man not prepared for the many changes taking place around him. Fairlie’s role may be small but her stage presence is off the charts. Kudos also to the rest of the incredible cast including Dalton Ortiz (Joe/Wally), Justin Hernandez (Howie/Sam), Alexandra Fry (Rebecca/Si), Tom Reilly (Professor/Constable/Mr. Morgan) and Peter Warden (Simon).

Thanks also to Michael Berg (excellent period costumes), Ronald Krempetz and Michael Walraven (set), Billie Cox (sound/original music) and Frank Sarubbi (lighting). Their creativity adds much to the overall mood and enjoyment of this production.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is The Divine Sarah, a musical by June Richards and Elaine Lang, directed by Jay Manley, March 15-March 31.




Dragon Lady–Magnificent!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Sara Porkalob was given a standing ovation last weekend at Marin Theatre Company following her amazing one-woman musical show Dragon Lady.  Porkalob’s energy and talent as a writer and performer is a joy to behold. She knows how to take the stage, sings like a superstar and acts with depth and emotion.

Like a gifted mimic, she changes her voice, accent, tone and mannerisms bringing multi-generational characters from her Filipino family to life. Kudo’s to Andrew Russell for his outstanding direction, Pete Irving for his beautiful original music and the live band Hot Damn Scandal (Irving, Mickey Stylin and Jimmy Austin) for never missing a beat.

The set is spectacular thanks to Randy Wong-Westbrooke (Scenic Design), Kahlil Gray (Carpenter) and Joshua Patterson (Painter).  A huge dragon tail frames the stage and set of the Red Dragon nightclub. The club’s seating areas are upholstered in rich, red silk and velvet. Eerie lighting (Spense Matubang), a smoky mist and a jukebox that plays itself create a surreal mood.

The creativity and talent from all of those involved in this production is truly inspiring, especially Porkalob who bravely takes on the subject of generational trauma and bares every emotion. Even after the show, she shed a few tears on stage and her belief that “it is never too late to atone for the pain we inflict on the ones we love most and to forgive ourselves for past regrets.”

Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company is Bees and Honey, a new play by Guadalis Del Carmen, February 15 to March 10, 2024.



A Wonderful Show at RVP for the Holidays!

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Ross Valley Players celebrates the holidays with Joe Landry’s radio play version of It’s a Wonderful Life on stage now through December 17.  It’s a wonderful show and a lot of fun thanks to Director Adrian Elfenbaum’s “immensely gifted cast, imaginative and creative designers, stalwart crew and gracious producer (Steve Price).”

As the audience enters the theater, the actors are already onstage, apparently just arriving to work at a radio station decorated beautifully for the holidays.

Set Designer Mikiko Uesugi does a fantastic job setting the scene with fabulous details and color. There is a piano on one side, four microphones at the front and two tables behind. On the tables are various objects to create sound effects that compliment the story the radio actors will perform.

Normally a “Foley” artist performs the sound effects, but Elefenbaum thought it would be clever to have the actors performing the effects and music themselves.  Luckily he found a group of multitalented actors capable of performing both music and various dramatic roles.

Loren Nordlund (Freddie) deserves special recognition for his acting as Mr. Potter, the angel, cabdriver and more. His music direction, original music and arrangements are incredible.  Evan Held (Jake) stands out playing both young and old George Bailey and Elenor Irene Paul (Sally) compliments him well in the role of George’s wife Mary.  Molly Rebekka Benson (Lana) has great energy and range in her multiple roles especially playing Violet, Rose, Ruth, Zuzu and Sadie.

Malcolm Rodgers (Harrry Jazzbo Heywood) plays Harry, Bert the Cop, Sam Wainwright and he also plays guitar and sings. All of these fine actors bring the era and story to life—making for a standing ovation from the audience at the end of the show.

This production is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.  Elfenbaum succeeds in his goal to “inspire us during this holiday season to always cherish the reality that we depend on each other and we need each other.”

Kudos also to Michael Berg for excellent costumes, Billie Cox (Sound), Michael Walraven (Set) and the entire production team for their dedication and talent.

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is Our Town by Thornton Wilder and directed by Chloe Bronzan, January 26 to February 25, 2024.




The Best of Poe Benefit at RVP

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Ross Valley Players presented two spectacular benefit performances of The Best of Edgar Allen Poe,October 21 and 22 at the Barn Theater in Ross. Conceived and composed by Billie Cox and directed by Ellen Brooks, the show featured five talented actors and Scrumbly Koldwyn-Beck on piano.

The show opened with a welcome from Tom Reilly followed by Dan DeGabriele performing “Alone.”  Next Mary Ann Rodgers thrilled the audience with Poe’s “Telltale Heart.” Kyra Kozlenko’s reading of “Annabel Lee” was powerful and Malcolm Rodgers joined DeGabriele for an entertaining rendition of the “Pit and the Pendulum. “The Raven, “El Dorado,” and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head” preceded the final two pieces,”The Bells” and “Israfel” (featuring the lovely voice of Kozlenko). The Pianist (Koldwyn-Beck), production team and all of these fine actors brought the era and brilliance of Poe to life. The audience showed their appreciation with shouts of “Bravo” at the end of the show.  Kudos also to Michael Berg (costumes), Billie Cox and Ellen Brooks for their creativity and commitment to honoring the late great Edgar Allen Poe.

Addams Family at Novato Theater Company

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Photo by Jere Torkelsen

Don’t miss Novato Theater Company’s new musical comedy, The Addams Family, on stage now through October 8.  Based on the book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, this fun-filled production entertains from start to finish.

Marilyn Izdebski (Director/Choreographer) and Judy Wiesen (Music Direction & Keyboard) lead the large talented cast, crew and team of designers including Michael Walraven (Scenic), Frank Sarubbi (Lighting), Tracy Redig (Costume), Cindy Morris (Property) and Mark Shephard (Art).

The spacious set is spooktacular thanks to Walraven, Shephard and Kristy Arroyo (Specialty Painting). Front and center is a large door to a crypt. A wrought iron staircase on each side leads to a balcony with a haunted house in the background surrounded by spooky trees. Inside the crypt are “the ancestors,” a macabre group of ten singing and dancing ghosts dressed in white.

The overture features the familiar Addams Family song from television and the audience claps along. Soon the ancestors and Cousin Itt (with his signature long hair) take the stage followed by the whole family singing “When You’re An Addams.”  A scary looking Fester (Pat Barr) follows with an ironically tender performance of the song “But Love.”

The next tune in Act One, “Wednesday’s Growing Up,” is captivating. Performed by Bruce Vieira as Gomez Addams, the lyrics explain how daughter Wednesday has fallen in love with a “normal” young man. But Gomez must keep his daughter’s budding relationship a secret from his wife Morticia (Alison Peltz), at least for a while. Vieira and Peltz are tremendous in their roles. Their comedic timing and on-stage chemistry are a joy to watch.

HarriettePearl Fugitt is brilliant as Wednesday. She sings “Pulled” (with Robin Kraft as brother Pugsley) and “One Normal Night” with power and emotion. John Diaz is spot on as her smitten beau Lucas Beineke.

In Act Two, the Addams family invites Lucas’ parents, who are visiting from Ohio, to dinner. Alice and Mal Beineke (played by Jane Harrington and David Shirk) are convincing as the straight-laced, conservative couple nothing like Gomez and Morticia. Harrington is really funny when her character accidentally drinks some of Grandma Addams’ potion of “acrimonium,” losing her Midwest inhibitions and breaking into the song “Waiting.” The honesty in the lyrics ends up helping the Beineke’s marriage and brings an ultimate resolution between the two families and their children.  With help from their ancestors, friends and relatives, Wednesday and Lucas may actually have a chance at love despite the odds.

Other stand out performers deserving special mention include Kayla Gold who is hilarious as Grandma and Todd Krish (whose weird voices as Lurch) add much to the show.  Robin Kraft, the youngest cast member (sharing the role of Pugsley with Milo Ward) deserves special recognition for his incredible acting and singing. Kudos to the actors playing Cousin Itt (Lyra Wiesen, Alyse Levash,Cruz Galvez and Maison Sarkisian)–the show would not be complete without this strange character.

The Addams Family will make you laugh and smile. Director Marilyn Izdebski succeeds in her goal with the show–“to bring joy and love to everyone who watches.”

Coming up next at Novato Theater Company is Spamalot with book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by John Du Prez & Eric Idle, directed by Larry Williams, music direction by Daniel Savio and choreography by Marilyn Izdebski, February 9 to March 3, 2024.

By Flora Lynn Isaacson & Co-written by Lori Wood

A Brilliant Glass Menagerie

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Ross Valley Players celebrates its 94th season with The Glass Menagerie on stage now through October 14. The show opened for one weekend in March 2020, then closed due to the pandemic. Some of the original team has returned along with new cast, crew and designers to produce an entertaining and moving production of Tennessee Williams’ classic drama.

David Abrams does a fine job as director and also acts in the role of Tom Wingfield, a young man living with his mother Amanda (Tamar Cohn) and sister Laura (Tina Traboulsi) in a small St. Louis apartment in 1937. The only other character is Tom’s friend Jim O’Connor played by Jesse Lumb. These extraordinary actors along with a fabulous production team bring the fragile existence of these characters to life.

As the play begins we see Tom staggering home after a heavy night of drinking. Abrams brings out the character’s discontent, boredom and ambivalence with the obligations he feels to his single mother and sister.

Traboulsi is brilliant in the role of Laura. Her voice, movements and mannerisms well reflect a shy young woman whose main interest in life is her collection of small glass animal figurines.

Cohn is spectacular and convincing playing Amanda, a middle aged woman who escapes her disappointment with denial and memories of her youth as a Southern belle surrounded with beauty, grace and charm.

Lumb is excellent as Jim, the friend and hoped for (by Amanda) gentleman caller for Laura. Lumb is spot on as the promising kind suitor. When he and Laura meet, they discover they knew each other in high school and slowly, with the help of a little wine and a dance, Laura begins to come out of her shell. The two actors shine in the last half hour of the play. Their acting is truly outstanding.

Kudos to Michael Berg (Costumes), Billie Cox (Sound), Tom O’Brien (Set) and the entire production team for their dedication and talent, especially Steve Price (Producer). Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is It’s a Wonderful Life by Joe Landry and directed by Adrian Eifenbaum, November 17-December 17.




Guys & Dolls at Sonoma Arts Live

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Don’t miss one of the best musical productions of the year—Guys and Dolls now through July 30 at Sonoma Arts Live. Based on the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Director Larry Williams brings New York City in the 1950’s to life with a fine cast of “colorful characters, bustling gangsters, sassy showgirls, and mission workers.” The live orchestra led by Sherrill Peterson (Musical Director) is fantastic performing Frank Loesser’s familiar songs including “Luck Be a Lady” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.”

The play begins with a lovely overture and dance movements by the cast foreshadowing events to come. The story revolves around a gambler, Nathan Detroit (Skyler King), and Miss Adelaide (Jenny Villeux), a nightclub singer who have been engaged for 14 years. Also central to the plot is another gambler and friend of Nathan’s–Sky Masterson (Andrew Smith). Ironically, Sky becomes smitten with a local God-fearing mission worker trying to save the world (Sarah Brown played by Maeve Smith). Both couples’ chemistry is electric–a joy to watch. Other performers that stand out include Jonathen Blue as Nicely Nicely (his Broadway quality voice is incredible) and Owen Hardisty as Benny Southstreet.

The entire large cast has great energy and timing. It was a great idea to block many of the scenes right in the audience space. The cast moves on and off the stage, and up and down the aisles making the audience feel part of it all. The choreography is very entertaining (Liz Andrews) and the costumes beautiful (Barbara McFadden & Sylvia Gregory). Kudos to Emily Cornelius (Stage Manager) Gary Gonser (Set Design), Frank Sarubbi (Light Design), Jaime Love (Artistic Director) and Rick Love (Executive Director) for all their contributions bringing this grand and spectacular production together.

Coming up next at Sonoma Arts Live is Dames at Sea September 8-24 directed by Larry Williams with musical direction by Jonathen Blue.

Co-written by Lori Wood