Stoppard's musical comedy over the top, Ennio Marchetto cuts a cool caper and Janis Joplin rocks on!

Stoppard musical hits a slightly flat note!

Three shows again this week, two were very good, one was just not quite my cup of tea. First, at the Town Hall Theater, Director Kevin Morales is presenting Tom Stoppard’s first and I believe, only attempt at writing a romantic musical comedy in “Rough Crossing”.

In this wild and crazy play within a play, two playwrights, Turai (Dale Albright) and Gal (Jerry Motta), are struggling to fine tune a romantic musical in the course of crossing of the Atlantic aboard the S. S. Italian Castle, and are scheduled to land in New York with the new musical complete. They have joined the ship mid-cruise, boarding the ship in Cherbourg, France, along with their musical director and composer, Adam (Sam Ayoub). The leading lady, Natasha (played by Natasha Palughi) and the leading man, Ivor (Dennis Markam), boarded the ship in South Hampton, England, and have been making their own waves on the journey thus far. They are not expecting the playwrights and Adam to arrive for another day and when they play out their own intimate little love scene, the aforementioned parties are witness to their tête-à-tête.

Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Sam is Natasha’s present love (at least he thought he was) and Ivor was Natasha’s previous lover, of which Sam knew nothing.
Both Turai and Gal recognize that they are about to see the restaging of the sinking of the Titanic as they have just witnessed a gigantic iceberg bearing down on their ship of dreams, an iceberg called “Jealousy”. Turai sends Sam (who is shattered by what he has just seen) to his stateroom accompanied by his partner, Gal, hoping Gal can calm Adam down and keep him from jumping overboard.

The next morning Turai is up early with an inspired creative plan for salvation, hopefully a plan that will steer their new musical on a slightly different course, a course that will save the ship, the cast, the musical and the two playwrights.

While the play within the play is intended to be ridiculous, I’m not sure it is intended to come off as ridiculous as it did for me. Perhaps it was just a bad night for me, as I grew tired of its silliness very quickly and confused by waiting for the show’s musical aspect to appear, which turned out to be a substitution musical. None of Stoppard’s musical songs or music appeared in this musical. Since I have never been privy to his lyrics or music, I have no idea how good or bad they may be. This director substituted the music of Gershwin, Porter, and Roster and Motta. From reviews that I had read of this previously done musical, particularly about Stoppard’s less than memorable lyrics, there was probably a very good reason for the substitution.

This play is at times absolutely outrageous and one of the funniest characters is a porter, a loony-tunes steward by the name of Dvornichek who is Stoppard’s foot-in-the-mouth, mouthpiece. Stoppard is noted for his intellectual play on words and his employment of the English language as his box of toys. He loves displaying the potential comedy of various expressions and idioms, the wackiness of witticisms and wonderful world of words-within-words. Dvornicheck (played hilariously by Joel Roster) is a bumbling, stumbling, fumbling gymnastic marvel. Dvornicheck is constantly misinterpreting everyone and everything aboard this ship. He downs more cognac than an Olympic beverage judge and still manages to keep his mangled wits about him. Everything else is so overplayed, slapstick and melodramatic, that I began to wonder if this “musical” farce wasn’t written by the Marx Brothers.

As I said previously, this was probably just an off night for me, you will probably love this madcap musical which plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., and with one remaining Sunday matinee performance at 2 p.m., closing Sunday the 23rd following the 7 p.m., performance. You may call the Town Hall box office at 283-1557 or visit the Town Hall website at, for more information on “Rough Crossing”. The Town Hall Theatre is located at 3535 School Street at Moraga Road in Lafayette.

Ennio cuts a clever paper caper!

Second, The Berkeley Repertory Theatre has brought the amazing talent of Ennio Marchetto, the man dubbed “The human paper doll” and the “king of life sized origami” to the Roda Theatre in Berkeley for a two week run that ends this coming Sunday, July 23rd.

“Ennio” takes paper doll creation to an entirely new height by creating and wearing a panoply of costumes that correlate with fifty or more pop-culture characters, icons, and politicians in a whirlwind and nearly miraculous 70 minute time frame. From Marylyn Monroe, to Madona, to Marilyn Manson, to Barbara Streisand to Doris Day, to a multitude of equally recognizable stars, Marchetto fashions a wildly wonderful world of characters right before your eyes! Marchetto is accompanied by the music and recordings that made many of these icons both famous and recognizable. Sure, there are some you won’t recognize (I didn’t recognize the current rap stars), but never-the-less, it was easy to recognize the type of character he was creating.

Marchetto is absolutely brilliant, a genius with Velcro and paper and an imagination that transforms himself into a rapid-fire gallery of characters that evolve and dissolve before your eyes. He is first and foremost an entertainer, one you will probably never forget!

This is the second time I have seen his show, and it has evolved quite a bit since my first encounter with his theatrical magic and I would see it again if I had the opportunity to do so. I highly recommend that you see “Ennio” before it leaves, because it is an experience like none you could possibly have had before.

Call the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s box office at (510) 647-2949 or toll free at 888 4 BRT –Tix or visit their website for more information at The Roda Theatre is located at 2015 Addison Street in Berkeley, Just about a block and a half from Berkeley’s central BART station.

Janis Joplin jams again at the Marine’s Memorial Theater!

Third, Janis Joplin has been re-incarnated in a terrific show in San Francisco, in the Marines Memorial Theater, a show called “Love Janis”. A legend returns to where it was really born, San Francisco.

Yes, I know, Janis Joplin was born in Port Arthur, Texas, a petroleum town on the Eastern Coast of Texas, but the legend really began in 1966 when Janis was encouraged to leave college in Austin, Texas, to audition for an obscure rock group called “Big Brother and the Holding Company” in San Francisco. She did, was hired, and eventually became “the gravel voice” that sang biting blues at a fever pitch; rocketing to stardom following the Monterey International Pop Festival during the summer of 1967 – “The Summer of Love”. Janis emulated the style and soulful sounds of the great blues stylists Bessie Smith, Odetta and Leadbelly, and re-crafting them into the apocalyptic electric sounds of the San Francisco Haight and Ashbury acid rock scene.

“Love Janis” is based on letters written by Janis to family and friends. She was an avid letter writer and the entire musical is crafted entirely from her own words and interviews, her own experiences on life each day as she lived it and reported it. Her younger sister, Laura Joplin, found a cache of letters Janis had sent to her family, read them, and discovered a depth to her sister, a depth and loneliness that she and most of the world never knew about or could possibly perceive from the newspaper accounts and interviews purporting her wild and wooly lifestyle. Laura traveled for four years seeking out Janis’ friends and acquaintances to gain greater insight, a quest that eventually became a biography also called “Love Janis”.

Eventually, Laura found Randal Mylar (the author who created the biography about Hank Williams, Lost Highway) and Sam Andrew (as musical director), the musician who had been the man who had actually performed with and wrote much of the music Janis performed while they worked together as members of “Big Brother and the Holding Company.” Now, after several years of touring smaller venues to get the kinks worked out, the show has emerged here in San Francisco, full blown and wired! The power in this production has to be in the music, in the singing, recapturing the sound and emotion of Janis Joplin. In order to accomplish that, the show employs three women to create and maintain a one woman story.

There are two women who portray Janis the singer, Katrina Chester and Cathy Richardson, who alternate in this role, show after show, night after night. Once you see and experience this driving performance, you will ask yourself, how can anyone do this even on an every other performance basis! The songs are belted out with all the gut-wrenching, soul-searching energy that the real Joplin delivered in her live performances. In addition, Morgan Hallett portrays the private, letter-writing Janis, the girl who used to read to sister Laura “Alice and Wonderland” and “the Wizard of Oz”.

If you remember the psychedelic concerts of the 60’s and 70’s, with groups such as those performed by “Big Brother”, “The Grateful Dead”, “Jefferson Airplane” and “Country Joe and the Fish”, then you probably saw some pretty fantastic psychedelic visual backgrounds and those masterpieces of art were created by Bill Ham, who has recreated them for this outrageous show. If you can not handle loud music, you’d better bring some earplugs, because this concert-show-story blares it like it really is and was.

The story is sad and poignant and thought-provoking, not an expletive laden musical diatribe. It brings back many of Joplin’s famous songs, including among many, “Piece of My Heart”, “Get It While You Can”, “Me and Bobby McGee”, and last but not least, the song that made her the hit of the Monterey Festival, “Ball and Chain”. Janis died from an accidental overdose of heroin in a Hollywood motel in October of 1970 at age 27. The show doesn’t dwell on it, but now there is a real story that unmasks the legend.

It is a terrific story, a great show, a powerful experience!
Contact the Marines Memorial Theatre box office at (415) 771-6900 or visit their website at for more information. The Theatre is located at 609 Sutter Street, just three blocks from Union Square. Performances are on Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 and 9 p.m., Sundays at 3 and 7 p.m., now through Sunday, September 3rd.