East Bay makes way for three terrific show this week!

Life just doesn’t get any better, there are three shows to choose from this week and they are all terrific, from outrageous comedy to sophisticated comedy to lyric operetta all practically right in your own East Bay backyard.

The Lamplighters Music Theatre opens tonight in Walnut Creek, in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, with one of my absolute favorite musicals from the early 1900’s, Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow”. At the same time, “Design for Living”, a deliciously decadent comedy written by Noel Coward in 1933, was a vehicle for him, Alfred Lunt, and Lynne Fontanne to co-star in (based on the bold concept of a bisexual ménage a trios in which the three of them would participate). It is masterfully crafted and delivered with panache in the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. Then, just a short distance town the road, the Onstage Theatre of Pleasant Hill is producing one of its absolutely funniest comedies ever, a gem of a play by Jim Brochu entitled “The Lucky O’Learys”. It is impossible to recommend one of these over the other as they are each very good, each in its own way!

A modern Malaprop rises to the occasion in “The Lucky O’Learys” in
Helen Mean’s Pleasant Hill production.

Jim Brochu has written a very clever play about a family that is slightly dysfunctional. The father, Martin O’Leary, left the family many years earlier in search of his fortune. His wife, Peg O’Leary, is a character if there ever was one. She is a genuine character who tells it how it is, or at least how she thinks it is regardless of other people’s feelings. But somehow, she constantly gets her “merd’s wixed up”, saying one thing, meaning another, a master of malapropisms if there ever was one. What is a malapropism, you may ask?

A malapropism is an incorrect usage of a word by substituting a similar-sounding word with different meaning, usually with comic effect. The term comes from the name of a character, Mrs. Malaprop, in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy The Rivals (written in 1775). Example from the Rivals - - "He's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." (i.e., alligator).

Sheridan presumably named one of his lead characters, Mrs. Malaprop (who frequently misspoke to great comic effect), in joking reference to this word. The new term "malapropism" was coined to designate the specific kind of mistake, or inappropriate usage that Mrs. Malaprop frequently made.”

In our story, Mrs O’Leary (Roberta Tibbetts) is constantly attaching the wrong term or word to what she means. For example, her son Brian (Eddie Peabody), is about to marry the very lovely Amy Baviello (Jennifer Rastegar). Mother O’Leary has a very suspicious nature and imagines that Amy’s father, Frank Baviello (played byTim Biglow) (a rather swarthy and dapper looking Italian gentleman), is in someway connected with the Mafioso’s Cosa Nostra, but instead of referring to his "Cosa Nostra" connections, in her vocabulary, it always comes out “Costra Rican”, and "hitman", becomes "stuntman", which fosters great comic confusion and consternation to all those who don’t quite understand her inappropriate and/or misleading substitutions.

When Mrs. O'Leary and her husband talk about leaving on a world tour, she cries out - - “and then we’ll come back to our crazy old condum” - - when she should have said “condominium”.
Her malapropisms come a mile a minute and the laughs keep coming a mile a minute as well!

This madcap comedy centers on an overprotective and superstitious Catholic mother (Mrs. Peg O’Leary), who has spent her life competing with her sister Rose (Beth Chastain), whose daughter became a Catholic nun. Peg has been rooting for her son Brian to enter the priesthood so she can step up one more step on the “one-upsmanship-ladder” and gloat again. Brian however, complains that he is just to “horny” for a life in the priesthood and he cannot seem to get his mother to accept the idea that he is the marrying type. The only way he wants to be referred to as “Father” is when one of his own children crawls up on his lap and cries out the term.

The only Catholic “father” in the play is Monsignor William Rafferty (Mark Cornelius). Everyone in this group has his or her private wish for love, wealth and success and as the local lottery reaches unprecedented heights, they all manage to find a way to place their bets. The lottery closes and the wild and crazy outcome does involve a family winner, and probably the one you are led to think it is, isn’t!

This terrific cast of actors are each so great in their characters that I simply cannot pick out anyone to pick on! Director Helen Means has charted a wonderful theatrical trip for this eclectic group of people. This outstanding comedy plays only through this coming weekend, with shows on Thursday at 8 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m, closing the following a Sunday with a performance at 2:30 on February 4th. Call (925) 944-9006 for tickets and reservations. The theatre is located in the School House Culture Center at 2050 Oak Park Boulevard (at the corner of Pleasant Hill Road and Oak Park Blvd.) in Pleasant Hill.

Noel Coward”s great “ménage a trois” comedy is revived in Lafayette!

In Lafayette, the Town Hall Theatre is presenting Noel Coward’s upbeat and fast moving romantic comedy set in Paris, France and New York in the early 1930’s, a fun- filled Bohemian comedy about a playwright, a painter, and an interior decorator who each march to the beat of their own drummer. They love one another, are jealous, and feel guilty when one or the other of their triad is adversely affected.

The play is brilliantly Coward, rife with clever witticisms and thought-provoking dialogue. In another way it is quite different, as the social structure begins with a group of much lower income Parisian Bohemians, struggling to make life livable. In Coward’s more popular plays, “Private Lives”, “Present Indicative” and “Blithe Spirit”, his journalistic jaunts are typically among and making fun of the very wealthy and snobbish upper crust. What is truly remarkable about Coward is his unabashed exploration into the themes of feminism, polyandry, love between men, and the growing sexual freedom experienced in the 20’s and ‘30’s.

Under the artful direction of John McMullen, this play moves very quickly. I believe McMullen removed some of Coward’s less significant lines to keep the play moving. The superb professional level cast includes the very lovely Molly Benson as Gilda (the feminine center of their universe), the handsome John Hale as the German artist, Otto, and the dynamic Carson Creecy IV as the enterprising playwright, Leo. Also adding significantly to the dynamics are uber-conventional art dealer Ernest, played by Stephen Schwartz, and Maureen-Theresa Williams as the “not-quite-approving” house keeper Miss Hodge. Henry Perkins, Nancy Beranski and Roy Landaverde fill in the cast of friends, guests and a house boy (Roy).

This is a very tightly directed play, making the use of the word “Gay” legitimate and acceptable without it’s modern era trappings. John has really done an excellent job with this production, probably the best they’ve done so far this year. The acting is not just good, it is truly great!

The Town Hall is working hard to earn you support and I think this is a refreshing step forward in local entertainment.

What is unique about Town Hall is that this is the only theatre in the entire bay area other than ACT in San Francisco that has a full sized cabaret/green room on the lower floor where you can sit at a lovely little café table (and there are lots of them) enjoy a drink and a fantastic ginger cake desert, relax and discuss the show at intermission. Also, the Lamorinda Art Association has installed a superb display of local art for you to ponder and/or purchase. This historic theater is worth the trip to Lafayette, just to experience this remarkable “one of a kind” theatrical facility! The theater is located at 3535 School Street in Lafayette, at the corner of Moraga Road and School street. Call (925) 283-1557 for reservations and you may visit their website at http://www.townhalltheatre.com/ for more information on this show and the remaining season. Tickets range in price from $20 to $29 each and for this quality show, this is very reasonable. There is adequate parking on the street near the theater, just get there a little early.

The Merry Widow weaves a magical musical portrait commensurate with its turn of the century glory in Walnut Creek this week!

When I was growing up, my mother (who was a professional entertainer) constantly played the music from Franz Lehar’s great musical, The Merry Widow. I truly loved the story, the diverse romantic lyrics, and rich sonorous waltz music. I probably remember the 1934 film version of the musical as the most memorable version, starring Maurice Chevalier; Jeannette MacDonald; Una Merkel; Edward Everett Horton; George Barbier; and Herman Bing.

This past week I was able to relive that romantic and inspiring musical experience once again, in all its glory, through the Lamplighter’s Music Theatre production in the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. You won’t have to drive to San Francisco as the Lamplighter’s production moves to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, opening tonight at 8 p.m..

Under the guidance of Artistic Director of Barbara Heroux, and the baton of conductor Monroe Kanouse, and a cast of many highly talented artists, this superb musical comes to full fruition. In the production I attended, Claire Kelm portrayed the beautiful Widow, Anna Glavari, and her old boyfriend, the Count Danilo Danilovitch was played by William Neely.

In the small Balkan country in which the event occurs, Pontevedro, the Baron Zeta (played by Rick Williams) is un-ashameably attempting to find a local lord who would be a perfect matrimonial fit to wed the widow. It is feared by this small country’s government that if she weds an outsider, the new husband will take the widow and her millions out of the country, millions which are the largest single asset held by the country’s only bank! Fearing national financial collapse, the search for an appropriate suitor is paramount to the country and this wonderful little musical.

We discover as the musical progresses, that the widow was previously in love with the Count, but at that time in her life, she had no socially important family history nor a substantial dowry. The Count’s family ultimately dissuaded him from seeking her hand in marriage, when they were young and in love. The widow later married another wealthy man and inherited his wealth upon his death. In time, the count fell out of love and into a life of serial romantic encounters (none with any lasting significance), an outrageous playboy.

Will she and he get beyond the past romantic failure and re-unite for the good of the country? Well, you will have to go and see this wonderful little musical filled with many comic and romantic intrigues in order to find out.

Call the Dean Lesher Center for the Regional Arts box office at (925) 943-7469 or visit the Lamplighter’s website at http://www.lamplighters.org/ for more information. Tickets range between $11 and $46. The theater is located at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek and there is plenty of parking next door in the City’s parking garage. “The Merry Widow” only plays through this weekend with performances at 8 p.m., tonight (Thursday), Friday, Saturday, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday and closing with the 2 p.m. performance on Sunday, February 4th.