Tommy Emmanuel drives new PBS Special & Ruthless, The Musical in Danville Fiddler On The Roof and A Midsummer Night's Dream

Role Players Ensemble delivers a “Ruthless” musical in Danville in the Village Theatre that enjoys some really “killer” talent but is less than perfect, hampered by problems that will probably be corrected by the time you read this! Unfortunately, when a reviewer sees a show on opening night, often a number of things don’t work well and that tends to discolor the real potential of a terrific production. In this case, I have to temper my review by telling you that the potential is there, the talent is there and the solutions are there and that hopefully, my concerns will not stop you from going to see it. Many times, I am more critical than my readers will be, just because I see so much and my expectation level is many times, greater.

“Ruthless, the Musical” is a very funny musical parody that pokes fun at musical comedies and horror movies. Written by Joel Paley (book and lyrics) and Marvin Laird (music), this comedy sprang out of Paley’s love and obsession with Maxwell Anderson’s “popular but sinister” play, The Bad Seed! When Anderson’s widow refused to grant Paley the rights to write a musical based on the main ideas contained in the movie, The Bad Seed, he wrote a parody, which became a musical about a very talented, ten year old psychopathic girl, whose obsession with success as a theatrical sensation leads her to commit murder. This musical is somewhat of a maniacal cross between the characters contained in The Bad Seed, All About Eve, Gypsy, and Valley of the Dolls and presented with the silliness of a Saturday Night Live parody.

All of the characters are grossly overblown, cartoon-like characters, beginning with Tina Denmark (played superbly by Kathryn A. Foley), a ten-year-old who is competing with another girl for the lead in a musical about the popular Astrid Lindgren character, Pippi Longstocking. The class musical is written by her third grade teacher, Miss Thorn (Shannon Wicker-Mitchell), who selects another girl, Louise (Bevin Bell-Hall), for the lead. Tina’s mother, Judy (Jessica Magers-Rankin), reacts as most mothers would, telling her daughter basically to get over it, that there will be other opportunities. But, in the midst of this silliness, a promoter of child talent, Sylvia St. Croix (played in drag by John Blytt), arrives in the Denmark home, gushing over Tina’s great talent potential. Sylvia, a sort-of Auntie Mame type-character, convinces the teacher that Louise should have Tina learn Louises’s lines as an “understudy”, to which the teacher reacts, “but this is just a third grade play!” Never-the-less, Tina learns Louise’s lines, while full-filling the role of Pippy Longsocking’s dog in the school musical.

When Louise is found strangled by her jump-rope in the catwalk of the theatre, naturally, the lead role is passed to the “understudy” Tina Denmark. Though the air is filled with the tragedy of the situation, the musical is a success. When Tina’s mother finds evidence that her daughter is involved in the death of Louise, she turns her daughter in to the authorities, who eventually put her away in an asylum.

It is at this point that the play begins to get wildly convoluted, as Judy, the mother of Tina, discovers that she is the daughter of a once famous entertainer, Ruth Delmarco, and that she must be endowed genetically with the same gifts of star power that her real mother purportedly had. Talent promoter, Sylvia, now turns to Judy, promotes and pushes her onward and upward to Broadway stardom.

With the mother’s stardom comes another plot wherein a lesbian news reporter, again played by Shannon Wicker-Mitchell, delves into Judy’s past (now known as Ginger DelMarco) and the psychotic daughter, Tina, re-emerges, the truth about Sylvia St. Croix comes out and madness prevails everywhere.

It is one wild romp, the actors are really quite superb, but the little problems drove me nuts! First, it was hard to hear many of the lines because the piano and percussion accompaniment were too loud! Either the musical instruments needed to be toned down or the actors needed to have microphone amplification. Next, the set has a ridiculously narrow set of steps leading from a doorway landing down to the main stage and I frankly kept holding my breath, hoping that Sylvia (John Blytt) didn’t fall while trying to negotiate them in his high heels! Everyone was having trouble with the narrow steps, and frankly, the potential problem made me focus my attention on something that I shouldn’t have needed to worry about. The play uses a lot of voice-overs, via the speakers, which were too loud, too piercing and much too annoying. The timing was slower than it should have been, taking the edge off what should have been a very funny musical with some really great talent, leaving me with an overall “ho-hum” experience!

Hopefully, these minor problems will be rectified soon to make this production work properly.
On the other-hand, the costumes designed by Sandra Gardner were really quite outstanding. Jessica Magers-Rankin (Judy) and Shari Oret (who plays a theater critic, Lita Encore) really have excellent voices. The 12 year old Kathryn A. Foley (Tina) is a remarkable talent for her age and John Blytt (Sylvia) is really quite excellent.

Ruthless, The Musical, continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sundya performances at 2 p.m., now through October 28th. The Village Theatre is located in Danville, at 233 Front Street, next door to the Danville City Hall Chambers. Tickets range between a very reasonable $15 and $25 and can be purchased at the door or at the Community Center at 420 Front Street, Monday through Fridays between 8:30 and 5 p.m.., and you may call 314-3400, or 820-1278, or visit their web-site at for more information.

Tommy Emmanuel Rocks Chico PBS Special

Every once in a while, I discover a new artist or venue that truly excites me and I want to pass that information on to you. A couple of months ago, Bill, a friend of mine who is an actor, as well as my realtor, wanted me to hear a CD by an Australian guitarist by the name of Tommy Emmanuel, so he played it in his car while we were driving around looking as some properties. I was so enamored with this guitarist’s incredible sound that I had to immediately obtain three different CD, which I now play in my car every day.

In July, Bill called me and told me that Tommy was going to be appearing at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Theatre in Chico, California, and asked if my wife and I would I like to attend the concert with him. When I told Karen that we were going to drive up to Chico to see this guitarist perform, she somewhat hinted that I’d lost my sanity. It turns out the great little college town if Chico is further than I thought, about a three hour drive from Alamo, where I live. Sure, I’ve driven to Las Vegas to see a couple of shows or to Ashland, Oregon, to see several Shakespearean productions at one time, but I have never driven three hours (six hours total), approximately 165 miles to see a single performer entertain. Was it worth it, all I can say is wow!

Tommy Emmanuel is probably one of the greatest, and if not greatest, certainly one of the most diverse guitarist in the world. The sounds that he creates are almost beyond description. He can sound like several instruments at once, from percussion to bass, he does it all, confounding the senses. You can thrill to his music, but it is not until you see him perform, that you begin to realize what an incredible talent resides within this single performer. For over two hours straight, he entertained, non-stop. You have to see his fingers fly, his passion explode, his arpeggios dance like a whirling dervish before you can begin to appreciate his immense talent.

Was I impressed? Well, I am now on his mailing list and I bought another CD as well. No, I was not just impressed, I was literally blown away! Tommy Emmanuel is a world class performer you really ought to experience.

There were a bus load of Japanese fans that came from the Bay Area and as far away as Japan, just to see and hear him perform. This evening of entertainment was recorded by PBS (with multiple boom cameras and with sound trucks in the parking lot) for an upcoming PBS Special on Tommy Emmanuel. It is too late for you to see this man perform locally, but you can visit his website at and I guarantee he will be back. I learned that this is the second time PBS has filmed him and his third time he has returned to Chico, and the very beautiful and intimate Sierra Brewing Company’s in house theatre.

I suggest that you go to the Sierra Nevada Brewery website at and take a look at the outstanding entertainers and shows they have coming to their venue over the next few months. Their website will tell you that “we love live music almost as much as we love great beer. That’s why we designed the Big Room with live music in mind. The 350-seat venue is located right at the brewery, and has been called one of the best live music spaces on the West Coast!” General manager Bob Littell plays a pretty mean harmonica himself, in addition to arranging for his terrific entertainers and making sure this venue is one of the best you will experience, anywhere!

I discovered that Chico is a really neat little town, with a lot of great restaurants, vintage stores, and lots haunts and sights to see. Sure, it’s a long drive, but, if you are going up north, past Sacramento to Susanville, Red Bluff, Redding or Paradise, for any reason, Chico ought to be on your radar. The Sierra Nevada Brewery is a great place to pull in for a cool brew (my father-in-law would like that!) and or a great meal, and maybe even a show!
Fiddle a little, you'll like it!

Once again the Fiddler on the Roof plays his dulcet and plaintive strains on his violin over the rooftops in the little village of Anatevka, a small, poor, Russian Village comprised of Jewish settlers. The Contra Costa Musical Theatre (CCMT) has just opened their beautifully staged and artfully directed production of the classic Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein musical, Fiddler on the Roof, that took Broadway by storm in 1964 and made Zero Mostel, a household name.

Set in 1905, Fiddler on the Roof follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a hapless dairyman, Tevye, and his attempts to hold his family and their long standing traditions together in the face of a rapidly changing world. Russia is in the throws of great revolutionary upheavals, the Tsar is in great disfavor and the Russian Jews are being persecuted and uprooted from their long established homelands in Russia.

The musical's title stems from a painting by Marc Chagall, one of many surreal paintings he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler. The Fiddler is a metaphor for survival through tradition and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. The story comes from the pen of the Russian equivalent of Mark Twain, Sholem Aleichemn, and his collection of short stories written in Yiddish and published in 1894, in particular, one entitled Tevye and his Daughters or Tevye the Milkman.

Tevye (played by Daniel Olsen) is a very poor dairy farmer with five daughters and a meager little shack his family calls home. Tevye is a good, hard working husband, but life seems less than equitable to this poor man. He constantly appeals and talks to God in his daily musings, asking for a little sympathy, a little more fairness in God’s distribution of life’s challenges. A man with no sons and lots of daughters can only hope that the local matchmaker, Yente (Sheilah Morrison), can provide him and his wife a favorable match when it is time for his daughters to marry. However, with little or nothing he can offer as a dowry in the event someone should ask for his daughters’ hand in marriage, his opportunities to find them preferred husbands are few and far between. Naturally, he and his wife Golde (Deborah Black) hope for someone who will be a good husband, but preferably someone with higher than average financial status or intelligence.

When Yente does come around with a possible “match”, Tevye is apprehensive, as the man who wants to marry his oldest daughter Tzeitel (Sophia Noelle Newton), is the local butcher, Lazar Wolf (Mark Eichorn), a widower more that twice his daughter’s age, and one of the few villagers Tevye does not like! After an evening of drinking with Lazar, Tevye warms up to the idea and finally agrees to the offer from Lazar to marry his daughter. What he doesn’t realize is that his daughter is in love with a childhood sweetheart and life-long friend, Motel (Michael J. Clark), and that they have made a pledge to wed each other. “Unheard of, unthinkable - - this isn’t the way things are done” cries Tevye, when his daughter gets down on her knees and pleads for him to renege in his agreement with Lazar Wolf.

Despite his struggle to adhere to his principals and traditions, he gradually gives way to his determined daughters as each in turn wants to follow their own hearts and not their father’s edicts when it comes to selecting their lifetime mates.

This is an excellent re-crafting of the original musical, with a few delightful additions in the dance choreography as envisioned by Choreographer Dan Uroff. The casting and acting delivery, under the direction of Harvey Berman, is, for the most part, very good. While the lead Daniel Olson has a very lovely baritone voice, he has an overly commanding presence (the king of Siam he’s not!). I doubt that his portrayal of what’s supposed to be a less-than-confidant and often comically misfortunate Tevye, will make him a household word, as it did Mr. Mostel. The poignant humor just isn’t there. Deborah Black is very good as his wife, Golde. In my opinon, one of the two best portrayals came from Michael J. Clark in the personage of the determined tailor, Motel. Superb job! The other, in my humble opinion, was that of the matchmaker, Yente, played very, very well by Sheilah Morrison! And last, but not least, the real Fiddler on the Roof, played by Kerry Borgen, is quite superb, an artistic treasure!

The choreography, under the direction of Dan Uroff, again has to be mentioned as the Graveyard dream scene was good but somewhat awkwardly executed (no pun intended) and the “velcro-less” bottle dancing scene was quite superb! The orchestra, under the direction of Mark Hanson was most excellent. Overall, it is a terrific show, well worthy of your patronage. The lighting under the direction of Scott Denison was outstanding and the set design by Eric Sinkkonen, was, once again, superlative.

Fiddler on the Roof plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with performances on Sundays (10/21, 10/28 and 11/4) at 2 p.m., now through Sunday, November 4th in the Hofmann Theatere in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call the Box office at (943) 7469 (SHOW) for additional information or reservations. Tickets range in price from a very, very reasonable $34 to $39 each (with discounts available for seniors, groups and youth). You may purchase tickets at the Regional Center Box office or in the Barnes and Noble Book Store ticket outlet in Walnut Creek.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, in Polynesia?

A short drive north east from Rossmoor, in downtown Concord, the Butterfield 8 Theatre Company is performing one of William Shakespeare’s great comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this time with a Polynesian perspective, in Cue Live Productions’ Theatre space at 1835 Colfax Street, at Willowpass Road.

This production is a wildly different staging with a mixture of Polynesian sarongs’ and business suits that the British island statesmen of the 1800’s would probably have worn. In addition, the wandering, wailing, bewitched and assailing lovers who meander though the island’s woods (jungle ?), were dressed in a very strange combination of undergarments (“Union suits” of some brevity), adding some light-hearted levity to the overall production.

This is a very unique and thought provoking production, of a tale often told through European or American eyes, but by setting this production in the South Pacific, a new dimension is encountered In director John Butterfield’s vision of this play, some men play the parts of women and some women play the parts of men, certainly not unusual in the theatrical world of this time.

The play was probably written between 1594 and 1596, and according to the “Annotated Shakespeare” authored by A.L. Rouse, it was written as a play to entertain the participants in a wedding ceremony.

The complicated comic story line evolves around the needs and wants and conflicts of lovers, both young and old, and was placed by Shakespeare in ancient Greece.
Theseus, the Duke of Athens (played by Lisa Drostova), and Hippolyta (Silas Parker III), his betrothed, are holding court a fortnight before they are to say their nuptials. One of their citizens, Egeus (Ruth Kaiser), comes before the Duke demanding that Theseus (who has the final say over life and death in this city/state) command his rebellious daughter Hermia (Becky Potter), to marry the young man that he has chosen for his daughter to wed, a young man named Demetrius (Zarif K. Sadiqi). However, Hermia is in love with Lysander (Evan Weiss) and says that she would rather suffer death than be forced to marry a man she is not in love with. At the same time, Hermia’s childhood friend, Helena (Laura Reed), is in love with Demetrius, but he won’t give her the time of day. Theseus decides to delay his decision until the day of his nuptials, giving the young girl a chance to re-consider her father’s all or nothing demand.

Even the Fairies in the woods are having their little marital disagreements and the king of the fairies, Oberon (Carson Creecy), and the queen of fairies, Titania (John Butterfield), are in the midst of a lover’s power struggle. Oberon decides to employ his sprite, Puck (Darren Barrere), to play a magical trick on his wife, to get even with her.

A group of local amateur actors in Athens wish to present a comical play at the nuptial ceremony of Theseus and Hyppolyta and they gather in the woods to practice their version of Ovid’s tragical tale of Pyramus and Thisby. In their hammy production, the tragedy becomes a roaring comedy. It is while these actors, who are artisans described by Shakespeare as “mechanicals” (Quince, a carpenter (Jan Lee Marshall), Bottom, a weaver (Donald Hardy), Flute, a bellows-mender (Tyler Raftery), Snout, a tinker (Ryan Geraghty), Snug, a joiner (Ian Taylor), and Starveling, a tailor (Angel Ortega)), are practicing their lines in the woods, that one of them named Bottom, falls victim to a prank crafted by the aforementioned fairy king, Oberon.
Puck is instructed to squeeze the juice of a particular flower on the eyelids of Tatania as she sleeps and on the eyelids of the actor known as Bottom (Donald Hardy), as he sleeps. The purpose of the magical potion is to make the actor Bottom appear as a man with the head of an ass to everyone who henceforth sees him. The potion sprinkled on the eyelids of Tatania, will make her fall in love with the first person or thing she sees when she awakes, which of course, would be a man with the head of an ass.

While the King fairy, Oberon, is instructing his sprite Puck to perform this particular prank on his wife, he observes the miscast lovers wandering through the woods, bewailing their plights. As a result of Oberon feeling sorry for the unfortunate lovers, he gives Puck instructions to also apply the magic mixture to the eyes of a couple of the young Athenian lovers, to allow them to fall in love with someone more appropriate. Puck, however, gets faulty instructions and the madness of a magical mix up occurs, which sends this convoluted and comical story into mayhem.

There are 22 actors in this production, more than I have room to address thoroughly in this article, but several gave truly exceptional performances, which, include a marvelous Darren Barrere as Puck; David Hardy was outrageous as Bottom (man turned ass); Jan Lee Marshall was delightful as Quince the director of the little play within the play. Lisa Drostova was excellent as Theseus, Duke of Athens. The Polynesian Athenian lovers, Evan Weiss, Zarif K. Sandiqi, Becky Potter and Laura Reed were absolutely superlative. While most of the young actors were pretty darn good, Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, played by Silas Parker III was a disaster! He seemed to be a guy playing a gal who was a swishy gay something or other and didn’t even begin to comprehend his character. The fairies were delightful and included Ariel Valencia, Meghan Gates, Allison Lawrence, Quinn Haberman, and Cassandra Gutierrez.

This fun-filled wacky adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummers Night’s Dream plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m., now through October 26th. The theatres is a night club type of venue, converted into a theater. There are several excellent restaurants near by, so you might consider going early, having dinner and then attending the show. Call for tickets and reservations at 798-1300 or visit their website for more information at Tickets are very reasonable at $12 for seniors and students, with $18 for general admittance. The Theatre is located at 1835 Colfax Street, off Willow Pass Road in Concord.