Desperately Seeking Wonderful!

Three shows that will provide you with music, laughter, gayety and thoughtful insight are featured in this week’s reviews, with Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic fun-filled, fantastical fairy-tale musical, “Cinderella”; Jason Robert Brown’s sensible, thought-provoking and up-beat Sondheim-like, “Songs for a New World”; and Sherry Kramer’s poignant look at one woman’s search for solace in the loss of her mother, and her heart-felt desire for the redemption of American’s political esteem and virtue, in “When Something Wonderful Ends”. These productions are great shows in which all the characters are desperately seeking something wonderful, and at the same time, offering something wonderful to you, a great evening of entertainment!

"Songs for a New World"- Richly rewarding!

DLOC (Diablo Light Opera Company) has expanded its venue opportunities for its audiences with a cleverly directed, lighthearted musical for explorers, old and new, seeking harmony in their new or estranged worlds, in Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs For A New World”, at the Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette.

Director Kevin Morales has brought together four exceptionally talented entertainers, Meghann May (as woman #1), Marisa Borowitz (as woman #2), Dave Abrams (as man #1) and Danny Cozart (as man #2), to sing about life’s hopes, fears, transitions and joys through a multitude of great songs. The work includes some very clever, funny, and passionate songs, a diverse combination of tunes with conventional, reverent and even irreverent themes, covering events and situations that touch on everyone’s lives.

The voices are quite excellent, several are even exceptional. This is not a review of songs you have heard previously, Jason Robert Brown is basically a new voice with new lyrics that are both entertaining and memorable. The show is one I wouldn’t mind seeing again just for the joy of the wonderful voices and clever production!

The music and accompaniment under the direction of Greg Zema (pianist) is quite excellent. He is accompanied by Eyrn Pola on keyboards, Devon Hood on Bass and Gary Glass on percussion. Costumes Design by Marianna Ford is clever and fetching and appropriate.
This excellent production plays this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and on Sunday at 2 p.m., in the Town Hall Theatre at 3535 School Street at Moraga Road, in Lafayette. Call (925) 283-1557 or visit the website at for reservations or additional information. Tickets are $28 for general admission and $25 for seniors.

The same show will be repeated at 8 p.m. in the magnificently restored El Campanil Theatre at 602 W. Second Street, in Antioch, on Saturday, April 26th. I strongly recommend a trip to Antioch if you cannot make the show’s very short run at the Town Hall Theatre, for two great reasons, the Campanil Theatre is a gorgeous restored theatre venue and Humphrey’s restaurant, just a few blocks away provides a terrific dining experience, overlooking the bay and delta waters. Call for reservations in Antioch at (925) 757-9500 or visit their website at Tickets are $28 for general admission and $25 for seniors.

Cinderella - Wishful Thinking!

Cinderella, how many times have Karen and I seen Cinderella? Over the years, I guess we’ve seen it quite a few times. How many times have I come away with a great feeling? Probably just as many. Cinderella, going clear back to the Walt Disney cartoon movie, has always brought a special excitement and upbeat joy in my heart, a great respite from the strife and complexity of life. The current production of this classic 17th century fairy tale by Charles Perrault, and put to music by Rodgers and Hammerstein and the Contra Costa Musical Theatre in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts is absolutely superlative in every aspect!

Director Scott Denison has brought together a marvelous cast and production team that has made this musical one to truly remember. Everything seems perfect, including the orchestra, under the direction of Mark Hanson, the sets by Peter Crompton, the costumes by Melissa Paterson, and the lighting by John Earis, set the perfect stage. The choreography by Jennifer Denison Perry is really quite excellent.

The cast includes some of my favorite local professional level performers, starting with Nephi Speer as the Prince; Megan Gallup as Cinderella; Leah Tandberg as the Queen; and John Hetzler as the King. In large part due to this production, I will be looking for much more from Jessica Magers-Rankin, who played stepsister Caliope, Amy Nielson as the other stepsister Minerva, and without a doubt, Patrick Michael Dukeman (a consummate professional actor), who played the ugly stepmother brilliantly! I heard people raving about this terrific threesome and how they simply stole the show! I could go on and on about all the individual performances such as the fairy godmother, played superbly by Kerri Shawn, and the Prince’s steward and confidant, Lionel, played in sterling fashion by Scott Strain, the many women and men in the ensemble, the dancers, and the children.

Not only was the story, as always, heartwarming and hilarious, but it became a group participation event as director Denison pulled out all the stops and came up with some truly unique added attractions that made this show more than just a show. When the courtiers individually announced members of the audience by name as they re-entered the theatre auditorium following intermission and just before the grand ball scene, in the fashion of “Presenting Lord and Lady ______” or “Presenting His Excellency, Baron _____”, it suddenly became an event in which the audience took part! In addition, there were servants standing on the inside parameter of the upper balcony holding large court flags out over the audience as they filed in below them.

This Cinderella is certainly a magnificent show, a grand production, a show for the entire family. If you don’t have any family locally, then adopt some and go to see it. Tickets range between$34 and $39 each with discounts available for seniors and youth. This marvelous production plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m., now through May 3rd in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call (925) 943-SHOW (7469) for reservations or to purchase tickets or to visit their website at

Lois Grandi says Playhouse West will close "When Something Wonderful Ends!"

Lois Grandi for 13 years has delivered professional level, highly entertaining and thought provoking entertainment through her little theatrical company, Playhouse West, the little company that could and would and did it well. I have had the good fortune of knowing Lois Grandi and working with her, as her staff photographer and friend for these many years. Now, after all the wonderful plays and musicals such as “After the Fall”, “Oleanna”, “Art”, “What the Night is For”, and “Defiance” to name just a few, have come and gone, Lois Grandi, due in large part to the economies of the time and the many hours of dedication and hard work, has decided it is time to bring the curtain down on her marvelous company and search for new, rewarding horizons.

Her last play scheduled for this season is “When Something Wonderful Ends”, a very unique, perhaps even unusual play by Sherry Kramer, that Lois Grandi was introduced to at the Humana Festival in Louisville this past year. The play left her spell-bound and she felt compelled to bring it to Walnut Creek, to replace the previously chosen show that she had planned for this time slot, “The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl”. The play left her searching for answers about a sequence of events and political fauxpas that set in motion our present stalemate in the Middle East. Lois asked herself, “How could all of these events have happened? Wasn’t anybody awake in this country? Where was I when our government launched the irrevocable chain of events that has caused our undoing – all in the name of protecting Americans and our interests (in the middle east)?”

Lois was determined that life would not simply “go on” for her, without her bringing this important message to her audience, without her asking us to examine our values, our store of information, and asking us to read and research and hopefully restore, our lost American heritage of being the morally right leader of the western world.

It is funny how we often equate a special event in our lives with something going on external to our personal lives. I remember exactly what I was doing on Friday the 22nd of November, 1963, as I returned from lunch to my office job in Denver, Colorado, when we heard that President Kennedy had just been shot. I remember sitting in stunned silence on the edge of my desk, along with my co-workers at the Home Insurance Company, while someone’s radio taken from her desk drawer droned on with articulate solemnity engaging reportage, informing us of the frightening events taking place in Dallas, Texas.

For playwright Sherry Kramer, her life’s memories are connected in large part to her purchase and ongoing engagement with her incredible collection of Barbie Dolls, each one represented the “exact moment when something wonderful ended.” Kramer uses wit and humorous dialogue to trace our political history between 1963 and now, connecting the dots on events that transpired in the middle-eastern Fertile Crescent area of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, events that radicalized the mullahs into a rabid force intent upon the destruction of the Evil Empire, known to these Muslims as the United States.

In the play, Kramer is in the process of packing up her Barbie Dolls from her mother’s home, now that her mother has passed away, while preparing the home for its transition to someone else. She realizes that it is time to give up her youthful exuberance for these childhood treasures and to move on. It is time to let go of the assumptions, the promises and to wake up to the realities of life. Like a guy named Gore, she uses her Barbie Doll stories as a gentle hammer to drive home the information and sequence of events that she as unearthed in her personal research, to ask us to take another look, to examine the frightening chain of events and political leaders involvements that may have put our great nation on the abyss of a “many trillion dollar” financial disaster.

Directed by Playhouse West’s Artistic Director, Lois Grandi, “When Something Wonderful Ends”, features the clever and articulate actress, Janis Bergmann, to bring this thought-provoking dramatic comedy to full fruition. Bergmann is brilliant at conveying this heavy message with a gentle and intriguing and often very funny delivery.

This work is not depressing nor is it a political statement. It is simply a dollop of very intriguing information, information that we may now wish we were more familiar with earlier in our lives, information that may prompt us to dig a little deeper and push our leaders to think more broadly about our future dealings with other countries. Perhaps there is a lot more we need to consider in our desire to live well and our propensity to look the other way when our leaders use our dollars to pursue their quest for oil revenues, directly or indirectly.

“When Something Wonderful Ends” plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., now though Sunday, May 4th. Call (925) 942-0300 for ticket reservations or additional information or visit the Playhouse West website at The Playhouse West is located at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek. Tickets range in price from $26 to $30.