Spamalot, Hair, Awake and Sing, sounds like an early morning ritual!

This week’s “entertainment notebook” includes a review of a fun-filled controversial adult musical at the Willows Theatre in Concord that probably enraged your parents or at least raised your eyebrows in 1968.

“HAIR”, the anti-establishment “hippy” musical, actually opened first at the New York City Shakespearean Theatre to very mixed reviews and widely divergent opinions. Questions arose as to its authors’ right to “freedom of expression and speech” regarding their views on a broad range of morality issues. This musical drew attention to many things not generally spoken about in an open forum, including blatant and deviant sexuality, individualism, racism, violence, drug use, loyalty to flag and country, and unconditional acceptance of our political leaders’ agendas, issues which still remain in America today.

“HAIR” was originally created by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, two out-of-work actors. Rado confessed to earlier reviewers that he and Ragni were more than aware of the traditional Broadway format and style, but they wanted to create something new, something different, something that translated to the stage the changes that were in the air, especially among hippies in New York's East Village.

The show was in for tough times from a broad base of patriotic Americans who were insulted by the effrontery of a theatre company willing to desecrate the American Flag on the stage as an act of imitating what was happening on the streets of America in acts of political disobedience against our war policies.

The show opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theater on April 29, 1968 and it closed on July 1, 1972 after 1,742 performances. While productions of “HAIR” spreading across the nation were very successful in the more liberal political and religious climates, the real problems came in conservative climes, such as Boston, Massachusetts in 1970 and Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1975. Many politicians and religious leaders considered the show a "lewd and lascivious" production because of its “in your face” sexuality, outspoken coarsely written content and complete nudity by the entire cast at the end of the first act.

Willows Theatre director Rich Elliot has revived this very thought-provoking musical. In many ways, I too was put off by certain aspects of the play. I think a number of the songs are uninspiring and they do absolutely nothing for me, but the musical does has enough redeeming qualities and songs that I do like, that I decided to relive the “HAIR” experience once again, and I am glad I did!

The cast includes a high spirited “tribe” of very talented performers belting out the themes of the play, and delivering some excellent portrayals with excellent voices. The principal actors Michale Charles Reed (who plays Berger) and Ricardo Rust (who plays Claude), delivered sterling performances in this extremely thin story line. It chronicles a nationwide movement of young people questioning the authority of our government and social norms. They were also fighting to be different, themselves, unmolded and not willing to accept the consequences of being sent to fight in Vietnam, for a war they could not and did not believe in.

The songs that have always stuck with me were delivered with compassion by some very beautiful and talented people; songs such as “Aquarius”, “Easy to be Hard ( - - how can people be so heartless - )”,” Good Morning Starshine” and “The Flesh Failure (- - let the sun shine in - -)”. They still echo in my mind several days after seeing the show.

The show hasn’t changed much after 40 years and frankly neither have many of us and that is why this show is so relevant today. Certainly we may not be as shocked by the coarse language and nudity as we once were, but the idealistic message is still important.“HAIR” can be seen at the Willows Theatre in the Willows Shopping Center at 1975 Diamond Blvd. in Concord, next to REI. Tickets range in price between $30 and $40 each and can be obtained by calling their box office at 798-1300 or by visiting their web site at . Performances on Wednesdays and Thursdays are at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30, Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m., now through September 27th. The theatre’s daytime box office is located at 636 Ward Street in Martinez in the lobby of the Campbell Theatre. The box office hours are Tuesday through Saturday between 12 noon and 6 p.m. REMEMBER: This show contains nudity and mature language!

Yellow Wood Coffee and Tea titillates the taste buds!

Next in my notebook, The Yellow Wood Coffee and Tea shop in the Alamo Plaza is now providing open mike or poetry readings on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Friday and Saturday evenings, music in both classic and contemporary instrumental renderings, and song stylists and balladeers that are reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot and Don Mcclean, perform, providing entertainment for you to enjoy along with your coffee, tea and treats. Wine and beer are also available. Check out their web site at for more information on upcoming offerings. When you go to the website, please “Click” on the yellow heading “This week at Yellow Wood”, to reveal upcoming events. Try it - - you will like it. They have great coffee cake. The Yellow Wood Coffee shop is located at 215 Alamo Plaza, Suite E, next to Richard’s Arts and Crafts. This is a very classy little coffee shop and a great place convenient for the Rossmoor crowd!

SpamAlot returns to the Bay Area!

The madness of Monty Python will be returning to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, September 15th at 7:30 p.m, with the wildly successful “SpamAlot”, a musical ripped right out of the original 1975 Monty Python movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

Beginning in 1969, a madcap British comedy team began a series of comedic sketches on the BBC that headlined as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, poking fun at idiosyncrasies of British lifestyle.The series was extremely successful, continuing over 45 episodes and created an immense following worldwide of the wryly clever and iconic Pythonesque humor. The show featured the brilliant animation of American-born Terry Gillam and showcased the exceptional talents of several British actors including principal contributors John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Graham Chapman. The series evolved into several hugely successful movies including the aforementioned Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, and the currently touring musical, “SpamAlot”.

Monty Python’s “SpamAlot” is currently in production in Los Angeles and will be coming back to the Bay area in two weeks. The story is a wildly exaggerated and misguided Pythonesque (outrageously comedic, near vaudevillian) telling of the story of King Arthur and his search for knights to join him at his round table.

In this tale, the audience is first introduced to King Arthur (in fully fanciful kingly costume) skipping over the fields and down the roads, like a child riding a pretend horse, with his man servant, Pansy, skipping along behind him, clapping a pair of coconut shells together, making the sound of horses hoofs. Does this give you an idea of how bizarre this slap-stick and completely in “poor taste comedy” concept is presented? All of the characters are equally bizarre and outlandish.

In one of the first scenes in the movie, King Arthur and his man, clip clop through a village riddled with plague victims. While journeying through, we see a mortician’s hand drawn cart, piled high with corpses. A villager, apparently carrying a corpse over his shoulder, beckons to the cart manager, “Here, will you take this corpse?” or words to that effect. But the manager discovers that the man on the man’s shoulder is not dead yet, as the apparent victim, Fred, raises his head up and says, “I’m not dead yet!” The bearer of his body says, “Don’t you mind him, yes he’s dead!” They proceed to argue about the well being of the victim. Finally, the bearer of the victim, Fred, calls to the stymied cart manager, “Here now, mate, can’t you help me out and put him out of his misery?” An argument ensues between the manager and the body bearer, “I can’t do that, it’s against regulations!” On and on the argument continues, until the manager finally succumbs, takes a shovel in hand, and bashes Fred in the head, where upon, Fred, is dumped on the cart with the other bodies.

This past weekend I caught up with actor Christopher Sutton, who plays more characters in the production than anyone else, including two of my absolute favorites, “Not Dead Fred” and “Prince Herbert”. Christopher and I spoke on the phone while he was rushing off to the Sunday evening performance.

Chris informed me that originally he was from a Michigan family consisting of seven siblings. He and his wife, Lyn Philistine, live in New York City when not on the road performing. They both appear in this production of “SpamAlot”. Christopher plays five various characters and his wife is a stand-in actress for a lead character called the “Lady of the Lake”, and as of the Sunday evening performance, Lynn has appeared in this role for her 100th time in this show. She must be pretty terrific however, because world famous Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo was in the afternoon performance and came back stage specifically to meet her and complement her on her performance in her role. Well known actress Merle Dandridge is the principal actress in this role for most productions.

Christopher bubbled on about the absolute delight he has in playing in this fun-filled production, even though to date, now in his 1300th performance of “Not Dead Fred”, he has been struck in the head 2600 times. Christopher heaped praise on director Mike Nichols, re-iterating his outlook on farce and its value in entertaining people, taking them away from their troubles for one brief but grand moment through great theatre.

I hope you all can join me along with the "Knights who say “NI”" (when you see the show you will get it!) at the San Jose Center for the Arts as Broadway San Jose (the Bay Area’s newest showcase for Broadway shows), brings “SpamAlot” back to the Bay Area. The theatre is located at 255 Almaden Blvd. in San Jose. You had better buy your tickets now, because the San Francisco show practically sold out before it even opened. Call BROADWAY SAN JOSE SEASON TICKET OFFICE, at 866-395-2929 or for more information.

"Awake and Sing" a poetic ode to Odets!

Before I close my notebook, I have to tell you about an absolutely terrific depression-era drama by Clifford Odets, entitled “Awake and Sing”, currently in production at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley.Bay Area veteran actress and director, Joy Carlin, has gathered together an outstanding cast of professional actors, who when brought together for this great dramatic play, deliver a powerful nostalgic conduit to the past, while mirroring fears and concerns for many in today’s difficult economic times!

Clifford Odets wrote his first two plays in 1935, Waiting for Lefty and Awake and Sing, but because of serious doubts by Group Theatre’s leader, Lee Strasberg, Awake and Sing was not produced for several years. Waiting for Lefty was about fictional taxi company drivers and a union meeting, alternating between vignettes about their personal struggles and difficult lives.

This play became a smash hit and made Odets an overnight success. He went on to write many plays and screenplays that are considered classics about life’s struggles, including Awake and Sing and Paradise Lost!

Awake and Sing chronicles the struggles of a Jewish family, the Berger family, taking place in 1933 in the Bronx. Family matriarch, Bessie Berger (Ellen Ratner), is a tough, no-nonsense dictator who struggles to take care of her less than successful aging father, Jacob (Ray Reinhardt), her loving but somewhat less than successful husband, Myron (Charles Dean), and her young adult children, Ralph (Patrick Russell) and Hennie (Rebecca White). Jobs are scarce and take home incomes barely sustaining in the Berger household. The inability to have a new pair of nice shoes, a new dress or even oranges on the dinner table is an ongoing household theme in this hardworking but stressed family. Bessie has a very successful brother, Morty (Victor Talmadge), who occasionally assists the Berger family financially in little ways and is often a guest for dinner. In addition, they have a boarder, Moe (Rod Gnapp), a tough, ascorbic hustler and a World War I amputee and survivor. The daughter marries another immigrant by the name of Sam (played by Anthony Nemirovsky).

Jacob, the grandfather, is a Russian Jew with strong socialist feelings, a believer in Karl Marx and an opponent of big government. He has held and lost many, many jobs over the years because of his tendency to espouse his political beliefs. His grandson perhaps feels somewhat jealous towards his sister, and feels he suffers the most as his sister seems to gets her needs taken care of before his needs are addressed.This is a family typical of many families with many problems and a mother that allows little room for pity. It is a sweet and sour story, a story of love, loyalty and perhaps misplaced, over-harsh parental control, but in the end, it is a story of coming of age and maturity. It becomes a hard but realistic story of survival, superbly acted.

Awake and Sing plays Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., now through September 27th in the Aurora Theatre located at 2081 Addison Street in Berkeley. Call (510) 843-4822 or visit their website at for ticket reservations or additional information. This play is truly superb and is brilliantly directed by Joy Carlin.