Up Up and Away, with entertainment flying high in the East Bay!

Sheri Livingston and Johnny Stark receive rave reviews in Hamilton, New York!

This week’s Entertainment Notes are packed with fun things to do, places to go and great entertainment events without your needing to spend a great deal of money. First, on the theatre ticket side, the California Shakespeare Theatre in the Bruns Amphitheatre in Orinda, is defying gravity with their highly exciting production of William Shakespeare’s memorable comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. By defying gravity, I mean this show is so lofty, so brilliantly conceived and well executed, that you are bound to soar, as I did, with excitement.

How many times can one see the same play by the Bard and still find it invigorating and newly ingenious? I guess as many times as one can find great directors and risk taking, properly funded theatrical companies. Director Aaron Posner has taken his magic and whimsical wand in hand and created something truly brilliant, simple, and yet markedly grand!

Shakespeare’s words are always Shakespeare’s words, but the manner and the expertise with which they are delivered and interpreted can make each production fresh and new or tiresome and boring. Believe me, I have seen both.

Director Posner employs a very simple and yet artistically inspiring set, a set that reaches out for the moon, a set that brings the magical creatures effectively to their time and place without a wasted moment. Into the woods, without the woods, and yet the characters walk on the wild side, becoming pawns to a fairy queen and a woodland king, and his impish servant. King Oberon and his soon-to-be-queen, Tatania, have fun with some wayward youths while employing their mystical magic and at the same time demonstrating their wily side.

The story involves typical Shakespearean stratagems, mistaken identities, mismatched couples in love and in lust, running away from family dictates, lost in a woods teaming with magic and mystical characters. Two best friends, Hermia (Erin Weaver) and Helena (Lindsey Gates) are in love with young men of Athens. Lysander (Avery Monson) loves Hermia and begs her father, Egeus (Dan Hyatt), for Hermia’s hand in marriage. Egeus has other plans, as he wants his daughter to marry Demetrius (Richard Thieriot), a young gentleman who also wants to marry Hermia. Demetrius is a better choice, as far as her father is concerned and Egeus evokes ancient Athenian law, which gives the father the right to choose his daughter’s potential husband. Egeus begs audience before the Duke of Athens, Theseus (Keith Randolf Smith), demanding his right under that law to command his daughter to marry the man of his choice. Hermia will have none of that and when given the choice to marry Demetrius or be willing to forfeit her life, she chooses the latter. The Duke, not wishing to make Hermia choose at that highly emotional moment, grants her an extension of time to think it over.

At the same time, Helena, Hermia’s close friend, is madly in love with Demetrius and pursues him constantly, hoping to win his affection and deter him from pursuing Hermia. Her constant, unceasing stalking of Demetrius simply turns him off.

Following the decision that Hermia must marry Demetrius, a man she does not love, as directed by the Duke, the young lovers, Lysander and Hermia, decide to elope. They plan to seek refuge in another Greek city-state where Lysander can seek refuge with a sympathetic and supportive friend. Their plan is to meet in the nearby woods the following evening and make haste away from the authority of Athens. Hermia foolishly tells her lovelorn friend Helena of the plan and Helena reveals the proposed elopement to Demetrius, hoping that he will see the futility of his love, hoping he will yield to Helena’s pursuit. Of course the plans go awry and as the two couples confront each other in the woods, a chance encounter with a fairy named Puck, servant to the fairy king, Oberon, turns everything upside down.

Oberon (Keith Randolf Smith) and Titania (Pegge Johnson) are about to be married, but they also have been engaged in a long ongoing argument over a particular servant. In a fit of anger, Oberon instructs Puck (Doug Hara) to punish his fiancé by squeezing the juice from a specific magical flower on to the eyelids of the sleeping Titania, juice that will make her fall madly in love with the first vile creature she sees when she awakes.

While Oberon plans his revenge on Titania, he encounters Demetrius and the hotly pursuing Helena coursing through the woods in search of Lysander and Hermia. He witnesses Demetrius’ crude and rude rejection of Helena and decides to assist the sad young lady by instructing Puck to deposit some of the magical flower’s juice upon sleeping Demetrius’ eyes, so that when he awakes, he will first see Helena and fall madly in love with her. But Puck, who has not actually seen Demetrius and is going on his master’s verbal description of the young man in Athenian garb, mistakenly finds Lysander first and applies the love lotion to his eyes instead. When the desperate lovers awake, Lysander spies Helena first, and falls madly in love with her. Oberon soon discovers Puck’s misadventure and instructs him to apply the juice to Demetrius’ eyes, which Puck eventually does. However, misfortune and calamity persists and Demetrius awakes to see Helena first and now, mid-stream, falls in love with Helena as well. Now the previously rejected Helena has both young men in hot pursuit of her, but believes that they are only making fun of her, in large part due to their overnight amorous reversals. Poor Hermia is now completely gob-smacked, unable to understand why both men who professed their love for her hours previously, are now pursuing her best friend and totally rejecting her.
Basically in the same time frame, a group of amateur actors (called ‘rude mechanicals’) who work and reside in Athens are planning to perform a play for the Duke’s pending marriage to the Amazonian Queen, Hippolyta (also Pegge Johnson), and they gather in the woods to practice their parts unobserved by their curious friends.

The mischievous Puck encounters the actors as he seeks to fulfill his master’s instructions to find and apply the love potent. He finds one of the actors, Bottom (Danny Scheie), to be an arrogant, self-serving sort and out of pure mischief, he transforms Bottoms top (his head) into the head of an ass. Bottom’s fellow actors, shocked by the transition, flee the woods, leaving Bottom wandering unaware of his transition. Puck continues his mission in search of Titania, finds her and in her sleeping repose, applies the magical potent to her eye lids. When she awakes, who should cross her path first, but Bottom, and she falls madly in love with this ass!

Now that everything in this play is in perfect chaos, I shall be as mischievous as Puck and command you to see this delightfully brilliant production, if you wish to learn how everything turns out, or you’re SIMPLY OUT OF LUCK!

The rude mechanicals also include Ted Barker as “the Starveling”, Patty Gallagher as “P.T. Quince”, Lance Gardner as “Flute”, Dan Hyatt as “Snout”, and the perfectly marvelous Joan Mankin as “Snug”. Doug Hara’s very physical portrayal as Puck is a rare piece of luck, as he is absolutely perfect.

This is a truly outstanding and exciting production, one you may take the entire family to see and enjoy one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, in perfect harmony with the Bard’s romantic intent and comedic vent.

A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream plays Tuesdays through Thursdays at7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 4 p.m., now through October 11th. The Cal Shakes Theater is located in the Brun’s Amphitheater at 100 Gateway Blvd. in Orinda, located by exiting the freeway westbound at the last exit on the east side of the Caldecott Tunnel. Tickets generally range between $32 and $68 each (except for previews). Call (510) 548-9666 or visit their website at http://www.calshakes.org/ or you can email the boxoffice@calshakes.org for more information. Be sure and dress in layers as it can get downright cold when the fog comes over the Oakland hills and drop down into the amphitheatre area. Last Saturday evening it turned out to be quite comfortable, but slightly chilly. You may want to come early and enjoy a picnic in the wonderful park setting that surrounds the theatre as the grounds open two hours before the show. There is a food booth adjacent to the theatre seating area where you can purchase food (a complete dinner or snacks) and drinks prior to the show as well. There are a lot of very nice art sculptures on the grounds to investigate as well.

"Oktoberfest 2009" Beer Festival and Fall Fun Fest at Todos Santos Plaza!

While speaking of park-like atmospheres and entertainment, how about the Beer Festival and Fall Fun Fest, “Oktoberfest 2009” to be held in Concord’s Todos Santos Plaza located at the corner of Willow Pass Road and Grant streets in downtown Concord on Saturday, October 17th!

This year’s Fall Fun Fest will include three terrific entertainment groups, “The Volker Strifler (Blues) Band”, the “Red Hot Chachkas”, and the pulse pounding polka perpetuators, “The Squeegees”! The line-up of events will present the “Red Hot Chachkas” at noon. Then, between 1:30 and 2 p.m., there will be polka instruction, polka music and a “Polka Parade Costume Contest”. At 2 p.m., the “The Squeegees” will entertain with some real beer-drinking music and will be inviting you to get up and dance the polka on the grass. Following at 4 p.m., the “The Volker Strifler Band” will entertain with some down-home blues music. The admission and parking is free!

This will be a premier beer festival with over 20 local micro-breweries selling their wares for your edification and enjoyment. There will be a craft show and plenty of vendors providing taste titillating foods in addition to the “Oktoberfest Fun”. For more information you may call (707) 869-9403 or visit http://www.communityconcerts.com/ . Rain or Shine, you are sure to have a great time!

The pluperfect Princess Classics Show is returning to the East Bay with Disney on Ice!

Disney on Ice will return to the Bay Area with another Princess Classics Show, with Seven Disney Princesses combining their respective stories for your children and grandchildren’s enjoyment. These shows begin on October 14th, through the 18th, in the Oracle Arena in Oakland, and continue in the San Jose HP Pavillion on the following weekend, October 21st through the 25th. I took my grandchildren to this show a couple of years ago and look forward to doing it again.

Disney Princesses Cinderella, Jasmine, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Mulan and Snow White will all appear together along with special guest Tinker Bell, as they share moments from their respective magical experiences, extracted from their individual Disney stories.

On Opening Night for both venues’ shows, all tickets will be only $15, a super bargain, that’s why I am announcing this to you at this time. Be sure and call (510) 383-4581 to reserve your tickets now. The general ticket prices for all other shows will range between $16 and $45each, with VIP (special privileges) tickets at $70 each. The Oracle Arena is located at freeway I-880 and 66th Avenue in Oakland. The HP Pavillion is located at 525 West Santa Clara Street in San Jose.

Livermore hosts 8th Annual ArtWalk!

The last item in my Entertainment Notebook is to let you know about The 8th Annual ArtWalk in Livermore. This event is bringing over 150 artists to Livermore on October 10, 2009, from 11am to 5pm. ArtWalk transforms a quaint downtown district into an atmosphere infused with art. Instead of a traditional art festival with most streets closed, ArtWalk artists exhibit their work inside and right outside of boutique shops, wine bars, restaurants, and along the sidewalks and plaza parks, allowing spectators to walk and drive through the event.

Art forms will span contemporary to traditional and include pottery, textiles, paintings, photography, handmade jewelry, wire, metal and clay sculpture, gourd art, stained and fused art glass, and more, from artists who are just starting out to award-winning professionals that display in museums and galleries across the country.

In addition, 35 Art Banners will be on display in the Livermore Valley Plaza during ArtWalk. Most of the banners have been designed by professional local artists with a few entries from local youth programs. All banners will be available for bid via silent auction during ArtWalk with funds being raised to support the Bothwell Arts Center.

As ArtWalk winds down, the event culminates with an hour-long End-of-the-Event Celebration from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Livermore Valley Plaza in front of the Bankhead Theater, with live music and the closing of the Art Banner silent auction.

ArtWalk is produced by the Bothwell Arts Center, a project of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center (LVPAC), a not-for-profit organization. For more information and to request an event map and schedule of events, visit http://www.artwalklivermore.org/ or call (925) 447-ARTS.

"We Are America" CD release in Hamilton. New York big success, Sheri and Johnny held over!

In closing this weeks entertainment notebook, I am happy to report on the recent success of friends of mine in the release of a terrific new single, "We Are America". Recording artists Sheri Livingston and Johnny Stark, who returned to the Sushi Blues in Hamilton, New York this past week, are reported to have been lauded as a rousing success by patrons of the Sushi Blues restaurant and entertainment venue. The excited patrons demanded three encores and repeat performances of Sheri and Johnny's new song, following their introduction of that inspiring new CD single. Restaurant owners, Candi and Arthur, told me in a telephone interview yesterday that this new song boldly crys out "yes we can!"

When our reporter/photographer Heather Ainsworth, queried a Colgate University student about the show, who said she was "so excited by lyrics that finally extolled the virtues of the American workers, the American families and the American fortitude", plus our ability to "pull together and pull through" when times get tough!

In reading the lyrics, I can see clearly that they boldly ring out for all to hear, "We are America, we are proud, and we're strong - - God bless America, the greatest of all!" This song should be the rallying cry for every American out there who whats to be a part of America's great recovery! And guess what the CD cover image is? It is an American Eagle that seemes to be echoing this very same message.

Sheri and Johnny were truly excited by their reception and return to the Sushi Blues and now by the fact that they have been held over for another week's performances. If you are in or have friends near Hamilton, New York, you can contact Candi or Arthur at the Sushi Blues and make reservations for the performances on October 2nd or 3rd, by calling (315) 825-0225. Stay tuned for more news on this great new song and this great entertaining couple as they will be coming out to the Bay Area in November. Their West Coast tour is in the works and I will announce their venues as soon as I get the information. I have just heard the new CD single and it is absolutely terrific!

That's all for this week folks!
Charlie Jarrett