A Christmas Story, Hat's, The Musical, The Nutcracker Ballet and The Real Placebos highlilght this week's entertainment offerings!

Lois Grandi shouts with elation as it is announced she has won the 2009 Best Director of a Musical Award at the S.F. Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards Ceremony for her production of “In This House!”


I am sure many of you will be glad to hear that long admired director Lois Grandi is back, once again, bringing her high quality theatrical directing ability to bear in the Willows Cabaret’s Martinez Theatre with their new production of “Hats, The Musical”. This upbeat musical shares the commonality of women age 50 or more, in a fun-filled tongue-in-cheek fashion that will touch a familiar cord in all of us, men and women both, over the age of 45. “Hats, The Musical” was written in 2000 by Anthony Dodge and Marcia Milgrom Dodge to help spread the word about the Red Hat Society, a terrific group dedicated to women age 50 and over, whose whole purpose is to help them have fun and make lots of new friends.

In 1997, a lady by the name of Sue Ellen Cooper gave a friend a red hat along with a copy of Jenny Joseph's poem "Warning”, to celebrate her friend’s 55th birthday. The opening lines of the poem read: When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red had that doesn’t go and doesn’t suite me - -.”

In time, she repeated the process for several other friends, who in turn bought purple outfits and began to gather for tea parties, just to socialize and have fun. The idea of a ladies group for gals approaching age 50 and beyond spread like wildfire. A magazine called “Romantic Homes” wrote an article about the new Red Hat phenomenon and an article in the Orange County Register opened a floodgate of inquires to Cooper. Before long, Cooper had to set up a “Hatquarters” to field the hundreds of emails and inquiries as to how other women could form their own groups. Boy has it grown! - - As of July 2009, there are nearly 40,000 registered members and almost 24,000 chapters in the United States and 25 other countries. The Red Hat Society is the largest women’s social group in the world!

The Red Hat Society’s primary purpose is social interaction among women, and to encourage fun, friendship, freedom and fulfillment. The goal is for members to bond as they travel or initiate fundraising projects.

At one time, many of us thought of 50 as being the pinnacle period of life, a departure point for those that we consider the over-the-hill group, with life’s little pleasures and adventures rapidly accelerating downhill after that. “Hats, The Musical” sets out to demonstrate we don’t have to accept that erroneous axiom, and a lady of 50 or more, has a lot of livin’ to do, and now is the time to get it done. The Willows Theatre tells us that it is time to roll up our sleeves, gird up our loins and reject those nasty and negative rumors about growing old. It’s time for some fun!
The basic message, of course, is that life improves after 50 -- "The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune," as one song goes. The danger of growing older and losing one's sense of identity is emotionally articulated in the song penned by Melissa Manchester, entitled "Invisible." The ensemble lets us know through the words of this song, that this self-imposed fear can be remedied by simply putting on a bright red hat (a guaranteed stand-out in any crowd) and shedding that woebegone world. The musical cries out against those obstacles to happiness prescribed by one's own self-imposed limits, and sweeps them away in the song "Yes We Can," in which women learn to play golf, do yoga and tap dance.

Worried about sex after 50? One of the lines in the script cries out, "We're at the age where food replaces sex” and is quickly followed by a clever and sassy song called "My Oven's Still Hot."
Mary Anne is a woman about to turn 50 (at 49.999 and holding) and is quite upset about it. A delightful puppet with a big red hat by the name of Ruby materializes and tells her to get off of her “poor me” soap box and urges her to come to terms with the next stage of her life. We are invited to listen to songs delivered by Mary Anne’s mother and a close group of friends, so blatantly archetypical that they bear names like Duchess and Baroness and Contessa.

The typical stereotypes include a divorced business executive figuring out how to date again, the devoted mother and wife trying to come to terms with the empty-nest syndrome and a number of other easily identifiable figures who become the women whom many of us know and can relate to. Women who are all dealing with all forms of this self-prescribed barrier. The show tunes overflow with words of wisdom with thought-evoking one-liners such as “I don’t need some doctor’s diagnosis, I need a hump, but not from osteoporosis”, “I don’t want to be someone else, just a younger me” and “age doesn’t matter, unless you’re cheese!” This show is a poignant and at the same time, a positive and uplifting show!

Musical numbers include "Fifty," "I Don't Want," "Cinco Pasos de la Vida, (ie: Stages of a Woman’s Life)" "The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune," "Celebrate," "My Empty Nest," "Just Like Me," "My Oven's Still Hot," "Yes We Can," "Invisible", "A Big Red Hat," and "Put Your Red Hat On.

The excellent cast chosen by Lois Grandi really represents very well, these terrific and courageous women turning the tables on life’s time barriers, telling us all to lighten up, grab the ring and exit the merry-go-round in style with a red had on and a strong belief that it is never too late to make a change and take control. The delightful cast includes, Loretta Janca (as Mary Anne), Shirley Nilson Hall (as the Lady), Kristine Ann Lowry (as the Baroness), M.L. Parr (as the Contessa), and Kathleen Escude (as the Dutchess).
The accompaniment is provided by Timothy Hanson who is an excellent piano accompanist. You can learn more about this constantly expanding woman’s group and all their fun-filled activities by going to www.redhatsociety.com/ for more information.

“Hats, The Musical” continues in the Willows Cabaret Theatre, also known as the Campbell Theatre, 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, where this performance is being held. The box office hours are Tuesday through Saturday between 12 noon and 6 p.m. Tickets range in price between $30 and $40 each and can be obtained by calling their box office at (925) 798-1300 or by visiting their web site at http://www.willowstheatre.org/ .

Christmas 1940's style, in the upbeat, funny and charming tale - - A Christmas Story!

My favorite Christmas story these days is the play version of “A Christmas Story”, written by Philip Grecian. This story is the one I look forward to the most every Christmas season. Certainly I still enjoy Dickens “A Christmas Carol”, and “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but the one I really look forward to is this production put on by the San Jose Repertory Theatre. I guess it really boils down to the cast’s performance which I have come to look forward to, perhaps even more than the story itself.

Twenty six years ago, Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story” made its debut in theatres across the nation to mixed reviews. MGM never really wanted to release and promote the movie and the movie was even pulled out of the theaters in its third week, in spite of the fact that it was the number one movie in the nation, in its second week. I don’t know the whole story as to why the movie was pulled out of the theaters, but the movie garnered a cult following and before long it would become one of the most watched movies played on television at Christmas time. In fact, TNT, the television station, runs the show 24 hours a day on Christmas Eve. In 2000, Philip Grecian adapted the movie story into the play version, which has taken off with audiences across the country and has become the most requested Christmas story by the season ticket holders of the San Jose Repertory Theatre.

The story brings me back to my youth in the early 50’s when I eagerly awaited my next issue of “Boy’s Life” magazine, and the trials and tribulations of dealing with younger siblings, the frustrating discipline demanded from my parents, the family dinners where us kids were to be seen and not heard! I remember well the many times we listened to mystery shows and game shows on the radio in the evenings and especially on Sundays, when we listened to “The FBI, in peace and war” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and the “Shadow” and a myriad of others.

It is really quite a charming and yet silly story that takes place sometime between the mid 1930’s and 1940’s about a young man, Ralphie, whose number one Christmas wish is to get a “Genuine Official Legendary Red Rider Carbine Action, Range model, 200 shot air rifle with a genuine Red Rider compass and sun dial built right into the stock.” The story is a storehouse of nostalgia as the Ralph Parker family characters listen to old favorites on the radio like the “Little Orphan Annie” shows, and perused popular boys’ publications such as “Boy’s Life” (first published in 1911 to present times as the official magazine of the Boy Scouts). The senior Ralph Parker (played by Howard Swain) battles with the neighbor’s dogs and the household’s frequently fuming furnace on a near daily basis. His loving wife, Mrs. Parker (played by Nancy Carlin) does what she can to get by, providing a loving household for her husband and two sons, Randy and Ralphie.

Ralph (Dan Hiatt, as the adult narrator) tells the story of this favorite Christmas, wherein he tries every ploy imaginable to convince his folks that he should receive the most important gift ever desired by a pre-teen and cowboy hopeful, a Red Ryder BB gun.

Without spoiling the story by telling too much, you will love the shenanigans of these grade school boys and girls, their Christmas wishes, the tale of the bully tamed and the BB gun that everybody feared would “Shoot your eye out!” It is a very funny story, played with tongue in cheek, almost in cartoon fashion, to an audience that seemed to absolutely love it! The Parker children, Ralphie (played by Garrett Meyer), his little brother Randy (played by Emilio Fuentes), are joined by fellow classmates: Ester Jane Alberry (Leah Kolchinsky), Schwartz (Ali Molaei), Helen Weathers (Elara Rivers), Flick (Nicolas Sancen) and Scut Farkas, the Bully (Max Mifsud).

This outstanding and hilariously funny Christmas tale, “A Christmas Story”, will continue now through Sunday, December 20th with performances on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m.,. . Ticket prices range between $35 and $69 each. The San Jose Repertory Company Theatre is located at 101 Paseo de San Antonio, between 2nd and 3rd Streets, one block north of East San Carlos Street. Call (408) 367-7255 for reservations or visit their website online at http://www.sjrep.com/ for more information.

This week at the Yellow Wood Coffee and Tea!

Tomorrow evening will be an opportunity for anyone to come in and read poetry or read short stories on the open mic. Friday, December 4th between 6 and 8 p.m., “The Real Placebos” - American Root Music, will share their offerings of country, ragtime, swing, blues and old standards.

Then on Saturday, December 5th, between 6 and 7:45, Acoustics expert Steve Kritzer will perform for your entertainment, with guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and/orr piano. Later that same evening, between 8:15 and 10 p.m., an acoustic trio known as “Calavaras” will perform a broad selection of Folk music for your entertainment. The Yellow Wood Coffee and Tea is located at 215 Alamo Plaza in the Alamo Plaza Shopping Center. Their phone number is 837-1234 and their website is http://www.yellow-wood.net/ . There is no cover charge or minimum required for you to enjoy this entertainment.

This week at the Bankhead Theatre in Livermore!

The Bankhead Theatre in Livermore is presenting The Nutcracker, a classical ballet by Tchaikovsky presented by the Valley Dance Theatre with full orchestral accompaniment by the Livermore-Amadore Symphony. There will be eight matinee and evening performances between December 12th and 20th. The Bankhead Theatre is located at 2400 First Street in Downtown Livermore. The ticket office is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 noon to 6 pm. Call (925) 373-6800 for more information, reservations and ticket prices or visit their website at http://www.livermoreperformingarts.org/ for more information.