Noel Coward's music reverberates in new tribute to his comic genius!

Carl Danielsen, Molly Bell & Mark Anders host a grand party!

Photo by Keven Berne

A Marvelous Party lights up Center Repertory Theater in Walnut Creek!

Center Repertory Company of Walnut Creek is currently presenting an outstanding evening of entertainment with their tribute to the music and comedic talents of Noel Coward in “A Marvelous Party”, now through Saturday, June 26th in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts.

Noel Coward was one of the great entertainment creators to light up our lives beginning in the 1920’s and continuing until he died in Jamaica in 1973. Even though he began his career on stage at age 11 and his performances as an actor provided him with great notoriety, it was his huge success as a playwright that secured his place in theater. His plays are some of the most repeatedly performed in the theater world, including “Private Lives”, “Hay Fever”, “Design for Living”, “Blithe Spirit” and “Present Laughter”, just to name a few of his most famous. In 1936, one of his earlier plays, “Still Life”, was expanded and re-written into a movie by David Lean, one of my favorites, and renamed, “Brief Encounter”.
It was his close familiarity with high society that produced the most endearing work as he poked gentle fun at the wealthy folks in a way that everybody appreciated. His acting and working relationship with actress Gertrude Lawrence provided the world with shows audiences simply loved, which constantly kept him in the limelight.

Director David Ira Goldstein has brought together the very talented piano players/actors, Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielsen and the singing and dancing talent of the very lovely Molly Bell to bring a musical collaboration that provides an evening of Coward’s musical work that spans everything from the vaudeville stage to sophisticated music that is romantic and heartfelt.

The first act is a fun-filled adventure bringing loads of silliness and pranks reminiscent of the early days of music hall and vaudeville style entertainment. Songs many of us remember well, such as “Mrs. Worthington”, “London Pride”, will bring back some memories, but the “Music Hall medley” included songs of which I have never heard before and which were absolute fun. “Any Little Fish”, The Stately Homes of England”, and the saucy “Would You Like to Stick a Pin in My Balloon” just to name a few, were an absolute gas. “Mad Dogs and Englishmen - - go out in the noonday sun - -“ brought a delightful chuckle from everyone.

The Second act brought songs on the more serious side including “Mad About the Boy”, “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party”, “Why do all the wrong people travel - - while all the right people stay back home - -“ , “Sail Away”, “Someday I’ll Find You” and songs such as “If Love Were All”, brought more smiles and perhaps even a few tears.

All together, it was a highly enjoyable evening and the audience totally loved it. Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielson play their pianos on stage as they entertain, but there are many numbers in which they perform primarily as acting members of this terrific performing trio. While they are performing their dance routines there is a musical group playing in the background for them, consisting of Brandon Adams on piano, Danny Min on bass and Erika Johnson on drums.
The set, designed by Bill Forrester, with lighting by Kurt Landisman, is a truly beautiful ballroom band set, worthy of mention in its own right.

I previously raved on and on about another show built around Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielson that was entitled “4 Hands and 2 Pianos”, that perhaps you attended in this same theater. These gentlemen are brilliant performers and when you add Miss Molly Bell, who is a terrific song stylist, dancer and all around performer, I can practically guarantee that you will come away glad you took in this show. Enchanting, elegant, extraordinary and wonderfully witty!

“A Marvelous Party, The Noel Coward Celebration” is truly that, a Maaarvelous Party, a grand evening of great entertainment that plays Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m., running through the end of June, closing on Saturday the 26th. The Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts is located at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Call 943-7469 for reservations or additional information of visit their web site at . Tickets range in price between $39 and $45 each. The parking garage next door provides evening parking for the flat charge of $5 per vehicle.

“It’s easy to see someone else’s blind spot - - It’s much harder to see your own!”

Berkeley Repertory Theatre says whatever it needs and wants to say and the world takes notice and the word is out that this new play by Lisa Kron, entitled “In the Wake”, is destined to be another attention grabber. As one of the premier theater venues in the United States, this theater is now being widely recognized as a birthplace and an incubator for fledgling works that are bound for Broadway. Two shows recently born in Berkeley have just come away with 6 Tony Nominations. American Idiot and In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) have each grabbed three Tony nominations plus 15 other nominations from the prestigious Drama Desk, Drama League and Astaire Awards. Some of my readers have echoed my recognition for their innovation and dedication to perfection, while others have simply turned them off, telling me that they are much too liberal for their taste.

“In the Wake” is a powerful play about freedom and expression, both political and individual, in the 21st century. It is about seeing what we want to see verses acknowledging reality. It is meant to make us uncomfortable and to promote dialogue on several levels.

The protagonist, Ellen, is an “A” type personality; a political animal, an activist, a clarion among acquaintances, a firebrand, a woman confident in herself, and to all outward appearances, apparently at the head of her class, in the class of life. Unfortunately, she is about to find out that life is not predictable, regardless of how astute one is or by how much one is loved by others, and that life, even when it seems to be at its best, can throw one a curve, a curve that can bring down all of one’s carefully erected walls of security and defense.

Ellen’s personal life style is non-traditional. Her choices and values have created a system of friends that constitute her “family”, a family that does not operate in the traditional sense, according to the general mores of society. Ellen (Heidi Shreck) is living in a somewhat ambivalent romantic relationship with her significant other, Danny (Carson Elrod), in a multistoried Greenwich Village apartment! She purportedly is a writer and chronicler of her times. She is completely excited about life and at the same time frustrated and somewhat neurotic. She has a very annoying habit of talking incessantly about the political uncertainty facing our nation, gushing forth with her political theories much like a certain oil well disaster, currently gushing millions of gallons of “crude” into the Gulf of Mexico. In her mind, the “crude” began with the George W. Bush administration. She is convinced that the Bush election has sent our entire political process down the toilet. The Electoral College held sway, popular vote gave way, the Supreme Court stopped the vote recount in Florida and subsequently George W. Bush was declared the new leader of the land. Like millions of Americans, the entire political election process seemed flawed and validity of an election came into question. According to her, there is a Republican conspiracy to overtly transform all of life’s values into their financial gains. From manipulating the tax code to zoning for strip malls, the entire fabric of America is destined to be ripped from its Norman Rockwell Americana painting and re-constituted as a financial spreadsheet cell value. On the surface, this play would seem to be all about politics, but the political fabric is really just verbal scenery, designed to give perspective to the depth and shallowness shared by the players. For the most part, it is a play about how we live our lives, how we see what we want to see and how we fail to see beyond our own “blind spots”. Ellen eventually confesses, “It’s easy to see someone else’s blind spot, it’s so much harder to see your own!”

Two of Ellen and Danny’s best friends are a lesbian couple, Kayla (Andrea Frankle) and Laurie (Danielle Skraastad) who live on the third floor and are nearly constant companions, as well as neighbors. They too are trying to find acceptance and balance in their awkward and tumultuous lives. Ellen befriends a less than colorful social worker, Judy (Deidre O’Connell), a lackluster lady who literally turns off Ellen’s entire inner circle of friends. Ellen even embraces Tessa (Miriam F. Glover), an inner-city student, who is Judy’s social service ward.

Ellen is a very complex character who loves her boyfriend Danny, but cannot resist the sexual and emotional allure of a female artist, Amy (Emily Donahoe), with whom she has recently become enamored. She finds herself adrift in a sea of indecision. When confronted by Danny to choose between him and Amy, she chooses him, thinking it to be the “proper choice”. But after many months of continued uncertainty in their lives, Danny finally cries “hold, enough”! He confides to Ellen that he has committed his life to her and has always wanted the same in return. He is tired of being regarded as just a trusted, loyal and loving friend, without a soulful commitment from her. Unbeknownst to her, he has been her stabilizer, her rock, and at this point, he leaves. Suddenly, “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men”, may not be able to bring Ellen, or any of us, for that matter, back together again! As we go through life in our little boat seeking progress and adventure, it tends to speed along making waves, some positive, some negative and following those waves of evolution and revolution, flotsam is quite often left behind “In the Wake” of life! This marvelous play has a lot to say, perhaps too much, but still, it is about recognizing the reality and letting go of our romanticized view of the world. I must let you know that there are some passionate and highly evocative lesbian sexual scenes in this production, but very tastefully handled.

The acting is superlative by all parties, but I was blown away by the brilliance of the most underplayed and perfectly cast member of all, the dire, lackluster social worker, Judy. With all the wisdom espoused by each character and every character, it is the crude, crusty, street-wise, life-wise character of Judy who really understands perhaps best of all, and perhaps delivers the most poignant speech in the entire play, a speech that rocks Ellen to her core. Deidre O’Connell is without question, superb in her performance. “In the Wake” continues Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday evening performances at 7 p.m., and with matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., through June 27th. Ticket prices range between $33 and $71 each with half price tickets available to anyone under the age of 30. Performances are in the Roda Theatre at 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck in downtown Berkeley. Also, be aware that his is a very long show, lasting approximately 2.5 hours. For more information or to reserve your tickets, call (510) 647-2949 or visit their web site at

Also, I strongly recommend dining at the Bistro Liaison at 1849 Shattuck Avenue which opens at 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays, and opens early on Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. for the lunch crowd. They also open for dinner a 5 p.m., which means you could come early for dinner, then attend the theater which is just a couple of blocks away. While everything I have tried there is very good, the soups are to die for! If you have questions, call them at (510) 849-2155. Also, if you have your tickets before you go to the theater, present them at the Bistro Liaison and they will provided you with a 10% discount on your meal. Owner Todd Kniess suggest you try their Saturday or Sunday Brunch (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) for a delightful prequel to the matinee. The Sole Farcie, Petrale sole filled with Dungeness crab baked in a shrimp and Cognac cream sauce is marvelous!