Everyone fell in love with "She Loves Me" and in the next theatrical breath, we're pulled up short by the passion of "Compulsion"! Mary Wilson delivers a "Supreme" San Francisco moment while Stefanie Powers plans to bring her "Hart" to all of us in in the Bay Area this weekend!

Ryan Drummond and Kelsey Venter star in "She Loves Me" at Center Repertory Company in Walnut Creek!
Photo credit: http://www.kevinberne.com/

Wow, two truly diverse, emotional and richly rewarding theatrical experiences are available for you this week! I truly loved the Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s upbeat musical offering, “She Loves Me”, that Center Repertory Company mounted recently. Also, Berkeley Repertory Company is currently offering a stunning story about Meyer Levin’s all-consuming obsession to bring a complete and faithful adaptation of the Anne Frank diary without the usual compromises in "Compulsion"!

I remember a delightfully romantic movie starring Jimmy Steward and Margaret Sullavan entitled, “The Little Shop around the Corner”, that I probably first saw on AMC several years ago. That movie was in turn modeled after the original Hungarian stage play written in 1930, by Miklos Laszlo, entitled “Parfumerie”. Little did I realize at the time I discovered the Jimmy Steward movie version, that there was a whimsical and lighthearted musical written and first staged in 1963, based on that same movie and earlier play, a wonderful musical entitled, “She Loves Me”.

The story is set in a beautiful and historical city in pre-war 1930’s Hungary, at a time when the depressed economy was causing employees to fret and worry about their employer’s solvency and the stability of their well seasoned jobs. This romantic adventure takes place in Maraczheck’s parfumerie, an upscale cosmetics establishment. A new employee, Amalia Balash (Kelsey Venter), is employed by the owner of the store, Mr. Maraczheck (Richard Farrell), over the prudent and conservative management decision of the store’s manager, George Nowack (Ryan Drummond), who felt that they should not be adding any additional employees at that particular time.

Both individuals, Nowack and Balash, who are single, mature young people, immediately clash and are constantly at odds with each other in the working environment. In their own personal time, they have both answered “personal ads” in a local newspaper seeking pen-pals. Unbeknownst to them, they (the two battling employees) have become each other’s pen pal. In their letters, they never actually refer to each other by their given names, using only pseudonyms in signing their letters, referring to each other simply as “Dear friend”, etc. Through these letters the respective pen-pals discover that they have many interests in common and over time, this extensive communication routine has revealed a person that they both imagine and fantasize would be their perfect “life partner”. While these two are fighting daily at work, they are making plans to finally meet each other in person, for the first time, at a local bistro that prides itself in catering to lovers and romantic encounters.

When the two finally meet, will the good romantic chemistry generated by the pen-pal correspondence over-come the bad working chemistry generated in the shop? Well, you will have to see this terrific musical to find out, as I will not “spill the perfume”!

Director Robert Barry Fleming has selected a truly stellar multitalented ensemble cast, each member embracing their supporting character as if the role were written specifically for them. This story is far greater than the simple storyline revealed earlier. Employee Ladislav Sipos (Jackson Davis) closely aligns himself with manager Nowack and employee Llona Ritter (Brittany Ogle) befriends Miss Balash, and at the same time is engaged in a romantic affair with co-employee, Steven Kodaly (Noel Anthony) who is a playboy type who preys on anything and everything in skirts. Arpad Laszlo (Jason Hite) is a delivery boy, aspiring to become a full time store clerk. Derek Travis Collard plays a private detective employed by shop owner, Maraczek, to ferret out the participant in a suspected liaison between an employee and Maraczek’s wife. There are two additional characters who add measurably to the bistro scene, the busboy, Dane Paul Collard, and the lead waiter played by Evan Boomer, who almost steals the bistro scene. All members of the cast have superb voices in addition to their excellent acting skills.

I strongly recommend to romantics everywhere to see this heartwarming musical. It is just plain terrific!

Musical Director and pianist Brandon Adams, the same director who did such an excellent job with “A Marvelous Party” at Center Rep, is back again. This time he is melding the sonorous talents of violinists Pamela Carey and Heghine Boloyan, Woodwind artists Lori Rodriquez and Steven Logoteta, Dan Bauer and Lenora Warkentin and percussionist Erika Johnson. The measure of this musical is significantly enhanced by the exquisite musical accompaniment.
“She Loves Me” continues in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., closing on Sunday, October 10th. Call 943- SHOW (7469) or go to http://www.centerrep.org/ , or visit the ticket office in the Lesher Regional Center or the ticket outlet at Barnes and Noble in Walnut Creek. Tickets range in price between $17 and $45 each. Call the above number for more information.

Berkeley Repertory Company once again charges fearlessly into the breach, with Rinne Groff's "Compulsion".

The fearless management of The Berkeley Repertory Company, Tony Taccone and Susan Medak, are exploring the darker side of relationships with their powerful, evocative and moving interpretation of Rinne Groff’s latest play, “Compulsion”, on their thrust stage in Berkeley.

Ever since the early ‘50’s, the name of Anne Frank and a diary she left behind in a secret annex to her father’s spice warehouse and offices, has become synonymous with the horrific treatment of the Jews and their struggle for existence and survival during the second world war. Millions of people worldwide have read “The Diary of a Young Girl” and yet most have no idea of the amount of debate and criticism voiced since its publication, including criticism over the editing of its content by her father, as he prepared it for publication.

During the waning years of the war, between 1944 and 1945, a Jewish journalist by the name of Meyer Levin, who had earned much acclaim for his reporting on the Loeb and Leopold trial in 1924, was a first hand witness to the carnage and atrocities discovered by the American military as they freed Jewish prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps. It had an overwhelming affect on his writing and his desire to inform the world of the true nature of the Jewish social and political experience. He felt unable to articulate the degree of humiliation and devastation occasioned by the horrific nature of this war on his race. When he was given a French version of “The Diary of a Young Girl” by his wife in 1950, he felt he had finally found his voice.

He immediately contacted Otto Frank, Anne’s father, and the only surviving member of the family that had occupied the “Het Achterhuis” or “The House Behind”, the secret residence in which the Franks and their guests hid for over two years, and offered his services to create an English-translation version to Frank’s book publisher. He asked for no remuneration from this effort, but did request the right to adapt the finished book for the stage. When the American version of the book was published by Doubleday, it was a spectacular success, selling out its entire first printing in 10 days, due in large part to the crucial review written by Levin for the New York Time Book Review.

The story of the journey of the book to stage, is the subject of this magnificent play. Author Rinne Groff has given all of the characters portrayed in her play, substitute names, but the story and the events that take place in the play are basically factual. Meyer Levin becomes Sid Silver and his character is played brilliantly by Tony Award winning actor, Mandy Patinkin. There are only two other actors who play numerous other characters, Hannah Cabell, who portrays both Miss Mermin (who takes on the real-life role of theatrical producer Cheryl Crawford) and Meyer Levin’s wife, known in this play as Mrs. Silver. Matte Oslan plays a number of other characters all central to Levin’s attempt to publish and produce his adaptation of the book into a stage play. This may be Patinkin’s most powerful work yet!

Levin became obsessed in keeping the play true to the tenor of the original diary, to retain and incorporate more of the controversial content left out of the book by Anne’s father. He made demands that it be a “Jewish” work in every respect, from producers, to directors to publishing house. In so doing, Levin (or Silver as he is known in the play) alienated himself from Otto Frank and the people actually contracted legally by Mr. Frank to see the book transcend into a stage production and eventually a movie. This is a story of a man unwilling to compromise what he saw as a young girl’s dream to document explicitly her family’s experience so that she could live forever through her writing. He wanted nothing changed for art’s sake or societal marketing correctness, nothing to take a back seat because of the fears being raised by Joe McCarthy and the Senate hearings on un-American activities or black-listed writers and actors.

Director Oskar Eustis has delivered a magnificent and spellbinding story to the stage, a stage that has been open to producing plays that few other theaters in this country would sponsor, a stage that is rapidly becoming the off off Broadway trial entity for many of the new and most powerful productions opening in this country at this time. The incorporation of marionettes to infuse the Anne Frank diary characters into Meyer Levin’s world and story development works exceedingly well. Also, I strongly recommend that you come to the theater early enough to read the extensive and articulate supporting back-ground material provided in the Berkeley Repertory company’s program.

“Compulsion” continues Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday evening performances at 7 pm, matinees are offered primarily on Thursdays and Sundays at 2 pm, now through Sunday, October 31st . The Berkeley Repertory Thrust Stage is located at 2025 Addison Street (near Shattuck) in Berkeley. Ticket prices range between $34 and $73 for each seat, varying in price by seating location and date. Check their website at http://www.berkeleyrep.org/ for more information and to purchase tickets. Tickets may also be purchased by calling (510) 647-2949 or toll free, by calling (888) 4-BRT-Tix.

Stefanie Powers is bringing her beautiful voice and dynamic talent to San Francisco Saturday!
Photo Credit: Randee St. Nicholas

Nothing can be more disappointing than to go out for an evening on the town with guests or friends, especially out-of-town visitors, that we want to show the better side of the San Francisco music scene and come away totally disappointed and nearly stone deaf following some loud, raucous, perhaps even nauseous, entertainment groups in nightclubs or fine restaurants. Over the past year, several of our residents have asked me about live musical entertainment venues where the music and entertainers meld more comfortably with the expectancies and life experiences of adult and senior audiences. Therefore you may have noticed more of my reviews in recent weeks providing you with information about entertainment in local nightclub venues that offer cabaret, jazz and popular music. I have even started to provide previews of the musical faire being presented by the San Francisco Opera.

Today, while I want to focus on the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko at 222 Mason Street in San Francisco, I don’t want to forget to wet your musical appetite for an evening at Scott’s Seafood on California Street in Walnut Creek. I will come back at the end of this article and tell you about a piano stylist, Claudio Medeiros, and saxophonist, Richard Hermann, who made our dinner experience at Scott’s Seafood one of the best dinner experiences ever, in Walnut Creek.

First, I want to tell you about a venue that is considered by many to be the very best in first class entertainment nightclubs in the Bay Area. Karen and I were treated to an absolutely delightful performance this past week by one of the truly great song stylists of the 60’s and 70’s, a very beautiful and talented lady perhaps best known to all of us as the co-founder of the world famous “Supremes”, the one and only, Mary Wilson. In addition, in this review and preview, I want to encourage you to purchase tickets for what should be another outstanding solo performance coming up next week by the multi-talented, award winning actress, song stylist and dancer, the very beautiful Stefanie Powers, known to most of us for her work on the long running television series, starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, “Hart to Hart” in the early 80’s.

Back in December, I reviewed Lucie Arnaz (daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) and songwriters/song stylists Ashford and Simpson and came away praising both the entertainers and the cozy, comfortable, laid back atmosphere of the Rrazz Room. This past week I had the good fortune to be in the performing presence of Mary Wilson in this same venue. When I say Supremes, you may better remember them by the name that became associated, due in large part to their agent, Barry Gordy Jr., who thought it advantageous to promote the group as “Dianna Ross and the Supremes”.

Mary Wilson was everything I expected her to be, especially after receiving a glowing endorsement by actress Stefanie Powers last week during an interview about her upcoming tribute to the music of Lorenz Hart. Stefanie had seen Mary the previous week in Los Angeles at the Catalina room and asked me to tell her personally, as one professional to another, how terrific her show was. “Unbelievable”, she said, “this lady has still got it in spades”.

I concur! Mary Wilson is non-stop excitement, delivering every emotion an entertainer could possibly deliver, vibrant, touching, heart-warming, and soulful. She is backed by some pretty terrific professionals, including the incomparable, sweet lipped Winston Byrd on Horn; Mark Zier, master of the keyboard and musical director, along with Ray Pannell on electric and acoustic guitar; Daniel Fabricant on the acoustic base; Donzell Davis practitioner of percussion; and Daniel Fabrican whose sweet vocal accompaniment rounded out the exquisite sound of this nightclub experience extraordinaire.
Ms. Wilson brought back memories of great songs such as “Love Child”; “Baby Love”; “You Can’t Hurry Love”; “My World is Empty”; and her unmatched rendition of “Here’s To Life”. She brought both tears of laughter and joy to a packed house of passionate admirers. The audience was invited to join Mary in singing along, even on one occasion, in joining her on the stage. She was warm, magnanimous in sharing her art and love of music with everyone in the intimate entertainment room. She spoke warmly and perhaps even a bit tearfully, of her love of her dear friend and co-founder of the group, Florence Ballard, who passed away in 1976.

Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown were friends in the Brewster Projects in Detroit 1959. They sang together as a three-some until, through Smokey Robinson at Motown Records, they met Dianna Ross and invited her to join their group, originally called the Primettes (an all female counterpart to the male group known as the Primes, later the Temptations). In fact, it was Florence Ballard who suggested the name of the “Supremes” when they finally signed a contract in 1961 with Barry Gordy Jr. (of Hitsville USA) and Motown Records. Then along came appearances on the Ed Sullivan show, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and before long, worldwide musical tours and a huge list of gold and platinum plateaus, breaking all kinds of records for an all female singing group. Yes, the Supremes were truly, just what their name implied, “Supreme”!

It was truly a spellbinding evening, enhanced by some of the finest musicians a compact little performance group like this could ever wish for. I loved it, the audience loved it and I eagerly look forward to having Ms. Wilson return to San Francisco for another enchanting evening at the Rrazz Room!

Up Next at the Rrazz Room - - -

Stefanie Powers will be appearing in the Rrazz Room on this coming Saturday, October 2nd for an 8 p.m. performance and again on Sunday, October 3rd for a 7 p.m. performance, for these two nights only, with a tribute to the romantic song stylizing of Lorenz “Larry” Hart. Hart, you may remember, was the lyricist half of the famous Broadway songwriting team of Rogers and Hart. Some of his more famous lyrics include some of my all time favorites, “Blue Moon”, “Isn’t It Romantic”, “My Funny Valentine”, “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.

Stefanie Powers began her career at age 15, dancing for Jerome Robbins. She even secured a spot in the Broadway production of “West Side Story”, but due to the fact that she was only 15, conflicts between working schedules and child labor law requirements made it very difficult for the company to keep her, so she lost her spot as one of the “Jets” in the show. A little later on that year, while in the hallway on her way to attend classes at Columbia Studios, in Los Angeles, Ms. Powers ran into movie director Blake Edwards. He arranged for her to take a screen test for the role of Toby, the younger sister of Lee Remick (as Kelly Sherwood) in a soon to be produced thriller (filmed in San Francisco) titled, “Experiment in Terror”. If you saw this exciting movie, you may also remember that Glen Ford was cast in the lead role as an FBI agent by the name of Ripley. Ms. Powers remained under contract with Columbia Pictures and completed 15 movies for them in 5 years.

In addition to her film work, she has made dozens of TV guest show appearances, worked on over 20 mini-series and toured with many theatrical productions, staring in both musical and dramatic roles. Powers has appeared in key roles in movies such as McClintock (as John Wayne’s daughter), as a guest star on “It Takes a Thief” with Robert Wagner, even in the fun-filled Disney comedy, “Herbie Rides Again” (as Nicole Harris). Stefanie performed as the lead character, April Dancer in “The Girl from Uncle”, for 26 episodes until the producer, Norman Fulton, abandoned the series, along with the co-production, “The Man from Uncle” at the same time. A little known fact, while dating Gary Lockwood, she was allowed to audition for and become the very first voice of “Hal” the computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Stanley Kubrick changed his mind later and opted for a more “androgynous asexual voice” and Powers voice did not make the final cut. In later years, she and R.J. (as she refers to her friend Robert Wagner) went on the road touring in the two person play, “Love Letters”. She says that they have performed that play more than any other professional acting team, over 400 performances in the United States, Canada and England.

So much of her career has been centered on her acting skills that many people have no idea that she is a very accomplished vocalist with a beautiful voice. She has just completed a very successful run as silent screen star Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, “Sunset Strip”. The original Broadway production was undermined by its exceptionally expensive production costs but there is great hope that a more feasible major production will be remounted next year.

Ms. Powers is without a doubt a “power”- house in every sense of the word, on and off stage. During her long time friendship with William Holden, she and Holden founded the Wildlife foundation and has taken over reins as President of this prestigious organization. She is also an avid horse enthusiast, competing in polo events and owns horses in the south of England.

A number of years ago, Powers appeared in the English production and then in the US touring company production of “The King and I”, which re-kindled her love of singing roles. In 1991, Ms. Powers was offered the opportunity to star in a new but short lived musical in the West End called the “Matador”, eventually brought to its knees by the failing economy (during the first Persian Gulf War) and the poor tourist trade that ensued in England.
By any and all means, don’t miss what promises to be a terrific musical experience this coming weekend in the Rrazz Room when super-star Stefanie Powers brings her one-woman show to San Francisco. Tickets are a very reasonable $45 each. . You can call for reservations at (866) 468-3399 and/or visit their www.therrazzroom.com/ website to get a flavor of the terrific variety of coming events.

Host-escorted seating assigned is on a first come, first serve basis. Doors open 90 minutes prior to show. The Rrazz Room has a two-drink minimum and tickets are non-refundable. They have a variety of very nice drinks, alcohol or not, and they have a bistro meal menu. With a Rrazz Room validation, parking at the Mason O'Farrell Garage is $10 (up to five hours) and $15 (up to ten hours). Enter the garage from Mason or O'Farrell Streets. Karen and I usually take BART and walk the four blocks to the beautiful Hotel Nikko!

Scott's Seafood Restaurant tantillizes the appetite with superb food and great mood, mood music that is!

Scott’s Seafood Walnut Creek Restaurant is located at 1333 North California Street, at the corner of Bonanza. My wife and I went to dinner a couple of weeks ago with friends and had one of our more memorable meals in some time. The Seafood at Scott’s is always terrific and the Calamari steaks that I ordered were so delicious that I was greatly disappointed when the last tasty morsel passed over my pallet. Karen raved about the filet of sole and our guests raved whole heartedly about their entrees as well.

About a quarter of the way into our evening outing, two musicians arrived in the adjacent lounge and began to entertain. At first I was a little irritated by the promise that our conversation might be over-shadowed by the musicians, but in very short order we found ourselves praising the sweet musical combination of piano and saxophone, playing many romantic numbers that we have loved for many years. Before long they became the center of our evening out and we loved every minute of their playing. I went to buy a CD when they took a break, only to be disappointed by the revelation that while they, piano stylist, Claudio Medeiros, and saxophonist, Richard Hermann, had CD’s of them participating in other groups, they had nothing to sell us, relating to their joint venture. They perform every Friday and Saturday evening in Scott’s lounge.

I encourage you to go to their website at www.scottswc.com/events.html and check out their special discounts for their 2010 seafood extravaganza. Also, as a Rossmoor resident, if you show them your Rossmoor card, they will extend a discount especially intended just for you, that amounts to approximately 10% before tax and gratuities. Also, if you purchase tickets to productions at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, on the back of your tickets you will also find a discount as well, if you present your ticket to them. The discounts are not cumulative however.