Lots of great stuff this week, with "Lost in Yonkers", "A Chorus Line", "Secret Order" and "Rain, with a Tribute to the Beatles" all eager to please!

LtoR: Cole Cloud as "Jay & David Kahawaii as "Artie" in "Lost in Yonkers"

Photo credit: Robert Allen Shattuck

One of your all time musical favorites (I am quite sure) is back with the spectacular CCMT production of “A Chorus Line” in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, while another of my favorite plays, Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” has just opened in Danville in the Village Theater, and not far away, a terrific, suspenseful drama, entitled “Secret Order” has their audiences riveted to their seats in the San Jose Repertory Theater. In addition, opening tonight in San Jose, in the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, the widely acclaimed touring company “Rain”, is presenting a tribute to one of the greatest rock performing groups of all times, as “The Beatles”. There is no excuse why you cannot find some terrific live entertainment this week, it’s out there and it’s easily accessible for everyone who has a car!

"Do you know the way to San Jose?"

The Beatles took America by storm in February, 1964, being met at John F. Kennedy Airport (renamed on December 24th, 1963 just one month after the assignation of President Kennedy) by over three thousand hysterical fans that had followed their success in England. Two days later they were watched by over 74 million television viewers (40% of the entire American population) on the Ed Sullivan Show. I was in college in Las Vegas, Nevada and will never forget the Beatle Mania that ensued and was generated by their presence and their sound, every where they went, every where they performed from then on. Even after their break up as a group in 1970, it didn’t diminish their popularity, and today, 47 years later, other copy-cat groups are still drawing in huge crowds who cannot get enough of their exciting and provocative music.

Tonight, the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts is fortunate to present a performance group that generally performs under the name of “Rain”, and are also known as an exciting “Beatles Tribute Group” now touring the country with a very limited performance run in San Jose, a tour that will end on this Sunday evening, October 31st, with a 6 pm performance. Other performances are at 7:30 pm beginning tonight and continuing Thursday evening. Friday and Saturday’s performances are at 8 pm, with a 2 pm matinee on Saturday and a 1 pm matinee on Sunday. The Center for the Performing Arts is located at 255 South Almaden Blvd, between West San Carlos and Park Avenue in downtown San Jose. You may obtain tickets for “Rain, a Tribute to the Beatles” by calling for show times & ticket information at 408-792-4111 or visit their website at http://www.broadwaysanjose.com/ . I love the music of the Beatles and I plan to attend. I certainly hope to see you there. It takes approximately 40 minutes to an hour to drive down to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts from the Walnut Creek Area and there is excellent parking almost across the street at the San Jose Convention Center at 408 Alamden Blvd.

The San Jose Repertory Theatre is consistently delivering the very best in professional theater at a very reasonable cost. For example, this past week, they opened a brilliant dramatic play by Robert Clyman with his take on the cut-throat competition for cutting edge medical breakthroughs in the field of medical research. “Secret Order” allows us to experience the behind the scene machinations, the cult persona in the field of science, the money and politics and power wielded by the drug manufacturing industries in their pursuit of pharmaceutical gold.

“Secret Order” reveals the promise and perversion inherent in a system that provides the financial incentives and opportunity for illicit and immoral liaisons between the educational centers, research centers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. In this story, a naïve but brilliant young cancer researcher, William Schumway (James Wagner), is eager to work in the shadow of Dr. Robert Brock, a famous former cancer researcher, and now chief administrator for a renowned research institute. A paper Shumway has written detailing his theory for a new approach to cancer cell and “R-Cell” modification has been submitted to Dr. Brock for his perusal. Not only does it spark an interest in Dr. Brock’s field of research, but is so exciting that it unlocks the door for young Schumway to be granted special access to research facilities, money and assistants, through Dr. Brocks institute. Brock s seems has been looking for this potential breakthrough, for this new concept to be the theoretical alchemist that turns his mentorship from educational lead into pure academic gold. As Schumway’s research progresses, his first trial results with this new concept seem so plausible and so successful that Dr. Brock presses the young researcher to prematurely reveal his new process through “Publication” in prestigious research periodicals and by attendance as a guest speaker in research seminars before the peers in the his field of research.

The rush to publish, the rush to promote, the rush to garner huge contract commitments for their cancer institute, leads them down a dangerous path. If everything does not work as well in the advanced testing phase as it did in the first trials, the money could disappear and the institute would be quite embarrassed. Schumway is joined by a promising research assistant, Alice Curiton (Kathryn Tkel), who is almost as brilliant as himself and who throws him a theoretical life line when his ship of fate seems to be heading for dangerous hidden shoals. Another researcher and long time member of the institution’s teaching staff, Saul Roth (Julian López-Morillas) is constantly at odds with Dr. Brock, eventually developing an adversarial relationship, a dangerous and venomous relationship. When Saul Roth is reduced to begging Brock to retain his funding and to maintain his office and working status, at least until his fast approaching retirement, Brock creates an enemy that may turn ill winds against him.

This thought provoking and timely biomedical thriller is succinctly written and calculated to keep you on the edge of your seat. The acting is superb and director Chris Smith has artfully selected a superb cast and production team that makes this play an outstanding modern day thriller, a play that I highly recommend for your complete enjoyment. David Lee Cuthbert’s set design is a modern media masterpiece of dynamic digital design. It is flashing lights and moving patterns that represent our modern world of hi-tech media interface. Pamela Gray’s lighting paints another scenic dimension through the medium of light. Her light sabers carve the stage into new environs that allow the director to move the story at a much faster pace than it would be possible without her carefully crafted light zones.

“Secret Order” continues Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with matinees on Saturdays at 3 pm, and a matinee on Wednesday, October 27th at 11 am. Tickets range in price between $35 and $74 each and may be purchased by calling (408) 367-7255 or by visiting their website at http://www.sjrep.com/. The San Jose Repertory Theatre is a beautiful facility, easy to reach and richly rewarding. 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. There is a multi-storied public parking structure at the corner of East San Carlos Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets. There is an art and photography display in the upper lobby of the theater that I strongly suggest you take the time to inspect. Kate Oberlander is a colorblind artist who has been losing her sight since her mid-thirties, but not her artistic vision. Her work is exciting, especially when viewed from across the room. Please check it out and her website at http://www.aopstudios.com/ . The visually impaired deserve your attention!

"Meanwhile, East of the Caldecotte - - -"

Now, for the easy stuff, the local stuff, the fun stuff! The next two shows I am reviewing, I have seen so many times that I can almost repeat the lines and lyrics verbatim. Role Players Ensemble Theatre in Danville is currently in production with a truly marvelous and superbly directed Neil Simon play, “Lost in Yonkers”. Again the genius of Simon takes us on a journey down a stony path, a near heartbreaking story of a family on the verge of disaster in 1942. Yet, this poignant story of a dysfunctional Jewish family held together by the thinnest of family ties, is immersed by Neil Simon in rich and wonderful humor, humor that allows the story tellers and the audience to survive this tale of “coming of age” in a most difficult time, with heartfelt and touching moments of fractured familial love.

The show opens with two boys, Arty (Cole Cloud) and Jay (David Kahawaii) sitting somewhat impatiently in the living room of their grandmother’s house in Yonkers, a city on the edge of the Hudson River, north of Lincoln Park and Harlem. Their father, Eddie (Ryan Terry) is in the other room having a very serious meeting with their grandmother, about what, they haven’t a clue.

It turns out that their mother has passed away recently from cancer and while their parents provided a reasonably comfortable and respectable home for them, they were basically living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck. With mother’s illness came horrific hospital and medicine and doctor expenses that their father struggled to pay by borrowing from loan sharks at exorbitant rates of interest. Now, their dad is being threatened with a long walk off a short pier if he doesn’t pay back the loans immediately, and of course, he has no money to pay the piper. Eddie has found that he can go to work for a metal savage company as a salesman in a traveling job that will keep him on the road for at least 8 to 9 months straight. This means he cannot take care of his young boys and he has come to his mother to ask her to take care of them for a while. The grandmother (Janice Fuller Leone) is a German Jewish immigrant who lost her husband prematurely and had to run her deceased husband’s candy store and has raised six children by herself. She is tough as nails and very unloving, emotionally drained and difficult to get along with. She exercised fear and intimidation to keep her children under control and that painfully tight control has damaged each of her children to some extent. She didn’t like Eddie’s wife when she was alive and has been estranged from her grandsons due to that relationship. She is not willing to take on this new burden at this time in her life. Grandma also has a “child-like” daughter, Bella, who although in her mid-thirties, is very simple and immature, but loving and hopeful. Bella’s sister Gert (Sukanya Sarkar) has a breathing disability, probably brought on by years of long suffered psychological damage. Louie (Willem Long) is a tough hoodlum brother, who takes refuge in the family from some other gangster guys who want to kiss and make up! Sure!!! The other two children had died in their childhood years.

Through Bella’s insistence and need for companionship, Grandma finally agrees to allow the boys to stay with her, but that doesn’t mean she has to be any nicer to them than she was to her own children. The story chronicles the family’s arduous journey for the year that father, Eddie, is away earning the money to pay off his loans. It is not a happy journey, but it is really a wonderful story of a family coming of age, an entire family, coming out of the darkness of the past, into a new understanding of the importance of family and the love it can eventually create.

All of the acting is quite excellent. The young boys Cole Cloud and David Kahawaii are exceptionally mature for their age and acting experience and they absolutely nailed the Brooklyn accent and their characters. Eddie, the father, is played well by Ryan Terry who has made some significant growth in this role and is now really becoming a full-fledged actor. Sister Gert (Sukanya Sarkar) was delightful. I loved her wonderful portrayal. Dawn Cates is really delicious, sweet, warm, funny and turns out to have more balls than anyone else in the whole family! Cates truly delivers and what a special, heartfelt talent! She absolutely nailed the character. Brother Louie, Willem Long, was right up there on the level with true professional actors, calculating, purposeful, with perfect timing and perfect diction. He enunciates (even with an accent) so that you can clearly understand every word. Perhaps the best, I had to save for last, that nasty grandma, who is the icing on the cake. Janice, cold as ice, was pluperfect in her role. The support team was as important to this overall production as the actors and director themselves. Costumer Lisa Danz found costumes that absolutely enhanced the story, most especially the zoot suit worn by Louie. It spoke “Hood” - - real good! The proper costuming adds that certain zing of authenticity and Lisa’s work brought this production up another level with her expertise. Super job Lisa!
Wow, what a show!

"Lost in Yonkers", under the expert direction of Robin Taylor, plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, now through November 13th in the Village Theater at 233 Front Street in Danville. Call (925) 820-1278 for tickets or reservations of visit their website at http://www.danvilletheatre.com/ for more information. Tickets range in price between $15 and $25 each.

The last on the list today, “A Chorus Line”, might be the first on your selection list, and if you like musicals, than this is a guaranteed winner, if this were gold dust, gold just hit a new high! As it says in the song, One Singular Sensation - - this chorus line is in many ways, one of the best I have seen in my 25years of reviewing. This CCMT (Contra Costa Musical Theater) production under the direction of Jennifer Perry has brought together the most diverse and exciting cast ever in this production and I just cannot stop talking about it, or thinking about it, or reveling in the memories of it.

I’m sure most of you remember the very simple basic premise of this story. This is the story of 17 dancers auditioning for eight coveted spots in the chorus line of a new musical with high hopes of opening on Broadway. But more than that, and more than the fact that each one of them needs this job, desperately, it is about the turbulent waters in their lives, their needs, their pains, their hopes, their dreams, their personalities. Anyone who has ever been a dancer, or in love with a dancer or married to a dancer, can relate in spades to the story behind the stories of those who are now up on this stage, dancing their butts off to get this job, because they love this work. The dance director, Zach (Joel Roster), wants to get to know the dancers a little better, so that he can feel confident that he will end up with 8 dancers who can really work well together. He asks them to tell him something personal about themselves. He encourages them to open up and in so doing, their lives unfold before the audience. It is Joel Roster’s performance as Zack, that brings a level of reality to this show, of poignancy and beauty that I have not experienced before. While all of the dancers are multitalented, and superb in their portrayals, it is really this pivotal character that provides this show with its backbone, and it is this one portrayal that really sends this production off the charts. In very strong second spots, I have to congratulate Nicole Helfner who plays the foul-mouthed Val Clark who put new pizzazz in “Dance 10; Looks 3 (aka Tits and Ass)”. Also, Melinda Meeng who playsDiana Morales and Renee DeWeese who plays Cassie Ferguson are both outstanding. I wish I had the space to go on and name all the wonderful people who make this such an invigorating and poignant story.

The orchestra under the direction of Mark Hanson is terrific and ads significantly to the overall production. “A Chorus Line” continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with Sunday performances at 2 pm, closing on November 20th. Call 943-SHOW (7469) for tickets or reservations or check out the website for the Lesher Center for the Arts at http://www.lesherartscenter.org/ . The CCMT production is in the Hoffmann Theater in the Lesher Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Tickets range in price between $40 to $45 each.