January & February provide plenty of plays, dance and musical offerings and here are three you should not miss!

January & February always provides a plethora of plays, dance and musical entertainment offerings. This week’s article is designed to help you focus in on some short run offerings (generally less than two weeks in duration or coming up too soon for me to review and report on before they open) that you might find very special and highly entertaining over the next couple of months. These are shows that will not be running long enough for me to review the actual production and get that review in our paper in time for you to make your entertainment decisions. I will highlight plays, comedy offerings, symphony, and ballet in a variety of venues around the Bay Area.

First, a couple of actors who are long time friends of mine, Fred Williams and Jean Wilcox will be presenting a show in the Diablo Actor’s Ensemble Theater on Locust Street entitled simply, “Jolly Good Show - - - Stories of Love, Laughter, Loss and Loneliness” on February 18 ( at 7.30 p.m.) and Feb 19 & 20 (at 2 p.m.), with all proceeds going to the Jean Wilcox Scholarship for Theatrical Studies. Fred and Jean have performed this show in an earlier incarnation previously and have added new material to this production that I am sure you will find highly entertaining. It is a delightful mix of monologues and skits that are both poignant, thought provoking and at times, very humorous. Jean Wilson is one of the driving forces behind the 250 member Drama Association of Rossmoor, which currently enjoys a membership that encompasses a very broad base of Rossmoor residents in Walnut Creek.

I have enjoyed their acting talents going back over twenty years, probably to the very earliest days of the Willows Theater. I cannot remember at this time what show I first saw them perform in together, but it was probably in an early version of “My Fair Lady” in which Fred played the part of professor Higgins and in which Jean played several characters including, Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, the mother of the young and amorous Freddy Eynsford-Hill! Jean Wilson moved into the Rossmoor community a couple of years ago and Fred moved back to Ireland, where he has family.

I have kept in touch with Fred, eager to know when he is back in the states, as he is a marvelous actor and director. When I learned he was returning to engage in the fund raiser for the Jean Wilcox Scholarship Fund to financially assist aspiring young college actors toward their dreams of theater training, I wanted to know more about the event and the scholarship fund itself.

The play is really nothing more than a loosely knit collage of short skits and monologues detailing seniors living and dealing with life’s experiences; positive and negative, poignant and playful, humorous and not so humorous, with a close resemblance to UK personages we know, have known and loved. While hopefully not giving too much away, a good portion of the play material was written by Allan Bennett, a well known British playwright from Leeds England (central northern Yorkshire area), known for his comedy and serious life sketches. You may be familiar with some of his work which is shown on the BBC quite often, such as the very popular television show, “Talking Heads” (late 1980’s), and his play, “The Madness of King George III”, was re-scripted as a movie, “The Madness of King George”, and won 4 academy awards (1994).

Many of Bennett's characters are unfortunate and downtrodden. Life has brought them to an impasse or else passed them by. In many cases they have met with disappointment in the realm of sex and intimate relationships, largely through tentativeness and a failure to connect with others. Bennett is unsparing and compassionate in laying bare his characters' frailties. His work is poignant and moving and through our frailties, he exposes the intimate humor of life’s situations.

According to Mr. Williams, one of the short skits is from a show called, “You know I can’t hear you when the water’s running!” and is about a couple of senior citizens “who have both been married three times before and they keep getting mixed up as to who was married to whom and when, and is very funny indeed!” It is described as a “sort of who’s on first” comic dialogue skit between Fred and Jean. Fred will also perform in another skit that is an Irish piece about a Bricklayer who has been injured on the job and is writing to his union, outlining his reasons justifying sick-leave. This skit is actually based on real life work situation and the resulting letter.

Jean Wilcox describes “Jolly Good Show - - - Stories of Love, Laughter, Loss and Loneliness” as a very funny collection of skits, but there is a stream of pathos that goes through them about English people reflecting on their lives. Jean refers to them as “Everybody has a Story” tales. Jean also does “Bed Among the Lentels”, one of the six monologues taken from “Talking Heads”, which was written specifically for the famed actress, Maggie Smith. This is the story about a Vicar’s wife who is not well fitted to the role of a Vicar’s wife, because she just doesn’t adapt easily to the mold expected. It is widely known as the best of the six “Talking Heads” monologues and Jean says that it is very funny!

They will be doing two matinees and one evening performance. If you would like to purchase tickets, which cost $12 each, call Jean Wilcox and let her know which performance you would like to see. You may call Jean Wilcox at (925) 937-6524 directly and address your inquiries to her. All proceeds will benefit the Scholarship fund. The production series will be in the DAE Theater located at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek, right next door to Peet’s Coffee. This is a very intimate theater (49 seats total) where you can hear every word without having to strain your brain! I would not miss this show and I strongly recommend it to you as I know the quality and expertise of these wonderful actors and the material they bring with them.

Smuin Ballet's new modern dance production, "Oh, Inverted World", is set to the upbeat and modern rock/pop music of the Shins!

The Smuin Ballet has just announced that they will be performing a new work, a winter program entitled “Oh, Inverted World” created by Trey McIntyre set to the music of “the Shins” in Walnut Creek in the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts on February 4th and 5th. I visited the company’s video montage on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upLWrJqzjOw and found this delightful on-line video introduction very upbeat and fun to watch. If you have access to a computer and the internet, I would suggest that you first take a look at this introduction and then consider purchasing tickets to the modern dance performance. This show should provide a generous dose of exciting dance performances by some stellar dance performers.

Not being familiar with the music of the group called “The Shins”, I did a little research on the internet and discovered that they are primarily described as an indie rock band (independent in the sense they totally control the content and distribution of their work) formed by singer, songwriter and lead guitarist James Russell Mercer. Their sound draws on several musical genres, including pop, alternative rock, indie rock and a mixture of folk music. Their first album, “Oh, Inverted World” was a smash hit when it was released in 2001 on Omnibus Records.

The album's title comes from a lyric in the second track, "One by One All Day", and there are several theories as to its meaning. It may allude to a line from German philosopher and economist Karl Marx. In his 1843 Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Marx blames religion for creating an "inverted world consciousness" that excuses mankind from self-responsibility. Alternately, it may refer to the science fiction classic "Inverted World" by Christopher Priest.

I went through this same process before I decided to attend the Berkeley Repertory Company’s production of “American Idiot” spawned by the musical group called “Green Day” (a group with which I was not familiar prior to that show). I loved that show and it was highly successful as it moved on to Broadway last year, garnering several Tony nominations along the way.

Artistic and Executive Director Celia Fushille describes her collaboration with McIntyre as rewarding, a perfect fit in her vision for Smuin’s future programing efforts – giving birth to work that is both exciting and vibrant. Anyone who is familiar with Fushille’s history with the Smuin Ballet, understands that this means uncompromising beauty, attention to detail and artistic excellence in anything and everything her group engages in.

Tickets for this Smuin Ballet production range in cost between $49 and $59 each and can be secured by calling the Lesher Center for the Arts Box Office at (925) 943-7469 or by visiting http://www.smuinballet.org/. The Lesher Center for the Arts is located at 1601 Civic Drive, at the corner of Locust Street and Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. There is ample parking in the public parking garage next door to the theater.

The Rrazz Room in San Francisco welcomes back Paula West on January 18th!

I have mentioned several times the exciting performers who are being showcased in the Rrazz Room in San Francisco each week. I want to tell you about a smooth jazz singing impresario, with a velvet voice, the incomparable Paula West, who will be opening next week, January 18th. This soulful song stylist delivers a mellow and heartfelt warmth that just makes you feel good, no matter what she sings. I just heard her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rollin’s Stone”, via YouTube, when she was playing in the Jazz Standard room in New York where she was accompanied by the masterful jazz combo, The George Mesterhazy Quintet.

This is one cool lady who lets it swing naturally, never forcing, always reinforcing and reinterpreting the lyrics, gliding them upwards to newer heights. Sweet and mellow, when combined with this terrific combo, she just cannot be beat. If you like Jazz, you will love Ms. West! When the Rrazz Room opened in 2008, this is the lady, this is the act that opened their venue, and they knew exactly what they were doing. Solid Groove!

By any and all means, don’t miss what promises to be a terrific musical experience opening a week from now on Tuesday, January 18th, in the Rrazz Room when Paula West and the George Mesterhazy Quartet brings their eight week show to San Francisco. Tickets vary depending on the night of the performance, but range between $35 and a very reasonable $45 each. PLEASE NOTE: The Valentines night performance, February 14th, is slightly higher at $65 and it includes complementary chocolates and a glass of champagne. You may call for reservations at (866) 468-3399 and/or visit their www.therrazzroom.com/ website to see the entire performance schedule for this remarkable artist. In addition you can get a taste for the terrific variety of coming events. Check it out!

Host-escorted assigned seating 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!

There are lots of great shows starting this month and I hope to keep you all happily informed and involved in the entertainment scene throughout this New Year. Please, for me, have a healthy and Happy New Year! Charlie Jarrett