Jesus Christ Superstar rocks the Fetterly Playhouse in Vallejo! Two very enjoyable musicals, "Chicago" in Martinez and "Into the Woods" in an entirely new theater in the San Ramon Valley are reved up just for you!

Jesus Christ Superstar and the end of the world come together this evening in the Fetterly Playhouse in Vallejo at 8 p.m.!

No, I am not talking about the fact, that in about 4 hours from the time I sat down to write this blog today, the world as we know it, is supposed to be the end, - - - at least according to Mr. Harold Camping, the evangelical head of Family Radio Broadcasting Network. While I personally am not too concerned about this review not circulating here on earth after 6 p.m., never the less, I thought that this delightful production was so unique and entertaining I felt compelled to get this story out of my brain and launched into the cyber-world of internet reporting. Granted, this show which closes tomorrow, Sunday the 22nd of May, will probably be over before you read this review, anyway! Never-the-less, it is a very good production that deserves recognition for their hard work.

For those of you who are not old enough to remember “Jesus Christ Superstar”, the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera which rocked Broadway in 1971, had very mixed reviews, was very controversial and even banned by many religious groups. This musical is a retelling of the story of last weeks of Jesus Christ’s life, highlighting the political and interpersonal struggles between he and his followers. More specifically, the story focuses on Jesus’ betrayal at the hands of one of his trusted apostles, Judas Iscariot.

The original Broadway musical theatrical production and this Vallejo production are indeed anachronistic retellings of the biblical tale. Anachronistic in the sense that while the “Superstar” story was staged in a biblical era stage setting, it was told in the modern vernacular, in “hip” modern language, as if it was in a in the midst’s of the 1970’s free love and peace era, utilizing modern verbal colloquialisms.

The Vallejo production is even more anachronistic as it introduces an element of Armageddon-ism, an apocalyptic stage and background setting, in a modern day world that had recently been torn asunder by a nuclear war and destruction, a world that is even further ruptured by a battle between those surviving members of society that represent the forces of good and evil, Christ, his followers and the followers of a latter-day Herod and Caesar. This production goes a step further than the Broadway show which ended with the crucifixion scene, as this production hints at the resurrection of Jesus in its closing scene.

While I have enjoyed the rock musical many times over the years, I found certain elements of this production worthy of special praise and creativity. It is always exciting to experience new twists on old material and Directory Jeff Lowe has piloted his theatrical craft over stormy seas and demanding squalls to bring this extremely complicated visual tableau to full fruition. Creating sets and backdrops on a budget is always a challenge, but when you introduce another theatrical element, motion picture imagery in the form of moving movie compilations in what amounts to moving and integrated backdrops, you are stepping into another world, another dimension, another universe. From falling atomic bombs, to nuclear explosions, to war torn cityscapes vibrating with a kaleidoscope-like color collages, to peaceful mist filled forest glens, Lowe and his hard working creative crew have immersed his audiences in a 4th dimensional audio-visual experience. The result is a combination of sound, light, music and voices, live action and moving, artistic backgrounds all inclusive that saturate the senses.

Granted many of the actors are purely amateur thespians, but there also were many very talented aspiring-to-become-professional level actors and in their joint effort, they all contributed equally to a most enjoyable evening’s experience. Director Lowe selected a very diverse cast that includes Nick Thompson as Judas, Kyle Stoner, as Jesus, Casey Ellis as the very beautiful and caring Mary Magdalene, and Jeff Lowe, the director playing the part of Pilate. I was very pleased by the excellent voices delivering the very difficult to sing, complicated work of Webber and Rice. There were many general ensemble members who also contributed a great deal to the show, including some that I sought out after the show, including the very talented Julianna Kohley. King Herod was played by Dan Monez, accompanied Calaphas, played by Obdulio Butler, Jr., and Annas by Courtney McAllister, Simon by Sydnee Ortiz and Peter by Kiernan Donleavy. This is a huge cast and a big production for a community theatre with far more hardworking personnel than I can adequately express my kudos to in this short review.

In addition to the cast, the technical support team’s roll was paramount in this shows overall success. The costume design endeavors of Stacey Lowe were significant as the costumes were numerous (80 costumes overall), all well conceived and executed. Stacey was assisted with costumes by Robin Speer, Barbara McFadden, and Ramona Sampayan. Prop acquisition was assisted by Angel Whitebird from her little “Innovations” shop in Cotati (from where this dedicated volunteer drives for every show to assist at whatever she is asked to do). Lighting design was put together by volunteers and staff members, Barbara Van Sickle, David Dierks and Jeff Lowe. Technical Direction and sound design was at the very capable hands of David Dierks. The Multi-Media Projection staff consisted of Sven Olson, Hannah Rokni and Angel Whitebird stayed on top of many very, very complicated cuts and cues. Hair and Makeup were equally important and carried out under the direction of Mikkel Simons and Meghan Pence and Rachel Quinonez. This show just proves that there are a lot of wonderful, dedicated people who undertake these very time consuming support activities out of their shear love of theater.

If you get a chance to take this show in, it is only a 30 to 40 minute drive from Walnut Creek to the theater’s location at space #10, at 3467 Sonoma Boulevard, located at the corner of Redwood Street, at the rear of and behind the shopping center at this location. This has to be one of the most challenging theater’s to find in the entire bay area, but I have to say that it is a surprising find, a real little theatrical jewel that is very comfortable, with a well lighted parking lot that provides free parking within very close proximity to the venue. Let me describe for you the best directions I can to find the theater in this shopping center complex. I suggest that you take highway 80 north through Vallejo, until you come to the Redwood Street off ramp, where you will exit and travel west until you cross Sonoma Boulevard. Continue west and you will see the very large shopping center on your right. Drive almost to the west end of the shopping center complex, past Seafood City, and when you pull into the shopping center, point your car at the end of the buildings, the south west corner of the parking lot and you will find a little almost hidden driveway that takes you around and behind the shopping center buildings, where you will find another little sign that directs you back east to the theater entrance. It is almost as if they expect you to be looking for the back doors to all of the shops in the shopping center. There is a pretty large sign in the walkway between the buildings that points to the theater entrance. Bay Area Stage Productions phone number is (707) 649-1053.

Tickets are a very reasonable $15 for students and seniors and $18 for general admission. If you go to the web site for the Bay Area Stage Productions organization at you will find a link that allows you to purchase tickets over the internet, or you may purchase them at the door. "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a very inventive, clever, thought provoking production. This is proof that there are many, many great little community theaters well worthy of your entertainment dollar. Try it, you may very well like it!
Life is a cabaret old friend and as the words from the 1966 Kander and Ebb stage musical version of “Cabaret” reverberates in my head, my introduction to this week’s reviews have to include these lines:

“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, come to the Cabaret. Put down the knitting, the book and the broom, time for a holiday. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, come to the Cabaret. Come taste the wine, come hear the band. Come blow a horn, start celebrating; Right this way, your table's waiting -“

The first show I am reviewing this week takes place in the Willows Campbell Cabaret Theater in Martinez, where the award winning Fossee, Kander and Ebb musical, “Chicago”, is reving up audiences and it is an absolute blast! This exciting production is the kind of show that really works in this cabaret style theater venue. Under the articulate direction of Eric Inman, Musical Director, Rachel Robinson, and Choreographer, LaTonya Watts, this driving, upbeat, funny show came to a fevered pitch. The audience was applauding at just about every nuance, every delightfully delivered comedic routine and jumped to their feet at the final curtain delivering an appreciative and resounding roar of approval. Wow! What a show!

In this theater, you can do just about everything encouraged by the Cabaret lyrics above, you can taste the wine or mixed drinks at a little cabaret table, hear the band (a terrific real live combo style band) and do everything else - - except, perhaps, blow the horn! This has to be one of the best productions in this very compact little space in a long time, if not ever.

The story is actually based on fact, the re-invented stories of two different women accused of murder in Chicago in the early 1920’s. In 1926, Chicago Tribune reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins penned her play, “Chicago”, based on the actual trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner and examined the corrupt criminal justice system that existed in the 1920’s. Fast forward 30 years and actress Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse’s wife, read Watkins’ play and suggested that her husband see if they could turn it into a musical. The then born-again Christian Watkins declined the offer by Kander, Ebb and Fosse to revitalize the play as a musical, as she thought it would glamorize a scandalous way of living. After Watkins passed away in 1969, her estate sold the rights to Richard Fryer, Verdon and Fosse.

Shortly thereafter, these same people created a satire on corruption in the administration of criminal justice and developed the concept of a “celebrity” criminal and “celebrity” lawyer, making it a center piece of their musical. The result is a modern day setting, using a smoke filled bar/cabaret venue in place of the vaudeville theatre in which the original play was set.

The cast includes 24 actors and actresses, all with genuine professional training, experience and even some with union (Actors’ Equity Association) credentials. The two main characters, the leading “incarcerated ladies”, Velma Kelly (played by Nicloe Helfer) and Roxie Hart (Kerry Wininger), plus the “celebrity attorney, Billy Flinn (Mark Farrell), are absolutely superlative! Roxie Hart’s milk toast and devoted husband, Amos Hart, is played by Shaun Carroll. The Jailhouse Matron, Mama Morton, is played to perfection by Michelle Ianiro. Isaiah Tyrelle is a very talented dancer and actor who plays multiple roles (including reporter Little Mary Sunshine) with puck and panache in pluperfect fashion. There are many, many more excellent talents that I simply do not have room to provide adequate kudos to for their excellent contributions.

"Chicago" is decidedly a show crafted with an adult audience in mind. It is risqué, a bit ribald and just plain fun! Chicago runs Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and on Sundays at 3 p.m., now through June 12th.

The Campbell Cabaret Theater is located at 636 Ward Street in Martinez where it enjoys well lighted, ample, low cost and seemingly safe street parking for all theater patrons. Tickets range in price between $22 and $32 each with discounts for seniors (65+). To purchase tickets, call (925) 798-1300 or visit the Willows Theater web site at

The City of Martinez must be congratulated for its far thinking management and council who actively support theatre and the arts for its residents and in particular their mayor, Rob Schroder, who goes out of his way to support the company and his community, tirelessly. All of Contra Costs County benefits from this community’s support of theatre, when tight money and tough budgets make this job very difficult for all!

Now, off to a theater in San Ramon, the Front Row Theatre, a relatively new theater company that I had not had the opportunity to attend until this past weekend, when I sat in on a very spirited production of Steven Sondheim’s brilliant musical, “Into The Woods”. This new theater will be glad to open its doors to all of our Rossmoor Readers and I want to tell you about what it has to offer. The San Ramon Community Theatre is now performing in a new theater venue built as part of the Dougherty Station Community Center at the corner of East Branch Road and Bollinger Canyon Road in San Ramon.

Director Terry Cunningham has done an excellent job, in the face of great adversity, in finding actors and directors and stage hands to make this little company work. While all theatrical companies are facing even more difficult times in the recent economic downturn, some of the restrictions placed upon this company by the City of San Ramon, such as restricting it to a meager two shows a year, each limited to two week runs, in this theatre facility, has placed an unnecessary burden on this theatrical company that is quietly discriminating against and undermining its chances for success. When I spoke to Terry recently, we discussed the problem he was having in getting theater reviewers to come to his shows. I told him that I, for one, never, or at least seldom attend productions that only run for two weeks, because by the time I see a show and it gets in the paper on the Wednesday of the week following the show’s opening, my readers only have two days to make up their minds to see his shows and to purchase tickets and make arrangements to see it. There is simply too much competition out there for me to see and review a theater production, unless it runs for at least three or four weeks. Further, most good actors will not commit to the weeks of hard work memorizing lines and making costumes and attending rehearsals for a show that only runs two weeks! Generally, it just AINT worth it! Let’s face the fact that most amateur theaters don’t have the budgets to hire costumers to make the costumes, or lighting designers or set builders for a homegrown community theatre show. It is purely a do-it-yourself, love of the arts dedication at the hands of all participants that gets it done!

While this 88 seat theater is very comfortable for the audience and the stage is very nice in size for the actors to perform upon, it has no backstage area and no wings to work with, necessary for a legitimate show and it has no dressing rooms. This means everybody is working with marginal, makeshift equipment and support facilities. If the City of San Ramon really wants to provide this facility for its citizens’ enjoyment, it would have to do very little to make it work much better for everyone concerned. Another problem is with the city’s lack of flexibility by enforcing an antiquated sign ordinance that did not have the foresight to allow for their own theater to put out temporary, removable signage that would allow potential patrons to know where the theater is located! My daughter and I drove past and around the buildings several times, wasting valuable time just trying to figure out where the theater was located, and even with a proper address, you still have a hard time figuring out in what building it is located! These are not great big problems to the City, but they are very negative logistical problems that may eventually spell disaster to this hard working company. This would be a very enjoyable theatre for Rossmoor residents to go to if they could just find it. This would even be a very enjoyable theater to San Ramon residents, if they could just find it! Can you imagine a city that builds a theatre and puts in place rules so restrictive so that no one can find it or figure out where it is? Does this make any sense? Come on guys, get your act together!

Now, on to the show itself! “Into the Woods” is a show that I seldom pass up when the opportunity arises because it is such a brilliantly written piece of work that takes the scary out of fairy tales. All of us have grown up with the brothers Grimm and their folk tales told to children of all ages, stories with the purpose of installing morality and values in young minds. At the same time, the fairy tales prescribe fancifully solutions to life’s wants and needs, often needlessly filling our heads with fluff and not the real stuff. By this I mean, we are promised that if we are all good little children, living the straight life, doing what our parents tell us, we will meet our prince or princess, get a good job and find happiness ever after!

Not so - - and how do you know, they ask? Well, history has not proven the dream to work as promised and Sondheim, really tells it like it is. In the second act of his musical, life’s realities come through, as they most often really do! Into the Woods takes a number of well known fairy tales and mixes them all together, as though they are all the fanciful residents of the same interconnected community. Take Little Red Ridinghood and the Wolf, Cinderella, a wicked stepmother, two nasty sisters and a promising Prince Charming, Jack and the giant Beanstalk, a Baker and his Wife, a woeful revengeful giant, a less than imaginative local governmental steward who is overseen by a pair of inadequate princes and you have the makings for a very wild and wacky community tale. In the first act, most of the fairy tales follow the original story lines as purloined from the Grimm Brothers. However, in the second act, we discover what happens when Cinderella discovers that her prince is no longer honest, completely truthful and is “Charming” no longer. Similarly, each fairytale erodes into the normal muck of life and strife and becomes the reality that, unfortunately, most of us know as the true way of life.

The characters are played for the most part, very well by amateur actors eager to please and who love the opportunity to share their love of theater with you , the audience. Granted, there is room for improvement in many areas, but such is the nature of amateur theater. Several actors deserve my kudos for their work. The Baker and his wife, Kevin Dahlstrom and Sharon Kantor, are very good, very engaging and believable. The Narrator (Dan Brown) and his son Tommy Brown (who plays Jack) do a very good job, are delightfully funny and quite believable, as fairy tale characters. Little Red Ridinghood (played by Nicole Simons) is also quite good, as is Bonnie Lafer, as the wicked witch! I do not have room remaining in my article to cover everyone who contributed to the show, but it is very enjoyable, at least from the acting aspect. The singing aspect was weak as only a few of the entertainers had really satisfactory voices, more specifically Mallory Viera (Cinderella), who really has an excellent voice and is an excellent actress as well. There were a couple of other performers who had minor roles, also had excellent voices.

As always, Into the Woods is a fun-filled, cleverly written musical that not only entertains as a musical with songs that continue in our brains for days, but it really gives us food for thought as well. This very good local production continues Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., with matinees at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays now through May 28th. You can call the Front Row Theater at 973-2787 or visit their website at to purchase tickets. The Front Row Theater is located in the building next to the Library in the Dougherty Station Community Center at 17011 Bollinger Canyon Road, in San Ramon. Also, let me repeat the fact that the evening show times are set at the unusual time of 7:30 so be sure to allow enough time to get there early to find your self a good seat (and the seating is open seating).