Tag Archives: Berkeley Playhouse

Review: Berkeley Playhouse’s ‘Spelling Bee’ is a winner

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If you only see one musical this year… you don’t go to enough musicals, my friend. But you’re in luck: Berkeley Playhouse has opened a one-month run of the Tony-award-winning The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The show is a winner on its merits — with a sweet, funny, rollicking story — but also provides a great opportunity to appreciate how theater works to create place, mood and emotion out of seemingly thin air.

The musical, which originated as an improvised skit set in a school spelling bee, involves a handful of finalists in the titular Putnam County bee, along with moderator, Rona Lisa Peretti (proud champion of the 3rd annual bee), troubled Assistant Principal Douglas Panch, and “comfort counselor” (a parolee armed with hugs and juice boxes), Mitch Mahoney.

The show is reminiscent of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (coming in Berkeley Playhouse’s 2014-15 season) in having adults play children, though there are adults, both present, and painfully absent, here too. Spelling Bee contains some wonderful (verging on the heartbreaking) acknowledgment of the impact of adults on a kid-centric world, e.g., in the “tiger parenting” that drives contestant Marcy Park, or the void that contestant Olive Ostrovsky hopes desperately to fill. … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Cal water polo
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DESIGNED OBSOLESCENCE They’ve performed in nudist colonies and on Prairie Home Companion. They issued a series of 10-inch 78rpm recordings long after the format had vanished. And they count R. Crumb as a co-founder. The Cheap Suit Serenaders bring their “unapologetically outmoded tastes” to the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse on Friday, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. On ukuleles, Hawaiian steel guitars, fiddles, cellos, banjos, mandolins, accordions and musical saws, Robert Armstrong, Allan Dodge, Rick Elmore and Tony Marcus serve up a “giddy blend of up-tempo Hawaiian stomps, ragtime, Italian polkas and more.” Tickets are $26.50 in advance, $28.50 on the door. Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison St.

Yankees use

THOSE DAMN YANKEES This weekend sees the production of the baseball-themed musical comedy Damn Yankees being performed by students in the Berkeley Playhouse TeenStage Program (grades 7-12) at the Berkeley Playhouse on College Ave. In this modern retelling of the Faust legend, a passionate Washington Senators fan sells his soul to the Devil in order to be transformed into their star player and lead his beloved team to a victory against those damn Yankees. The show, which is based on the novel, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, features memorable songs such as “Heart,” and “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets.” Shows are Friday Jan. 10 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday Jan. 11 at 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.; and Sunday Jan. 12 at 12:00 p.m. Berkeley Playhouse, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. Visit Berkeley Playhouse for full details.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Playhouse’s ‘A Little Princess’ is exuberant, lively

The Villagers of Saint Louis , Senegal bid Sara Crewe good luck on her journey to London in “Bon Chance” from Berkeley Playhouse’s production of Andrew Lippa’s A Little Princess, directed by Elizabeth McKoy.
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A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett was first published in book form in 1905 and has remained one of the most popular children’s books for more than 100 years. Three versions of the story have come to the big screen.

The theatricality of the story was limited, however, because the action is set in a girls’ boarding school in London during the Victorian era. The father of young Sara Crewe, fresh from living in India, enrolls her at Miss Minchin’s, a finishing school for young ladies. The wealthy Sara is friendly, generous, not snobbish, and becomes the darling of the school (even though Miss Minchin secretly hates her). She befriends the scullery maid and the school’s least popular girls, and uses her imagination to tell exotic stories. … Continue reading »

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The Oaks Theater may be reborn as performance space

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The Oaks Theater on Solano Avenue may be getting another lease at life.

City Councilman Laurie Capitelli and the Youth Musical Theater Company are launching a task force to transform the theater on Solano into a multi-use venue. The task force has already started reaching out to the numerous Berkeley arts organizations operating without a permanent space in the hopes of attracting a group of anchor tenants.

“We’d like to see some activity going on at the theater every night,” Capitelli, who represents the Solano Avenue area on the council, said. “Bringing in a simulcast of a Paris opera, having special events like the Academy Awards or the Super Bowl. We’re thinking of children’s matinee films, a summer series for kids who are out of school. Also panels, discussions, symposiums, etc.”

The Oaks Theater has long been an anchor site on Solano Avenue, but it has sat dark and vacant for the past two years. It was built as a single-screen theater in 1925 and upgraded to two screens in 1973. Renaissance Rialto Theaters operated the Oaks between 1994 and 2005, and then the Metropolitan Theaters Corporation ran it until 2010. Merriment Media used the theater to show Bollywood flicks for several months in 2010, but the company lost its lease after it failed to pay rent for three months. … Continue reading »

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Vernon Bush is the Wiz at Berkeley Playhouse

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Elizabeth McKoy wasn’t expecting to do any casting when she ventured across the Bay to attend Glide Memorial Church’s rousing Thanksgiving service in 2011. The Berkeley Playhouse founder was simply doing “what all good Jews do, going to a great social justice program,” when she encountered the ostentatiously talented vocalist Vernon Bush, a featured singer in the Glide Ensemble Choir.

“He was so theatrical and larger than life, much more than an incredible gospel singer,” McKoy recalls. “I rushed up to him at the end and asked, do you act? I’m looking for a Willy Wonka.”

That encounter led to Bush’s starring role in the Berkeley Playhouse’s production of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” last summer, a critical success that brought Bush back to the theater after almost two decades immersed in music, from video work with Whitney Houston and recording with Nancy Wilson to leading his own jazz combo and joining the celebrated Bay Area a cappella ensemble SoVoSo. In another case of almost ridiculously apt casting, Bush returns to the Julia Morgan Theater on Saturday in the title role of “The Wiz,” a Berkeley Playhouse production that runs through Aug. 25. … Continue reading »

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Can do: Odds favor solid Guys and Dolls

Miss Adelaide (c, Sarah Mitchell) and the Hot Box Girls (l-r, Catherine Duval Petru, Simone Olsen-Varela, Louise Barcellos) perform “A Bushel and a Peck” at the Hot Box Club, in Berkeley Playhouse’s Guys and Dolls. Photo: Ken Levin, courtesy of Berkeley Playhouse
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By Ross Stapleton-Gray

The production of Guys and Dolls that opened at the Berkeley Playhouse this past Saturday is very good. But you should see it so that you’ll be able to say (and odds are 8 to 5 that you will), “I saw Sarah Mitchell’s Miss Adelaide (in a very good production of Guys and Dolls).”

I had seen Mitchell once before, as Mayzie La Bird in the Berkeley Playhouse production of Seussical, and she was quite good in that rather small role, As Adelaide she steals the show.

Miss Adelaide and her fiancé of 14 years, Nathan Detroit, are the secondary romance in the show. They’re the comic counterparts to the central love interests, the missionary Sara Brown and the gambler Sky Masterson, but it’s easy to see the two couples as sharing the limelight equally. … Continue reading »

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For Valentine’s Day: Berkeley love blooms at the theater

Patrick and Kimberly Dooley on their wedding day.
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By Elisabeth Woody

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Berkeleyside is celebrating love in by looking at how one Berkeley couple met and fell in love.

Kimberly and Patrick Dooley are prominent figures in the Berkeley theater world — she is a director at Berkeley Playhouse and he is the founding artistic director at Shotgun Players. Their life and love are grounded in Berkeley. They shared their first kiss on the benches of what was then Ozzie’s Soda Fountain in the Elmwood. Patrick wooed Kimberly with cherry cornbread scones from the Cheese Board, and their favorite dates include long walks around their neighborhood and up in the Berkeley hills.

Kimberly and Patrick first met in 2000, when both were working at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts on College Avenue. Each had come to Berkeley in their early 20s in search of a vibrant, tight-knit theater community. After brief stints in larger theater cities (she in L.A., he in New York), they quickly realized that Berkeley was the perfect fit. … Continue reading »

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Willy Wonka at Berkeley Playhouse: An enchanting ride

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Berkeley Playhouse’s new production “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” directed by Elizabeth McKoy, is an entertaining and touching show that will appeal to kids and adults alike.

Based on Roald Dahl’s classic book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” it follows young Charlie as he finds a rare golden ticket hidden in a bar of chocolate. With this ticket, he gets the opportunity to meet the famous candy connoisseur Willy Wonka and tour his remarkable factory. With a standout performance by Vernon Bush as Willy Wonka, creatively bold sets and costumes, and an enthusiastic cast of professional actors and children, this production measures up to the many past screen and stage adaptations.

The show begins with Bush, dressed as Wonka in a vibrant, sparkly outfit and elevated in the air, alone on stage singing the beloved classic “Pure Imagination.” His smooth and soulful voice resonates throughout the playhouse and invites the audience into the wondrous world of Willy Wonka.

As the play goes on, Bush’s spirited and confident performance steals the show. Reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s creepily friendly rendition of Wonka in Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation, Bush is intriguingly nonchalant. This comes across for instance in his blasé attitude towards slightly gruesome events, for instance when a young boy is sucked away into a pipe of chocolate. The mature complexity that Bush displays will interest an adult audience members, yet his carefree attitude will draw in children more than Depp’s unsettling rendition. … Continue reading »

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Playhouse steps through the wardrobe with “Narnia”

Berkeley Playhouse’s lastest production, “Narnia”, based on the first book in “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, is a feast for the eyes and lives up to the high professional standards set by the Berkeley company.

Highlights include the stage sets by scenic designer Nina Ball, and the ensemble’s uniformly superb acting skills. “Narnia” is directed by Jon Tracy — who most recently directed the Playhouse’s productions of The BFG, The Wizard of Oz and Planet Z — and features a musical score with music by Thomas Tierney and lyrics by Ted Drachman.

“Narnia” runs trough April 3rd at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. For more information, visit the Berkeley Playhouse website.

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The Berkeley Wire: 11.03.10

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Berkeley Playhouse’s “Aladdin” goes on tour, a first

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When the cast of  Berkeley Playhouse’s “Aladdin” took their final bows yesterday at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, it was meant to be the production’s final curtain call.

But, after an unexpected invitation from Gene Abravya at the Spreckels Performing Arts center in Rohnert Park some weeks ago, it turns out the lively musical is going on tour — a first for Berkeley Playhouse.

“It’s very, very exciting and very humbling to know that our work, … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Playhouse’s Oliver is delightful

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I’ve rhapsodized previously about the stellar plays put on by Berkeley Playhouse, and I am pleased to say that its current production of Oliver is wonderful.

The show features 30 kids, mostly from schools around Berkeley and Oakland. Nandi Drayton is wonderful as Oliver, and Katie Corbus is great as the Artful Dodger.

“As the title character, Nandi Drayton is the uncontested star of this production,” Gwen Kingston wrote in the Daily Californian. “Her strong … Continue reading »

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Enjoy the rain this weekend at “Singin’ in the Rain”

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On our family’s to-do list for the weekend is the show, Singin’ in the Rain, produced by Berkeley Playhouse.

It promises to be a delight, with excellent singing, great dancing, and a wonderful sense of fun.

How do I know, when I haven’t seen the production? Because I have loved every other performance this Berkeley group has done.

From Seussical to Once on This Island to Peter Pan and others, Berkeley Playhouse, led by artistic director Continue reading »

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