"Little Brother" at Custom Made Theatre New Conservatory Theatre Center production of "The Story of My Life Virago Theatre Production of "A Taste on Honey" Matthew Martin in "All Singing, All Dancing, All Dead"

The San Francisco Bay Bridge has been blown up by terrorist and the Department of Homeland Security has been put the city under martial law. They have set up a Guantanamo Bay on Treasure Island where they can weatherboard suspects that might be the terrorist and thousands of citizens disappear. High school student Marcus (Daniel Petzold) gets dragged there along with his injured Darryl (Cory Censoprano)and Angie (Marissa Keltie). That is the premise of the World Premiere play adapted and directed by Josh Costello called “Little Brother”.

“Little Brother” science fiction bestselling young adult novel had now been transferred to an exciting and energetic two hour drama with three great young vigorous driven actors. There are signs that say “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 25” however you can be over that age limit to enjoy this tantalizing production. Watching the three young actors is worth the price of admission.

This is the story of the 17 year old Mission hacker Marcus and the cataclysmic events that he witnessed and was influence by the loss of liberties of the citizens of the city. He is viciously interrogated by DHM and he sparks an outpouring of cyber-grassroots resistance to an escalating “Big Brother” stage. He recruits a band of 25 and under since they cannot trust anyone over the age of 25.

There is a lot of tech stuff in this two hour production such as the Microsoft’s X-Box gaming computer that Marcus uses to heck the government’s internet network and a lot of computer talk that should satisfy the computer nerds in the audience.

The cast of just three actors are energy driven in this fast pace drama. Marcus played zestfully by Daniel Petzold plays the one role as a ostensible protagonist. This 24 year old actor is full of youthful vigor and morphs successfully into a high school student. Marissa Keltie and Cory Censoprano play various roles in this fast pace production including teenagers, teachers, parents and cops. Both effectively transforms into their various characters.

This impeccable production has stunning visuals by Pauline Luppert and an interesting stage design of a wall of windows papered over with leaflets. “Little Brother” runs through Febuary 25th at Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street, San Francisco. For tickets go to www.custommade.org
New Conservatory Theatre Center is presents the charming little musical “The Story of My Life” with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill which ran briefly on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 2009. Since then it has played in various regional theatres through the country.

“The Story of My Life” opens with Thomas (William Giammona) a successful author struggling to write a eulogy for this friend Alvin (Cole Grundman). Over the next 90 minutes we watch their life starting with the actors playing two six year boys as best friends growing up in a small town. The audience is both charmed and distressed at the early loss of Alvin’s mother which is told in song. Thomas and Alvin grow up focusing the character of their youthful selves.

Thomas leaves for the big city to become rich and famous while Alvin stays home and watches lovingly from the ground as his good friend climbs the height of success. Thomas struggles to find the point where the friendship drifted apart and the reason why he has writer block when trying to write a eulogy. However he finally finds a reason at the end of this appealing chamber piece.

Sometimes I am reminded of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” especially in the death of Alvin which is a pivotal scene in this scene. There are numerous allusions to the film in “The Story of My Life”.

Neil Bartram lyrics and music sounds something like early Sondheim especially from this musical “Primrose”. There are touching songs and sometimes a little bit on the candy-floss side.

William Giammona is excellent as Thomas. He displays his pitch perfect resonance in “1876” and has strong singing voice rendering “I Like it Here” Coley Grundman displays good vocal chops with “Mrs. Remington” and “You’re Amazing Tom”. Joe Simiele provides good back up on the piano. Dennis Lickteig direction is smooth.

“The Story of My Life” plays through February 26th at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org Coming up next is the United States premiere of Maurice opening on February 24th and running through March 25.

Virago Theatre Company production of Shelagh Delaney’s “A Taste of Honey”
It’s been a while since I saw this “kitchen drama” by Shelagh Delaney. I first saw “A Taste of Honey” in the original West End production at the Wyndham Theatre with Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens and Murray Melvin. I saw the American production in New York in 1960 with a young Angela Lansbury, Joan Plowright and a very young Billy Dee Williams playing the black sailor. The last time I saw this drama of working class British was at the Royal Theatre, York in the early 90”

“A Taste of Honey” occupies a strange place in British theatrical history. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of a young working class heroine, a gay man and an interracial romance that takes place in mid-century Britain. (It was quite shocking in the early 60’s to mention a biracial baby and to see a character portraying an openly homosexual on stage) Many of the social issues address in the play are no longer taboo although several of the play’s still relevant themes such as child neglect teenage pregnancy, loneliness and bigotry exits today. It became known a “kitchen drama” part of genre revolutionizing British Theatre at the time.

Shelagh Delaney’s stark drama takes place in an industrialized city slum north of London. It’s the story of Jo (Brigette Lundy-Paine), a seventeen year old girl and her alcoholic mother Helen (Michaela Greeley). They go from one slum dwelling to the next because Helen got cannot get her act together. She just has no motherly feeling for the lonely daughter. Jo is in a constant war of words with the mother since she craves love and attention. Helen has a series of “boyfriends” that includes the shady Peter (David Bicha) who does really care for Helen.

Jo meets a spirited black sailor who charms her with his breezy smile and congeniality that she never has experience. But then Jimmy has flown the coop and Jo is alone. She finally meets Geof who gives her the steadiness, warmness and companionship she needs. However Geof is gay.
Laura Lundy-Paine has assembled a great cast to portray the five characters. She also does not hold back in bringing the starkness of the drama to the audience. Bridgette Lundy-Paine brings a real tenderness to the role of Jo. She is totally compelling as a neglected child. Her face expressed a child-like neediness with messed-up despair. Michaela Greeley gives a convincing performance as Helen the dysfunctional parent on a grand scale. You believe her when she says to her daughter “I never thought about you, never ‘ave done when I’m happy”. What these two together I was reminded of another mother/daughter play namely “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice” that I saw in the West End in the 90’s.

Daniel Redmond who has worked professionally in the London’s West End and on Broadway gives a splendid performance as the Negro sailor. He is wonderfully gentle and subtle in the small but demanding role. Brian Martin as the gay art student gives a truly astonishing performance. He plays the role less homosexual that the actors I have seen portraying the role. There is no mincing about his acting in this role. (several persons that I talked to after the performance did not realize he was gay). David Bicha is perfect as the sleazy Peter. He plays the role like Joe Pesci who portrayed a psychopathic mobster in the film”Goodfellas”.

Gary Quinn constructed an excellent set using the whole deep stage with a mismatch of thrift store clothing anchored on either side by old suitcases. There are drop cloths created on the ceiling of the proscenium stage. My only problem which is a minor one is that the production did not need the deepness of the stage. I find it would have been better to present the audience closer to the audience since this is an intimate drama. Sound Designer Ryan Lee Short used music evocative of the era and Lara Rempel’s costumes were in line with the lower middle class in midland England in the 60’s.

“A Taste of Honey” plays through February 25th at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco. For tickets 510-865-6237 or on line at www.viragotheatre.org
San Francisco drag superstar Matthew Martin brought his fast pace campy show “All Singing, All Dancing, All Dead” to the Rrazz Room on January 24th.

Martin Matthew has had a long wonderful history of stage and screen credits for many years. He starred in such productions as “Golden Girl Christmas Show”, “Moby Dick the Musical” and various drag musicals. He does the legendary stars like Bette Davis with skill and sensitivity.

To a sell out crowd this special performer played a multitude of representations I “All Singing, All Dancing, All Dead” through sight, sound, movement and dialogue. This talented singer, actor and dancer portrayed Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee and Katherine Hepburn to an appreciative audience.

Matthew Martin entered the stage from back of the club among the cheering fans as Margo Channing from “All About Eve”. He told the fans “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy road tonight”. Back by the Tom Shaw Trio swinging onstage musicians he sang with his eye fluttering and hand gestures “I Will Survive” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco seguing into “Being Alive with the “harsh” voice of the renowned star. Guest star Katya Smirnoff Skyy aka J. Conrad Frank entered the stage as the Joan Crawford to banter with “Bette” and then hilariously sung “You and Me” to an appreciative audience.

Matthew showed the serious side of Margo Channing when he showed the anguish of the character with a tender moment of dialogue from “All About Eve”. Starting with “Funny business, a woman’s career” about the things you drop on your way the ladder so you can move faster. This was done with Tom Shaw on piano playing Franz Liszt’s “Liebestraum”.

The accomplished drag queen disappeared behind a screen and came out as Judy Garland when she did her television show in the 60’s. It was all boastfulness and harangue singing a melody of songs including “Day In Day Out’, “Free and Easy and “I Hear Music” with the trio of swinging musicians that included Roberta Drake on drums and Daniel Fabricant on bass. Martin as Judy brought out an old reel to reel tape recorder to deliver a precise attempt at a memoir.
From back of the club came the bombastic Ethel Merman aka Mark Sargent to join “Judy” in a brassy version of “Friendship”, “You’re the Top” and “You’re Just in Love”. The kitschy duo ends this show stopper duet with “It’s Delightful, It’s DeLovely”. These duets brought the fans to their feet cheering for more.

Martin as Judy turned to a more serious and bitchy side of this legendary performer singing first sweetly “The Trolley Song” and then making bitchy remarks to the audience. I knew Judy very well in those days and I can attest to the fact this woman had a terrible bitchy side to her nature. Martin portrayed the woman at her very best and at her very worst. Martin even brought out her daughter Liza aka Heklina . Lisa also told the audience that she was just out of re hab and said in a bitchy manner “I’ve been married to one Queen after another.

Martin retired behind the dressing screen and came out stunningly wearing huge sunglasses and a huge white wig singing an indecipherable version of “I’m a Woman”. However she segues into a great jazz version of “Fever” with Daniel Fabricant doing a superlative job on the bass. Martin channeled the essences of Peggy Lee in “Big Spender” and “I Don’t Know Enough About You”. His rendition of “Is That All There Is” with the audience singing the chorus and snapping their fingers was a high point of the evening.

The talent artist retired once again behind the screen and came out as Katherine Hepburn and delivered an arrogant dialogue from “The Lion in Winter” and reading “A Night Before Christmas” with interruptions about herself to pontificate about winning the Oscars and her lovemaking with Spencer Tracy.

Everyone in the audience expected that Matthew would do his famous rendition of Bette Davis as Miss Baby Jane Hudson and he did not let the fans down. He retired to the screen and came out as the frightful Baby Jane to sing at her worst and maybe her best “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” in that horrid Davis voice. One a personal note I was an assistant camera man working on “Baby Jane” and I assisted Ernest Haller in that particular scene where Ms. Davis sang the song over and over and over again until she got it right.(at least 10 times)

Martin came back out as his self and showed the audience his tap dancing skills to “I’ve Got to Hear That Beat” from “Kiss Me Kate”.

The almost two hour sentiment ended with the preview of Martin as Baby Jane and Katya as Joan Crawford in the 2010 film of “Baby Jane” that you can buy on Amazon.