October 1, 2008

Time’s Running Out for ‘Twelfth Night”

By Sally Hogarty

IF YOU HAVE not seen Cal Shakes final production of the season -- a wildly creative "Twelfth Night" -- you only have a few weeks left. Director Mark Rucker's gender-bending, highly fanciful interpretation of Shakespeare's romantic comedy ends Oct. 5.

Just when I thought I had seen every possible take on the Bard's comedies, Rucker raises the bar in this topsy-turvy world where a cross-dressing fool (marvelously played and sung by Danny Scheie) on roller blades is the wisest person in Illyria.

With a blind eye toward gender, Rucker auditioned both men and women for every part. He decided on Alex Morf to play both Viola and her twin brother Sebastian and Sharon Lockwood for Olivia's devoted Malvolio. Morf does a wonderful job in both roles and is a marvel to watch in the ending scene when the twins are on stage at the same time with Lockwood completely believable as the dour servant. While Morf adds appropriate nuances for each gender, I wish costume designer Clint Ramos had chosen something less revealing for Morf's first entrance as the shipwrecked Viola.

The rest of Ramos' 1970s-era costumes are right on with Count Orsino's (Stephen Barker Turner) men donning spandex pants, gold lame jackets and bare chests, while Andrew Aguecheek (Dan Hiatt) wears one outlandish outfit after another. Not to be outdone, Olivia (Dana Green) appears in gorgeous outfits with stiletto heels and Maria (Catherine Castellanos) looks the perfect present-day maid.

Set designer David Zinn and lighting designer Thom Weaver create a flashy, colorful environment, complete with rock band and strobe lights. A structure painted as a tropical beach serves for entrances and exits that often includes rain showers forcing characters to use umbrellas as they come and go. According to Rucker, he wanted Illyria to be a bit of a paradise but with a few days of cloudy weather. "It's still beautiful -- just more complicated," he says. Complicated ... and a whole lot of fun! Call 510-548-9666.

-- n n

Misbehaving to the hilt, five very talented singer/dancers bring the intoxicating music of Fats Waller to the Lesher Center through Oct. 11.

Directed by Robert Barry Fleming, who also did the snappy choreography, Center Rep's "Ain't Misbehavin'" features vocal powerhouses Anika Bobb, Clinton Derricks-Carroll, Tareek Lee Holmes (audiences may remember him as Judas in The Willows production of "Jesus Christ Superstar"), Marcie Henderson and Anise Ritchie in a sexy, sassy tribute to the great jazz pianist.

Under the expert guidance of musical director Thaddeus Pinkston, who also plays keyboards during the show, each performer shines in solo numbers, especially Derricks-Carroll, whose expressive body does justice to Waller's "The Viper's Drag." These wonderful singers keep the joint jumping throughout the performance as they move from such swinging numbers as "The Jitterbug Waltz" and "Ain't Misbehavin'" to ballads such as "Two Sleepy People" and Waller's satiric "Black and Blue." Fittingly, a large keyboard forms the backdrop in Eric Sinkkonen's classy set, well lit by Kurt Landisman.

Waller, who studied classical piano as a boy, signed his first recording contract when he was only 18. He became so popular that one Chicago evening in 1926 he was kidnapped by four henchmen and brought to the home of Al Capone. He was to be the surprise entertainment for the infamous gangster's birthday party. Waller enjoyed the gig so much that he stayed for three days.

To catch Center Rep's energized production of Waller's music, call 925-943-SHOW. Call soon; many remaining performances are sold out.

-- n n

The Willows Theatre begins previews of the hit musical "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" beginning Oct. 6. Called "Seinfeld set to music," the show is directed by Cal Shakes' Marilyn Langbehn and runs at the Campbell Theatre in Martinez through Nov. 9. The show celebrates love and relationships in a series of comic vignettes, saying out loud what many in a relationship are afraid to admit. The cast includes Sarah Aili, Ryan Drummond (Pilate from the company's production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Frank Butler in "Annie Get Your Gun"), Ashley Jarrett, and Tony Panighetti. Call 925- 798-1300 for tickets or go online to www.willowstheatre.org.

Reach Sally Hogarty at [email protected]

(c) 2008 Oakland Tribune. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.