Local theater companies have brought the 1980s back in full force this past week with the opening of two shows both based on different films from that decade.
First, Center Rep offers up an adult fairy tale with the outrageously fluffy musical "Xanadu," playing through June 23, at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.
Based on the 1980 cult classic film starring Olivia Newton-John, "Xanadu" follows Sonny, a young artist, as he paints his masterpiece (in chalk) on the boardwalk of Venice Beach when nine goddesses magically appear from his painting. He falls in love with the chief goddess, Clio, who inspires him to greatness.
Of course, Zeus frowns upon the fraternization of goddesses with mortals and so many obstacles obstruct the couple's future and the fulfillment of Sonny's artistic destiny -- to open a roller disco palace that glorifies all the arts.
Jeff Collister directs with the perfect blend of campy humor and inventive choreography by Jennifer Perry, who expands her repertoire to include skating moves. Thankfully, designer Kelly Tighe incorporated hand rails into his set, allowing some very funny "pole" antics as well as attractive safety lines for those on skates.
Brittany Danielle, who was great in "Becoming Brittany," is the perfect choice for Clio. Not only is she a fine actress, singer and dancer, but she also spent her childhood as a competitive USFSA figure skater, giving her a leg-up on the
Tim Homsley plays Sonny with just the right degree of nothing-much-upstairs, a far cry from his portrayal of Melchior in "Spring Awakening," especially considering the tight red short shorts with sequined top he wears in the finale. I just wish his character had more musical numbers to show off his wonderful voice.
Collister's bevy of talent-laden goddesses includes Evan Boomer, Mark Farrell (a riot as Thalia), Catherine Gloria, Dyan McBride, Maureen McVerry and Sharon Rietkerk. Tom Reardon as Danny and Zeus turns in another outstanding performance.
Costumer Victoria Livingston-Hall certainly had her work cut out for her as she pieced together a plethora of 1980s fad clothing and goddess attire with a time-lapse sequence back to the more sophisticated styles of 1940. Brandon Adams as musical director leads a heavenly band that includes Kim Vetterli, Jon Imholz, and Erika Johnson.
For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW (925-943-7469) or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.
Also bringing the 1980s to the forefront is the Willows Theatre with its production of "9 to 5." Based on the 1980s film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, the musical brings out the sexism rampant in the workplace at that time as three downtrodden secretaries show their boss just how much they really can do.
Jessica Raaum displays her great vocal skills and comedic timing as Judy, with Sophia Rose Morris a delight as Doralee, and Elizabeth Palmer a force to be reckoned with as Violet. Also demonstrating substantial vocal range are Briel Pomerantz as Roz and Joseph Brunicardi as Joe.
The book by Patricia Resnick, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, gives director Eric Inman and his performers a lot of creative leeway, especially during the fantasy sequence, in which Judy, Doralee and Violet imagine how to do in their chauvinistic boss.
In the imaginary numbers, choreographers LaTonya Watts and Isaiah Tyrelle and costumers Cari Ballinger and Jimmy Gale go from gangsters to cowboys to fairy-tale characters with the large ensemble plunging into every change with abandon.
Several ensemble members also had a chance to shine in cameo roles, especially Michele Ianiro as the inebriated Margaret and Kathryn Han as the mousy wife of the boss.
While the songs might not be memorable and some of the performances uneven, "9 to 5" has a fun exuberant quality perfect for light, summer entertainment. For tickets, call 925-798-1300 or go to www.willowstheatre.org.
This has certainly been a sad time for the local theater community as Les Abbott, and now another icon, has passed away. Harvey Berman, 83, died May 21, after a brief illness.
I had the pleasure of working with Harvey when we were both at Center Rep. I'll always remember his friendly voice, ready hug and positive outlook. I feel so fortunate to have benefited from his vast theatrical experience and knowledge as well as his genteel manner.
A longtime teacher and theater professional, Harvey influenced several generations of performers, sharing his gifts with students, film and stage actors, and opera stars. There seemed to be no limit to what Harvey could do. He will be sorely missed. A celebration of his life is currently being planned with details to be announced shortly.
Contact Sally Hogarty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students at Alameda's Encinal High School have taken on quite a challenging project with English teacher Gene Kahane's adaptation of "Hamlet." The approximately 75-minute production entitled "Remember Me" edits Shakespeare's words to focus on Hamlet and Ophelia, and to send a powerful message about suicide.
"I had a student come to me and confide that she had been cutting herself and having thoughts of suicide," says Kahane. "I knew this was a problem among teens and wanted to address it and show there are alternatives in our next production. All of the words I wanted to say, including an intervention speech, are all there in Shakespeare's language."
The powerful production, done in modern dress, runs at 7:30 p.m. June 1-2; and at 2 p.m. June 3, at Encinal High School, 210 Central Ave., Alameda. Tickets, priced at $10 for adults and $5 for students/seniors, will be sold at the door.
Contact Sally Hogarty at email@example.com.