Tuesday Jul 10, 2007

Wonderful Town was Wonderful!

This weekend we caught West Valley Light Opera's Wonderful Town, a musical based on the play, My Sister Eileen, about two young ladies that move from Columbus, Ohio to NYC in 1935.  I'd never seen the show before, so found myself in for quite an unexpected treat!

The sets by Stephen C. Wathen were, as usual, incredible, truly bringing you into the seedy little apartment in Greenwich Village. The street scenes were vibrant, the club was intense, and I even found the velocoraptors  hiding in the trees in the opening drop. (Stephen's sets always have a dinosaur hidden in them somewhere for those of you with keen eyes).

Afton Bolz as Eileen Sherwood absolutely glowed with the uber-cuteness factor, even though she played being oblivious to the fact very well.  Her light soprano voice balanced very well with Leslie Hardy Tamel's  (Ruth Sherwood) rich alto in the amazingly well put together song "Ohio".  These two actresses really brought me into their story, making it an absolute delight of a production!

K. Michael Riley was outstandingly sleazy as newspaperman Chick Clark, making my skin crawl every time I saw him make a move on poor naive Eileen. A part well played!

Jennifer Smith (Helen) and Jay Steele (Wreck) played off of each other very well, as a "living in sin" couple in NYC, always drawing attention during the cast-wide pantomime scenes, and pulling off lots of delightful shenanigans.

Other standouts include Caren McCreight as the NYC Tour Guide, Matt Tipton as a drunk \*and\* a police officer (and many other roles, as far as I could tell!), and Reggie Reynolds as Violet (a ne'er do well).

My absolute favorite part of the show was in the police station when all the Irish cops sang "My Darlin' Eileen" to a lovely girl they insisted was Irish.  Jeff Henson as Officer John Lonigan really stole the show with this song, with his rich velvety voice and perfect Irish accent.

The show runs for two more weekends - it's well worth the ticket price! Please go out and support the arts!

 On a related note, I'm very excited about rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast starting next weekend!


Thursday Feb 22, 2007

Small parts vs small actors

I got a question about the size of my recent role in Saratoga Drama Group's Bye Bye Birdie, which I thought I'd talk about here. Gloria is definitely a cameo role - I was only on stage as Gloria for about 4 minutes, but I made it as big of a part as possible while I was on that stage!  Many folks commented on my character after the show as being "naughty", "obnoxious" or "funny", so I obviously did make an impression.

My middle school director, Miss Nichols, always said, "There are no small parts, only small actors", which is a hard thing to hear when you're a heartbroken 12 year old who just found she only got a bit part in the school's big show, but my experience as an actress has shown me that it is true!

If you were to look at my acting resume, you'd see my stage life is filled with bit parts and character roles, and I have found they can be the most fun!  You don't have to learn as many songs or lines, yet it's possible to make your character just as big (or bigger) than any of the leads. It's about realizing that every role in a show is important, or the author would not have put it there in the first place.

In addition to my role as Gloria, I also played a teenager and a parent in various scenes.  This required I actually step into a different role and focus on who I was. Even though my teenager role had no lines, I still had a name (chosen myself) and a undying lust for Conrad Birdie.  Audience members who did not know me did not realize I had been multiple characters - the best compliment I can get as an actress!  Even though I literally came back on as a teenager only moments after my Gloria scene, I blended right in - although I'm sure this will be the last time I'll be cast as a teenager - I am getting "long in the tooth"! :-)

Years ago, I did HMS Pinafore, and instead of being a standard sister, cousin, or aunt, I was cast as a sort of escort/guard to Sir Joseph Porter.  Another woman, Connie, and I were dressed in military garb, had jet black wigs, and very stark makeup.  We followed Sir Joseph Porter around, serving him tea, and other odd things.  Connie, like me, knows there are no small parts, so the two of us worked together to synchronize our movements and both dove completely into our roles.  Nearly every night during notes, though, we got told by the director that we actually had to pull back - we were stealing the scenes!

A good friend's mom actually won an award for best actress in a community theater group for a role in which she had only ONE LINE! I did see the show, and I did agree, she was outstanding.  She showed every emotion with just expressions, never needing to speak. Her "background" character was fascinating and compelling, telling an entire story with just her eyes.

It is important to keep this in mind, whether you're a lead role or just in the ensemble - you are there for a reason! Step up to the plate and become that character. The entire show will be much more enjoyable for you and the audience if you do.

There is a great website, StageAgent, where you can go to look up role sizes, vocal ranges, and amount of dancing required. Check it out! 

Saturday Jan 06, 2007

Rocky Horror Show - Live!

Wow! What a blast!  A large group of us went to see the Rocky Horror Show - the musical - last night in San Jose with the Actor's Theatre Center.  The production was incredible!  The sets were fantastic, and the troupe really did a great job working with the small stage.  This is the first time I've seen a non film production of this, and I was very impressed.  The live band really added to the ambience of the show.  The entire cast did a great job sticking with nuances from the movie, leaving the pregnant pauses exactly where we expected them so we could throw our our comments, wise cracks and jabs with no fear of interupting the actors.  Tad Morgon really shone as Dr. Frankenfurter, belting away the tunes so smoothly that he could put a young Tim Curry to shame!  The show was wonderfully costumed and the cast were all very adept at moving around in 4 inch high heeled platform shoes.  They were all obviously having a great time, which helped us have an incredible time in the audience. My favorite scened had to be the slow motion death of Columbia, Dr. Frankenfurter & Rocky. Hilarious! Special kudos go to David as Brad & Aaron as Rocky. You guys both rocked!

Late last year, I also saw Gilligan's Island - The Musical, done by the same group (different actors, though) and was just as impressed. If I'm going to keep this up, I should probably save myself some money & get a season subscription!

There are still two shows of Rocky left tonight (8PM and midnight) If you read this before then - go catch the show. A good time will be had by all! I promise!  Do the time warp one more time for me.


Thursday Oct 12, 2006

Last weekend for Bye Bye Birdie!

Since I last wrote, I was cast in Saratoga Drama Group's production of Bye Bye Birdie! This was a surprise, because I was asked at the audition if I could tap dance and do the splits - neither of which I can, but I was still cast as Gloria Rasputin, a woman who has a tap solo that ends in the "flying" splits!  As the summer progressed, I worked with dancer friends & yoga teachers to start getting to the splits - finally accomplishing a "jazz split". Close enough, apparently - \*phew\*!

Rehearsals began, and I was originally under the impression that I would only be on stage for a few minutes for this "cameo" role of Gloria Rasputin.  After a few rehearsals, the director asked me to start learning the "adult" music, so I could join the chorus of parents when I wasn't being Gloria.  Sounds great!

Then one night, the director asked all of us "parents" to learn the teenager songs so we could beef up the volume by singing from the wings.  No problem, I said.

A few more rehearsals, and the director asked Carla (another "parent") and myself to additionally be teenagers.  Um - Okay!

So, now I am proudly the oldest teenager in the cast - and here I thought my days of playing a teenager were over!When I did finally get to my first rehearsal for the "Gloria" scene, I was surprised when the choreographer, Kayvon (who rocks, btw!) was not there. Once I inquired, I found out I would be choreographing my own tap dance.  Apparently, it's very funny when someone doesn't know how to tap stomps furiously across the stage in leapord patterned "hot pants" and a jacket made of purple feathers.  The choreographer's favorite part is the "cheetah butt section", which I've been told can never be removed from the dance.

SDG has been fun to work with and I'm so happy to finally be cast in one of their productions after many years of auditioning for them.

So, if you have time tonight, tomorrow or Saturday, come on down & see the show. I promise you'll have a great time! You'll recognize me in my hot pants.

Wednesday Jun 07, 2006

Goodbye Gaslighter, you will be missed

A long standing Bay Area icon, the Gaslighter Theatre, has gone the way of the Dodo bird.  I spent more than five years at that theater: singing, dancing, fake tap dancing, overacting, sewing, painting, serving beer, spilling beer, ripping costumes, losing costumes, losing wigs, losing props, doing magic and banging on the tamborine.  The Gaslighter was in its last home on Campbell Avenue in downtown Campbell California for 37 years, and it passed quietly out of existence.  That is certainly the only thing that the Gaslighter ever did quietly!  This lovely little theater, that has housed melodrama, vaudeville, magic shows, rock bands, blues bands, political parties and educational speakers, filling a niche the Bay Area desperately needed.  Children and adults of all ages have been entertained in this little building for 37 years.

With the earlier loss of the Opry House in Almaden, and now Big Lil's on "hiatus", we melodramatic types have lost our last venue in the Bay Area. Gone are the days where you can boo the villian (dressed entirely in black, from the top of his hat to the tip of his pointy shoes) and cheer the hero (strong of arm, but a little dense in the head).  No more popcorn to eat or throw. No more audience numbers. No more lobby songs to thank the audience with on their way out.  No more Gaslighter Rag.

A Campbell city representative was overheard saying of the passing of the Gaslighter, simply: "Businesses come and go."  This was not just a business, it was a life for so many of us in times when we needed it more than anything else in the world.

I will miss the 8-20 costume changes over an hour long Vaudeville review.  I will miss talking to my fellow cast members while sitting on those little wobbly, fishnet stocking eating stools putting on our makeup in that cramped and slightly musty dressing room.  I will miss emergency costume repairs.  I will miss performing in a show I've never seen before, and certainly never attended a rehearsal for.  I will miss doing audience interactive theater, where each audience makes the show an entirely different experience.  I will miss set pieces falling over. I will miss missing props and missing cues.  I will miss the blue eye shadow and all the glitter.  Most of all I will miss performing with some of the best actors to ever trod the boards in live theatre.  I will miss it all.  Goodbye Gaslighter.

Wednesday May 03, 2006

Murder Myster Solved by locals!

I got to do something very cool for the first time this weekend - perform in a murder mystery!  I was hired by Mystery By Design to perform an exciting golf related murder mystery at the  Hollister Ridemark Country Club.  It was a blast!  I've done interactive theater before, but never anything quite like this.  The method to the acting is completely different than stage acting, so I was very fortunate to have some great coaches & fellow actors to help me transition from the stage to the floor.  The biggest difference from stage acting is  that you need to always try to keep two  tables distance between you & the other actors you're interacting with.  This was awkward rehearsals, but once you're there with an  audience it seemed the only natural way to include them in the fun.  The audience was incredible - hanging on nearly every word, interacting with all of the characters and  excited about figuring out.  The only, well, strange thing that happened was a  woman in the audience decided to reach up and tickle my arm pit while I was pointing at someone and delivering a line. It was a bit distracting!  The audience was wonderful and the  country club treated us really well.  I do hope I'll get another opportunity to work with this group, since it was such a thrill to perform again.

Sunday Oct 16, 2005

Godspell & Baby Taj!

Wow - we've had two great weekends with Godspell.  I've never felt as in touch with the audience as I do singing Turn Back O' Man.  There's just something about singing a song right there with the audience literally touching you that is so amazingly cool.  The cast has really gelled and the response from the audience has been phenomenal.  They laugh with us and cry with us. It's really amazing!  There's only one weekend left - it will be really hard to let go.  If any of you are in the South San Francisco Bay Area, please come catch our last weekend (Oct 21-22) with the Studio Theatre of California.

Today I got to do something that I rarely have time for: I went to \*see\* a show!  For the first time, I made it to Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts and caught a matinee performance of Baby Taj.  It's a new play about a female travel writer agonizing over whether or not to start a "family" by herself, when she is sent on assignment to India to write about the Taj Mahal, Baby Taj, and other monuments.  While staying with her roomate's cousins, she discovers a new culture and even finds romance where she least expected. All of the actors did a great job, but Qurrat Ann Kadwani really stood out in the role of Chandra.  After you've come to see Godspell, you should try to make time to catch Baby Taj.

Wednesday Jan 05, 2005

SPAMalot! The Musical

I was fortunate enough to secure tickets to Monty Python's SPAMalot in Chicago last week. It's a musical version of Monty Python's the Holy Grail, written by Eric Idle.  This was a fantastic production - I've never laughed so hard during a musical!  The show is world premiering in Chicago, getting ready to go to Broadway in February. According to the usher near us, the show is constantly changing based on audience reaction.  Unfortunately, our "limited view" seats were even more limited by the castle walls built on the proscenium, still we had a lot of fun.

The cast featured Tim Curry as King Arthur, Hank Azaria as Lancelot and rude frenchman on top of the castle, and David Hyde-Pierce as an apt Sir Robin.  The show had so many references to Monty Python sketches that I lost count, and even worked in the ever popular "Look at the Bright Side of Life" from Life of Brian as a singalong!  The female roles were beefed up quite a lot - the Lady of the Lake/Guinievier/Cow was fabulous.  John Cleese even had a cameo as the voice of God.

One thing that was surprising was that from our limited view seats we had a full view of off-stage-left, and apparently these professional actors had never been told about two basic rules of theater: 1) be in character the moment you step backstage 2) if you can see the audience, they can see you.  So, I got to see several ensemble members getting into costume (usually as monks, which were played by women) and joking around with someone backstage.  The program for the show was also a bit disappointing, as almost all bios were a very dry read of every role each actor had ever played and where.  The two notable exceptions were the bios of Monty Python, Eric Idle and Brad Bradley (a former theater bathroom cleaner ;-).

Monday Dec 06, 2004


Big River at West Valley closed this weekend - I will now have my weekends free! It was a great show, an oustanding cast & crew and just lots of fun. That will be my last theater endeavor for awhile now, since my tasks on Solaris 10, Update 1 are ramping up fast. I expect that I will have many late nights ahead of me, which will make it impossible to rehearse for another show.

Friday Nov 05, 2004


So, tonight Big River is opening - and tonight will be our first night with body mics. \*ugh\* I generally don't like being mic'ed, as I can hear an echo of my own voice and I think it sounds tinny. Now, before a live audience, I'll get to experiment with a head mounted mic and multiple wig changes. It will definitely be interesting! Still have that lingering head cold as well, but a real audience always brings out my best, so it should prove to be a great time.

Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/


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