North Coast Repertory Theatre Closes 40TH Season with Musical Murder Mystery World Premiere

The Remarkable Mister Holmes is a Funny Time Full of Live Music and Naughtiness 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Front (L-R) Gilmour-Smyth & Tang; Middle Row (L-R) Ableson & Karel;
Back Roq (L-R) Perry, Shatto,
Rietkerk, McBean & Johnson – photo by Aaron Rumley
This new version with a modern dynamic that keeps the foggy British humor and classic Sherlock Holmes mystery solving thread has a book written by Omri Schein and North Coast Rep Artistic Director David Ellenstein with music by Daniel Lincoln. The nine-person cast, a large cast for the small space that is NCR theatre surely represented a titanic effort to Ellenstein who also directed the two-hour and change piece. Even though I believe it is a tad long, I found it to be very dynamic and very naughty too filled with inuendos and just hidden laughs that sneak up on you.

All the actors have amazing vocals and keep up the fast-paced rythm with their essence and comedic flare. Not giving much away, the story starts with a couple of murders immediately solved by an "onlooker" who turns out to be Holmes (Bart Shatto) in disguise. The scenes seem pretty bare but then there is an unveiling of a truly magical, gorgeous set design by Marty Burnett whose work is beautiful and always rocks at NCR's presentations however, this time it was taken around 10 steps further as it was a set with traveling boxes that as they turn and open, have a different look and function. For example, one would be a closet space where Mr. Holmes pulls out his coats from. Another is a gold backdrop for a luxurious hotel. Another creatively thought and executed factor is that usually with these types of set pieces that are changed around constantly through the story, as an audience member, you get tired of the moving around and the stage crew with their headpieces coming to the scene to wheel out a table or wheel in a door. In this case, the crew was dressed in period pieces as housemaids. I sort of got the idea of them assisting the scene and I loved it. Very well resolved and not tiresome at all.

Katie Karel & Phil Johnson – photo by Aaron Rumley
Sherlock Holmes is in his office confirming the lining/order of his morning papers with his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) when he receives the unexpected visit of Sheila Watson (Sharon Rietkerk), who has not seen her brother John in over twenty years. Holmes has not seen him either in some days and Sheila confirms he is down in Argentina because he just inherited a mine. Murders of different religious authorities in a luxury hotel start happening and each body is left with a religious artifact as a clue. Hence the mystery-solving element. There is also a luxurious jewels exhibit about to take place in the hotel where Artemis (David McBean) is the manager and Phylis (Katy Tang) the hotel maid. Gerda and Gustav Von Schwanz (Katie Karel and Phil Johnson) are the curators of the fine jewelry exhibition. An odd German couple that is not shy when it comes to anti-Semitic remarks. The execution from both actors is hilarious, especially Katie that articulates every expression with slapstick and physical ability. The jokes did make me cringe a little. To each, their own...

Andrew Ableson plays every one of the religious men being murdered which included a Rabbi, a drunken Bishop, a Texan Pastor?, and a Hindu Swami maybe? All these characters have their accents and mannerisms and Ableson does a great job. Still in my eyes -call me conservative- taking comedic jabs at these figures in these present times is minefield territory.

There is a combo dynamic of dialogue and breaking into song. The vocals are there and each of the cast members has an opportunity to show them off with live musicians too which will always add value. Eager to solve mysteries too, Sheila follows Holmes to the crime scenes and drafts her own conclusions along with Inspector Lestrade (Tony Perry) who's worked with Mr. Sherlock for years and years putting murderers away.

David McBean & Katy Tang – photo by Aaron Rumley
Every single member in the cast is on point and funny, displaying high-caliber training and experience. But the women! the women take the piece for sure and this is coming from a David McBean and Phil Johnson fan! Sharon Rietkerk is fantastic as Sheila, a total natural that also prints a nice elegant flair to the character. Katie Karel, again, is hilarious with her deep stairs and dancing eyes. Katy Tang as the innocent Phyllis who is an orphan and is bossed around in the luxury hotel where she works all the way from her lost look to her feet inward and her thick accent is lovely. Beautiful voice too. And what is to say about Deborah Gilmour Smyth, a San Diego theatre icon. I had seen her in more dramatic plays so this was a cool change definitely.

Just like North Coast always delivers with the set design, same with the costume design. Elisa Benzoni does it again from the long British coats to the gorgeous dresses with colors that just pop! There are two, in particular, a forrest green taffeta dress that is gorgeous as well as a bright almost neon blue made great elements that round the piece.

The Remarkable Mister Holmes is very entertaining and funny. It would have been better shorter but hey, still worth the drive. In this case I would recommend a matinee and it is also a great opportunity to see all this talent together in one stage. Playing until August 21. For performance dates and times please click HERE.

Interviews From Another Zero:

Chris Manuel, part of the ensemble of Pretty Woman The Musical and Understudy of the Roles of Edward and Philip.

"There is so much that goes on behind the scenes, the hair and wig department, wardrobe, the dressers, and the crew that make it happen... there's a lot that goes into it and we hope that people appreciate it when they come out and have a good time".

Chris Manuel part of the Ensemble of Pretty Woman The Musical
Self-taught in Spanish, also speaks Portuguese and Italian. Raised in Connecticut with a heavy population of Spanish speakers, Spanish actually is his third language and curiously so, it is the language that he better speaks now out of those three.

Chris Manuel is part of the ensemble of Pretty Woman The Musical, currently on tour and with performances in San Diego from July 26 to 31. He also understudies the roles of millionaire hotie Edward Lewis and his unpleasant sidekick, Philip Stuckey. We had the opportunity to talk to him and get all the details of his participation in the musical and the tour.

How did Pretty Woman The Musical come into your world? "My agent sent me the audition information and I knew right away. I listened to the soundtrack and right away I knew I was going to do whatever needed to be done to book it. It just really spoke to me, the songs were all written by Bryan Adamsm the tone of it and the mood of the whole show, I listened to the Broadway cast recording, and it just really spoke to me. I submitted my primary audition for one character and when they called me back in, they called me back to understudy the lead role of Edward Lewis and that is what I ended up booking. It was a real blessing and right out of the pandemic. I, like a lot of other actors, was kind of worried about what opportunities were going to be out there and getting back to work, how many shows were going to go back, and whether they would stay open, so I was really grateful to get this opportunity".

Being a part of the company since the first day, which is not that long ago since they started rehearsals in September, I asked Chris how has the response been in the different cities while still navigating in these unknown times, going back to live theatre. 

"We've always had a great response to the show and when we opened in Providence it was jammed packed, pretty much sold out the whole run we were there, and then going forward it was always very positive, people love the show, they have a lot of fun coming to it which, this type of show I think was important coming out of the pandemic as well just because it was a break from all the negative feel and anxiety, fear that people were going through. It provided a nice outlet for that because it is just a feel-good show you know? you do not have to think that hard, you just sit back and enjoy it. People were just happy to get out and enjoy live theatre".

(L to R) Jessica Crouch and Olivia Valli Credit Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

While everything was these new Covid times are, they had to cancel their last four shows in Chicago and their run in Washington D.C. After that, thankfully things have kept going -and we will cross our fingers for all of them, and for us :)- 

I am very curious about the audiences that come out to see this show being that the movie was released in 1990 (Jesus, lord...) So I ask who comes out and if there are wondering Gen Z's curiously coming out to see what this is about. 

"We get a mix of demographics coming out. A lot of them are familiar with the movie, they come dressed in the different outfits Julia Robert used so there is definitely that nostalgic feeling from people when they come out to see it and the musical was written and created by Gary Marshall who also had the original concept for the film so it is very tightly knit except that it has music. Great music! and it's fast-paced, lively, it is really, really good. I think anybody can appreciate it, whether they've seen the movie or not".

Do audiences need to see the movie before heading to see the musical?

"The thing is having seen the movie, you will get all the references like there are many lines directly from the movie, little scenes, and little vignettes that took place in the movie that if you've seen it, if you're familiar with it, you will recognize those moments but, you do not have to have seen the movie in order to appreciate the show because it tells the story very well and I think it is pretty clear like I said it is a really fun time".

What does a regular day for Chris look like? (Not a Monday cause that's their day off. So like a show day)

"When I wake up, I like to do a little bit of work, read, and check if I have a rehearsal. I also like to go to the gym at least five days a week, try to stay in shape because you know, we are active on stage, dancing and moving a lot and that is great but I like to stay ready to do all of that. Then I rest and relax, we have a lot of opportunities to visit and learn about the city that I am in so when I leave I can talk about it. If someone asks me 'Oh, how was San Diego?' I want to be able to tell them more than just a quarter-mile radius from where we are staying at the hotel. Half an hour before show times we get calls to the theatre, a lot of times people will do warmups and stretch. I like to sit in the wings right away, sit backstage and listen to the people coming into the theatre, sitting down and the excitement building". 

Fun fact, Chris is a Yuyitsu enthusiast and San Diego is big on Yuyitsu (You learn something every day) so he is happy to check that scene out while being here. 

Regarding possible backlash for the show topic and backlashes happening everywhere for anything these days, I ask if there has been any.

"Not that I have seen or heard. People kind of know what they are coming to see and it is done in a way that is tasteful. I do not think that there is anything particularly offensive in the show and it is very similar to the movie look, people will have their own opinions about those types of things and that is not for me to question but if you are coming to have a good time and to be open, I think many theatergoers are pretty open and their understandings and outlook on things and if you are able, come out to see some good acting, some good singing and some good, you will enjoy it! and that is what it comes down to, the topic may not be for everyone but I think the music and the experience of being in a live theatre and the amazing work that was done by the set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, all comes into play. It can be a good experience nonetheless. Besides the actors there is so much that goes on behind the scenes, the hair and wig department, wardrobe, the dressers, and the crew that make it happen, so there's a lot that goes into it and we hope that people appreciate it when they come out and have a good time. Look up those tickets and invite everybody to come out".

For this production, audiences can come to the stage door and greet the artists so if that is your thing, go for it!

Pretty Woman The Musical is currently playing until July 31. Check all the details and performance times HERE.

California Center for the Arts' World Premiere Guides Audiences Through the Weight and Meaning of the word "Witness" as Well as the Painful Insight of Five Jewish Teenagers Murdered During the Holocaust

A Powerful Piece, Beautifully Staged. Having Audiences Also as Witnesses.  

Playing Until July 30 in Escondido 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of “Witnesses,” a world-premiere production by CCAE Theatricals.(Courtesy photo by Ken Jacques)

No doubt CCAE Theatricals (California Center for the Arts, Escondido) came to the region strong with beautiful productions of Once and The Light in the Piazza. The North County Company came even more potent with its first world premiere conceived by Jordan Beck with a book by Tony Award winner Robert L.Freedman. Witnesses is a theatrical event based on the diaries of five teenagers who lived through the Holocaust and did not survive. Miraculously, their journals did along with the horrific accounts. It reminds us how powerful art is while recounting a horrendous passage in human history crafted in a careful, tender, beautiful way. The story is about an hour and 40 minutes and it is told through each teen writing an entry in their diary combined with music by Carmel Dean, Matt Gould, Adam Gwon, Anna K. Jacobs, and Gerald Sternbach, lyrics by Jordan Beck, Mindi Dickstein, Matt Gould, Adam Gwon, and Anna K. Jacobs.

Kai Justice Rosales (Moshe Ze’ev Flinker), Camille Umoff (Renia Spiegel), Giovanny Diaz De Leon (Dawid Rubinowicz), Afra Sophia Tully (Éva Heymann), and Austyn Myers (Yitskhok Rudashevski), the young artists playing the teenagers, give an inspiring performance that is well-balanced, paced and cared for with strong vocals and histrionic impact. It is so wonderfully refreshing to see these up-and-coming young talents with such force! Matthew Herman’s scenic design is gray and somber giving exactly the right tone and home for the story to be told accentuated by Zach Blane’s lighting design and John Fredette’s sound design which comes at the tensest moments with a loud gunshot or strong boot stomping crisping the already pumped chills. Seeing these young talents with all the gray and beautiful musicality reminded me of Spring Awakening. I guess it's the time and the German aspect...

The diaries are from the following five teenagers:

Moshe Ze’ev Flinker; was born in The Hague on October 9, 1926, and was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. Moshe was a deeply religious young boy who grappled with the theological problems posed by the unprecedented persecution of the Jews.

Renia Spiegel; was a Jewish Polish diarist who was killed during World War II in the Holocaust. Spiegel's diary, kept between the ages of 15 and 18, documents her experience as a teenager living in the city of Przemyśl as conditions for Jews deteriorated.

Dawid Rubinowicz; was born on July 27, 1927, in the Polish city of Kielce. The oldest of three children, he and his family were very poor. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Dawid, like all Jews, was forced to do hard labor.

Éva Heymann; was a Jewish girl from Oradea. She began keeping a diary in 1944 during Nazi rule in Hungary. Her diary has been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank.

The cast of “Witnesses,” a world-premiere production by CCAE Theatricals.(Courtesy photo by Ken Jacques)

Yitskhok Rudashevski; was a young Jewish teenager who lived in the Vilna Ghetto in Lithuania during the 1940s. He wrote his diary from June 1941 to April 1943 which detailed his life & struggles living in the ghetto.

I will go ahead and say this is one of the best world premieres of the year and I hope it has more life beyond Escondido because it well deserves it. Marvelously directed by CCAE Artistic Director, J. Scott Lapp who shared in the performance that I saw that the performers will go into the studio in the upcoming days to record the songs and hopefully have a cast recording. Fingers crossed, it will happen. 

In the first minutes of the performance, the teens say they were "witnesses" and along the storytelling, it is also acknowledged that the audience by watching this story is too a witness. Sadly it also hits on a timely note on how racism and segregation are still so alive. As Spanish philosopher, Jorge Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" and the added phrase by illustrator Tom Toro: "Yet, those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it". 

The performance I saw also had Holocaust survivors in the audience and my heart just melted. To share this show so beautiful yet with such a sad and infuriating story. There are no words.

Witnesses is a strong reminder that we should not forget, not take for granted, and definitely need to do better. Bravo CCAE for this.

Other cast members include: Katherine Paladichuk, Ian Dembek, Hannah Frederick , David Landis, and Priya Richard. 

There are five performances left from July 28-30. it is definitely not to be missed:

Follow the show on Instagram to see where it goes and how to support: