Cygnet Theatre's West Coast Premiere of "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812"

Gifts Audiences in San Diego the True Broadway Experience

Kürt Norby. Photo by Karli Cadel Photography
Everybody in the performing arts world heard and saw all the raves about The Great Comet on Broadway in 2016. Whether it was because of the lovely Phillipa Soo or Josh Groban, the buzz about this musical was everywhere! It is a big deal when regional theatres venture with these large, elaborate shows—and I have mentioned it before—because a lot of pride and hard work goes into it all.

Comet' is a musical adaptation of part 8 of Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, focusing on romance and the search for the meaning of life. Written by composer/lyricist Dave Malloy, Cygnet's premiere is directed by the company's artistic director, Sean Murray. Patrick Marion is in the musical direction, and Katie Banville is in charge of the choreography. 

Cygnet's Illustration of the plot's Family Tree
In 1805 Saint Petersburg, Pierre Bezukhov (Kürt Norby) received a substantial inheritance while his friend Andrey (Brian Mackey) was off to war. In Moscow, the Rostov family has cousins Sonya (Megan Carmitchel) and Natasha (Selena Ceja), with their godmother Marya (Linda Libby). Andrey returns from the war to Moscow meets Natasha, and falls in love with her, asking for her hand. His dad, Bolkonsky (also Brian Mackey), disagrees and has Andrey leave for a year to marinate the feelings and ensure this is it. As the saying goes, "When the cat is away"... At a performance of Madama ButterflyNatasha meets Anatole (Michael Louis Cusimano), who is a player but falls for him too/anyway. Anatole is friends with Dolokhov (Tanner Vydos), and his sister, Hélène (Jasmine January), is married to Pierre. Balaga (Luke H. Jacobs) is Anatole's driver. Mary (Brittany Adriana Carrillo), Andrey's sister, and Natasha do not get along... For people familiar and unfamiliar with the novel, this is a labyrinthine plot that takes effort to keep up with, adding the musical aspect, ay! But part of this production's joy is following it all. The structure of the musical and its rhythm remind me of Mouline Rouge! The Musical (mashups aside) as it is bright and innovative. 

Michael Cusimano. Photo by Karli Cadel Photography
The cast is hot, hot, HOT! There is no weak link in this production as the casting is perfection, and Sean Murray's direction has a strategic blockage that uses the entire house, having the actors move around and interact with the audience. There are also a couple of chairs on each side of the stage with a Greek chorus dynamic where cast members come and sit and/or play a scene. Some show triple and quadruple threats while dancing and playing instruments like guitar and accordion. Performing this musical is hard, and it shows. What also shows is that this cast accepts and rises up to the challenge as each and every one of them seems to be flowing in their element. Mathys Herbert's scenic design embraces the Broadway experience by having seven orchestra musicians onstage located in three blocks: two high blocks of two musicians on the sides and one middle block with three musicians, including Patrick Marion, conducting. The program lists the musicians and instruments as follows: Sean LaPerruque with violin/viola, Arianna Warren with clarinet/bass clarinet, Amy Kalal with Oboe/English horn, Erika Boras Tesi in cello, PJ Bovee at the bass and Dave Rumley in drums/percussions but, there was a Josh Groban lookalike playing the cello on opening night so, I do not know...

Below the top corners where the musicians are, there are pits for the audience to sit, creating a visual impact as audiences that are seeing the show on the opposite side also face the audiences on stage. I am still recovering from Michael Cusimano's 2023 performance in The Turn of the Screw and in 'Comet, I believe this performance to be his best yet as he showed incredible physicality moving around the whole theatre, sliding down the aisle rails, dancing, carrying a solid tune, playing instruments and not looking half bad in that pleather ensemble costume designer Shirley Pierson had him wear. Pierson incorporated pieces made with lace, velvet, and leather, making everybody look amazing. Peter Herman's makeup design used eyeliner right, accentuating the looks while implementing buns and braids for the women's wig design and a couple of playful wigs for the men, truly embracing that 1800s era.

Megan Carmitchel, Linda Libby, Selena Ceja. Photo by Karli Cadel Photography
I did not know Megan Carmitchel played the accordion, which is one of the great things these types of roles bring. Carmitchel was charming and engaging, as always. Her stage cousin Selena Ceja beamed as Natasha with a beautiful rendition of "No One Else" as well as Pierre & Natasha. Ceja was a natural and flowed through the stage. Kürt Norby captivated everybody while performing "Dust and Ashes." Now, I need to recover from that performance that was so tender and heartfelt. Norby is a standout Pierre. 

Each song had all the elements there, like Amanda Zieve's lighting design and Matt Lescault Wood's sound, as they were timed and aligned accordingly. Brian Mackey continues to surprise with different histrionic layers, from his role as the hardheaded Anthony Reilly to this gig playing father/son Andrey and Bolkonsky, delivering playful dialogues and mannerisms as Bolkonsky but also balancing it with the love strong and confused Andrey. Jasmin January is vicious and seductive as Hélène. I appreciated her performance on this show, which was grounded and stern. Continuing with the sister theme, Brittany Adriana Carrillo played a good game with Ceja as Natasha, flowing throughout the theatre and belting out each song properly. Linda Libby enchants as Marya with poise and grace. It is always a pleasure seeing Luke H. Jacobs, as there is no limit to what he can do on stage, especially with interpretation imprinting charm to every line. Tanner Vydos's long hair look went well with the role of Dolokhov, who is also seductive and playful. There is a word in Spanish, "lucir," which translates to "show off," but it definitely loses in translation as what I mean to say is that the cast is very "lucidor", meaning they impress and shine bright. 

Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 is definitely one of the must-see productions in San Diego this year. Cygnet embraced the true musical experience assignment and delivered an A+ production with a golden star.                                                                  

Already extended and currently playing until May 19th. For more information and show times, please click here

The Old Globe Presents de American Premiere of "Ride"

A Musical Production with Amazing Design Assets 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie in Ride, 2024. Photo by Jim Cox.

Ride at The Old Globe presents an American premiere with a creative team led by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams for the book, music, and lyrics, under the insightful direction of Sarah Meadows. The British version debuted in 2020 at London’s Vault Festival. Based on Annie Londonderry who went around the world on a bicycle and on her way back to the United States, she goes to a newspaper to interview for the columnist position to share the tales of her journey. As Annie is waiting for her interview, she meets Martha, a secretary at the paper recruiting her on the spot to help tell the story with a compelling narrative that explores themes of friendship, growth, and self-discovery.

The musical is just the two actresses who complement each other greatly. Alex Finke as Annie and Livvy Marcus as Martha deliver phenomenal performances that anchor the production with depth, emotion, and some daring bicycle tricks. Finke has a fantastic voice and great spunk while Marcus is captivating as Martha also with a wonderful voice that harmonizes beautifully with Alex.

Livvy Marcus as Martha and Alex Finke as Annie in Ride, 2024. Photo by Jim Cox.
Choreographer Jennifer Jancuska's work through Natasha Harrison's original choreography enhances the storytelling, while Amy Jane Cook's scenic and costume design steals the spotlight with its ingenuity and special effects. The sets are truly spectacular and dynamic. Sometimes the show looks more like Londonderry is a magician than a cyclist/storyteller, but it is part of the piece's charm. Jamie Platt's lighting design sets the mood effectively, complemented by Andrew Johnson's sound design that immerses the audience into the world of the musical. Matt Powell's video design and John Bulleid's illusion design, definitely elevate the production value.

Having a live musical experience in a show is special as we see fewer and fewer musicians playing and more recorded music due to production costs. With Ride, Macy Schmidt's orchestrations, alongside Sam Young's music supervision and additional arrangements, make a standout feature of the show. Daniel Green's work as music director ensures an enchanting musical journey for the audience with talented musicians like Justin Gray, Vince Cooper, Tim McMahon, and Healy Henderson.

The 90-minute musical has innovative design elements and great interpretations with a captivating score. The weaving of the story at one point could be clearer but the dynamic set and tricks level it up. Still, the show and knowing about this story is worth it.

Check it out for yourself. There is an Open-Caption Performance on Saturday, April 20 at 2:00 p.m. and a Post Show Forum on  Wednesday, April 24  for the evening performance. For more information please click here.

Matriarchy and Resilience Come Through in "Stew"

A Co-Production Between Scripps Ranch Theatre and Common Ground Theatre  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

Jodi Marks and Danielle Bunch. Photo Ken Jacques 
"Stew" by Zora Howard, a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist in drama, is a stirring exploration of family dynamics and generational relationships. Generational dynamics are common in families and in this play, the dish is with different generations of women as they navigate love, loss, and the complexities of their interconnected pasts. The plot revolves around the lives of four women—Mama (Marti Gobel), her daughters Lillian (Danielle Bunch), and Nelly (Jodi Marks), and Lilian's daughter, Lil' Mama (Jamaelya Hines). There is also Junior who we hear of during the play but never see. Mama has some health issues, and the family gathers at her house to help her cook the stew for a church function that she is very invested in. Nelly lives with her and Lillian is visiting. 

The narrative delves deep into the emotional landscapes of each character, unraveling layers of unresolved tensions and buried secrets. Howard's script weaves together moments of intimacy, conflict, and vulnerability. It is there when you stop and think, "Is this what happens in a matriarch family or is it just inherent/by default?" Directed by Yolanda Franklin, the cast delivers powerful performances from the tense sibling confrontations, to the comedic dynamic between the family while cooking in the kitchen. Marti Gobel shines as Mama, embodying a mix of strength and vulnerability that anchors the family dynamic. Her diction, intention, and tone are strong and straightforward. Danielle Bunch brings a raw honesty to her portrayal of Lillian, capturing the character's struggles with identity and self-acceptance. Jamaelya Hines infuses Lil' Mama with youthful energy and resilience that adds a refreshing dynamic to the ensemble, and Jodi Marks's portrayal of Nelly lands the plot back down bringing coherence that grounds the story in a sharp reality. There are a couple of scenes dedicated to Lil' Mama rehearsing lines for an audition of Shakespeare's Richard III, and Mama offers to help due to her dramatic league credentials, it seems that Howard wrote in some foreshadowing through The Bard...or maybe it is just me...I will not give it away, but I am giving some food for thought...

Jamaelya Hines and Marti Gobel. Photo Ken Jacques
The production's creative elements enhance the storytelling with John Spafford's realistic set design creating a tangible sense of space and atmosphere. Duane McGregor's props design and set dressing add a layer of authenticity to the world of the play, a.k.a. Mama's kitchen, while Deanna Trethewey's lighting design is stirring and sometimes surprising accentuating the scenes with suspense and expectation. Ted Leib's sound design works in harmony to underscore the emotional beats and transitions.
Cassandra Crawford's costume design helps define each character, reflecting their individual personalities as they are mostly in pajamas the whole play, Crawford worked with that giving each character their own "lounge" style. The look of the play becomes relatable when the audience is inside Mama's kitchen having tea while seeing the lives of these women and their shared history.

With a surprising and enigmatic ending, Stew invites audiences to reflect on the complexities of family, love, and resilience. 

Currently playing until April 21, Stew is a co-production between Scripps Ranch Theatre and Common Ground Theatre

WoW did a Total -intervention- at the UCSD Campus this Weekend

The La Jolla Playhouse Festival Truly Collected the Space in its 2024 Edition

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti 

0471 Acro Physical Theatre's production of Duo, part of La Jolla Playhouse’s 2024 WOW Festival; photo by Pixel in Pixel.
The Without Walls Festival took place this past weekend from Thursday to Sunday at the University of San Diego California Campus, with over 20 projects performing free to the public. Comparing the past editions where in 2022 the festival took place at Liberty Station, and in 2023 at the Shell in downtown San Diego, even though each year has been great with companies presenting amazing work, I consider that this year at the university campus, WoW came back to its essence, meaning doing a full-on intervention in the spaces. Downstream (tributaries) by BANDALOOP was a perfect example: the Oakland-based company performed outside and on the Design and Innovation Building mixing dance and technology with amazing music. The picture of it all with the suspended dancers, the trolley passing by, and the campus activity in the surrounding areas was pure artistic bliss. Another exciting fact about BANDALOOP is that it is the company that contributed to the vertical choreography for the Playhouse’s world-premiere musical Redwood

ADHOK's production of Beautiful Escape: Emergency Exit, part of La Jolla Playhouse’s 2024 WOW Festival; photo by Patrick Dordoigne.

I saw three more shows that Saturday where the sun was out giving a beautiful day contrary to Friday which was the "coldest day of the year" and raining... Duo happened at Revelle Plaza, one of the main hubs of WoW. Like the show title says, the performance was with two artists from Taiwan, SUN Cheng-Hsueh and HSIA Ling who founded their company 0471 Acro Physical Theatre in 2020, one of the few circus teams in Taiwan specializing in acrobatic stacking. The piece was incredible with amazing control, strength, and feeling, performing flips, twists, jumps, and anything you can think of with LIU Tzu-Chi's music design that framed the experience beautifully. As challenging as it is, showing the level of difficulty and danger, SUN Cheng-Hsueh and HSIA Ling did it with such grace. WoW marked their first time performing in the United States, which made it even more special.

Following Duo, at the same plaza, I had the opportunity to catch Beautiful Escape: Emergency Exit by French outdoor theatre company ADHOK, where seven actors between the ages of 60 and 80 illustrate clearly, society's perceptions on getting older and being older. Through a promenade performance, the actors form a line and start walking holding trays with food. There was music in the background and the audience gravitated towards the action by following them. There were screams, choreography, laughs, and reflection. It was an absolute experience. The members of the cast are Christiane Colard, Françoise Loreau, Irène Palko, Claudette Walker, Guy Delamarche, Dominique Gras, Dominique Langlais and they were directed by Doriane Moretus and Patrick Dordoigne.

My schedule wrapped up by shopping at a tianguis (Swapmeet) in the workshop performance of TuYo Theatre's Pásale, Pásale. A new musical written by Mario Vega, with music and lyrics by Eliza Vedar, conceived and directed by Maria Patrice Amon, the company did it again. In 2022, TuYo presented "On Her Shoulders We Stand", an amazing, creative, immersive experience about Latin American women in WWII. In 'Pásale, audiences are greeted with a folding chair that is also a shopping cart and five dollars to spend at the different puestos or stands from pre-loved clothes to raspados, and piñatas, the vendors narrate through mostly song, what is happening at the swapmeet with the owner Señor Muchascosas, who is raising the vendor's fee. This experience is also immersive as you move around the stands hearing what each vendor has to say. The music as well as the lyrics of the songs are well-written and fitting, and the musical is very engaging. I was happy to see some familiar faces in the cast like Analía Romero, Tamara Rodriguez, and Maya Sofia Enciso amongst others. 

This year WoW felt very Salzburg, very European street art scene, introducing new companies to new latitudes as well as introducing them to us, and that was pretty cool.

La Señorita Lechuga Visita Biblioteca de Coronado en San Diego

Yolanda Morales y Andrea Chavarín presentan su libro Caminar Juntas

Por Alejandra Enciso

Yolanda Morales, Andrea Chavarín y la Cónsul General de México en San Diego Alicia Kerber Palma. Foto Alejandra Enciso

El pasado lunes, la biblioteca de Coronado en San Diego, estuvo de manteles largos para recibir a Yolanda Morales y Andrea Chavarín, quienes presentaron su primer libro Caminar Juntas, Palabras de una Amiga a Otra Para Acompañarse. La amiga principal es La Señorita Lechuga, un personaje que la reportera, escritora, y productora que vive en Tijuana, Yolanda Morales, traía en la mente desde hace años. Al coincidir con Andrea para hacer una entrevista sobre un reconocimiento que recibió, la plática creativa comenzó y la Señorita Lechuga empezó a cobrar vida. “Señorita Lechuga nació de dos lectoras voraces y norteñas.” Compartió Morales durante la presentación a cargo del cónsul responsable de asuntos culturales, Gaspar Orozco Ríos y la recién nombrada cónsul general de México en San Diego, Alicia Kerber Palma quien compartió sus impresiones acerca del libro y platicó con las artistas a manera de entrevista. 

En un mundo reducido de personajes decidieron crear un personaje soñador. Una mujer que trabaja y que no pide permiso para ser quien quiere ser. Señorita lechuga es un personaje tijuanense y fronterizo. “Es importante crear nuevas referencias para las mujeres para que sientan que están en un espacio seguro.” Afirmó Chavarínhistoriadora, museóloga e ilustradora. La señorita Lechuga que se presenta a manera de viñetas, es parte del trabajo gráfico de Andrea y Natalia su hermana, fue la inspiración para la primera viñeta. Señorita Lechuga va para casi diez años de vida y esta propuesta de acuerdo a las autoras es una  para lograr la sensación de libertad. Si señorita lechuga puede yo también puedo. Si ella no se conforma yo tampoco.

Andrea Chavarín dedica su libro Caminar Juntas. Foto Alejandra Enciso
Un personaje honesto que busca una empatía con el lector. Ni musa, ni femme fatal. Señorita Lechuga no es sacerdotisa ni da consejos, simplemente acompaña. El nombre de "lechuga" según Morales, es por las referencias a lo fresco de la verdura de hoja y por las diferentes capas que tiene hasta llegar a su corazón.“La idea era darle voz a las chicas como nosotras”.

El rosa predomina en las ilustraciones de Andrea para con Lechuga. Un color que comúnmente se asocia con debilidad y suavidad. Al utilizarlos para este libro y el personaje de la Señorita en general, Andrea buscó darle otro significado al color. A través de las palabras de señorita Lechuga sobre el tema principal: el amor; para después partir hacia el amor propio, el amor a los demás, y a nuestro entorno. Saber el peso que podemos tener, conscientes de nuestras emociones y siendo responsables de nuestro destino. Como mujeres, no normalizar el maltrato y atrevernos a sentir el vértigo. El libro también habla de las finanzas y los empleos al igual que los estigmas o estereotipos del patriarcado hacia la mujer como llegar a la edad en la que “se te pasa el tren”... “Que se te pasa el tren, no es cierto” apunta Yolanda, “te das la vuelta en U y vuelves a empezar”, porque la vuelta en U es en realidad un nuevo camino en lugar de un retroceso y el libro Caminar Juntas nos lo recuerda. 

El personaje de Señorita Lechuga le ha brindado congruencia a la periodista fronteriza en una labor que acompaña y es testigo porque en palabras de Morales, “El periodismo es para gente que es humana”.

En un mundo en el cual escroleamos de 100 a 250 metros diarios, Caminar Juntas brinda palabras de aliento y de compañía reafirmando que siempre se puede volver a empezar. Este espacio se titula Desde Otro Cero precisamente por los nuevos comienzos asi que, enhorabuena por las señoritas Andrea, Yolanda y Lechuga, celebrando este gran momento feliz, al hablar de las letras mexicanas aquí en la frontera.

Caminar Juntas está a la venta en librerías y en línea en varias plataformas incluyendo Amazon