Review of "A Lesson From Aloes" at Z Space

Review of "A Lesson From Aloes" at Z Space

A country should always learn from their past, but what if there is something to learn from the history of a country and ocean away? Z Space presents their production of A Lesson From Aloes by Athol Fugard, which examines an era of racial tension and oppressive government in South Africa that is unfortunately familiar to issues we are facing today.

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Review of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at Theatre Rhinoceros

Review of "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" at Theatre Rhinoceros

The queens return to Theatre Rhinoceros for a limited engagement of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, after a celebrated run of the production last season. Filled with popular music and colorful characters, Priscilla brings a night of fun, campiness, and acceptance to the theater.

Based on the 1994 Australian comedy The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; the musical follows Anthony (or Tick) as he travels across the Australian desert on the bus christened “Priscilla.” Tick is performing in a show run by his ex-wife, but plans to reunite with his son, unbeknownst to his fellow queens on this trip: the legendary transgender performer Bernadette and the young, saucy upcoming queen Adam. Along their trip, they encounter loving fans as well as homophobic crowds, and learn to grow closer together as a sisterhood.

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Review: "Head Over Heels" at The Curran

Review: "Head Over Heels" at The Curran

When you combine the infectious beats of The Go-Go’s with the prose romance The Arcadia, you get an interesting mix of pop punk Renaissance flair. Head Over Heels opened Wednesday at The Curran, bringing the beat to San Francisco before heading to Broadway later this summer. The team that brought you unique musicals like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening, and Avenue Q redefines the musical comedy with this funky Elizabethan story.

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Review" "A Streetcar Named Desire" at Ubuntu Theater Project

Review" "A Streetcar Named Desire" at Ubuntu Theater Project

While traditionally seen in a bigger production, this version of Streetcar benefited from the smaller playing space. The focus shifts on the characters and their many complicated relationships, garnering the attention from the audience. Director Emilie Whelan did an excellent job making William’s writing really shine in this classic story of passion and betrayal.

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Review: "Bright Star" at The Curran

Review: "Bright Star" at The Curran

“If you knew my story, you’d have a good story to tell.” This first line carries over the folk orchestra during the opening number of the Tony-nominated musical Bright Star, by written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. A new production of this musical, which played Broadway last year, now tours the West coast with some of the original cast and creative team, including the powerhouse vocals of Tony-nominee Carmen Cusack. But while this production has a story to tell, some say it’s a story that some have heard before.

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Review: "The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes" at the Victoria Theater

Jordan Nickels

My Thursday night at the theater began with lights, curtains, and an impromptu sing-a-long to The Golden Girls theme song. The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes brought fans and dedicated friends everything they expected and more, as they returned this year to San Francisco’s Victoria Theater. Renowned drag talent celebrated the equally legendary television show with holiday cheer, as this parody stands as great winter tradition in the Bay Area.

This show takes place in two acts, the first act the Season 4 episode “Love Me Tender,” where Dorothy dates a man that she has nothing in common with besides sex and Blanche and Rose volunteer as big sisters for two teenage girls. The second act is the Season 2 episode “It’s a Miserable Life” where Rose starts a petition to save an old neighborhood tree, that is thwarted by the nasty old woman Frieda Claxton at the end of the block. Both acts use the original script of these Golden Girls episodes, which is great for fans who laughed at memorable lines and moments recreated for the stage. I thought the pacing of the dialogue and transitions, as well as comedic timing, flowed well on stage due to this incredible cast.

San Francisco drag legend Heklina played the incomparable Dorothy Zbornak, who brought the character’s sharp wit and undeniable presence to the role. Heklina really took command of both episodes and lead the cast through a hilarious night of theater, punchline to punchline. D’Arcy Drollinger, who was recently seen on stage as Frank ‘n Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, played the charming and endearing Rose Nylund, which further proved his acting chops. Matthew Martin was the debutant herself Blanche Devereaux, who played well off Drollinger in the first episode of the night, bringing back what we love about Blanche’s saucy character. Rounding out the cast was my favorite gal, Sophia Petrillo, whose snark and Italian charm played by Holotta Tymes expertly mirrored that of Estelle Getty. Joining the cast opening weekend was RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2 winner and Golden Girls fanatic, Alaska Thunderf**k 5000. Alaska played one of the teen girls Rose and Blanche mentored, along with a funeral home director and Frieda Claxton. You could tell Alaska was living her fantasy, fully committed to these iconic moments from the beloved show with her comedic chops and enthusiasm.

What’s great about The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes is whether you are a die-hard fan or hearing about the show for the first time, the entire audience was fully engaged in this show. These characters are so iconic and accessible that even those stranger to the show will love this dragged up parody. The Golden Girls has been a long favorite show of the LGBT+ community, consistently featuring gay storylines and a cast of entertainment icons like Bea Arthur, who gave thousands back to homeless LGBT youth. The simple presence of a queer centered production of The Golden Girls with drag performers is rewarding on its own, but you can tell this production had a lot of dedication and love towards these characters. I highly encourage anyone who is a fan of The Golden Girls, local San Francisco drag, or cheesecake to get your tickets to The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes early next holiday season, because this production will sell out fast!

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Review: 'The Royale' at Aurora Theatre Company

Jordan Nickels

The Royale hits at a time in this country where conversations of race and equality are becoming more visible on the field in the world of sports. Marco Ramirez’s new play, currently running at the Aurora Theatre Company, pulses under the internal struggle of one African-American athlete fighting to cement his place not only in the ring but also as equal in this country. 

Taking place in the Jim Crow era of 1905, The Royale is inspired by the real-life story of the first African-American heavyweight world champion, Jay “The Sport” Johnson. While a champion in his own right, Jay wanted a greater challenge to elevate his career. Jay Johnson brought famous white boxer James J. Jeffries out of retirement, in a boxing match of the ages that flared racial tensions. While Jay was determined to follow through with this match, he faced criticism from the public and peers alike, as he reflected on what prize he was truly fighting for.

Calvin M. Thompson brought an incredible energy and charisma to Jay “The Sport” Johnson, with the weight of the world resting on his shoulders. Atim Udoffia played Jay’s sister, Nina, whose sternness, and emotional plea were great counters to Jay’s sometimes naïve attitude. The prize match showed Nina “stepping in” for Jeffries, pitting Jay’s inner monologue against him. It was a brilliant scene that made Atim a towering presence onstage. Donald E. Lacy, Jr. played Wynton, Jay’s manager and close friend, who balanced being a support system with being a voice of reason for Jay’s decisions. He played the two roles well and made Donald a scene stealer along with his sense of humor.

Marco Ramirez chose to display the internal struggles of these characters out in the open, which was brilliant in fully capturing the pressure cooker the United States was in at this time with race relations. His words had rhythm, intensified by the noises, stomping, and clapping in time from the ensemble, raising the stakes of the scene. Ramirez framed this story in a way that focused on the personal struggle behind Jay’s decision on going through with the fight. All the character’s voices fit to serve this idea and revolved around Jay’s central conflict. Already a powerful story about race, it made it that much more personal by telling it from Jay’s point of view. The backdrop of the set featured the colors of the American flag overlaying a milk crate like stage created by set designer Richard Olmsted. It reminded us that this fight wasn’t only on display for boxing fans, but was under the watch of the country as a whole.

The Royale is a parable of progress. Decisions and actions carried out for the greater good must always be weighed against its consequences. Jay “The Sport” Jackson made history and advancements for people of color in sports, but it didn’t come without cost to those around him. No good deed goes unpunished. This play is unfortunately still relevant to our current political climate in this country, showing us, progress doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to make equality possible, however, works like The Royale show us theatre is a powerful tool to initiate these discussions and create the change we seek.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Photo: David Allen

Review: "Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit" at Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Jordan Nickels

How do we find comfort in complete chaos? That is the struggle these character’s face in Daniel Handler’s new play Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit. This ensemble includes a sober playwright, an inexperienced rabbi, and a rabbit ghost played by a struggling actor. Their stories culminated into a whirlwind of scenes that navigate addiction, death, and online dating. While fast-paced and full of intertwining storylines, this play is an accurate depiction of how messy life is and how we make sense of it.

Imaginary Comforts follows three people. Clovis (played by Michael Goorjian), a recovering alcoholic, who is writing a play about the ghost of a dead rabbit from the story his therapist told him. Clovis goes on a date and meets Naomi (played by Marilee Talkington), a clumsy rabbi who is not very good at her job. She is hired for the funeral of the father of Sarah Gold (played by Susan Lynskey). We come to find out that Dr. Marcus Gold, Sarah’s father, is also Clovis’ therapist, which links the three characters into a literal merry-go-round of chaotic stories. But these stories all revolve around the Jewish tale told by Dr. Marcus Gold, of a man who saves a family of rabbits and in return is given a child. The characters involvement in the aftermath of Dr. Gold’s death centers around their interpretation of the rabbit fable: one of redemption, one of sadness, and one of remembrance.

One of this play’s many triumphs is the brilliant use of satire by playwright Daniel Handler. Many know him for his pen name Lemony Snicket and his series of children’s novels, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Like these books, Imaginary Comforts carefully balances humor within a more serious tone to create an impressive dark comedy. The cast contained some brilliant performances, including Susan Lynskey as Sarah Gold, who had great timing and snark to match, and Danny Scheie as Ghost, who had us equally laughing and confused in his first appearance as the dead rabbit. Marilee Talkington as Naomi was as endearing as she was relatable to the audience in her various mishaps. Credit also goes out to the scenic designer, Todd Rosenthal, for the seamless scene changes and rotating set, and to lighting designer Nick Solyom for setting a clear tone to this dark yet disorderly space.

What I enjoyed most about Imaginary Comforts was through all the confusion and chaos stood a very well thought out and relatable story of young adults dealing with the baggage in their lives. This play isn’t about succeeding, though some characters eventually do, but about finding a place to start picking up the pieces. These characters each realize their problems, and like their interpretations of the rabbit story, take their own steps in getting to the other side. The message is life is complicated, but we can find comfort in it and find the solution to reaching our own security.

While I am more familiar with Lemony Snicket, I am thrilled to get to know Daniel Handler and the world he created with Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit. Here is hoping this world premiere finds life outside Berkeley Rep and continues to brilliantly baffle audiences one dead rabbit at a time.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Review: 'Barbecue' at San Francisco Playhouse

Jordan Nickel

  • OnStage Contributing Critic

Recently we are seeing contemporary plays move the spotlight back on the American family. In the last few years, this focus has primarily shifted towards working and lower-middle class families. However, few playwrights mirrored two families quite like this play. That is Robert O’Hara’s premise in Barbecue, which recently finished it’s run at San Francisco Playhouse. While the cast surrounding this production of Barbecue was impressive, along with the ideas and themes O’Hara discussed in this play, I found the execution of these ideas blurred an otherwise interesting concept.  

Barbecue opens with the dysfunctional siblings of the O'Mallery family. They come together for an intervention in the park disguised as a barbecue for their sister Barbara, who is struggling with drug addiction. However, we come to find out there are two O’Mallery families, one white and one black, both afflicted with the same family turmoil. Hilarity sprouts from chaos, as the siblings unearth their own vices, while attempting to convince Barbara to go to a rehab center in Alaska.

This play opens an underlying discussion about race, using our own perceptions of these low-economic families. While we view this through the lens of black and white stereotypes, we can also relate their family dynamics in some way to our own families. Whether the family issues are drug addiction or sibling squabbles, these situations are present in these families despite their race, showing these problems are universal.

However, towards the end of the first act, we find out that the black family are actors on the set of a movie, based on the life of the real life O’Mallery family, who are white. The second act follows the two Barbara’s, one a recovering drug addict who writes a book about her life (played by Sally Dana), and the other a singer turned actress who we find out struggles from her own addiction issues (played by Margo Hall).

What I think O’Hara does successfully in Barbecue is bringing up fair examinations of race and media in our culture, and how both are exploited in our society for others benefit. I’ve heard many people leaving the theatre and discussing this play after, say that the O’Mallery family who is black was more believable than the O’Mallery family who was white. Now why is that? The black O’Mallery family had some of the best performances in this production. Marie (Kehinde Koyejo) was hilarious and Little Annie (Halili Knox) played a great matriarch. But why would an audience say that this version of the O’Mallery family was more believable?

Well looking at the statistics, in 2002, the NAACP found that African-Americans made up more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served more time in prison for drug offenses than White Americans. However, it is also found that more than two-thirds of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are White or Hispanic. This again shows O’Hara playing into our perceptions as an audience seeing a black family with drug or alcohol addiction compared to a white family. This plays into a bigger conversation on race issues within our prison systems, resulting from the infamous “War on Drugs.”

My overall observation was the black O’Mallery family played their characters more overdramatically, which is ironic as this family turns out to be actors in a movie. Even the white O’Mallery family, the “real family”, turns out to be influenced by reality television when Little Annie puts together the intervention for Barbara. The real Barbara later admits that her life story in her book was a lie and most everything she wrote was overinflated. This goes back to O’Hara’s discussion on media.

We are in a culture influenced by social media, reality television, and news outlets that we consume daily and use to shape our perceptions on the outside world. This media has the power of how people of different races and backgrounds are portrayed, which unfortunately isn’t always fair. African-Americans and Hispanics are shown primarily as drug dealers, criminals, and gang members more than we see them in more positive roles. We see the uneducated and “white trash” narrative shown for White Americans, but it is often overly balanced with more optimistic depictions. These perceptions become part of the public consciousness that create the characters in Barbecue, setting up the brilliant twist that the family we perceive as more convincing is false.

My criticism when it comes to Barbecue is that because of all the conventions and topics that O’Hara presents, it takes a while to fully digest what he is trying to get across to the audience. With so many twists and turns, we end up loosing the relatability of these characters that O’Hara sets up in the first act. There is some emotional appeal presented with the Barbara’s later in the second act, but it is so far in the story and not long enough for us to make connections to their plights. I greatly appreciate keeping the audience on its toes while bringing up difficult themes, but a general audience needs some sense of stability within the story or characters to ground these ideas. I think Barbecue is one of Robert O’Hara’s most interesting works yet, but I believe the play could have benefited from a clearer storyline and more fleshed out characters to streamline his message.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Review: “The Rocky Horror Show” at Ray of Light Theatre

Jordan Nickels

  • OnStage Contributing Critic

For a limited engagement, just in time for Halloween, Ray of Light Theatre brings a cult classic back to the Victoria Theatre, The Rocky Horror Show. This show is the perfect blend of science fiction, horror, camp, and sexuality that has created a cult following and dedicated fanbase. Ray of Light’s production stayed true to the original, while adding its own flair in terms of production, choreography, and powerhouse vocals that made this Halloween night one you wouldn’t soon forget.

The Rocky Horror Show was the brainchild of Richard O’Brien and later inspired the 1975 movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Taking place in a bizarre universe that both praises and parodies classic sci-fi and horror films, a young couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss hit a flat tire on a road trip late one night. They find themselves at the humble abode of scientist Dr. Frank-n-Furter, on the eve of the unveiling of his new creation, the golden Adonis named Rocky.

While Rocky has a large cast of equally strange characters, what amazed me in this production was the talent level of the ensemble as a whole. There wasn’t a performer I saw that lacked being a triple threat. Janet Weiss (Courtney Merrell) had an incredible transformation from naïve girl to a woman oozing sexuality. Rocky (Alex Rodriguez) brought us amazing choreography, a voice fit for a rock score, and muscles that flexed to the back row. Riff Raff (Paul Hovannes) and Columbia (Melinda Campero) also had impressive vocals, and Magenta (Jocelyn Pickett) possessed the perfect mix of kook and comedy that stole the show and left the audience in tears laughing. At the forefront was Frank-n-Furter (D’Arcy Drollinger) who brought down the house with “Sweet Transvestite” and never missed a beat when picking up the audience’s callbacks. Frank’s timing, wit, and charisma turned any “virgin” of the show into a full-fledged Rocky believer.

When the curtain rose after “Science Fiction Double Feature,” a large pair of lips was unveiled, a Rocky icon, that hung over the back of the stage. Even more impressive were the actors peeking through the lips, the Narrator (Clay David) during “Time Warp” and Magenta and Columbia during “Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me,” adding another level to the stage. The set was also equipped with a large staircase that led to Frank’s dramatic entrance, and a slide that carried actors into hilarious entrances. Set Designer Angrette McCloskey made her world of Rocky as whimsical and bizarre as the source material.

The Rocky Horror Show is a cult classic, and probably has one of the most dedicated fanbases I have seen for any piece of pop culture. From shadow casts with screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to the stage version, people come out in droves each year in an annual tradition of celebrating this bizarre classic. But beyond the callouts, throwing rice and toast, and costume contests, why has Rocky Horror stood the test of time? I always go back to my favorite line sung by Frank, “Don’t dream it, be it.” Rocky Horror at its core empowers audiences to let their inner freak flag fly without judgement.  This show is a freedom in sexuality, gender expression, inviting people in of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

There are no rules when it comes to The Rocky Horror Show, and Ray of Light Theatre’s production embraced this along with it’s fanbase. The actors responded to the callouts and made it part of the experience, and boasted a plethora of talent that impressed both diehard fans and any “virgin” audience goers. Regardless of how many times you have experienced Rocky Horror like I have, Ray of Light Theatre’s production of The Rocky Horror Show breathed new energy into Richard O’Brien’s story, while staying true to the tradition of this science fiction double feature. I will be waiting in anticipation until Ray of Light Theatre hopeful brings this production back next Halloween season.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for over two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8 Photo: Nick Otto

Review: 'The Prince of Egypt' at Theatreworks in Silicon Valley

Jordan Nickels

The nineties brought us animated films that were heavily influenced by the Broadway community. Many great actors, composers, writers, and directors lent their talent to creating animated musicals for the silver screen, which are now being translated to the stage. While many of these movies were produced by the Walt Disney Company, several other classics like Anastasia are making their way to Broadway as well, including Dreamwork’s’ masterpiece The Prince of Egypt. After several years in development, I got to witness this story of biblical proportions make its world premiere at TheatreWorks at Silicon Valley in Mountain View, California.

The Prince of Egypt is an adaptation from the Book of Exodus, following the life of the prophet Moses who, after receiving a prophecy from God, leads his people out of Egypt. The animated film told this story through the coming of age of two brothers, Ramses and Moses, each following separate paths toward their destined greatness and power. Several changes were made for the stage that built upon the original story, including the addition of Ramses’ wife, who was not featured in the animated film, and combining the dual high priests into a singular character, who is more cynical and plays a larger role in the tension with Pharaoh. However, the further exploration into the relationship between the two brothers is this musical’s greatest improvement.

The love and mutual respect Ramses and Moses have for one another gives deeper meaning to the decisions they make as Pharaoh and Prophet respectively, and adds stronger family ties that parallel the connection these characters have towards faith and religion. Ramses has the biggest growth throughout the show, starting out as a naïve boy living in his brother’s shadow. He grows into a ruler who seeks to build upon his empire, by taking responsibility for his actions while recognizing the dark history of rulers before him. By creating new characters and adding new material for the characters fans of the film already love, The Prince of Egypt gains more heart at its core, complimenting the more serious and darker themes highlighted in the animated feature.

What makes The Prince of Egypt stand out is the incredible score by Stephen Schwartz, who has created incredible Broadway shows including Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked.  Many of the songs Schwartz wrote from the original film are present in the stage adaption, like “Deliver Us” and “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” along with new music that gives us more insight into the character’s struggle. My favorite addition was “For the Rest of My Life,” sung by Ramses’ wife Nefertari after the plague takes her son and shows a more compassionate side to her character we hadn’t seen yet. If nothing else, the score proves that Stephen Schwartz not only knows how to write a great musical, but can also improve greatly upon what’s already considered a masterpiece of a film.

Moses, played by Diluckshan Jeyaratnam, had an interesting arc from free-spirited boy to a man who is the leader of his people. Diluckshan also has an amazing voice that is fit for Schwartz’s challenging score. Jason Gotay played Ramses, probably one of his best roles to date. He played well off Diluckshan’s Moses, and put a lot of thought into Ramses’ progression into a Pharaoh that could rule from his own conscious. Rounding out the cast were Brennyn Lark, who brought a playfulness and confidence to the slave girl Tzipporah, and Christina Sajous as Queen Tuya, visually stunning and commanded the stage as the Queen of Egypt.

I will say that this production wasn’t perfect. While I enjoyed the choreography and movement incorporated in this musical, I was missing the production value that one would expect from an epic like The Prince of Egypt. The fire in the burning bush, the sand blowing in the desert during Moses’ exile, and the final plague of white light that took the first born. While I think there were a lot of moments like these missed in this production, I believe that these elements will come further into play in future productions.

Beyond that, what I most appreciated was the authenticity to the movie, and the culture upon which this story is based in, historically and biblically. There were so many lines and moments from the movie that appeared in this stage adaptation, that fulfilled my childhood anticipation of seeing this musical. From the dancing during “Through Heaven’s Eyes” and “One of Us,” to the Hebrew sung and spoken throughout the musical, the creators of this show respected both the Jewish and Egyptian roots of this story, pulling from the animated film and The Book of Exodus. When Yocheved chanted in Hebrew during the opening of Act I, it sent shivers down my spine of how powerful it was.

While there are many critics of the movie and the creative liberty they took regarding the Book of Exodus, I truly appreciated how much this show took that conversation in consideration. They represented religion in a way that was not too overwhelming for the audience, but kept the topic present and balanced throughout the plot. It’s a hard task to take on and it’s one of the major achievements The Prince of Egypt succeeded in.

While this musical has a lot of development ahead, the foundation upon which The Prince of Egypt sits is present and allows this story to shine. If you are in California and fell in love with this story growing up as much as I did, please deliver yourself to the promise land. Go see The Prince of Egypt at Theatreworks in Silicon Valley now through November 5. You will not be disappointed.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Photo: Kevin Berne

Review: 'Reefer Madness' at Ray of Light Theatre

Jordan Nickels

When it comes to modern day musical comedies, parodies and adaptations bring us the right amount of entertainment, along with commentary on our culture. Reefer Madness does just that against the hilariousness of our country’s crusade against marijuana use. Based off a PSA made in the late 1930s. though serious in tone, inspired parody on the lengths filmmakers went to link marijuana as a gateway drug to various forms of crime and villainy. Ray of Light Theatre represented the humor and politics of this musical brilliantly at the Victoria Theater.

The Lecturer sets the scene as a young American high school couple, Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane, are introduced to Jack and seduced by the alluring temptation of marijuana. Jimmy falls deeper into a hole as he does everything from stealing money from a church to biting the ear off a dog, as Mary’s drug trip turns a naïve church girl into a crazed nymphomaniac.

The cast was led by Leah Shesky as the Lecturer, who switched between a variety of characters, shining as the eccentric yet conservative narrator. Phil Wong (Jimmy) had superb comedic and singing chops, along with the dancing ability of a bubbly Brigitte Losey (Mary Lane). Rounding out the cast was Matt Hammons as Jack and a scene-stealing Jesus (yes, Jesus Christ himself) and the incredible vocals of Ashley Garlick as Mae. Credit should also go to choreographer Alex Rodriguez, for the incredibly tight ensemble numbers.

Director Jenn Bevard wanted to explore the relation between Reefer Madness in the 1930s and “the propaganda still churning” in 2017 against laws now being passed to legalized marijuana. When watching this musical, you really don’t think of the politics of Reefer Madness after laughing so hard at the absurdity of the Lecturer’s claims. However, one line hit me during the song “Tell ‘Em The Truth” near the finale: When danger's near, exploit their fear. The end will justify the means!

I don’t want to get to much into politics here, but that line really hit home with me within the highly politicized culture we live in now. We currently live in a society of fake news, used as the new propaganda against weed or otherwise. It’s refreshing to see a production like this one throw political correctness out the window, in a time when few take that opportunity in comedy or theater.

I walked into the Victoria Theater not expecting much from the little marijuana musical. However, I left satisfied and blown away, along with a packed house who also share Ray of Light’s love of cult movies turned live theatrical productions. Their next production is another B-movie classic, The Rocky Horror Show, and I encourage you to check out this hidden gem in the San Francisco theatre community. Reefer Madness was brilliantly crude, vulgar, and outrageous, reaching new highs for musical theater. Literally.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8.

Photo Credit Zac Wollons — with Phil Wong and Christen Sottolano

Review: 'Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations' at Berkeley Rep

Jordan Nickels

We can’t go backwards, the only thing we can rewind is a song. Berkeley Rep flips the record to one of Motown’s most successful artists in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. From the creative team behind Jersey Boys, we get a look on the triumphs and tribulations of the men behind The Temptations, through their rise in the 1960s and 1970s.

Otis Williams, founding member of The Temptations, tells their story as the outsider looking in, as different members come and go.  Derrick Baskin (Memphis) plays both sides of Otis: the heart of The Temptations and the one they look towards for leadership. There were many talented members who graced the ranks of The Temptations; including the electric David Ruffin, played by Ephraim Sykes (Hairspray Live!), and tenor Eddie Kendricks, backed by the angelic voice of Jeremy Pope (The View Upstairs).

Playwright Dominique Morisseau (Skeleton Crew, Paradise Blue, Detroit ‘67), brought with her a wealth of knowledge and soul as a native of Detroit, when bringing the Michigan born Temptations to the stage. You could tell how connected she was to the music of Motown and the backstories of these men, as they shared how growing up in Detroit shaped them throughout their careers. Along with her hometown pride, Dominique also understood the tone to which this musical sang to. The audience danced and clapped along to the legendary music of The Temptations, but this show never lost its stride when tackling heavier subjects for a musical.

On the way to a tour stop in the South, The Temptations are harassed in their bus, facing an onslaught of racial slurs. Eddie Kendricks explains that their white audience loves their music, but will never meet them in the flesh. The Temptations and Motown Records knew success meant breaking into the white audience in the 1960s, and while their voices got them that success, they were still held back in the country’s eyes for the color of their skin. This central conflict of race and civil rights, along with relationships and addiction, gave more layers to a bio musical or “jukebox musical” than many of their predecessors. This was a result of Dominique intertwining The Temptations’ music with their experiences when out of the spotlight.  

From the incredibly talented ensemble, who portrayed the likes of Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Berry Gordy; to the incredible projections, lighting, and set design, that plunged the rising career of The Temptations into a gray scaled, industrial world of Detroit’s automotive history, Ain’t Too Proud is ready for its Broadway debut.

Otis Williams talks a lot about foundation, saying life can be shaky, especially when you add fame. The Temptations story is one of celebration and loss, of catapulting to fame and what is left behind along the way. Foundation is the key, and from all sides this musical has a strong foundation to stand on. The brotherhood behind the story of The Temptations is a fascinating one. Fans will come to hear their music, but regardless if you grew up with The Temptations or are new to their music, everyone will walk away learning something new about their legacy.

Go see Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations at Berkeley Rep through October 22, because you will want to say you saw this musical before it spins to New York.

Jordan Nickels is a playwright and dramaturg, originally from the Midwest, with a Bachelor of Science in Theatrical Studies from Ball State University. He previously worked with Nashville Children’s Theatre, Goodspeed Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, and The Walt Disney Company. He also served as a Blog Contributor and Managing Editor for two years at Camp Broadway in New York City. Jordan currently resides in San Francisco, CA and works as a Development Assistant at American Conservatory Theater. Website: http://www.jordannickels.com, Twitter and Instagram: @jnickels8

Photo: Front Derrick Baskin (Otis Williams), rear left to right Ephraim Sykes (David Ruffin), Jeremy Pope (Eddie Kendricks), Jared Joseph (Melvin Franklin), and James Harkness (Paul Williams) in the world premiere of Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre.)