Bay Area Theater Bonanza

by Chris Narloch

When the sweltering Sacramento summer gets too bad for me to bear, I head for the hills -- the Berkeley hills, that is, or the hilly streets of San Francisco.

During our recent 100*+ heat wave, I cooled off in the Bay Area with some musical theater.

 



Monsoon Wedding
Fans of new musicals, and especially those who love Bollywood musicals, should beat a path to the box office at Berkeley Rep Theatre to see this exuberant, colorful and charming new musical.

Based on the 2002 movie of the same name from Mira Nair, the musical version of ‘Monsoon Wedding’ is also directed by Nair and features a talented, international cast with more performers of Indian descent than I have ever seen on one stage, with the possible exception of ‘Bombay Dreams.’

The ensemble comedy unites a Punjabi family for the arranged wedding of their child. Relatives from all over the world descend on Delhi for the ceremony, which may or may not go forward after the prospective bride tells the groom-to-be she has been seeing a married man.

The acting, singing, dancing, costumes, sets, and music in ‘Monsoon Wedding’ are all lovely, and Nair has managed to broaden the appeal of her movie on stage without dumbing it down.

‘Monsoon Wedding’ plays through July 16, 2017. For more information, visit www.berkeleyrep.org.

A Night With Janis Joplin
This perfectly timed musical celebrating the late, great blues-rock goddess coincides with both the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love and the 50th Anniversary of Monterey Pop, the seminal concert where many music fans heard Janis Joplin for the first time.

‘A Night With Janis Joplin’ is a musical journey celebrating Janis and her biggest musical influences – icons like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone, and Bessie Smith -- who come to spectacular life in a play that is essentially an electrifying concert with some dialogue in between the songs.

And what songs! The singer/actress playing Joplin gets to perform ‘Ball and Chain,’ ‘Mercedes Benz,’ ‘Cry Baby,’ ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ ‘Summertime,’ ‘Stay With Me,’ and ‘Piece of My Heart.’

The cast members playing those other legendary women bring to life classic tunes such as ‘I Shall Be Released,’ ‘Tell Mama,’ ‘Spirit in the Dark,’ and ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.’

The afternoon I saw the show, Kelly McIntyre belted out Joplin’s immortal songs with gusto and also rambled very convincingly in between the musical numbers. (Kacee Clanton plays Joplin at the majority of performances.)

The show’s four supporting actresses (Sharon Catherine Brown, Ashley Tamar Davis, Tawny Dolley, and Sylvia MacCalla) are so outstanding in multiple roles that they really qualify as co-leads to the headliner.

‘A Night With Janis Joplin,’ which has been extended through July 16 at American Conservatory Theater, really rocks thanks to a tight, eight-man band, and is more than worth the drive over to San Francisco. For more information, visit www.act-sf.org.

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