By CHARLIE JARRETT
Special to the Gazette
This week’s reviews provide three totally different experiences ranging between the traveling Broadway production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in San Francisco, the Mystery of Irma Vep in Danville, and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way in El Cerrito.
I will rank these shows as A, B, and C, based on my overall satisfaction and gratification, and how I think the production will appeal to my readers. First, I must award an “A” to the Contra Costa Civic Theater for its East Bay premier of Schenkkan’s raw, jaw-dropping political expose of the back-room politics so prevalent and necessary during the Civil Rights campaign in 1963 and 1964. The title of this play was extracted from Lyndon Baines Johnson’s campaign slogan, “All the Way with LBJ”. This story is rapid paced and action packed; an expose of the political dealing and maneuvering that took place for the most part hidden from public view and behind closed doors.
In 1964, following Lyndon B. Johnson’s accidental ascension to the office of the presidency, one of the most important political battles in American history, took place over the next 11 months. This play demonstrates in superb fashion the tumultuous battle that was fought primarily out of public view before the nation and its new president could legislate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A superlative cast of 21 actors rips away the political camouflage that actually took place at that time. Lyndon Johnson (John Hale), and his political supporters and adversaries of that time, come colorfully and fully to life, exposing the good, the bad, and the very ugly in this battle seeking to establish equality for all Americans. It is almost impossible and probably inappropriate to celebrate key players in this production because of the excellent acting by the entire cast. Probably most important is the skilled work of director Marilyln Langbehn who sought out and carefully prepared each actor with comprehensive background information on each politician in this revealing story.
All the Way is in my opinion an absolute “MUST SEE” performance before it closes on the 5th of May. Tickets for All the Way are more than reasonable for this production, ranging between $11 and $32 each. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ccct.org or by phone at (510) 524-9012. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm. The very comfortable Theater is located at 951 Pomona Avenue (at corner of Moeser Lane) in El Cerrito. There are very raw moments, provocative interactions and language that may well uncomfortably remind us of our current political atmosphere. However, I believe there is great value in this story of social and political upheaval and triumph and the dark alleys we must often travel to accomplish social change.
Second, or “B” in my selection of better choices this week, has to be the SHN production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which opened in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theatre. Once again, the clever writing of this World War II fighter pilot turned major author and playwright, Roald Dahl, is artfully presented in a very glitzy fashion reminding us of how endearing Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loompa workers are. But unfortunately, this production is missing the warm-hearted charm of Wilder and the joyful comedy experienced in earlier productions and movies. The talent is very good, with Noah Weisberg demonstrating excellent voice and dancing talent, but his portrayal is more of a cold and callous caricature in search of a new chocolate factory product creator and successor. The most delightful characters are young Charlie Bucket (Henry Boshart) and Grandpa Joe (James Young). They are fully the brightest stars in this modernized, coldly calculating version of one of my favorite childhood stories. The music is still in full sync and joyful to enjoy. The sets are colorful, inventive and unique. For the most part, the audience seemed to enjoy the production but was not overly excited. My younger family guests (early teens) that were invited to join me in reviewing this production, declared it very enjoyable and thanked me profusely for taking them. Perhaps the problem for me is the memory that I cherish of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. I think all children will still love this colorful candy-dandy show, and for them, you ought to go.
This production continues Tuesdays through Sundays, and closing on May 12. Tickets may be secured at www.shnsf.com and through SHN Audience Services at 888-746-1799. Ticket prices range from $56 to $256 and are subject to change. The Golden Gate Theatre is only two blocks from the Powell Street BART station. The Website: www.shnsf.com, and Facebook: www.facebook.com/shnbroadwayinsf for additional information.
The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlum is currently in production in the Village Theatre at 233 Front St. in Danville. Unfortunately, this production is less engaging in story content and a “C” in theatrical preferences from my point of view.
I have never been crazy about this play, even so, it seems to me that I thought it entertaining when I first saw it years ago. This is really a test of two talented actors to perform this rather disjointed farce, by rapidly rotating through three different character roles and in rapid succession, all while managing to survive numerous costume changes, over the course of the evening. Alicia von Kugelgen and Dana Lewenthal are really quite excellent actors who work very hard in making this an entertaining production and for the most part do so.
However, the storyline is a bit cockamamie and boring. The set designed by Robert “Bo” Golden is very good and the costumes by Lisa Danz added significantly to the production.
The Mystery of Irma Vep continues Wednesdays at 7:30 PM, Thursday Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, with matinees on Sunday at 2:30 PM through Sunday, May 28th. Tickets range in price between $34 and $56 each and may be purchased online at www.RolePlayersEnsemble.com or by calling 314-3400.