Review: “The Toxic Avenger” at The Stage, San Jose

It’s doubtful that many people still remember Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 film The Toxic Avenger nowadays. Perhaps the epitome of B-Movie campy body horror, the film is one of the single most nauseating experiences this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The story of a dweeb-y mop boy at a New Jersey health club who becomes a hyper-violent vigilante after a group of sociopathic sex-crazed exercise nuts chase him into a vat of nonspecific toxic waste, the film appears to be expressly made for the purpose of being watched while high, while those who are sober are left to ponder the film’s many gross-out moments without the refuge of a marijuana haze. In short, it is a truly terrible movie, not only in its violence, but in its writing, direction, and especially acting.

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Review: “Rags” at TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley

There are a select few musicals that, despite bombing during their original New York productions, have been produced with surprising regularity by regional theaters across the country, often with revised books. Some have been kind-of fixed, like Merrily We Roll Along or Candide, both of which can make for wonderful entertainment, if not great musicals in and of themselves. Others, such as Anyone Can Whistle or Mack & Mabel, simply don’t work, regardless of who tinkers with what. The reason why such shows continue to be produced despite flaws is that they fulfill two specific criteria. First, they need a wonderful score, the kind that makes the show on record seem like a surefire hit. Secondly, they need a subject matter that sounds interesting enough on paper to make theatre companies think that they will be the first to “crack” the material where others have failed. Such is the case with TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley’s production of Rags, which ultimately does not come together to create a satisfying evening of theatre, but offers enough of interest to reveal why companies still keep giving Rags a shot.

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Review: “Hamilton” at the Orpheum Theatre (tour)

It’s great fun to be a contrarian. While I hope that every show I get to see ends up being a masterpiece, there’s a sense of satisfaction that I love to have when I see a show that everyone else praises to high heaven and I get to set the record straight on how good the show actually is. Such is the case with Hamilton, in which my much more reserved thoughts will doubtless be ignored by the thousands of people willing to drop thousands of dollars on the show, but I will still enjoy telling people who haven’t seen it yet that “it’s fine, but really, not worth the hype”.

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Review: “Into the Woods” at the Golden Gate Theatre (tour)

Fiasco’s production of Into the Woods has no business performing in the Golden Gate Theatre’s 2,297-seat auditorium. This production, which is presented in the Paul Sills’ Story Theatre-inspired style of such shows as Peter and the Starcatcher or The Old Man and the Old Moon features a cast of 10, who all play their own instruments, an extra pianist, and not so much of a set as a ladder and a collection of found-object props in order to create the extremely elaborate environments of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 meta-musical. The staging is cluttered and very messy, but also brimming with creativity and imagination and works so well (and is so proportionally inexpensive to produce) that I’d be surprised if this style weren’t to become standard for future Into the Woods performances. It is also fundamentally small theatre, and deserves to be seen in a performance space small enough where the ramshackle quality can be appreciated rather than looking like the producers aren’t willing to spend the money to create a proper Into the Woods. That being said, you shouldn’t deny yourself the pleasure of this Into the Woods just because it fundamentally feels too small for the space its presented in.

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Review: “Silence! The Musical” at Ray of Light Theatre

For 20 minutes, Silence! The Musical is the funniest musical ever written. The delirious and relentless parody of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs coasts by on its plethora of references to indelible Academy Award-winning feature along with gently poking fun at Jodie Foster and company, conjuring up a fair share of belly laughs, including a moment featuring the most disgusting and screamingly funny usage of silly string imaginable, before completely running out of gas. After that, the evening commits the worst crime imaginable for comedy: failing to make the audience laugh. Continue reading “Review: “Silence! The Musical” at Ray of Light Theatre”

Review: “Finding Neverland” at the Golden Gate Theatre (tour)

They say you can find anything in a big city. Case in point: you can actually go see snuff theatre in San Francisco right now just off of Market Street, in the touring production of Finding Neverland. While it is true that there is no blood onstage, one can bear witness to the live death of the musical theatre in a “short” two hours and forty five minutes in which the musical comedy moves from a wonderful mode of entertainment to, as one character mentions in the show: “the lowest of all art forms”. SHN does not give me press tickets, and I had to shell out the money to see the damn thing, so I can tell you without a filter that Finding Neverland infuriates me like nothing else I’ve ever seen.

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Review: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” at The Golden Gate Theatre (tour)

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the most shocking and honest musical of 1997. When it was written, transgender* issues were almost unheard of, with trans* women more frequently finding themselves at the center of a punchline than the center of a musical. Nowadays, however, trans* exposure is far more prevalent and attitudes towards the trans* community have thankfully evolved considerably. As a result, Hedwig feels more quaint than shocking, but it’s still a very solid work of ’90s musical theatre with a fantastic punk-pop score and rivals any show for entertainment value when given a perfect production. This touring production struggles from being mounted in rather poor taste, but features two knockout performances and still is a great evening out, as long as you don’t expect any kind of emotional honesty.

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Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at Ray of Light Theatre

Little Shop of Horrors is a…..

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Review: “City of Angels” at the San Francisco Playhouse

Few genres of movie went out of style as quickly as noir. Ushered in with the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock movie Rebecca and proving to be one of the most popular genres with audiences, the last recognizable entries in the genre were in 1959. Though it’s doubtful many modern audiences have watched a true film noir from start to finish, the imprint that these films left on the public consciousness can not be erased. City of Angels, a musical from 1989, was written specifically to parody and comment upon the generally vague concept of noir that audiences have. It’s not a wholly successful show, mostly because noir tropes just don’t translate to live performance, but it is unlikely that you will ever get to see a better production of the show than the one currently running at the San Francisco Playhouse, which continues the company’s legacy of extremely high quality live theatre in the best way. Continue reading “Review: “City of Angels” at the San Francisco Playhouse”

Thoughts on: A True Blood musical?

According to Michael Riedel of the New York Post, a new musical is being developed based on the hit HBO television series True Blood. Created by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), the television series was a surprise hit for the network, coming out around the same time that books like Twilight were sweeping the nation, offering decidedly more adult-oriented fare in the same market. Continue reading “Thoughts on: A True Blood musical?”