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Sonoma Arts Live wins regional awards

Posted on November 11, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Two productions in the Sonoma Arts Live season, which ran January through July, were winners of three Marquee Theater Journalists Association Awards.

becky“Becky’s New Car,” which ran to critical acclaim in June, took home two awards. Melissa Claire won Outstanding Lead Performance in a Comedy, and Director Carl Jordan took home an award for Outstanding Comedy Production.

“It was an honor to be in these categories with such wonderful companies as Spreckels, Main Stage West, Left Edge Theater and 6th Street Playhouse” said Executive Artistic Director Jaime Love.

    Let them entertain you   ‘Gypsy’ proves there’s nothing like a dame   Val Robichaud | Sonoma Valley Sun   Michael Ross sits in a theater surrounded by the focused confusion of rehearsals for “Gypsy.” Groups of actors huddle here and there, the lighting director is high on a ladder and the two-person cow costume needs a quick fix. When an actress wonders about costume accessories for the second act, Ross calmly pulls a G-string from a paper bag. “You think you sign on just to direct a show,” he says.   Growing up, Ross realized “theatre was my sport.” He was drawn to the teamwork of it, the discipline and camaraderie. “You watch out for each other,” he says, eyes on the stage. Weeks after rehearsals began and days before opening night, it’s all starting to come together.   “It’s beautiful thing to watch,” he said. “It’s family up there.”   To start the rehearsal, the actors are asked to sing a snippet from the first musical they appeared in. In football, you’d stretch your hammy. Here, you sing an obscure tune and the adults nod knowingly; for the kids, and there are many, the go-to might be Disney tune.   “At this point all the humans have disappeared,” Ross says. “All I see are characters.”   Ross knows the importance of keeping cool amid the chaos. He’s directed shows for Spreckels, Sixth Street and Lucky Penny theater companies, and returns to Andrews Hall after last years’ Sonoma Arts Live production “Bad Dates.” This is his time at the helm of “Gypsy,” though he’s been involved with three prior productions of the show.   There’s nothing like a dame, especially in a Broadway musical. And there’s no musical quite like “Gypsy,” where Dani Innocenti Beem belts the roof off the joint as Mama Rose.   Consider that the songs, by Jules Styne and Stephen Sondheim circa 1959, and including “Let Me Entertain You,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” and “Together Wherever We Go,” among many more, were written for Ethel Merman. There’s singing, there’s Broadway singing, and there’s a dame like Ethel Merman.   “It’s the iconic role for a Broadway diva,” Ross says. “A big voice and a commanding presence. Take the stage and take no prisoners.” Beem, he says, makes it look effortless.   The show is based in the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, whose mother, Mama Rose, was the stage mother supreme. It’s set in the 1920s, when vaudeville was dying out and burlesque was the next big thing. Rose – chiding, cajoling bullying all the while -- steers her daughter into that risqué new world.   “This show explores the world of two-bit show business with brass, humor, heart, and sophistication”, says Jaime Love, the company’s Executive Artistic Director.   Daughter Gypsy eventually becomes a star as an elegantly chaste stripper, but it’s Beem’s Mama Rose to whom all eyes are turned. She is a force. A fine comic actress, she breezes and blusters through the script’s surprisingly funny one-liners in steady stream-of-consciousness.   And the blockbuster voice – the headset microphone seems redundant – is often layered with nuance and emotion. Still, she could sing a candle out at 50 paces.   There’s also a bit of uneasy obsession. Mama Rose may have missed her shot at the big time, but like Norma Desmond, she’s still ready for her close-up.   The rest of the cast is strong. Tim Setzer plays Herbie, adding a light touch to the role of Rose’s longtime, and long suffering, beau. Amanda Pedersen is an effervescent Dainty June, and Danielle DeBow plays Louise, the daughter who finally blossoms, after the required of penance of being the second-favorite daughter, on the burlesque stage.   Notable is Jaime Love, and not just because she plays a stripper. Her Tessa -- more of a broad than a dame – is a wise-cracking delight. Her number, with Julia Holsworth Karen Pinomaki is a comic highlight.   “Gypsy” features musical direction by John Partridge, and choreography by Michella Snider.

Daniela Innocenti-Beem, who wowed audiences last summer as Madame Rose in the Michael Ross-directed “Gypsy” won Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical. The category included entries from Spreckels, Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma Arts Lives’ “Evita!,” directed by Lauren Miller.

Now in their second year, the awards were founded by San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle members. In a break from standard awards show traditions, the MTJA has eliminated gender distinctions for performances, instead offering awards for Outstanding Lead and Supporting Performance in the three categories of Musical, Drama, and Comedy.

Nominees from 15 Sonoma County companies included theaters in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, Monte Rio, and Cloverdale.

Sonoma Arts Live received numerous Marquee nominations this season, including Outstanding Musical Production for “Gypsy”: Michael Ross, Director, and John Partridge, Musical Director. Ellen Toscano was nominated for Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical for “Evita!” Bruce Lacovic was nominated for Outstanding Scenic Design for “Becky’s New Car,” and Matt Witthaus for Outstanding Supporting Performance in a Comedy.

InspectingCarol_socialmedia-1Sonoma Arts Live returns to Andrews Hall on November 29 with a three-week run of “Inspecting Carol.”

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