Category Archive for: ‘Greg & Suzanne Angeo’

“So Nice To Come Home To”, Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

Michael McGurk and Elly Lichenstein

Review by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

 Photo by Eric Chazankin

A Sentimental Journey With Mixed Blessings

 It’s Labor Day weekend, 1944, and all over America there are stars hanging in windows where the home fires are burning bright; stars that tell the world these families have men in the Armed Forces, fighting the enemies of freedom, fighting a battle with so much at stake. But the star in the window of one home in particular is not quite what it seems. In its world premiere at Cinnabar, “So Nice To Come Home To” is an intensely sensitive drama graced with spirit-lifting anthems and bright flashes of musical comedy. It’s a tender valentine to that time and place, and to that Greatest Generation, with a surprising twist to the story that makes it truly unique entertainment.

The idea for “So Nice…” was first hatched when Cinnabar Theater founder Jan Klebe approached local composer Richard Evans with a commission to write an original musical to help celebrate Cinnabar’s 40th Anniversary this year. One condition: the material must be based on the work of JM Barrie, best known as the author of “Peter Pan”.  Barrie’s WW I-era play “The Old Lady Shows Her Medals” ultimately was chosen as the primary inspiration for this new musical.  Evans brought East coast playwright Kate Hancock on board, and together they updated Barrie’s storyline to a World War II home front setting. This is familiar territory for Evans, and one close to his heart; he grew up during the war, with family members in military service, and even played “big band” tunes with war veterans while in high school. He and Ms Hancock also partnered on the music, with Hancock penning the lyrics and Evans creating the original musical score.  Indeed, many of the songs in “So Nice…” are inspired by the period, especially those in the second half of the first act. Most of the music, however, includes song styles you might hear in more contemporary musicals.

The onstage talent in Cinnabar’s newest production is extraordinary. A special surprise is Cinnabar Artistic Director Elly Lichenstein in the lead role of lonely, middle-aged Kate, with her soaring operatic vocals and thread-the-needle emotional power. Broadway pro Michael McGurk as Ken, a young soldier home on leave, really dazzles in his performance. He embodies triple-threat stage presence by virtue of his excellence in acting, singing and dancing. Also outstanding is Stephen Walsh as everybody’s friend Al O’Donahu, who at one point finds himself as MC at the legendary Stage Door Canteen in a show “for the boys”.

Speaking of the boys, noted Bay area cabaret singer Michael Van Why is the show-stopping “Ziegfeld Man” Bill Brannigan, whose routine featuring a gaudy Carmen Miranda impression is an absolute scream. Evans told us that he wrote two numbers with Van Why specifically in mind, with a nod to his acclaimed 2009 appearance in “La Cage Aux Folles” at 6th Street Playhouse.

A murky subplot of the story is Kate’s ongoing relationship with her ex-husband Harry, a business mogul played with stiff plutocratic authority by Bill Neely. Valentina Osinsi has a dual role as Kate’s resolute gal pal Jean and Harry’s new trophy wife Eleanore.  She is thoroughly convincing in each, very different role, with a lovely light soprano voice. Michael Van Why shows his versatility in a small, hysterically funny second role as Harry and Eleanore’s ancient and absent-minded butler, Tombs.

Director Ann Woodhead makes good basic choices in moving her actors through each scene. They do everyday tasks and walk about naturally as they speak. However, at times some elements of lighting and sound do not serve the story as well as they could. Lighting is a powerful tool of stagecraft that helps designate a change of scene, with varying colors and intensity. In “So Nice…” it’s used to excellent effect in some scenes. But at other times, like when Kate and Ken are visiting certain sights of New York City, the lighting remains unchanged, as does the set. Even though suspension of disbelief is usually expected of an audience, you don’t want them to work too hard at it. Sound presents another problem – during musical numbers, those seated in the first few rows on the right-hand side of the theater may have trouble hearing the performers’ vocals. Because of the orchestra’s placement, it just drowns out anyone onstage for those unlucky enough to be seated in the wrong place. Conductor Mary Chun’s four-piece band brings great energy to the musical score. For the most part, it’s effective in presenting the songs of the period, but recorded music and radio bits are essential to fill in the blanks, and they do.

Certain elements of the story seem to need further development to be fully satisfying, like the future of Kate and Harry’s relationship, or the way Ken comes into, and leaves, their lives. It seems like more could have been done to bring the tale full circle. But even so, this is a truly unique, surprising, and touching musical journey to a time our country cannot afford to forget.

When: Now through November 11, 2012

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

2 p.m. Sunday November 11

Tickets: $25 to $35

Location: Cinnabar Theater

3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA
Phone: 707-763-8920