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November 23, 2006

Stage Matters

The Mikado, Cinderella and Holiday Madness


There might have been no Cole Porter or Ira Gershwin, no Dorothy Fields, Lorenz Hart or Alan Jay Lerner; certainly no Kalmar and Ruby (the composing team on classic Marx Brothers movies) and perhaps even no Lennon and McCartney, if there hadn't been a Gilbert and of the cast of Mikado

W.S. Gilbert wrote the ingenious, anarchic lyrics, and Arthur Sullivan the bracing music for 14 comic operas first performed in London in the late 19th century (the last of which premiered when Cole Porter was in kneepants). The greatest and most famous were H.M.S Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and the most performed (though probably not the best) The Mikado.

In his libretto, Gilbert seemed to have learned Jonathan Swift's basic trick of lampooning his time and place by locating it safely at some fictional distance -- in Japan, for instance, then known only through the usual bag of clichés and falsehoods common to Imperial ignorance. The Mikado is obviously more about England than Japan, and the current North Coast Rep production extends the gentle satire to here and now, as in the addition of telemarketers to people who would be "never missed."

The Mikado is sometimes mounted as a silky spectacle (probably one reason it's done so often), but while Suzanne Ross' scene design is efficient and Marcia Hutson's costumes (including kimonos painted by Jennifer Mackey) are handsome and occasionally splashy, they don't overwhelm the real fun of the story -- the songs and the performances. Dianne Zuleger's direction keeps everything on track, which liberates this as a performers' show, and at NCRT pretty much everyone shines.

Bob Service as a fussily corrupt, self-pitying Pooh-Bah; Jordan Matteoli as a silent-movie romantic hero Nanki-Poo; Anders Carlson as a forlorn Lord High Executioner who manages in the end to reconcile his British fair play with his craven ambition, and Lonnie Blankenchip Jr. in his flawless turn as the deranged Mikado -- all judiciously employ their physical comedy skills with hilarious effect.

Darcy Daughtry and Serena Zelezny have their shining moments in supporting parts: The "schoolgirls" who sing one of the play's best-known songs, "Three Little Maids From School Are We," give a jolt of energy to the first act, and the show never looks back from there. In last season's Once Upon A Mattress (NCRT) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Ferndale Rep), Minderella Willins excelled at playing innocent ingénues, but in this show she is the antagonist, with long red evil Queen nails out of Snow White, and she is just as convincing and mesmerizing. Her singing continues to be a wonder. Laura Hathaway is appealing as the love interest, Yum Yum, and it is her thrilling voice that is the most emotionally powerful of this show's many pleasing elements.

It's a winner.

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When Carol Martinez saw her first play in a theatre at the age of two, she was so small that her mother had to hold her seat down for the entire performance so it wouldn't flip up and fold her away. The show was Alice in Wonderland, and she claims to remember parts of it to this day: "the cards falling from the sky at the end -- the magic of it."

Currently working as a lawyer in Eureka as her day job, she grew up listening to the soundtracks her mother bought of traveling Broadway shows that came through Orange County, "So when I was about 10 years old, I knew all the lyrics to Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, all of those. I've been a musical theatre nerd for a long time."

This weekend sees the opening of Rodger and Hammerstein's Cinderella, the second show she's directed at Ferndale Rep (it's also her second musical; last season's Some Enchanted Evening was her first). Written originally for the fledgling medium of television in 1957, Cinderella became a stage musical soon after. The Ferndale version will feature Nanette Voss and Essie Bertain alternating as Cinderella, Tyler Rich as Prince Charming and Liz Power as the Fairy Godmother.

There are 10 children in the cast, and Martinez has especially enjoyed working with the young teens she's seen growing up in the rehearsal process, "becoming really responsible, really encouraging and supporting each other."

As for the experience of directing the show, she saw Cinderella's tragedy differently than most. "It was tragic that no one loved her, that her stepmother and stepsisters treated her so badly. But the real tragedy was that she had no one to love, no way to express her love, until the Prince, which is interesting in light of the Christmas season when we say it is better to give than to receive. For Cinderella, that was really true."

Cinderella begins its run at Ferndale Rep this Friday, Nov. 24, and with it the holiday madness really starts.

The Dell'Arte Company opens its 26th annual holiday show, Entrances and Exits, that same Friday at the Carlo Theatre. Following a Saturday show the troupe embarks on its traditional tour of free performances beginning at HSU's Van Duzer Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 26. The show heads out of the county the following week, then returns for a series of local hops from Dec. 4-10, landing back at the Carlo for the Dec. 14-17 weekend. You should find the schedule at, or call 668-5663, ext. 20.

Next Thursday, Nov. 30, HSU opens its final show of 2006, Sheridan's comedy of gossip, The School for Scandal, directed by Redwood Curtain's Clint Rebik. It runs the customary two weekends; more information at


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