Year in reviews

A look at Sacramento's stage scene in 2013

Jessica Chisum (left), Janis Stevens, Scott Coopwood and Shaun Carroll starred in Capital Stage’s futuristic version of <i>Macbeth</i>.

Jessica Chisum (left), Janis Stevens, Scott Coopwood and Shaun Carroll starred in Capital Stage’s futuristic version of Macbeth.

Photo by Charr Crail

A lot of great things happened on stages in the Sacramento area this year. Things started with a bang way back in January with Rock of Ages, one of the most irreverent touring musicals that California Musical Theatre has ever brought to Broadway Sacramento. Despite many people leaving during intermission, the production’s ’80s power ballads continued through the evening, and had the audience dancing and singing along to hits by Journey, Styx and Whitesnake.

Jack Gallagher’s Complete and Unfinished at the B Street Theatre seemed like a reality show within a stage production, blending anecdotal stand-up comedy with acting. Capital Stage’s The North Plan tackled the issue of gun violence via a heroine who drinks and swears too much. Ron Cunningham choreographed and debuted The Great Gatsby for the Sacramento Ballet, bringing jazz and ballet together.

Things got dark and intense with KOLT Run Creations’ powerful production of This Vicious Minute, based on an autobiographical account of a self-harming wrist cutter. Runaway Stage Productions’ Avenue Q featured offensive and raunchy puppets singing musical numbers, and was a multimedia masterpiece.

Shakespeare was big this year, and the Bard’s work was resurrected, reinvented and revamped in some cool new ways. Big Idea Theatre’s version of the Shakespeare comedy As You Like It worked in numerous Sacramento references—and even music by Cake and Zuhg. The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble’s As You Like It featured an Appalachian-style band with banjo and mandolin, and an original score by Richard Chowenhill. Sacramento Theatre Company and Nevada County’s Sierra Stages Community Theatre both opened versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the same weekend, and both excelled. Then, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival did a British-invasion-themed version of the same dreamy Shakespeare comedy, incorporating copious Beatles quotes. Finally, Capital Stage’s Macbeth (pictured) was like a look into a dystopian future with badass, dark violence.

Numerous other productions by many theater groups throughout the Sacramento area earned glowing reviews from SN&R’s team. Among them were: B Street Theatre’s Venus in Fur, Capital Stage’s Hedda Gabler, New Helvetia Theatre’s The Gingerbread Lady, Broadway Sacramento’s Les Misérables, Big Idea Theatre’s The Liutenant of Inishmore, and Resurrection Theatre’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?


One glance back, several looks forward

When Stephanie Gularte announced she was leaving Capital Stage after a decade-and-a-half at its helm, many local theater buffs feared it might mean a change in direction for the popular and edgy company. But in an excellent move toward continuity, Jonathan Rhys Williams—a co-founder and artistic associate at Cap Stage who’s had a large hand in directing and producing the company’s stellar seasons—will be stepping up as the new artistic director. In the case of Capital Stage, which has a long record of outstanding and unusual shows that explore all of theater’s potential—and often premieres exciting new works for Sacramento audiences—stability is a very good thing. Capital Stage will open Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing on January 22, 2014.

On January 17, Resurrection Theatre opens a classic play at California Stage that, unfortunately, always seems to find some contemporary reverberations. Margaret Morneau will be directing a new production of The Trojan Women, Seneca’s tragedy set after the fall of the great city to the invading Greek armies.

A gloomy future—it’s 2039, and the rain is so pervasive that a fish has just dropped from the sky—is the setting for a dark family drama in Big Idea Theatre’s 2014 opening production of When the Rain Stops Falling by Andrew Bovell. Generational angst and anger abound, so theatergoers should expect deep emotional twists when the Big Idea show opens on January 10.

And, finally, a treat to ring in the new theater season: The Alternative Arts Collective, which won rave reviews for its staging of Tony Kushner’s epic Angels in America at Roseville’s Royer Park in 2010, is bringing both parts of what is arguably the best play of the 20th century to its Blue Box Theatre on Del Paso Boulevard. Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches opens on January 2; Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika follows on January 30.


A Sacramento stage saga

The saga of the oft-postponed renovation has turned into Sacramento’s “never-ending story.” People have been talking about sprucing up the old Community Center Theater since the 1990s. And year after year, the timeline has remained the same: “We’ll get started next year, maybe the year after.” (There’s a line in Shakespeare about “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”)

This year, it became clear that the waiting game will continue, since City Hall has harnessed all available financial resources to the proposed sports arena (a project Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson pursues with a single-minded intensity recalling Captain Ahab).

The shortcomings of the old theater—dedicated in 1974—are multiple. The lobby is too small, there aren’t enough dressing rooms backstage. The natural acoustics in the vast hall are flat and absorptive (particularly hard on choral groups). Most notoriously, there aren’t enough restrooms for women (long lines form during intermission), so ushers routinely direct patrons outdoors through the courtyard to the adjacent Convention Center.

The theater also predates the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and needs to be brought up to code. And the building’s electrical systems, seating and other features are just plain old and shabby after 40 years.

The urgency for an upgrade began standing in higher relief when the Mondavi Center (a much better designed venue) opened at UC Davis in 2002. Then, the Gallo Center for the Arts opened in Modesto in 2007. And then Three Stages at Folsom Lake College (now the Harris Center for the Arts) opened in 2011. We’ve seen some audience migration to those newer, nicer venues, and fewer large-scale arts events in downtown Sac.

Let’s be fair: Other cities have this problem, too. People in New York City have been talking for decades about upgrading the lackluster sound in Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Avery Fisher Hall (dedicated in 1962). And the sound in San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall (dedicated in 1980) was initially so poor that a $10 million acoustic makeover was quickly initiated.

But the longer the renovation in Sacramento is delayed, the harder it gets for the locally based heritage-arts groups that have traditionally performed downtown.