Matilda The Musical

a kate west review
book by Dennis Kelly; music & lyrics by Tim Minchin
directed by Matthew Warchus; choreography by Peter Darling
at Orpheum Theatre (SHN)
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running July 15 - August 15, 2015
contact: (888)746-1799 or

Roald Dahl's cheeky heroine Matilda leapt from page to screen (Mara Wilson) to musical. After winning numerous awards in London (seven Oliviers) and New York (five Tonys) the hit show is now on tour in our own San Francisco, currently at the Orpheum Theatre.

Gabrielle Gutierrez (matinee performance) is Matilda, the precociously gifted and neglected daughter of dud parents, the Wormwoods. She reads for pleasure, much to the scandal and chagrin of her tv (telly) addicted mum and dad. Spending as much time at the library as she can, she weaves fantasies that intersect with reality and might even have a few special powers of her own. She needs them too, as she is soon sent to the dark and dreary Crunchem Hall Elementary School, where she faces the terrible headmistress Miss Trunchbull.

Bryce Ryness is Miss Trunchbull and is every bit as horrifying and hysterical as the villain in book and screen. Hair tightly bound in a severe bun, clothes militaristic and demeanor ferocious, Trunchbull makes the children's lives a living hell ("The Hammer" and "The Smell of Rebellion"). Ryness steals the show as he strides into the Trunchbull scenes with timely maneuvers of a pro. Equally fantastic is Quinn Mattfeld as the dishonest car salesman and unappreciative father of Matilda, Mr. Wormwood. The hoots and hollers of their curtain calls alone speak to their distinctive performances.

Bryce Ryness as Miss Trunchball ("Maggots!")

Cassie Silva and Quinn Mattfeld as Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood

Cassie Silva matches Mattfeld in energy as the vainly ditzy Mrs. Wormwood, however it was difficult to understand her higher register at times. In fact, many of the children were almost indecipherable when singing, and sometimes when speaking. The producers understood this potential problem (does it have something to do with the striking British accents or just the usual misinterpretation of song lyrics?) and provided the audience with a display for reading along with the text, √† la opera translator, but that may have been a little far to strain to read for the balcony crowd. They did provide a synopsis in the program however, so make sure you read that carefully before the show. Or better yet, read the book! Or for those with a tv (telly) addiction, watch the movie.

Matilda is a delightful show and a wonderful character and will hold younger audiences captive, as well as entertain the grown-ups with that quintessential Roald Dahl quirky wickedness. Jennifer Blood as Miss Honey offers the softer performance, to contrast the evil surrounding our main character, and is ultimately her savior of sorts (though Matilda certainly knows how to take care of herself - girls, take note of that resolute self-reliance).

Rob Howell provides an innovative and imaginative set, while Peter Darling compliments it nicely with joyful choreography and director Matthew Warchus does a fine job painting the big picture. True, there are many harsh moments ("School Song" and "The Chokey Chant"), done with feverous revel, but there are poignant times as well ("Miracle", "This Little Girl" and "When I Grow Up"). So there is something for everyone. And other than the intense concentration needed to follow the plot (can't relax into escapist mode here) it is a super fun show. Read more!

June 26, 2015

RT@WhiteHouse If you liked our avatar, you'll love the view from Pennsylvania Avenue tonight. #LoveWins
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Life Inside Out

The independent film Life Inside Out is a wonderfully subtle portrait of motherhood. It is a lovely and simple love letter from mother to son, depicting the purest kind of gentle love. A hit at many film festivals, you can now find this movie (and cool soundtrack) online.

Maggie Baird stars as Laura, who longs to go back to her musical roots and maybe find more meaning than her full time mom duties. We can all use a little extra creativity in our lives, after all. During her introspective journey to get there, she draws out her reclusive son Shane (Baird's real life son Finneas O'Connell - yes, of Glee fame). Her eventual sacrifice for her son proves that a mother's love is the truest bond, especially if she is true to herself first. It is so nice to see a female lead showing compassion and generosity for others, without losing her identity. In finding her own heart, Laura is able to share it with her friends and family all the more readily.

This is a sweetly delicate story, with relatively little of the modern indie angst so prevalent in many tediously drawn-out "hip" films (looking at you Cake). Also fun is watching a genuinely talented musical family work together to create a heartfelt movie that resonates with anyone who has ever wanted to perform. Or help someone else discover their true talent and calling. Must have been awfully nice to grow up around that well-loved living room piano.

The movie has a wide appeal and the entire cast is interesting and watchable. The atmosphere is cozy and the music is soothing, yet vibrant (check out The Slightlys - you may even recognize the lead actor). Director Jill D'Agnenica did a great job. It is definitely worth giving it a go.

See a clip here.

You can get the music here.

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Great Olympic Site

Please take a visit here if you want to know all there is to know, and all there ever was to know about Olympics:

And here:

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Good Omens

a kate west recommendation

A good read, er, listen:

Good Omens

Graphic novel adaptation to BBCRadio4.
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Kinky Boots

a kate west review
book by Harvey Fierstein; music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
directed by Jerry Mitchell; orchestrations by Stephen Oremus
at Orpheum Theatre (SHN)
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running December 2-28, 2014
contact: (888)746-1799 or

The musical "Kinky Boots" was based on a 2005 British film, which in turn was based on a true story. Aren't those always the best kind? And just in time for the holidays, this popular Broadway sensation hits the road for a turn in the perfect setting of San Francisco. This most recent version of the plot features Charlie, who inherits his father's shoe factory, which is unfortunately going under. In a desperate attempt to keep it going, Charlie is inspired to cater to a different client, the ultimate in masculine-feminine: drag queens (who give Beach Blanket Babylon divas a run for their money). They present a unique challenge to the shoemaker - creating a sexy high heel that can support the weight of a man. After some convincing in song, Charlie and his factory workers are up to the task, proving that shoes are sometimes even more fun than chocolate. 

Steven Booth is Charlie Price, the insecure factor owner who finds he has his own voice after all. With songs like "Step One" and "Soul of a Man", Booth does a fine job with the transition of boyish man into self-confident man. Kyle Taylor Parker is the fabulous muse, the drag queen star, Lola. His/her best number is "Sex is in the Heel" where he proves the power of red, sex and shoes outshines any childhood angst (and both Charlie and Lola carry a lot of that around). As in the movie of the same name, Lola has to overcome some local prejudice, while facing her own demons, mainly a strict father. Charlie's own father issues are put to rest when he saves the factory and loses his materialistic 
fianc√© Nicola (Grace Stockdale). Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) is delightful as the perky shop assistant who wins his heart in the end. Chambers has a lot of fun moments, such as "The History of Wrong Guys" and is the definitive audience pleaser of the cast, next to Parker as Lola, who easily brings the big into fantastic show stoppers. Speaking of which, a special nod goes to Lola's dancers, her cross-dressing Angels, all rivetingly talented, especially in "In This Corner" (the most fun ever seen in a boxing ring) and "Raise You Up/Just Be". It might seem hard to beat the finale in the movie (a mesmerizing rendition of the "These Boots are Made for Walking", complete with mad stomping) but the San Francisco cast does it justice, with original music and choreography, thanks to the multi-talented director Jerry Mitchell.

A show about shoes can't go wrong.

Let's not forget the trendy creative team, lyricist Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein (book). One can just imagine the charming work sessions between the effervescent pop star and gravely Broadway icon. Indeed, their collaboration earned them 13 Tony nominations and 6 Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. Drag queens and red shoes - what's not to love? Based on audience reaction from the S.F. crowd alone, no wrong notes here.

So head off to the Orpheum and bring your visiting family. Take a break from the holiday stress and strife and enjoy being different. Teach the out-of-towners a little something about fabulousness.

The Six-Step Program:

1. Pursue the truth.
2. Learn something new.
3. Accept yourself, and you'll accept others.
4. Let love shine.
5. Let pride be your guide.
6. You'll change the world when you change your mind.
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Robin Williams

a kate west tribute

No, I never met him, never knew him. But, like so many others lately, I keep thinking about him. Even dreaming about him. And it's not that far-fetched that I might have met him. I used to live in Los Angeles and used to work in the improv world, where you can meet lots of I-knew-them-whens (I met Eddie Izzard, for instance, OK well when he was actually famous and I also knew lots of other "befores" but never mind that now). Still, only friends and family can mourn him in a specifically personal way. Right? Then why are the rest of us still so sad?

I think because he was always there. Since our childhoods. We didn't think about him all the time but if he showed up suddenly (like in a recent episode of "Louie") it was like seeing an old friend. And even when he made terrible movies (you know which ones), it was still delightful to watch him just be him. Or even when scripted, being someone else, doing it with his classic 100% commitment. And oh, those powerful performances ("The World According to Garp", "Dead Poets Society", "Good Morning, Vietnam" etc.), they were from the heart, direct from him to you. Not everyone with that impressive an imagination can deliver sincerity, but he had such a huge soul that boy did it shine through. 

Sometimes he was hard to work with (apparently), but only because he couldn't be contained. It was impossible to completely reign in that spontaneity, and the humanity in the heart of the audience loves the unexpected. And God, he was funny. Mind-blowing to think he made it all up on the spot. And could go on for hours. Unstoppable. No wonder he was the best genie ever.

And also because he was supposed to have been nice. Been really sweet. Which always makes watching celebrities that much, well, nicer. Like Carol Burnett. And he loved the Bay Area. And bicycles (who could hold that against him?) But mostly, because 63 is too damn young to snuff out a talent giant, in any circumstances. The tragic method gave the headline an exclamation point, but it would have been headlines, regardless. The man was beloved, as apparent from the outpouring of grief from his peers and then everyone else. We're all still talking about him after all. Reading the tributes, catching up on his old interviews, and of course re-watching his classics.

I too have been binge-watching his movies lately and noticed many of them have morbid references - some throw-away line about death or suicide, mortality or heaven. Haven't gotten through all of them yet, so don't have an official tally. But it's interesting, in light of the now. Who knew that he carried so much with him? I mean at least the general public didn't know. Maybe friends and family didn't know it all. We never know it all, do we? Yes, comedians can be sad. Even miserable. Angry. There's that whole Pagliacci thing. Not to stereotype. But still ....

As many Facebookers posted, "This one hurts." Gentle Mork is gone. He could play dark so well ("One Hour Photo") but really shone at innocence ("Hook", "Popeye"). The man child who was supposedly so shy IRL but was always, always nice.

He could do delight and wonder so very well.

My favorite is "The Birdcage", which seemed like unusual casting at the time and now seems so perfect. The irrepressible Robin Williams let Nathan Lane steal the show, while still being brilliantly funny as the understated club owner. He played against Gene Hackman, for God's Sake. And against Robert DeNiro in "Awakenings", always holding his own.

And I really loved him being the father who would do anything for his kids ("Mrs. Doubtfire"). Such a ridiculous premise made pure just by the conviction of that nanny (not unlike Dustin Hoffman as "Tootsie" - commitment will get you a long way).

It was obvious he loved what he did.

Until recently. I guess. He radiates unhappiness in some of his more recent work ("The Big Wedding"), at least to me.

But what do I know. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I do know that it's possible to miss someone you've never met, but still feel you know. I also know he influenced many and brought joy to countless others. He was a definite force in this world and his absence sucks. There is nothing else to say.

From Inside the Actors Studio, on January 29, 2001: James Lipton asks Robin Williams: "If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?" 

Williams: "There's seating at the front. The concert begins at five. It'll be Mozart, Elvis and one of your choosing. If heaven exists, to know that there's laughter, that would be a great thing … just to hear God go, 'Two Jews walk into a bar…' "

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Land of Smiles

a kate west review
directed by Rick Culbertson
book, music lyrics by Erin Kamler
choreography by Kimiko Broder
at Los Angeles Theatre Center
514 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles 90013
running July 23-26, 2014
contact LATC or call 213-489-0994
website: Land of Smiles

Whether or not Thailand is still truly "The Land of Smiles" or merely another ravaged third world country cannot be debated in a day. But shedding some light on a few distraught humans may help educate westerners in the complexities of Thai politics.

Erin Kamler (best known for "Divorce! The Musical") tries to do just that with her latest show "The Land of Smiles", a musical about human trafficking (yes, you read that right). Countries like Thailand and Burma are infamous for harboring sex slave workers, yet the western perception of its inner workings may not be so black and white, something Kamler started to understand after spending a great deal of time in those regions and conducting about 50 interviews.

In the show, Lipoh (Jennie Kwan) is "rescued" from a local brothel by the NGO (non-governmental organization) and aided by an idealistic case worker from Indiana, Emma Gable (Amanda Kruger). Gable soon realizes however, that Lipoh does not see herself as a victim, but rather a dutiful daughter doing what she can to help her war-torn village and her family.

Soon Nu (Kerry K. Carnahan) and Nono (Yardpirun Poolun) are a two-women chorus representing Lipoh's Auntie, her Madam, her fellow brothel worker and her mother, among others. They drift in and out, as the story goes back and forth, showing us glimpses of agonizing past decisions and anxiety-ridden futures. Meanwhile, Gable's office workers, Lewelyn Brand (Ann Fink) and Achara Montri (Ren Hanami) push her to get answers, fill quotas and urge her to "fix" Lipoh as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the complex lives of the girls are not so easily fixed and even in the office the two conflicting viewpoints, Christian (Brand) and Buddhist (Montri) give Gable a headache.

Indeed, a visit to a local brothel shows Emma Gable that not all prostitutes are unwilling and that maybe more time and more investigating needs to trump any quick fix. Carnahan and Poolun demonstrate this quite well singing "Women Power" as confident ladies of the night, advising Gable to find the legitimate sufferers (it's one of the show stoppers). Amanda Kruger sweetly sings the plaintive "I'm Sure Indiana is Fine" as she realizes that merely signing a check and going back to our American lives is not enough to help these women.

Erin Kamler once again shows her versatility and creativity with skillful lyric writing and a passionate story. The music works well with the story and the actors make natural transitions when bursting into song. Kimiko Broder's choreography and Rick Culbertson's direction bind Kamler's work into a thought-provoking piece. Jennie Kwan and Amanda Kruger are the standout stars, while Yardpirun Poolun combines comic relief with passionate sensuality as an audience favorite.

The show has been cut for time, to trim it down for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival so this particular week of previews don't expect the same show twice. Just let the artists tinker as they may and enjoy the music. Wouldn't hurt to spend a little time soul searching as well.

See it before "Land of Smiles" hits the Fringe Festival.

See previous review here. Check out Erin's websites here and here and the Fringe info here.

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