Black Lives Matter





It's not "All" UNTIL Black Lives Matter.

Call. Write. Post. Demonstrate (safely). 

Vote. Please.


Repeat every election.

Help with Vote Forward.

And more Resources here

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We Matter

No. The economy is not more important than our humanity. We should be defined by who we are, not by what we make. I matter. You matter. My parents matter. And your grandparents matter. History matters (and it will judge us). The future matters (and we all deserve one). We should not value commerce over compassion, cold hard cash over warm hearts. People should matter more than things. How can we be the best we can be, if we are willing to do the worst? Families matter. Communities matter. How we help each other matters. Businesses can rebuild, but we cannot bring back the dead. Or recover our souls. Wash your hands. Stay home. Keep each other safe. Honor and respect one another. This is the only way we can get through this - together.  Read more!

Toni Stone

a kate west review
Toni Stone

by Lydia R. Diamond
directed by Pam MacKinnon  | choreographed by Camille A. Brown
American Consevartory Theater  |  A coproduction with Arena Stage
405 Geary Street , San Francisco, CA
415.749.2228 | tickets@act-sf.org
Mar 5–29, 2020

Please note: Because of the recent outbreak (we all know the one), many theaters have been forced to shut down, but some of them are offering video links for patrons to watch in the safety of their shelter-in-place homes. Thankfully, this play can be viewed by either contacting A.C.T. to obtain a pay-as-you-can video link, or going directly to BroadwayHD. Either way, better hurry, since this option is only good until April 5

Toni Stone (according to wikipedia), born Marcenia Lyle Stone in Bluefield, West Virginia, was the first of three women to play professional baseball, as a part of the Negro League. The American Conservatory Theater covers her stint with the 1950's Indianapolis Clowns in their recent production of "Toni Stone", a west coast premiere.

Dawn Ursula is a strong, outspoken, force of nature as Toni Stone, who had to have been a force to reckon herself, in order to compete as a female in a man's world of sports, as well as a black player in a white owner's universe. Lydia Diamond's casual writing style perfectly captures the easy way athletes have related to each other since sports was invented. This team especially needs their comradery as they confront the racism and sexism of the time (much of which is still sadly relevant in our own society).  Director Pam MacKinnon and Choreographer Camille Brown present a smooth, entertaining and vibrant tale of a little known part of sports history. It's funny, poignant, and real. The dialogue, the staging, the game - all poetry.




The rest of the ensemble, Daniel J. Bryant, JaBen Early, Kenn E. Head, Marquis D. Gibson, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., Sean-Maurice Lynch, Ray Shell, and Jarrod Smith, match Ursula quite well, stepping in and out of various characters from Stone's life (male and female). In fact, the strength of the troupe shows us how necessary it would be for teammates to support each other, then and now.

The show is a delight from beginning to end, and a wonderful distraction from our current situation, while spotlighting what we still need to work in our world. Hope we get to do so soon. In the meantime, keep playing ball (at home).






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Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish
a kate west recommendation


Not that she needs any promotional help from me, but I'm praising her nonetheless. Billie Eilish, at 15 years old, is pop music's fastest rising star. From appearances on shows like The Late Late Show with James Corden and acoustical sets at Apple Stores, Eilish is making her presence known internationally, including a whirlwind tour at all the usual hot cities (you can buy your tickets here, but just so you know, she sells out - fast). 

An instant sensation, Eilish has the voice of a sophisticated adult, with the energy of a (duh) fifteen-year old and her collaborations with her brother Finneas O'Connell (another pro - be sure to check out his fab band, The Slightlys) have produced numerous accessible and nuanced tunes like her runaway hit Ocean Eyes




Growing up in a musical family (some of them act too), Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O'Connell, was born to perform. She learned to dance, sing and act at an early age, quickly deciding to focus on music to make her mark. Her songs are simultaneously dark and upbeat and her talent is undeniable. Judging by the screaming teens at one of her latest gigs at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco (side note: the upside to that night was an uncrowded bar for those of us, er, just a tad over drinking age), her appeal is universal. She's super fun to listen to and dance to, and then to play again to really hear those lyrics and wonder at the masterful poetry pouring out of someone so young. Really young, but with an old soul. Seriously.

Check out her more prominent tunes, such as Six Feet Under (lyrically beautiful and poignant) or Bellyache (punchy in just the right spots). It's all on Spotify. Or iTunes. Or pretty much everywhere now. And she's only just started her career. Can't wait to see what comes next.

You can check out her family's amazing talent by watching the delightful film Life Inside Out (my previous review is here), with mom Maggie Baird and brother Finneas. It's a love note to family, in the musical and familial sense.





And by the way, if you haven't heard of Billie Eilish yet, don't worry, you will.



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WONDER WOMAN

a kate west review/reflection


Oh, wondrous Wonder Woman. THANK YOU.

I finally got my superhero movie. I didn't even know I needed it. I knew I wanted something different. That we all desperately needed a change from the norm. We got different alright. We got something revolutionary. And validating. Some fiery inspiration. And even a little personal vindication.

It's not perfect. You can read some film critique below. If you want. But socially? It's timing couldn't be better. In this current climate of consciousness-raising against mansplaining, man-interrupting - amidst awareness of the all too prevalent and myopic (and so very tedious) male gaze, women get their OWN heroine. We don't have to share her with male opinion or dress her up as a male fantasy. Y'all get to watch, sure, but you don't have to have a say. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is her own woman. She's ours. She comes from an island of proud warrior women who don't need men - they can tend to their own affairs, thank you very much. Having attended an all girls' high school, I can tell you that not worrying about men listening to what you think of the book you're reading is a delight. Uber refreshing. You end up boldly raising your hand in every class from then on, because your opinion matters. Your thoughts and feelings are important to you and you are not shy about voicing them.


But back to Diana. She was born to care and made to save the world. We don't deserve her. But because it's the right thing to do, she will fight for us. And thank God. The men are screwing everything up and getting us into World War I. By the way, it's nice to have a period piece with earlier kinds of Germans (pre-Nazi). I love the look. Very Von Baron. As for Gadot herself - she is glorious. Emotionally vulnerable and impenetrable as a goddess. She brings female compassion to the front and shows us how strong that can be. Heart and soul are freely given in every scene and she is truly riveting. And she's beautiful. In an unadorned and pure way. She's doesn't compete with other women - at least not in the petty way we learn to. We're not jealous of her. Because she's embodying us. She's carrying our spirit, voicing our warrior cries. We are her.


I remember watching Lynda Carter in the classic television show and kinda wanting to be Wonder Woman. In a vague princessy way. But not in the more seriously epic way I wanted to be a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. It just wasn't fierce enough for me. I craved the fire and iron will to battle monsters in hell. Camp just can't do that. This movie though, wow.

Diana wanted to learn to fight ever since she was a wee lass. Auntie Antiope (Robin Wright) was the supreme role model to teach her - and how. Director Patty Jenkins really captures the bad-assery of those Amazonian battles. Unflinching in the face of danger, each solider is as committed as the next. Enter adorable Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. Diana saves him from drowning with his plane, and in return he shows her the harsh modern world that had been hidden from her all these years. After much soul-searching, Diana's mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) finally lets go of her daughter and watches her disappear across the waters toward evil.




Although technically Diana was sheltered on her island, she wasn't "sheltered" and in fact, can handle herself very well. She has no qualms about speaking up, taking charge, making decisions for herself and maintaining a steely moral code. Thrust into the battlefield, in the middle of the world's first great terrible war, Wonder Woman is born. Crossing into No-Man's Land (disregarding being told not to by the men) she strides straight toward danger, fearlessly deflecting bullets. This is the pivotal scene that made so many women cry. Diana doesn't care about naysayers. She was raised to follow her own truth, her own conviction, because she believes in herself. Too many of us compromise ourselves, allow doubt to creep in, swallow the lie that women are less than. Wonder Woman is more than. She is everything in that moment. She is exquisite. It's one of the most emotionally satisfying sequences I've seen in a long time. I carried it with me long after I left the theater.


The final battle is a little tedious, sure, as is the twist of the big baddie. But I forgive. Interesting though, to have an evil female scientist in Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) who gets a wonderfully nuanced scene with Chris Pine - kudos to both of them. Nicely done.

Overall, I was stunned by how affected I was. I'm sure dedicated fans of graphic novels experienced this kind of thing before. The depiction of ultimate confidence in yourself. It's new to me though. Women aren't normally coached in that kind of self-sufficiency. Some of us learn it. But in general, society discourages it. Since Diana grew up neurosis-free, she easily soars above the rest. True, it doesn't hurt to have the advantage of super powers. But in a metaphorical sense, we can all give ourselves wings, no? I think we were starved for this perspective. Which is why it made us cry. Diana is simply Diana, with no agenda. And not trying to male bash here, but c'mon, you guys had your validation movies oh, so many times over. Let us have this one. And that's the thing about Wonder Woman too - she lets you all come along for the ride. Enjoy.

Photos: Warner Bros. Pictures


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HAMILTON

a kate west review
book, music & lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
based on the book by Rob Chernow
directed by Thomas Kail
choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler
1192 Market Street, San Francisco 94102
running April - May 2017
contact: (888)746-1799 or www.shnsf.com







HAMILTON. The musical world will never be the same after this ultimately modern phenomenon premiered in New York in 2015. Winning 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, HAMILTON introduced a new era in theater accessibility by using rap, hip-hop, and color-blind casting to dramatically showcase the American founding fathers. Alexander Hamilton may not have been as well known as Thomas Jefferson or George Washington (although Hamilton is certainly now a household name - thanks Broadway!) but he was most certainly an interesting part of our revolutionary past. A prolific writer and an immigrant(!), Hamilton helped shape our roots, along with the legendary greats.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, genius creator of this stunning work of art, is also now a household name. Enchanted by Hamilton's story in the book by Ron Chernow, Miranda turned the tale into a brilliantly emotional and eloquent recounting of loss, envy and triumph. Who knew our own history could be so compelling, entertaining and well, so very ... educational? After taking New York by storm, HAMILTON is touring the country and is currently running in San Francisco. And yes, it's every bit as good as you've heard.


Aaron Burr, strongly portrayed by Joshua Henry in this production, is wildly and dangerously jealous of the successful Alexander Hamilton (Michael Luwoye), bringing to mind Salieri's frustration at Mozart's seemingly easy genius in AMADEUS. "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence impoverished in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar?" This opening number ("Alexander Hamilton") skillfully sets the intense tone for the bitterly tragic rivalry.



Joshua Henry as Aaron Burr




Michael Luwoye as Alexander Hamilton


We watch Hamilton rise quickly and almost effortlessly through the political ranks, forever bypassing his friend Burr. He meets the elitist socialites, the Schuyler sisters, and marries Eliza (the wonderfully lyrical Solea Pfeiffer) while lusting after Angelica (the larger-than-life Emmy Rover-Lampman). He later gets entrenched in scandal with a married woman and somehow manages to extricate himself by wits alone. These ladies all seem to be "Helpless" ("Look into your eyes, and the sky’s the limit, I’m helpless! Down for the count, and I’m drownin’ in ‘em"). But they are the least of his worries.


He soon becomes the vital right-hand man to George Washington himself, strongly portrayed by Isaiah Johnson. When Thomas Jefferson (played with relish and good fun by Jordan Donica) finally returns from France ("What'd I Miss?"), the political scene heats up, with one side playing the other, until Hamilton manages to win over Jefferson, leaving out Burr, once again, who is desperate to be a part of the action ("The Room Where It Happens"). 


Solea Pfeiffer, Emmy Rover-Lampman, Amber Iman as the Schuyler sisters


Michael Luwoye & Isaiah Johnson (George Washington)



Rubén J. Carbajal, Michael Luwoye, Jordan Donica,  Mathenee Treco



Even knowing how the play ends, as it's all in the history books (duh) and Burr himself tells us at the start, "And me, I'm the damn fool who shot him", the duel scene is rivetingly suspenseful. And heartbreaking, as are a few other lovely gems (not to give it all away here). Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, in harmony with Thomas Kail's apt direction, holds our constant attention, in so many clever ways. There are slow-motion moments and rewinds and poignant portraits of isolated emotion, all amazingly effective and flawlessly expressed. King George (the delightful Rory O'Malley) even makes a few cameos here and there to ridicule the original patriots ("You'll be back ...Time will tell, You'll remember that I served you well ... We have seen each other through it all and when push comes to shove, I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love"). So we've got drama, love, lust, passion, comedy, tragedy, and oh, so much history. And all of it is palatable, fascinating, and brilliant. 


Rory O'Malley as King George


Miranda has given us a modern world, framed by the old, using actors of color interchangeably, and it all works. Very, very well. The story of HAMILTON tells us that immigrants can be as important as everyone else, that equal rights matter, that the bigger picture matters most, and even better, that, as Burr eventually realizes, "The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me". If you can at all afford to, see it now.












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Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

a kate west reflection


- Spoiler Warnings - Spoiler Warnings - Spoiler Warnings - Spoiler Warnings - Spoiler Warnings -

It's been a long time coming, this new Star Wars. On the one hand, we awaited the release with Christmas morning excitement, but on the other, we were wary since we'd been hurt before (VERY hurt, by Episodes I-III, amiright???) so expectations were both abnormally high and abnormally low. Please note, the essential trilogy (IV-VI), has its flaws (besides the Ewoks) which I won't get into here, and which don't really matter to our childhood memories. Sure, the classic John Williams score helped to elevate the story to a different cinematic level than it might otherwise achieved (blah, blah, blah) but relax, this takes nothing away from the lure of the enduring legend.

The main attraction to this franchise, at least for me, is the pure emotion (full disclosure: my true affiliation is with Star Trek, but I still remember falling in love with the original Star Wars and what it did to my fantasy life). Those ideas of the nobility of the Jedi, the loneliness of a space hero, the passion of a rebellion, awakened a new hope in me too, as it were. So I really wanted to like the new movie.

And I did. I already approved of what J.J. Abrams did with the new Star Trek (at least his first movie anyway: read the review here). He kept the essence of the characters, but kept his own modern uber cool spin on it via the alternate universe. So I trusted him to do the same for Star Wars. He didn't do the alternate universe thing, but did stay true to the characters and respected the history enough to make a fairly seamless continuation.


I  always wanted to see a female Jedi and Rey (Daisy Ridley) does a fine job of discovering a latent power in the nick of time. Finn (John Boyega) is a perfectly likable reformed Stormtrooper and Poe (Oscar Issac) is properly dashing. And of course Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill (they ALL aged, by the way) are a welcome sight, along with Chewy and the droids (plus a cute new one to market to the kiddies). The supporting characters are all fine and Adam Driver is a good villain as Kylo Ren. It's all fine and carefully kept within the coloring lines. Everything is fine. Whew.

(well alright, Han Solo is not so fine and while it wasn't a happy scene, it had to happen)

I understand the people who wanted more and I understand the people who embraced this movie as a refreshingly terrific film. In contrast to the disappointing Jar-Jar movies, this is brighter and more truly epic. Strictly cinematically however, it's not as weighty as we might feel the story merits. But it's an awfully good set-up for the sequels. If J.J. is merely laying groundwork, then it's FINE. It works. It's a quick introduction to new characters and a quick segue to future installments. I can't say this is a revolutionary film, given Abrams' extraordinary caution in keeping a certain expected structure. But it's fine and you can all calm down now. Let it just be a movie, for pete's sake.

I'm looking forward to see what adventures happen next. I know this one was a repeat of Star Wars IV but that's OK. History repeats itself and if Rey is a Jedi descendant (Luke's?) it's fitting she has the same story. We're starting over by starting at the beginning (as in 1977). We are pretending I-III didn't happen and we are having a little fun along the way. What more can you ask? Breathe. Everything is fine.


Oh and boy was that final scene breathtaking or what? Emotionally and visually stunning. Thanks again, J.J.!

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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 www.shnsf.com



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, à 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



Update: Recently re-watched Life Inside Out and am once again struck by its sincerity and how the on-screen mom is so like the off-screen mom (Billie & Finneas' mom!) in nurturing her children's creativity and supporting their individuality. Truly remarkable parenting all around. Kudos to everyone involved. What am amazing and lovely family.

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: http://www.gamesandrings.com.

And here: https://twitter.com/GamesandRings.


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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 www.shnsf.com





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 
fiancé 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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