Vanquished worlds

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday April 13, 2016
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David Bicha is one of the performers in <i>The Untamed<br>Stage: Weimar Berlin Kabarett,</i> Scrumbly<br>Koldewyn's new musical for Thrillpeddlers. Photo: davidallenstudio.com
David Bicha is one of the performers in The Untamed
Stage: Weimar Berlin Kabarett,
Scrumbly
Koldewyn's new musical for Thrillpeddlers. Photo: davidallenstudio.com

The ascendance of the Nazis in Germany and the first onslaught of AIDS in America both swept swathes of edge-pushing entertainment from the stage. Two musicals opening in the coming week look at the music, the cultures, and the performers in spotlights that were soon to be dimmed.

 

Come to the 'Kabarett'

The Untamed Stage: Weimar Berlin Kabarett, opening first, is a new collaboration between former-Cockette Scrumbly Koldewyn and the Thrillpeddlers troupe that has found considerable success reviving Cockettes musicals. The first act is made up of new songs by Koldewyn and his collaborators aiming to recreate the sounds and styles that were flourishing in the pre-Nazi kabarett movement that added gallows humor and political satire to more familiar notions of cabaret entertainment. The second act is a musical parable titled The German Thing to Do that explores themes of belonging, sex roles, pseudo-science, fascism, and fear-mongering.

Inspired by Ute Lemper's recording Berlin Cabaret Songs, made up of songs from the kabarett -era canon, Koldewyn first presented a version of The Untamed Stage in 1998 at a North Beach nightclub. "Unfortunately, for this 2016 production, obtaining the performing rights are very complicated, so I decided to create new material in the style of the 1920s Berlin songs," Koldewyn said. Also a fan of the musical Cabaret, Koldewyn didn't want to draw comparisons, choosing "to carry the irony and the explicitness a step or two further."

Both Koldewyn and director Russell Blackwood were further motivated by a UC Berkeley professor's pictorial book Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. "It further inspired Thrillpeddlers and myself to put together a show that reflects the relevance of Weimar Berlin to present-day San Francisco," Koldewyn said, "where the denizens might be too intent on being entertained and distracted to take note of a rising tide of hatred and fear in the rest of the country."

The Untamed Stage, which takes its name from Trude Hesterberg's celebrated Berlin-based cabaret of the Weimar era, will run at the Hypnodrome through May 28. More info at (415) 377-4202 or hypnodrome.org.

 

Dan Seda will star as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz, having its West Coast premiere at the Great Star Theatre. Photo: Courtesy Dan Seda

An Aussie in Chinatown

A new musical-theater company is moving into a very old theater for its production of The Boy from Oz. The Peter Allen bio-musical, which provided Hugh Jackman with a knockout showcase on Broadway in 2003, will help return Chinatown's Great Star Theatre to more mainstream uses after a topsy-turvy history dating back to 1925. This is the second SF production for Landmark Musical Theatre, which made its debut last year with Tomfoolery at the Eureka Theatre.

The Boy from Oz, opening April 23, follows the journey of Australian performer Peter Allen, for whom an infatuated Judy Garland provided an opening spot in an Asian concert tour as well as matchmaking a marriage between Allen and her daughter Liza Minnelli. The musical's creators use songs from Allen's songbook, including "Don't Cry Out Loud," "I Honestly Love You," and "I Go to Rio," to chronicle his rise from middle-of-the road lounge act to a disco-glitter Liberace who for years remained teasingly coy about his sexuality for darker reasons, the musical reveals, dating back to childhood in Australia. His career had begun slipping when Allen died of AIDS in 1992.

Peter Allen, left, got his big break through Judy Garland, who also maneuvered a marriage between him and daughter Liza Minnelli, one of the stories told in The Boy from Oz.

Dan Seda, a recent East Coast transplant, is starring as Peter Allen. The only Equity member in the cast, in addition to a performer, his credits include organizer for LGBT and AIDS events, a life coach and yoga instructor, and what he terms "a natural-born psychic empath." Connie Champagne, the Bay Area's premier Judy Garland channeler, is playing Garland, a character who gets to sing several of Allen's compositions. As does the Liza Minnelli character that Kat Robichaud (a long-time Minnelli interpreter as well) is playing.

Jon Rosen, who has directed around the Bay Area, is staging The Boy from Oz for the still-young Landmark Musical Theatre. Upcoming announced productions include The Drowsy Chaperone and The Roar of the Greasepaint " The Smell of the Crowd.

This marks the West Coast debut of The Boy from Oz as well as a high-profile return for the Great Star Theatre, which in its 91 years has hosted Chinese opera, Hong Kong action films, and an assortment of cabaret and variety shows. Amid periods of vacancies, several efforts at reopening the theater for live performances have been announced and faded away amid financing and permit issues.

Now magician and entrepreneur Paul Nathan is at the helm of the non-profit organization running the theater of about 400 seats, which reopened in the last year with such offerings as Dark Cabaret, Misfit Cabaret, and Frank Oliver's Twisted Cabaret. But The Boy from Oz, running through May 15, is billed as the first full-scale musical to play the historic theater. For ticket information, go to landmarkmusicals.com.