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PostHeaderIcon Avenue Q: A Smash Hit

On the billboard at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore, the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre Group presents the uproarious, adult, comical, live production of Avenue Q through Nov. 2.  Indeed, reminiscent of the characters of Sesame Street, comic relief is accomplished as the cast utilizes puppets in portraying scenes dealing with diverse and controversial social issues for the 20-something age group.

Recommended for mature audiences, rated R by cabaret standards, ribald language in some scenes, although raw, is nothing most anyone, not living under a rock, hasn’t heard.  Even graphic scenes with sexual content have a comical spin which drives the audience from reserved chuckles to gales of laughter and thunderous applause.

Innovative techniques of the actors’ voice distortion and high-range singing pitch give the puppets an illusion of uttering the words themselves. Naughty, and fascinating to watch, they take the audience on a moving and humorous journey into personal growth and self-esteem.

Certainly not new to the stage circuit, the theme of this satire of entering adulthood with insecurities and uncertainties, in a search for purpose in the real world, is derived from the book of the same name written by Jeff Whitty.  Debuting on Broadway in New York in 2003, travel to venues from Stockholm to Paris to Israel and every corner of the world, the production has been lavished with myriad awards and recognition.

The musical numbers of this colorful, fast-paced and dynamic score, segue smoothly in the 2 act play, with a basic 1 set backdrop which offers continuity to the performance without set change interference. The unseen orchestral accompaniment was flawless, with strategic speaker placement, tempered to surround the audience.  High notes won my vote from characters “Christmas Eve” and puppeteer for “Lucy the Slut”.  Their voices, rich with clarity and range, convey professional quality and genuine talent.

Via Avenue Q, a fictional street in an outer borough of NYC, life, as portrayed by puppets, opens adult issues of racism, pornography, homosexuality and  Schadenfreude—(I’ll give you a clue:  experiencing pleasure in the misfortune of others)

Raunchy as it may be in part, the prevailing sentiment teaches the lesson of a misconception, and life isn’t as easy as we’ve been led to believe and we are not apt to be as special as we have been convinced to be as a child.  Coming away with the precept that life is a learning lesson, values, rewards and commitment are learned when we put an end to bias and  negative judgment, replacing the message with positive feelings that “When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself.”

Be alert when the cast overflows into the auditorium with the musical score of the Money Song, promoting funds for the imaginary Monstersori School concept devised by lead puppet Kate Monster.

Clearly, the value of laughter, the thought-provoking stimulus concerning complex social issues supports the grand finale ideal, “Life goes on—everything—both good and bad—is only for now”.

Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm through November 2, 2014.The Bankhead Theater is located at 2400 First St. Livermore.  925.373.6800

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and life-long theater lover. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.


PostHeaderIcon Avenue Q Opens Saturday


Coming soon to the Bankhead Theater in Livermore is Avenue Q, a hilarious modern musical focusing on a group of outlandish and unique 20-somethings making their way in the big city.  Situated somewhere between Avenues P and R, presumably in New York, is a group of human misfits and other characters who are puppets, and will remind you (at first) of Sesame Street.  The similarity ends quickly as the story of Princeton, a recent college graduate with a useless degree in English, settles into life on the fringe of society.

This show was created by Robert Lopez with music and lyrics by Greg Marx and premiered on Broadway in 2003.  Lopez is a bit of an overachiever as he garnered the Tony Trifecta of Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book.  He then went on to do work on The Book of Mormon and Frozen.

The general theme of Avenue Q is that children are told early on from kids’ programming and their parents that they are ‘special’ and can do anything.  As they go out on their own, reality strikes a blow and they discover that they might not be any more special than anyone else.  As you may be able to discern from some of the characters’ names, Lucy the Slut and Mrs. Thistletwat, this is a VERY adult show.  Other humans join Princeton, including Gary Coleman (even in death, always funny) and the puppets to explore subjects like internet porn, homosexuality, puppet sex, and race relations.  Princeton is played by Sean McGrory, and Coleman is Mia Sagan who has played this role to perfection before.  They are joined by Scott J. DiLorenzo, Vicki Victoria, Jennifer Stark, Wendy Amador, Mario Rappa, Kevin Hammond, David Leon, Sam Leeper, Abby Peterson, Eve Tieck, and Britt Jensky to form an unbeatable cast.  The musical director is Greg Zema and the choreographer is Julie Etzel.

Avenue Q is directed by John Maio, one of the really funny and innovative local directors.  I have worked with him and for him on a number of occasions and can guarantee that the results will be top notch as usual.   John says that the thing about this show that stands out the most for him is, “how incredibly easily the show presents complex messages that make you think.”  He was surprised at how difficult it was to master the manipulation of the puppets and yet make it look easy.  He goes on to say that, in the end, the audience will find, “Life is too short to judge each other.  Go out and be positive. Negativity has no place in a caring society.”  A great message for kids but, leave them at home because, as I warned earlier, the language and themes are a bit too intense for them.  Take these samples from the song list:  ‘It Sucks To Be Me, ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,’ ‘If You Were Gay,’ and ’The Internet is for Porn.’  You might want to be careful if you’re singing these ditties on the way out of the theater.  These are hilarious numbers and are woven into a tapestry of messages, relationships, and surprises that promise to provide a good time.

Avenue Q will be presented by the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre under the watchful eye of the ever-alluring producer Kathleen Breedveld.

Where:   Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St. in Livermore.

When:  October 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 31 and November 1 and 2.  Friday and Saturday shows are  at 8 p.m..  Sundays at 2 p.m..

Cost:  $39 General,  $37 Seniors.  $20 Juniors

Tickets:  Box office hours are Tuesday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m..  Saturday from 3-6 p.m..   (925) 373-6899 or purchase on line at: www.trivalleyrep.org --BS


Bob Stratton is an actor who has appeared in many productions with TriValley Repertory Theatre. He is also an athlete who can do a mean one-handed push up.


PostHeaderIcon Feminist:Stories from Women's Lib Movement Tuesday

A pivotal chapter of American history will come alive Tuesday, Oct. 14  through a free  screening of the documentary film, Feminist:  Stories from Women’s Liberation.  The 7 p.m. presentation at the Village Theatre in Danville is a one-hour film showcasing the events of the Women’s Liberation movement during the years of 1963 – 1970.

As told by the men and women who experienced the time period personally, the film explores the significance of a second wave of the women’s liberation movement.

Released in 2013, Director Jennifer Lee began shooting interviews for the film in 2004.  Her work has been shown in film festivals, on college campuses, for non-profit organizations, in middle schools and has appeared globally.

Her film has been entered as a part of the National Center for History in the Schools and won “The Best of the Fest” for a documentary at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival.

Director Lee, selected feminist accounts from an era at the peak of the 20th Century women’s movement, which forged a path into “every corner of our lives.  It transformed our country”, she admits.

Her rationale for making the film streamed from inconsistencies and missing memories in the information related to the women’s liberation movement.  Having always considered herself a feminist and displaying talent in working in the film industry, Lee is not a novice at making meaningful documentaries on her own.  As a filmmaker, writer and speaker, Jennifer Lee screens her film nationally and speaks on the women’s liberation movement and independent filmmaking, regarding this film as appropriate for adults and students from middle school through college level. Speaking engagements have taken her as far as the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Her life was woven into a colorful tapestry of cultural experiences from her early years on Staten Island, New York in the 60’s and 70’s to later residing in a Quaker Meeting House in Atlanta, where the neighborhood teemed with filmmakers, actors, gay activists, political activists, feminists and a blend of the counter culture of the time. She performed in a dance theater company and volunteered at a feminist book store in her youth.

When she moved to the San Francisco area after graduation from college, Lee became a film compositor, working on many feature films of notoriety.   The lure of Los Angeles and hopes of Hollywood paved the way to Warner Bros. and an extension of career experiences.

Her technique used in the filmmaking of Feminist incorporated reports and photos of many of the feminists who were vitally instrumental in making the movement happen. Lee reveals that “One woman’s story led to another.”  She traveled the country and realized how far-reaching the movement’s impact, initiated by individuals, not leaders, had spread across the United States.

Not all events and names of principle feminists are well-known, however, the documentary is a defining history of the efforts of “a relatively small group of women who gave voice to the feelings of millions of women.  They are a vital part of American History and they deserve to be remembered.”

Director Jennifer Lee will be present and interactive with the audience for questions and answers directly following the screening.

The Village Theatre is located at 420 Front Street in Danville.  For further information contact:  www.danville.ca.gov or 925.314-3400 -- KRB


Karen Balch is a retired R.N., freelance writer and regular contributor to allnewsnoblues.com.


PostHeaderIcon Call for Artists for Lighthouse Store

Artistry in many forms is the theme of the day on Saturday, Oct. 18, when an art show is being hosted by Lighthouse Christian Supply in Dublin.

Local artists have been welcomed to display samplings of their talent in the newly relocated shop at 6841 Dublin Blvd, across from Dublin Civic Center Plaza. A variety of artists, photographers and potters will avail themselves of the opportunity to place their creations in a prime spot for viewing.

In business for 25 years, the family-owned and operated Lighthouse, since 1989, has established a well-known reputation as a venue for quality merchandise in the Tri-Valley.   Formerly in the Target Shopping Center off Dublin Blvd, Lighthouse has a wide variety of Christian books, Bibles, reference materials, musical recordings, videos, gifts and cards.

Their coffee shop and seating area provides a restful atmosphere for taking a break and enjoying some flavored coffee and teas, along with a tasty snack.  Serving the greater San Ramon and Tri- Valley area, customers rely on the convenient location as a meeting place to shop and gather with friends.

The first-time event will run from 11 a.m. through 7 p.m. on October 18th. An ample parking area is at the rear of the building at 6841 Dublin Blvd.

For more details, contact Lighthouse Christian Supply at 925.829.3698 or www.dublinlighthouse.com.-- KRB

Karen Balch is a freelance writer, retired nurse and San Ramon resident. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com






PostHeaderIcon Yosemite Adventures: All You Need for Fun in Park

ANNB: How long have you been a climber and an outdoor enthusiastic?

MJ: My parents took my brothers and me camping when we were young and I was involved in scouting. But I became much more enthused right out of college in 1994 when I got a job as a reporter near Yosemite, learned to climb and fell in love with the place.

ANNB: Did you really draw from 20 years of experiences for this book? How did you possibly keep track of them all?

MJ: I write notes about the climbs I do and keep a journal on backpacking trips. That provided a good start, but once I got the contract to do the book, I revisited lots of places to get the details and pictures right before the deadline. That involved hiking and skiing about 200 miles in Yosemite last year.

ANNB: What makes Yosemite so special?

MJ: Incomparable scenery, easy access and limitless opportunities for outdoorsy people who climb, hike and ski all make it special. The people there do also, definitely. I meet visitors there from all over the world and they tend to be friendly and great folks.

ANNB: There are so many special and unique places in Yosemite; how did you manage to fit them all into your book?

MJ: You force me to admit that they're not all in the book! I chose 50 favorites out of hundreds of experiences I've had there. I tried to help readers experience Yosemite in a broad way, like I have, in all seasons, with multiple activities and levels of difficulty and throughout the whole park, not just the valley. There are plenty of other adventures besides the ones I chose. I'd be very happy if people used my writing to get started exploring Yosemite and then branched off to their own discoveries.

ANNB: Your bio is very interesting. You say "Johanson writes with the sensitivity of a starving gorilla using a chainsaw to open a can of soup.” So wrote a disgruntled reader. A Tea Party leader called Matt’s commentary “hack garbage” and ESPN turned down his work as “too pro-Giants.” which points out, what some might call, failures. Why do you do that?

MJ: I guess because I thought those complaints were funny and didn't take them too seriously! Teachers and writers both need thick skin. Besides, I consider it an achievement to get the Tea Party annoyed at me.

ANNB: You teach high school journalism. Do your students ever ask for tips on writing books?

MJ: A few have but mostly we're busy producing the best newspaper we can together. For each of my books, I've asked the kids to help proofread and credited them in the acknowledgments. They definitely earned that because they caught quite a few typos and slip-ups, and I think being involved has been fun for them.

ANNB: How do you possibly manage both careers?

MJ: Well, I work way harder at the teaching! Writing is more of a hobby for me and I only do projects that I think will be fun. But when I do write something, I drive myself a little crazy to make it the best I possibly can. There are several photos in the book that took a full day of hiking each to get, and a few of them took several days of hiking or skiing.

ANNB: Where can we meet you, buy the book and have it signed?

MJ: I'm talking about the book at Castro Valley Library on May 18 from 2-3 p.m., at Lafayette Library on May 22 at 6:30 p.m., and at Pleasanton Library on July 6 from 2-3 p.m.

ANNB: You have written other books. Tell us a little bit about that.

MJ: My old friend Wylie Wong and I collaborated on the first, “Giants, Where Have You Gone?” It's a collection of “where are they now” stories about old Giants players. That paved the way for “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” and “Yosemite Epics.” But “Yosemite Adventures” is the book I've always wanted to do the most.

ANNB: What's up next for you?

MJ: The best bet is another guidebook of favorite Sierra Nevada outings, though I'd also like to write another baseball book if the right opportunity comes along.-- KB


Signed copies of Matt's books are available at www.mattjohanson.com


PostHeaderIcon Shrek: The Musical Opens Saturday in Livermore

Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre presents: Shrek: the Musical opening Saturday, July 19, and running through Aug. 3 at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. Performances are on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Directied by Carol W. Hovey, the choreography was handled by Kevin Hammond and the vocal direction done by Sierra Dee. The musical director is Jo Anne Fosselman.


Based on the DreamWorks animation motion picture and the book by William Steig, the music is by Jeanine Tesori and the producer is Kathleen Bredveld.  Suitable for all ages, Shrek brings the hilarious story of everyone's favorite ogre to dazzling new life on the stage.


In a faraway kingdom turned upside down, things get ugly when an unseemly ogre, not a handsome prince, shows up to rescue a feisty princess. Throw in a donkey who won't shut up, a bad guy with a short  temper, a cookie with an attitude and other fairy tale misfits, and you've got a big mess that calls for a real hero. Luckily, there's one on hand...and his name is Shrek.


The cast is as follows: Shrek: Dane Lentz, Princess Fiona: Catherine Williamson, Donkey: Aaron Porchia, Lord Farquaad: Chris Olson, Pinocchio: Burton Thomas,Gingy/Featured Dancer: Dominic Dagdagan, Dragon/Shoemakers Elf/3 Blind Mice: Danielle Pierce, Teen Fiona/Humpty Dumpty: Christine Curulla,Teen Fiona/Ugly Duckling: Claire Shepard, Young Fiona/mice: Emily Joy Kessel, Young Fiona/mice: Juliana Morrow, 3 Blind Mice/Dragonette/Queen Lillian/Rat: Katherine Stein, 3 Blind Mice, Dragonette/Rat: Tosca Maltzman, Dragonette/Wicked Witch & Mama Ogre: Nicole Squires, Straw/King Harold:Ron Pickett, Sticks/Knight: Jeremy LaClair, Bricks/Knight/Rat: Matthew Busbee, Papa Bear/Papa Ogre/Knight: Mark Flores, Mama Bear: Chelsea Ashton, Sugar Plum Fairy/Bluebird: Suzie Shepard, Fairy Godmother/Rat: Amanda Ross, Peter Pan/Deer: Eric Gateno, Big Bad Wolf/Rat: Brian Olkowski, Little Red Riding Hood/Rat: Izzy Shepard, Baby Bear/Grumpy, mice: J.D. Cerruti, Captain/Bishop/Villager/Rat: John Holst, Young Shrek/Mice:Dylan Cazin, Thelonius/Guard/Knight: Jeffrey Warner, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Heidi Amstrup, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Meghan Hornbacker,Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Kelly Lotz, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Max DeSantis, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Michelle Roque.


For tickets, go to the Bankhead Theater box office at 2400 First Street in Livermore or call 925-373-6800, Tuesday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m,. or Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. More information vist www.mylvpac.com -- KJB

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