Arts & Events
A call from a theater friend took me to Pinole a couple of weekends ago to catch the Pinole Community Players production, in the Community Playhouse downtown on Tennant Avenue, of The Full Monty.
I'd heard about entertaining shows in Pinole--not to mention other venues all over the East Bay--and, firmly convinced from long experience that community theater was on a rising wave of quality around the edges of the Bay, I was looking forward to it.
The musical version, book by Terrance McNally and music by David Yazbek, follows the 1997 British film pretty closely, substituting out-of-work steelworkers on the dole in Buffalo for their counterparts in Sheffield. There's no particular substitute for Yorkshire slang or the Music Hall moxie of the original--and Tom Jones covering Randy Newman can't be replaced by the disco-ish "Let It Go" when the drapes start hitting the boards--but otherwise the story of working stiffs stripping for self-esteem and a few bucks towards child support transposes Stateside easily enough.
Having seen perfectly good community theater productions of The Full Monty before, I was struck by the performative zeal and storytelling clarity of the Pinole show. Like all good community theater, it integrated talent of different levels of experience into a single focus.
Unusual, too, was the variety of the cast, something more and more frequent in local community shows, but even more pronounced in this one. In the past, community theater shows usually featured local talent that had trod the same boards together, whether on the same stage or others in the neighborhood. The cast of 20 strong features a few regulars from previous Players shows--Anthony Lucido, fine in the lead as boyish, driven Jerry, the obvious example--and a few others who've made the rounds of community theater in Contra Costa County and nearby. But most had never been in a show together--and for some, it was their first full-blown stage musical. That wasn't the case for eleven year old Nathaniel Correll, excellent as Jerry's kid Nathan--but Nathaniel's new to the Bay Area--as are several in the show--though he's worked with director Meredith Meeks (herself a first-timer in Pinole) at Town Hall in Lafayette. William Hester, playing Horse among the Full Montyers, has danced for the Art & Soul Fest in Oakland and at halftime for the Raiders--but Pinole proved his theater debut.
Nancy Shneiderman, who's been in film, TV, and some theatricals, played the volunteer strippers' old trouper and joint-dragging pianist, Jeanette, a stand-out role, especially in a show where everybody else but the leads plays other parts and in the ensemble. She commented on the production: "An extremely respectful process ... I came in to audition absolutely cold, knew no-one--and most of the people didn't know each other. The cast bonded quickly. It was like going on a blind date with someone you're going to hang out with for three months!
"Meredith has a gift for getting the archetype, works in flashes--and worked intensively with the ensemble. The direction had a sense of undergirding, overarching vision. She had a flash of something the day before we went up, and put it in there. Patti Clark, the producer, is somebody who knows how to throw a party--I'll put it that way. They ran a tight ship, very low-key--teaching with your mouth shut, if you know what I mean."
More a part of the action directly was musical director/pianist Dean Starnes, conducting the strong sextet--and singers onstage--from the keyboard in the pit (wedged right among the cabaret-style audience seating)--flamboyant, fun to watch, yet still all business, a stand-out among the generally fine musical directors of Bay Area community musical theater. And choreographer Aimee Krasovich danced both elegantly and hard with her ensemble.
The production staff revealed much talent--and the cast threw themselves into it. There's good entertainment out there, in community playhouses all around you.