Berkeley Rep Blog

March 2010

Sneaking a peek at Girlfriend

posted by Chad Jones on Wed, Mar 31

Girlfriend 1
In between rainstorms, you can tell it's spring here in the beautiful Bay Area. And in spring, as they say, a young man's fancy turns to love.

How perfect, then, that our next show is a rock musical romance. The buzz is building for the world premiere of Girlfriend, a new show wound around the pop-perfect songs of Matthew Sweet's legendary 1991 album.

Let us take you into the world of Girlfriend — set in Nebraska in 1993 — as two young men, just out of high school, realize that they're in love.

Director Les Waters and playwright Todd Almond invite you to check out their sweet and sexy Girlfriend in this video presentation.

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Big screen Idiot?

posted by Chad Jones on Sat, Mar 27


It was a big week for Green Day's American Idiot on Broadway, what with the first previews and the eager audiences blowing the roof of the St. James Theatre.

To top things off, there was also news that Tom Hanks' Playtone movie production company is expressing some serious interest in turning the musical into a movie.

Here's what Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong told the Wall Street Journal: “It’s like, writing the song ‘American Idiot,’ and then next thing you know Tom Hanks is talking about it — it’s kind of mind-blowing."

Of course it's premature to say for sure that we'll be seeing the show on the silver screen, but the mind boggles at the thought, right?

In other Idiot news, Playbill reports that the original cast album — slated for a spring release but no exact date just yet — will feature a bonus track by none other than Green Day.

In case that's not enough to satisfy you, here's footage of the opening number, "American Idiot," filmed March 23, just prior to the start of previews. The number is followed by an onstage interview with director Michael Mayer and with Billie Joe Armstrong.

Above photo: (from left) Michael Esper is Will; John Gallagher, Jr. is Johnny; and Stark Sands is Tunny in the Broadway production of American Idiot.

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The art of fake tattoos

posted by Chad Jones on Fri, Mar 26

Naomi Iizuka - Chron

Naomi Iizuka's Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West has generated a lot of ink devoted to  the fine art of tattooing. In a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, Robert Hurwitt noticed that, in addition to Strange Devices, several other current Bay Area shows are also grappling with depicting tattooed characters on stage.

Here's his behind-the-tat peek into the Strange Devices process:

The art covering actor Johnny Wu is a two-piece bodysuit collaboration between Maggi Yule's costume shop at the Rep and a film effects studio in Los Angeles. The interlocking lovers' tattoos — which combine to form one image when bodies press together — were finalized by tattoo artist Amanda Gonzalez and transferred to body stockings worn by the actors onstage and to their bodies on video.

Read the article here.

And while we're on the subject of the Chronicle and Strange Devices, the paper ran a fantastic interview with playwright Naomi Iizuka, also by Mr. Hurwitt.

Read the entire post

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Meet Distant West’s Johnny Wu

posted by Chad Jones on Wed, Mar 24

Johnny Wu, an actor in Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, knew just what road he was traveling, and it ended in big money – not a big spotlight.

Johnny Wu
As a student at New York’s rigorous Stuyvesant High School, Johnny was on the high-finance track. All of his college applications were aimed at getting him into a top business program, and he was looking at, as he puts it, “a soulless 50 years, but a rich 50 years” working in the career ahead of him.

Over an early vegan dinner in Berkeley – Johnny’s first-ever vegan dinner, it should be noted – the Queens native recalls the senior-year event that derailed his plans.

During his last semester in high school, and in an effort to avoid writing more papers, Johnny and a fellow football teammate opted to take an acting class. “I had never seen a play, never read a play,” Johnny explains. “We picked a scene from Lyle Kessler’s Orphans and spent the semester memorizing our lines and working on it. I really enjoyed it because I was doing it solely for myself – not for anyone else. When we performed the scene, I thought we did really well. It wasn’t an ‘a-ha’ moment as much as a ‘hmmmm’ moment. Then the teacher, who I hadn’t really seen all semester, says to me afterward, `You kinda have a thing.’ Those were her exact words. ‘You kinda have a thing.’ My 17-year-old self was pretty taken by that statement.”

That summer before college, Johnny remembers thinking, “Well, I have a thing. I gotta do something.” Having been accepted into Binghamton University’s business program, the budding actor started doing some research and found Binghamton (in upstate New York) also had a theatre department. So he wrote a letter to the university requesting that he switch from business to theatre. Then, he decided to break the news to his mom.

Read the entire post

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Concerning cultural intercourse

posted by Pauline Luppert on Mon, Mar 22

In one of my favorite quotes from a review of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, The San Francisco Chronicle's Rob Hurwitt said scenes from the show "set the mind spinning about topics as varied as the art and commerce of photography, the ways in which humans love and use one another, a Coco zhou century of intercourse between Japan and America . . ." I love this concept of cultures having intercourse. It's sexy, and so much more dynamic than cultures "influencing" each other or "exchanging" with each other.

On that note, an upcoming evening event on Thursday, April 1 at The Asian Art Museum set my mind spinning about a century of intercourse between Shanghai and America.

Here's how the museum describes the event: "Dubbed 'the boy Billie Holiday,' Coco Zhao (seen right) performs an intimate set of original works and Shanghai jazz favorites in conjunction with the special exhibition Shanghai. Jazz thrived in Shanghai’s colorful cabarets and dance halls during the ’20s and ’30s. Suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, it’s enjoyed a renaissance thanks to a new generation of jazz musicians. Zhao cross-pollinates Mandarin vocals with distinct sounds of contemporary American jazz; his unique heritage (his parents performed traditional Chinese opera) is infused with youthful interpretations."

The event begins at 5pm and features a cash bar and various exhibit-related activities. Tickets are $10, but the museum is giving away some free tickets. Click here for a chance to win.

Watch a video of Coco Zhou performing at the Yokohama jazz festival:

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Hanging out with the Idiot interns

posted by Chad Jones on Fri, Mar 19

With only about a week before the first American Idiot preview on Broadway, excitement is running high for this Berkeley Rep-born rock musical.

Over at the official American Idiot website, there's a fantastic new video featuring director Michael Mayer, Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong, and actors John Gallagher, Jr. and Rebecca Naomi Jones. Check it out.

And then we have the the show's interns, Jamie and Amanda. Jamie was a Berkeley Rep intern last season, and we love her and are thrilled she followed her passion to New York and is once again working with the Idiot crew, who came to adore her last fall at Berkeley Rep.

Jamie and Amanda have filed their first Idiot intern video blog. Granted, there's not a lot of insider information, but their enthusiasm is infectious, and they do take us inside the St. James Theatre and allow us a few minutes with Rebecca, whose pink streak looks even grander and pinker than it did in Berkeley.

Enjoy the video.

American Idiot begins previews March 24 and opens April 20 at the St. James Theatre. Click here for ticket information.

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Girlfriend's Todd Almond in concert

posted by Chad Jones on Tue, Mar 16

Though he's immersed in rehearsals for Girlfriend, Berkeley Rep's world-premiere stage adaptation of Matthew Sweet's classic album of the same name, playwright Todd Almond is going to give us a taste of his other artistic talents.

Todd Almond
Todd is part of a dazzling lineup this Friday night, March 19, at San Francisco's Cafe du Nord. The show is Tingel Tangel's second-anniversary blow-out hosted by Joey Arrias and Veronica Klaus. In addition to Todd, you can also expect to see Holcombe Waller, the Winsome Griffles, Trauma Flinstone, Fauxnique, Harlem Shake, Allan Herrera & Terry T., Keith Hennessy, and Marga Gomez. Doors open at 8, and the show begins at 9. Tickets are $16 in advance and $20 at the door. Click here or here for info.

A composer, lyricist, and playwright, Todd has written a number of musicals and has released an album of original songs called Mexico City.

As a performer, Todd describes himself as "a singer/songwriter with a real theatrical inclination." That doesn't mean he wears outrageous costumes or tap dances on the piano. Rather, he sits at the piano to play and sing songs. "By theatrical, I mean the live-ness," Todd explains. "I love the storytelling and the humor of performance."

Read the entire post

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Listening in on Les Waters

posted by Chad Jones on Fri, Mar 12

Mt Fuji

Richard Wolinsky, the host of the KPFA show Cover to Over Open Book, took the above photo of Mt. Fujii, and we share it with you (with his permission, of course) in honor of Richard's interview with Les Waters, Berkeley Rep's associate artistic director and the man at the helm of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, which happens to be set in Japan.

The show aired today and can be enjoyed at anytime thanks to KPFA's online archive.

Listen to the interview.

Cover to Cover Open Book - Richard Wolinsky - March 12, 2010 at 3:00pm

Click to listen (or download)

Les is a fascinating guy, and you'll hear about his youth in a small Lincolnshire town (the name is considered an English joke because it has a four-letter word buried in it — you'll have to listen to the interview to find out what that might be). He also talks about his early career at the Royal Court Theatre in London.

He delves into his most recent project, directing the world premiere of Naomi Iizuka's Strange Devices (running through April 11), and discusses his next project, the rock musical Girlfriend, now in rehearsal.

Les provides some marvelous insight into Strange Devices, offers his thoughts on the 2010/11 season, and talks about what it's like to direct on Broadway (or, as Les refers to it, "Disneyland").

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The agony and the ecstasy of Mike Daisey's Steve Jobs

posted by Chad Jones on Wed, Mar 10

Mike Daisey

Last week, when we announced the shows of our new season, we figured a few of the names would jump out at people. We knew people would be thrilled at the prospect of Rita Moreno's autobiographical one-woman show, and they were. We knew people would be tickled by the inclusion of Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead. And they were.

We also figured that techies — especially in Silicon Valley — would take note of Mike Daisey's new work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Boy, did they ever.

Once the press release hit, the Internet, from CNET to the New York Times' blog and everything in between, lit up like a Jobs hotline. Some of the stories embellished the show's announcement with details that it would be heading to Broadway after its stop in Berkeley or that Mike would be playing the role of Apple co-founder Jobs.

All of this buzz prompted Mike to address the tech journalists on his website. In addition to pointing out the correct spelling of his name (not like the flower), Mike felt the need to point out that he is a monologuist, a person who performs monologues as himself, not as a character, in direct address to the audience. In Mike's case, that means he mostly sits behind a table, refers to his notes, and talks to the people before him as part of a smart, funny conversation.

The big clarification was in defining the scope of the show. Here's what Mike wrote: "I will not be playing the `role' of Steve Jobs. The monologue concerns Steve Jobs' rise and fall and rise, Apple, industrial design, and the human price we are willing to pay for our technology, woven together in a complex narrative."

Mike is definitely a guy you want to keep up with, so visit his site often. Today's post just happens to be a re-post about someone who tangled with Jobs over a software patent. Very interesting....

Above photo: Mike Daisey, monologuist, demonstrates his craft. Photo by Ursa Waz

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Strange and wonderful! Read the rave reviews and take a tantalizing peek

posted by Chad Jones on Fri, Mar 5

Strange Devices 1 

The reviews for Naomi Iizuka's Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West are fantastic.

In the San Francisco  Chronicle, the Little Man is jumping out of his chair! Here's more:

“Scintillating…a sexy puzzle…The shards of story, vintage and modern photos, lies, surmises, history and tattoos set the mind spinning about topics as varied as the art and commerce of photography, the ways in which humans love and use one another, a century of intercourse between Japan and America and the mutable relationships between appearance and reality…So full of casual clues and odd payoffs that every moment is worth close attention…A puzzle that haunts the mind long afterward.”

Read the full review

And then there's this from the Bay Area News Group:

“Dazzling…A sly, elliptical play…Tantalizing images shimmer throughout…Touches on issues of art, authenticity and the elusive nature of perspective. It’s shot through with provocative visuals and intellectually stimulating themes.”

Read the full review

KGO 810AM raves, “Another winner from Berkeley Rep! With its intricate, clever combination of lights, sounds and visuals, it will absolutely amaze you. When I say this is a `must see,' I really mean it. I give it a `Wow!'”

And the good reviews keep coming. Find more at Beyond Chron and Stark Silver Creek.

Now see for yourself. Explore Strange Devices with this tantalizing peek:

Top photo: (from left) Kate Eastwood Norris, Bruce McKenzie, and Johnny Wu in Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West. Photo courtesy of

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