Category Archives: News-Press

Friends and lovers: Ensemble Theatre Company’s play brings the laughs about a terrible relationship

 Playing the trio of emotionally charged 40ish divorcees from "Women in Jeopardy!" are, from left, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jo, DeeDee Rescher as Liz and Heather Ayers as Mary. Bruce R. Burr photo

Playing the trio of emotionally charged 40ish divorcees from “Women in Jeopardy!” are, from left, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jo, DeeDee Rescher as Liz and Heather Ayers as Mary.
Bruce R. Burr photo

Wendy MacLeod’s play “Women in Jeopardy!” started off with a familiar situation for many friends – watching their divorced friend find a new boyfriend “who we all thought was hideous. We could not fathom how she could be dating this man.” From there she combined the idea of the awful boyfriend with a crime story from her local paper, and out came this new work that previews Thursday, with an opening on Dec. 5, at The New Vic. The play is so new that, despite its premiere at Rochester, N.Y.’s Geva Theater, Ms. MacLeod is in town to work a little bit more on her play, trimming it down into a “lean, mean, comedy machine.”

The play stars Heather Ayers (“Sweeney Todd”) and Annabelle Gurwitch as Mary and Jo, two divorcees who do not like the new dentist that their friend Liz (DeeDee Rescher, last seen at ETC in “Good People”) has fallen in love with, called Jackson (Bill Salyers). His dental hygienist recently disappeared, and the two think that Jackson might be a serial killer. And Jackson’s swaggering arrogance only seems to confirm their suspicions. When he invites Liz’s daughter Amanda (Sophie Ullett) on a camping trip, the two friends need to both break the news to Liz and stop what they think is a crime about to happen. And that’s just the beginning of this whirlwind farce.

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A half century of dance: Choreographer Twyla Tharp celebrates 50 years

Two Twyla Tharp veterans, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto, perform in "Yowsie." Ruven Afanador photo
Two Twyla Tharp veterans, Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto, perform in “Yowsie.”
Ruven Afanador photo

While many choreographers would look to a 50th anniversary tour to program a greatest hits package, Twyla Tharp, who will be at The Granada Theatre tonight, does the opposite in a career of bold moves. Instead she’s created an evening of two new works. “Preludes and Fugues” raids the extensive pieces in J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and bears the influences of all those that came before her in modern dance: Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham and George Balanchine. And “Yowzie” turns from classical to jazz, with bright costumes and a soundtrack of early ragtime and jazz.

“Preludes” is “the world as it ought to be,” she says, “and Yowzie is the world as it is.” Ms. Tharp is quoting herself, and it’s a phrase that graces the evening’s program in her artistic statement. That tension between fantasy and reality has long been part of her work.

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Movies, fame and Jane: SBIFF honors Jane Fonda at annual fundraiser

Jane Fonda received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday at the Bacara Resort & Spa. KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTO
Jane Fonda received the Kirk Douglas Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Saturday at the Bacara Resort & Spa.
KENNETH SONG/NEWS-PRESS PHOTO

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored movie star, writer, activist and feminist icon Jane Fonda at its annual fundraiser Saturday with the 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.

The black-tie gala at the Bacara Resort & Spa recognized the iconic movie star in much the same way as the honors and tribute evenings that make up the February festival’s week-plus schedule.

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A second slice: Ensemble Theatre takes on Sondheim and ‘Sweeney Todd’

 David Studwell and Heather Ayers are two of the actors performing in Ensemble Theatre Company's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." David Bazemore photo

David Studwell and Heather Ayers are two of the actors performing in Ensemble Theatre Company’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
David Bazemore photo

Last week Santa Barbara audiences sat transfixed by the odd blend of dance and theater that was Adam Barruch’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at the Lobero Theatre. In the audience watching the performance was Ensemble Theatre’s Jonathan Fox, who just that day was rehearsing his own version of Stephen Sondheim’s bloody and dark musical, set to open this coming Thursday. It was one of those weird coincidences in Santa Barbara theater than happens now and then – like two productions of “Other Desert Cities” in 2015, one at the Rubicon, one at PCPA – despite every company trying for a unique season.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” says Mr. Fox, just before rolling into a story of schedules, contracts, dropping a previous plan, and thinking of returning to the world of Stephen Sondheim. “A Little Night Music” was the first performance at The New Vic. Rick Mokler, some 20 years ago, had put on a production of “Sweeney Todd” at SBCC, but it had never returned to our city.

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Brad Williams returns for second year of the LOL Comedy Festival

"I had such a great time in Santa Barbara and it did so much for me personally," says Brad Williams, a comedian who will return for the second year of the LOL Comedy Festival. Courtesy photo
“I had such a great time in Santa Barbara and it did so much for me personally,” says Brad Williams, a comedian who will return for the second year of the LOL Comedy Festival.
Courtesy photo

The Santa Barbara LOL Comedy Festival was new last year, but quickly ingratiated itself into Santa Barbara’s increasingly crowded arts fest scene with six nights of stand-up comedy, most of them filmed for cable TV. One of those specials was for Brad Williams, the “little person” comedian – though he’ll gladly call himself a dwarf or a midget, and more about that nomenclature later – who got his big chance to have a full-hour set recorded last year at the Lobero Theatre for Showtime.

Mr. Williams loved it so much that not only is he coming back this year, but he’s the “Ringmaster” of his own show next Friday, bringing on his own favorite – yet still unknown – fellow comedians.

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Death rituals: Adam Barruch Dance brings the blood sacrifice in a striking new Sweeney Todd

From left, Adam Barruch, Jodi McFadden and William D. Popp will open tonight in the Adam Barruch Dance production at the Lobero Theatre. David Bazemore photos
From left, Adam Barruch, Jodi McFadden and William D. Popp will open tonight in the Adam Barruch Dance production at the Lobero Theatre.
David Bazemore photos

Adam Barruch is on to something that might be new in both the world of theater and the world of dance. Mr. Barruch’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is not a dance interpretation of the musical. Neither is it Mr. Sondheim’s musical with extra dance numbers. Sitting in on the rehearsals at the Lobero Theatre – Diane Vapnek and her DANCEworks secured the space as a gift for his residency – it’s hard to say what Mr. Barruch’s “Todd” will finally become until tonight’s premiere.

William D. Popp plays Sweeney Todd, yet he’s often working alongside the other dancers singing about himself in the third person. These are concepts, not characters, to be possessed by at will. There’s something primal about it, like Mr. Barruch has gone back to druidic times, thinking more of blood sacrifice, and less dreadful about human meat pies.

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Catch A Fire Tour: Return to Jamrock

Damien Marley is the youngest son of Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley. Along with his brother, Stephen, he brings the Catch A Fire Tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight. Courtesy photo
Damien Marley is the youngest son of Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley. Along with his brother, Stephen, he brings the Catch A Fire Tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight.
Courtesy photo

It’s been 10 years since Damien Marley, youngest of the Bob Marley sons and nicknamed “Jr. Gong,” exploded onto the scene with “Welcome to Jamrock,” fulfilling the promise of his first two albums and sending his album gold. And man, has that decade passed quickly.

“I was just thinking about that myself,” said Marley during a phone interview. “And I had the same sentiment that you do. It feels like yesterday. Time moves real quick.”

Then 27 years old, now 37, Damien is bringing the Catch a Fire tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight. Along with his brother Stephen “Ragga” Marley, the evening features reggae legend Barrington Levy, Morgan Heritage, Tarrus Riley, Jo Mersa and Black Am I, along with DJ sets by Kingston 12, Shinehead and Papalote.

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Comedy is Bagg’s bag: Ian Bagg and the other winners of ‘Last Comic Standing’ come to Chumash

Ian Bagg is part of the Last Comic Standing Tour, coming to Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday. Paul Drinkwater/NBC photo
Ian Bagg is part of the Last Comic Standing Tour, coming to Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday.
Paul Drinkwater/NBC photo

By the time you read this, you’ll know that Ian Bagg, one of the finalists in the popular NBC show “Last Comic Standing,” did not win . . . a fact that he’s been sharing on his Twitter feed for some time now. But it doesn’t matter, because along with Michael Palascak, Dominique, Andy Erikson and Clayton English, Mr. Bagg has made it onto the Last Comic Standing tour that pulls into Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday.

It’s part of a whopping 78-date, 90-day tour that ends just before New Years, and will introduce these already seasoned comics to a much wider audience.

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Back in the saddle: The Couches of Circle Bar B return with a new dinner theater venture at Timbers

Who done it? Brandi Wolff as the voodoo priestess or Erica Flor as the society girl? Sean Jackson, center, as Rick Archer, is on the case. Prism Productions photo
Who done it? Brandi Wolff as the voodoo priestess or Erica Flor as the society girl? Sean Jackson, center, as Rick Archer, is on the case.
Prism Productions photo

Many theatergoers’ hearts were broken last year with the unexpected closing down of Circle Bar B Dinner Theater. After 40 years, Susie and David Couch’s creation was in the black and pulling in regulars from as far south as Orange County, but the ranch that hosted their small theater decided to go in different directions.

But the Couches have a new name – Prism Productions – and a new lease on theatrical life. And the venue, Timbers, is also coming back from hibernation. The woodsy Winchester Canyon restaurant and bar was built in 1952, using wood from the Goleta pier once bombed by the Japanese in World War II. Since 2004 it has fallen into disrepair. But HJL Group, the restaurant company behind Arch Rock Fish and The Marquee, are bringing it back. The Goodland Supper Club, as the Couches are calling this three-play series, will be one of its early entertainment options.

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Maps to the art stars: Artists open up on the 14th Annual Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour

"It's a great opportunity to meet new clientele and to showcase my new series," says artist Michele Zuzalek of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour. This is the 14th year that local artists have been opening their studios to the public. Kenneth Song/News-Press photos
“It’s a great opportunity to meet new clientele and to showcase my new series,” says artist Michele Zuzalek of the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour. This is the 14th year that local artists have been opening their studios to the public.
Kenneth Song/News-Press photos

Buyers, collectors, fellow curious artists, locals and art tourists: all will be converging this weekend for the 14th annual Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour. With over 30 painters, sculptors, photographers and mixed media artists opening up their studios to visitors, it’s a chance to see these creative beings in their natural habitat, their studios.

That might be a converted garage or a guest house or a barn or a shed. And the artist might be working in organized chaos or be impeccably neat. But the studio tour remains endlessly fascinating to many.

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