Posts filed under: Theatre Awards & Praise

Holiday in the Hills 2016 – Review

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“Holiday in the Hills,” A Folsom Tradition at Sutter Street Theatre

Review by Gerry Camp

For many families, the holiday season is the time for traditions. For some families in the Folsom area, Sutter Street Theatre’s annual production of “Holiday in the Hills” is not to be missed. Written by the managing directors of Sutter Street, Connie Mockenhaupt and Mike Jimena, the show has just opened its eleventh incarnation.

In her “Director’s Notes” in the program, Mockenhaupt explains: “The story takes place in the late 1800’s right here on Sutter Street where the residents of the town and surrounding areas have gotten together to celebrate the Holidays. A lot of research went into the people and places that were here in the late 1800’s, give or take a year or two, and everyone you see was an actual resident or visitor to Folsom at that time of year.”

Sound like a boring history play? Nothing could be further from the truth. The research Mockenhaupt speaks of is all in the play’s Playbill, not on the stage. What is on the stage is the most scintillating evening of holiday-themed song and dance I’ve ever enjoyed. You won’t care that Kelly Mauro is playing the part of Elizabeth Hood, who operated the Western Exchange House. On Sutter Street’s stage Mauro, an Elly award winner, is a beautiful singer and spirited dancer, and she plays violin for a “hoedown” dance number. Her daughter Grace, also an Elly winner, is identified as Irma Levy, a talented young student, and Mauro’s eight-year-old daughter Annie, a charmer who steals the show for the second year running, is identified as Fannie Hake, who became a famous Dance Hall Entertainer. But there is no “final exam” where you will be expected to name the characters. Instead, you will sit entranced at the beauty and charm of this family of performers.

Another family, frequent performers at Sutter Street, is the Matta clan, here represented by brothers Benjamin, Jonathan, and Joshua and sister Rebekah. Never mind who they are supposed to be playing, just enjoy their fantastic dancing and singing.

Dian Hoel is supposed to be stage performer Adah Isaacs, who performed tied to the back of a running stallion. At Sutter Street, Dian, in addition to performing in this show, is also the show’s choreographer, who has made the cast of 34 into professional-quality dancers.

I can’t forget Connie Mockenhaupt, the show’s co-author and director, as the saucy Emma Spencer, the town madam, who flirts shamelessly not only with the men in the cast, but those in the audience as well. And Connie’s husband, Mike Jimena, holds the show together as Peter J. Hopper, the owner and editor of the Folsom Telegraph. His reading of “The Night Before Christmas” is always a highlight of the show. And John Wilder’s brilliant non-stop keyboard accompaniment can’t be topped.

If “Holiday in the Hills” is not one of your family’s annual traditions, perhaps it should be. See this year’s show and you’ll likely resolve to return next year and hopefully many years to come. It is the most fun show you’ll see this Holiday season! Oh, and you will be a participant in the show as well. Guaranteed.


Willy Wonka brings his quirky magic to Sutter Street Theatre

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Willy Wonka brings his quirky magic to Sutter Street Theatre
By: Gerry Camp

Willy Wonka at Sutter Street Theatre in Folsom, CARoald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has become a children’s classic since its publication over fifty years ago. It has been made into a movie twice, first in 1971 with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and in 2005 with Johnny Depp in the part. Sutter Street Theatre brings the 1971 version with music by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley to Folsom, shortening the title to “Willy Wonka.”

Most adults probably know the story about magical chocolate maker Wonka, whose factory has been closed to the public for ten years while still somehow producing the world’s most famous candy, and how he sponsors a contest to allow five children, each with a parent, to tour his factory. The children are selected by finding a golden ticket in one of his chocolate bars.

The first act introduces the children who find the golden tickets. Augustus Gloop (Benjamin Matta) is a glutton who can’t stop eating. Veruca Salt (Jenna Lunday) is a spoiled brat who demands that her daddy (Jay Evans) buy her everything she wants—instantly. Violet Beauregard (Izzy Weaver) is the world gum-chewing champion, and Mike Teavee (Trace Lundrum) is addicted to television. It would be difficult to imagine four more obnoxious children, and all are acted effectively with all their grotesque behavior made clear and supported by their equally grotesque enabling parents. The standout among these monsters is Jenna Lunday’s Veruca, who easily earns the dislike of the audience.

The exception to the horrific depiction of children in this story is Charlie Bucket, played brilliantly by Jonathan Matta. Charlie comes from a family so poor his four grandparents have been sharing the only bed in the house for seventeen years and all they ever eat is cabbage soup. But Charlie is an honest boy who cares for his family, especially his doting Grandpa Joe (Mark Joyner). Charlie’s duet with Grandpa Joe, “Think Positive,” is a delightfully performed answer to the bad behavior of everyone else and a musical highlight.

The second act has Willy Wonka leading the tour of the chocolate factory during which the behavior of each of the four awful children causes them to be sucked into Wonka’s factory’s processes and transformed in various ways. Charlie is not transformed but is almost dismissed by Wonka for disobeying an order. But Charlie is okay in the end and wins the grand prize.

Even if most of the characters are unpleasant and suffer for their behavior, the show is quite entertaining. The music is delightful, Willy Wonka is played by Sutter Street newcomer Derek Byrnes, standing a foot taller than anyone else. Byrnes plays the elusive character convincingly, and the wonderful Charlie of Jonathan Matta is delightful throughout. This is one of Sutter Street’s huge musicals, with a cast of thirty, and director Mike Jimena and choreographer Dian Hoel (who also plays Mrs. Teavee) insure an afternoon of delightful music and dance.


Sutter Street Theatre Wins 2nd Place Out Of 64 Theatres In Sacramento A-List!





Review by Gerry Camp

anything-goes Old Logo-minIt could only happen at Sutter Street Theatre. A huge musical with a cast of 24, choreography with the style and energy worthy of touring professionals, and of course the best songs in the American musical theatre songbook: Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top,” “It’s Delovely,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and of course the title song “Anything Goes”—all presented on a stage that looks like it might be slightly larger than your dining room. No other community theatre company within fifty miles tacklesyear after year, the great classic musicals. That’s why I believe Sutter Street Theatre year after year is named the number one theatre group in the area. 

But Sutter Street is able to pull these miracles off annually because they have four secret resources no other group can match. The first is the management team of Mike Jimena and Connie Mockenhaupt. Mike directed this show, moving his excellent cast smoothly through a production that never slows. He also designed the perfect set and the effective lighting. Connie is not just a manager; she’s a star performer as she shows here in the lead as the evangelist become singer Reno Sweeney,who not only can belt out Porter’s hits but also reveals a delightful and occasionally shocking naughty streak.

The second asset on view here is the choreography of Dian Hoel, whose talent turns the whole cast, including some quite young dancers, into skilled hoofers who perform knockout production numbers you almost can’t believe. Behind these numbers, and behind the love duets and solos, is the fantastic accompanist John Wilder, who makes his keyboard sound like a full orchestra. The fourth magician is costume designer Eileen Beaver, who makes everyone look perfect, most with several changes. (And she’s an Elly nominated performer who is on stage in this show as well as behind the scenes!)

But none of this would add up if Sutter Street was unable to attract true star performers to inhabit their classy productions. My three favorites, in addition to Mockenhaupt, are three returning featured players. Michael Sicilia, last year’s Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls,” here is hilarious as Lord Evelyn, so eager to learn American idioms he keeps a notebook handy to jot down any he hears (and then misuses them delightfully.) Alison Gilbreath takes over the stage whenever she appears. Her “Let’s Step Out” brings down the house. And Rick Kleber, unforgettable in “Guys and Dolls” and “Spamalot,” is a total hoot as Moonface Martin, public enemy #13 masquerading as a priest. His big solo, “Be Like the Bluebird,” was for me the musical highlight of the evening.

You may have noticed that I’ve said nothing about the plot of this show. In fact, there are seemingly dozens of plots. But I don’t think you come to a Cole Porter show to get wrapped up in story. You come for the great songs, the fantastic singing, the amazing dancing. And “Anything Goes,” playing weekends through October 2, is another wonderful night of musical theatre you won’t see anywhere else.


Elly Award Nominations 2016 for Sutter Street Theatre


Sutter Street Theatre is proud to have received 22 Elly nominations for excellence in theatre.

The following received nominations.  Congratulations to all those nominated.

Mikala Venable
Eileen Beaver (2)
Lisa Matta
Adele Trapp (2)
Tessa Tally
Don Zimmerman
Drew Matthews
Kyle Namgostar
Sean Stewart
Connie Mockenhaupt (2)
Kevin Branson
Mike Jimena (2)
Crystal Evans
Cassie Hamilton
Benjamin Matta (2)
Joshua Matta
Rick Kleber


Gripping political drama plays at Sutter Street Theatre – The Best Man

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Monday Jul 25 2016

Gripping political drama plays at Sutter Street Theatre

By: Gerry Camp

Since I began covering shows at Sutter Street Theatre four years ago, I have come to look forward every season to the annual offering of a play featuring Stephen Kauffman. After a distinguished legal career Kauffman began working in local theatre in his 60’s and has appeared in 25 plays and musicals winning many awards. For Sutter Street Kauffman and his wife (and frequent director) Janelle and their production team bring serious drama (and Neil Simon classics) to Sutter Street’s stage.

This year’s offering is Gore Vidal’s 1960 drama of presidential politics “The Best Man.” In 1960 the candidacy of the Democratic Party was split between Adlai Stevenson (whom Vidal supported) and John F. Kennedy (whom he despised). Vidal has blended the two candidates into the womanizing but politically principled Harvard-educated patrician William Russell (Blake Flores in the strongest performance I’ve seen from this regular Sutter Street actor and director) and Senator Joseph Cantwell (Ross Branch, a regular in Kauffman’s offerings, as a JFK with the humor and personality replaced by a riveting viciousness).

In 1960 political conventions were quite different from those of today. Rather than coronations of nominees selected in primaries and caucuses, conventions were conducted to choose, sometimes through many ballots, between candidates with their own groups of delegates. In the convention shown in this play both candidates seek the endorsement of ex-president Arthur Hockstader (Kauffman), which will ensure one of them the nomination. As he always does, Kauffman the actor disappears into the character, making the audience believe he must have been an effective and popular president and showing his delight in the backstage wheeling and dealing. The drama is created by the fact that each candidate has a secret bit of “dirt” about the other, unknown to the delegates, with the potential to destroy if it became known. Will they agree to keep what they know under wraps, or will one or both drop his bomb?

Director James Gilbreath has used his excellent cast to turn this somewhat dated play into a compelling, suspense-filled drama. I was especially impressed by Alison Miller as Russell’s estranged wife Alice, supporting her husband despite his infidelities, and by Rich Kirlin as Russell’s campaign manager Dick Jensen, who struggles to persuade the idealistic Russell to embrace the dirty realities of real politics.

It may seem risky for Sutter Street to offer a play about behind-the-scenes presidential politics to potential customers who may be weary of today’s political scene. To people who feel this way, I urge you, if you love theatre, to take a chance. This is a suspenseful, gripping drama by an outstanding playwright performed brilliantly by some of the best actors in the area at the peak of their talents. It’s excellence as drama will make you forget completely about the choices our current political scene offers.

Sutter Street Theatre Flies Through “A Wrinkle in Time” Review


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Sutter Street Theatre Flies Through “A Wrinkle in Time”

Review by Gerry Camp / Folsom Telegraph

            Live theatre always demands a collaboration between the audience and the performers. No matter how elaborate a stage set may be, we viewers always agree to pretend we’re watching real people doing real things in real places. Sometimes a playwright relies on this contract to take his audience to fantastic places: Oz, Wonderland, or, in the fantasy voyage “A Wrinkle In Time,” to far-off planets, both good and evil. The play, adapted from Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s classic novel by John Glore, plays at Sutter Street Theatre weekends through July 17.

            Grace Mauro is riveting as the brilliant but awkward Meg Murry, whose father has disappeared on a super-secret government mission. The weird lady down the block, Mrs. Whatsit, might be able to help her reach him, understanding that she must travel through time and space using a process called a “tesseract,” which is a very risky undertaking.

            Accompanying Meg will be her eccentric little brother Charles Wallace (he reads minds), played with great authority and charm by one of the best young actors in the area, Sean Stewart. (Seeing the change in Charles Wallace when the evil force IT takes over his mind late in the play is very creepy.) Also along for the adventure is Meg’s timid friend Calvin (Caiden Falco), who deftly adds a comic touch as a regular kid who surprises Meg and himself by demonstrating real courage when things get especially scary.

            The remainder of the dozen or so characters are played by three actors. Mrs. Whatsit, a sort of whimsical bag lady who also appears as the evil Man With Red Eyes, was played opening weekend by stage manager Jennie Vaccaro filling in for Linda Taylor who was ill. Vaccaro, carrying a script, was excellent. The children’s mother was played by Felicia Slechta, who also was very comical as Mrs. Who, and later appeared as a faceless but friendly being referred to as Aunt Beast. Keven Branson was forceful as the voice of Mrs. Which, a glowing ball and as Mr. Murry, the father, and in numerous brief parts.

            How do you present on stage a tale that shows its characters zooming through space and time, confronting aliens, and facing threats on several planets? Shakespeare once told his audience, “Let us . . . on your imaginary forces work,” and the playwright and director Michael Coleman ask the same of their audience. The unobtrusive narration by the actors and the minimal set of folding screens and boxes skillfully moved as the action takes place, accompanied by Coleman’s unworldly sound and light effects, help us imagine we are seeing strange worlds.

            Many adults  like me will remember the novel with pleasure from their childhood reading. But those unfamiliar with the book who can immerse themselves in a great story well told, and young viewers who enjoy being taken on thrilling adventures, will find “A Wrinkle in Time” a delightful afternoon of theatre, one in which they participate as well as watch.

Sutter Street Theatre’s “The Foreigner” offers laughs and emotion


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Monday Jun 13 2016

Sutter Street Theatre’s “The Foreigner” offers laughs and emotion

By: Gerry Camp

Charlie Baker (Tim Yancey), a depressed sci-fi proofreader with zero self esteem–he describes himself as “profoundly boring”—is “The Foreigner” in Larry Shue’s multiple award-winning comedy, Sutter Street Theatre’s latest gift to Folsom.His wife cheats on him (he mention 23 lovers) and may be dying. His buddy Froggy LeSueur (Aurelio Martinez, a newcomer at Sutter Street with a true comic flair) decides he needs a vacation and deposits him in a run-down Georgia hunting lodge. Charlie says he is too shy and upset to speak to anyone, so Froggy tells his friend Betty, the owner of the lodge (Eileen Beaver), that Charlie is a foreigner and speaks no English.

“This is a play for theatre-lovers who love over-the-top comedy, but also, for those who like a play with real feeling beneath the farce, this is a must!”

Soon the other guests at the lodge are discussing their most intimate secrets in front of Charlie, and he learns that Catherine (Vanessa Voetsch) is pregnant and her fiancé, the not so pious Rev. David Marshall Lee (John Hopkins) is marrying her for her money and plans, with his KKK buddy Owen Musser (Jason Titus) to have the lodge condemned so they can make it over into the headquarters for the coming “invisible empire.”

Catherine’s apparently not-too-bright brother Ellard (a hilarious Kevin Judson) sets out to teach Charlie his version of English, making “fork,” for example, a three-syllable word: “fow-war-ka”, etc. Charlie “learns” rapidly, his learning accompanied by hilarious mimicry, pantomime, and dancing. In Act 2 Charlie’s “native” language begins to emerge, a sort of Russian/Polish gobbledygook, and soon Charlie is entertaining by enacting stories, which the others seem almost to understand, and even teaching his language to his listeners.Of course Charlie knows all the plotting, and he and Ellard, who is not as dim as he first appeared, concoct a plan to foil the evildoers.

Director Blake Flores milks this comic setup for non-stop laughs, and the competent cast keep them coming. In addition to Judson, who seems to be having huge fun playing the seeming simpleton who ends up reading Shakespeare, I was especially entertained by Eileen Beaver as Betty, who exudes kindness through the thickest Georgia accent imaginable and knows Charlie will understand her if she just shouts loud enough.

The clear star of the show, as he must be, is Tim Yancey as Charlie. With very few (English) lines, Yancey shows Charlie’s growth as a person—he tells Froggie he grew a personality—by becoming someone else. So timid at the beginning he could not finish his own sentences, he is, at the end, a hero who can terrorize the foulest villain imaginable (Titus’s Owen) into running in fear from the house. I’ve seen Yancey in two other totally different roles, both brilliantly played, and he is clearly one of the finest actors in this area. Watching what he does with his face and his body is worth the price of the ticket.

This is a play for theatre-lovers who love over-the-top comedy, but also, for those who like a play with real feeling beneath the farce, this is a must!

Vegas Stars Present – Review From Folsom Telegraph Newspaper


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Las Vegas Presents at the Sutter Street Theatre

By: Letha Dawson

John Wilder as Liberace at Sutter Street Theatre in Folsom, CALiberace, that Italian boy wonder whose first gig was as a solo pianist at the age of 16 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, went on to become the flamboyant pianist we all know. It is said, he became the highest paid entertainer for a while in America. Many pianists have impersonated Liberace, but none better than John Wilder, who is playing in Folsom at the Sutter Street Theatre. You don’t have to travel to Tahoe’s casinos or take a cruise this January to hear the phenomenal John Wilder make a piano stand up and dance. He is “Liberace,” costumed in glittery diamonds, furs, and a white tux. Maestro Wilder’s fingers fly so fast up and down the keyboard, it’s a musical blur as he lets fly Latin and boogie woogie beats.

Liberace starts the show with Flight of the Bumble Bee and just like that bee buzzes the audience for the rest of the evening, playing well-known songs like Chattanooga Choo-Choo and The Impossible Dream. Between Liberace’s solos at the piano, there is a host of impersonators who entertain. Steve Lawrence (David Valprado) and Eydie Gorme (Eileen Beaver) croon I Wonder Why…I’m Just in Love, blending a fine duet performance. Liberace returns to thrill the audience with his rendition of Sophisticated Lady, inserting arpeggios and runs at will, all the time beaming and flashing smiles at the audience. His hands are on automatic.

“You don’t have to travel to Tahoe’s casinos or take a cruise this January to hear the phenomenal John Wilder make a piano stand up and dance. He is “Liberace,” costumed in glittery diamonds, furs, and a white tux. Maestro Wilder’s fingers fly so fast up and down the keyboard, it’s a musical blur as he lets fly Latin and boogie woogie beats.”

Elvis (David Valprado), takes Liberace’s advice as to how to improve his act: Elvis reappears flaunting white satin bell-bottoms and an Elvis pompadour.

What does every cabaret show need? That’s right, a good child act. And this show has one: The Osmonds (Benjamin, Joshua and Jonathan Matta). These brothers, in matching flashy shirts, sing acapella harmony. They are terrific, including a little dancing and comedy in their routine when the little fella grabs his big brother’s arm which is flung across his face and pulls it down so he can have some of the spotlight.

There is more comedy to come when Carol Burnett (Connie Mockenhaupt) appears as a cleaning lady pushing her pail and mop. It’s not long before she’s leaning under the hood and dusting the inside of the grand piano as Liberace is playing. I won’t mention the hilarious disaster which follows.

“Liberace returns to thrill the audience with his rendition of Sophisticated Lady, inserting arpeggios and runs at will, all the time beaming and flashing smiles at the audience. His hands are on automatic.”


After Carol Burnett’s clumsy dusting, John Wilder (Liberace) performs his versions of “Tea for Two” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” They are everything and more in his hands, these two classic American songs. The talent keeps coming when Liberace proudly announces the next performer–cartoon character, Betty Boop. The curtains part and a ruby red, shimmering evening-gowned Betty Boop (Rebekah Matta) peers timidly through the curtain, then steps on stage and sings her little heart out coyly, sweetly, brainlessly, just the way only Betty could.

Glitter, extravagance, rhinestones, furs, capes, and fabulous piano playing– it’s all at the Sutter Street Theatre in Folsom.