Berkeley Repertory Theatre Presents Matthew Sweet's GIRLFRIEND
This spring, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, romance unfolds in a new musical wound around the love songs of the landmark album Girlfriend. Associate Artistic Director Les Waters stages the world premiere of this tender new show, which features music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet and a book by Todd Almond. Starring Ryder Bach and Jason Hite alongside a live band on Berkeley Rep's intimate Thrust Stage, Girlfriend begins previews on April 9, opens April 14, and closes May 9, 2010. The executive producer of Girlfriend is the Strauch Kulhanjian Family, the production sponsor is the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, and the season sponsors for Berkeley Rep's 41st year of fearless theatre are BART and Wells Fargo.
"I've devoted my career to developing new work," Waters remarked, "but I've never directed a musical before. This show, which is touchingly genuine and utterly lacking in cynicism, was impossible to resist. When I first read the script, I was struck by how Todd had transformed Girlfriend into a beautiful story about two teenage boys falling in love while remaining completely faithful to Matthew's brilliant music."
Meeting in homeroom. Holding hands. Cheering from the stands. That awkward first kiss. In the world premiere of Girlfriend at Berkeley Rep, boy meets boy. It's an eternal story turned upside down, a dual-Romeo duet that's innocent - and Sweet. "Girlfriend is the breathless testimony of a fool for love," raves Rolling Stone, "a rock ‘n' roll valentine that delivers subtle wisdom with an exhilarating kick." Fall in love with the boy next door at Girlfriend.
Of the significant bands and artists to emerge in the '90s, Matthew Sweet is the odd man out. During a decade when cynicism, overstatement, and mean-spiritedness ruled, Sweet found a sizable audience by expressing himself with unselfconsciousness, subtlety, penetrating honesty, and the sheer joy of constructing something cool. While so many of his contemporaries disdained rock ‘n' roll's past, Sweet deftly channels it, picking up where his inspirations from previous decades left off. A sophisticated aural architect, Sweet absorbed the work of the "three B's" of '60s rock - The Beach Boys, Beatles, and Byrds - along with '70s avatars Neil Young and Big Star. His deep understanding of the spirit and craft behind the music of the old masters allowed him to use these timeless palates in a fresh, highly personal way. Sweet is that rare artist who seems directly and intimately knowable through his work, causing his audience to feel a close bond with him - to put them on what they think of as a first-name basis. His albums include 100% Fun (1995), Altered Beast (1993), Blue Sky on Mars (1997), Earth (1989), Girlfriend (1991), In Reverse (1999), Inside (1986), Kimi Ga Suki (2004), Living Things (2004), and Son of Altered Beast (1994). He has recorded two volumes of duets with Susannah Hoffs, Under the Covers I and II, and his most recent solo album is Sunshine Lies (2008). Sweet is also a skilled potter.
Over the years, the praise for Girlfriend has been effusive. "Sweet is one sharp fool. While quivering at times like a teenager gripped by a fearsome crush, he's actually a knowing lover - the spirit of his songs suggests a grown-up Everly Brothers, straining still to be starry-eyed but savvy enough to have survived love's disenchantments," writes Rolling Stone. "Musically, Sweet is equally adept at balancing the tough and the tender... This is popcraft raised to the level of artistry." And the New York Observer calls it "one of the most memorable pop records of the past decade: a simple, earnest, yet occasionally gorgeous collection of hook-laden songs about over-the-moon love and bittersweet heartache. Also known for its photograph of fur-wrapped Tuesday Weld on its cover, Girlfriend was the pretty record that everyone played when they were pretending to be listening to Nirvana - and its success immediately made Mr. Sweet, an apple-cheeked Nebraskan, a most unlikely rock star."
Todd Almond was so taken with Sweet's album that he penned the book for this musical, taking these familiar songs in a new direction while staying true to the emotions of the original. Almond is a composer, lyricist, and playwright whose musicals include Ahraihsak with director Rubén Polendo, Kansas City Choir Boy with director Sam Gold, and the award-winning People Like Us with director Gus Kaikkonen. His upcoming shows include On the Levee, coming to LCT3 this summer with playwright Marcus Gardley and director Lear deBessonet, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle with playwright Adam Bock. Almond served as music director for the world premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's Tres Niñas, and he has written musicals for Juilliard and New York University. He has also music-directed and reconceived classic works, most notably the "bald" Hair at the Skirball Cultural Center. In addition to having some of the Theatre World's top singers perform his music, including Laura Benanti, Victoria Clark, Jayne Houdyshell, Cheyenne Jackson, and Sherie Rene Scott, Almond regularly performs his own material in New York City's top venues. He has been an artist-in-residence at the Orchard Project, Sundance (both in Utah and Wyoming), and Vassar College (with New York Theatre Workshop). In collaboration with composer Ellen Mandel, Almond has recorded two albums of songs with text by E.E. Cummings, Seamus Heaney, W.B. Yeats, and other poets. He also recently released Mexico City, a CD of original songs. Almond is currently collaborating with Warren Leight and Stafford Arima on a musical adaptation of John Knowles' novel A Separate Peace.
Les Waters has served as associate artistic director of Berkeley Rep since 2003. In the last five years, his shows have ranked among the year's best in The New Yorker, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Time Out New York, Time Magazine, and USA Today. Waters has a history of collaborating with prominent playwrights like Caryl Churchill, Charles Mee, and Wallace Shawn, and champions important new voices such as Will Eno, JorDan Harrison, Sarah Ruhl, and Anne Washburn. Last year, Waters made his Broadway debut with In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), which began in Berkeley. His other credits at Berkeley Rep include the world premieres of Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West, Fêtes de la Nuit, Finn in the Underworld, and To the Lighthouse; the American premiere of TRAGEDY: a tragedy; the West Coast premiere of Eurydice; and extended runs of The Glass Menagerie, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman, and Yellowman. He won an Obie Award for Big Love, staging its premiere at the Humana Festival and subsequent runs at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music, Berkeley Rep, the Goodman Theatre, and Long Wharf Theatre. His New York credits also include Classic Stage Company, the Connelly Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, The Public Theater, Second Stage Theatre, and Signature Theatre Company. Elsewhere in America, he has directed for ACT/Seattle, American Conservatory Theater, American Repertory Theatre, Arena Stage, the Guthrie Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, the Mark Taper Forum, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Yale Repertory Theatre. In his native England, Waters worked with the Bristol Old Vic, Hampstead Theatre Club, Joint Stock Theatre Group, National Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, and Traverse Theatre Club. Waters led the MFA directing program at the University of California, San Diego and is an associate artist of The Civilians, a theatre group based in New York. His many honors include a Drama-Logue Award, an Edinburgh Fringe First Award, a KPBS Patte, and several awards from critics' circles in the Bay Area, Connecticut, and Tokyo.
Waters has chosen two talented young actors to portray the young lovers in this show. Ryder Bach (Will) has been seen locally in Harold and Maude: The Musical at TheatreWorks, The Sound of Music at American Musical Theatre of San Jose, and the TheatreWorks workshop of Girlfriend. In Los Angeles, where he plays regularly with a band called the Body Parts, he performed in Center Theatre Group's production of The History Boys and Baby It's You at the Coast Playhouse. Jason Hite (Mike) recently played Mark Cohen in Rent for Golden State Theatre Productions. He has also worked with Center Repertory Company, Contra Costa Musical Theatre, and EXIT Stage Left. He trained at the Young REP Theatre Workshop in Walnut Creek and is a proud member of the Fantasy Forum Actors Ensemble.
The cast shares the stage with a live band featuring top local musicians. Shelley Doty (lead guitarist) has years of touring and recording under her belt, but she currently sticks close to home and performs relentlessly with Clair, Shelley Doty X-tet, and Sistas in the Pit. She also plays lead guitar for indie luminaries Alexis Harte, Bonfire Madigan, Shana Morrison, and Pyeng Threadgill. Ieela Grant (drummer) is the founder and drummer for Sistas in the Pit. Her passion for music has taken her to China and Switzerland, as well as on a national tour with Iggy Pop and the Stooges. She has enjoyed sharing the stage with musical greats ranging from Bad Brains to Macy Gray. Jean DuSablon (bassist) has played with the bands Clair, Girls in the Nose, and Rebecca Riots, and collaborated with musicians like Rachel Garlin, Diana Jones, and Kristi Martel. Her acting credits include the I Love Lezzie Comedy Troupe at Theatre Rhinoceros and The Sheep and the Ranch Hand, a short which premiered at the San Francisco International GLBT Film Festival. Julie Wolf (music director, rhythm guitarist, and keyboard player) is a multi-instrumentalist and composer who runs Sonic Wolf Productions in Oakland. She has collaborated with Bruce Cockburn, Ani DiFranco, the Indigo Girls, Maceo Parker, Amy Ray, and Sia, among many others. Her work has been heard on stages around the world, in the documentary film Sweet Crude, and on a growing number of critically acclaimed recordings.
Waters has also gathered a distinguished team of designers to bring his Girlfriend to life. David Zinn (scenic and costume designer) received an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement in 2008. He created costumes for Berkeley Rep's productions of Love! Valour! Compassion! and Mother Courage, as well as the Berkeley and Broadway productions of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). His other credits include A Tale of Two Cities and Xanadu on Broadway and numerous shows off Broadway, with regional theatres, and at opera companies nationwide. Japhy Weideman (lighting designer) has worked locally on Curse of the Starving Class at A.C.T. and A Picasso at San Jose Repertory Theatre. He has extensive experience off Broadway, has worked with regional theatres and opera companies across the country, and has designed shows in Britain, France, Greece, Holland, and Italy. Jake Rodriguez (sound designer) is working on his fourth world premiere at Berkeley Rep, following Fêtes de la Nuit, Passing Strange, and The People's Temple. His latest local credits include Blackbird, Rock ‘n' Roll, and Speed the Plow at A.C.T; Salomé at Aurora Theatre Company; The Comedy of Errors, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, and The Tempest at California Shakespeare Theater; and Oedipus El Rey at Magic Theatre. The stage manager for this show is Michael Suenkel, Berkeley Rep's resident production stage manager.
During the run of Girlfriend, theatregoers and their sweethearts can enjoy 27 special events:
Low-cost previews take place on Friday, April 9; Saturday, April 10; Sunday, April 11; and Tuesday, April 13.
30 Below - the coolest night of theatre for the under-30 crowd - returns on Friday, April 9. Enjoy the performance at 8:00 PM and a wild post-show party featuring food from Meridian International Sports Café and free drinks from Pyramid Brewery and Raymond Vineyards. Tickets start at only $13.50 for anyone under 30 years old
Opening night festivities are held on Wednesday, April 14, including a pre-show dinner for donors at Bistro Liaison and a post-show party for the audience catered by Tomatina and Raymond Vineyards.
night/OUT on Thursday, April 15 welcomes the LGBT community. This post-show dance party features food from Tomatina and complimentary beverages provided by Raymond Vineyards and Triple Rock Brewery.
Teen Night begins at 6:30 PM on Friday, April 16 and includes dinner, a behind-the-scenes discussion with a member of the artistic team, and a performance of Girlfriend. Tickets are only $10 for high-school students. For details, call (510) 647-2972 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free 30-minute docent presentations about the show take place at 7:00 PM on the following Tuesday and Thursday evenings: April 13, April 15, April 20, April 22, April 27, April 29, May 4, and May 6.
Post-play discussions moderated by theatre professionals follow the 8:00 PM shows on Thursday, April 15; Friday, April 23; and Tuesday, April 27.
And, on select evenings, patrons can whet their palates for the play with free tastings from these culinary artisans one hour before curtain: Ale Industries on April 16 and April 18; Artesa Vineyards and Winery on April 17, April 24, April 30, and May 2; the Berkeley Farmers Market on April 25; and Meridian on May 1.
Get a ticket for your Girlfriend! Seats start at only $27. Additional savings are available for groups, seniors, students, and anyone under 30 years of age - meaning discounted tickets can be obtained for as little as $13.50. These prices make Berkeley Rep more affordable to people in the community who are just starting school, starting careers, and starting families - because lower prices are now available for every performance.
So make a date with Berkeley Rep. The Thrust Stage is located at 2025 Addison Street, near bus lines, bike routes, and parking lots - and only half a block from BART. For tickets or information, call (510) 647-2949 or toll-free at (888) 4-BRT-Tix - or simply click berkeleyrep.org.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com