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On Local Stages, It’s a Tennis Whiz and ‘The Wiz’

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Jason Kuykendall, left, and Hunter Hoffman play tennis rivals in "The Last Mach" at B Street Theatre.

“The Last Match” at B Street Theatre is a different kind of sports story. Pitting an experienced (“aging” seems a bit harsh for a 34-year-old) American tennis pro against an up-and-coming Russian player, it portrays the action as a series of psychological decisions, moves and feints influenced by each player’s assessment of his — and his opponent’s — abilities.

It’s the semi-finals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and six-time champion Tim Porter (Jason Kuykendall) is facing upstart Russian player Sergei Sergeyev (Hunter Hoffman). Porter hopes to win a seventh title and retire an undisputed champion. Sergeyev hopes to topple the champ and launch his own drive for greatness.

Imaginatively staged with a tennis court taking up the stage floor and Jumbotron projections that bring more intimate scenes into full view, “The Last Match” brings the give-and-take, volley and fault of an actual match without a single serve or fault. The actors accurately depict the racket swings and belly grunts of a real give-and-take.

The court action is mere backdrop for the characters’ expression of their inner-most thoughts and fears. We discover two men at opposite ends of their career arcs but whose lives share similar drives and ambitions.

The personal lives of the characters are revealed through their relationships with the women in their lives. Elisabeth Nunziato portrays Porter’s wife, a tennis player in her own right who put her career on hold to promote her husband’s. Stephanie Altholz plays Sergei’s tough Russian bride-to-be who pushes her man  hard to bring success.

“B Street’s The Last Match” plays at the Sofia, 2700 Capitol Ave., through Sept. 1. Show times are 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, 2 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets are $28-$47.

For tickets or for more information, call (916)  443-5300 or go to BStreetTheatre.org.

Off to see the Wizard

“Ease on down, ease on down the road.” Take H Street to 14th at the Wells Fargo Pavilion to see “The Wiz.” It’s a wonderful celebration of the 1975 Tony Award-winning musical with colorful costumes, inventive choreography and some truly fine singers and dancers.

“The Wiz” didn’t have the most successful opening on Broadway, but a television commercial featuring the cast singing “Ease on Down the Road” is credited with sparking interest in the African American soul-infused musical version of the 1900 L. Frank Baum children’s story. William F Brown wrote the book for the play, while Charlie Smalls is credited with the music and lyrics (with help from several others, including Luther Vandross).

Adrianna Hicks stars as Dorothy, the Iowa farm girl who is whisked away from home in a tornado and deposited in a strange and frightening land called Oz. Jeff Gorti, Alfie Parker, Jr. and Allie Pizzo are the Tornado Dancers who create a swirl of wind and lighting effects that carry Dorothy away. Christina Acosta Robinson plays Aunt Em and Adam Rogers plays Uncle Henry, from whose farmhouse Dorothy disappears. The two later appear as the Good Witch Glenda and the Lord High Underling, respectively.

Outstanding performances abound in this Music Circus production, including Terry Burrell as Addaperle, the first friendly face Dorothy encounters in Oz; Kevin Smith Kirkwood as the Scarecrow who wishes he had a brain (how he gets it is a hilarious sight gag); James T. Lane as the Tinman, who wants a heart, even if it’s only to be broken; Phillip Boykin as the Lion; Zonya Love as the evil Evillene who has a right to fear water; and Alan Mingo Jr. as The Wiz, the powrful ruler of Oz who isn’t as scary as he appears. There are others who also are excellent in the outstanding cast.

Director Glenn Casale brings energy and invention to the staging, making fine use of the aisles for entrances and exits. He is one of the country’s masters of staging plays in-the-round and this show ranks among his best. A couple of pops and crackles in the sound on opening night were the only less-than-perfect elements of this magical “Wiz.”

“The Wiz” continues through Sunday at Music Circus, 1419 H St. Show times are daily at 7:30 p.m., through Saturday, plus matinees at 2 p.m.  Thursday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (final show). Tickets are $47-$91 (starting at $40 for kids up to age 12.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 557-1999 or go to BroadwaySacramento.com.

Photos by Rudy Meyers Photography

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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