Peace Through Song, Oakland Opera Theater's optimistically titled program of antiwar music, revisits a century of protest music in a few hours' time. Running at the Oakland Metro this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2, the show features eleven gifted singers recalling music that helped catalyze generations of war resisters. The program's centerpiece is a full-length version of Johnny Johnson by Kurt Weill and Paul Green. Green, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1927 Broadway play depicting the plight of the American negro in the South, chose the title because Johnny Johnson was the most common name of WWI boxers. Debuted in 1936 by the Group Theater of the WPA (Works Project Administration), which commissioned any number of people's works until political conservatives stepped in, Johnny Johnson incorporates an improbable number of musical styles, from sacred Gregorian chant to irreverent Gilbert & Sullivan.
"It's a wild, very intense ride," says assistant music director and keyboard and accordion player Skye Atman. She anticipates some "very sassy" satirical, Berlin-style cabaret songs, including "The Allied Hike," in which WWI generals compete with each other to have the most casualties. There's also a little ditty sung by three cannons that emerge from a trench to serenade soldiers with We might have served a better will, but you decreed that we must kill. Look forward to another whopper from a stone-faced Statue of Liberty. The show, which Atman describes as "a good mix of humor, irony, and lament," also includes several selections from Robert Kurka's rarely performed The Good Soldier Schweik. Set in Prague in 1914, its libretto is by Lewis Allan, renowned as the lyricist for "Strange Fruit," a song forever associated with the great Billie Holiday.
In a major example of participatory democracy, Oakland Opera Theater's Tom Dean chose many of the songs from a huge stack submitted by the singers. Among these are several more Weill greats, including selections from The Threepenny Opera and Happy End. One of Atman's favorites is the biting "Schickelgruber," based on Hitler's original name. Closer to the present, anticipate several arias from Mary Watkins' opera Queen Clara, which focuses on the life of the healer who founded the American Red Cross during WWI, and others by Leonard Bernstein and John Jacob Niles.
For more info, call 510-465-8480 or visit OaklandOpera.org -- Jason Victor Serinus
Cabaret? In Berkeley? That's right, Kander and Ebb's '60s-era musical stage play about love and decadence in Weimar Germany, long a favorite of suburban repertory companies, gets the full Shotgun beginning this week when it opens in Shotgun Players' new production, directed by Russell Blackwood. Which undoubtedly means plenty of garter belts and androgynous yuks. What good is staying alone in your room? The show runs through January 15 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. Shotgun Players.org or 510-841-6500. -- Kelly Vance
I want to blow into your mind like we're doing shotguns with free-range weed/cultivated by Columbian virgins raised in a monastery ... /so that every time you inhale me/you feel guilty about what shit may come out of your lips next, writes/speaks poet Tshaka M. Campbell . The slam poet, a member of the 2004 Nuyorican Cafe National team and author of Spoken Word Written, considers himself a reincarnated African griot, according to LaughingSquid.com. Word. Campbell will be the featured guest at Sunday's poetry reading, 1 p.m. at Century House, 2401 Santa Rita Rd., Pleasanton. 925-931-5350 -- Eric K. Arnold
To = Be2
Just when you thought there was nothing more that could possibly be done to Hamlet, along comes Humble Boy , Diablo Valley College's production of English playwright Charlotte Jones' adaptation of Shakespeare's classic. Instead of a young Danish prince, the protagonist is a forty-year-old astrophysicist with an Oedipus complex, whose quest to prove a unified field theory is interrupted by ghostly visions. It opens Friday and plays through December 11 at the Arena Theater, 321 Gold Club Rd., Pleasant Hill. 925-687-4445. -- Eric K. Arnold
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