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S/He & Me

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Alexandra Billings is a powerful performer, known for her role as Davina on the Amazon Prime hit, Transparent. I haven’t seen the television series, but I have experienced La Billings on stage, both in Chicago and Los Angeles. She is always memorable.

Billings has obviously led a fascinating life as her new “Theatrical Cabaret,” S/He & Me suggests. Conceived and Directed by Joanne Gordon, the show uses musical theatre songs and short scenes to chart the course of Billings’ life from her beginning, as the effeminate Scott, to her present, as the glamorous Alexandra.

Neither Billings, nor Gordon shrink from the ugly moments in this journey. Billings starts the show with 15 unvarnished facts about herself, which include time spent as a prostitute, that she is a recovering heroin addict, and that she is living with AIDS.

Scott’s (Joey Ruggiero) difficult childhood is quickly sketched. His quietly tippling mother, Mimi (Valerie Stanford), and his chilly, sneering father, Bob (Jeff Paul), brawl regularly in front of the cowering boy. His escape is in the make-believe world of acting, where he meets his future wife, Chrisanne (Kayla Kearney), in a Shakespeare production.

The balance of the 90-minute show musicalizes Scott’s transformation into Alexandra and deals with Alexandra’s surprisingly difficult journey to make her peace with the Scott still within her, a reality few unfamiliar with transgender issues would consider.

In a traditional cabaret piece, artists would sing their songs and, generally, add a bit of patter in between. Typically they include funny or touching anecdotes. Billings’ ambitions are higher, and they come with a full cast behind her. Stanford and Paul are strong in both their musical and dramatic moments as Scott’s less-than-perfect parents. Kearney’s Chrisanne has a few sweet moments, but the character disappears into the background as the narrative focus shifts.

Ruggiero is an attractive performer with an easy access his emotions. He is an intelligent singer, and his keen understanding of phrasing is refreshing in one so young.  Billings attacks her role with a ferocity that never becomes off-putting, and she gives each song she sings its due. She is the heart of the production in a brave performance.

I’m not sure that the format truly works. Those tantalizing unvarnished facts at the beginning, coupled with the fully realized scenes, promise more of Billings’ story than the songs, written for specific characters in other shows, can provide. The songlist is wonderfully eclectic. And some work beautifully in enhancing the moment, like “Unusual Way,” “A Quiet Thing,” and “Everybody’s Girl.” Others, like “Aquarius” and “I Am What I Am,” feel overly familiar, and too on-the-nose.

Gordon moves the action with clarity, and Brian Moe’s choreography nicely complements the numbers. S/He & Me tells a unique story in an accessible style, and Billings is a stage animal who is always worth watching.

Renberg Theatre    May 25 – June 11, 2017




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.