Currently: "Sweet Charity"
When: May 18 through June 22, 2013
Where: Center Rep, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, California
Tickets: $37-$57; Center Rep
Also: Divas for Life 2013
When: 7 p.m. June 10, 2013 Where: Eagle Theater, 201 Almond Avenue, Los Altos, California
Tickets:$30-$80; divasforlife.org Also: "Guys and Dolls" (director and choreographer)
When: November 8-17, 2013
Where: Broadway By The Bay, Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City, California
Tickets: $35-$55; Fox Theatre Also: "The Real Housewives of Walnut Creek: The Musical" (composer, writer, star)
When: April 17-May 4, 2014
Where: Center Rep, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, California
Season tickets: Center Rep
That blond whirlwind flying through the San Francisco Bay Area is not a meteorological phenomenon, it is Molly Bell -- actress, dancer, singer, writer, mom, charisma coach, blogger, director and all-around superperson.
I ain't kiddin'.
I first became aware of Ms. Bell when I saw her as Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre in an excellent production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at San Jose Rep in 2009.I've seen several productions of this delightful little musical, but I've never seen a better Logainne than Bell.
Logainne is a very challenging character -- she is the youngest of the spellers, so has a certain childish vulnerability, yet she is also the most politically aware, and carries the heavy burden of need to succeed, because of her two overbearing fathers.
And she has a problem with sibilance: She lisps. Which is why she gets all the "S"-sounding words. "Cystitis. C-Y-S-T-I-T-I-S. Cystitis."
It's a lot for an actor to balance, but Bell is the benchmark by which all performances of Logainne are measured.
Her lisp, for instance, was a weather event of its own. And yet it doesn't overwhelm the pathos of this little girl who must make a moral decision against the wishes of one of her overbearing fathers.
Bell, as we say in blues music, really brings it when she performs. She really brought Logainne to the stage.
Bell's current theatrical outing is in the title role of "Sweet Charity" at Center Rep in Walnut Creek, California, directed by the great Timothy Near. Book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Bell plays Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer with high hopes for romance that never seem to work out.
(One of my pals who caught a preview on May 18 was effusive about how great Bell is in the role. I believe him.)
Bob Fosse won a Tony for his original choreography for the show in 1966. This show is being choreographed by Jennifer Perry. The cast is great, including Alison Ewing, who was in that "Spelling Bee" with Bell, and James Monroe Iglehart, who has been a huge crowd pleaser all around the Bay Area and on Broadway.
Bell, meantime, is juggling stuff faster than any four of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, including working out child-care issues for her two children, daughter Rylie and son Ryder, so husband Kurt Kuckein can see her in the show. She and her family live in Los Altos, Center Rep is on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. Kuckein can't be every place at once, either.
Rylie is eight months old and perhaps a bit easier to care for than Ryder was the last time Bell did a show with a babe in arms.
"I did 'Merrily We Roll Along' at TheatreWorks when Ryder was three months old. I don't remember any songs from it. The show was fun, but it was difficult. I don't remember a single thing."
That's because, when you have a three-month old baby, sleep is not really in the picture. Bell was sleep-deprived, she remembers, and breast-feeding Ryder during intermissions. The rest? A blur.
After that experience, she decided to stay off stages till her new baby was a little older, her theory being that it will be a little easier to acclimate to performing this time. Following "Sweet Charity," she is helping to organize and will perform in a Divas for Life show, on June 10 in Los Altos. It's the 10th anniversary for this show, which is sponsored by one of Bell's projects, Creative Habit Academy.
The Divas for Life shows gather together a bunch of the Bay Area's amazing stage talent and put them on a stage to sing and dance. The tickets pay for the hall and the technical stuff, and the rest of the dough goes to help cancer victims in various ways. This year, the recipients will be a couple of young boys, Isaiah Gaytan and Jacob Goeders. Read about these guys at the Divas Inspiration page.
That Bell and Daya Curley do this to help the families of cancer victims is a very good thing. Tickets aren't much to go to this show, and I certainly encourage y'all to go.
Here is a video of Bell performing in the 2010 show, doing the song "Show Off." It's funny and delightful, and will give an idea of why people think so highly of Molly Bell. Keep an eye peeled, you'll see the great Billy Liberatore on piano, and the excellent Amanda Folena sitting on a chair, waiting her turn to perform.
Back to the blond whirlwind.
"I do maybe five or six different jobs," she said, "a lot of little businesses. I fancy myself an entrepreneur."
She teaches voice lessons, for instance, with "10 or 15 students," at her home.
She teaches dance at health clubs in the Bay Area -- "It's cardio dance," she says, "intensive exercise, not for people to learn the intricacies of technique."
She also runs a Broadway class, teaching choreography for Broadway tunes.
And, "About three, four years ago, I started getting calls from corporations, and started a side business. I go to companies and do team-building, exercise classes, dancing, singing, whatever. Four times a year I choreograph a performance for quarterly meetings. ... Out of that, I got a lot more corporate gigs."
A lot of work.
And she started a company, Creative Habit Academy, teaching after-school dancing, acting, singing, in elementary schools. She was getting too many job offers, so hired people to teach her curriculum.
And wants to figure out how to present her voice lessons on line.
I've been sent links to some of Bell's inspirational podcasts, blogs and other writing by friends on line. She is a global phenomenon.
"It's been interesting to see how many people download it, around the world," she said. "We're not sure why they do it. We have multiple downloads each month from Spain, Thailand, the Philippines, Canada."
Is it too much?
"I definitely have a problem with saying 'No,'" she said. "An overcommitment issue. Even when just working for myself, I have that problem. If I have too much on my plate, I worry it might get watered down, that the work I am doing is not as good as it could be."
"Doing an album, writing a new musical. If someone called ... I think I would say, 'Not this time.'"
Oh yeah. She said "new musical." She already co-wrote and starred in "Becoming Britney." It premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival, winning Bell an award, and played in 2010 at Center Rep. The San Francisco Chronicle's Robert Hurwitt said, "Bell's high-energy song-and-dance tribute-portrait of Spears -- half satiric, half affectionate and all brightly tuneful -- is unerringly winning."
But, also, she said that back in December, during our initial interview. Since then, Center Rep has commissioned her to do a new show -- "The Real Housewives of Walnut Creek: The Musical," to premiere in April 2014.
Here's what the Center Rep website says: "Inspired by one of America's favorite (and perhaps despised) reality series, 'The Real Housewives of Walnut Creek: The Musical' channels all the craziness and cat-fights that -- for better or worse -- keep audiences tuning in for more. Meet the wives: Penny, Lulu, Joanne, Babette and Beezus -- and come be a part of our studio audience as we tape their "reunion special.'"
If anything, Bell is getting better and more productive. She owns any stage she's on, and she has plenty of other project coming along that will enrich the Bay Area theater scene. She will be directing "Guys and Dolls" for Broadway By The Bay, for instance.
And being a wife and mom has helped.
"Having a family and being able to concentrate on that has helped me let go of the anxiety of an audition," she said. "I don't have that anxiety about auditioning anymore. At this point, I love the idea of doing a show, but it has caused a lot of consternation in my family. Being gone at night is sort of hard. It has to be a family effort, a group effort."
And that is more important.
"I'm sort of able to let it go. I'm not as concerned about the stage. And more things seem to come to me when I let it go ... It's kind of a good feeling. Allows you to relax. There is something bigger than myself. It's one of the things I've liked about having children."