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Five Guys Name Moe (Ebony Rep)If I was to say the phrase “Five Guys” to most of you, you would probably say that you prefer In-N-Out. When I think of “Five Guys”, however, I don’t think burgers. I think An American In Paris. Let me explain why.

Yesterday afternoon, I saw the closing performance of the Clarke Peters (FB)’s 1992 Tony-nominated musical Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB). It was a delightful performance, high energy, great music, wonderful singing, dancing, and I left on a high. But I also left thinking about An American in Paris.

When I saw An American In Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) recently, I wrote “We went expecting to see a musical. What we saw was a spectacular dance show wrapped in the trappings of a musical about love in Paris after WWII. ” That didn’t make it bad, mind you. It was a wonderful dance show with wonderful music. I just had an inconsequential plot.

Five Guys Named Moe is a musical that celebrates the music of bandleader Louis Jordan. As they write in his entry at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “In the Forties, bandleader Louis Jordan pioneered a wild – and wildly popular – amalgam of jazz and blues. The swinging shuffle rhythms played by singer/saxophonist Jordan and his Tympany Five got called “jump blues” or “jumpin’ jive,” and it served as a forerunner of rhythm & blues and rock and roll.” Five Guys Named Moe delights in this music. It showcases songs Jordan wrote. It exaults in songs that he made famous. From “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That” to “Pusk Ka Pi Shie Pie” to “Saturday Night Fish Fry” to “Choo, Choo, Ch’bookie” to the classic “Caldonia” (“What!”) — the show is just a rollicking dance and music festival with that leaves you happy.

However, the plot — well — the plot itself is meaningless. A down on his luck alcoholic, Nomax (Obba Babatundé (FB)), has forgotten the birthday of the woman he loves.  The Five Moes — No Moe (Jacques C. Smith (FB)), Big Moe (Octavius Womack (FB★; FB)), Little Moe (Trevon Davis (FB★; FB), Four-Eyed Moe (Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (FB★; FB)), and Eat Moe (Eric B. Anthony (FB)) — pop out of the radio to teach him the error of his ways. Through song and dance. [And even that inconsequential plot is abandoned for most of the second act when they do their “gig”].

And you know what? You don’t care about the plot. The music is great. The singing is great. The dance is great. The band* was smokin’. The audience was dancing (especially two really cute twin little girls up in front). You walk out with a big smile because the execution is perfection. The production team cast well, and the talent shows.

By the way, it wasn’t just the actors. When I said the band was smokin’, I meant it. They got a chance to jam at the enter-acte, and after the curtain they let loose with a closing number that highlighted each member and just swung. The six on the band platform — Abdul Hamid Royal (FB) [Musical Director, Piano]; Louis Van Taylor (FB) [Saxophone / Clarinet]; Christopher Gray [Trumpet]; Chris Johnson (FB) [Trombone]; Land Richards (FB) [Drums]; and Ian Seck/FB [Bass] — complemented the six actors perfectly.

On the other side of the production, things were pretty simple. Edward E. Haynes Jr. scenic design was simple: a scrim, a few props, some benches. Similarly, the costumes by Naila Sanders (FB) were pretty simple: suits, tuxes, and matching plaid jackets for the Moes. The sound design by John Feinstein/FB was as it should be: mostly unnoticeable, although for a bit during the first act  it sounded …. less than full range. I’m guessing that was a speaker problem. Most impressive on the design team was the lighting design of Dan Weingarten. Weingarten made wonderful use of the movers and gobos above the stage to create some wonderful visual effects that were just a delight to watch.

The production was directed and choreographed by Keith Young (FB). Dominique Kelley (FB) was the associate choreographer.  Other relevant credits: Ed de Shae (FB) — Production Stage Manager; Ross Jackson (FB) — Assistant Stage Manager.

Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB) is under the artistic direction of Wren T. Brown (FB), whose 53rd birthday was yesterday. At the conclusion of the show, the cast and crew celebrated by leading the audience in the traditional Happy Birthday song (alas, not the Birthday Cake Polka, although that would have been cool). Mr. Brown introduced his family, and you could hear the gospel training in his voice — it was wonderful to hear. I do hope to be back at his theatre.

Alas, I caught the final performance of Five Guys Named Moe. But I’ll note that if you like the music of Louis Jordan, the new Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album Louie, Louie, Louie celebrates the music of Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Prima.

***

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned remaining schedule for HFF. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Freeway Dreams (Write Act Rep)I recently received a press release from a publicist¹ about a “world premiere” musical at Write Act Repertory (FB)² at the Brickhouse Theatre (FB) called Freeway Dreams. How appropos, I thought. After all, my hobby is California Highways; I developed and maintained the California Highways page³. I commute every day on the LA freeways, driving a vanpool between Northridge and El Segundo (35 miles, one way) across the 405. I attend live theatre almost every week, and write up every show I go to. If there was anyone who should be writing up a musical about freeways, it is me. So I made my usual arrangement with the publicist4, figured out a spot in my increasingly full schedule, which resulted in our seeing the show last night in North Hollywood, after a 109 minute freeway commute home.

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¹: There are those who believe I am a theatre critic. I tell them I’m a cybersecurity specialist who just loves going to live performances (especially theatre), and then sharing that experience as an audience member via write ups on my blog. Still, I’ve learned a lot over the years.

²: You’ll notice no web site links. Write Act: Get your website act together. You have a link on your postcard: It gives a Wix error that the site isn’t set up yet. You have another link on your Facebook page: it gives a 403 Forbidden (although some subpages do work). You don’t have a direct link to your Brown Paper Tickets site on your postcard, nor is it on your current FB page. You need a proper website to promote your work.
³: Everything you want to know about numbered highways in California but were afraid to ask.
4: Most critics accept free tickets. I don’t. My real life job has strong ethics rules about what we can accept from suppliers, and I apply them to life. Free tickets could be seen as influence to a critic. I arrange for ½ price tickets, what I would have paid on Goldstar.
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Freeway Dreams, with book, music, and lyrics by Wayne Moore (FB) (one song co-authored by Jason Blume), started out as a cabaret show back in 1992 at The Gardenia Club in West Hollywood. There was a cycle of songs (eventually recorded as a “cast” album) with introductions and rough characters, but it wasn’t a fleshed out musical. After numerous requests for the script, Moore decided to flesh the song cycle out into a musical — better defining characters, snipping a song here and there. The result was this one-hour, no intermission musical.

The story framework is much like the cabaret show: A tourist bus of Japanese tourists has overturned on the Hollywood Freeway (US 101) turning the freeway into a parking lot. Four commuters — an aspiring actor, a young woman of unspecified employment, a casting director, and a pizza delivery guy — are stuck on the road and start to daydream. The bulk of those songs are those dreams.

As a song cycle, the show is very enjoyable. The songs are great, they are performed well, and fun to listen to. I’m sure that many of the songs on the cast album will get rated ★★★★★ on my iPod.

As a musical, the show is… a good start. I think — if the show is to have a longer life — more work is required. One review I saw commented on the dated references in the show (they suggested replacing pizza delivery with Uber, for example), and the overuse of the radio motif for news. I disagree to an extent — we still get our traffic reports on the radio, for example — but I do feel there needs to be nods to modern technology such as streaming music or podcasts. My observation is a bit deeper: I think that we need to learn more about these characters and their life, and see a greater arc than just “stuck on a freeway”. There also needs to be more of a connection to Los Angeles than just Hollywood and the opening song. There are precious few LA musicals (Billy Barnes LA, Bruce Kimmel’s LA: Then and Now), and this needs to go beyond the stereotypical Hollywood schtick. Where are the harried parents stuck on the freeway, the business executives that work downtown, the people commuting to aerospace and technology jobs. There is potential to make this something deeper — a commentary on the Los Angeles mindset to balance out the stereotypical New York condescension of the city that so much theatre has. The show needs more book, something that moves it beyond the fun song cycle at bit more. There are also songs that seem throwaway — no real connection to character or story (“The Bette Davis Chorus” is one such song — cute and enjoyable, but shoehorned in). The potential — the seed — is there; it just needs to drive past a few more exits to reach its ultimate destination, avoiding the temptation (to abuse a metaphor) of jumping off onto the surface streets now. Surface streets always seem like a good idea at the time….

As a commuter, there are realism problems. The show portrays drivers holding phones while driving, smoking pot on the freeway, and getting out of their cars on a stuck freeway to talk to other drivers. Those are either problematic behaviors or illegal behaviors, and should be rethought so as not to encourage other drivers (although there could be a great song in there about some of the stupid things drivers do while commuting). There is lots of potential in a musical about commuters and the freeway. But it needs to be done right.

So, story-wise, the summary is thus: A great song cycle (performed well), but it needs a bit more fleshing out to be a stronger book musical.

Turning to the “performed well” part: Under the direction and choreography of Jim Blanchette (FB), the actors effectively convey the story through songs, movement, and facial expressions (especially when they are in the background of songs). The theatre is a pure black box space — no fly, no follow-spot or moving mirrors. There is no set other than a projection screen. The sense of place and story and setting must come must come from the performers and props, and Blanchette has brought that out well.

The strongest performance — and a real positive surprise — was Leslie Rubino (FB)’s Deborah. From the opening number I was really impressed with her voice and her expression, and she had the time of her life with “Doncha Wanna Know”. She was just a delight to watch. Note: Based on her FB page, I believe we’ll be seeing her again soon in the HFF show, Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story.

Also strong was Stephanie B. Andersen (FB; FB-Fan) as Brenda, the casting agent. We’ve seen this actress before — we enjoyed her quite a bit in the 2013 bare revival — and (for the most part) she was great in both performance and singing in numbers such as “I Have This Friend.”. I particular enjoyed watching her expressions during the show. Alas, at our performance, she was having a bad night with one number (I fear she had a bad distracting headache), but knowing her strengths I’m willing to view it as a one-off, and wish her better. I’m sure every other night she knocks that number out of the park!

I enjoyed (and my wife indicated she really enjoyed) Jonathan Brett (FB)’s performance as Lee, the pizza delivery guy. He demonstrated some wonderful comic timing in his interactions and expressions, and had a strong singing voice in numbers such as “and a pizza to go”.

Rounding out the cast was Darren Mangler (FB)’s Andrew.  Mangler brought good expression and timing to his characters, but was just a tad weaker on the singing side (but that is when compared to the rest of the ensemble, meaning he was still pretty good).

Alternatives were Ashley Douglas (FB) [Brenda Alternative] and Aubrie Alexander (FB) [Deborah Alternative]. I’ll just note that we’ve seen Alexander before in Bat Boy, and I’m pretty sure that was her sitting behind us at last night’s show :-).

Lastly on the performance side: the director, Jim Blanchette (FB), had an uncredited performance as the “offscreen voices” — sitting in the audience, he provided all the unintelligible voices on the other side of the cell phone conversations. A bit odd, perhaps, but this is small intimate theatre. At least the credit gives me the chance to note that Blanchette has worked with an alum of the late great REP theatre in Santa Clarita, the also late, great Kyle Kulish.

Turning to the production side: As noted, this was a simple black box theatre. The basic scenery was solely the projections designed by Ken Cosby (FB). These worked well, although a few had me puzzling — as a freeway commuter in LA — exactly where they were taken. The lighting design was by Mark Baker (FB), who has one of the best bio’s I’ve read of late. The lighting worked well, except for the lighting during “My Superman” where odd shadows were created due to the positioning of the lights. I fear that was less Baker’s problem and more a fault of the facility, which didn’t have proper spots nor good placement locations for moving mirror lights. There were no credits for the properties, but the cardboard cars were cute. Other production credits: Wayne Moore (FB) – Musical Direction; Tamra Pica (FB) – Producer / Casting; Jonathan Harrison  – Stage Manager / Associate Producer; and John Lant  – Producing Artistic Director.

Write Act Repertory (FB)’s production of Freeway Dreams continues at the Brickhouse Theatre (FB) until Sunday, June 11. It is an enjoyable song cycle. Tickets are $15 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. The show does not appear to be listed on either Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) tonight [plus my wife is off to the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB) on Sunday, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing, while I work on the highway pages].

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). This is the current planned schedule for HFF. Not all is ticketed — we are ticketing in two groups: this weekend (¹), and right after June 1st (²), to split the charges. To see the full Fringe guide, click here.

With respect to the Hollywood Fringe Festival: I’d like to recommend Hello Again, The Songs of Allan Sherman. Linden, the artist, did the show for our synagogue Mens Club back in October, and it was a delight. So good, in fact, that we’re going to see the show again during Fringe. If you want a fun show full of parody music, see this one.

July brings us back to normal theatre (° = pending confirmation). We start with The Voysey Inheritance at Actors Co-op (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend is currently open, but we’re thinking about Animal Farm at Theatricum Botanicum (FB). The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Me at  Actors Co-op (FB). The fourth weekend of July has a hold for Motown/Miracle | Harlem/Renaissance from Muse/ique (FB). The last weekend of July brings The Last 5 Years at Actors Co-op (FB).  August will (hopefully) start with Brian Setzer° at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) on August 2, followed by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on the weekend. We may also squeeze in On The Twentieth Century at the Pan-Andreas Theatre in Hollywood from Proof Doubt Closer (FB), as a friend is in the cast. The second weekend of August? What made sitting through The Bodyguard worth it: Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). I’m still scheduling September, but so far we have The 39 Steps° at Actors Co-op (FB) and Pacific Overtures at Chromolume Theatre (FB). There’s also the Men of TAS Golf Tournament, if any theatre company reading this wants to donate tickets to our silent auction (hint, hint). More as the schedule fleshes out, of course, but we’re booking all the way out in mid to late 2018 already!

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

 

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Allegiance Musical BroadcastAs you may recall, I’ve been trying to predict shows that will be going on tour. One show I’ve really been interested in is Allegiance (FB), the Broadway musical that George Takei (FB) has been involved with about the Japanese Internment during WWII. The trade papers said a tour would materialize; but the show’s website doesn’t indicate one. I’ve always expected that a tour, if it materialized, would show up at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) — or that the Ahmanson, recognizing the Japanese community in Los Angeles, might mount a local production. But the Ahmanson hasn’t announced their season yet, and the good folks behind the Broadway show felt the message was important enough to rebroadcast the musical. You see, these producers did something very intelligent. They recorded the musical about a month after it opened, and arranged to have it broadcast around the country, one time, a number of months after it closed. Through my various Broadway RSS and other feeds, I learned that they were arranging a rebroadcast this weekend — and so to hedge my bets in case it didn’t materialize on the stage, I got tickets.

What I didn’t realize, of course, was the significance of the day of the rebroadcast. Today is the 75th anniversary of the signing of the order that sent Japanese Americans to the internment camps. It is also in a time where there is an intense fear that a segment of our current population is dangerous just because of their religion, even when that segment are longtime American citizens. That makes the message of this show even more timely. Franklin Roosevelt, who was the President who signed the order, said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Then he gave into the fear, put US citizens into internment camps, tore away their livelihoods and homes, and regarded them as suspicious just because of their looks or their origins. It was wrong. It was unconstitutional. It was unthinkable. It must never never never happen again. And yet…. we have a large segment of our population living in fear of people because of their looks, their religion or their origin.

I’m an Engineer, but I have a confession to make. A good, compelling story does make my eyes water. Many deep Broadway shows do that — I love theatre because of its ability to tell a story and draw out the emotion. By the end of Allegiance, my jaw was quivering and I was find it hard to hold it together. That is a measure of how powerful this story is; how important it is to tell it. I can’t say to go see the show at your local theatre — alas Allegiance closed after a very short run on Broadway for whatever reason (well, the critics hated it, but what do they know). I can say to friend Allegiance‘s Facebook page so that you can find out if they ever broadcast it again. I can say you must encourage local theatres to do it, but I’m not sure it is licensed yet. We can clamor for a small tour, or push the Ahmanson or East/West to mount it. But I personally feel that this is something that must be seen, and that the critics often have problems with dark, different, and difficult material, only to appreciate it later. Remember: they hate Carrie when it first came out; now it is a great parable about bullying.

I left Allegiance appreciating the power of theatre. That is a good thing.

I guess I should tell you the story of Allegiance, which has a book by Marc Acito (FB),  Jay Kuo (FB), and Lorenzo Thione (FB), and music and lyrics by Jay Kuo (FB). According to Wikipedia, the genesis of the show was a chance meeting in the fall of 2008 of George Takei and his husband, Brad, who were seated next to Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. They met again at another show, had some conversations, and this led to the notion of a musical based roughly on George’s experiences as a child in the internment camps.  I’ll also note you can find a more detailed version on the show webpage or wikipedia. In short, the show tells the story of the Kimura family from Salinas: the grandfather (Ojii-chan), the father (Tatsuo Kimura), and the two children: Sam and Kei. It starts with Sam, who is a WWII veteran, learning that his sister Kei has died. This opens us into the story and how the rift between them was created. We see the family running a farm and having an American life, and then the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. In short order, based on an agreement between the government and the Japanese American Citizens League, led by Mike Masaoka, internment orders go out, and Japanese on the Pacific coast are ordered to camps. The Kimura family has to sell all but what they can carry, and they are taken by force to a camp, Heart Mountain, in the wilds of Wyoming. We learn of life in the camp through a series of scenes, and get to meet two characters in particular: Lt. Hannah Campbell, a nurse at the camp, and Frankie Suzuki, another internee at the camp. Campbell is drawn to Sammy; Frankie to Kei. As time passes, the JACL convinces the government to let Japanese Americans serve in the armed force, in a segregated unit, for suicide missions. A questionnaire goes out that includes loyalty questions so that only loyal Japanese Americans can serve. Tatsuo refuses to answer yes to those questions, and gets hauled away to Tule Mountain. Sammy volunteers to serve (against his father’s wishes), and goes on to be one of the few survivors from that batallion. Frankie, on the other hand, resists; when drafted, he organizes resistance in the camp and is arrested. The creates the wedge that drives the story to its conclusion. I’ll let you read the synopsis for more, but you get the drift.

Given we’re in the era of identifying “fake news”, I’ll note that Wikipedia relates that the show does conflate experiences across different camps for dramatic effect, and adds a bit more military oversight than existed at Heart Mountain.

At this point in a writeup, I’d normally move into a discussion of the direction and performance. But this was a broadcast of a Broadway show, and I’d like to digress to explore that for a graph or two. Going in, I was torn. Recording a Broadway show can have some distinct advantages: it can preserve a performance for posterity; it can also make a show available in many places where this level of theater does not occur — and thus can spread the word about the power of theatre. On the other hand, it could supplant the live production, result in the undercompensation of the actors performing in the recording, and deny work to actors who might work in the local versions of the show. Coming out, I had a different view: the recording allowed on to see the performances up close and personal, in a way that wouldn’t be possible even from the orchestra seats. But it also disconnected the audience from the “big picture”; you never got the scope of the breadth of the stage or the grandeur of the choreography and movement.  The audience feedback was also very different, due to the awareness that there were no actors on stage. Unlike a show, where there is constant applause and feedback, this audience was silent, even at the end. Audience reaction is vital not only for the show but for other audience members, and I felt the different. I also felt the difference with the lack of an intermission and a playbill. In the end, I think seeing the broadcast only made me want to see it live even more.

Next: The Theatre. We saw this at the AMC Promenade theatre in Woodland Hills, which is one of the few survivors in a dying mall. The original auditorium had significant projection problems (double images) that they couldn’t correct before the show. They moved us to a different auditorium (same size, but different arrangement), which created some seating confusion but fixed most projection problems. There was still the problem of bleed-over bass from the auditorium next to us, and there was a sound synchronization problem during much of the first act. Some of this was beyond the theatre’s control, and despite the problems, they managed it well (plus they gave us passes as compensation for the problems). I think we’ll try them again. I’ll note that our show was sold out (130-some-odd seats).

Now, on to the performances, under the direction of Stafford Arima (FB). As you can tell, I was moved and astounded by all the lead performers — the projection allowed us to see things up close that we might never see from the audience. As it is hard to single them out (especially without a Playbill — if you want the Broadway experience, Fathom Events (FB) you should provide that!), let me just start by listing the leads:  George Takei (FB) [Sam Kimura (older), Ojii-chan]; Telly Leung (FB) [Sammy Kimura]; Lea Salonga (FB) [Kei Kimura]; Katie Rose Clarke  [Hannah Campbell]; Michael K. Lee  (FB) [Frankie Suzuki]; Christòpheren Nomura (FB) [Tatsuo Kimura]; and Greg Watanabe (FB) [Mike Masaoka]. With respect to their performances, I was particularly taken with the facial expressions of both Clarke and Salonga, who were just spectacular. I’d only seen Takei perform where everyone else has seen him before, and his performance here just blew me away. He was wasted at the navagation console :-). I’m always impressed by Salonga’s voice, but both Leung and Lee did great jobs as well. All and all, spectacular performances.

In small roles and ensemble parts were: Aaron J. Albano (FB) [Tom Maruyama, Ensemble]; Marcus Choi (FB) [Johnny Goto, Ensemble]; Janelle Toyomi Dote (FB) [Mrs. Maruyama, Executor, Ensemble]; Dan Horn (FB) [Recruiting Officer, Private Evans, Big Band Singer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Darren Lee (FB) [Dr. Tanaka, Ben Masaoka, Ensemble]; Kevin Munhall [Federal Agent, Private Knight, Tule Lake Guard, The Victory Trio, Ensemble]; Rumi Oyama (FB) [Mrs. Tanaka; Ensemble]; Shea Renne [Betsy Tanaka, Ensemble]; Momoko Sugai (FB) [Peggy Maruyama, Ensemble]; Autumn Ogawa [Ensemble]; Elena Wang (FB) [Nan Goto, Ensemble]; Scott Watanabe (FB) [Mr. Maruyama, Ensemble]; Cary Tedder [Ensemble]; and Scott Wise (FB) [Grocer, Director Dillon, Photographer, The Victory Trio, Ensemble].  With the way this was filmed, it was harder to single out particular ensemble members and smaller characters, but I enjoyed the characters overall. Particularly notable was the actress playing the older Japanese woman — I’m guessing it was Rumi Oyama, but it could have been Janelle Dote.

I am not listing the standbys, understudies, and swings as I normally do, because the show has closed and we had the cast on the film. You can find the full list here, together with the list of musicians.

The choreography was by Andrew Palermo (FB), who did an excellent job. I particularly enjoyed not only the large dance numbers but the Japanese movement as well. The movement during the Hiroshima scene was particularly chilling. The Playbill page does not give credit for the musical direction or the conducting. Orchestrations were by Lynne Shankel. Check the Playbill page for information on the dance captains, assistant dance captains, and all the associate and assistant choreographers and directors.

One disadvantage of the theatrical projection is that one cannot get the full impact of the scenic design and other production aspects. Yet another reason to go see it live. In general, the scenic design and projections worked well to establish a sense of place; given the broadcast aspects, it was hard to get a sense of sound and lights. Costumes, makeup, and hair was excellent. Here are the production credits: Donyale Werle [Scenic Design]; Alejo Vietti (FB) [Costume Design]; Howell Binkley (FB) [Lighting Design]; Darrel Maloney [Projection Design]; Kai Harada [Sound Designer]; Charles G. LaPointe [Wig and Hair Design]; Joe Dulude II [Make-up Design];  Peter Wolf  [Production Stage Manager]; and Brian Bogin [Stage Manager].

One last closing note: The production was also notable for the attention to casting asians in asian roles. I’ve commented on this before with shows like Waterfall and The King and I. I still bemoan the fact that there were sufficient Japanese actors to be able to cast closer to role-appropriate (a common problem), and I also bemoan the fact that many asian actors can only find roles in things like this, or onsie-twosie in shows. We need to remember that unless the story requires a particular ethnicity, cast color and race blind.

For the theatrical credits, I must turn to IMDB, so look here for all the cinematography credits and such.

We can only hope that Fathom Events (FB) broadcasts this again.

🎩 🎩 🎩

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, Martha, a one-woman play on the life of Martha Graham (a good preparation for our May VPAC show of her dance group), at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in the middle, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Doc Severinsen and his Big Band at Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 13, followed by Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) over the weekend. That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announced their 2017-2018 season (which was the rest of 2018, after Hamilton took over the last 5 months of 2017) on February 7th. You can find my reaction to it here. Now we just need to see what the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) will do.

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Just before Christmas 2016, I attempted to predict what shows would be presented in the next Pantages and Ahmanson seasons. Today, the Pantages made the announcement about its 2018 season (or most of it; there were no shows announced after September 2018). Curious about how I did? Read on! Additionally, I’d like to share some thoughts on a season announcement for a great Northern California theatre.

☛ 🎱 ☚

Back in December, I summarized the shows that I thought were going on tour based on the announcements that I had seen, and I predicted the following:

There are numerous other shows currently coming to Broadway that I expect to tour, but I think they would be 2018-2019 at best. So how do I predict the seasons to work out? Here are my predictions:

  • Ahmanson 2017-2018 Season: Deaf West’s Spring Awakening, The Humans, Something Rotten, Waitress, and possibly the Fiddler revival, Allegiance, or a pre-Broadway musical.
  • Pantages 2017-2018 Season: Disney’s Aladdin, School of Rock, Love Never Dies, Bright Star, Matilda, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Color Purple, and possibly On Your Feet.

So how did I do? The Pantages announced a six show season. Five of the six were on my Pantages list, one was on my Ahmanson list. So I think I did pretty good. Here’s what was announced for the Pantages season. I’m sure they will have some fill-in shows to announce, but those might be more retreads:

  • Disney’s Aladdin, The Musical. January 10 – March 31, 2018. What is there to say? This is the upsized full-Broadway version. It is clearly a Pantages show that they expect to be a hit, given a 3 month run.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies. April 3-22, 2018. This is the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, which I wasn’t that crazy about. It has not played Broadway yet. I will admit I’m curious on this one, so I’ll give it a try. I was expecting they might program the long running tour of Phantom before this production, but they barely have time to do the load-out/load-in after Aladdin. They can’t even squeeze it in before Aladdin, as Hamilton ends on December 30, 2017, and Aladdin starts January 10.
  • School of Rock: The Musical. May 3 – 27, 2018. Currently on Broadway, and I enjoy the music quite a bit (and that is even with the knowledge that this is an Andrew Lloyd Webber show).
  • The Color Purple: The Musical. May 29 – June 17, 2018. This is the deconstructed and re-conceived revival that received such good reviews on Broadway; I haven’t listened to the album of this version yet. I’m looking forward to this.
  • On Your Feet: The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Musical. July 6 – 29, 2018. Surely to be a crowd-pleaser in Los Angeles. I’ve heard the music, and this should be good.
  • Waitress. August 2-26, 2018. This is the one show I had predicted for the Ahamanson instead, but I can see why the Pantages grabbed it — given it is the first musical by Sara Bareilles, it will bring in the kids. I’ve heard the music, and I’m looking forward to it.

A few additional notes: The Pantages has left very few holes for fill-in programming — really only the last week of April, and the latter half of June. There will be perhaps some pop-up concerts there, but a three-week run is unlikely. Expect them to add shows from September 2018 on, but that may be in their next season announcement. Regarding my predictions (which I’ll update), I think Bright Star might go to the Ahmanson. Matilda, Miss Saigon, and Les Miserables will likely wait for the 2018-2019 Pantages season instead — the first because it was already at the Ahmanson; the latter two because they are really more Pantages shows (plus Les Miz was already at the Ahmanson).

More details, and information on subscription packages, is here.

☛ 🎱 ☚

Back in 2014, we saw an excellent production of The Immigrant from Tabard Theatre Company (FB) in San Jose. A few weeks ago, I received their announcement of their 17th season, and all I can say is that if I lived in the area, it would be worthy of subscription. We may even drive up for one of the shows (Adrift in Macao), it’s that good. Here’s their season:

  • PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. September 15 – October 8, 2017. Written by Rick Elice. Music by Wayne Barker. Based on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel “Peter and the Starcatchers”. Tony Award-winning play! Featuring a dozen actors portraying more than 100 engaging and unforgettable characters, through this play with music we learn how Peter Pan earned his flight credentials and how a mustachioed pirate became Captain Hook. — We saw the tour of this when it was at the Ahmanson, and it was great. This should be a smaller production, but this is a show well suited to that.
  • MOM’S GIFT. October 27 – November 19, 2017. Written by Phil Olson. Northern California Premiere! In this comedy with a heart, Mom has been dead for 11 months and shows up at her husband’s birthday party as a ghost with a mission. Like Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she has to accomplish a task to earn her wings. Only what the task actually is, is a mystery. — We saw the world premiere of this at Group Rep, and it was excellent.
  • HOLIDAY AT THE SAVOY. December 1 – December 17, 2017 Created by Cathy Spielberger Cassetta & Gus Kambeitz. World Premiere! It’s December 1945, New York City — the first post-war holiday season at the famous Savoy ballroom in Harlem where singers, dancers, and musicians put on an exciting floor show filled with the swinging sounds and steps of the day in Savoy style. — I haven’t heard of this, but it sounds quite interesting with good music.
  • EVELYN IN PURGATORY. January 12 – January 28, 2018. Written by Topher Payne. West Coast Premiere! When a complaint is filed against one of the 70,000 teachers in New York’s public schools, they’re sent to a Reassignment Center. There, they sit and wait for their case to be reviewed. Based on real teacher “rubber rooms” in New York City, this surprising and engaging dramatic comedy follows five teachers one school year while they await their hearing. — Sounds like an interesting play. One of the reasons to subscribe to seasons is to see plays you might not normally go to on your own. This sounds like one of those.
  • THE MIRACLE WORKER. February 16 – March 11, 2018. Tony Award winner by William Gibson based on Helen Keller’s biography “The Story of My Life”. 20-year old Annie Sullivan embarked on a journey that would change the life of her charge, Helen Keller, who would, in turn, change the lives of others for generations. The Miracle Worker reveals the power of commitment and strength when the choice is made to reach beyond the understandable and tangible. — This is the play that made Patty Duke’s career. A classic. I haven’t see it in years, but it is a great story.
  • ADRIFT IN MACAO. April 13 – May 6, 2018. Book and Lyrics by Christopher Durang; Music by Peter Melnick. Bay Area Premiere! With a drop-dead funny book and shamefully silly lyrics and lethally catchy music, this fast-paced musical, set in 1952 Macao, China, lovingly parodies the Hollywood film noir classics of the 1940s and ’50s. — I have heard the music from this, and truly want to see the show. It hasn’t been done in LA, at least that I’m aware of. I may work a visit to the Bay Area in my schedule to go see this.

As I noted before, I’d subscribe for this season, it looks that good. They are just too far away for me. But perhaps not for you. Tabard is in San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. Tabard’s pricing for Early Bird tickets (until May 17, 2017) isn’t that bad: between $69 for students to $205 for their “caberet” seating; $159 is the basic adult ticket, meaning about $26.50 a ticket. Subscription information is here.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Aladdin (Dual Language) at Casa 0101January is a hard month for which to book theatre. Shows are loathe to rehearse over the holidays, and there is fatigue amongst theatre goers. My birthday was on a Saturday night in January this year, and so we were casting about for just the right show to go to — something fun, something musical, something memorable. Every other weekend had something, but for this weekend nothing felt right.

Until magic happened. A listing came across Goldstar for something very intriguing: a dual-language version of the Disney musical Aladdin, where the people in the palace spoke Spanish, and the people in the street spoke English. The conceit was that the evil vizir, Jafar, did this to sew confusion amongst the people and gain additional power. This conceit even got written up in the Los Angeles Times, which noted the family-friendly concept first premiered at Theatre Under the Stars (FB) in Houston in 2009. It was being done at Casa 0101 Theatre (FB), whose mission is provide inspiring theater performances, art exhibits and educational programs – to Boyle Heights, thereby nurturing the future storytellers of Los Angeles who will someday transform the world. For those unfamiliar with the area, Boyle Heights is the original immigrant home in Los Angeles. It is where the first synagogue was in Los Angeles, was home to Russia, German, and Japanese immigrants (we had a delightful dinner in the last remaining Japanese restaurant down the street), and is now multiethnic, but primarily Hispanic.

This sounded fascinating, and as it was my birthday and my choice, guess where we were last night. It was a transformative experience, not only for the audience in attendance, but for us as well. We had been having a really bad week with home maintenance issues and such, and this evening and experience completely lifted our spirits. We even bought some artwork from their gallery.

So, Disney’s Aladdin, or to be precise, Aladdin Dual Language Edition/Edición De Lenguaje Dual, is based off the licensed Aladdin Jr. version from MTI. This is very different from the version that was done at the theme parks, and it is different from the version that is currently running on Broadway. It is based on the animated film, but   includes some songs that were cut from the film and changes the story slightly (and of course, the dual-language version changes it even more). The basic structure of the Aladdin Jr. version can be found in the Wikipedia synopsis. The key change here is that the narrators become three translators, able to move between the two languages and clarify for the audiences; the talking animals, similarly, have the power of translation.  The palace royalty and servants speak Spanish, the common people in the market speak English.

(The Dual Language version has a book by Jim Luigs, José Cruz González, music by Alan Menkin, and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, with lyric translation by Walterio Pezqueira (FB))

Now, at this point, you’re probably thinking: I’m not fluent in Spanish, how can I understand the show. You don’t need to be. I find it neat to listen to shows in other languages: I have recordings of Les Miserables in the original French, Hair in both Hebrew and French, and my favorite: a recording of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Other languages become like a poetry, a melodic flow that combines with performance and movement to tell the story. It is truly magic to see.

Casa 0101 Aladdin Cast - Pictures from various sources including Casa0101 Facebook PageUnder the direction of Rigo Tejeda (FB), this talented cast of 24 make the magic onstage. This is not to say there are 24 at every performance: the lead roles (Aladdin, Jazmin, Genie, Jafar) are dual-cast and alternate performance. Tejeda’s direction brings a wonderful energy and sense of fun to the production; there is a clear sense that this cast is having a great time doing the show and enthralling the audiences. It projects, amplifies, and makes magic. The direction also makes the jumping back and forth between the languages seamless; overall, the cast is to be commended for being able to handle both languages so well.

In the lead positions of our lovers are Michael Torrenueva/FB (at our performance, alternating with Daniel Martinez) as Aladdin, and Valeria Maldonado (FB) (at our performance, alternating with Sarah Kennedy (FB)) as Princess Jazmin. Torrenueva was extremely spirited and dashing, exuding charm; Maldonado’s Jazmin was lovely and playful and mischevious; again, with a strong singing voice. The two were just a delight to watch.

The evil side of the equation was played by Omar Mata/FB (at our performance, alternating with Luis Marquez/FB) as Jafar, supported by Jason David/FB‘s puppetry of Iago. Mata was a towering presence (at least a foot taller than any other player) who exuded evil in both look and performance. He was given a song, “Why Me?”, that was cut from the original animated movie and does not appear in the Broadway version.

The magic came from the Genie — at our performance, Finley Polynice (FB), alternating with Lewis Powell III/FB. High energy, playful, great singing voice, wonderful dancing. He also had a really great comedic style.

In supporting positions were Sebastian Gonzalez/FB as Apu, the monkey, and Rosa Navarrete (FB) as Raja, the tiger. These two handled the job of translation quite well, and had wonderful facial expressions and reactions, combined with strong dancing. Also serving a translation role were the three narrators/translators, Diana Castrillon (FB), Blanca Espinoza/FB, and Shanara Sanders (FB). Great singing, great dancing, great facial expressions, and just a delight to watch.

Also supporting the leads were Danielle Espinoza (FB) as the magic carpet, Henry Madrid/FB as the Sultan, and Evan Garcia/FB, as Razul the Captain of the Guards.  Espinoza’s role was primarily dance and movement; she excelled at this as well as with her facial expressions. Madrid’s Sultan showed his experience — he had the right aura of authority, fun, and fatherhood.

On top of all the above, however, the magic of this production was cemented by the ensemble: Andrew Cano/FB, Alejandro Lechuga/FB, Jesse Maldonado (FB), Bryant Melton (FB), Mariana Rocio Petersen/FB, Jocelyn Sanchez/FB, and Andrea Somera (FB). They were high energy, strong dancers, playful in the background, with with great voices — in particular, Somera who had a voice that just shone through the songs.

The movement was choreographed by Tania Possick (FB), who did a wonderful job in the small black-box space. The dances were delightful to watch.

The production was under the music direction of Caroline Benzon (FB), assisted by Jerry Blackburn (FB). During the performance, the music was prerecorded. I do not know if the tracks were those provided by MTI, or whether they were recorded specifically for this performance. The program does not make this clear. The music was adapted, arranged, and orchestrated by Bryan Louiselle (FB).

Turning to the production side: Cesar Holguin (FB)’s scenic design was relatively simple, but worked quite well when combined with Karlo Ishibashi (FB)’s properties and Yee Eun Nam (FB)’s projections. Alysha Bermudez/FB‘s sound design was clear and had a reasonable balance between voice and music. Sohail e. Najafi (FB)’s lighting design focused attention appropriately and established the mood well. Abel Alvarado (FB)’s costume design combined with Jules Bronola/G+‘s costumes to establish locale. They were sexy as appropriate, with the only drawback being the alas-too-requisite banding to hold sound equipment. Completing the production credits are: Jerry Blackburn (FB) – Stage Manager; Ramon “Rooster” Cabrera/FB – Assistant Stage Manager; Angelique Enos/FB – Spotlight Operator; Luis Gaudi (FB) – Photographer; Steve Moyer Public Relations – Publicist; Edward Padilla (FB) – Casting; Vincent A. Sanchez – Associate Lighting Designer; Soap Studio Inc. – Graphic Design; Tony Velis – Puppet Design; George Villanueva/FB – Spotlight Operator. Aladdin was presented by Casa 0101 Theatre (FB) and TNH Productions (FB), in association with Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo (FB), and produced by Abel Alvarado (FB), Felipe Agredano (FB), Emmanuel Deleage, Edward Padilla (FB), Rigo Tejeda (FB), and Conrado Terrazas (FB).

Aladdin – Dual Language Edition / Edición de Lenguaje Dual continues at Casa 0101 Theatre (FB) through February 19, 2017, and there are hopes to extend if funding permits (so donate). Tickets are available through the Casa 0101 website, or by calling the Casa 0101 box office at  323.263.7684 between the hours of 11AM to 6PM M-F.  Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: January ends with Claudio Quest at the Chance Theatre (FB) on January 28. February 2017 gets back to being busy: with Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals.; we’re also seeing Allegiance – A New Musical (recorded on Broadway) at the AMC Promenade on Sun 2/19. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner,  Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month. March may also bring Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) as that gets shifted from April. Speaking of April, it will hopefully start with a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB) (shifting Cats Paws to an afternoon matinee that day, or the Sunday matinee the weekend before). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The next weekend is currently open (and will likely stay that way). Mid-April brings Animaniacs Live at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB). That will be followed on the penultimate weekend of April with Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Lastly, looking to May, the schedule shows that it starts with My Bodyguard at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) the first weekend. It continues with Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). That, barring something spectacular cropping up, should be the first half of 2017.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.

P.S.: Mostly so I can find it later, here’s my predictions of what will go on tour and where they will end up. The Hollywood Pantages (FB) announces February 7th.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Gutenberg, The Musical! (Backyard Renaissance)userpic=theatre_ticketsThe ideas for musicals come from the many places. Books. Movies. More movies. Far too many movies.  Grey Gardens came from a documentary about a crazy heiress.  [title of show] came from a festival application. Then there is the show we saw last night from Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego: Gutenberg, The Musical! It came from, well, a slush pile of bad musical submissions.

Perhaps I should explain this a bit more. Scott Brown and Anthony King (FB), who wrote the show, were Junior High School friends who were working as interns at theatre companies. They were tasked with attending new musicals, and reading through the slush pile of submitted musicals and unsolicited demo recordings of musicals. They were seeing bad musicals. Really bad musicals. They began to wonder how the authors of those musicals didn’t realize they were so bad. So, they decided to write their own intentionally bad musical. They would figure out the absolute worse subject for a musical and go for it. As Hitler was already taken, they went with Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the Printing Press.  It died. They reworked it for Upright Citizens Brigade. It lived. They expanded it to 45 minutes, then to a full-length off-Broadway show. They recorded a cast album.

I should say upfront that this show is bad. But bad in a good sense. Think about Batman in the 1960s. The show was bad but in an intentional way, in a way that played up the knowledge that you were in on the joke that it was bad, and so you went along for the ride, and it ended up being good, and in fact making a positive and deep commentary on a number of things. Well, perhaps not that far. But it was bad in an intentionally funny way, and that made it good.

Here’s an example that perhaps illustrates this. Early in this show, one character is secretly in love with another character, and offers to make him some lamb stew. He replies, “I love ewe.”. She hears “I love you.”  Yup. Do we go out on that joke? No, we do reprise of song, that help. But not much.

In any case, Gutenberg, The Musical! is presented as a musical about Gutenberg. But it is not presented as a traditional musical. Rather, it is presented as a backer’s audition, with the two ostensible authors playing all the roles (in the spirit of Murder for Two). How do you tell the myriad of characters apart? Each character has their own hat. A baseball cap. With their character stenciled on it.

As the story of Gutenberg himself doesn’t cry out for musicalization, the authors go the historical fiction route. They set the story in the fictional berg of Schlimmer, Germany. That should be a clue right there. They invent a fictional love interest, a buxom blond wench named Helvetica. They invent an antagonist, an evil (or should that be eeeeevil bwah ha ha) monk named, well, Monk. They invent a deep and meaningful commentary they want to make — since this is Germany, they must mention the holocaust. And they come up with a story: Gutenberg wants to make people read, and so invents the Printing Press. Monk wants to keep people stupid so he can tell them what is right and wrong without them knowing (and remember, boys and girls, that Monk almost rhymes with Trump). Helvetica loves Gutenberg, but is afraid of losing her wine-pressing job and him after he invents the printing press, and so falls under Monk’s spell (after listening to Trump’s, I mean, Monk’s, lies) and destroys the press. You can take it from there.

So the story is campy. Intentionally campy. Aside from the hats, there is continual breaking of the fourth wall, continually skewering of musical conventions and existing musicals, inspired sillyness (such as the water schprizting bottle), and, well, everything you would expect at a bad backers audition. In doing so, Gutenberg does something similar to [title of show] — it exposes the side of theatre that is rarely seen: the developmental side. What Gutenberg is demonstrating is what many musicals go through, and what many potential producers have to suffer through: the backers audition that can be both great and horrifying at the same time. The badness of the musical proposal combines with the earnestness of the authors to create something bigger than itself. You might say that it becomes a monster in its own right, but I wouldn’t go that far … and here’s why.

When you scrape off the veneer of bad backers audition, and think about what it being said, there is a deeper valid commentary being made (just as the wine press presses out the good juice from the grapes). The commentary has nothing to do with the holocaust, but with the importance of reading, knowledge, and independent thinking over just listening to the platitudes of misguided leaders. In the story, Monk intentionally wants to keep the village and the villagers stupid, so that he can exert his power over them by telling them what he wants them to think their books of authority say. Does that sound familiar? I’ve alluded to Trump before, because I think it is a clear analogy. We get political leaders who want to tell us what the Constitution says, what they believe our laws say, what they think we should do. Another example: I’ve recently been in some discussions with anti-Vaxxers (which will be my next blog post). They’ve been brainwashed by leaders who tell them what the science says, what the statistics means. Never mind whether it is true or not — these people tell them what they want them to hear to serve their own ends. Gutenberg, on the other hand, wants transparency and critical thinking. He doesn’t want to tell the people how to think — he wants them to be able to read and think about it on their own, to come up with their own opinions and understanding. He knows that what will make the true technological revolution is not a piece of machinery, but what that machinery enables. Beneath all of the camp of this musical is a deep message about the power of independent critical reading and analysis over the tyranny of ignorance. And that, friends, is a wonderful and true message.

Now, a story is nothing if it isn’t performed well. Our two erstwhile authors, Scott and Anthony, well, Doug and Bud (as the characters are named) are played by Anthony Methvin (FB) [Doug] and Tom Zohar (FB) [Bud]. These two young men bring the right amount of earnestness, sillyness, and talent to the role, believably coming the authors of the musical. They handle all the different hats they have to wear well, rapidly becoming all the different characters. Including rats and dead babies. Also notable is the cat, Biscuit, whose bio is hilarious. I figure he has a big future on Broadway.

The scenic design is understandably…. nothing. A piano. A folding table covered in hats, with a few props underneath it. This design, together with the simplistic props, comes from the Executive and Artistic directors of BRT — Jessica John Gerke (FB) and Francis Gerke (FB). The real “set” comes from the wide variety of hats, which serve as the “costumes” — which were also designed by Jessica John Gerke (FB). I’d say they were an inventive idea, but considering the cover of the cast album, my guess is that they were at least inspired by the original UCB design. Nevertheless, they were executed well and worked great for the story — and were incorporated well into the staging of director Kim Strassburger (FB) and the dance/movement of choreographer Katie Whalley Banville (FB). A little elaboration on that: although these were just two guys wearing hats, they were doing so in extremely inventive ways: such as a line of hats on a string for a chorus line, or literally wearing many hats at one time. There were commentaries on large dance numbers in musicals, on pointless charm songs, and much more — all executed in a humorous and entertaining fashion that wasn’t necessarily part of the script. That, I believe, is what the director and choreographer brought to this show.

On to the piano. There is no explicit credit for the on-stage pianist, so presumably it was the music director Lyndon Pugeda (FB). It looks like him at least (although he needs to update his official website — it dates to 2012 and references (heaven forfend) Myspace). Although not a formal character, he played with the actors and provided quite a few humorous moments of his own. Plus he played the keys well.

Back to the production credits. There was no credit for sound design; as there were no sound effects, there might not have been any sound design. Lighting design was by Curtis Mueller (FB), and worked within the restrictions of the space — a few lekos, a few scrollers, and what looked like a moving mirror spot. Then again, this was a backers audition — you don’t need a lot of lighting effects. Anthony Methvin (FB) was the producing director, and Taylor Todd (FB) was the stage manager. Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (FB) is under the artistic direction of Jessica John Gerke (FB) and the executive direction of  Francis Gerke (FB).

Gutenberg! The Musical! continues at the Diversionary Theatre (FB) in San Diego’s University Park community through September 4th. Tickets are available through the BRT website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. It is worth seeing.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  September returns to conventional theatre. The second weekend sees us back at Muse/ique (FB) for Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend brings I Love You Because at the Grove Theatre in Burbank. The last weekend is The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and it looks like a theatre in Pasadena will be presenting the musical Funny Girl. November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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The Boy from Oz (Celebration Theatre)userpic=theatre_musicals

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

That’s the opening of Dicken’s The Tale of Two Cities… and an opening I’ve used before. This time, let’s call this The Tale of Two Boys. Both Boys, as it happens, are from Oz. They happen to be from two different cities. They both happen to be excellent, each in its own way. And there, my friends, is the real tale.

Back in May, we had two theatres, one in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco, both staging what was essentially the West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz, a musical based on the life of Peter Allen, with music and lyrics by Peter Allen*, and book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright (Additional music and lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Michael Callen, Christopher Cross, David Foster, Tom Keane, Marsha Malamet, Dean Pitchford, and Carole Bayer Sager). I say “essentially”, because they opened a day apart, about the time it would take to drive from one theatre to the other during rush hour.

We had originally been planning to go to see Celebration Theatre (FB) version of The Boy from Oz in LA, which I had learned about back at the beginning of the year. But then I was scheduling a trip to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation, and what pops up but another version of The Boy from Oz: this one from  Landmark Musical Theatre (FB). So we scheduled that and released our informal hold date for Oz in LA. Then we saw (a) the production in San Francisco, and (b) the rave reviews that Celebration was getting, and we decided to compare and contrast. On paper, the presenting companies and productions  were very different. Landmark was a new company (their 2nd musical), in a large theatre (399 seats) that hadn’t hosted a musical before, with minuscule budget, weak lighting and sound infrastructure, and a Bay Area acting pool.  Celebration, on the other hand, was an established company with loads of musical experience, in a much smaller theatre (55 seats) with better infrastructure, the very talented Los Angeles acting pool, and a strong publicity machine.

You know what? As I said before, both productions were excellent. Each had their own unique strengths and their own weaknesses, and neither had weaknesses that reached the level of significant problems.

Here’s the synopsis of the show I wrote less than a month ago:

If you are unfamiliar with The Boy from Oz, that’s not a surprise. The musical opened in Australia in 1998, and moved to Broadway in 2004, where it won a Tony for an actor you might have heard of: Hugh Jackman (FB). However, the show never went on tour, and the regional producing rights in America were not released until this year. So the show has faded from popular memory, much like the subject of the show, Peter Allen.  The show itself is a jukebox musical, using the songs of Peter Allen to tell the life-story of Peter Allen. This is a story that starts in the outback of Australia in Tenterfield, New South Wales. It includes Allen’s stint as part of the  It includes both Judy Garland, the mentor who discovered Allen in Hong Kong and for whom Allen was a protégé, and Liza Minnelli (FB), Garland’s daughter whom Allen married shortly after her success in Flora the Red Menace. It is a story of the birth of gay awareness, as Allen realizes he is homosexual during the marriage, and the birth of the gay movement including the Stonewall Riots that occurred shortly after Garland’s death. It is the story of Allen going out as a solo act, and hitting his peak popularity in the 1980s. And it is the story of AIDS, with the death of Allen’s lover, Greg Connell, from AIDS, followed by the death of Allen himself. It is a celebration of the life of Peter Allen.

The show features many of Allen’s better known songs, including “When I Get My Name In Lights”, “The Best That You Can Do”, “Continental American”, “She Loves to Hear the Music”, “Bi-Coastal”, “Everything Old is New Again”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Still Call Australia Home”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, and “I Go to Rio”. You’ll know the songs, even if you don’t know Allen.

The Celebration version, under the direction of Michael A. Shepperd (FB) [assisted by Kyle Cooper (FB)] and choreography of Janet Roston (FB) [assisted by Michael Quiett/FB] had a distinctly stronger staging and spectacular dance. Although Celebration’s space was smaller and had fewer set pieces, they made extremely good use of the pieces they had (more on that in a bit). More significantly, their level of dance was head and shoulders above San Francisco in terms of both design and execution.  San Francisco’s dancing was good, but lacked precision. Here, the dance was spot-on, energetic, precise, and just… wow. The Rockettes scene and the Fosse scene will just blow you away with the dance. I think this was a product of having a much stronger dance talent pool available, and having stronger dance experience working with that crew to design the dance. About my only dance quibble was: where were the taps, especially in the opening number. When we are seeing tap dance, we should be hearing tap dance. As for the staging, well, it oozed sex in a way that only Hollywood and West Hollywood can. San Francisco was tame compared to the sexiness here.

The Boy From Oz - Publicity PhotosThe Celebration production stared Andrew Bongiorno (FB) as Peter Allen. From the very start, I noticed Bongiorno’s charisma with the audience, and my wife commented that he was just giving off a very sexy vibe. Whereas Dan Seda (FB), Landmark’s Peter and their only AEA performer, was good with a wonderful singing voice, and a warm and accessible performance, Bongiorno was just outstanding — strong vocals, strong movement, according to my wife oozing testosterone, flirty, playful, and just everything you would expect Peter Allen to be. Further, unlike Seda, he didn’t have to fake an Aussie accent — he was from Victoria, Australia. No “shrimps on the barbee” here. He did a particularly great job on “Only an Older Woman”.

Another strong performer in the Celebration version was Bess Motta (FB) as Judy Garland. Motta captured Garland’s mannerisms and voice and look with turning the performance into caricature. When I saw the Landmark production with  Connie Champagne (FB) as Garland, something bothered me. The face seemed too stiff, the movement too stylized.  Motta made me realize the difference by being real — by being able to portray both the warmth and the hatred behind Garland. She came across as a real Garland, and her performance made me see the difference between becoming a character vs. impersonating a character.

On the other hand, there was Jessica Pennington (FB)’s Liza Minnelli. Although Pennington gave a very strong performance, with excellent vocals and emoting, she just didn’t become Minnelli (especially in the first act; she had grown a little bit more into the role in the second act). Landmark’s Liza Minnelli, Kat Robichaud (FB), did a stronger job of capturing the basic look of Minnelli well, and had the dance moves (especially in the Fosse-style number) down well. Robichaud also did a great job of capturing Minnelli’s singing style.  Robichaud wasn’t perfect — she needed a pinch more kookiness in Minnelli’s early days. Minnelli is a hard part to cast right and get right. Landmark casted for the young Minnelli — the kooky teenager of Flora the Red Menace and The Sterile Cuckoo. They got that right, but that gave them difficulty in the second act when you need the much older Minnelli who has started to see it all. Celebration cast for the older Minnelli, which made the first act Minnelli completely off the game. So, although both were good, I’ll give the Minnelli point to the Bay Area team.

There’s one other point where I felt the Bay Area was stronger in terms of performance: Allen’s lover Greg Connell (played by Ivan Hardin (FB)). Although Celebration’s Greg, Michael Mittman (FB) gave an excellent performance with strong vocals and emotions, Hardin’s Greg had that magical strong stage presence and a very engaging way about him, with a spectacular singing voice, and looks that were just … I normally don’t say this, but wow.

If you’re keeping score in the lead roles, all the performances were good, but we have two points given to Celebration for spot on strong casting, and two given to Landmark for the same thing.

There was one other significant casting strength for Landmark: their young Peter Allens, who were excellent tap dancers and believably young versions of their older Allen. Yes, they did tap — tap up a storm, as a matter of fact. Celebration went a different direction on casting, choosing the young Michayla Brown. The young Ms. Brown was a talented performer, but wasn’t believably a younger version of their Peter Allen, which impacted the suspension of disbelief. She also, alas, didn’t have taps.

Rounding out some of the named characters were Marcus S. Daniel (FB)’s Chris Allen, Michael Taylor Gray‘s Dee, and Kelly Lester (FB)’s Marion Woolnough.  All gave strong performances, in particular, Lester’s impressive performance in “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.  Landmark’s Maron ( Amy Meyers (FB)) was good, but Lester just had the right note of authenticity in her portrayal. Daniel gave a strong performance as Allen’s “Brother” Chris; although the size difference elminated the belief that they were brothers I’ll note Daniel was a hoot in the Rockette’s number. You’ll just have to see it. Gray’s Dee was suitably grizzled.

Rounding out the cast as other named characters and ensemble members were Nathan Mohebbi (FB) (Mark and others), Erica Hanrahan-Ball (FB) (Karen and others), Chelsea Martin (FB) (Linelle and others), and Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) (Shena and others).  It was in the latter three ensemble members — Erica, Chelsea, and Shanta — that Celebration just took this production over the top. Landmark had a larger ensemble with mostly weaker talent (they had one good ensemble member). Celebration’s, although smaller, was supersized in talent and dance. The small size of the Celebration space permitted the audience to hear the voices on these three — all were just great. Strong — perhaps exceptional — singers, sexy dancers, with a charisma that showed they were having fun. Oh, and could they smile. These girls are one of the highlights of the show. About my only comment was that there was a uniformity of dancer builds, but that’s how it was in that period.

Mat J. Hayes and Alli Miller (FB) were the swings. Marcus S. Daniel (FB) was the dance captain.

The on-stage band at the Celebration was smaller than the Landmark production, but had significantly better sound. I think that is because Celebration used the right instruments. In other words, Landmark had separate reed and trumpet players. Celebration combined the two with one player, but went with a saxophone instead of a trumpet. Celebration also had the string player cover both guitar and bass; Landmark tried to get away with only the bass. The net result: the Celebration had music that just blasted you away and had the full-size Broadway sound. Credit goes to the musical director, Bryan Blaskie (FB), on keyboard, and his musicians: Omar D. Brancato (bass/guitar), Noelle Fabian (saxophone/clarinet), and Stephen Dizon/FB (drums).

Turning now to the creative and production team. The scenic design is one area where there was the starkest differentiation between the two companies, owing to the difference in facilities. Both had limitations — Celebration in terms of a space that was perhaps one-third of Landmarks, with no flyspace; Landmark with a large space in an cavernous hall with concrete walls and musical theatre lighting at the middle-school level. Each made their space work, but in different ways. Landmarks showcase was a large baby grand piano (mostly styrofoam) with large musical note risers, and some projections on the back curtains. Celebration’s scenic design, by Yuri Okahana, was very different. Okahana had an upright piano — perhaps a spinnet. There were some stairs on the side that served as tables and such when needed, but it was mostly the actors front and center that created the impression of where you were. This mostly worked, although I found myself longing at times for Landmark’s projections to give a better idea of where we were in the world — the outback, Hong Kong, New York, etc.  Both worked, but very very different conceptions of their space. Celebration was significantly stronger in terms of sound (design by Eric Snodgrass) and light (design by Derrick McDaniel). Here the significantly stronger facilities and experience paid off handsomely, although Celebration’s space is limited in terms of spotlights, which require a moving mirror system. Landmark could use a real spotlight, although they didn’t have a sufficient light to be able to tightly focus. Another production aspect in which Celebration was significantly stronger was in the costumes of Michael Mullen. Landmark’s costumes were low-budget. Creative, but low-budget. Celebration’s costumes gave no idea of the budget: they were flashy, they were sexy, they were seemingly era-appropriate… on or off, they just worked right and made the characters shinge. Similarly, Bryon Batista‘s wigs and hair just worked right and didn’t appear to be wigs.  Rounding out the production credits were: Michael O’Hara (Properties Design), Jennifer Leigh Sears (Production Stage Manager), and Jillian Mayo (Alternate Stage Manager).

Celebration Theatre (FB)’s The Boy From Oz has been extended into July, and you should get your tickets now (through the Celebration website) before they sell out. I’d mention Goldstar,  but they are already sold out. This is an excellent production from an excellent company, and you should go see it. As for the San Francisco production: we saw the next to last performance, and they have already closed their short run. If you’re in the Bay Area and reading this, you missed your chance. C’mon down to LA and see this great production, and then make a note to support Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s future productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. As for what is in Celebration’s future: they are about to announce their next season, so stay tuned…

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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I Only Have Eyes for You (Montalban)userpic=theatre_ticketsMany years ago, a friend of mine noted that the phrase “I Only Have Eyes for You” could accommodate putting the word “only” between (or before or after) any word in the phrase, creating subtle differences in meaning.

I’ll wait while you try it out. After all, I have only eyes for you.

An exercise like this shows the importance of where you put the emphasis when you write something. “I have only eyes for you” is very different from “Only I have eyes for you”, which is different from “I have eyes for only you.” Place the emphasis wrong, and your intent is trashed.

I mention this because yesterday afternoon we were at The Montalban Theatre (FB) (nee the Doolittle, nee the Huntington Hartford) to see the musical “I Only Have Eyes for You: The Life and Lyrics of Al Dubin“, with book by Jerry Leichtling (FB) and Arlene Sarner (FB), music mostly by Harry Warren, and lyrics by Al Dubin. The musical was well executed, presented loads of talent, and marvelous singing and dancing. However the story was…. creaky. It is clear that the emphasis was placed on the music and the singing and dancing, not on the story and its presentation. Those familiar with musicals will tell you that great music and great dancing can get you far, but what makes a musical succeed in the long term is telling a good story, and leaving the audience with some form of feeling.

In between all the songs from the wonderful Al Dubin song catalog (yes, this was a jukebox musical), the production attempts to tell the life story of the songwriter, Al Dubin. Arguably, the choice of doing that particular story creates the risk of the Mack and Mabel curse: how do you tell a story when the ending is a downer? Mack and Mabel had that problem because the two people you wanted to see together end up apart, with Mabel Normand dying of health problems at the age of 37. Try and feel good after that. In this story, nor matter how you cut it, you end up with Al Dubin entering a spiral down of drugs and alcohol, and dying on the street after having taken a large quantity of doctor-prescribed barbiturates.

Take the downer of a story, and add to it the creakiness of a traditional 1930s musical that tries to be upbeat over everything, and you have…. 42nd Street (which will open at the Pantages down the street tomorrow). More importantly, however, you have a musical that is out of date with the times. In contrast to old musicals that were designed to keep smiling through the pain, to keep dancing, to stay upbeat, new musicals are designed to tell real stories and relate to real life. The pains and foibles remain in the story. The tone and superficiality date the book of I Only Have Eyes for You. That, more than anything, is why I characterized the story as creaky.

I should also note that it is unclear the extent to which the story presented it truthful. Specifically, the book posits a World War I experience as driving Dubin’s spiral down. Yet a web search shows no such incident in Dubin’s life; in fact, the timing of some of the elements of the story as presented do not agree with the real story. Taking artistic license with the facts does happen, but usually it is acknowledged as such.

Lastly, this is a jukebox musical. That means you have to take songs not intended to tell a story, and somehow shoehorn them into to a story context. Sometimes it works; usually it doesn’t. For this show, that means that the songs that are performed as part of the historical context work well; the ones that attempt to propel the story often fall a little flat, primarily because Dubin tended not to be autobiographical in his tunes. Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths rarely were.

This doesn’t mean the show is bad. The performances and the music outshine the weak book. This is a show that might play well on the road, especially to the older theatre audience familiar with the music. The creaky book would limit the life of the show on Broadway; but with a two-week run, this could be spectacular.

The cast for this show, under the direction and choreography of Kay Cole, was uniformly excellent. In the lead positions were Jared Gertner (FB)  as Al Dubin and Nikki Bohne (FB) as Helen McClay Dubin.  Gertner exuded an easy-going charm as Dubin — you could see how his playfulness and creativity were there to take him far. The problem was that his personality was perhaps too bright and bubbly; his darker side and demons didn’t come across as dark as they needed to be to take him in the direction that he went. This might have been sanitization for the sake of story; it might have been direction that wanted to keep things up. Whichever it was, although Gertner clearly tried, the downside was more of a Foster Brooks downside than a deep depression. Gertner’s singing and dancing were uniformly excellent and just a delight to watch. I liked his rendition of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”; for some reason, I thought that was a Jacques Brel song. Bohne’s Helen played off of Gertner’s Al quite well. She was perky, bubbly, and playful. You could easily see that Ms. Bohne was enjoying this role tremendously. She had a truly wonderful singing voice, demonstrated in…. well, everyone of her songs.  She was also a strong dancer.

In the second tier of characters, we have Kayla Parker (FB)’s Ruby Keeler and Constantine Rousouli (FB)’s Harry Warren. Parker’s Keeler was great — a singing and dancing powerhouse. Just a delight to watch in numbers like “A Cup of Coffee” or “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me”. Rousouli’s Warren was a bit stiffer, but still strong. He had a voice that was surprisingly deep, as shown in “Don’t Give Up The Ship”.

The remaining cast tended to play multiple characters or rotate through the ensemble: Valerie Perri (FB) (Minna Dubin / Monica / Ensemble); Renee Marino (FB) (Carmen Miranda / Ensemble); Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) (Patrick / Ensemble); Robert Pieranunzi (FB) (Busby Berkeley / Goldberg / Ensemble); Dominic Pierson (FB) (William / Ensemble); Elijah Rock (FB) (Cab Calloway / Bandleader / Ensemble); Justin Michael Wilcox (FB) (Simon / Al Jolson / Ensemble); Julian DeGuzman (FB) (Syd / Ensemble); Kim Taylor (FB) (Ensemble); Katherine Tokarz (FB) (Ensemble); and Karl Warden (FB) (Ensemble). Daniel May (FB) and Penny Wildman (FB) were the Swings. Notable in this crew were Rock’s Cab Calloway, Marino’s Miranda, Perri’s Minna. They each had essentially solos, and each was just great. Also strong were the male dancers: DeGuzman, Warden, Wilcox, and Pierson, although for some the costumes were a bit, well, ummm, let’s say “out there”. All of the ensemble were called upon to do tap dancing, and they did an excellent job of it. You don’t see tap dancing as much these days; I miss it.

Musically, the production was under the musical direction of Gerald Sternbach (FB), who also led the 10 piece band on piano. Working with him were Jack Lipson/FB (Asst. Music Director / Piano); Darrel Gardner (FB) (Trumpet); Ron Barrows (Trumpet); Ken Kugler (Trombone); Phil Feather (FB) (Woodwinds); Greg Huckins (FB) (Woodwinds); John Krovoza (FB) (Cell0); Adrian Rosen/FB (Bass); and Albie Berk/FB (Drums / Contractor).  These musicians produced a wonderful sound that did not overpower the singers. Orchestrations were by Doug Walter and Steven Scott Smalley.

Lastly, let’s look at the remaining production and creatives. I noted earlier that not only did Kay Cole direct, but she choreographed as well. Cole’s dancing seemed very much in the period, with loads of tap and lots and lots of style. It was very fun to watch. Jeffrey Scott Parsons (FB) was the dance captain. Hector Guerrero was the Assistant Choreographer.

John Iacovelli (FB)’s scenic design was somewhat traditional: lots of pieces that flew down or were stagehanded in. They did a great job in establishing the requisite sense of place; I particularly liked the drop for LA Union Station, which was very accurate. The sets were supported by Brandon Baruch (FB)’s lighting design, which served to focus the view, establish the sense of time, while ensuring what should be seen should be seen. Also supporting the sense of time and place were Debra McGuire‘s costumes, Marissa Bergman (FB)’s properties, and Judi Lewin (FB)’s hair, wig, and makeup design. My wife and I had a few quibbles with McGuire’s costumes: there were there aforementioned stretch pants/leotards that the male ensemble members wore, and which left little to the imagination; the odd blue top that the character of Ruby wore in the second acts that seemed more in the 80s; Carmen Miranda’s costume, which likely wouldn’t have shown her belly button in that era; and some blue costumes that got lost against a blue background. Other than that, the costumes were good. The props were effective, although I noticed at times they were a bit flat (such as the musician’s instruments). Hair, wigs, and makeup all seemed reasonable. The sound was by the ever reliable Cricket S. Myers (FB) — one really doesn’t need to say anything — her presence ensures a good sounding show. Rounding out the production credits in positions significant to the actors, but not obvious to the audience members: Michael Donovan C.S.A. (FB) [Casting]; Davidson & Choy Publicity (FB) and Chasen & Company [Publicity]; Allied Integrated Marketing & 87AM (FB) [Marketing]; Matthew Herrmann (FB) [General Manager]; Brad Enlow [Technical Supervisor]; Art Brickman (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Tara Sitser (FB) [Stage Manager]’ Phil Gold [Assistant Stage Manager]; A Chandler Warren Esq [Legal]; and Corky Hale [Producer].

I Only Have Eyes for You” continues at The Montalban Theatre (FB) through June 12. Tickets are available online. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Last Five Year (ACT San Francisco)userpic=playbillComplexity in Simplicity. That’s a good way to describe the musical we saw last night: The Last Five Years (L5Y) by Jason Robert Brown (FB). Now L5Y would not be at the top of the list of musicals we would see this week if we could (42nd Street Moon’s The Most Happy Fella would have that spot). After all, we’ve seen it twice before: in 2006 at the Pasadena Playhouse, and in 2007 at the 81 seat REP East Playhouse. However, our daughter specifically asked to see it, and so off to the Geary Theatre we went. This did provide us with the opportunity to see the show in a large venue — Pasadena is mid-size, and REP was intimate.

The Last Five Years is a simple show in terms of story: there are two actors, and they rarely appear together. The show tells the story of the relationship between Jamie and Kathy. Kathy’s version of the relationship story is told backwards: from the breakup to when they meet. Jamie version is forward: from when they meet to the breakup. They are only together at the middle (the marriage) and the last scene (but that time their songs are separate). The story alternates between the two stories, and from it the audience gets the story.

Given this structure, the storytelling depends on two things: the performance and the music. Jason Robert Brown (FB)’s music has the JRB romantic musical sound (i.e., you’ll find that The Bridges of Madison County has a similar sound): deep, lush, emotive, and at times playful. There are some very beautiful songs in L5Y; there are some very funny songs; and there are some very poignant songs.

More than almost any other show I know, this show is a showcase for the actors and the directors. Good actors can make the show. Wooden actors can put you to sleep. I’m pleased to say that the performances at A.C.T. were wonderful — they were full of personality and character. When these actors were happy, you know it; when they were sad, it was clear. You could get a real sense of their personalities from their performances. For example, just look at Zak Resnick (FB)’s performance in “Shiksa Goddess”. It was playful, happy, bouncy, and full of character. Similarly, the emotion he brought out for “The Schmuel Song” was spectacular. He was paired with Margo Seibert (FB)’s Kathy. Again, this was a performance filled with personality, as demonstrated in both “A Summer in Ohio” and “I Can Do Better Than That”. Both were just a lot of fun to watch. Kudos to the director, Michael Berresse (FB), for keeping the production simple and for bringing out the personalities of the characters.

Jeffrey Brian Adams and Kelsey Venter were the understudies.

The six piece orchestra was under the music direction of Matt Castle (FB), who also played the piano. Accompanying him were Deborah Price on violin; Jessica Ivry (FB) on cello; Kelley Maulbetsch (FB) on cello; Schuyler McFadden (FB) on guitar; Dewayne Pate (FB) on bass. Kevin Porter (FB) was the music contractor.

Tim Mackabee (FB)’s scenic design of the production was simple. Some large scrims created walls that could move, and there were various establishing furniture pieces and props that would move on stage to indicate the particular scenic location.  This was complemented by the excellent lighting design of Robert Wierzel (FB), who used the lighting not only to establish mood but to punctuate songs and emotions. Kai Harada (FB)’s sound design was clear and crisp up in the mezzanine, which is something that can be difficult in a large theatre. Remaining production credits: Associate Lighting Designer – Paul Hackenmueller (FB); Costume Design – Callie Floor (FB); Casting – Janet Foster C.S.A. (FB); Stage Manager – Megan Q. Sada (FB); Assistance Stage Manager – Christina Larson. A.C.T. San Francisco is under the artistic direction of Carey Perloff (FB).

The Last Five Years continues at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) of San Francisco (FB) until June 5, 2016. Tickets are available through A.C.T. online. Discount tickets might be available through Goldstar or Theatre Bay Area.

A.C.T. San Francisco has announced their 2017 season, and one show caught my eye: Here Lies Love, running in June 2017. This is a musical by David Byrne, with music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, about Imelda Marcos. I’ve heard the music, and it is quite fun. I recommend it to those in the Bay Area.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

 

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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The Boy from Oz (Landmark Musicals)userpic=theatre_tickets It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

Oh, wrong tale of two cities.

Let me tell you the story of two cities, both staging the West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz, a musical based on the life of Peter Allen, with music and lyrics by Peter Allen*, and book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright.
*: Additional music and lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Michael Callen, Christopher Cross, David Foster, Tom Keane, Marsha Malamet, Dean Pitchford, and Carole Bayer Sager.

In one city, there is an established theatre company going back to 1982, with a large donor pool and a reasonable budget for an intimate theatre. There are significant production resources collected over that time in terms of lights, stagecraft, sound, facilities. There is a large talent pool, and due to the nature of the company and local agreements, multiple AEA actors were allowed (on top of SAG/AFTRA actors). There is a small theatre (under 99 seats) to fill. There is time to plan the show, with the production being announced in August 2015. There is significant publicity, with numerous reviewers and almost daily posts in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as publicity through popular blogs and theatre websites.

In the other city, there is a new company for which this is their second production. There is miniscule budget. There is a historic theatre with no production resources for which this is the first stage musical to be presented. There is a small talent pool with a short time to assemble it, as the rights for the show were approved in January 2016. There are limitations on the use of AEA actors (one AEA guest spot is permitted). There is a large old theatre to fill (399 seats). There is no social media presence, perhaps two reviews, and a small amount of publicity.

Both, however, open the same night, and both have the right to claim West Coast Regional premiere. However, one distinctly operates in the shadow of the other.

Perhaps the quote applies after all: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

Guess which production we saw? That’s right: as we believe a weekend is never complete without some form of live performance, we didn’t let a trip to the San Francisco Bay area deter us from theatre, and so last night we were in San Francisco’s Chinatown for the last weekend of Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s production of The Boy from Oz. As for the other city? Landmark’s production inspired us so much we want to do a “compare and contrast”, and have booked tickets to see the much better known Celebration Theatre (FB) production of The Boy from Oz while we are in Hollywood for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

If you are unfamiliar with The Boy from Oz, that’s not a surprise. The musical opened in Australia in 1998, and moved to Broadway in 2004, where it won a Tony for an actor you might have heard of: Hugh Jackman (FB). However, the show never went on tour, and the regional producing rights in America were not released until this year. So the show has faded from popular memory, much like the subject of the show, Peter Allen.  The show itself is a jukebox musical, using the songs of Peter Allen to tell the life-story of Peter Allen. This is a story that starts in the outback of Australia in Tenterfield, New South Wales. It includes Allen’s stint as part of the  It includes both Judy Garland, the mentor who discovered Allen in Hong Kong and for whom Allen was a protégé, and Liza Minnelli (FB), Garland’s daughter whom Allen married shortly after her success in Flora the Red Menace. It is a story of the birth of gay awareness, as Allen realizes he is homosexual during the marriage, and the birth of the gay movement including the Stonewall Riots that occurred shortly after Garland’s death. It is the story of Allen going out as a solo act, and hitting his peak popularity in the 1980s. And it is the story of AIDS, with the death of Allen’s lover, Greg Connell, from AIDS, followed by the death of Allen himself. It is a celebration of the life of Peter Allen.

The show features many of Allen’s better known songs, including “When I Get My Name In Lights”, “The Best That You Can Do”, “Continental American”, “She Loves to Hear the Music”, “Bi-Coastal”, “Everything Old is New Again”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Still Call Australia Home”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, and “I Go to Rio”. You’ll know the songs, even if you don’t know Allen.

Boy From Oz (Publicity Photos)As I implied at the start of the writeup, the Landmark production had limited production funds. I’ll go into that in more detail when I cover the production aspects — lighting, costumes, sets, etc. But the production was still a great success and a lot of fun primarily due to the talent that director Jon Rosen (FB) assembled. It appears that much of the energy and drive for this production came from Rosen, who is by day a software designer (go Jon 😃), and by night an active theatre force in the SF Bay Area: producing, directing, doing lighting design, and acting. Rosen also serves as Artistic Director for Landmark Musical Theatre, who are developing their first full season of musicals at the Great Star Theatre.

Leading the production was the team’s one AEA guest artist: Dan Seda (FB) as Peter Allen (nee Peter Woolnough). Seda had a wonderful singing voice, and gave a warm and accessible performance. He was quite enjoyable and engaging to watch. His performance took quite a bit of energy, as he was on stage and involved in the action for almost every scene. He was particularly touching in his interactions with both Liza and Greg. I cannot judge how authentic his Australian accent was, but it was somewhere between Hugh Jackman and the guy that does the Outback commercial (but I think closer to Jackson).

There were three primary women in Allen’s life: Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, and his mother, Marion Woolnough. Judy Garland was portrayed by Connie Champagne (FB), a well-known Garland impersonator who was one of the first performers cast. The program noted the New York times described her Garland portrayal as “a subtle masterpiece of parody and homage”. I would tend to agree with that: she eerily captured Garland’s persona and voice, with an oddly frozen look that worked well for Garland in the latter days of her life. What I found odd was that she didn’t lift that personal during the curtain call, when you would customarily see a smile. Evidently, she deeply immerses herself in her character. She did a great job in “All I Wanted Was The Dream”, as well as in “Only an Older Woman” and “Quiet Please,There’s a Lady On Stage.” As Liza Minnelli, Kat Robichaud (FB) captured the basic look of Minnelli well, and had the dance moves (especially in the Fosse-style number) down well. She needed a pinch more kookiness in Minnelli’s early days, but overall it was a great portray. Robichaud also did a great job of capturing Minnelli’s singing style, especially in “She Loves the Music.” Lastly, as Allen’s mother Marion Woolnough (pronounced “Wilna”), Amy Meyers (FB) did a spectacular job with a very touching portrayal… plus knockout singing on “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.

In the latter part of Allen’s life, the principle characters were Allen’s lover Greg Connell (played by Ivan Hardin (FB)), and Allen’s agent Dee Anthony (Keith T. Nielsen (FB), who also played Garland’s husband, Mark Herron). Hardin was wonderful, with a strong stage presence and a very engaging way about him. He also had a truly spectacular singing voice, which he demonstrated in “I Honestly Love You”. Men’s looks don’t normally catch my eye, but he had a look that made you see why Allen fell for him. Nielsen was also a surprise, who had a bit more of the Jerry Ohrbach vibe. He also had a strong singing voice.

One other non-ensemble member is worthy of special note: Dylan Palmer (who plays Young Peter Allen, alternating with Daniel Kaukonen). Palmer, for his age, was a remarkable singer and dancer, and interacted well with Seda’s Allen. He was just a delight to watch.

Rounding out the smaller roles and the ensemble positions were: Davin Coffey/FB [Ensemble]; Lisa Darter (FB) [Ensemble / Dance Captain]; Brian FitzMaurice (FB) [Dick Woolnough]; Janine Hartmann (FB) [Ensemble]; AeJay Mitchell (FB) [Trick, Ensemble]; Jery Rosas [Chris Bell]; Garrick Sather (FB) [Ensemble]; Joella Wolnik (FB) [Ensemble]; and Bessie Zolno (FB) [Ensemble].  Of these performers, a few comments. Wolnik had a spectacular singing voice — there were occasions when you could distinguish it from the rest of the ensemble and it was just a delight. Harmann was quite fun to watch on the stage with both her movement and dancing, although I’m not quite sure about the blue sparkly lipstick in the last number. Lastly, it is important for all the ensemble to remember to have fun out there. In the final number I could see the obvious fun that they were having, but there some of the numbers where they were seemingly concentrating more on getting the smiles right and the moves right. Remember to have fun out there.

The production was choreographed by Kimberly Krol (FB). The dancing was good, but some of the ensemble numbers could have used a touch more precision to give them a bit more oomphf. However, overall, the look and (to use a DCI term) general-effect were well-served by the choreography. Music was provided by an on-stage 5 piece orchestra under the music direction of Tammy Hall (FB). Hall was not there at our show; on the keyboards and leading the orchestra was Grace Renaud/FB. Rounding out the orchestra were Keith Leung/FB (Reeds); Aaron Priskorn (FB) (Trumpet); Ben Brown/FB (Bass), and Daria Johnson (FB) (Drums/Percussion).

Moving to the production side of things: remember how I said the production had high talent. This high talent compensated for a low production budget and facility limitations. The set design, from what were were told by the director (who designed it), was under $1000. There was a large (artificial) piano, a multi-tier musical base, and a chaise/banquette (moved up from the audience), together with some projections that were the sole mechanism of establishing place.  This is understandable given the budget, but the show would really benefit from stronger sets and better projections. Richard Gutierrez/FB‘s costume design (assisted by Myriah Gross (FB) (Costumer) and Rhonda Coles (Wardrobe Supervisor)) was similarly low-budget, but creatively appropriate within that budget. No credit is provided for hair and makeup — which generally worked well, although the wigs at times could use  a little better seating. The lighting design of Colin Johnson was similarly hampered: the Great Star Theatre only had lights on the side of the stage, no proper spot booth, no uplights and minimal proscenium lights. It reminded me of the early days of Nobel Middle School. Still, they did the best with what they had. The theatre space (Great Star Theatre) similarly hampered the sound design of Lisa Lash. The performers were all adequately amplified, but the hard-surface nature of the space (walls are undampered cinderblock, and there are limited speakers) resulted in a muffled sound. Rounding out the production credits are:  Richard Gutierrez/FB [Production Manager]; Liz Matos (FB) [Stage Manager]; Jon Rosen (FB) [Projection Design]; Lou Fischer [Photography]; Shaina Elster [House Manager]; and Danny Williams [Marketing].

This is the last weekend to catch The Boy From Oz at Landmark Musical Theatre (FB). Tickets are available through Goldstar as well as Brown Paper Tix.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we ate next door at Bund Shanghai Restaurant (Yelp), 640 Jackson Street. In one word: Yum! They were very accommodating of our dietary gotchas.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Tonight we will be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Lunatics & Actors (4 Clowns)userpic=yorickHow do we know our perception of the world is what we believe it to be?

This deep question is ultimately at the heart of the new production from Four Clowns (FB) at The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (FB), Four Clowns Presents Lunatics and Actors, written by David Bridel and directed by Jeremy Aluma (FB). Lunatics & Actors explores the question of emotional authenticity, through a descent into the real-life obsessions of Dr. Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne du Loulogne. du Loulogne was a French neurologist who greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology. Duchenne’s monograph, Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine – also illustrated prominently by his photographs – was the first study on the physiology of emotion and was seminal to Darwin’s later work. Duchenne also wanted to determine how the muscles in the human face produce facial expressions that Duchenne believed to be directly linked to the soul of man. Duchenne is known, in particular, for the way he triggered muscular contractions with electrical probes, recording the resulting distorted and often grotesque expressions with the recently invented camera. The images that Four Clowns used in their poster for the program are literally of Duchenne performing facial electro-stimulation.

In Lunatics & Actors, Duchenne (Thaddeus Shafer (FB; FB (page))) is presenting the audience with a simple question: what is authentic emotion? Can a highly skilled trained actor produce authentic emotion? Can the skills of the actor surpass the real emotion induced through electrostimulation? In asking these questions, the production induces a different set of question in the audience. Namely, it raises the question of whether any of the emotions that we might see on stage or screen are real, or even realistic portrayal. Is the entire history of theatrical entertainment just an artifice, a facade of fake emotion? If it is, are we better off going out and experiencing real emotion?

The way that Duchenne does that is to create a challenge: knowing that he is in Los Angeles and the audience is filled with actors, he selects three actors from the audience to test against three lunatics from his asylum. The question: between the actor and the lunatic, who can portray the most authentic emotion. He begins by interviewing the actors to find the most skilled amongst them, based on training, technique, experience, and recognition. At our performance we had three actors, whose names I cannot currently remember. There were various levels of technique and experience, ranging from students to one who had won a few local awards and had toured with a Shakespeare troupe.  The doctor selected the most experienced candidate, and we were off.

Lunatics & Actors (Publicity)The doctor then introduced us to his three lunatics: Bon-Bon (Tyler Bremer/FB), Fifi (Alexis Jones (FB)), and Pepe (Andrew Eldredge (FB)). Not being an expert in neuropsychology, I can’t quite described their maladies. Externally, Bon-Bon seemed to be driven for treats, but otherwise pliant and withdrawn. Fifi seemed shell-shocked; she wanted treats but never got them. Pepe was energetic and strange, almost prone to violence. All were in straightjackets.

The doctor then proceeded to request the selected actor to portray a series of emotions, which in many cases seemed to confuse or befuddle him based on his experience. He then used electroshock on his selected lunatic, and induced the requested emotion. The audience was then asked which was the most authentic emotion. In most cases, it appeared to this audience member that the lunatics gave the better performance. It seemed that way to our selected actor as well, as he got more and more incensed.

Things, well, things degenerated from there.

To describe more of the story might give away some of the twists and turns, so I’ll defer doing so. But the experience, as noted above, explored electroshock therapy, and its ability to make its subjects do whatever the authority figure asks them to do, and to believe whatever the authority figure wants them to believe. One review I encountered writing this up referred to this as gaslighting on stage. Reviewing the definition of the term, I would say that is accurate. As such, I would note that this performance could potentially be triggery (i.e., TRIGGER WARNING)  to those troubled by gaslighting simulations or situations, or those who have undergone electroshock therapy. But I think the ultimate question the gaslighting results asked is a real one — and a significant one — are the emotions and beliefs we see something that we should believe, and who is really responsible for those emotions. Is the fear induced by electroshock (for example) the same as real fear for a situation? Is what is perceived as real by the lunatic or actor the same as a real-life experience? For actors, what is a realistic performance?

I don’t think these questions are easy one, but I think the discussion of them can be an interesting discussion. However, the path to get to the questions can be a dark and disturbing one; perhaps one that is not for everyone.

But this is a Four Clowns production, you say. Where are the clowns? Wikipedia says the following about clowns: “The comedy that clowns perform is usually in the role of a fool whose everyday actions and tasks become extraordinary—and for whom the ridiculous, for a short while, becomes ordinary.”  That is certainly true in this production. The style of questioning of the actors by Duchenne is clearly ridiculous, and the answers (and his reactions) to the questions becomes hilarious. The performances of the lunatics: they are certainly foolish and become extraordinary in the transformation of their madness. So while this is not your traditional clowning — and certainly not the style of clowning we saw in Four Clowns’ recent Hamlet — it is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a while.

Other reviewers I’ve read have been seemingly insulted by the premise of the show. The aforementioned “gaslighting” review said ” In essence it is an experiment in acting versus physical forced mind control, the gas lighting of an artist to a mere puppet or shadow of the real.” and it went on to state “What the play is lacking is the realization that the physical manifestation of an expression could be separate from the actual feeling. If anything this play can be the center piece of a lively discourse for actors of the conflicting acting schools of thought…”. Now, I’m not an actor. I’ve never claimed to be an actor, and I’m envious of those that can inhabit other characters. I’m a cybersecurity specialist — an engineer — who loves watching theatre. To me, it raised the interesting question of the artifice of what we see, and whether our senses can really tell us anything authentic about the world. It emphasized the importance of experience over detached observation. As such, the play remains a centerpiece for lively discussion, but perhaps not the discussion that an actor might have (who would feel their craft had been insulted by the question).

I should note that the play does not appear to be an accurate representation of the works of Dr. Duchenne. Then again, it doesn’t claim to do so: it is a fictional play, not an autobiography.

It somehow seems inauthentic to say this (at this point), but what makes this play works so well is the performance of the actors, and the qualities and emotions that the director draws out of them. Whether they were real or not, they were transmitted to the audience and they felt real. All of the actors were excellent, but I’ll particularly call out Thaddeus Shafer (FB; FB (page))’s Duchenne. He was hilarious in his questioning of the actors and his responses to their responses. How much of this was scripted vs. improvised is unknown to me. It was funny to watch. He also handled the dark side and the descent of Duchenne quite well.

The portrayal of the three lunatics, Bon-Bon (Tyler Bremer/FB), Fifi (Alexis Jones (FB)), and Pepe (Andrew Eldredge (FB)), was also quite strong. The transition between lunatic and sane emotion was quite startling, and seemingly believable. As such, it was a remarkable performance.

Lastly, there was the actor that was selected at our show. For an unprepared actor drawn from the audience, he was great. In particular, he was remarkable as the show descended into madness and gaslighting. He’s lucky he remembered his lines from his past shows.

Turning now to the production aspects: One of the remarkable things about Four Clowns productions is their set design. Fred Kinney (FB), who designed the set here, did a great job of creating the industrial madhouse feel. There was sheetrock hung by galvanized steel plumbers tape. There was open 2×4 woodwork. There were industrial power boxes, seemingly wired to control the industrial style lighting. A remarkably creepy feel, augmented by the lighting from Azra King-Abadi (FB) and the well-timed sound effects from Kate Fechtig/FB, who did the sound design. The combination was…. realistic and creepy. Kinney also did the properties (under the control of Nicole Mercs, propmistress). The electroshock apparatus had a wonderful steampunk-ish feel to them with loads of exposed brass, cords, and old-style incandescent lighting. That, combined with the chairs and other props, increased the uneasiness feeling substantially. I was also intrigued by Duchenne’s glasses. Elena Flores (FB) provided the costume design, which was equivalently creepy with blood-splattered straight-jackets and Victorian dresses and suit-pants. Rounding out the production credits were: Matt MacCready (FB) [Technical Director]; Amaka Izuchi (FB) [Assistant Director]; Ashley Jo Navarro (FB) [Stage Manager], and David Anis (FB) [Producer].

The publicity material for the show notes that this is the last collaboration between David Bridel and Jeremy Aluma (FB) for a while. Bridel continues in his academic positions as USC, where he directs the MFA in Acting and is Interim Dean of the School of Dramatic Arts. Aluma is off to Chi-town for grad school for an MFA in Directing. Having met Jeremy a few times through Four Clowns, I know he will be great and I wish him well in his new city. Hopefully, he’ll direct some theatre there that he can move to Los Angeles. Hint to Jeremy: if you do get to direct a show in Chicago, hire Moonie (Philip Earl Johnson). He is a clown of the first order, who you can see as part of the Moonie and Broon show at the RenFaire. He’s also a great actor.

Four Clowns Presents Lunatics and Actors, written by David Bridel and directed by Jeremy Aluma (FB), continues at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles through May 28, 2016. Tickets range from $12 to $15 and can be purchased through Four Clowns online. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Although the production may be somewhat disturbing, it is also quite funny. If you can handle portrayal of electroshock therapy to induce emotion, you’ll find it enjoyable.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: May starts with Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB), followed by Carney Magic at The Colony Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). We will also be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe schedule is as follows:

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Anton in Show Business (Hudson Mainstage)userpic=theatre_ticketsBack in mid-March, I received a very interesting press release about the forthcoming play “Anton in Show Business” (now running at the Hudson Mainstage (FB) through May 15th). The release (or some article I saw on the show) noted that a unique fact about this production was its all female production team: writer, director, producer, cast, creatives. Everyone except the guy who built the set was female. Given all the recent talk about diversity (both in the theatre, such as the Producers Perspective with Lynn Ahrens, or elsewhere, such as in the recent excellent episodes of both Startup and of Reply All), and the importance of having women (and minorities) both on-stage and in the creative and production positions — this was (alas) noteworthy.

Alas, the one possible weekend I could see the show was already booked. But then that changed. As a result, Sunday afternoon saw us in Hollywood for the all female Anton in Show Business, written by Jane Martin and directed by Nell Teare (FB).

Anton in Show Business tells the story of two New York actresses and one Hollywood star recruited to star in a production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters in San Antonio, Texas. Along the way (i.e., as the story is told), theatrical conventions are skewered, the industry is criticized in many ways, comments are made about the power of critics, realities are exhibited about the power of producers… and of their “name” stars, and in general the curtain is pulled back to expose what theatre is really like (well, at least what the mysterious Jane Martin wants you to think theatre is really like — I wouldn’t know, being a cybersecurity guy).

This is all done on a very simple set: chairs, beds, tables, and that’s about it. The entire sense of story comes through costuming and the wonderful performance of the various characters.  The character who keeps things moving along is the stage manager, T-Anne. She introduces the sense of place, provides the interstitials when place changes or there is information of side significance. Also providing commentary are the three actresses — the Hollywood star Holly, the long-suffering off-Broadway actress Casey, and the newbie Lisabette. In many ways, the behavior of these three provides an echo of their counterparts in Three Sisters, Masha, Olga, and Irina. Additional commentary is provided by an “audience” member, Joby, who is also a critic.

Given the simplistic set, direction is key. Luckily, Nell Teare (FB)’s direction is spot-on, making these characters believable and amplifying the chemistry between the actresses. One would almost think she understood the commentary being made about the theatre personally.

In the lead positions were Gillian Shure (FB) as Holly, Anzu Lawson (FB) as Casey, and Dana Pollak (FB) as Lisabette. All three were a delight. Shure’s Holly projected a wonderful sense of self-importance and confidence that befit her character. She was also able to show the underlying vulnerability within her facade of bravada. Lawson’s Casey had that wonderful sense of “been there, done that”, which was appropriate for a character of her experience and lack of significant advancement. Lastly, there was Pollak’s ever cheerful Lisabette who was just a joy to watch.

Supporting these folks were a number of talented actresses who got to portray multiple characters. Courtney Sauls (FB) was not only the aforementioned stage manager T-Anne, but also Andwyneth (the Female African American Artistic Director of the San Antonio Black Rage Ensemble) as well as Don Blount (the Male VP of Tobacco Co, the corporate sponsor). Sauls was wonderful in all the roles, but I particularly enjoyed her stage manager and her single scene as Andwyneth. Just hilarious. Claudia de Vasco (FB) was Ralph (the arrogant gay British stage director), Wikewitch Konalkvis (the male Polish stage director), and Joe Bob (the Chairman of the Board of the San Antonio Black Rage Ensemble). de Vasco’s Ralph did a wonderful job of capturing the arrogance of British directors, as well as the overblown sense of importance of the Polish director. Lastly, Marguerite Insolia (FB) was Kate (the producer of the San Antonio Three Sisters), as well as Ben (a San Antonio actor and cowboy singer playing Vershinin), and Jackey (a gay male costume designer). We saw Insolia mostly in the role of Kate, where she had just the right sense of exasperation at the proceedings and her loss of control. She was also strong as Ben in her interactions with Shure’s Holly. Jesse Madera (FB) was Joby, the audience member and critic.

Katie Hall  (FB) was the understudy in the cast so we didn’t see her. Although the main cast was great, it would have been nice to see her as she was a REP East alumna.

Turning to the production and creative side: The production design was by Isabella Mack (FB), and was relatively simple in terms of set construction. No specific credit is given for costume design, so presumably Mack took care of that as well. The costumes were very good, especially the one for Andwyneth. Mack also handled the lighting design. No credits were provided for sound design, however Ashley Clark (FB) (whom we know from the Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (FB) team) was there. Ashley has handled those functions in other shows, so she might have been doing that here as well. Set construction was by the token male Aaron Lyons (FB). Sandra Kuker (FB) handled publicity. Lara Myrene (FB) was the real stage manager. Anton in Show Business was produced by Gillian Shure (FB) (which has greater significance, as the program notes this was under AEA’s Self Producing Plan (as opposed to the 99-Seat agreement that the #pro99 group is working to keep in a modified form).

Anton in Show Business continues at the Hudson Mainstage (FB) until May 15th. Tickets are available through Plays411.net. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar. This is a very funny show, well worth seeing.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The last weekend of April will be the Four Clowns (FB) production of Lunatics and Actors at the LA Shakespeare Center on April 30. May starts with Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). We will also be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 has a HOLD for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: Alien vs. MusicalAll Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansCode 197 DWB (Driving While Blewish)Qaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond MusicalDoctor in the HouseHamlet (Las Vegas Style) ✨. But that’s just a small percentage; there are over 240 shows listed now.  We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)  the third weekend, a HOLD for Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Stella's Last J-Date (Whitefire)userpic=theatre_ticketsSelecting theatre is a lot like going on a blind date. You peruse a list of shows, swiping left, swiping right, until something piques your interest. But before you commit to seeing it, you do a bit of research. You read the press release. You read reviews of the show. You look at the Lemonmeter. This is very similar to the online dating scene: you review profiles and you mark some for future investigation. You read their background. You look at their ratings (perhaps from others that went out with them). For both shows and dates, in the end, you pick one that you hope is compatible with your taste.  However, that selection doesn’t always work out, for your tastes may not agree with others. Everyone else can like the person or show, and it might have off tastes or characteristics for you. That doesn’t make it bad; that just makes it something that you might not like. Further, people and shows can be like cilantro: over time and with enough exposure, you can grow to love them.

Last night, we saw Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) in Sherman Oaks. The show looked like it would be a winner: the press-release writeup sounded interesting, there were some great performers in the show, and it was universally loved over on Bitter Lemons. And, for the most part, we enjoyed it. For the most part, as there was some small percentage that hit wrong, that left us a little confused. That’s happened before: I remember one show at ZJU that everyone was hysterical over while we were just… whelmed (neither over nor under). That also happened with the recent Bach at Leipzig over at Group Rep — everyone else loved it, but something was off for us (although not quite as bitter as B-L made us out to be).

Stella’s Last J-Date is simply that: we’re the fly-on-the-wall watching Stella, a neurotic Jewish female dog trainer of unspecified middle age (I’d guess in her 40s) out on a date arranged by J-Date. Her date of the evening is Isaac, a 50-60s fellow who is a 5th grade teacher. The entire evening consists of their determining whether they are compatible, exposing their particular neuroses and quirks, coming together and blowing apart, and so forth. We learn secrets about each. We learn the color of their baggage. They slap. They hit. They make fun of their problems. Periodically, the evening is punctured with the appearance of Don, a black pimp-like character who seems to beat up Isaac to give up trying to like Stella. Don seems to know secrets about both Isaac and Stella, and appears to be warning Isaac to run… run…. run…. and don’t look back.

Let’s get the most important part out first: This is a funny show. Even as the underlying story left us a little confused (more on that in a moment), there were some wonderful jokes that had us really laughing along the way. I can’t remember most of them, but I do remember one about how Jewish women don’t care how much something costs, but how much they saved. There were great comedic performances, verbal and non-verbal. So where was the problem?

Thinking about the show afterwards, I can see three areas that may have made things difficult for us, and that might not have bothered others:

  • Stereotypes. The show was built around a number of stereotypes of characters. The neurotic Jewish woman that can’t hold on to a man, that loves to shop, that obsesses over everything, that has been through the drug mill. The nebbish Jewish man who is a milquetoast. The African-American pimpish character. Stereotypes are wonderful to convey information without exposition, but in today’s society they are increasingly uncomfortable. In the wrong eyes, they can be slightly-insulting or off-putting. They often become a comedy crutch, something to lean on when it is difficult to create the character of depth from their experience. Stereotypes are very popular on sitcoms, and there is a reason why. Some Jews embrace our stereotypes. Some don’t. (and if you don’t believe me, ask any one that truly understands Yiddish culture and the Yiddish language what they think of the stereotype of Yiddish as a language with funny sounding insulting words).
  • Character Arc. From attending a lot of theatre, I’ve learned that one thing you look for is a character arc. Characters in a story (at least the main ones) typically start at point A, face some sort of trial or situation, and end up at point B having learned something about themselves or changed something about their character. Where is the character arc here? It clearly isn’t Don’s– he’s just a catalyst. Do Stella or Isaac really change from the beginning to the end? They’ve faced their problems, but has it affected them in any way, changed anything about their characters? In the end, I don’t think so. They’ve found each other. But have they changed who they are? I don’t think so, or at least we don’t know for sure. Without that change, this is just a bunch of very funny jokes in a particular context.
  • Confusion. Specifically, who or what was Don? The character was clearly not someone from J-Date (then again, he could be blewish). Was he part of Isaac’s subconscious? Stella’s subconscious? Both? Neither? Stella’s protector? All I could conclude is that he was an unexplained weenie with the purpose of exposing and exploiting subconscious aspects of Isaac’s and Stella’s past. That left me confused.

So, with respect to the story by Andy Rooster Bloch (FB), is this good or bad? I think it is clearly funny. Very funny. Laugh out loud funny. But, at least for me, funny isn’t enough. I want that funny to come from someplace deeper, and not just be one-liners tossed off to hide the pain. There’s a something more that is needed here to move this from sitcom to story. It’s good as it is, but is good enough? I’m not sure. I guess I would characterize it as the difference between Gilligan’s Island and Cheers: Does the character of Gilligan change from the beginning of the series to the end? Does the character of Sam change from the beginning to the end? Which has endearling long-lasting watchability? However, as I said, theatre is like dating, and I may be looking for different things in my theatrical matches than others are. This could be your perfect date.

Cast of Stella's Last J-DateOne thing that is not a problem is the performances. The cast, under the direction of Bryan Rasmussen (FB), is very strong. I was particularly impressed by Barry Livingston (FB)’s performance as Isaac. Of course, I remember Barry from My Three Sons (and I have an even vaguer recollection about him being a kid in Westchester, near the airport, and possibly in the same Cub Scout troup back in the 1960s). Barry was spectacular — especially for what he didn’t say. The opening scene, which is essentially non-verbal reaction and movement from Barry, was priceless. He has the ability to convey wonderous information with his body and face. This continued throughout the show, and I think his performance was one of, if not the main, highlights of the show. His performance wasn’t comic slapstick — it was a mixture of pathos, Buster Keaton, and exasperated bemusement. If you go see this, watch him and I think you’ll be as impressed as I was.

Amy Smallman-Winston (FB) played the neurotic Stella. She captured the neuroses and craziness of the character well — she was certainly someone that I wouldn’t want to be involved with. She was clearly able to handle the physical comedy well, but didn’t have the same level of character study moments to exploit. Somehow, given the ending, she needed something a little bit more to hint at it. She did have the most comic lines in the show and tossed them off with perfection.

Lastly, there was Elvis Nolasco (FB)’s Don. His character was an enigma: it is hard to know if he was portraying it well without knowing what it was supposed to be. I can, however, safely say that he was fun to watch, and his interactions with Barry’s Isaac were quite good.

Bryan Rasmussen (FB) also did the scenic design, and it was relatively simple: tables and chairs to create the impression of a bar, with projections by David Svengalis (FB) to place it in New York. The simple set worked well, especially considering that the one stage at the Whitefire is having to serve at least three different shows each week (so complicated set treatments weren’t possible). The lighting of Derrick McDaniel (FB) served to enhance and create the mood. David Svengalis (FB) was also responsible for the sound and video design; my only comment here was that the opening sounds of the bar were just a little too loud. I don’t have that much to say about the costume design of Morgan DeGroff (FB) [assisted by Laura Tiefer (FB)] other than they appeared reasonable (although Don’s outfit might have been the source of confusion about his character). Remaining production credits: Nancy Santiago/FB [Assistant Director]; Mike Mahaffey (FB) [Fight Choreographer]; Ricki Maslar, CSA (FB) [Casting Director], Nora Feldman (FB) [Public Relations], David Svengalis (FB) [Technical Director]; Neda Ganjeh-Tabe/FB [House Manager]; and Scott Disharoon (FB) [Producer]. Stella’s Last J-Date appears to be a production of the Whitefire Theatre (FB) [I say appears to be, because with three productions going on, I’m not sure which are productions of the home company, and which are rentals from outside producers. The involvement of Whitefire’s Artistic Director, Bryan Rasmussen (FB), makes me believe this is a Whitefire show.]

Stella’s Last J-Date continues on Thursdays at the Whitefire Theatre (FB), with an extended run through May 26, 2016. Tickets are available through Brownpaper Tickets, as well as through Goldstar.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This weekend is our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). Next weekend is Pesach, but we are squeezing in a show on Sunday when we go see Anton in Show Business at Hollywood’s Hudson Mainstage Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April will be the Four Clowns (FB) production of Lunatics and Actors at the LA Shakespeare Center on April 30. May starts with Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). We may also be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 has a HOLD for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: Alien vs. MusicalAll Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansCode 197 DWB (Driving While Blewish)Qaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond MusicalDoctor in the HouseHamlet (Las Vegas Style) ✨. But that’s just a small percentage; there are over 240 shows listed now.  We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  July brings us back to conventional theatre, with for Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)  the third weekend, a HOLD for Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynford Marsalles and Aaron Copland, and a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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userpic=theatre2If you’ve been reading my theatre posts for the last few weeks, you’ve seen the following line: “The fourth weekend in April is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets.”

It did sound interesting. I made the selection based on a press release before it opened. As it has been running, however, I’ve been seeing its rating over on Bitter Lemons:  It is currently at the end of the ratings, with a score of 48% bitter. Quotes from the reviews include “a bit undercooked; with lighting cues missed, the stumbling over lines, and an integral plot incident causing unintentional laughter.”, “a sitcom whose humor is eccentric and contrived rather than savage and true”, “falls frustratingly short of both suspense and laughs, teeter-tottering between naturalism and farce. Stuart Ross’ direction so misunderstands the nature of the immature text that the actors are left “dead in the water.””, and “And then there are the plays that are really bad. Poorly conceived, badly written, terribly miscast, and excruciatingly directed. Such a play is “Dinner at Home Between Deaths”, now having its world premiere as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles. There is one good thing about this play, though: it’s only 90 minutes long” (although I must note some reviewers liked it).

One advantage of being a professional audience, as opposed to a professional critic, is that I pick the shows I see. Further, since I pay for shows, I can decide where to spend my money (note: even when I coordinate with a publicist, I pay at least Goldstar prices for my tickets). Further, when I book through Goldstar, I have the Red Velvet advantage: I can cancel a ticket. When I get a heads up about a potential train wreck, I’d rather go see something with a better chance of success. But what to see? My basic constraint was that it had to be Sunday, as Saturday is the first day of Pesach, and if we were going to a second seder, it would be Saturday night. That cut out some of the top rated shows on Bitter Lemons: “Waiting for Johnny Depp“, “Baby Oh Baby“. Others, such as “Cloud 9” weren’t on Goldstar, or (in the case of “You Never Can Tell“) were, but were too expensive.  I looked through the shows that had tickets for Sunday, and tentatively decided on “Anton in Show Business“, which was on Goldstar and had the following description:

When you’re a well-known TV star looking to increase your theatrical street cred, what do you do? Sign on to play a role in a small Texas repertory theater’s production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Go behind the scenes with three actresses — a jaded stage veteran, an eager Southern belle and Holly, the wildly popular TV star — in Anton in Show Business. Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Jane Martin won the American Theater Critics Association New Play Award for this raucous comedy. Now Nell Teare directs this all-female cast of Anton in Show Business at Hollywood’s Hudson Mainstage Theatre.

I had seen the press release on the show and it was of interest, but I couldn’t work it into the schedule.

Now, the other day, my wife had met a writer and an actress while having lunch somewhere, and they had mentioned they had a musical opening at the Met Theatre in Hollywood (which is the new home of Rogue Machine, having previously been home to DOMA, but this was neither a RMT or DOMA show). We googled the writer and the actress, but there was no mention of the show. My wife emailed him, and found out the show was “Psychosexual – A New Musical“, which had tickets on Brown Paper Tickets.  The description of the show was:

Marriage Counselors and Best-Selling Authors, Doctors Brad & Sarah Morton, are on the verge of getting their own big-time Television Show, produced by celebrated Media Mogul and Talk Show Host, Omeika Carter. Unfortunately (and unbeknownst to Omeika) Brad and Sarah’s own relationship is on the rocks.  Seeking solace, Brad has started to frequent Floyd’s Fabulous Fantasy Club, where exotic dancer, Leah Lane, has caught his attention.   With Club Owner Floyd Ryder seeking to take advantage of every situation, and fellow dancer, the sensual Kayla Sizzle, also looking for love, “PSCHOSEXUAL: A LOVE STORY” will both make you laugh and warm your heart.

Potentially interesting, but something was raising red flags. This show was opening in two days. There had been no press release. It wasn’t on Goldstar. It wasn’t on LA Stage Tix. It wasn’t on Plays411.net. It wasn’t on Footlights. The actress playing the lead wasn’t promoting it. It wasn’t being publicized anywhere that normal shows are being publicized. That was odd. That says “vanity production”. Sensing something, I investigated the writer more. He has written mostly for the animated TV screen (think “Cartoon Network”), and has had one other musical, “Campaign”, done with the same composer at this show.  I found a review of that show at the LA Times:

Mounting a full-blown original musical takes plenty of guts. In that regard, the creators of “Campaign,” a world premiere at the MET, deserve kudos for sheer ambition.  They also deserve a few discreetly hurled brickbats for the general clunkiness of their production, which fails to coalesce into a cohesive professional effort. A chief obstacle is the uninspired book by Samuel Warren Joseph, who also wrote the music and lyrics with Jon Detherage, the show’s musical director. […] But despite a few laughs along the way, the show seems stale, with retro musical numbers that sound like they’re being channeled from the 1950s.

Reading this, I was unsure whether I wanted to move from a known train wreck to an unknown train wreck. Better to see how the reviews for this show shake out before seeing it. On the other hand, although the production of Anton only has one review so far (it just opened), that review was extremely positive, the playwright won an award from the show, and past productions of the show have gotten very positive reviews — so at least there is a good chance of a decent book. The show is also publicized in the usual places.

Guess which show I’m switching to? Now you see the thought process that goes into selecting a show. Remember: This is the era of the Internet. People will research.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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A Shred of Evidence (Theatre 40)userpic=yorickDistracted and impaired driving. This is a major factor as to why our roads are unsafe these days. From driving while drunk, high, or sleepy to fiddling with electronic devices while driving, anything that distracts the driver from paying attention to the road is bad. Luckily, there have been major publicity and educational campaigns about this. While we still have problems with drunk drivers, they are much less frequent thanks to folks like MADD. People know now to have a designated driver, and that even one drink might be too many. But that wasn’t always the case. It certainly wasn’t the case in 1958, which is the timeframe of the play we saw yesterday afternoon, A Shred of Evidence by R. C. Sherriff at Theatre Forty (FB) on the grounds of Beverly Hills High School.

A Shred of Evidence is a murder mystery about a man who was killed by an unknown driver on late evening in a suburb outside London. Unlike most murder mysteries — which are told with a focus on the investigator and the investigation — A Shred of Evidence is told from the perspective of another driver on the road that night. As the play opens, the driver, Richard Medway, has just woken up. In talking to his wife, Laura, he discovers the he had arrived home last night, disheveled. He had gone upstairs, leaving the car running and the garage door open for the local constable to find. Luckily, the constable had woken the wife and gotten everything closed down. He informs his wife that he will become a director of his company, with a substantial boost in pay (enough to send his daughter to Oxford — although the price — £250 — seems awfully low these days).

In further discussions, he learns that the car was damaged, and there is a stripe of green paint on the side.  Turning on the radio, he also learns that there had been accident on a local street where a driver hit a man on a bicycle, and then just driven off. He doesn’t think he had done it, but after a visit from a local questioning inspector, he isn’t so sure. As he thinks back on the incident, he realizes he had had a lot — perhaps too much — to drink and could have been driving drunk.

This is the focus of the play. Information keeps coming up that circumstantially appears to indict Richard, and Richard keeps working to convince everyone that he didn’t do it. As the days goes on, Richard discovers just how much he had to drink, and how much he doesn’t remember.

So did he do it? You’ll have to see the play to find out.  Let’s just say… nah, let’s not.

Shred of Evidence (Publicity Photos)A few broad comments on the story itself. The play is long — perhaps 2.5 hours plus intermission. It’s not a musical, just lots of discussion and exposition to bring out the various factors. That can combine with a warm theatre, comfortable seats, and the modulation of the voices on stage to drowse one out — especially in a post-lunch production. I caught it happening to me a few times, and I saw it happening to other audience members. I’m not sure how to counter that, but perhaps a bit more emotion and either movement or modulation in the tones may help somewhat.

The second broad comment I alluded to in my introduction. The play focuses on a drunk driver. He’s the hero. Throughout the entire play, he’s working to actively cover up the fact that he drove while drunk — and his friends are enabling him. They are coming up with cover stories and buying into his rationalizations. To the modern mindset, that’s unconscionable. Would we cover up for a friend that had driven while drunk. Would we even let him get on the road (or would we call a cab or an Uber/Lyft)? This clash — between the values of 1958 and the values of today — needed some sort of framing to distract the mental gnashing. At minimum, some public service announcements in the program would probably have been appropriate.

Under the direction of Jules Aaron, the actors executed to story in a reasonable fashion. It is unclear if there were directorial choices that could have been made to up the energy, choices that might have addressed the perception of the length. I can’t answer that, but I can comment on one very puzzling directorial choice: at the end of every act or scene, melodramatic music would swell as on a soap opera. Puh-leaze. Musical manipulation of that sort is not necessary for this play, and it seemed forced (and even someone insulting to the audience).

In the lead positions were David Hunt Stafford (FB) as Richard Medway and Alison Blanchard (FB) as Laura Medway. The two made a believable couple; there was just a casual friendliness that comes from long-term relationships. Stafford handled the role well, although there were numerous odd hesitations and a few misstarts on lines that I rarely see these days. I’m going to chalk it up to a bad memory day — we all know that happens as we get older. Luckily, these mostly fit the character and the actor went with the flow. Rounding out the family in a much smaller role was Katy Yoder (FB) as their daughter, Pamela. She was fun to watch — bouncy and energetic and exuding fun. She brought that special spark that the show needed a bit more of.

The investigator of the accident was portrayed by Daniel Lench (FB), whom we know well from his numerous appearances on the boards at Repertory East Playhouse (FB). He gave yet another wonderful performance, bringing an interesting character, energy, and accent to the role.

Providing the support for the lead character (Richard Medway) were John Wallace Combs (FB) as John Cartwright, the Medway’s friend and solicitor, and Richard Hoyt Miller (FB) as Captain Foster, one of the two men that Richard had driven home that night. Combs made a strong Cartwright, coming across as friendly and concerned, and well informed about legal issues. He, too, had a just a few issues with line misstarts. Miller’s Foster was everything you would expect in a rugby-playing carpet salesman.

Rounding out the cast in smaller roles were Peter McGlynn (FB) as Mr. Bennett (the other man that Medway drove home), Esther Richman (FB) as Bennett’s wife, and Richard Carner as a police sergeant. My only comment here is that McGlynn came off as suitably menacing, but Richman’s portrayal of his wife seemed perhaps overly shrill. Suzan Solomon (FB) was the alternative for Mrs. Bennett.

On the production and creative side, the set design by Jeff G. Rack was sumptuous and elegant — a full detailed recreation of a British suburb house. The sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski (FB) provided appropriate sound effects, although I could have done without the aforementioned melodramatic music. The lighting design by Ric Zimmerman (FB) essentially emulated house lighting, meaning it was mostly whites and yellows and didn’t amplify the emotions. The costumes by Michele Young (FB) and Makeup / Hair / Wig Design by Judi Lewin (FB) worked together to appear suitable for the characters, although I can’t speak to authenticity for the locale or the era. Linda Brennan (FB) was the dialect coach. Don Solosan (FB) was the stage manager; Richard Carner was the assistant stage manager, and Jean Sportelli was the assistant director. David Hunt Stafford (FB) is the Artistic / Managing director of Theatre Forty (FB).

A Shred of Evidence continues through April 17 at Theatre Forty (FB). Tickets are available by calling 310-364-0535 or through their website. Discount tickets may be available on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix. Despite the length, we found the play enjoyable.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I had been subscribing at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and REP East (FB): but all have gone or are going dark., I just added a subscription to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elayne Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend’s theatre is on Thursday, because the weekend brings our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The Thursday show is Stella’s Last J-Date at the Whitefire Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB) (although we may end up seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) in the Bay Area instead (support their kickstarter), meaning I have a weekend to program!). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz, but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve started to hold dates for the following shows: All Aboard the Marriage HearseAll The Best Killers are LibrariansQaddafi’s Cook — Living in Hell, Cooking for the DevilSqueeze My CansTell Me On A Sunday   Toxic Avenger: The Musical  ✨  Vintage BoxEinstein Titus Andronicus Jr.The Old Woman Sweet Love AdieuMy Big Fat Blond Musical✨. We thought about Love The Body Positive, but then again… no. Can’t be scaring people.  As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

 

 

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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All Shook Up (Morgan-Wixson)userpic=theatre_ticketsJukebox musicals (so called because they mine the discography of a particular artist) typically take one of three forms: there is the straightforward presentation of an artist’s music (think Sophisticated Ladies), perhaps with vignettes for each song; there is a biographic presentation of the artist that uses the songs to tell the artists life (think Jersey Boys); and then there is the show that attempts to take the artist’s songs and form them into a coherent story that makes the songs work in a musical context (think Mamma Mia). All Shook Up, the show we saw last night at Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson (FB) Theatre, falls strongly in the latter category. An innocuous but plausible love story serves as the bones upon which hangs approximately two hours of Elvis Presley (FB) most popular hits. At the end, you may not go away caring about the story at all, but you’ll be hummin’ those tunes. And really, is that such a bad thing: to be entertained for two hours with really good music and performances?

Author Joe DiPietro (FB), who has written such musicals as Memphis, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Toxic Avenger: The Musical crafted a musical focused on a roustabout who comes into town, exciting the womenfolk and stirring up all sorts of relationships. Watching it, I kept having the notion that the story line was familiar, especially about the leading lady wanting the leading man, and disguising herself as a man to do so. There’s only one author I know who loves to do that in his stories — and when I got home I checked (and I was right): this was a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night,, which has been made into other musicals such as Play-On.

The basic storyline — or at least the story setup — does sound a lot like Shakespeare’s comedies of mistaken identities and love, where everything ends in marriage (the definition of a Shakespeare comedy). Roustabout Chad (a 50’s Elvis type) comes to a small town in the middle of nowhere, where everyone is bored out of their lives. This is a town that has banned music and dancing and anything fun. His bike breaks down, and so he brings it to Natalie, the greasemonkey mechanic daughter of Jim Haller (who lost his wife and love three years ago). Natalie instantly falls in love/lust with Chad, not knowing that Dennis, the bespectacled dentist to be is in love with her. Jim is good friends with Sylvia, the owner of the town bar (and Sylvia has more than friendship in mind for Jim, unbeknownst to Jim). Chad, on the other hand, has no interest in Natalie — she’s too tomboyish; his fixation is on the docent of the town’s museum — the sexy Miss Sandra. Also interested in Sandra is Jim (remember, Natalie’s dad). Adding to the panic in all of this is the mayor, Matilda, whose military-school son Dean Hyde has become smitten with Lorraine, Sylvia’s daughter (but this is “forbidden” love as Sylvia is black, and thus so is Lorraine).

To try to get Chad to notice her, Natalie decides that Chad must get to know her as a friend first. She uses grease to fake a beard and mustache (which of course looks real and camouflages her girlish looks and figure), and has Dennis (who by now is Chad’s sidekick) introduce her to Chad as Ed. Chad grows to like Ed as a friend, but is still interested in Sandra. Dennis also suggests that Chad give Sandra a Shakespeare sonnet, which he has Ed do on his behalf. This results in Sandra falling in love with Ed. Meanwhile, Ed kisses Chad, leaving Chad all confused. Oh, yeah, and the Sheriff is in love with the Mayor.

Confused yet. There’s a more detailed summary of the plot on Wikipedia, which also has an enumeration of all the different love relationships in the show.

Deep book, this is not. Fluff based on Shakespeare’s confusion comedies it is. Don’t go in expecting more, other than to be entertained. You want something deep, find a different show.

Let’s turn now to Morgan-Wixson’s execution of the show. For those unfamiliar with M-W (we hadn’t been there since the 1995 production of Baby), it is a 200-or-so seat community theatre that goes back to 1946, when it was the Santa Monica Theatre Guild. They now get a mixture of up-and-coming professionals (non-AEA, but possibly SAG-AFTRA) and community actors.  For a show such as this with a large ensemble, that’s reasonable.  You can see some great publicity shots of the cast in the BWW Writeup of the show.

In the lead positions, I think the standout in the cast was Zoe D’Andrea/FB as Natalie Haller. She not only had a wonderful small-town girl look and hidden-beauty as Natalie/Ed, she also had a knockout voice. Reading her credits, it shows that she took on the role of another Natalie — the daughter in Next to Normal.  I could easily see her in the role — she had the requisite power and projection in her voice. She is someone who I would hope to see again on larger stages in the future. Playing against her as Chad, the Roustabout, was Christopher Paul Tiernan II/FB. Tiernan had a good presence and a winning performance, but needed a slightly stronger and slightly deeper voice to pull off the Elvis-imitation. Still, the two together were fun to watch.

Chasing after Natalie was dweebish Dennis, played by Paul Luoma (FB). Luoma portrayed the teen quite well (I didn’t realize his age until writing this post), and sang and moved well.

The second couple of interest were Lorraine and Dean Hyde, portrayed by Flynn Hayward/FB and Joseph Monsour (FB), respectively. Hayward was particularly strong as Lorraine, radiating quite a lot of fun and joy with the role, which came across in her performance and her singing. Monsour worked with her well.

The key older adults in the cast were Larry Gesling/FB‘s Jim Haller, and Brittney S. Wheeler (FB)’s Sylvia. Here, the standout performance-wise was Wheeler, with a great gospel-style voice and oodles of character. Wheeler, however, needs a bit more power behind that great voice. She needs to outshine the musical. She was great, but could be much greater. Gesling is evidently a long-time player at the M-W, and gave a very strong folksy performance that worked well for his character. He handled his leather jacket well (said one CBG to another).

The object of both Chad and Jim’s affection was Miss Sylvia, portrayed to sexy perfection by Alice Reynolds/FB. Reynolds sang strong, exuded a wonderful sense of sex, and captured the role quite well.

Rounding out the significant named roles were Jewel Greenberg (FB) as Mayor Matilda Hyde and Matthew Artson (FB) as Sheriff Earl. Greenberg captured the mean momma well, especially in her one main song “Devil in Disguise”. Artson was mostly silent and strong, but his final scene was great.

Rounding out the cast were Eileen Cherry O’Donnell (FB) (Henrietta), Gillian Bozajian (FB) (Ensemble), Chandler David (FB) (Ensemble), Anne Claire Hudson (FB) (Ensemble), Dana Mazarin (FB) (Ensemble), Caeli Molina (FB) (Ensemble), Marc Ostroff (FB) (Ensemble), Alexander Reaves (FB) (Ensemble), Robin Twitty (FB) (Ensemble), Holly Weber/FB (Ensemble), and Steven Weber/FB (Ensemble). As is common, it is hard to single out people within the ensemble, but I will observed that they all seemed to be having a lot of fun with this production, and that joy is broadcast out into the audience, which is a good thing.

The production was directed by Nell Teare (FB), who also served as choreographer. I always find it hard to separate the director from the actor’s performance, which I presume is the mark of good direction. I will say that there were no obvious directorial problems, and the actors seemed to convey the story well with good feeling. The dancing was interesting. It was a mix of period dance with some clear ballet steps thrown in — which seemed out of context for the characters in the story. They were fun to watch and well executed; I just found myself going — oh, that’s ballet. Kristi Slager (FB) was also credited with choreography.

Music direction was by Anne Gesling (FB)… and there were no other music credits. This implies that the music was pre-recorded; I have no idea whether it was done just for this show, or provided by the licensing agents. In either case, I want to encourage the theatre to use live music — it makes a significant difference in the energy in the show.  The music ties very closely to the sound design by… by…. hmmm, there was no credit for sound design. This is a small enough theatre that the actors were not amplified — which can be good if they can properly project — but that is hampered by the recorded music which then has to adjust its volume so that the actors can hear it, the audience can hear it, and it doesn’t overpower one or the other. Some work may need to be done to adjust that balance.

The set design was by Lidiya Korotko (FB), and was clearly in the community theatre vein: flats that were rolled on and off the stage with various props, and a back-projection to establish place. It worked at that level, although the back projection needs to be off the stage so it doesn’t shake as the actors move. As for the flats, they are certainly in the range of acceptable theatre, although an number of items were creatively drawn or constructed (such as the gas pumps). The mix of realistic and created items was a little bit jarring.  The sense of place created by the sets was supported by the costume design of Kristie Rutledge. The costumes seemed sufficiently period, but there were little things that created questions. My wife couldn’t recall if crinoline came in all the colors used back in the 1950s; I was unsure whether the belts the ladies were wearing on their dresses were correct.  The lighting design was by William Wilday; it did a suitable job of establishing time and mood. Deena Tovar was the stage manager. All Shook Up was produced by Meredith Wright.

All Shook Up continues at the Morgan-Wixson theatre until April 2. You can buy tickets online through M-W’s online ticketing. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birdies) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  The last weekend of March brings “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on Saturday, followed by A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB) on Sunday.  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). We have a mid-week concert of the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 7, followed by “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on April 10. The next weekend our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). The fourth weekend in April is is Pesach, but the Indie Chi Productions dark comedy Dinner at Home Between Deaths at the Odyssey Theatre (FB) sounded so interesting I’ve booked Sunday tickets. The last weekend of April has a hold date for The Boy from Oz at the Celebration Theatre (FB). May starts with a hold date for Endgame at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). We then run off to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we may squeeze in a show: the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB) is doing The Boy from Oz (if we miss it at the Celebration), but otherwise the pickings and concerts are bare. May 21 has a hold for Los Angeles: Then and Now, a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has holds for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB). As for June? It’s the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and loads and loads of shows that aren’t scheduled yet. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Man Covets Bird (24th Street)userpic=yorickIf you read my blog a lot, you’ll know that I listen to a lot of podcasts — so many, that it is a job to keep up. One of the many theatre podcasts on my subscription list is Anthony Byrnes’s “Opening the Curtain“. Back in September, the B-man had a strong recommendation for 24th Street Theatre (FB)’s “Man Covets Bird”, written by Finegan Kruckmeyer (FB). He wrote that it was sophisticated children’s theatre, and that it was theatre magic. Alas, I couldn’t fit it into my schedule, but I remember the glowing reviews. Later, I received email indicating it was coming back for a 6 week run starting in Mid-February, so I made sure to get tickets.

Going in, I didn’t know much about the show, other than it was magical. The tag line in the publicity was “Because it’s a liberating thing to talk publicly about thing you’re only supposed to think privately”. That does not describe the show. Not. at. all.

Trying to describe the show, I faced a problem. Most of the reviews of the show (a good source of synopsii) gave the opening premise, and then devolved into wonderment about the execution, not the story. It was as if the magic of the execution overshone the story. But I wanted to piece together the story. I wanted to figure — in this 70 minute intermissionless exposition — what the moral was. After all, this was a Theatre for Young Audiences production. There has to be a moral, a message, a teaching. Right?

So let’s get the start of the story and the magic out of the way first. The basic story concerns a man, never quite named, who serves as the narrator and focal point of the story. At the beginning, he wakes up in his parent’s home to discover that he’s become a stranger that his parents no longer recognize. He recognizes himself, of course, but to his family and his town, he is alien. Children won’t understand this at all, but parent’s will see that as the teenage years.

This young man soon finds a young bird, similarly orphaned, who can not fly. He takes the bird, so to speak, under his wing. He ventures off to the big city. where he gets a job in a factory where he pushes a button whenever a light comes on. Light, push button. Light, push button. Light, push button. He lives in factory housing, and attempts to build joy by building his nest there, and by listening to his bird’s song.

Let’s digress at this point into B-man’s theatre magic. This story is told by two men: the man (Andrew Huber (FB)) and the bird (Leeav Sofer (FB)). They have, essentially, a bare set of walls and boxes. But what makes the story is the projections. Simple, chalk-like animated projections that move around all the walls — front, back, sides. They become magic in their interaction with the players, and essentially become a third player themselves. I’ve seen this magic happen three times before: a production from The Road Company of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency back in 2006; the absolutely wonderful Astro Boy and the God of Comics from Sacred Fools; and the recent Empire at La Mirada. In all of them the critical acclaim quickly lost track of the story, and were astounded at the magic of the projection. I agree that the projections were magical. All four of these shows represent an advancement of the art of projection design from a cheap replacement for a background flat to becoming a character of their own. But magical thought they are… and as close as they are to a character … they are part of the set dressing. They are the frame on which the story is hung, but that story has to be there. The problem with most of the Man Covets Bird writeups is they start with the story and get lost in the magic.

Here’s the problem: The story is a pretty good parable about growing up, and what you will face through life. Children will see the magic and get lost in the awe of it all. Adult will recognize the subtle message, and what it is telling them to do.

So, we left off with the man working in a factory, getting joy from his bird’s song. He’s living in factory housing and attempting to build the nest, but the house isn’t his. The owners keep coming and rearranging his nest to their idea of what it should be. This doesn’t make the man happy.

One day, he discovers an abandoned Ice Cream truck, which (to paraphrase the show) had lost the “ce Cre” and the “m”, under which someone had graffitied a word that rhymes with “nupid”. But the man decides to make the truck his home. He cleans it, repairs it, and builds his nest there. As he does, the wounded bird heals. By the time the man is finished, he is whole again. He has built his nest, and is happy again. He lets the bird go. The bird joins the rest of his flock, and is happy. The man is a little sad, but understands this is part of life. Eventually, the man restores the engine, and goes and visits his parents. He reconciles with them, understanding what happened, and feeling how they felt when his bird left him.

As I said, many of the reviewers got lost in the magic, and didn’t see the story. Some felt it fluttered around. Some felt the relationship with the parents was irrelevant. Some saw it as a commentary on the industrial revolution — a horrified notion of work, as one wrote. Some saw the imagery as random. I posit that few of them were middle-age parents of teens. One came close, positing the meaning as “Life proceeds in fits and starts, through long periods of tedium interrupted by mysterious change. Although a person may never feel as though he or she is on the right path, a courageous or generous act occasionally results in a moment of grace.”

Here’s how I saw it:

The bird was a metaphor for joy and happiness. Through the bird, the man found a way to bring joy in his life; a way to bring joy to even joyless tasks. He tried to spread that joy through sharing the bird’s song … and he discovered that everyone in the factory had their own bird — their own way of finding the joy in life. The lesson: life is what you make of it. You can view it as drudgework, or you can find the joy in life and be happy.

There was also a message about growing up. The opening with the parents represented the first stage: becoming that teen alien, and needing to leave your parent’s nest to find your own way. The man tried to build his own nest in someone else’s house, but that didn’t bring him joy. When he decided to live life his own way, with his own nest in his own style, he found happiness. By finding his own joy and his own happiness, he was finally able to see and understand and respect the needs of others.

Not a bad message at all, especially for kids and adults. Oh, and the significance of the 8 years? At the beginning the man was a teenager — figure 16-18. He’s gone for 8 years. This makes him 26. When do studies show that men start to actually mature? Not when they go off to college… but in their late 20s.

In short: the presentation is magical. The story is even more so. And, like one Fringe show I went to, there’s ice cream at the end. (But this show is much better. Both the show and the ice cream.)

In addition to the wonderful conception and projections, what makes this show magic are the performances. Huber and Sofer, under the direction of Debbie Devine (FB), artistic director of 24th Street, have a very gentle way of telling the story with humor and music (Sofer also served as musical director, and composed melodies for the music-less songs in the script, as well as musicalizing other dialogue). You can hear the music on their Soundcloud Playlist. The two men are never in your face or harsh; they present the story in a manner accessible to adults and children. They have a very relaxing presence (almost too relaxing at points — their lyrical voices just lull you). But they are just a delight to watch. You get the clear impression that their is a deep friendship between these two men, or should I say the man and the bird.

Supporting these two men, as I noted above, is the invisible actor: the video design of Matthew G. Hill (FB). I’ve talked about them before, but they are clearly magical: chalk drawing that come to life, and with which the actors interact as if they were real. These are augmented by the sound design of the very talented Cricket S. Myers (FB) [who seems to be everywhere these days]. This sound design not only includes amplification of the actors, but wonderful sound effects that form part of the interplay of the story. Lastly, this is supported by the lighting design of Dan Weingarten (FB). Weingarten had an interesting problem: how to convey mood with the lighting without washing out the projections. He figured out how to do it; how to make the lighting enhance the story on top of the projections.

Rounding out the creative and production team were the costumes of Michael Mullen (FB). Alexx Zachary (FB) was the stage manager. There also was a delightfully friendly person at the door greeting people, but I didn’t get her name.

The executive directory of 24th Street Theatre is Jay McAdams (FB), who did the announcements. I got a chance to finally meet him after the show; Jay is the founder of the #pro99 group on Facebook that has been supporting the I Love 99 effort.  I’m one of the few non-actors in that group, and it is amazing the community Jay has built.

One other brief note, before I finish up. I had never been to 24th Street Theatre before. It is in this funky community just outside of USC. Across the street is the Union Theatre, home to the Velaslavasay Panorama, an old fashioned panoramic entertainment in an old theatre. This is one of these little historic neighborhoods that LA folks should know about but never discover. 24th Street is doing a wonderful mission of bringing magic to children and adults there. Well worth visiting.

Man Covets Bird continues at the 24th Street Theatre (FB) until at least May 15th (so ignore the “for 6 weeks”). Tickets are available online, or by calling (213) 745-6516. Discount tickets are available on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix; there are also special prices for neighborhood residents and children. This production is ostensibly for ages 7 and up; it is your judgment on younger, but make sure they can deal with a lot of exposition. Please bring them cough lozenges;  there was one child behind us that kept coughing up a storm who was pretty distracting. I felt sorry for his parents.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  The Colony Theatre (FB), Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), and I just added the  Hollywood Pantages (FB). In 2015, my intimate theatre subscription was at REP East (FB), although they are reorganizing and (per the birdies) will not start 2016 shows until August. Additionally, the Colony just announced that the remainder of their season has been cancelled, so the status of that subscription is up in the air. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: The second weekend of March recently opened up, due to the cancellation of “Another Roll of the Dice” at The Colony Theatre (FB). We’ve replaced “Dice” with another musical: “All Shook Up” at the Morgan-Wixson (FB) in Santa Monica.  [This also permits me to get more music for my iPod Classic (now at 512GB) by visiting Record Surplus)] The third weekend of March takes us back to the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on March 19 to see Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, followed by Bach at Leipzig at The Group Rep (FB) on March 20.  The last weekend of March brings “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB).  April will start with Lea Salonga at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on April 1 and an Elaine Boosler concert at Temple Ahavat Shalom on April 2 (this concert is open to the community; get your tickets here). April will also bring the Turtle Quintet at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB), “Children of Eden” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) , and our annual visit to the Renaissance Faire (Southern). April may also bring A Shred of Evidence at Theatre 40 (FB). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Hamlet (4 Clowns)userpic=yorick[Note: Although I’m posting this on Talk Like a Pirate day, this isn’t in pirate speak. Alas, the “Arrrr” and “Ayeeee” keys on my keyboard are broken.]

Clowns. Some find them scary. Some find them funny. Some just don’t understand them, or think of them solely in their “big top” circus incarnation — the white makeup, the big shoes, the squirting flowers. But real clowns — in the form of true clowning around — are much different. They have an inspired silliness — they just enjoy wild play. Want an example? Look no further than Moonie, a regular at Ren Faire. He’s just silly and funny, playing on and off people. Clowns are just funny.

Now, let’s look at Hamlet. One of William Shakespeare‘s greatest plays. A tragedy, in which everyone dies. Sad. Heavy. Somber drama. Think Lion King drama. But within the play lies…. madness. After all, Hamlet puts on an antic disposition. Right?

Combine the two … clowns and Hamlet and the result is… intriguing. That was my thinking when I received a press release about this show. I’d heard good things about the Four Clowns (FB) company, and unfortunately had to miss their fringe shows. So this press release piqued my interest, and when the opportunity arose to schedule it… I did. Building off a day when I was working at home, I scheduled a Friday evening show (opening night, in fact), and we worked our way through traffic to get to the Shakespeare Center near downtown for Four Clowns Presents Hamlet. I’m very glad we did, and that’s not just because we got to have a great dinner at The Park’s Finest beforehand.

Now, I’m decidedly not a Shakespeare expert. I studied it in high school, and saw the New York Shakespeare’s version of Two Gentlemen of Verona (in fact, it is still my favorite show). I’d also seen Moonlighting’s Atomic Shakespeare. But other than that, my exposure until recently was limited. In the last few years I’ve seen a bit more: Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Old Globe in San Diego; The Taming of the Shrew at Santa Clarita Shakespeare Festival and Theatricum Botanicum; As You Like It at Theatricum Botanicum. All of them comedies (everyone gets married). I’ve never seen the big dramas such as Hamlet or the Scottish Play.

As a result, the Four Clowns version of Hamlet was probably the first time I’ve explored Hamlet as Hamlet since 1975 and Mr. Smith’s English Class at Pali Hi. Guess what. It was the perfect introduction to the piece. From the ghost wandering through the audience before the opening to the final closing scenes, it was inspired lunacy. The story came through, but the dark and somber nature heightened through the iambic pentameter wasn’t there to clutter the understanding. In fact, by lightening the tone of the story, the clowns made the story accessible and understandable, despite the difficulties that the language of Shakespeare’s time can bring. Translation: Go see this — it makes Shakespeare accessible in a truly unique way.

Normally, at this point, I’d summarize the story of Hamlet. I’m not sure I need to do that — you may already know the story, or you may have seen The Lion King and know the basis of the story. You can always read the summary at Wikipedia, or read the actual play (it’s in the public domain). The elevator summary is that it is a story of revenge: Hamlet learns from the ghost that his father was murdered, and vows revenge on his uncle, King Claudius — who did the deed and married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. To do this, he pretends to be mad. Only his best friend Horatio knows the truth. Hamlet is even forced to hide the truth from his love, Ophelia, and her father Pelonius and brother Laertes. Added to this mix are two fools: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

This, as I’ve noted before, is a classic story. It is one of Shakespeare’s most produced plays, and has been reworked into countless cover stories (including the aforementioned Lion King). Who can find fault with a classic story of revenge and madness, murder and mayhem? But not everyone likes dark heavy dramas.

The Four Clowns Company took this story and lightened it up… by not changing a single plot point. What they did was turn the knob on the lunacy to a 12 when the max was 10, and dial back the somberness and actual violence. This wasn’t to the level of caricature, although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern did seem like a pair of drunken frat boys. They just changed the sanity to silly, and let the descent into lunacy proceed apace.

You get a sense of what will be happening from the pre-show, when the ghost (Joe DeSoto (FB)) starts wandering amongst the audience, making spooky hand motions (I really have no other way to describe it), and encouraging the audience to play along. This is all silent play, but very funny and very reminiscent of how Moonie plays with his audience. DeSoto seems to excel at this silent form of play. You see it again during his actual scenes as the ghost — you just don’t know where he is going to go with anything.

After the artistic director announcements, we meet an overenthusiastic Horatio (Connor Kelly-Eiding (FB)). This overenthusiasm continued throughout the show — Kelly-Eiding seemed almost like a puppy craving the acceptance and full of manic energy. It was just a joy to watch, and I found my eye drawn to her character whenever she was one the stage. Horatio then proceeds to introduce us to all the characters, after which they leave and Hamlet and Horatio encounter the Ghost.

Hamlet (Andrew Eiden (FB)) is initially portrayed as very somber — perhaps the one sane member of this troupe. The lunacy arises when Hamlet puts on the red nose… at which point the unpredictability arises. But his intensity when he delivers Hamlet’s classic monologue from the audience is remarkable, and his lunacy and actions before that only serve to heighten understanding of the classic words.  He was just fun to watch.

The “bad guys” of this story are King Claudius (Corey Johnson (FB)) and Queen Gertrude (Charlotte Chanler (FB)). Chanler’s Gertrude kept making me think of Carol Kane, for some reason. This is a good thing: Kane is a wonderful comic actress, and that sense of comic timing and lunacy came across on Chanler’s Gertrude. Watching her face the first time she gets killed is delightful.  Similarly, Johnson’s Claudius came across more as comic than evil.

The other major family in the story is Polonius (Scotty Farris (FB)), and his two children, Ophelia (Elizabeth Godley (FB)) and Laertes (Joe DeSoto (FB)). Farris captures the befuddled old man well, with some great comic overacting at point. Godley’s Ophelia is sweet — I particularly recall the scene where Hamlet eats the flower and watching her reaction. We don’t see that much of DeSoto as Laertes, but he does do a wonderful job in the swordfighting scene.

Rounding out the cast were Rosencrantz (Dave Honigman (FB)) and Guildenstern (Tyler Bremer/FB), who will later go on to star in their own play. These two men elevated the small courtier role into gag comedy, coming off as a pair of frat brothers on the edge of drunken playfulness.  The torture scene with Hamlet and Horatio is great, and their introduction to the Queen is hilarious.

Four Clowns Presents Hamlet was adapted and directed by Turner Munch (FB). I spoke to Munch after the show, expressing my usual confusion of where the director ends and the actor begins. He indicated that this production was truly a collaborative effort with everyone contributing bits and ideas; his job was to bring the various pieces together and to make them into some sort of coherent whole. He did a great job.

On the technical side… The set and props by Alexandra Giron/FB was relatively simple: some chairs, some fabric. There were more props, but they all worked to establish the appropriate sense of place and story. Lighting Design was by Mcleod Benson/FB, and it worked well-enough. Nothing fancy, but adequately illuminating :-). The back projection scenese were also quite good. There was no credit for sound design; this was too bad, as there were some scenes where sound was used to great effect. Costumes, hair, and make-up were by Elena Flores/FB and worked well. The costumes defined their characters well (the ghost costume was particularly creative). Fight choreography was by Matt Franta (FB), and appeared quite realistic. Rounding out the technical credits were: Technical Director – Matt MacCready/FB; Production Manager – Julianna Stephanie Ojeda/FB; Graphic Designer – Zach Steel (FB); Trailer Editor – Adam Carpenter/FB; Stage Manager – Ashley Jo Navarro/FB; Producers – Jeremy Aluma (FB), Sara Waugh/FB, and David Anthony Anis (FB). Four Clows is under the artistic direction of Jeremy Aluma (FB).

Four Clowns Presents Hamlet continues at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (FB) in a co-production with the Four Clowns (FB) until Saturday, October 10, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM. Tickets are available through the Four Clowns website. This show does not appear to be on Goldstar. It is well worth seeing; one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time. We’re going to keep our eyes open for other Four Clowns productions — they’re great.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This evening brings our second show of the weekend: “The Diviners” at REP East (FB). Next weekend sees us going down to La Mirada to see “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October was being held for the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB), but they haven’t put up the Fringe shows yet, so I’ve started booking weekends. The first weekend of October brings “The Baker’s Wife” at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood. The second weekend of October brings “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB). The third weekend of October takes us to Thousand Oaks for “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The fourth weekend of October brings “Uncle Vanya” at Antaeus Theatre Company (FB) in North Hollywood. Halloween weekend sees me at CSUN for Urinetown, and then both of us out in Simi Valley for “The Addams Family” at the Simi Cultural Arts Center (Simi Actors Rep Theatre (FB)). The following weekend sees us back in Simi for the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7. We then go out to Perris for “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11 (I can’t skip seeing my buddy Thomas and his friend Percy). The bookings for November conclude with Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14; the rest of the month is currently open. December brings “Humble Boy” at The Colony Theatre (FB) the first weekend, followed by a mid-week stint as a producer, when we present The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam as the dinner entertainment at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC). December also has dates held for “The Bridges of Madison County” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) and “If/Then” at the Pantages (FB). There are also a few other interesting productions I’m keeping my eyes open for. The first is the Fall show at The Blank Theatre (FB), “Something Truly Monstrous”, sounds wonderful — however, it runs through November 8, so squeezing it in would mean a double weekend. The show at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) also sounds like an interesting exploration of clutter —  but “The Object Lesson” only runs through October 4, and I’m not sure we can squeeze it in. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Evita (Maui Arts and Cultural Center)userpic=theatre_ticketsJust because we are on vacation doesn’t mean the theatre stops. When I’m on vacation, I typically try to see at least one local show. When I confirmed we were going to Maui, I started looking for what live shows would be here while we were here. The only one in our window was Evita (FB), a Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB) production at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) (FB), which we saw last night. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) assessment is that it was a very good production for community theatre, and quite enjoyable with only a few quibbles. As an aside, I’ll note that there appears to be a fair amount of theatre on Maui, including a regular fringe festival. Who knew?

We last saw Evita in a high-school performance at Van Nuys HS back in 2011. That was my wife’s first exposure to the show; I had seen the original when it was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City back when both existed back in 1980. For those not familiar with Evita, it is the second rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. It is a sung-through opera, with very little non-musical spoken dialogue. You can find a detailed synopsis of the story on the wikipedia page or on the Rice/Webber page for the show.

This production of Evita was put on by the Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB) , the third annual Broadway-style production from the 35 year old arts organization (they did Miss Saigon in 2014 and Les Miserables in 2013). As you can tell from the choice of shows, they like shows with large casts (presumably, to get large community involvement). This show was no exception, with 49 people in the ensemble, 10 additional tango dancers, 13 children in the children’s chorus.

The show was directed by David C. Johnston (FB), MAPA’s artistic director, with Choreography by André Morissette (FB) and staging by David C. Johnston (FB) and André Morissette (FB).  They made some interesting choices in the casting, movement, and staging departments — not necessarily bad choices, but ones that drew my attention. The first was in the casting. If you think about Evita and the typical casting, what comes to mind? A pencil-thin Eva Perón, a relatively thin army-officer type for Juan Perón, and a tall and thin Tango dancer for Agustin Magaldi. Their choices — talented all — were a bit more on the mid-size scale. This didn’t hurt the performances one bit (and I’m sure most of the audience didn’t notice), but it did give a different look to the show. You can see what I mean in the photos accompanying the cast credits below.  I actually enjoyed the casting, and it may have been more reflective of the Argentinian society of the time (size norms have changed over time, and what might be the image in my mind might reflect more the norms of the 1980s when this show came out, vs. the Latin American norms of 1930-1940 Argentina).

The second and third issues were more movement based. The director tended to have his actors use their arms quite a bit during songs (you likely know what a mean — the tendancy to sweep one’s arms in front of oneself as one sings to punctuate everything). This got to the point where it was a little visually distracting — again, it didn’t detract from the overall performance but was a directorial choice that was bothersome. The third issue was the overall movement of the ensemble, which was a bit more simplistic than I’m used to seeing on shows such as this in Los Angeles. My guess is that this was a combination of the extremely large ensemble and the fact that the ensemble was not built from professional dancers and gypsies, but from community members. Given that, the choreography was very good; it was just not all it could have been given what I’m used to seeing. It was great for the community theatre level, and — again — I’m sure most of the audience did not notice. I’m just used to community theatre at the level that challenges the professionals (look at the work of Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB)).

In the overall scheme of things, however, those are minor quibbles. The basic performance and staging went well, with a set that consisted primarily of moving stairways and balconies, a few drop columns, and some basic props. With this simplicity, there was a strong need for the acting to establish not only story but place and time — and it did that well. The show was overall enjoyable with some very good performances. Let’s now look at those performances.

Evita (Publicity Photos by Jack Grace)In the lead position as Eva Perón was Hawai’i’s top selling vocalist of all times (and a product of the early days of MAPA), Amy Hānaili’i Gilliom (FB). She had the perfect vocals for the role and captured the emotional performance quite well. The staging had a few odd costume changes on stage for Ms. Gilliom that were much more noticeable from the balcony (where we were sitting), but she looked beautiful in the costumes and gave a great performance. I’ll note that MAPA chose the staging that incorporated the song “You Must Love Me” from the movie, and Gilliom handled that song beautifully.

Eva’s antagonist, Che, is never mentioned by name during the show, but serves as a sardonic off-side commentator on the proceedings to provide the necessary cynical look on the situation. If you’re familiar with the concept album, you always see him as pushing his insecticide (a plot element that disappeared in the stage transition, leaving a number of musical moments where the words have been removed from the remaining music. Che was performed by Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos/FB. He brought a much higher voice to the character (as if Patinkin wasn’t high), but worked well. The only oddity was that in a number of scenes he was part of the crowd seemingly supporting Perón; I would have expected him to be more off on the side observing instead. I’m guessing this was a directorial choice, and not a major problem. In general, I expected a strong sardonic and angry nature from the performance — this was particularly noticeable in “Goodnight and Thank You”.

Juan Perón was portrayed by Francis Tau’a/FB. Tau’a had a lovely voice for Perón and brought an appropriate stage presence, including a very touching performance in the second act.

The remaining two named characters were Danielle Dalaunay (FB) as Perón’s mistress, and Joey Schumacher/FB as Agustin Magaldi. Dalaunay (hint: don’t do a Google search on the name; unfortunately an adult industry actress also chose that name) really only has one scene and one song, but she nailed it and gave a lovely and touching rendition of “Where Am I Going To?”. Schumacher’s gave a wonderful vocal performance as Magaldi, but didn’t have the look of a tango singer that would have the teenage girls swooning.

Rounding out the performances were the large ensemble components. The ensemble consisted of (takes deep breath): Jay Agasid/FB, Ashlyn-Jade Aniban (FB), Heather Bartlemus/FB, Craig Bode/FB, Shane Borge/FB, Alfred Cantorna/FB, Emily Cantorna/FB, Dr. Virgie Cantorna/FB, Alice Carter/FB, Maile Castro/FB, Jordyn Clarke/FB, Haylie Daunhauer/FB, Haley DeForest/FB, Gina Duncan/FB, Christie Ellison/FB, Molli Fleming/FB, Marion Haller/FB, Halia Haynes/FB, Casey Hearl/FB, Tasiana Igondjo/FB, Aeris Joseph/FB, Brock Kahoohanohano-Abrose/FB, Julie Kawamura/FB, Kevin Lawrence/FB, Carlyn Leal/FB, Nomi Macadangdang/FB, Betty Miller/FB, Orion Milligan/FB, Danann Mitchell/FB, Kaimana Neil/FB, Tully O’Reilly/FB, Jim Oxborrow/FB, Sara Patton/FB, David Pisoni/FB, Isaac Rauch/FB, David Rooks/FB, Karli Rose/FB, Kela Rothstein/FB, Molly Schad, Cole Shafer/FB, Emma Smith/FB, Scott Smith/FB, Theresa Supera/FB, Joylene Nina Tabon/FB, Marc Toliver/FB, Preston Watanabe/FB, Eliza Wright/FB, and Nolan Yee. The Tango Dancers were Vicky Ayers/FB, Rose Baiot/FB, Marcia Barnett-Lopez, Peter Black/FB, Sugandha Ferro Black/FB, Hawkeye Lannis, Doug Miller/FB, Nadama/FB, Rita Okeane/FB, and Tom Weierhauser/FB. The Children’s Chorus was Avery Ardoin, Madeline Austin, Ashton Chargualaf, Nealon Guzman, Kaylee Herman, Sofia Kafami/FB, Randi Lonzaga, Haley Mahoe, Luna Graham Milligan, Jena Mukai, Elly Smith/FB, Erin Smith/FB, Dutch Tanaka Akana, and Jillian Vince-Cruz.

Music was under the direction of Gary Shin-Leavitt (FB), who conducted the 19 piece on-stage band (something you don’t often see). The band consisted of: Kim Vitterli (FB) (Keyb0ard), Beth Fobbe-Wills/FB (Keyboard), Reid Ishikawa/FB (Keyboard), Judy Waters (1st Violin), Sue Westcott/FB (1st Violin), Ana Kalina (2nd Violin), Darius Soo Hoo (FB) (2nd Violin), Teresa Skinner (FB) (Viola), Patrice Weed-Shearer (FB) (Viola), Cheryl Lindley/FB (Cello), Michelle Ancheta (Cello), Lauralei Singsank (FB) (Flute), Beth Sederstrom (Clarinet/Sax), Cody Sarmiento (FB) (Trumpet), Henry Arroyo (Trombone), Stephen Rodrigues (Electric Bass), Wenlu Duffy (FB) (Guitar), Perry Gragas/FB (Percussion), and Richard Vetterli/FB (Drums).

Turning to the technical side. The set design by Dan Hays/FB was relative simple: two movable staircases, a movable balcony, and a static balcony. Simple, but effective, as they were constantly being reconfigured. These were supported by the props by Jeff Robidoux and Barbara Sedano (FB), which worked reasonably well. My only quibble was with the Argentinian flag, which was often portrayed without the sunburst. Now, it turns out that the sunburst-less version of the flag is the ornamental flag and thus a valid version. Still, I’m not sure if that was the right flag to use. The sound design by Joseph “Joe” Arias  was reasonable, but could stand for a little adjusting (some mics were problematic, and some needed their volume increased). The lighting design by Mark Astrella served to create the mood appropriately. The costumes by Vanessa Cerrito (FB) (Kenneth Peter Lee for Eva Peron) seemed appropriately period, as did the hair, wig, and make-up design by Marc Tolliver/FB and Karli Rose/FBAndré Morissette (FB)  was the costume consultant. Lina Krueger/FB was the stage manager, assisted by Tina Kailiponi/FB. Evita was produced by the Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB).

The last performance of Evita at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) (FB) is a few hours away, at 2:00 PM HST. Tickets are available through the MACC website, but at this point I’d call the box office. We forewarned: Hurricane Ignacio, as the time I’m writing this, is a Category 4 Hurricane about 400 mi E of the island of Hawaii, with a storm track that has it running to the north and west of the islands. We’re getting wind and some rain here on the north western side of Maui; MACC is in Kahului, on the eastern side of the island (which will have more storms and winds). The show is worth seeing, but stay safe.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: September starts with Tom Paxton’s last concert at McCabes (FB) on September 12, followed by “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). They haven’t put up the Fringe shows yet, so I may start booking weekends. October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). November will bring the Nottingham Festival (FB) on November 7; “A Day Out with Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) on November 11; and Deathtrap at REP East (FB) on November 14. The rest of the month is currently open. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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Might As Well Live (HFF)userpic=fringeBy now, you’ve probably figured out I’ve tried to participate in the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) as fully as I could, modulo other commitments and general unavailability on weeknights. So, when it came to the last night I could participate in the festival (I have another commitment on closing night), I looked through the Fringe catalog. Most of the shows I wanted to see were not running that night, but there was a show about Dorothy Parker that timed right. Parker was a well-known wit and commentator, and a presentation of some of her stories might be interesting. If you’re unfamiliar with Parker, you might recognize her poem I quoted in the title:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Hence, this afternoon saw us at our last Fringe show, Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (FB) at the Acme Theatre at the Complex Theatres (FB).

Might As Well Live presented four vignettes from short stories by Parker: “The Lovely Leave, 1942″; “You Were Perfectly Fine, 1968″, “New York to Detroit, 1997″, and “The Game, Today”. Although I found them entertaining, they were not super engrossing or something that sparked the “Wow” factor. Let me describe the four stories, and then try to figure out why they didn’t hit the nerve they should have:

  1. The Lovely Leave, 1942″. This vignette told the story of Mimi Parker (Bailey Wilson/FB) and Steve Parker (Paul Stanko (FB)). They were evidently someone recently married and then separated by the war (presumably WWI from the uniform, but seemingly WWII from the mention of airfields). Steve called and thought he had a 24 hour pass before going off to the war. Mimi prepped for this, but when he arrived he only had one hour, and they spent most of that hour fighting.
  2. You Were Perfectly Fine, 1968″. This vignette tells the story of Peter (Bret VendenBos (FB)) and Lauren (Aly Fainbarg (FB)). Peter wakes up on Lauren’s couch after a particularly bad drinking bender, and learns the story of how he behaved during that bender.
  3. New York to Detroit, 1997″. This vignette tells the story of Jean (Gabrielle Giraud (FB)) and Jack (Clinton Childress). Jean is in New York, where she’s attempting to have a telephone call with her husband or boyfriend Jack, who is in a hotel room in Detroit. She’s obviously trying to tell him something, but he can’t here her well and appears more self-centered on himself than willing to try. As the vignette ends, we see she’s sitting there with the results of a home pregnancy test, and he’s not alone in the hotel room, The Other Woman (Paget Kagy (FB)) is with him.
  4. The Game, Today”. This vignette was based on a story in the Saturday Evening Post, and appears to have been derived from a Charades game that Parker and her cohorts played at the Algonquin Round Table. In this story, there are a number of couples [Thelma (Paget Kagy (FB)) and Sherm (Paul Stanko (FB)) Chrystie ; Ryan (Bret VendenBos (FB)) and Cassie (Aly Fainbarg (FB)) McDermott; and Jim (Clinton Childress) and Dianne (Gabrielle Giraud (FB)) Bain] celebrating the wedding of Emmy Ford (Bailey Wilson/FB) to Bob Lineham (Kaylon Hunt (FB)). This is Bob’s second marriage; his first wife evidently died by drowning in a lake. They decide to play the game and partner up, but every clue seems to keep bringing up the drowning. This gets Bob more and more upset, until he ends up telling everyone to go jump in a lake. Blackout.

Thinking back over these, I think the reason they didn’t grab is that they were too short. Each of the stories was crying out for more — for a longer treatment, a deeper exploration of the characters, for something deeper than the superficial. Treating the stories as lightly as they were treated did not create the investment in the characters — you didn’t know who they were, and you didn’t really care what happened to them. They were meaningless brief scenes, when they could have been much more.

Further, even if they were to keep the scenes short, they didn’t select the stories to provide some through theme or make some through point from the overall collection. The stories seemed random, unconnected, and it wasn’t clear what point they were trying to make about Dorothy Parker other than, well, she wrote short stories.

Unless you are a Parker fan (and they are out there — after all, this was funded by a Kickstarter with 56 backers), I think this production needs some dramatalurgical work (if that’s a word). Get us more invested in these stories, even if you need to expand them a little. Connect the dots between the stories to make a point about Parker. Were these reflective of some overall attitude towards life? Towards men? Towards women? Towards society at large? What was she trying to say between the lines? Bring out those points, and this work would improve quite a bit.

Independent of the story, the performances where quiet good. I enjoyed Bailey Wilson in both of her roles — both as the overly anxious wife in “Lovely Leave”, as well as the bride-to-be who was clueless about her husband’s past in “The Game”. I also enjoyed Paget Kagy for her performance in “The Game”, as the silent instigator. It really raised the question — never explored — about why she hated Bob Lineham so much and wanted to cause him pain. Bret VandenBos’ Peter in “You Were Perfectly Fine” was also quite good. Lastly, Gabrielle Giraud was great as Jean, the woman trying to communicate with her husband, in “New York to Detroit”.

The program handed out provides no technical credits (tsk, tsk — they make you look good on stage). I’ll note that Steve Parker’s uniform was distracting — yes, it was correct army, but the insignia was a double chevron, which would have been a corporal — yet he was referred to as a Lt. (which would have been a single bar). I’m picky on this, primarily because I work with the Air Force every day. Otherwise, the costuming was reasonable, and the lighting established the mood without distraction. No credit was given for stage management. Might As Well Live was adapted for the Stage and Directed by Adam Scott Weissman (FB). There were numerous executive producers, associate producers, and special thanks, which referred to Kickstarter bonuses. In a real production sense, Might as Well Live was co-produced by Adam Scott Weissman (FB) and Bailey Wilson/FB.

This was the last performance of Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (FB). There is no mention yet of an extension.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Tomorrow, it is time for something different: time to see teams of 130 young adults, ages 16-21, broken into color guard (flags, props), brass, and percussion, performing in the Riverside heat in 15 minutes shows, being judged on musical quality, precision, general effect, and individual captions. That’s right, we’ll be at the Western Corps Connection (if you don’t know what Drum Corps competitions are, read this) in Riverside. July is a month of double-headers, begining with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. The next weekend is another double: On Friday night, July 10th, we’re seeing Colin Mitchell‘s show Madness, Murder Mayhem: Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Reimagined at Zombie Joes Underground Theatre (FB); Saturday July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on cahighways.org) as this entry by cahwyguy. Although you can comment on DW, please make comments on original post at the Wordpress blog using the link below; you can sign in with your LJ, FB, or a myriad of other accounts. There are currently comments on the Wordpress blog. PS: If you see share buttons above, note that they do not work outside of the Wordpress blog.

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