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Zombie Clown Trump (HFF17)userpic=fringeThe Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) offers over 350 shows during a single month; as you might guess, these shows cover a wide-variety of presentations and maturity. They range from one-on-one shows that take under 10 minutes to full-on 2 hour musicals; from everyone being naked to all clothed; from improv to rehearsed; from silly to serious. Yesterday’s sampling of the Fringe Festival was a strong demonstration of that: we saw shows that ranged from silly political commentaries (Zombie Clown Trump) to a one-woman show (Conversations ‘Bout The Girls) to a fully-realized, in-depth play (Inversion). What they all had in common was the fact that they all were excellent.

***

Zombie Clown Trump (Non-HFF Website) is one of those shows that I would classify as a real Fringe show, or as the show put it at the end: “You only paid $7 for this, what did you expect?”. This, of course, was after we all sang, “We are the world, we are the Fringe Fest”, and waiving our flags, and wearing the red noses that they gave us.

Yes, this was one of those shows.

Zombie Clown Trump purports to be a show about Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020 against Dwaine “The Rock” Johnson, after bombing much of the rest of the world and excreting on the nation all sorts of noxious bodily fluids and substances. Through all of this, Kellyanne Cuntway is trying to suck up to trump, and Press Secretary Sean Sphincter and VP Mike Peenass are blowing it out their … Trump’s wife Barbania Trump has fallen in love with the Rock, and Becky has kidnapped Trump’s daughter SriLanka Trump, which has Trump upset because his homegrown hot piece of ass is gone, and …

It is a bizarre and surreal show, but is it any more surreal than real life, where as I write this I am reading the following: “A representative from President Donald Trump’s legal team said Trump is not under investigation, despite the President tweeting “I am being investigated” this week.”?

In any case, the show is a hot comedic mess, with parody songs and profanity and general sillyness and sluttiness. But it is also fun, and a form of political commentary that you’ll find at a Fringe Festival. It’s not high art, folks.

The performances were similarly across the map at times. I think the real standout was Maegan Mandarino (BS, FB)’s Barbania Trump / Becky. Mandarino had a really strong singing voice, good dance moves, and was quite a lot of fun to watch. A close second with Dani Savka (FB)’s Kellyanne / SriLanka — again, she was having fun with the songs and the comedy moves.

Trump was portrayed by the creator of the show, Rick Cipes (FB). Cipes was a clown and was having fun with the persona, exaggerating what was already an exaggeration (it is, after all, quite small), and keeping the show quite topical, with mentions of the latest Julius Caesar mess incorporated. Rounding out the cast was Craig Aldrich/FB as VP Mike Peenass and with his hand up Sean Sphincter’s ass (Sphincter was a puppet). Aldrich was the crass one would expect in such a position.

No further credits (i.e., director, stage manager, etc.) were provided.

Visit the show’s website for more information on this absurdity, and to see an interesting mouseover. There are two more performances of this show, June 23 @ 10:30pm, and June 24 @ 8:30pm. Performances take place at the OMR Theatre at The Complex. Tickets are available through the show’s fringe page.

***

Conversations 'Bout The Girls (HFF17)The second show we saw yesterday, Conversations ‘Bout The Girls, is a great example of a one-person show / project common at the Fringe.  In the show, the author and performer, Sonia Jackson (IMDB, FB), takes on the persona of the proprietor of a lingerie / brassiere shop inducting a new hire. The permit her to take on the persona of a large number of shop patrons and characters, and to relate all sorts of stories about women’s relationships with their breasts.

These stories relate from the experience of their sudden appearance, the reaction of men to them, the reaction of parents to them, the experiences of breast examination and mastectomies (and potential reconstruction thereafter).

Now, I’m a guy and I didn’t personally relate to a lot of the stories (except as a satisifed examiner 🙂 ), but I did find it interesting to watch the audience, and especially my wife, as they reacted to the stories being told. This reflected their personal experience (something I confirmed afterwards with my wife), and in many ways was truly their story.

She did relate one item that was enlightening. She imagined if men had to go in to be fitted for a jockstrap, and the store clerk making statements like, “Don’t worry, it may be small now, but I’m sure it will grow.”, or yelling out to the story, “Do we have any of the petite left in stock?” Including this story did make this production much more understandable to the men in the audience.

Overall, I’d say this is a fun show for women or man, and a great example of what a one-person show can be: A personal exploration and exposition of a particular subject, based on personal experience.

According to the program, this isn’t a new show. It has been in development for 12 years, has been adapted into a full length play, and has been subsequently adapted into a screenplay.

Conversations ‘Bout The Girls was directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson (FB). Props appear to have been provided by Sara’s Lingerie. (FB).

Given how late I’m writing this, there is one more performance of Conversations ‘Bout The Girls on June 24 @ 1pm at the Dorie Theatre at the Complex. Tickets available through the show’s Fringe website.

***

Inversion by Aditya Putcha (HFF17)The final show of the day, Inversion, was at the other end of the spectrum. While Zombie Clown Trump was a surrealistic hot mess, but funny, Inversion was a serious well-written play about a realistic subject. It was an exposition of something that many people feel — especially folks in my field of work — when dealing with the opposite sex. Author and lead Aditya Putcha (FB) has created a story that speaks to personal experience. It is remarkably well crafted for a first play. I think it reflects another aspect of Fringe: the launching pad for new plays — a place to get them out there, and start shaping them for a full-fledged professional production. I think with a bit more shaping and expansion, this could be a production worthy of most intimate theatres in Los Angeles, a potential off-Broadway production, and possibly an even longer life.

The description of the show is as follows: Adam (Aditya Putcha (FB)), a socially awkward mathematician, especially with women, laments his inability to find the hot woman of his dreams before his mom (Lena Zhanik) declines too far into the world of Alzheimer’s. His best friend, Brendan (Adam Daniel (FB)), who seems to get any woman he wants, tries to support his endeavor, with disastrous results. Thus beings the spiral into dating and love and relationships as Brendan encourages Adam to date a low self esteemed slightly older (and, as portrayed, larger) woman, Rhonda (Shayna Spielman (FB★, FB)), in order to help Adam learn how to date. In meeting up with Rhonda, Adam finds his hot woman: Natalia (Gaia Passaler (FB)), Rhonda’s roommate. Thinking he’s finally met the woman of his dreams, Adam forges ahead with Natalia thinking maybe he can also ease his mother’s concerns about his well being as she declines. Romantic entanglements explored in this touching, all too real look at how men and women relate to not only the opposite sex as friends and lovers, but how friendships are tested by the dating world.

Now most reviewers of this show are likely trained critics, with experience in the humanities — or they are actors who are working as reviewers. On the other hand, I’m actually like the lead — I was a math major at UCLA; I’ve been doing cybersecurity for 30 years. My wife, similarly, is an engineer. We know characters like the lead character; we’ve seen the same mistakes he has made happen time and again. In an over-zealous lust for the “hot chick”, imagining that every small positive gesture conveys full blown love, and over-reacting. Meanwhile, the potentially right girl gets ignored and insulted. However, unlike what you would expect from this story (everyone ends up happy; the schlub of a guy ends up with the lovable schlub of a girl), this story ends up with a bit more empowerment: the schlub of a girl realizes she doesn’t have to settle, but can be there for herself. The hot chick ends up with a guy that she loves, not that is just hot for her. The guy who dates around realizes what true love is, and finds both a job and the right girl. And the lead is left… perhaps more confused than ever.

As the lead, I was unsure of what to make of Aditya Putcha (FB). He comes from a background of real stuttering. He has an awkward performance where he seemingly gets stuck on lines at points, but it is unclear whether this is reality or performance. In real life, such a character would be stuck on those same lines, and would exhibit the same problems talking to women. So his performance, while awkward, is remarkably realistic.

I just loved Shayna Spielman (FB★, FB), but perhaps this is just because she’s the type of girl I’ve always enjoyed watching. Playful and happy and confusing and such. She gives a performance that is fun to watch, and again, something that is very realistic because I’ve known girls just like that. As her roommate, Gaia Passaler (FB) also gives a strong performance, believably Russian. Beautiful, and also fun to watch, the two young ladies work very well together, playing off each other and off the character of Adam.

The remaining two performers only interact with the lead. As the best friend, Adam Daniel (FB) gives a suitably bro performance, and handles the transformation from ‘bro to adult quite realistically. Lastly, Lena Zhanik handles the mom with Alzheimer’s quite well, portraying a wonderful level of confusion. Dealing with a similar situation with my M-I-L, it is a confusion that is all too real and all too sad.

The production was directed by Elise Marie Hodge (FB) of EMH Productions (FB). Veniese Razo was the stage manager.

Overall, this was a very realistic show, well-performed with a good story. It demonstrated the professional end of Fringe as a place for new playwrights to get a great start.

Alas, the last performance of Inversion was (a) today, and (b) was sold out. Supposedly, a DVD of the performance is available for a short time from their Indegogo page.

***

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 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 brings 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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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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userpic=fringeYesterday, we saw our second batch of Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) shows: Ink Theater (FB)’s The Heart Change, 86’d , and Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story. Unlike our first Fringing day, there was nary a clunker in the bunch. We found parking for the first two easy, and were able to pick up our Fringe pins at Fringe Central without difficulty. The only sour spots for the day were our continuing headaches, and the parking ticket I got in West Hollywood for not being precisely within the parking space markings. Cost of doing business, I guess — I haven’t had one in over 20 years. On to our first show….

***

The Heart Change - INK Theater (Hollywood Fringe)We selected Ink Theater (FB)’s The Heart Change because the description sounded so interesting: here was a show not only with kids as actors, but the kids wrote it, designed it, choreographed it, designed it — it was basically a creative project for a bunch of kids ages 7-12. The subject was also interesting: “When a group of kids have to face a crabby Hollywood director and realize just how powerful they are. ” Shows done by kids are usually fun at Fringe – witness last year’s Titus Andronicus Jr. – so this had good potential.

I’m pleased to say that I sat through this entire show smiling. No, by adult standards, it was far from perfect. Some jokes were sophomoric, the story was a bit simplistic and stereotyped, and there was a bit of caricature/overacting in the performance. But these kids aged 7-12. For their ages and what they did it was remarkable.

Last week I saw adults in a show that was painful because of the potential squandered. This week, I saw kids in a show that was imperfect, and all I could see is the potential-to-be.

The basic story the kids developed is this — insert the appropriate suspension of belief. Hollywood director is forced by his studio to make a movie with kids. He hates kids, and needs the money. The kids audition and get the movie, but problems arise immediately between the kid’s personality/sense of entitlement and the director’s desire to control. It doesn’t end well, and the kids quit the production. But the cameraman relates the story of one of the kids, and as the director and the kids learn more about what is driving them and what their behavior was making, they have a change of heart and learn to work together.

This is a story written by kids under 12. Pretty remarkable isn’t it. It also contained three songs, performed by the kids on-stage, and a dance.

There were also some great performances. You’ll have to excuse my imprecision here: there were no photos in the program, and these kids don’t have an internet presence yet (being under 13), so I can’t necessarily put names with the performances I liked. There was a little black kid who kept spouting scientific stuff about nutrition and eating tomatoes who was just hilarious. I also liked the two girls who sung — such a great effort (I think they were Bela Salazar and Caytlin McKinney). One girl kept reminding me of my niece with her vocal style and behavior (this is in a good way), and the two kids who played the baboons were just hilarious. This was just a delight to watch.

The cast consisted of: Olivia Brumit – Alexandria; Stephen Ramsey – Bob; Sienna Sullivan – Charlotte, Waiter; Emma Patti – Eliza Jane; Malachi Turnbull – Jacob; Gael Bary – John Pierre; Ruby Miller – Luna; Bela Salazar – Mercedes; Nadia Gray – Ms. George; Zoe Gray – Nelly; Terydan Green – Roberto; Caytlin McKinney – Sunshine; and Tegan Linehan – Toby.

Credited adult supervision was Rachel Kiser (FB) – Director; Sarah Cook (FB) – Producer / Choreography Coach; and Erin Hall (FB) – Acting Coach / Stage Manager.

There is one more performance of The Heart Change, today at 7:00pm. If you enjoy watching kids with potential — hell, if you enjoy just watching incredibly cute kids on stage — go see this.

***

86'd (Hollywood Fringe)The second show that we saw was, 86’d, a one-woman show about life in the service industry — something every actors supposedly knows because being a waitron is supposedly one of the best subsistence jobs. I went into this show expecting it to be a one-woman monologue of vignettes. Instead, Co-writer and performer Courtney Arnett (FB) presented a series of scenes from what was ostensibly her life as a server at a restaurant called “Sweats”.

These vignettes begin when she has been working a double shift, and gets assigned a clueless newbie to train. They continue through the life of the restaurant, its decline, its rebirth as a new venue with the same chef and staff, until that venue’s eventual decline and closing. It ends, fittingly, with her being the newbie at a new restaurant.

During the saga, we get to see how a life such as this doesn’t permit her life to go on. She may meet bartenders and busboys and chefs, but her reason for moving to Los Angeles is never achieved, and she never achieves her goals of family either.

However, that is the character in the story. My hopes for this actress, however, are much more. In this production, she demonstrated a remarkable singing voice, great comic timing, wonderful expressions, and an easy-going way of relating to the audience. We found the show very enjoyable, providing a different view of those servers we see every day.

The title, “86’d”, refers to a term used in the restaurant industry for running out of a food or service items (e.g., “We’re 86’d on the haddock today.”). Early in the show, the running joke is that everything on the menu is 86’d except for the hamburger, fries, and Miller Lite.

86’d was cowritten by Julia Meltzer (FB), who also directed the piece. Courtney Arnett (FB) created the piece. It was produced by Terri Arnett, Rachel Germaine (FB★; FB) [who was checking us in at the door], and Matt Robinson. Music was by Kait Hickey and Ariana Lenarsky (FB). Tech by Colin Johnson (FB).

86’d has 3 more performances: Wednesday June 14th @ 700pm; Monday, June 19th @ 830pm, and Friday, June 23rd @ 1130pm. It plays at Studio C as the Asylum, which is right next to “The Complex” group of theatres near Fringe Central.

***

Insuppressible - The Absolutely Unauthorized Leah Remini Story (Hollywood Fringe)The last show we saw yesterday was Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story at The Actors Company facility in West Hollywood. Yes, this is where I received the love note from the West Hollywood Traffic Force for not being exactly between the lines. Not worth contesting, but something others should note when visiting this venue. Perhaps they were agents of David Miscavige, mad about my seeing this show.

Going in, my only knowledge of Scientology was what I picked up by listening to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. I had heard roughly about the disappearance of David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, but hadn’t followed the Leah Remini (FB) series. My wife, however, had.

[ETA: I completely forgot, until the tweet with this writeup was re-tweeted, that we saw Squeeze My Cans at last year’s HFF. That show was one woman’s story of how she got drawn into the tar-baby that is Scientology, how she worked her way into the upper tiers of the religions, and how she eventually escaped its grasp. Not only did this effort take more than a decade, it decimated her finances. Quite interesting to think about, when paired with this musical.]

Insuppressible started late due to the previous show running late (this is Fringe, folks); I’m sure the show after us was late due to the same shift, plus the confetti left by this show. I’m glad to say, however, the show was worth the wait.

I went into the show, for some reason, thinking that his would be  a one-woman musical. Far from it. This was a large cast (8) musical, executed well, with strong song and dance, and great effects. This was the exact opposite of Robot Monster: The Musical. This is a good thing.

Insuppressible tells, in five scenes, the story of Leah Remini’s path through Scientology. It opens with her making friends with Shelly, and Shelly to encourage her to persue her dream of acting. It then moves to her professional pinnacle in King of Queens, and her being a Scientology Celebrity up there with Tom Cruise. It then moves to the wedding of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, where all the resentment that Remini has with Scientology starts to bubble up, leading to her split with the group. It ends with her getting the courage to leave Scientology and go onto a life of success or something close thereto.

This was a fringe show. Jeffrey McCrann (FB)’s book and Robert Hill (FB)’s music were relatively entertaining, although it is unclear if they could extend the piece into a fully-sustained two-act musical with a deeper book and connection of the songs to the inner turmoils of the characters as opposed to being more scene oriented. Still, it might be worth a try. I certainly didn’t sense the show dragging, although I would have liked to find out more what happened afterwards, and to see some more fleshing out of the beliefs of the group and how strange they are. But then I’m always for exposing strange rituals.

The performances were excellent. In the lead position was Leslie Rubino (FB) as Leah. We saw her a few weeks ago in Freeway Dreams, and again we were blown away by her talent, voice and sense of comic timing.  It is worth seeing this show alone just for her performance.

The remaining seven cast members all are strong. Jaimie Day/FB‘s Katie Holmes was mostly a caricature, but she was spectacular in her solo number “Katie and Tom”. A great LA theatre debut. There was just something about Tiffani Ann Mills (FB)’s Shelly Miscavige that was a delight to watch. Perhaps it was her believable friendship with Leah; perhaps it was her look; perhaps it was her singing in the opening number — in any case, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. Libby Baker (FB)’s Mother was strong in the opening number, but then the writing moved her to more of a background role, although she was strong in “The Gaslighting Song”. Nicole Clemetson/FB‘s J-Lo was a hoot — I have no idea whether J-Lo acts like that in real life, but that’s how I want her to act.  Clemetson was also a strong singer. Lastly, of the female cast, Sohm Kapila (FB) was Nicole Kidman. She only had one scene as Nicole in the end and was good in that. Note that all of the actresses other than the lead were also in the ensemble in various scenes.

There were two male members of the cast: David Wilkins/FB as Tom Cruise and Milo Shearer/FB as David.  Both were strong performers and strong singers — they were particularly strong in “Matter, Energy, Space, and Time”.

Music was a mix of prerecorded music and on-stage music from Robert Hill (FB).

No credits were provided for choreography, set design, costumes, sound, lighting etc. With respect to those creative areas, a few observations. First, someone went crazy with the glitter glue. Second, I’m sure the production following this wanted to shoot this production for the on-stage confetti gun that left confetti everywhere. Third, there was some sort of sound problem that sounded like constant rain, which was annoying. Other than that, however, the costumes and props were clever, and the show fit in and out of the Fring requirements great.

The production was directed by Jeffrey McCrann (FB).

Insuppressible: The Unauthorized Leah Remini Story continues at the Let Live Space at the Actors Company with four more performances: Sunday June 11 2017, 5:30 PM; Thursday June 15 2017, 8:30 PM; Friday June 23 2017, 11:30 PM; and Saturday June 24 2017, 4:00 PM. We found this to be a very enjoyable production, and predict you will as well. If not, well, there are always soup cans.

***

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 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.

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Hey Hollywood, My Hustle Has ADHD (HFF17)userpic=fringeThe Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) has started, and we’re going to be seeing multiple shows each weekend. So I’m going to batch my writeups… and this is batch one. We saw all these shows Sunday night.

***

As Hey Hollywood, My Hustle Has ADHD started, the author and sole performer, Rasika Mathur (FB), was clearly unprepared.  It was as if she had put off writing and blocking and staging this show until the last minute.  As if her attention had been focused somewhere else, and she just didn’t sit down and get the damn show done. I mean, at times she was even having to go back and review the script to see where she was. I know this was a preview, but … Then again (and possibly more likely), that was the point of this exercise — to make you realize the impact of ADHD on a person’s life. Not knowing whether it was an act or real was part of the charm, just like knowing how hard it is for a trained singer to intentionally sing bad.

Hustle is structured as a one-woman show, but it really isn’t. Mathur brings up audience members to represent key people in her life — her parents, casting agents, Nick Cannon, her manager and agent. She then plays off these people to tell her story, and how her condition affected her life until she decided to take charge of it.

I found the show fascinating, especially as we had brought a teen relative who may have ADHD with us to the show. The bell rang and the lights went of. It was also interesting to see the levels of ADHD within ourselves, and seeing something like this is the first step on dealing with it. So the show was enlightening and entertaining and a great start to the Fringe Festival. I just wish there was a show from the other side: Hey Hollywood, I’ve Got To Deal With An Actor with ADHD!

Hustle was directed and developed by Deana Barone (FB), who worked on last Fringe’s 30JJ or Bust.

There are three more performances of Hey Hollywood, My Hustle Has ADHD: June 11 @ 6PM, June 15 @ 10PM, and June 24 @ 10PM. It plays in the Lounge 2 Theatre, 1 block E of Vine on Santa Monica.

***

Robot Monster - The Musical (HFF17)I always operate on the conceit that the stage production came first, and then they made a movie of it. If that was true, then they improved Robot Monster when they made the movie version of the story, based on the musical Robot Monster – The Musical (FB), which was our second Fringe show. And since Robot Monster (the movie) has 1.9 stars on IMDB, and a 31% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, that should scare you more than any Ro-Man could ever do.

So why did we go? Well, the description made it sound better than it was:

Hailed as one of the greatest bad movies in the annals of film history, the 1953 cult sci-fi classic, “Robot Monster” is a beloved fan favorite for its complete absurdity, hammy acting, charming naiveté and – most of all – for its famously tortured space gorilla.

But more than just an infamously “bad movie,” the film has a charming and unpretentious sincerity that’s so appealing in our frenetic age

With 16 original songs, the musical includes everything current and new fans demand from a show about a space gorilla sent to earth to destroy the human race. Will he succeed?

I will say that the musical had all of what was claimed: complete absurdity, hammy acting, charming naiveté and a tortured space gorilla. But often — almost usually — stage musical versions of bad musicals figure how to turn the camp into a redeeming feature. Look at shows like Johnny Guitar, Zombies from the Beyond, or even Evil Dead – The Musical. They make it work. Partially, it is because a campy plot can be improved by good songs and performances.

Not here.

For the most part, the performances were weak (again, that may have been intentional given the camp and the history) — but they were at the verge of painful. Yes, this was a preview performance, but when the best part of the performance is the line missteps…. But I do say, “for the most part”. Dana Deruyck (FB) was perhaps the sole redeeming player in this show. Her “Johnny” was a hoot with hilarious facial expressions, strong singing, and just, well, she was fun to watch. Her sister, Stephanie Thomas/FB, was also fun to watch.

Now, I will admit that perhaps I was expecting to much from this. After all, the show’s FB page indicated that other audience members really enjoyed this and found it a hoot. So perhaps you need to be a Robot Monster fan to truly appreciate what was done here. In other words, YMMV. But for someone who had never seen the movie, and was going based on experience with other campy SF movies turned into good small musicals, I was expecting much much more.

Cast: Stephanie Thomas/FB – Carla; Dana Deruyck (FB) – Johnny; Don Margolin – The Professor; Andrew Villarreal (FB) – Roy; Val Peterson/FB – Martha; Jamie Miller (FB) – Alice; Marcus Chavez/FB – Ro-Man XJ2; Derek Long (FB) – Voice of Ro-Man XJ2; Rich Silverman (FB) – Great Guidance.

The musicians would not admit they were in this show.

Production Team: Brandon Baruch (FB) – Lighting Design; Madeleine Dahm – Select Choreography; Corwin Evans (FB) – Video Design; Paul Frederick (FB) – Arrangements and Music Production; Derek Long (FB) – Director; Pamela J. Paulson (FB) – Assistant Director; Rich Silverman (FB) – Producer, creator, composer, lyricist, etc.

Robot Monster – The Musical (FB) has four more performances at the Sacred Fools Mainstage: June 10 @ 8PM; June 15 @ 5PM; June 18 @ 1:30 PM; and June 23 @ 11PM. If you are familiar with the original movie and know what you’re getting, you’ll likely enjoy this. Anyone else — your mileage may vary drastically.

***

Buffy Kills Edward - A Musical Romp (HFF17)If this had been a normal Fringe night and venue, you would have likely seen a glowing review of Buffy Kills Edward – A Musical Romp. After all, a wonderful actress we’ve seen before, Kim Dalton (FB), was in it.

But we didn’t see the show — through no fault of the producer.

You see, the Fringe venue for the show, The Three Clubs, is a bar.  This means they cannot admit anyone under 21. Anyone. No exceptions.

Even if you have a ticket.

Even if you have a ticket from the Fringe Festival itself, because the information on the show did not indicate the venue was age restricted (it does now, after I complained). The Fringe ticketing system didn’t inform us of the fact.

So the one show we really wanted to see Sunday night … we were turned away from the door by the big burly (but very nice and understanding) bouncer.

I have written to Fringe, and they are supposedly processing a refund.

But be forewarned: If you are planning to see this show, or anything else at the Three Clubs, you must be 21 and have ID with you.

But I’m sure the show is great, and I encourage you (if you are old enough) to go see it. Visit their Fringe page for ticket information.

***

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 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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Hello Again (Chromolume)Some theatre is pure entertaining fluff. It isn’t there to make a point; sometimes, it isn’t even there to tell a story. It’s goal — pure and simple — is to have you walking out of the theatre with a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Think a jukebox musical, such as Mamma Mia, An American in Paris, or 70, Girls, 70, and you get my drift.

Some theatre is there to make a clear point and statement. You are entertained, but walk out with a specific message intended by the authors. Think of Hamilton or Scottsboro Boys.

Some theatre leaves you scratching your head. It doesn’t fall into the “bad theatre” bin (i.e., poorly written story, poor acting, etc.), but its intent isn’t otherwise clear. It entertained you, but wasn’t entertaining. It had a message, but it was something to be teased out as opposed to being a brickbat to the head.

Last night’s show, Hello, Again at Chromolume Theatre (FB), with book, music, and lyrics by Michael John LaChuisa (FB), based on the 1897 play La Ronde by Arnold Schnitzler, was such a show. The music was dark and operatic at times. The story seemed to be trying to make a point, but the ultimate meaning and goal of that point was elusive. The basic subject matter — a series of sexual relationships — was uncomfortable at the minimum, and potentially triggery at the maximum (my wife said the show needed a trigger warning for the nature of the sex). In retrospect, this shouldn’t have surprised me. I’m familiar with some of LaChuisa’s music — I have the albums to First Lady Suite, Little Fish, See What I Wanna See, Giant, Queen of the Mist, and The Wild Party, and I’ve looked into the albums of Bernarda Alba and Marie Christie, but haven’t gotten them because the music is dark. LaChiusa has the occasional lighter song, but in general his music is deep and dark, melodic but not rhythmic – something unique. That doesn’t make his shows bad, but they are definitely not the typical Broadway fluff.

The structure of Hello, Again is a musical round. Not in the sense of multiple voices singing different songs coming together (although, looking back, it may have done that unintentionally). Rather, the show forms a circle of scenes told through a quasi-operatic, almost sung-through, score. The whore and the soldier in the 1900s, the soldier and the nurse in the 1940s, the nurse and the college boy in the 1960s, the college boy and the young wife in the 1930s, the young wife and the husband in the 1950s, the husband and the young thing in the 1910s, the young thing and the writer in the 1970s, the writer and the actress in the 1920s, the actress and the senator in the 1980s, circling back to the senator and the whore in the 1990s. These are essentially the same characters as in La Ronde, except that La Ronde was in a single timeframe, and LaChuisa changed La Ronde‘s “young miss” to “young thing” to introduce a gay relationship into the mix. La Ronde‘s point was to show the similarity of relationships across all strata of society, from the whore at the bottom, to the elite at the top.

As an aside, I’m not sure whether LaChiusa’s jumping around in the timestream helps the show. It served to confuse me, and to draw my attention to the program to see when we were. This is especially true when the implication seems to be that the character in one scene is seemingly the same character in the next. That works for adjacent-in-the-normal-direction decades; it is confusing when you go back in time.

So I walked out and the end of Hello, Again at the Chromolume conflicted. There were outstanding performances and the vocals were spot on, but I didn’t warm to the show. It left me uncomfortable, unsure. On the way home, my wife and I discussed the show. Our conclusion was that the show highlighted a continual pattern of relationships whose focus was the quick and hard sex (“wham, bam, thank you ma’am”), sometimes not fully consensual. None of the relationships in the round had any depth or love in them. They were couplings of convenience, almost all of them (for their era) being couplings of unequal power. They were consensual — so perhaps they weren’t rape in the conventional sense — but they were also not expressions of love. They were expressions of something darker: one side of a relationship using the other side for a particular purpose. They were portrayed in an ultimately negative light — moral bankruptcy, meaningless.

But through all of this, what was LaChiusa, or ultimately Schnitzler, trying to say? Our existence is a series of meaningless relationships where love is replaced by using other people? That nothing ever changes in how people treat and use people? That meaningless relationships exist across all strata and all ages?

Not cheery stuff. Not the typical stuff of musicals, which are more idealized romantic love as opposed to meaningless unbalanced power dynamic sex.

I think my wife was right: this stuff needs a trigger warning. The combination of the power dynamics and meaningless sex makes this borderline sexual abuse, and those with sensitivities may find the material disturbing.

Hello, Again (Chromolume / Cast Photos)But despite the nature of this musical and its ultimately cynical message, I don’t believe it is a bad musical. There are many for whom its message about men, women, and society will resonate. There are many for whom this represents their relationship arcs: sex and power dynamics, first; endearing or enduring love a distant second. It is certainly something emphasized by many “Hollywood” relationships.  I tend to have a more positive and upbeat outlook regarding relationships, and I’m not sure this is something I’d see again. But as they say, YMMV.

Setting aside the story, the performances (under the direction of Richard Van Slyke (FB) — a REP East alumni!) were uniformly excellent. So much so, in fact, that it is difficult to single out one performer above another. So let me introduce the primary cast, and we’ll continue the analysis on the other side: Michelle Holmes (FB) – The Whore; Cesar Cipriano (FB) – The Soldier; Allison Lind (Actor FB; FB) – The Nurse; Bretten M. Popiel (FB) – The College Boy; Sarah Randall Hunt (FB) – The Young Wife; Corey Rieger (FB) – The Husband; Kevin Corsini (FB) – The Young Thing; Joe Hernandez-Kolski (FB) – The Writer; Tal Fox (FB) – The Actress; and Michael Corbett (Actor FB; FB) – The Senator. Understudies were Nadia Ahern (Actor FB; FB) – Whore/Actress; David Callander (FB) – Husband/Senator; Kim Dalton (FB) – Nurse/Young Wife; Bradley Alan Turner (FB) – Writer/Soldier; and Judd Yort (FB) – College Boy/Young Thing.

Looking back this morning, which performances stick in my head? The first is Tal Fox. Not only when she was onstage in her role as The Actress, but in other smaller background parts, she had a look that was unique and caught your eye — which was drawn to her wonderful facial expressions. In whatever character she was, her face was reacting in a fantastic way that was a delight to watch.

Allison Lind’s Nurse was also fun to watch for the spunk and character she brought to the role. She also had one of the stronger dance routines in the show. Both were delightful to see. [Although I must admit I missed seeing the understudy for this role, as we have seen Kim in a number of shows and always enjoy her performances]

Bretten Popiel’s College Boy was another actor that was just fun to watch — he brought a great sense of playfulness to the role and that fun was transmitted to the audience.

All of the actors gave strong performances with this vocally difficult score. La Chiusa’s music doesn’t have your typical rhythms, and exhibits (at least to my ear) very odd ranges. This cast handled it all with seeming aplomb.

Music for the production was provided by the onstage music director, Brenda Varda (FB), behind the piano. Most of it was great; the only nit was that the actors mispronounced the Yiddish זײַ געזונט , which was particularly noticable in the second verse when they sang “tuh zei guzing” as if it was the Hebrew צ as opposed to ז. Choreography was by Bretten M. Popiel (FB), and seemed period appropriate. I particularly enjoyed the nurse’s dances.

Turning to the production and creative sides: Scenic design was by Chromolume regular Lauren J. Peters (FB) and was a creative use of the limited black-box space the theatre provides: abstract backdrops, with the sense of place primarily provided through the props and scenery pieces. The lighting design by Richard Fong (FB) worked reasonably well, as did James Esposito (FB)’s sound design (except for one nit: during the end of the second scene, the rain effects were confusing at first, with the bass thunder seemingly coming from something external to the building). Michael Mullen (FB)’s costume design seemed somewhat period, and was sexy without being too revealing. However, my wife had some quibbles with the nurses’ uniform not being as precise as it should have been (she noted that nurses would not have gone out with those wrinkles, worn open toed shoes, or had anything like long hair). As for me, I just wondered whether they got the ranks and forms correct on the military uniforms, and where the hell they found those leisure suits and polyester shirts for the ’70s (which brought back bad memories — I had shirts like that in those years). Other behind the scenes support included: Mara Aguilar (FB) – Stage Manager; Armen Janazyan (FB) – Assistant Stage Manager; Ken Werther Publicity (FB) – Publicity.

The last performance of Hello, Again at Chromolume Theatre (FB) is tonight (5/28) at 7:00 PM. Call (323) 510-2688 to make a reservation. Chromolume will have a production at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): Slightly Off Broadway. I’m kicking myself for not seeing their past productions at Fringe, especially Pasek and Paul’s Edges: A Song Cycle, which they did in 2016 and does not have a cast recording. I discovered this after the fact from their YouTube channel, where I also discovered another musical I didn’t know (and they had done): Next Thing You Know, with the great song “Hungover“.

One additional note: I love subscribing at the smaller and regional theatres! The Pantages and Ahmanson never know your name. But little theatres like Chromolume, Actors Co-op, and in the past, the Colony and REP East get to know you, and the people there are like family. You don’t need to present anything when you check in; they know you and see you coming in the door, and have everything ready. These theatres need your support, and treasure every subscriber. Find a local theatre you like and subscribe. You might not like everything you see. But you will find a home.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Today, 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. 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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Lucky Stiff (Actors Co-Op)Actors often keep track of their Broadway Debuts — the first time they were on a Broadway stage. But how much does an actor’s first show represent where they will be going in their career. The answer is: often not much. Unless they get that starring role from the get-go, there are often years of hard ensemble, swing, and understudy roles before the true talent shines through. For every Bebe Neuwirth at the top in Chicago, there’s the same actress in a background role in Sweet Charity.

What about composing teams? How much does their first show say about where they will be going? One can’t say for Rodgers and Hammerstein — they each worked with other composers before their first show, Oklahoma. For Kander and Ebb, did Flora: The Red Menace indicate where they would eventually go? Did Godspell fortell Wicked for Stephen Schwartz? How representative was Saturday Night for Sondheim? Parade for Jerry Herman?

When we look at the key new composing teams from the 1980s, one of the best is Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. They’ve given us such great shows as RagtimeOnce on this IslandSeussical, and Anastasia. Their first produced show was a farcical murder mystery, Lucky Stiff (a production of which recently opened at  Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood), based on “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” written by Michael Butterworth. The plot is, well, a farce. A hapless shoe salesman (Harry Witherspoon) in England inherits $6 million from his gambler uncle (Tony Hendon) in New Jersey, who he has never met. There’s one condition: he take the corpse on one last vacation to Monte Carlo. If he doesn’t do this, the $6 million will go to the Universal Dog Home in Brooklyn (and Harry hates dogs).  Meanwhile, in Atlantic City, Tony’s lover Rita LaPorta, who shot Tony because she thought he was cheating on him, convinces her dentist brother, Vincent DiRuzzo to go to Monte Carlo with him to get back the $6 million, which she and Tony embezzled from Rita’s gambler husband, to whom she confessed that it was her brother that stole the money and then lost it gambling (and thus, the husband has a contract out on Vinnie). Lastly, the Universal Dog House is watching everything though a field representative, Annabel Glick, because if Tony doesn’t fulfill the terms of the letter, the money goes to them.

That, mind you, is the set up. This is a farce so there is plenty of mistaken identities, doors slamming, distractions, but there’s not a single sardines. There is, however, the requisite character who is blind but for her glasses, which she refuses to wear, a drunken maid, nuns, and Arab sheiks.

However, the focus of this opening treatise is whether this silly fluff of a show was predictive of the team that would give us Ragtime and Once on this Island, Seussical and Man of No Importance, My Favorite Year and Anastasia. I think the answer is … yes. Although a number of songs are silly, there are glimpses of the greatness to come. Especially in numbers like “Times Like This” and “Nice”, the team’s ability to tell tender ballads is fortold. The opening number “Something Funny’s Going On” as well as “Him, Them, It, Her” shows the ability to construct humorous multipart choral numbers. So although the story is a silly farce, it does show the genius yet to come.

Now, as farces go, this is not a tightly crafted as, say, Noises Off. It calls for overacting at times, it creates absurd situations, and has some truly bad lines reflective of the times (“she don’t just can-can, she will-will”). It requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. But it is also very funny, and I think most people will find laugh-out-loud humor in the story. If not, well they will at least appreciate some of the songs.

Lucky Stiff Prodction PhotosIn many ways, the success of a farce depends on the execution of the story. Split second timing, a willingness to go overboard when appropriate, and the ability to play for the joke is critical. For a musical farce, you need to be able to handle the music and choreography as well, which is also tightly timed. Director Stephen Van Dorn (FB) and Choreographer Julie Hall (FB) lead the cast reasonably well in this regard. The movement coordination during the second act chase (“Him, Them, It, Her”) works very well, and the players handle the farcical aspects pretty well (although, at times, they overplay it too much).

In the lead couple positions were Brandon Parrish (FB) as Harry Witherspoon, and Claire Adams (FB) as Annabel Glick. Parrish, who has to be the straight man to much of the humor and craziness going around him, handles the situations with aplomb. He also sings quite well (a side we didn’t see in 33 Variations). Adams, who we last saw as Hero’s target of adoration in Cabrillo’s Forum, handled the humor here as well. She also did a great job with one of my favorite songs in this show, “Times Like These”.

The protagonist … make that catalyst … for this story, Anthony Hendon, is played by Vito Viscuso (FB). I must say that his performance was a bit stiff. (pause for effect) Now that we are past that joke, seriously, Viscuso handled the part of a corpse very well, really only standing and dancing in one number. This is not an indictment of his acting, however, as we saw him in the previous production at Actors Co-Op, Cats Paw, where he was spectacular.

Our comedic second couple, Tony’s lover Rita LaPorta and her brother, Dr. Vincent DiRuzzio, were portrayed by Rory Patterson (FB) and Brian Habicht (FB), respectively. Patterson threw herself in the role wholecloth, playing it broadly for the humor and handling her comic numbers quite well (looking back, almost all of her numbers are comic numbers). Habicht also handled the humor quite well, especially in “The Phone Call” (his call back to his wife) and the closing scenes.

The remaining sole actor named role was David Atkinson (FB)’s Luigi Gaudi, who is a person Harry first meets on the train, and then keeps running into. He plays this well for the comedy.

Rounding out the cast are an ensemble of four, who handle multiple characters each (and are thus credited as Woman 1 and 2, and Man 1 and 2). These versatile players are: Gina D’Acciaro (FB) [Woman 1: Landlady, Miss Thorsby, Nurse, Southern Lady #1, Dancing Portrait, Drunken Maid], Alastair James Murden (FB) [Man 1: Surly Lorry Driver, Solicitor, Prosperous Man on Train, Clothing Salesman, French Emcee, Croupier, Nun, Old Texan]; Selah Victor (FB) [Woman 2: Dominique du Monaco, Spinster, Southern Lady #2, Dancing Roulette Wheel]; and Jose Villarreal (FB) [Man 2: Offstage Telegram Deliverer, Vicious Punk, Mr Loomis the Eye Patient, French Waiter on Train, Stationmaster’s Voice, Bellhop, French Waiter in Club, Dapper Gambler, Leper]. Note that one of our two programs had a slip that the Woman 2’s roles were being split between choreographer Julie Hall (FB) [Spinster, Southern Lady] and producer Catherine Gray (FB) [Dominique], but I don’t know if that applied to our performance. D’Acciaro did a wonderfully over-the-top performance as the requisite drunken maid, and Murden stood out as the emcee. I’m not sure who was playing Dominique (who gets the number “Speaking French”), but whoever did it at our performance handled it quite well, including the intentional overplay on the acting.

Music was under the direction of Taylor Stephenson who was also playing the keyboards behind the scenery (and who we have heard and seen at numerous Chance shows). Joining him were Malila Hollow (FB), also on keyboards and synthesizer, Nic Gonzales/FB on bass, and Jorge Zuniga (FB) on drums.

Finally, turning to the creative and production side: The scenic design by Lex Gernon (FB) worked reasonably well, although there was no good explanation about why the door to #5 was upside down (which was oddly distracting). However, the parachute made up for it. The scenic design was supported by Nicholas Acciani (FB)’s properties, which for the most part worked well. The lighting design by Lisa D. Katz (FB) served to define the mood appropriately and direct attention. On the other hand,  Warren Davis (FB)’s — or the execution thereof — had some problems at our performance, with mics cutting in and out and odd static at times. Vicki Conrad (FB)’s costume design worked well, although some (going with the theme) were a bit on the stereotypical side.  Hair and makeup was by Krys Fehervari (FB). Remining production credits: E. K. Dagenfield (FB) – Dialect Coach; Leticia Gonzalez (FB) – Stage Manager;  James Ledesma (FB) and Derek Copenhaver (FB) – Assistant Stage Managers; Heather Chesley (FB) – Artistic Chairperson, David Elzer/Demand PR (FB) – Publicity; Selah Victor (FB) – Production Manager, and Catherine Gray (FB) – Producer.

Lucky Stiff continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through June 18. Tickets are available through Actors Co-Op; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. Actor’s Co-Op has announced their summer Actors Co-Op Too! season as well as their 2017-2018 season. I’ve written up my thoughts on their season here; in short – subscribe!

🎩 🎩 🎩

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 a production from Write Act Rep (FB) at their new home in North Hollywood, Freeway Dreams, followed by Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) [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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Martha Graham Dance Company (VPAC)Last night saw us at the final performance of the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) 2016-0127 season: Martha Graham Dance and American Music (you can see my thoughts on their 2017-2018 season here).  What did I think of the show? I just don’t have the vocabulary. To put it another way, it was indescribable.

Let me explain. I’ve attended a lot of live theatre. As in as lot of live theatre. As in A LOT OF live theatre. So much so that I understand the vocabulary of live theatre: how a plot is supposed to work, how the ensemble works, what swings do, what stage managers do, and all the things that go into a production.

But dance?

I’ve never attended a true ballet. My exposure to modern dance was Mr. N’s Dance productions at Van Nuys High School. My sole knowledge of Martha Graham was the show we saw earlier this year.  So when I have to describe a dance production, I not only emotionally don’t have the words, but I literally don’t have the words. I do not have the vocabulary to describe what I saw, to put into words the movement and motion. I don’t know the dance tropes that Graham used to tell the story; indeed, I have difficultly following and seeing the story in the movement.

So I fall back on enjoyment. I revel in the beauty of the movement without understanding the story. I watch the feet, the faces, the muscles, the bodies. I look at the power in the legs, the beats of sweat from the effort, the impact of the colors. I see the emotions that come from the dance without seeing how that is driven by the story.

I let the dance wash over me without trying to think, because I don’t have the words to think.

The production consisted of five movements, so to speak:

  • Panorama. Premiered in 1935 in Bennington VT, with music by Norman Lloyd. Performed by CSUN and dancers from local high schools.
  • Dark Meadow Suite. Premiered in 1946 in New York City, NY. Music by Carlos Chavez.
  • Diversion of Angels. Premiered in 1948 in New London CT. Music by Norman Dello Joio.
  • Cave of the Heart. Premiered in 1946 in New York City, NY. Music by Samuel Barber.
  • Maple Leaf Rag. Premiered in 1990 in New York City, NY. Music by Scott Joplin.

All had choreography by Martha Graham. I’ve put images from each dance in the composite image with this post, although they are not from the specific show I saw. I’m not listing all the dancers — there were some substitutions I didn’t get, and the specific names would likely be a meaningless list.  There’s some more information in the press release for the show. VPAC did post a YouTube clip here.

Some more somewhat general observations:

  • I contrasted the dancers here with a typical dance ensemble from a musical. The difference: expressed joy. Modern dancers control the emotion they show: their hearts may be soaring inside, but it doesn’t show on their face. Ensemble dancers radiate the joy they feel performing, and it reverberates from the audience. The only joy I saw from the Martha Graham dancers was in the Joplin number; I just saw the beauty. Ensemble dancers you see the joy, but the beauty of the dance much less so (except, perhaps, An American in Paris).
  • There was very little of what one might think of as traditional ballet movement. There was almost non-ballet movement; an attempt to move in a way that didn’t evoke the traditional forms. That, perhaps, is what distinguishes modern dance?
  • Dance, especially barefoot dance, makes one watch the feet. Not only did these dancers move, but they used their feet as rhythmic devices, accompanying the accompaniment.
  • With the costumes, one might expect more — shall we say — unintended visibility. These costumes were well engineered as well as being beautiful, allowing one to look at the broader human form without unintended distractions. It makes one realize the magical movement bodies are capable of.

As I said, I’m not a dance person. Yet I believe the breadth of live performance needs to encompass not only those with which one is comfortable and familiar, but occasionally those outside the comfort zone. This is especially true for those forms your wife enjoys :-), and she thoroughly enjoyed this show.

I hope to see more dance in the upcoming season at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) on the campus of California State University, Northridge. You can read my thoughts on that season here.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Next weekend brings the last show of the Actors Co-op (FB) season, Lucky Stiff, at Actors Co-op (FB). May concludes with a production from Write Act Rep (FB) at their new home in North Hollywood, Freeway Dreams, followed by Hello Again at the Chromolume Theatre (FB) [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].  and possibly Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB), or perhaps.

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.

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. 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 makes 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). 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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The Bodyguard (Pantages)Oh, the prices we pay to get tickets to Hamilton. For some, it is overpriced tickets and waiting in long lines, physically or virtually. For Hollywood Pantages (FB) Season Subscribers, it was The Bodyguard, which we saw last night.

The Bodyguard is ostensibly a transfer to the legit musical stage of the movie The Bodyguard from 1992, a movie that received a rating of 6.2/10 on Yelp, and which starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston (or, as I view it in my worldview, the 1992 movie was a premake of the stage show, because the stage show always comes first). It also featured a number of Whitney Houston songs. You can just imagine the movie executives going, “Gee, we could make a great Whitney Houston tribute musical out of this.” However, the starting point was a movie with very mixed reception — 32% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 64% from the audience — and that doesn’t make a good basis for a musical.  Especially one that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.

So what makes a good musical? If we go back to the formula established by Rodgers and Hammerstein, you have musical movements that propel and move the story forward. When one looks that movies that have moved from screen to stage, rarely does the original soundtrack music make the transfer. Look at Sister Act or High Fidelity or most you can think of. The popular music soundtrack is replaced by something similar that serves the story better, with perhaps the exception of one or two best-known songs (The Wedding Singer is a good example of that).

So, perhaps this is a jukebox musical — a musical designed to showcase the music of a particular artist. After all, we need a good Whitney Houston musical. Jukebox musicals take three forms: pure retrospective concerts (think Smokey Joe’s Cafe); new stories crafted around an existing catalog where the catalog songs move the story forward (think All Shook Up or Mamma Mia); or books crafted to tell the history of the artist, using the catalog songs as representative samples along the line of the bio story (think Jersey Boys or Ain’t Misbehavin’).

The major fundamental problem with The Bodyguard — the problem that doomed it to be a West-End Tour, and will kill it if it makes it to Broadway — is that it is neither fish nor fowl (although, the story smells a bit fishy and may be foul). By that I mean that this clearly isn’t a musical where the music propels the story forward at all. There are no real book related songs; there are numerous pure concert moments. But it isn’t a good jukebox musical either — it isn’t a pure concert, it isn’t a fake story crafted to use the songs of the catalog right, nor does it tell the story of the artist. It is an attempt to move a movie to the stage stuffing it full of the catalog of one pop star’s songs, with an ill-fitting book that barely provides the excuse to move from song to song. It could have been a very successful (OK, moderately successful) concert and dance show, but the producers didn’t let it go there.

So, besides that Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

Setting aside the problems of this musical as a musical, the book remained weak. Admittedly, there were some very cute scenes in the book. The karaoke scene in Act I was a hoot, well performed and funny. A few other scenes had funny moments here and there. But you never really got to know the characters and their relationships. The bad guy? His character was “The Stalker”. The male love interest had not a single song telling you his feelings.  You had no idea about the motivations of the stalker other than what the police told you.  You didn’t feel invested in these characters; the book seemed to be there solely so they could tie it to the movie, and move from song to song.

Now, admittedly, that’s what we had with An American in Paris, with a very light storyline, used as an excuse for dance and song. So why did that work, and this doesn’t. Well, part of the problem is that it didn’t work with An American in Paris — it really was a dance show clothed in a weak book, and it didn’t have a long Broadway run even though it toured. But the movie it was based on was the same way, and there was an attempt to work the songs into the story. Further, the characters were less caricatures than they were here. So, essentially, both were flawed.

Um, so Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the performance?

Sheer performance, that’s where this cast excelled — at least the singers and dancers. In the lead position as Rachel Marron was Deborah Cox (FB). Not being a Whitney Houston expert, I can’t really assess whether she successfully channed Ms. Houston. I do know that she sang and danced well, and seemed reasonable in her scenes with the other players (in particular, the cabin scene). Playing off her as her bodyguard was Judson Mills (FB) as Frank Farmer. It is telling that his Playbill bio is his IMDB bio, with no real musical credits. His role involves neither singing (he didn’t really have one sole solo song) or dancing in a heavily singing and dancing musical (even in the final dance montage, he doesn’t sing or dance). Essentially, his performance, like the character he was playing, was relatively wooden — only showing sparks of life not when interacting with his love interest, but when interacting with the young kid in the cast.

Rounding out the Merron family was Jasmin Richardson (FB) as Nikki Marron and Douglas Baldeo (FB) as Fletcher (alternating with Kevelin B. Jones III (FB)). Both were powerhouse performers — great singers, great dancers, and as good a performance as this show allows. Baldeo was particularly remarkable in the closing montage.

The other main named characters — at least those who weren’t part of the ensemble as well — were eminently forgettable. There characters were lightly drawn and tended to disappear in the background. Notable here was “The Stalker” (Jorge Paniagua (FB)) , whose sole role was to look menacing in blackouts, and had perhaps 4 lines. Others in similar small roles were: Charles Gray (FB) [Bill Devaney], Alex Corrado (FB) [Tony Scibelli]; Jonathan Hadley (FB) [Sy Spector]; and Jarid Faubel [Ray Court].

What did shine? The ensemble: Brendon Chan (FB), Megan Elyse Fulmer (FB) [+College Girl], Alejandra Matos (FB), DeQuina Moore (FB) [+Backup Vocalist, +College Girl, u/s Nicki / Rachel Marron], Bradford Rahmlow (FB) [+Assassin, +Rory, u/s Tony Scibelli, u/s Ray Court], Benjamin Rivera (FB) [+Dance Captain, u/s Stalker],  Matthew Schmidt (FB) [+Klingman, +Douglas, +DJ, +Jimmy, +Stage Manager, +Oscar Host, u/s Bill Devaney, u/s The Stalker, U/s Sy Spector, u/s Ray Court], Jaquez André Sims (FB) [u/s Bill Devaney, u/s Tony Scibelli], Nicole Spencer (FB), and Naomi C. Walley (FB) [+College Girl, u/s Rachel / Nicki Marron]. [Swings were Willie Dee (FB), Sean Rozanski (FB) [+Fight Captain], Maria Cristina Slye (FB), and Lauren Tanner (FB)]. The ensemble shone in the background in the few book scenes, silently playing characters. They shone during the main dance numbers and especially during the dance reminx finale. They provided wonderful facial expressions and reaction shots. They were just great.

The production was directed, somewhat mechanically, by Thea Sharrock, using a book by Alexander Dinelaris (FB) that adapted the Warner Brothers (FB) film that had a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Frank Thompson (FB) was the associate director.  You want music and lyrics credit — they were all songs made famous by Whitney Houston (FB), although she didn’t write them. To me, the two most notable songs were also notable covers: “I Will Always Love You“, originally written and performed by Dolly Parton (FB) in 1974; and “The Greatest Love Of All“, written by composers Michael Masser (music) and Linda Creed (lyrics) (no, not the Marron sisters as portrayed in the Musical), originally written and recorded by George Benson (FB) to be the main theme of the 1977 film The Greatest, a biopic of the boxer Muhammad Ali (which I actually have on LP).

Although the direction was weak and didn’t improve the weak book, the dance was strong. Credit here goes to choreographer Karen Bruce (FB) and Assistant Choreographer Amy Thornton (FB), assisted by Dance Captain Benjamin Rivera (FB). I had a cousin with me who is more into the vernacular of modern concerts and such, and she indicated the dance was extremely strong. Perhaps “lit” was the term she used.

By the way, for those attempting to look up credits (as I have), note that much of the creative team has a UK / West End pedigree, not Broadway. This musical is not a Broadway musical — yet. It started in London’s West End, toured the UK, and is now touring the US hoping for Broadway. Telling is the fact that tour has not been authorized by the estate of Whitney Houston. For good reason? Perhaps.

The orchestra for the show was strong, under the direction of Matthew Smedal (FB), who we’ve seen a number of times on stages ranging from Cabrillo to national tours. He led an orchestra consisting of: Wendell Vaughn/FB [Associate Music Director / Keys], Owen Broder (FB) [Woodwinds], David D. Torres (FB) [Trumpet], Michael Karcher (FB) [Guitar], Ralph Agresta (FB) [Guitar], John Toney (FB) [Bass], Joe McCarthy (FB) [Drums], plus local orchestra members John Yoakum (FB) [Clarinet, Flute, Tenor Sax, EWI], Wayne Bergeron (FB) [Trumpet / Flugelhorn], Paul Viapiano (FB) [Guitar 2 / Acoustic Guitar / Electric Guitar], and William Malpede (FB) [Keyboard Sub]. Other orchestra credits: Talitha Fehr (FB) / TL Music International [Music Coordinator]; Brian Miller [Orchestra Contractor], Mike Dixon [Production Music Supervisor, Vocal Arrangements], Chris Egan (FB) [Orchestrations, Additional Music], and Richard Beadle [Music Supervisor]. The Orchestra was also hidden not in the orchestra pit, but under the stage, to make space for the hydraulic lift used for one scene. This is notable solely for the fact that the screens showing the conductor to the actors was a bit bright, distracting the audience.

Finally, the remaining production and creative credits. The scenic design by Tim Hatley made use of these odd framing devices with integrated lighting that shrunk or expanded the visual stage. They worked, but were also quite distracting at times. The set design worked better during the concert numbers, where it combined with Mark Henderson‘s lighting design to create a real concert atmosphere. Note: for those with problems with strobes or lights shining in your face, this isn’t the concert for you. There is heavy use of movers and LEDs aimed at the audience. This also isn’t a good show for the faint of heart: the sound design of Richard Brooker has a number of startling moments with gunshots and the like. Other than that, the sound was generally crisp and clear — unusual for the Pantages. Tim Hatley also designed the costumes (Leon Dobkowski (FB) was the associate costume designer for the US tour), working with hair, wigs, and makeup of Campbell Young Associates. They seemed era-appropriate for me; I noticed no glaring problems and they were suitably sparkly. The video designs of Duncan McLean worked well, although at times they seemed more movie-like than a stage production. Rounding out the production credits: Paul Hardt (FB) [Casting Director]; Jim Lanahan / Troika Entertainment (FB) [General Manager]; Melissa Chacón [Production Stage Manager]; Richard A. Leigh [Stage Manager]; Stacy N. Taylor [Assistant Stage Manager].

The Bodyguard – The Musical continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) until May 21. Tickets are available through the Pantages website. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Next weekend takes us to a dance performance that proudly admits it is a dance show (unlike our past two Pantages musicals): Martha Graham Dance and American Music at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The third weekend of May 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), and possibly Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB), or perhaps the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Festival (FB), as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is playing.

As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. The shows of interest are as follows — however, the total for tickets is over $700, which is way too high. Expect this list to be pared down. Not all of these are currently in our schedule (¤ unscheduled as of now). If you know of any discounts for these shows, or have recommendations / disrecommendations, please let us know.

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. The third weekend brings Peter Pan at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and Ruthie and Naomi° 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. The second weekend of August? What makes 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). 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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The Theory of Relativity (Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse)Many years ago, there was this beautiful musical on Broadway that failed in an absurdly small number of shows: The Story of My Life. The failure, in my opinion, was not due to the book or the music, but because it wasn’t a Broadway show: it was a tender small musical that got lost in a gigantic house. I saw the show a few years ago at the Lillian Theatre (now Sacred Fools) in Hollywood, and it fit perfectly. I urge you to get the cast album for the show — you’ll find some of the best crafted and most touching story songs you have ever heard. In 2014 the authors of that musical — book writer Brian Hill (FB), composer and lyricist Neil Bartram — developed another musical focused on the experience of college-age students, designed to be performed by college students. In a recent music purchasing binge, Amazon recommended this musical to me — The Theory of Relativity. I ordered it… and fell in love with another show. The music was extremely well crafted, the stories told by the songs were great, and a number of songs were just instant favorites. I thought nothing of it until I was reading the program during our recent visit to The Sirens of Titan. There was an ad for The Theory of Relativity being done at a small playhouse in Woodland Hills that we knew nothing about: The Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB) on the grounds of Woodland Hills Community Church (at Canoga and Dumetz) in Harter Hall. I’m sure you can guess what I did when I got home.

We went out to see the show last Sunday (excuse the delay in the writeup — a crazy week), and it was just a delight. Very simply staged — no scenery, just chairs — with 12 performers, it was essentially a song cycle about relationships. Most of the show was song, there were a few dialogue only pieces that added some additional characters or serving to tie everything together. Underlying them all together was the notion — and the question — of relativity: What makes a relationship? Is it the relationship as seen by the participants in the relative frame of motion? Is it the observations from the outside? Are relationships mathematical and precise, or messy and going against all logic? In going against logic, are relationships sometimes predictable? This was all wrapped up in some delicate and well-performed music, especially considering that this was at the level of community theatre (i.e., this was not an Equity-member cast; rather, there were some that had worked in a number of shows, and others for whom performing is more a passion than a career). I found the show to be extremely enjoyable.

The Theory of Relativity (Cast)Let me talk about some of my favorite numbers (and the performers as well). They have a teaser video set up on YouTube, and the photo montage to the right was snarfed from the theatre’s Facebook page:

  • One of my favorite numbers in the show is “Me and Ricky”, a story about a woman whose first love was bad news. This was performed quite well by Caitlyn Rose Massey (FB). She could have used just a pinch more belt in the voice, but it was truly enjoyable.
  • Another favorite number is “Promise Me This”, about Mira, the miracle baby and the relationship between a parent and their child. This was performed by Laila Abdo (FB), who just knocked it out with a strong clear voice and wonderful facial expressions. An aside about that: it was remarkable just to watch the faces of these performers, both when they were “on”, and even more so when they were “off” (that is, in the background just listening to another performer).
  • “The End of the Line” is another fun number performed wonderfully by Paulina Logan (FB) and Tiffany Bailey (FB). Here, the cute lyrics dovetailed with simple but great performances by the actors to make something special.
  • One of the most touching numbers was “Footprint”, about what makes a place a home. This was sung very well by Larry Collica (FB), who also served as Musical Director for the show.
  • “Apples and Oranges” is a number that comes across very different on the album from on stage; the stage performance brings across a different meaning to the terms used. Chris Clonts (FB) and Daniel Koh (FB) handled the number extremely well, and I think their touching performance gave the number the something special that was needed. I’ll note that Koh had an extremely strong and beautiful voice.
  • The multiple parts of “Pi”, performed by Kyle Sundman (FB), were cute, but they didn’t get their additional meaning until the spoke “Manicure” number featuring Katie Lynn Mapel (FB). PS: I loved Sundman’s Lego tie.
  • Another set of paired scenes were the second number, “I’m Allergic to Cats” (performed by Justin Huff (FB)) and “Julie’s Song” (performed by Kristine Gilreath (FB)).  “Cats” was really cute for its wording, but Huff’s performance of it was touching to those of similar nature (like me); when paired with Gilreath’s song and her wonderful look, it was magical.
  • Mackayla Hill (FB) primarily only had a series of scenes about a cake (which were cute); but I actually noticed her voice more in the ensemble numbers, where there was quite a bit of power in that package.
  • Kaiya Cheyenne Wynn (FB) was featured in a number of numbers, notably in the opening and the closing. A very nice strong voice, again, which I noticed even more in the ensemble numbers.

One thing notable about this show was the variety of the cast. Often, your stage productions have casts with a similar look to them. This cast was extremely diverse in color, size, style … and it worked to make an important statement of its own about the diversity we see in relationships. Another cast point that I mentioned above was the facial expressions. Especially in a small musical like this where you can be up close with the performers: watch the facial expressions. Here, they were spectacular as the messages of the songs clearly resonated with the performed, and thus were amplified by the ensemble and carried out to the audience.

Turning to the creative side of the production: Stage Direction and Choreography by Marshelle Giggles-Mills (FB). I’ve noted the set was simply a bunch of chairs moved around and a small platform up front; there was no other real scenery. Dance was simply and more movement, but it worked. There was no credit for costumes or hair design — presumably, these were picked by the actors from their personal wardrobes, demonstrating yet again the diversity in this team. Musical Direction was by Larry Collica (FB) on the piano. The production design was by Jessica Worland (FB), who also served as stage manager. The Theory of Relativity was produced by Suzanne Ryan (FB).

The Theory of Relativity has one more performance weekend — May 6 and 7. Tickets are available through the CSHP’s Brown Paper Tickets website; use the code “einstein” for a discount. Discount tickets may also be available through Goldstar. I enjoyed the show very much, and recommend it.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory Theatre (FB).  As for June? Three words: Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB). I’m working on the schedule for that now. Look for the theatre plans for the third quarter of the year (July through September) in my next writeup.

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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Sister Act (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicTen and a half years ago we were subscribers at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) when they presented the premier  of a troubled new musical, Sister Act. At the time, we could pinpoint a few suggestions, but overall, we enjoyed the musical, stating, “Wow! Call out the choir and sing it to the rafters, because this show has success written all over it.” (this was, of course, before I had realized that “Wow!” was trademarked by another professional audience member in Southern California). We had no problems with either the book by Cheri Steinkellner (FB) and Bill Steinkellner (FB), nor with the music by Glenn Slater (FB), nor with the lyrics of Alan Menken (FB). In fact, we looked forward to the cast recording. Since that November day, this little musical went off to Atlanta and then to London, where it had cast member changes, and saw extensive reworking of the book by Douglas Carter Beane. It got a cast recording, and then went off to Broadway — with some more book changes and song changes. It opened on Broadway, got some Tony nominations, but didn’t get a new cast recording. It went on tour, and came to the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) … where we didn’t see it, because we had seen it in Pasadena. A few years after that, it was released for regional productions, and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) picked it up for this season. This is a long way of saying that last night saw us in Thousand Oaks, revisiting the delightful musical Sister Act, and still wishing for a cast recording that had all the songs in the show in it.

Since we saw the show in Pasadena, some character names have been changed. A few songs have been added, and some have been dropped.  But the basics of the plot, which go back to the 1992 movie, have remained the same: black jive lounge singer witnesses a murder and turns police informant, and needs to go in hiding from her crime gang boyfriend. The police decide to hide her in a fading Catholic Church, amidst a superfluity (gee, and I thought the term was gaggle) of nuns. Mostly white nuns. Yeah, she won’t stand out at all. In any case, the Mother Superior objects and the two clash like oil and water. But this of course is the movies (and later, the theatre), so they must learn to love and appreciate each other. In this case, it happens by our nun-in-hiding taking over as choir director, and teaching the other nuns to repurpose 1950s and 1960s pop songs as Catholic anthems (and which, since that can’t be done in the theatre, to develop new songs that sound like 1950s and 1960s pop anthems but are not). These new songs bring new people into the church and save the church from being sold and the nuns dispursed. They also bring the spotlight to the church, leading the gangster boyfriend and his, umm, gang to figure out where the nun-in-hiding is hiding. A chase then ensues, which in the movie takes place in Las Vegas, but since the Las Vegas set was stolen by the gang from Honeymoon in Vegas, the theatre chase takes place in the nunnery itself. But in the end, everything comes together: the convent is saved, the Mother Superior and the nun-in-hiding grow to appreciate each other, the nun-in-hiding falls in love with the cop-who-hid-her (who had a crush on her in high school — fancy that!), and the gangsters, as in any show, turn into song-and-dance-men.

So what rewriting was necessary? Think of the plot as a skeleton. A certain series of adaptations were made to put the plot on the big screen. Not all of those work when one translates to the more limited stage, and so that movie plot was reworked for the first stage version. But there were rough spots still. Some songs didn’t work. Some points that may have been clear before — in particular, whether the conversion of the nun-in-hiding, Doris Collins → Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence, was a religious one or just an appreciation. Some character names were changed to — well, I don’t know why, perhaps to make them more stereotypical. The humor was punched up to a form that works better on the stage. The general consensus is that the changes worked — they made a better show. I do know they removed one song I liked from the London cast album, pretty much for logical consistency: the nuns sounded too good singing it, and it was before they were supposed to start singing well.

This is where the compare and contrast comes in. There probably aren’t many audience members that saw it in both 2006 and 2017. We did. We liked it then, and we liked it now. I think that, in general, they improved the story, tightened the songs, and created a production that worked. Further, Cabrillo executed that new production well, under the direction of Misti B. Wills. Wills created the cohesive whole of the cast, bringing them together to create a family that shows to the audience: these nuns really care about what they are doing and each other. That’s a key aspect to this story. She also helped them play for the humor. In fact, the show was so funny we had some folks behind us constantly saying, loudly, “Gee, that’s funny!” But I digress (they were also crushing their water bottles, whistling in my ear during the curtain call, and screaming that everyone should stand up, they were so good). Theatre newbie audiences. Sheesh.

Sister Act - Cabrillo - CastOne of the strengths of this production is the cast. Let’s start at the top, with our nun-in-hiding, Deloris Van Cartier → Sister Mary Clarence. I enjoyed the original, Dawnn Lewis, and I can imagine how strong Patina Miller (FB) must have been on Broadway (but, alas, she’s now been shuffled off to a desk job in the State Department), but Daebreon Poiema (FB) was spectacular. She had the comic chops, the dance moves, the personality, the look, and most importantly, the killer voice to take and own this role. I could name some numbers, but she is great in all of them.

Our group of thugs was led by Dedrick Bonner (FB) as Curtis, supported by David Kirk Grant (FB) (Joey), Kenneth Mosley (FB) (TJ), and John Paul Batista (FB) (Pablo). Their roles, alas, are written very shallow and stereotypical, but the script is what it is. They do their best with it, shining in numbers such as “When I Find My Baby” and “Lady in the Long Black Dress”.

The savior of Deloris — no, not that savior, the other savior (Officer Eddie Souther) — is portrayed by Wilkie Ferguson III (FB). Ferguson expressed a very pleasant, and affable personality that interplayed well with Deloris; he also did a very nice job with “I Can Be That Guy”.

The named members of our murder of nuns — wait, murders are for crows, who also dress in black — our superfluity of nuns were Cabrillo regular David Gilchrist (FB) as Monsignor O’Hara, Debbie Prutsman as Mother Superior, Francesca Barletta (FB) as Sister Mary Patrick, Karla J. Franko (FB) as Sister Mary Lazarus, Hallie Mayer (FB) as Sister Mary Martin of Tours, and Chelsea Morgan Stock (FB) as Sister (Novitiate) Mary Robert. Gilchrist, as usual, played the comedy well — we’ve seen him in quite a few roles now, and he is just a great character actor. Prutsman made a strong Mother Superior and played off Poiema quite well, especially in the opening scene of Act II and the reprise of “Sister Act”. Barletta, who again, we’ve seen many times, brought great humor and the requisite sillyness to Sister Mary Patrick (the original Kathy Najimy role). Franko’s Mary Lazarus has the requisite crustiness and handled the rap chops quite well. Lastly, Chelsea Stock, who astounded as Sister Mary Robert. Who knew such a big voice could be in such a small package? To quote Steve Stanley, “Wow!”.

The remaning roles in the production were handled by the expert ensemble that consisted of Terri K. Woodall (FB) [Michelle, Ensemble], Fay James/FB [Tina, Ensemble], Ron de la Peña MD (FB) [Ernie, Pope, Ensemble], Bernadette Bentley (FB) [Ensemble], Jacob Byrd/FB [Ensemble], Gwen Carole (FB) [Ensemble], Amanda Carr/FB [Ensemble, Dance Captain], Zy’heem “Z” Downey/FB [Ensemble, u/s Pablo], Jenna Elise (FB) [Ensemble], Catriona Fray (FB) [Ensemble], Erin Grandelli [Ensemble], Lakeisha Renee Houston (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Deloris], Alyssa Noto (FB) [Ensemble], Katie Porter (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Patrick], Rile Reavis (FB) [Ensemble], Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Michelle], Dana Shaw (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mother Superior], Marie Spieldenner (FB) [Ensemble], Tyler Stouffer (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Joey], Natalia Vivino (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Mary Robert], Kendyl Yokoyama (FB) [Ensemble, u/s Tina], and John Gaston [Pit Singer]. Of all of these, just a few notes, as they were all great — but also hard to distinguish. We always enjoy seeing Vivino on stage ever since first seeing her in Addams Family. She will make a great Mary Robert if she gets the chance. A shout-out to Ms. Bentley, who is a friend of a friend of ours on FB and a wonderfully creative cosplayer. Also notable is Jenna Elise for her dancing and movement skills; she caught my eye in the one number where she was out of the habit.

Music was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, under the direction of Kyle C. Norris (FB). The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB) [Alto Sax, Clarinet, Flute, Alto Flute]; Matt Germaine/FB [Tenor Sax, Flute, Clarinet]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I, Flugelhorn]; Chris Maurer/FB [Trumpet II, Flugelhorn]; Mike McCully [Trombone]; Gary Solt [Electric and Acoustic Guitars]; Benjamin Ginsberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer I]; Ryan Whyman [Keyboard I]; Shane Harry/FB [Electric and Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Percussion]. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Dancing and movement was choreographed by Michelle Elkin (FB), and was mostly 1950s and 1960s group dance movement, as opposed to the more intricate ballet we saw recently in An American in Paris.  What is more note-worthy is that Elkin was also the choreographer back in 2006 for the Pasadena Playhouse production.

Turning to the production aspects: Sets were provided by The Music and Theatre Company (FB), which was newly released for production this year. Costumes were provided by the Tuacahn Center for the Arts (FB) in Utah; additional costumes and designs were by Helen Butler. Daniel Robles designed the hair and wigs, and Trina White designed the makeup. Cabrillo regulars Christina L. Munich (FB) and Jonathan Burke (FB) did the lighting and sound design, respectively. Alex Choate (FB) designed additional props. Rounding out the credits were: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Art Brickman (FB), Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

Sister Act: The Musical plays for one more weekend at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Tickets are available at the box office and through Ticketmaster. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.  It is a very enjoyable show.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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 of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory 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.

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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Animaniacs Life (La Mirada)One of my fondest memories of my college days was an event the UCLA Computer Club organized (I have no idea how) when we brought Bill Scott and June Foray in to speak about Bullwinkle. So almost a year ago, when we saw that the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB) was bringing in Animaniacs Live, we were sold (and a good thing, because the show did sell out). Last night was the show, and we had a blast.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Animaniacs was part of the resurgence of Warner Brothers animation on TV in the early 1990s, much of it the brainchild of Tom Ruegger (FB). This resurgence started with Tiny Toon Adventures, and continued with the spinoff Pinky and the Brain (a personal favorite) and Freakazoid!.

The new stage show, Animaniacs Live, consists primarily of Randy Rogel (FB) and Rob Paulson (FB) telling stories about the making of the show, and singing songs from the show, backed by a large orchestra (in the show we saw, the La Mirada Symphony Orchestra (FB)).  Rogel was one of the main composers (music, lyrics) of songs on the show; Paulson voice Yakko, Dr. ScratchandSniff, and numerous other characters. Depending on availability, they bring in other principals and voice talent from the show. In the La Mirada shows, this included Jess Harnell (FB) who voiced Wakko, and Tress MacNeille who voiced Dot¹. Also featured were Steve Bernstein (FB) and Julie Bernstein, who were involved in the original scoring of the show and some of the music numbers (Steve conducted the orchestra for a few songs, and Julie provided some background vocals), as well as someone whose name I don’t remember in the orchestra. Additionally, it turned out the both creator Tom Ruegger (FB) and director Andrea Romano were in the audience for our performance.

[¹: When Rogel introduced MacNeille, he said she was the most prolific female voice actor and was behind the most characters. I do beg to differ on that one: I think June Foray was, but I’ll give MacNeille second 🙂 ]

The show consisted of two acts, followed by a question and answer session. During the two acts, Rogel and Paulson sang songs from the show (occasionally along to animated clips), with Harnell and MacNeille occasionally joining them. These four exhibited very different personalities. Rogel and Paulson were as reasonable and normal as anyone associated with animation would be 🙂 — in other words, normal suits, normal personalities, great stories, wonderful rapport with both the audience and each other. This likely befits their nature as actors first. Harnell had an outsized adult personality like a rock musican, coming out in a different glitter suit each time. MacNeille seemed a lot more shy on stage — seeming to prefer her characters more than letting the real Tress out.

I did not keep a full set list, but here’s what I recall. This is certainly not in order:

  • Yakko’s World
  • Yakko’s Universe
  • Wakko’s America
  • I’m Mad
  • The Planets
  • I’m Cute
  • La Dot
  • L.A. Dot
  • History of War
  • A Quake! A Quake!
  • There’s Only One Of You
  • Hello Nurse!
  • Variety Speak
  • Noel
  • Pepper in the Pot (History of the Spice Trade)
  • All the Plays of Shakespeare
  • Animaniacs

One last thing that cracked me up: During the Q&A, Paulson was asked about his favorite thing from the show, and he related Pinky’s non-sequitur reponses. He then asked the questioner to ask him what his was pondering. His response: “If Susan B. Anthony and Ann B. Davis, then who Bea Arthur?”

Still cracks me up.

All in all, a wonderful show. If you get a chance to catch it in your city, do so.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Next weekend brings Sister Act at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory 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.

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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Doc Severinsen and his Big Band (VPAC)If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like music and live performance. As I’ve gotten older, I find a read less, but treasure music and performance more. As for what type of music, the answer is simple: all. I can find performers in almost every musical genre that I love (yes, even rap). I go to theatre seasons and plays and musicals to fulfill my need as an audience member to see stories on stage. I go to venues such as the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB),  McCabes (FB),  and the Hollywood Bowl to satisfy my musical live performance needs.

Thursday night saw us at VPAC for the penultimate show of our mini subscription: A celebration of Doc Severinsen and his Big Band on the occasion of his upcoming 90th birthday. For the youngsters out there, Doc Severinson was the long time band leader on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, from 1962 until the show ended in 1992. No, not the version with Jimmy Fallon. Not the version before that with Conan O’Brian. Not the version before that with Jay Leno. The long running version that actually had a big band.

Doc actually opened VPAC in… well, whenever it opened. It was Doc that did the first show and helped them tune the hall.

Thursday nights show was pure big band and swing. Doc was joined on a few songs by his vocalist, Vanessa Thomas. He was also joined, at times, by a violinist who was not listed in the program. His band consisted of:

I’ll note that a number of these musicians are also involved with Gordin Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (Goodwin is also a graduate of CSUN’s jazz program).

The program was straightforward big band jazz:

  • The Johnny Carson Theme
  • I Want To Be Happy
  • September Song
  • Singing in the Rain
  • When You’re Smiling
  • Georgia on My Mind
  • Isn’t She Lovely?
  • Jumping at the Woodside

(Intermission)

  • [Song I didn’t recognize]
  • Things Aren’t The Way They Used To Be
  • Happy Birthday Papa Doc
  • Mood Indigo
  • Secret Love
  • Every Day I Have the Blues
  • 1 O’Clock Jump

I’ll note this is very similar to their 2016 program on the website. This means the song I didn’t recognize was likely Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia.”

This was truly an enjoyable program. It is also remarkable to see Severinsen still doing this — touring and blasting away with his trumpet — at age 90.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Tonight 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). The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory 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.

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 Sirens of Titan (Sacred Fools)There are many things I can blame for my science fiction addiction, but one of the first culprits was a camp counselor who decided to read to us short stories from Kurt Vonnegut‘s excellent short story collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House“. From that point, Vonnegut rapidly became one of my favorite authors, and I devoured everything he wrote. One such book was his novel “The Sirens of Titan”, which my notes from those days say I first read in September 1976, when I would have been starting my senior year of high school. Vonnegut’s novels were unlike any other novel — at times oddly non-linear, referencing odd concepts and painting a very sardonic and cynical view of society and where mankind had been taking itself.

I haven’t picked up “The Sirens of Titan” since 1976 (when I paid $1.95 for the paperback, new). That’s a shame, for it would have been nice to have the story fresher in my mind for last night, when we saw The Sirens of Titan in an excellent production at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB) in Hollywood. Looking back at the book when I got home, the production hewed true to both the story and the tone of the book, and made me want to revisit my Vonnegut addiction after all these years. That’s a good thing, and if you don’t  think so, you’re a ✴️ (and if you don’t know what that symbolizes, well, you need to read your Vonnegut).

The production of The Sirens of Titan originated with Chicago’s Organic Theatre (FB) in 1977, if I have my math right. At that time, Vonnegut himself was involved in the adaptation, and encouraged the adaptation team to not be slavishly faithful to the book, but to make the story right for a play. Skimming the novel’s text afterwards, I believe they achieved the right level. I can see places where Vonnegut’s dialogue and notions were lifted straight off the page. I can also see a few things cut out. They made good choices. If you like Vonnegut, you’ll enjoy this show. It is clear that the director, Ben Rock (FB), is a Vonnegut fan.

So what is the plot of the story? That may not be the right question, not only because it is a little hard to describe. A spaceman, Winston Niles Rumfoord, and his dog Kazak, take a spaceship to Mars but get caught in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, which to put it simply, means they stretch out over time, see everything, but reappear on Earth every 57 years. On one of these anniversaries, Rumfoord summons one of the richest and luckiest men in the world, Malachi Constant, to tell him his future. Basically, he’ll go to to Mars, fall in love with Rumfoord’s wife Beatrice, have a son, Chronos, then go to Mercury, then back to Earth, and then to Titan, where he will fall in love. The rest of the play is watching that all played out from the eyes of our confused protagonist Malachi Constant. We meet his friends on Mars, such as Boaz, as well as the alien Salo that lives on Titan. You can find the summary of the book’s plot on Wikipedia.

Perhaps a better question is: What is the point of the story? In some ways, it is a commentary on religion — after all, the story posits the creation of a church of God the Indifferent, and the play opens with a commentary about fake religious leaders. I tend to think there is a deeper meaning about the purpose of life overall, and Vonnegut’s cynical take on it. This is captured in a line from the book spoken by a character near the end: “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody.” Vonnegut is very big on character relationships, both meaningful and meaningless. To Vonnegut, a meaningless interaction — an interaction devoid of deeper purpose — is still better than to be ignored.  The same saying was captured many years later in the musical Rent, when it noted that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference.

One of the hallmarks of Sacred Fools is its inventiveness, which we saw a few years ago in their old space with the delightful Astro Boy. Ben Rock (FB) has continued that inventiveness with a creative and playful staging. He has worked with his actors to bring out that playfulness and creativity as well, making the production a joy to watch even as you puzzle over the deeper meaning and significance.

In the lead positions are Eric Curtis Johnson (FB) as Winston Niles Rumfoord, Pete Caslavka (FB) as Malachi Constant, and Jaime Andrews (FB) as Beatrice Rumfoord. Johnson’s portrayal of Rumfoord is a mixture of bemusement and resignation to his fate, which comes across quite well. He seemed to be having a great time with the role, and that (as always) came across well. He performance was also a consistent characterization across the entire story. That’s less so for the other main characters, who start out with one personality, and end up with a completely different persona. Martian brainwashing and all that. Caslavka’s portrayal of Malachi captures this well, starting out as an overly self-important prick (think Elon Musk, and add it a little Steve Jobs), and then transforming into more of the everyman that life is dragging from place to place, often not telling us why. Similarly, Andrews’ performance of Beatrice captures that character’s transformation well: this time from a stuck-up society wife seemingly indifferent, to more of an adaptable badass, to again someone who has been swept along, accepting her fate. A minor distracting note for Caslavka’s portrayal: there are times where the costuming reveals perhaps something that isn’t appropriate to reveal (or at least an unnecessary distriction), especially in the yellow jumpsuit. Luckily, that’s easily correctable.

The remaining performers constitute the ensemble, while also playing named characters. There are four I would like to single out. First, Jax Ball (TW) as Young Chrono is irresistibly cute, and reminded me of the lead from Astro Boy even though she wasn’t with SFT at the time. She was just having fun with the role, and it was great to see. It is always fun to see Jesse Merlin (FB) on stage — going back to the days many many years ago when we saw him in The Beastly Bombing and he was still regularly on LiveJournal. Here, his take on the alien Salo is playful and inventive and just a joy to watch (Merlin also gave me the most astonishment on this writeup, as I can’t figure out how we have the FB friends we have in common in common).  Tim Kopacz (FB) was notable for a role in which he isn’t seen: inside the wonderful Kazak the dog, who is incredibly dog-like in his movement and behavior it is remarkable. Oh, he makes a great Stony Stevenson as well.  Lastly, K. J. Middlebrooks (FB) as Boaz, Malachi (then called “Unk”)’s friend. I was unsure about him on his Mars scenes, but he came into his own on Mercury, especially in the scene that opened Act II. Tifanie McQueen (FB) was billed as Mrs. Peterson + Ensemble, but I didn’t recognize the character until I saw her FB photo: she was great explaining the Harmonium. Rounding out the ensemble were Dennis Neal (FB) as Redwine + Ensemble, Keith Szarabajka (FB) as the voice, and Emily Kosloski (FB) as the voice of the sirens.

Understudies were: Curt Bonnem (FB) (u/s Malachi Constant); Libby Baker (FB) (u/s Beatrice Rumfoord); Paul Plunkett (FB) (u/s Winston Niles Rumfoord); Adriana Colón (FB) (u/s Young Chrono + Ensemble); Gabriel Croom (FB) (u/s Boaz / Kazak / Stony Stevenson / Ensemble); Corey Klemow (FB) (u/s Salo + Ensemble); Brendan Broms (FB) (u/s Redwine); and Missy Mannila (FB) (u/s Mrs. Peterson + Ensemble).

As I said upfront, the creative team behind this production was remarkable. From the extremely clever set design to the remarkable sound effects to the great projections to the wonderful lighting effects to the costumes and makeup — all came together to create a wonderfully creative and cohesive whole. The team consisted of: Krystyna Łoboda (FB) (Scenic Designer); Matt Richter (FB) and Adam Earle (FB) (Lighting Designers); Jennifer Christina DeRosa (FB) (Costume Designer); Hat & Suitcase (Projection Design); Jaime Robledo (FB) (Sound Design); Lisa Anne Nicolai (FB) (Prop Designer); Russ Walko (FB) (Puppet/Creature Designer); Angela Santori Merritt (FB) (Hair and Makeup). Rounding out the production credits were:  Scott Golden (FB) – Assistant Director; Maggie Marx (FB) – Stage Manager; Alicia Conway Rock/FB – Dramaturge; Hillary Bauman – Key Scenic; Ruth Silveria/FB – Assistant Costume Designer; Michael Teoli (FB) – Score Composer; Cj Merriman – Choreography; Chairman Barnes (FB) – Military Advisor. The Sirens of Titan was produced by Shaela Cook (FB); Bo Powell (FB) was the Associate Producer.

The Sirens of Titans continues at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB) in Hollywood until May 6, 2017. This clever and inventive production of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel is well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the Sacred Fools Online box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Next week 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). The last weekend of April brings the Renaissance Pleasure Faire on Saturday, and the new musical The Theory of Relativity at Harter Hall/Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory 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.

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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Tom Paxton and the DonJuansWhen last we saw Tom Paxton (FB) — that is, in September 2015 — he had announced he was stopping touring except for special events. As with many other groups, the farewell tour wasn’t. Tom went on tour again this year, together with two of his collaborators, Don Henry (FB) and Jon Vezner (FB) — the Donjuans (FB). Last night, they were at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica, so naturally we were there (after rushing over from our matinee of Cat’s Paw in Hollywood).

Before the usual song list, a few observations. One would have expected given the Orange-Colored Man in the White House, there would have been some pointed observations from Tom. There were none. I don’t know if it was the presence of the Donjuans, disgust at the current political situation, or lack of focus on the “short shelf life” songs, but Trump did not inspire Tom as Bush 43 did. The political commentary was sorely missed.

The Donjuans started off the show, and then accompanied Tom throughout. I enjoyed their opening, although my wife didn’t. They had a few mistakes and joked about this being their first tour, although their Facebook page belies that claim. I am interested in ordering their album when it comes out.

Noel Paul Stookey (FB) [who we saw recently in Thousand Oaks] was in the audience, and he joined Tom on one song. Alas, he didn’t perform Impeachable.

It should note that shortly before the show, Tom was involved in an accident. As the papers reported:

Folk legend Tom Paxton was miraculously unhurt after he fell backward down an escalator at Penn Station.

The 79-year-old “Ramblin’ Boy” singer, who received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, tells us, “I was going up normally and I felt myself pulled back and I couldn’t stop it. It was scary as hell. They stopped the escalator and got me on my feet and I was good to go.”

Joking, he said, “I’m a little old for that kind of dive. By the degree of difficulty, I hoped for higher scores . . . I’m just glad I didn’t make the obits today.”

While he amazingly escaped serious injury, aside from bloody hands, he did crack the head of his Martin guitar.

As a result, Tom occasionally used finger picks. There were also some songs in which he stood back and just sung. I don’t know if this was due to the accident.

The show consisted of the following songs (* indicates new for this year; ♫ indicates songs from his new album, Boat in the Water; 🎸 indicates songs performed by the DonJuans; 🎼 indicates songs written by the DonJuans (or members thereof); 🎙️ indicates songs unrecorded (either on YouTube or on an album)):

Act I Act II

 The DonJuans

Left It On The Plane 🎼🎙️
Is Love 🎼
Garden of the Dead 🎼
Where’ve You Been 🎼

Tom Paxton and the DonJuans

How Beautiful Upon The Mountain
Boat in the Water *♫
If The Poor Don’t Matter
Whose Garden Was This?
And If It’s Not True
Bottle of Wine

 Tom Paxton and the DonJuans

Did You Hear John Hurt?
The Mayor of MacDougal Street
It Takes All Kinds of Kinds 🎼🎸
This Old Town 🎸
Eleanor’s Song 🎼♫*
All The World Is Green *🎼🎙️
Susie Most of All *
Has Anybody Seen Amy? 🎸
Last Thing on My Mind
Ramblin’ Boy (w/Noel Paul Stookey)
What’s So Bad? *🎼🎙️
Dream On, Sweet Dreamer 🎼♫*

As I wrote last year:  McCabes (FB): The challenge is up to you. You now need to book some new favorites, such as the Austin Lounge Lizards (FB) or Blair Crimmons and the Hookers (FB).

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Today brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). 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). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory 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.

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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Cats Paw (Actors Co-Op)Yesterday, as part of my Aprils Fools “real or fake news” post, I linked to a real news article about planned cuts at the EPA: “The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new, more detailed plan for laying off 25 percent of its employees and scrapping 56 programs including pesticide safety, water runoff control, and environmental cooperation with Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement.” In response, you could easily see an Eco-Terrorist taking someone hostage to protest these cuts and the damage done under them, especially when you consider that with a more limited budget, the EPA will be forced to make more questionable decisions about the communities in which they spend the little budget they do have. Decisions made by bureaucrats, with lives measured by actuaries and accounts.

Back in 1984, William Mastrosimone wrote a play — Cat’s Paw — about an unusual terrorist, one who is brilliant, articulate and who believes he is right. He updated this play in 2001, right after the 9/11 attacks. It is running until April 30, 2017 at Actors Co-op (FB) in Hollywood, and it is surprisingly relevant today (especially in light of the Trump administration EPA actions). The play tells the story of  an eco-terrorist (Victor) who blamed the EPA for an incident in which the water supply of a town was poisoned. He kidnapped an EPA official (David Darling), and masterminded a suicide bomb attack at the White House in which 12 senators were killed. This terrorist — excuse me, eco-warrior — has a television news reporter (Jessica Lyons) led to his lair by his follower, Cathy, so she can tell the world why he has done what he has done. Victor’s obsession is the destruction of the world’s water supply and, with it, the final destruction of the human race by pollution. When the reporter asks if he feels any guilt about the death of the innocent people, he replies that hundreds of innocent people die every hour because of what mankind is doing to its water supply and do the people responsible feel guilt for this? The cat and mouse game between the young woman reporter and Victor gets more and more tense, leading to a shocking and violent conclusion.

In a very interesting piece about the play in the acting script (reprinted in one theatre’s blog), the author writes:

Information is what enables us to make good decisions in a democracy – right? but the truth is that most of information is repetitive or useless; turn is most of us have a morbid curiosity that needs to be satisfied. By giving in to our need to see mayhem, we give more power to the terrorists. We are all part of the deadly triangulation between the acts of terror, the media coverage, and the viewing.

During her tenure as P.M., Margaret Thatcher advanced a thought that we have not heeded: “Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

Until we figure out how to stay free and still report the news, terrorist acts will involve two explosions. The primary explosion kills innocent people in the street. The secondary explosion occurs in the viewer’s mind, over and over again, as a neural pathway is created. Ring bell. Bring food. Dog salivate. News is not just reported anymore; it is designed for effect. The story is edited, parts subtracted, associations established with editing in other stories and/or expert opinions or carefully chosen public reaction. The fear we felt when we first saw the event on television can be conjured again and again, at will, in video replay, as news and entertainment slowly merge. Fear is reinforced. Fear makes us malleable, and caught between the act of terror and media coverage, we exist for a time in a state of impaired judgement.

Cat’s Paw connects to a number of ongoing discussions in the world today: What is our responsibility to ensure clean air, clean water, and a safe world to live in? When there are other economic priorities, is it reasonable to cut back on environmental protections (and endanger other innocent lives) out of a need for that money for other economic purposes? Who should make those decisions, and what should be their basis: science, economics, or actuarial science? What is the role of the media in all this — are they dispassionate observers reporting news in a neutral fashion, or are they manipulating what we see to make us feel and believe things? Are they playing up our fears — whether that is a fear of our leaders, or those who oppose them? All relevant questions — all great discussions.

Actors Co-op (FB) production of Cat’s Paw is an intense and gripping presentation of these questions and issues (if not a little heavy handed). It places you in that bunker with David Darling; it allows you to see the sausage-making that is Terrorism, and its manipulation of the story for particular purposes. Is it relevant today? Yes. Does it present a clear answer? No. One would hope that this excellent production raises the questions above for you, and sends you home to discuss and explore the issue further. This is what theatre can do: start a discussion.

Cats Paw (Cast)The Actors Co-op (FB) presentation of Cat’s Paw, tensely directed by Stephen Rothman (FB), stars Sean McHugh (FB) as the eco-warrior Victor and Deborah Marlowe (FB) as the reporter Jessica Lyons, supported by Ivy Beech (FB) as Cathy (one of Victor’s minions) and Vito Viscuso (FB) as David Darling (the hostage). All are strongly believable as their characters: their fears and pains and intent come across strongly. Staged in the small Crossley theatre with audience members on three sides, there are often small moments off on the side that speak to the powerful immersion of these actors in their characters. Just great performances.

Lauren Thompson (FB) was the understudy for Cathy, and was ever-reliable behind the scenes in the box office.

Director Rothman’s vision, realized by the Scenic Design of David Potts, places the audience in the bunker with the Earth Now activists. There are rough tables and chairs, graffiti, and shelves of realistic supplies and realistic weapons (all the work of Property Designer Lori Berg (FB)). The feelings of the bunker are amplified through the lighting design of James Moody (FB) and sound design of Adam R. Macias (FB). All this makes the audience part of the story, and amplifies its impact.  E.B. Brooks (FB)’s costume design also contributed to the feeling that these were real terrorists talking to a real reporter. Other creative and production credits: Collin Bressie (FB) [Fight Director]; Greyson Chadwick (FB) [Producer]; Heather Chesley (FB) [Artistic Chairwoman); Christian Eckels (FB) [Stage Manager]; David Elzer/Demand PR (FB) [Marketing/Publicity]; Selah Victor (FB) [Production Manger].

Cat’s Paw continues at Actors Co-op (FB) through April 30, 2017. Tickets are available through the Actors Co-Op website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. An intense play, very timely, and well-performed.

 🎩 🎩 🎩

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 evening continued with a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). Today brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). 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). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. 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), and hopefully Five Guys Named Moe at Ebony Repertory 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.

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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An American in Paris (Pantages)At least Bob Fosse was honest about it.

At the beginning of Bob Fosse’s show Dancin’ many years ago, an actor came out on stage and said sometthing like: “If you are looking for any plot in this show, don’t bother. This show is about dance.” And it was. Spectacular dance.

Last night, we went to go see the tour of An American in Paris (FB) at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). 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. By this I mean that your traditional musical tells the story through the music and lyrics, with a bit of connecting dialogue. An American in Paris tells its story — spectacularly — through dance, with a bit of connecting dialogue (that was written by Craig Lucas). The actual timeless music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin? The lyrics really don’t matter to the story; the mood and the music and the rhythm — oh, that rhythm — propels the dance that gives life to the story. Paris is a city of light, of beauty, of style, of art. Substance? Have another baguette, let’s sit at the corner patisserie shop, and watch the people.

But this isn’t a bad thing.

If you’ve ever seen the 1951 MGM musical, you know the purpose of the film was not to tell a significant story, but to listen to glorious Gershwin music and watch Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dance. Why should the stage show be any different? The stage adaptation of the movie plot adds a hint more of darkness, but the characters and the songs remain the same: three buddies, two Americans (Jerry Mulligan and Adam Hochberg) and one French (Henri Baurel); one beautiful dancer (Lise Dassin); a wealthy art patron (Milo Davenport); and, well, who cares who else. The story is the scaffold on which the dance is built.

It should be no surprise, then, that the director and the choreographer of this show, Christopher Wheeldon (FB), are one and the same, and that Wheeldon is primarily a ballet artist. It should be no surprise that, reading the credits of the performers, that there is a very large emphasis on ballet skills. About the only surprise is that the program does not provide any credit to the tour medical and physical therapy team, who must be on their toes to keep these athletic dancers in tip-top shape. This is just a very physically demanding show,  8 times a week, on tour. The astounding physical skill to pull it off and not suffer stress injuries is remarkable, and the unnamed medical team who keep these professionals together behind the scenes deserves a lot of credit. [Luckily, my Google-Fu is strong, and it appears that the folks keeping these dancers together is NeuroSport (FB)]

All of the performers are strong singers and have great voices. All can emote well, and all inhabit and are having fun  with their lightly drawn characters. Remember — this isn’t a deep character drama. You have socialites, dancers, artists, and performers. Not a rocket scientist in the bunch. (Well, at least on stage. At our performance, there was at least one rocket scientist in the audience.)

In the lead positions at our show were Garen Scribner (FB) and Sara Esty (FB), as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, respectively (they alternate with Ryan Steele (FB) and Sara Esty’s twin sister, Leigh-Ann Esty (FB) (who is also a great photographer), who move from the ensemble to the leads at select Sunday performances). Both were spectacular dancers — their final ballet sequence in “An American in Paris” was truly spectacular.

Supporting our leads on the male side were Etai Benson (FB) as Adam Hochberg and Nick Spangler (FB) as Henri Baurel. Benson’s role involved a fair amount of dance, especially in “Stairway to Paradise” — but his role was more as narrator and as one of the vocal leads, which he handled quite well.  Spangler — who evidently won the Amazing Race in 2008 — who knew, but I follow Survivor — was also a strong singer and jazzy dancer, as demonstrated in the aforementioned “Stairway to Paradise” as well as the opening “I Got Rhythm”.

The secondary love interest, Milo Davenport, was played by Emily Ferranti (FB). Ferranti brought a lovely style and grace to the piece, and danced wonderfully in “Shall We Dance?”

There were a few other named characters, but they all dropped back into the ensemble at points (with the exception of Gayton Scott [Madame Baurel]) and were very lightly drawn. As usual, it is hard to single out the ensemble members, but I do want to note their wonderful athleticism and fluid movement was on display throughout, and that this is one show in particular that depends on the dancing ensemble: it is their talent, in group numbers like “An American In Paris”, that make this show the spectacular dance show that it is. This splendid dancing team consisted of the aforementioned Ryan Steele (FB) and Leigh-Ann Esty (FB); as well as Karolina Blonski (FB); Brittany Bohn (FB); Stephen Brower (FB); Randy Castillo (FB); Jessica Cohen (FB); Barton Cowperthwaite (FB) [also Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner]; Alexa De Barr (FB); Caitlin Meighan (FB) [also Returning Soldier’s Wife]; Alida Michal (FB); Don Noble (FB) [also Monsieur Baurel, Store Manager]; Alexandra Pernice (FB); David Prottas (FB); Lucas Segovia; Kyle Vaughn (FB) [also Mr. Z]; Laurie Wells (FB) [also Olga]; Dana Winkle (FB); Erica Wong (FB); and Blake Zelesnikar (FB). Swings were Jace Coronado (FB); Ashlee Dupre (FB) [Asst. Dance Captain]; Erika Hebron (FB); Christopher M. Howard (FB) [Dance Captain]; Colby Q. Lindeman (FB); Nathalie Marrable (FB); Tom Mattingly (FB); Sayiga Eugene Peabody (FB); and Danielle Santos (FB). There were far too many understudy allocations to list them all here. The one thing that comes from hunting down the links of all these actors/dancers is the immense amount of dance and ballet talent in this group. This is why these dancers are so good — they have been working hard at it.

The orchestra was under the direction of music director and conductor David Andrews Rogers (FB). The other members were Brad Gardner (FB) (Assoc. Music Director, Keys); Ray Wong (FB) (Key 1, Piano); Henry Palkes (FB) (Keys 2); Katherine Fink (FB) (Reed 1); Tansie Mayer (FB) (Reed 2); Tom Colclough (FB) (Reed 3); Sam Oatts (FB) (Trumpet 1); Anthony DiMauro/FB (Trumpet 2); Dave Grott (FB) (Trombone); Susan French (FB) (Violin 1); Adrian Walker (FB) (Violin 2); Nick Donatelle (FB) (Cello); and Paul Hannah (Drums/Percussion). These were augmented by local performers Kathleen Robertson (FB) (Violin, Concertmaster); Adriana Zoppo (FB) (Violin); Paula Fehrenbach (FB) (Cello); Steve Kujala (FB) (Flute, Piccolo); Dick Mitchell (Flute, Clarinet); John Yoakum (FB) (Clarinet, Bass Clarinet); Marissa Benedict (FB) (Trumpet 2, Flugelhorn); Andy Martin (FB) (Trombone); Wade Culbreath (Percussion); David Witham (FB) (Keyboard Sub). Other music credits: Emily Grishman (Copying / Preparation); Seymour Red Press (Music Coordinator); Brian Miller (Orchestra Contractor). Orchestrations were by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott. Dance arrangements were by Sam Davis. Todd Ellison was the music supervisor. The Musical Score was adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rod Fisher.

Lastly, turning to the production and creative team. I’m going to combine the set and costume design of Bob Crowley and the Projection Design of 59 Productions together because they truly worked as a singular whole (hmmm, both are UK based, as is the director — odd for an AMERICAN in Paris 🙂 ). Anyway, this was another show that depended quite heavily on projections — the main scenic design elements, other than props and such, were various flats and mirrored surfaces upon which the projections were placed. These were animated and changing and extremely creative and .. well, in many ways, they were vital set elements of the overall design. This went to the costumes as well, especially as in the block-patterned American in Paris dance sequences, where the Mondrian-style color scheme of the set was repeated in the block primary color scheme of the ensemble’s costumes. This was all augmented by the lighting design of Natasha Katz (FB), which used scaffolds around the stage behind the proscenium, combined with two movers one on each side of the balcony (in other words, there wasn’t the universal array of Lekos and movers midway above the orchestra, and the follow-spot was by programming). The sound design of Jon Weston (FB) was unnoticeable, as a good sound design should be.  Rounding out the production credits were: Kenneth J. Davis (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; Rick Steiger (FB) [Production Supervisor]; Troika Entertainment / Laura Dieli (FB) [Production Manager]; Telsey + Company (FB) / Rachel Hoffman C.S.A. [Casting]; Dontee Kiehn (FB) [Associate Director / Choreographer]; Sean Maurice Kelly (FB) [Associate Choreographer / Resident Manager]; Donvan Dolan (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Laura C. Nelson (FB) [Asst. Stage Manager]; Lori Byars [Asst. Stage Manager]; Kathy Fabian/Propstar [Props Supervisor]; Unkledave’s Fight House (FB) [Fight Direction]. The Executive Producer was 101 Productions Ltd. The list of producers and associate producers is far too long.

An American in Paris (FB) continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through April 9. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office online or by calling (323) 468-1770. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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: April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). 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). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. 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.: 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. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

 

 

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The Robber Bridegroom (LAVC)My musical taste is wide and varied (if you hadn’t figured that out by now), but one of my favorite styles is folk, which then connects to bluegrass, some elements of country, and celtic. My Uncle Tom had similar tastes, and many years ago he introduced me to a favorite musical of his, The Robber Bridegroom (book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry, music by Robert Waldman, adapted from the novella by Eudora Welty, based on an even older folktale). Especially for when it was first produced in 1975, it was a rarity among Broadway musicals, for it had a country and bluegrass score, with the musicians on the stage. I can count the musicals that have done this on one or two hands, the latest being last season’s Bright Star with a score by bluegrass artist and comedian Steve Martin.

We first saw The Robber Bridegroom in 2011 at ICT Long Beach (FB); it tends to be rarely done. Last week I learned that LA Valley College (FB)’s Department of Theatre Arts was doing a student production of the show (FB). We decided to give it a try, and squeezed it into the weekend. As I wrote back in 2011:

[The Robber Bridegroom] tells the fable of the Robber Bridegroom in 1795 in Rodney’s Landing, Mississippi. It is a fable about, as the song says, “A gent and a robber all in one, A girl who made the moon burn like the sun. A greedy witch, A man that rich. A brain that big, A filthy pig. A talkin’ head. … Once upon a Natchez Trace!” So let’s meet the characters. The “gent and robber all in one” is Jamie Lockhart, a gentleman robber who is also the Bandit of the Woods. He charms to get in, and takes what he wants. The girl who made the moon burn like the sun is Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of the “man that rich”, Clemment Musgrove, a wealthy planter, and the step-daughter of the “greedy witch”, Salome, current wife of the planter. Rosamond wants love, and finds it with the Bandit of the Woods, but doesn’t want to get married to the gentleman her father prefers, Jamie Lockhart, who wants to marry Rosamond not for love, but for the plantation. The “brain that big” refers to the brain the size of a pea belonging to “Goat” the simpleton hired by Salome to kill Rosamond to gain the reward of a suckling pig. The “filthy pig” refers to Little Harp, a thief and robber who travels the country with the talkin’ head of his brother, Big Harp, and who plans to steal both the gold and the girl of the planter. “Once upon a Natchez Trace”, of course, refers to the historic forest trail that connects landings like Rodney MS with the mouth of the Mississippi in New Orleans LA. As you can imagine from this cast of characters, we have a backwoods story of greed, love, lust, and desire. Quite a fun tale.

This production, as I noted earlier, was a student production under the direction of Cathy Susan Pyles (FB), with musical direction by Evan J. Marshall (FB). The fact that this was a student production means the range of talent and experience is wide and varied. We had some performers for whom this was their first time on stage … ever. We had some who had been in a fair to large number of amateur and other unspecified shows. In other words, this was a cast with a range of raw talent in both performing and singing. The latter is significant, for LAVC does not have a formal musical theatre program, and so there was not a formal effort to improve and strengthen vocal quality with this show (at least noted in the program, as there was no credit for vocal coaching, and no vocal coaches on the LAVC faculty). Again, raw talent up and coming, gems that required various levels of polishing. One doesn’t go into a show like this expecting virtuoso Broadway-caliber performance; one expects to be able to note strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, the performers expect this as well, taking any weaknesses as areas to work on for the future. And thus, the caveat is ended.

In the lead positions were Jacob Reynolds/FB as Jamie Lockhart and Tiffany Fuller/FB as Rosamund. Both were good (at least to my untrained eye) on the performance side — believable as their characters, having fun with their roles. I was particularly smitten by Fuller’s performance (and not just due to her smile and other charms) — writing this up I discovered she was from Kentucky, and that clearly showed in the accent and country mannerisms she brought to the role. Both had good singing voices that were pleasant to listen to, but that could use a tad more strength and volume.

Rosamund’s family was portrayed by Nicholas Goodreau/FB as Clemment Musgrove (Rosamund’s father) and Victoria Pizarro/FB as Salome (Rosamund’s stepmother). I quite enjoyed Goodreau’s performance — he had the right bearing and style for the role. For the most part his singing was good, especially in some harmonies, although there were just a few time he was a little off. This was Pizarro’s first time on stage, according to her credits. Especially in consideration of that, her acting performance was strong and it was clear she was having fun. Where the inexperience showed was vocally, although it was unclear the extent to which that was part of her character. Her voice was a bit weaker and all over the map at times. An area to work on.

The other major characters were R. J. Godinez/FB (Little Harp), Robert Butler/FB (Big Harp), Tristan Samson/FB (Goat), and Cameron Caddell (FB) (The Raven). As his character, Butler’s performance was more limited (he was a talking head in a box, after all); but the others were all strong as their characters. I was particularly taking with Godinez and Samson’s performances and characterizations; both also had good singing voices was reasonable strength. I did really like Caddell’s voice as the Raven — it was quite lovely — and her peformance was remarkably athletic in all the climbing and jumping and movement she had to do.

Most of the cast also played members of the ensemble. Other ensemble members and minor characters were: Serena El-Farra (FB) (Ensemble, Goat’s Mother); Carlos A. Gomez Jr./FB (Ensemble, The Caller); Ann Kriss/FB (Ensemble); Chase Mac Leay/FB (Ensemble, Landlord); Mariam Petrosyan/FB (Ensemble, Goat’s Sister); Zihan (Layla) Zhao/FB (Ensemble). There was quite a skill mix here, but all were clearly having fun and doing their best to be characters at the given place and time. Singing-wise, there was a wide range of performances, from strong singers to weak. There was also a good variety of shapes and looks. A few specific notes: Although she didn’t have a large singing role, the few times I could single out El-Farra’s voice, I was quite impressed with it. On the other end of the spectrum, Zhao needs to work a bit on her voice. Not singing (as I don’t recall being able to single out her singing voice), but more moving past her native accent to get the words out a little bit clearer and stronger.  I also recall that I enjoyed Petrosyan’s voice the one or two times I could pick it out, and thinking Kriss could have made an interesting Salome.

On-stage music was provided by a four-piece bluegrass group led by Evan J. Marshall (FB) on Mandolin. Rounding out the group were Mike Ley (FB) on Bass Fiddle, Alex Finazzo (FB) on Guitar, and Hiro Goto (FB) on Fiddle. Jean Sudbury (FB) does the fiddle on March 25 (tonight). I was very impressed by the music during the show, and will actually look for albums from the Mandolin and Guitar artists.

There was no specific choreography credit.

Robber Bridegroom Cast and Musicians (LAVC)Turning to the production and creative side: The scenic and lighting design by Jennifer L. Read (FB) was quite strong. I still recall the scenic design of the ICT production, with a large metal scaffoding in a U-shape with a large center portion. Read’s design was very different: very wooden and muscular, with a wood floor, sawhorses and planks, and a wooden structure along the back of the stage with ladders and ropes and such. She much of had fun shopping at Home Depot or Lowes :-). It worked quite well and was used in many creative ways by the cast to create all sorts of objects. The lighting design was equally strong, combining use of Lekos and what appeared to be some LED lights and spots to establish mood and focus attention. Mary Reilly‘s costume design seemed appropriately rural and rustic, as befits Rodney MS at the end of the 18th century. The costumes also served to distinguish the characters well and were quite fun to watch. To the right is a picture of the cast and musicians, which also shows the wonderful set and costumes (picture snarfed from the director’s FB page — and shows L-R, (back row) A. Kriss, C. Caddell, C. Mac Ley; (back +1) T. Fuller, J. Reynolds; (back + 2) M. Ley, H. Goto, R. Butler, Z. Zhao, V. Pizarro, N. Goodreau, M. Petrosyan, S. El-Farra, E. Marshall, A. Finazzo; (front -1) C. Gomez,  R. J. Godinez; (front) T. Samson).

Rounding out the production credits were: Victor Gonzalez/FB – Production Stage Manager; Mark Svastics (FB) – Technical Director; Jade Hill/FB and Ryan Schmitt/FB – Assistant Stage Managers.

The Robber Bridegroom (FB) continues at LA Valley College (FB) throughout this weekend, with matinees today and Sunday, and an evening performance tonight and Sunday night. Tickets are available at the door or via BrownPaperTickets.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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: This evening our gears shift to Gershwin, with the touring company of An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). 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). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. 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.

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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Martha (Whitefire Theatre)If you’ve actually been reading these theatre writeups to the end, you’ll know we have tickets for the Martha Graham Dance Troupe (performance information) at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) in late May. So when one of the publicists that thinks highly enough of me to view me as a critic emailed me information on a one-woman show on the life of Martha GrahamMartha, currently running at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) through April 16 — my virtual ears perked up. Here, I thought, was a great way for a dance novice like me to get familiar with a troupe I’ll be seeing; for with all the theatre I’ve attended, I’m dreadfully deficient in the dance arena. I may know theatre choreography, but the world of dance is often very different — theatrical dance as practiced today is very different than modern dance that tells a story solely through movement and expression, not music and lyrics. Martha, for me, provided the backstory and background of the woman who, according to many, was to the dance world what Picasso was to the art world or Frank Lloyd Wright was to the architecture world.

As a result, going into the show, I had no idea what to expect. I know this was a one woman story about the life of Martha Graham, portrayed excellently by Christina Carlisi (FB). But what approach had playwright Ellen Melaver taken to tell the story? Would it be focused on facts and dates, the chronology of life, a sequential portrayal of events? Would it be focused on the person behind the story, providing less of a factual focus and more of a focus on the drive and the persona — what made Martha Graham the unique force she has remained to this day?

The answer is that the author chose the latter, framing the story around the time Graham was in her early 70s, when she was doing a remounting of Clytemnestra with her dancing the lead. Some catastrophic incident occurred during the performance, prompting her board to send her a request to please transition from performing to choreography — a request that would require her to acknowledge her age and her mortality. This she viewed as a death sentence, for dance was her life — and so she started willing her body parts to her critics, friends, and family. In doing so, she also recounted what drove her to the dance, what kept her in the dance, what she contributed to modern dance, and what she gave up to do so. In the end of course, she grudgingly comes to the realization that she will have to start transferring her dances to her proteges, fitting her belief that dance only lives on if it is performed as originally danced.

[In reality, this likely corresponds to the late 1960s, as Graham last danced Clytemnestra in 1967. She died in 1991 at age 96, making her around 71 in 1967. This was a period of time when rheumatoid arthritis was hurting her greatly, she was increasingly turning to alcohol, leading to her doing her last dance in 1970. She regained control of her life around 1973, and Graham continued to do choreography until her death in 1991.]

One expression of Martha Graham captured in the show was that she saw dance like a beautiful shell on the beach. But if when uncovered it was half there and worn down, the beauty was gone. The entire body had to be there to be beautiful, the entire spirit is what made the performance. The audience could easily tell when the performance was just a facade. I’m pleased to say that Carlisi, working with director Stewart J. Zully (FB), didn’t have that problem. Carlisi, interpreting the script, captured not only the drive of Graham but the ego. It was clear that Graham considered herself above the nominal dance world: she was a goddess of dance, immortal, ageless, timeless. She sacrificed the fullness of her life  for the dance; she expected the dancers who worked for her to do the same. This was captured and expressed quite well by Carlisi. She also changed the language of dance, moving dance from the improvisational combinations that depended on the interpretation that day of the dancer, or the mechanical dancing that resulted from counted combination of steps, to a style focused on what the body said, on repetition, on “contraction and release”.

There were snippets throughout the performance of various Graham dances (choreography for the show was by Camille Loftin (FB)); alas, I’m not familiar enough with the Graham repertoire to know if they were represented correctly. There was a fair amount of emphasis on her interpretation of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Springs (a piece we know and love), especially as the vehicle for her brief marriage to Erick Hawkins. There were also numerous references to a Louis who was presumably her accompanist and someone close to her, but who was never otherwise explained. I learned, after the show when doing research for this writeup, that Louis referred to Louis Horst, a composer from Denishawn (the school where she first learned dance), who was her oldest friend and musical collaborator. Horst died in 1964, making the death still fresh in the context of the 1967 timeframe of the show. Given the nature of the show as an exploration of Graham’s ego and personality, but not a hard and fast recitation of history, the show could be improved by including in the program a brief chronology of Graham’s life and key events/performances, as well as some of the key people referenced in the show.

No where is this lack of context better illustrated than in her continual requests to have Louis play the Maple Leaf Rag, which you do not hear until the end. It turns out that the Maple Leaf Rag was the last dance she choreographed completely, finishing it in 1990. It is unclear when she started work on the piece.

So, in short, performance-wise, the production was illuminating and excellent preparation for our VPAC show in May. The program that accompanied the show could be improved with a little more context on dates and names. That is likely something that would occur in a larger mounting of the show were it to occur at a mid-size or larger venue; the framing context was missed in the intimate setting.

Production-wise, the staging was simple. The scenic design, for which there is no credit, was two boxes on the stage and a rack of costumes and costume pieces. The staging was augmented, at times, through the use of selected projections (there is no specific credit for projection design — this is likely covered by David Svengalis (FB)’s overall technical design and direction). The costumes themselves were simple and generally flowing, and were designed by Candice Cain (FB). Lighting design was by Derrick McDaniel (FB), and continued the overall transition into multicolor LED lighting from the single color Lekos and gels of the past (although a few Lekos were used). The Artistic Director of the Whitefire Theatre is Bryan Rasmussen (FB). The show was produced by Windy Productions.

The West Coast Premiere of Martha continues at the Whitefire Theatre (FB) through April 16, 2017. Tickets are $25 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Next week brings brings a student production of The Robber Bridegroom at LA Valley College (FB) on Friday and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) on Saturday. April starts with Cats Paw at Actors Co-op (FB) and a concert with Tom Paxton and the DonJuans at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). The next day brings the Colburn Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). The weekend of April 8 brings Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan at Sacred Fools Theatre (FB). 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). The last weekend of April has two holds: one for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and one for Uncanny Valley at ICT Long Beach (FB) [we’re just waiting on Goldstar]. 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.: 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. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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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Fun Home (Ahmanson)There’s a quote that occurs in one of the first songs of the musical Fun Home, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) through April 1, 2017, that struck a nerve: “chaos never happens if it’s never seen”. That describes many families: there is utter chaos behind a carefully manicured facade. Perhaps that commonality is one reason why Fun Home won so many Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2015. Perhaps it is the fact that it is one of the few musicals that focuses on the experience of a Lesbian finding herself (think about it: most stories that you see on stage dealing with LBGTQ focus on the G — male homosexuality. Perhaps it is the female strength of the creative team: based on a graphic novel by a woman (Alison Bechdel (FB), who is also famous for the Bechdel Test), with music by a woman (Jeanine Tesori), and stage book and lyrics by another woman (Lisa Kron). Whatever the reason, Fun Home caught my attention when it was in its Off-Broadway run at the Public (which is when I picked up the cast album). I enjoyed the music, and was pleased when it made it to Broadway, and then announced the tour. By now, you should have figured out that’s where we were last night, instead of hearing a Purim Schpiel. After all, if I want to hear about a evil madman with a plot to destroy a people, and the clueless leader that he works for and is able to manipulate, I’ll read the news.

Fun Home tells the true story of Alison Bechdel, which she captured in her non-linear graphic novel of the same name. It addresses how Alison realized that she was a lesbian, while dealing with her father who was a closeted gay man who never admitted it to himself. Shortly after Alison came out to him, he committed suicide by standing in front of an oncoming truck. It addresses the chaos behind her life: the dangerous behaviors, the domestic violence, the neglect.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this has adult themes.

It also speaks to a certain audience. I’ve noted before about how when we go to a theatrical piece about the black experience, the hue of the audience changes. For Fun Home, it wasn’t hue but orientation. There were distinctly and clearly more gay couples at this musical than I have seen at many other shows. So many so, in fact, that I was much more conscious about the ring of keys on my belt. (See the show. You’ll understand.) I think this is because this is a musical that speaks to the gay and lesbian experience in a way that hasn’t been addressed in a musical before.  Other musicals play the gay aspect for either fun (think The Producers, think La Cage Aux Folles, think Victor Victoria), or the tragedy is the focus. This musical really focuses on Bechdel’s statement from one of her comics: “What would happen if we spoke the truth?”. This is a family that goes from denial and chaos to the truth in a way that is both tragic and comic. For some, the truth brings growth and freedom. For others, it brings a realization about the life squandered, the mistakes made, the lost communication and chances.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this musical will make some people uncomfortable.

Reading the critical reviews of this, it is universally loved. Talking to some others more used to the conventional musical, the appreciation is different. They like the music, but are less turned on by the story. As someone squarely in the baby-boom generation, I can see how this would make some uncomfortable. It may bring up things they didn’t want to face; it may make them realize problems they hadn’t known were surfacing. It could also just be an unrelatable demographic.

As for me, I found the story and the way it was told fascinating. The approach taken was to tell the story from the point of view of Alison at three different points in her life: Small Alison [about 10-12] (Alessandra Baldacchino (FB) at our performance, alternating with Carly Gold (FB)), Medium Alison [about 19-20] (Caroline Murrah (FB), the understudy, at our performance, normally Abby Corrigan), and Adult Alison [about 30] (Kate Shindle (FB)). Except for near the end, it is small and medium Alison that are interacting with her parents Bruce (Robert Petkoff (FB)) and Helen (Susan Moniz (FB)), her siblings Christian (Pierson Salvador (FB)) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond (FB)), and her partner Gail (Karen Eilbacher). Adult Alison observes it all as a memory, commenting and drawing and providing context and, of course, captions. Note that all of the other characters (Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy) — primarily the boyfriends of Bruce — are played by Robert Hager (FB).

As directed by Sam Gold (FB), the production unfolds quite smoothly. The actors seem to be having quite a bit of fun with their roles. I particularly noted this for a number of numbers with Small Alison such as “Come to the Fun Home” and (of course) “Ring of Keys”, and with Medium Alison in “Changing My Major to Joan”. Adult Alison got her chance in “Telephone Wire”. All sang and performed quiet well. Note that this isn’t your typical show with chorines and choreography for large dance numbers, except perhaps for “Raincoat of Love”. Danny Mefford (FB) designed what choreography there was.

Rounding out the swing and understudies were Michael Winther (FB) (u/s Bruce), Amanda Naughton (FB) (u/s Helen, Alison), Sofia Trimarchi (u/s Small Alison, Christian, John), Caroline Murrah (FB) (u/s Medium Alison, Joan), and Anthony Fortino (FB) (u/s Roy / Mark / Pete / Bobby Jeremy). Fortino also served as Dance Captain.

The music was under the direction of Micah Young (FB), who also played keyboard in the onstage band. Others in the band were Jakob Reinhardt (FB) (Guitars); Alan Stevens Hewitt (FB) (Basses); Philip Varricchio (FB) (Reeds); John Doing (FB) (Drums/Percussion); David Mergen (FB) (Cello); Jen Choi Fischer (FB) (Violin/Viola). Other music credits: Alex Harrington (FB) – Associate Music Director; Antoine Silverman – Music Coordinator; Billy Jay Stein (FB)/Strange Cranium (FB) – Electronic Music Programming; Kaye-Houston Music [Annie Kaye, Doug Houston (FB)] – Music Copying; Chris Fenwick (FB) – Music Supervision; John Clancy (FB) – Orchestrations.

Turning to the creating and production design: David Zinn (FB)’s scenic and costume design started as an attic of memory. At times it turned into a dorm room, and then a wall in New York, and then most interestingly, that wall rotated up to create a ceiling for Alison’s house in Pennsylvania. Tres neat! In general, the design worked quite well. It was augmented by the lighting design of Ben Stanton, which was very rainbowish (appropriately, for an LBTGQ show) and occasionally shone into the audience. One thing I didn’t realize until I saw the page on Stanton’s lighting design was that the original production was designed for a thrust stage or a stage surrounded by audience, not the proscenium of the Ahmanson or most tour houses. Thus the interesting design was a tour-specific adaptation that worked quite well given the limitations. Zinn’s costumes worked well with Rick Caroto‘s hair and wig design. I can’t speak to how appropriately period they were or how appropriately lesbian they were (but then again — here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays look like everyone else — heaven forfend! (said tongue-in-cheek) — and here’s the scary part — lesbians and gays do tongue-in-cheek as well — oh, how do I get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself 🙂 ). The sound design by Kai Harada was good, but there were a few late microphone pickups that were likely the fault of the local sound board. Rounding out the production credits: Jim Carnahan CSA and Jillian Cimini CSA (Casting); Michael Camp – Company Manager; Shawn Pennington – Production Stage Manager.

Fun Home continues at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) until April 1. Tickets are available through the Ahmanson website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

As it somehow happens every year, we caught another Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (FB) performance. Supporting this organization is even more important given the recessive administration currently in office. I gave at the show; you can give by clicking here.

🎩 🎩 🎩

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: Next week brings  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). The end of the month brings 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.: 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. The Ahmanson Theatre (FB) announcement was at the end of February, and here’s what I thought of it.

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.

===> Click Here To Comment <==
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