Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

California Highway Headlines for June 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 30, 2015 @ 5:58 pm PDT

userpic=roadgeekingIn contrast to previous months, June has been a busy busy month for articles. Here are the ones that I caught related to California Highways:
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The Size and Scope Would Leave Broadway in Awe

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 29, 2015 @ 7:23 pm PDT

Western Corps Connection userpic=drumcorpsMost people know that I’m into Live Theatre, and love to write about it. Truth be told, I love live performance of any variety. Last night, instead of being at the closing of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), we were out in Riverside in 90+°F and humidity watching a form of theatricality that, especially considering its size, stamina, and scope, would likely leave any Broadway performer in awe. Where were we? We were at the Western Corps Connection (FB) in Riverside, watching a drum corps competition.

Drum Corps (you’re probably saying to yourself)? That’s just a fancy half-time show. There you would be wrong. Here’s why Drum Corps would put Broadway in awe (and has, if you remember Blast on Broadway (FB)). Let’s take a single World Class corps. It consists of roughly 150 young adult performers (16-21) plus additional staff. These performers are roughly divided into four groups: Marching Brass (valve-based horns), Marching Percussion (various types of drums), Guard members (dancers who manipulate a variety of props including rifles and sabres), and a small number of pit personnel (xylophones, large drums, and now it seems, keyboards) and drum majors (conductors). They must give a 15 minute performance to music of their own choice; the performance must be sufficient to cover an entire football field. They will be judged on this performance based on the quality of their music, their precision, their visual effects, and the general reaction of the audience. Music has ranged from Broadway standards (including Sondheim) to Jazz to Orchestral to … you name it. Now, imagine that they also must load all their equipment onto the field and connect it up before each show, and remove it afterwards. Now put them in competition over the summer, marching and dancing almost every day under the summer sun, with 25 to 40 other such similar groups (our show had 7), and have them judged as to who is the best.

That’s drum corps. That’s why I said size, stamina, and scope is much greater than any single Broadway show, and might even be greater than a Broadway season (given the compressed timeframe). Broadway performers also get to go home; they don’t sleep in buses or in school gymnasiums. These performers have a grueling job. If you are in the Live Theatre industry, and see someone with Drum Corps experience on their resume, know you are getting a tested musician or a tested dancer, one who knows and loves hard work and precise results.

Drum Corps, like Broadway and the rest of the theatre world, has gotten more and more… well… more and more over the years. My wife, when young, marched in a youth band that thought it was a corps. She tells me of the days when the colors (US and state flags) had to be on the field at all times, when there were strict requirements on instruments, flags, and performances. Today things have changed greatly: there is amplification of the pit, keyboards, electronic sound effects, the occasional non-valve horn, and sound mixer boards. We even had an electric guitar and an electric bass from an Open Class corps! Some things haven’t: the best corps are not just loud, they are LOUD, if not LOUD! Corps have triggered noise complaints from residents.

Don’t take my word. Here’s a link to a performance of this year’s top Open Class corps from the 2014 show that will show you:

You can find more videos on YouTube. Drum Corps International (DCI) (FB) has a number of free videos posted on their site.

Last night’s show featured 6 “Open Class” corps and 7 “World Class” corps. World Class corps have made the DCI top 25; they march with a full complement of performers. Open Class corps are smaller. They may be feeders to larger corps (both Blue Devils (FB) and the Santa Clara Vanguard (FB) have cadet corps to train the young, although they weren’t at our show); they may be corps that are rebuilding after a bad year or a large age-out (you have to leave when you are older than 21); or they may be corps that do not have sufficient membership (we saw some former World Class corps in Open Class with less than 10 in the guard). June and early July shows may not yet be complete — the finals are in early August.

Here is my assessment of the corps we saw last night, in the order of performance:

Open Class Corps

Golden Empire (FB) – Bakersfield. This is the second year they have fielded a corps, and they are amazing for a new group. Their show this year, “The Color of Crime”, seemed to be about a jewel heist. It consisted of 5 scenes: (1) “Breaking In” (The Area is Secure / Pinch of a Finger, by Christophe Beck”; (2) “Heist & Escape” (Perfect Day for a Murder by Christophe Beck; (3) “Scot-Free Shopping Spree” (Feeling Good, by Anthony Newley); (4) “Pink Cloud Paradise” (Dreamsville, by Henry Mancini); and (5) “Clues to Confrontation” (The Damburger Incident, Dragalong Dreyfus, Chasing Yuri, and Pink Panther Theme by Christophe Beck, Henry Mancini). I felt the story was good, but they needed to work on their precision. They had a keyboard and used amplification. They had a nice sound, but they needed to be much louder to provide the “oopmh” that was required. They were unable to fill the entire field.

Incognito (FB) – Garden Grove. This corps started in 2005, expanded in 2007, and fielded a corps for the first time in 2008, and then took a number of years off, returning last year. So they are rebuilding. Their program, “Planet Incognito”, had 3 movements: World of Incognitians by their director, Tony T Nguyen; The Planets: Mars by Gustav Holst, and The Planets: Jupiter by Gustav Holst. This was a small corps, only marching 8 in the guard and about 6 horns. Their music was slow, and it was clear their show was incomplete. They did not use amplification. They were notable for marching a trombone, which you never see.

Impulse (FB) – Buena Park. Impulse was formed in 1999, and seemed to be the inheritor of the mantle of the Velvet Knights (FB), one of the most crowd pleasing corps ever, at least in terms of fun. This year’s show was called “Interpolation”, and they didn’t give more details. The corps was a shadow of what it used to be, with a very small 5 member guard. They were OK on volume, but not as much “in your face” as I remembered them. They tried to fill the field.

Watchmen (FB) – Riverside. Watchmen formed in 2013, and marched an Open Class corps for the first time in 2014. Their repertoire, “Influenced”, was original music from staff members Richie Sabastian, Alex Mendoza, and Harry Hutchins. This was another small corps, with only 7 in the guard. They used amplification and had two keyboards, plus vocal sound effects. Their guard needed to up their precision. They also needed more volume, but they were missing their low end horns.

Gold (FB) – San Diego.  Gold started in 2005, and competed outside of California first in 2011, and has been an open class finalist every year since 2012. They are the corps in the video I embedded above. Their repertoire this year, called “Pop Star”, consisted of the music Toxic by Cathy Dennis, Bloodshy, and Avant. Their field setup was unique — they put the pit on the field about 70% back, with a raised drum set, and electric guitar, and an electric base. They then had a big pink tarp the covered the wiring and provided good visual effect. They marched a full complement of horns, and had very sexy guard outfits. They had nice music and filled the field well. They got organized chaos right. All in all, a very good show.

Open Class Conclusions

🎺🎶🎺🎶 ⇒ Overall, I liked the programs of Gold and Golden Empire the best. They had accessible music, great sound, and great visual effect.  The other corps were clearly marching at a disadvantage with incomplete complements.

World Class Corps

These corps all marched full complements.

Mandarins (FB) – Sacramento. Mandarins used to be an all Asian corps, and go back to 1963. Their repertoire, “Resurrection”, featured four movements: The AwakeningWarriorDynasty of the Emperor, and Forever in Stone, all by Key Poulan (music director), Sean Womack (percussion arranger), and Mark Hunter (percussion arranger). This is what a corps should sound and look like: they had an entertaining and energetic show. They were notable because at one point, most of the guard started playing horns — you don’t see that too often. They had great general effect, and when they took the field, they took the field. I also noticed that their faces were particularly fierce — acting with the music, instead of the constant smile.

Pacific Crest (FB) – Diamond Bar. Pacific Crest is a newer local corps, having stared in 1993. They are the only world class corps left in Southern Californnia. Their repertoire, called “The Catalyst”, consisted of four movements: Scythian Suite Op 20 (Sergei Prokofiev); Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII (Nobuo Uematsu); Enjoy the Silence (Martin Gore), and Angels in the Architecture (Frank Ticheli). Their music was not that accessible and their show was unfinished, at least based on this weird open metal structure they rolled on the field and kept moving, but did nothing with. They had odd sound effects, but good percussion. Not that crazy about this show.

The Academy (FB) – Tempe AZ. Academy stared in 2001, becoming a corps in 2004, joining World Class in 2007. They had a very accessible show, “Step In Time”, that used music from Mary Poppins (stage): (I) Introduction (Chim Chim Cher-ee; A Shooting Star); (II) Practically Perfect (A Spoonful of Sugar; Practically Perfect; Galop (from Masquerade Suite)); (III) Step in Time; (IV) Feed the Birds; and (V) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The guard uniforms were beautiful, and they had very nice props. They provided good field coverage and wonderful effects. They were notable for having the pit use tap shoes on hands tapping on a board to provide tap percussion. They also used drum brushes to provide a great auditory effect on Feed the Birds. They had the right sound, and were the first corps to get a standing ovation.

Blue Knights (FB) – Denver CO. A musical group founded in 1958 by former vaudeville comedians and musicians Faye and Fred Taylor, they hit the corps scene in 1991. Their repertorie “Because…” featured 5 movments: Because (Lennon, McCartney); Rush (Jay Bocook, Kevin Shah, Mike Jackson — all BK staff); Apres Moi (Regina Spektor); I’m Alive (Adam Watts), and Fly to Paradise (Eric Whitacre). Their uniforms were beautiful: white and light blue for the musicians, orange and light blue for the guard. They had some wonderful dance moves, but the music was not accessible. They also had this odd ghostly echo effect that was more distracting than anything else.

Phantom Regiment (FB) – Rockford IL. Founded in 1956, they have been finalists every year since 1974. Kudos to them for being the only corps east of the Mississippi to come to California. They had a very accessible repertoire “City of Light”: I Love Paris (Porter), Horoscope (Constant Lambert), Clair de Lune(Dubussy), An American in Paris (Gershwin), and Symphony No. 3 (Camille Saint-Saens). They filled the field and had a nice loud sound, but their precision was a bit off and their show just didn’t grab me.

Santa Clara Vanguard (FB) – Santa Clara. Founded in 1967, this is one of the top corps in DCI. Their program, “The Spark of Invention”, featured Invention in A Minor (Bach), Virus Attack (Amin Bhatia), Pure Imagination (Bricusse, Newley), and Piano Concerto (Corigliano). They were LOUD, but Vanguard is always loud. They had multiple costume changes on the field, and had these odd Van DeGraff generator type props. They also had an odd echo effect created by sound board delays — likely intentional, but I didn’t like it.

Blue Devils (FB) – Concord. The other major California corps, they were founded in 1970. They have won nationals 16 times, most recently in 2015 (yes, that’s what the program says — Blue Devils is that cocky and sure of themselves). They have never been lower than 4th in the last 20 years. Their program, “Ink”, dealt with fairy tales: Dark Forest (Dave Glyde), Sweeney Todd (Sondheim); The Giant Attack (Sondheim); The Mad Hatters Tea Party (Gordon Goodwin); I Like You (GOT7); Children Will Listen (Sondheim); Last Midnight (Sondheim). This was Blue Devils doing it right — a very accessible program, wonderful dance, wonderful story, wonderful and LOUD music. My only quibble is with the use of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd to accompany fairy tales — Snow White, in particular. They had the precision, and they knew it.

World Class Conclusions

🎺🎶🎺🎶 ⇒ Overall, my favorites were Blue Devils, The Academy, and the Mandarins, in that order. For me, as a theatre person and not a musician, their shows touched me the best. I was surprised at Blue Devils — often they do an inaccessible Jazz show. They did it right this time.

Scores/Conclusions

Position Corps Score
Open Class Division
1 Gold 50.600
2 Golden Empire 50.150
3 Watchmen 44.550
4 Impulse 43.450
5 Incognito 36.100
World Class Division
1 Blue Devils 79.850
2 Santa Clara Vanguard 78.650
3 Phantom Regiment 72.900
4 Blue Knights 72.400
5 The Academy 65.950
6 Pacific Crest 64.900
7 Mandarins 63.050

The scores for last night’s performance are shown to the right. Scoring is on a 100 point scale, with 40 for General Effect (20 each from two judges, one a visual expert, one a music expert); 30 for Visual (20 points each for Visual Analysis, Visual Proficiency, and Color Guard, summed and divided by two), and 30 for Music (20 points each for Music Analysis, Music Brass, and Music Percussion, summed and divided by two). Here are my thoughts on the scores.

In the Open Class, I think they got it right. Gold had the best show, and Golden Empires was far above the incomplete shows of the others.

In World Class, I really think that Mandarins should have been higher; ditto for Academy. They must have lost points with the judges on precision somewhere that I missed. Blue Devils did deserve to win.

A few technical notes: The RCC Band (FB) and Riverside Community College (FB) need to provide more food trucks and more drink options, especially on hot days. People were not able to cycle through the food lines in the 40 minute intermission. That indicates you need more servers and more options. It would also be useful for RCC or DCI to make clear what can and cannot be brought into the stadium. Lastly, next time I must bring stadium chairs; sitting for four hours without a seat back is hard.

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

Upcoming Shows: July is a month of double-headers, begining with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. The next weekend is another double: On Friday night, July 10th, we’re seeing Colin Mitchell‘s show Madness, Murder Mayhem: Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Reimagined at Zombie Joes Underground Theatre (FB); Saturday July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 29, 2015 @ 5:41 pm PDT

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Guns Aren’t Lawful .. Nooses Give … Gas Smells Awful …

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 27, 2015 @ 7:44 pm PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

If It Was Good Enough for George Bush…

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 27, 2015 @ 10:37 am PDT

userpic=soapboxGimme that ol’ time Supreme Court,
Gimme that ol’time Supreme Court,
If it was good enough for George Bush,
It’s good enough for me.

(climbs up on soapbox)

With the decisions of this week, many in the conservative camp are expressing their ire at the Supreme Court. Ted Cruz is out there saying we should have referendums on justices. Others are saying that a decision such as gay marriage shouldn’t be on a 5-4 split. Some are saying that the court was going against the will of the people.

My response: If it was good enough for George Bush…

We have had a number of decisions of the Supreme Court that have gone against “liberal” positions, the most notable being Bush v. Gore, where the court essentially decided an election, going against the will of the people. That single decision singlehandedly probably brought across more negative changes to society than many we have seen. Then there was the Citizens United decision, which was also controversial and non-unanimous.

This week, we have seen equally divided decisions that have gone the other way.

That’s how it works with the Supreme Court. Sometimes your side wins, sometimes you lose. If you don’t like the result, you can see if there is sufficient support to change the laws or the constitution. You might fail there as well. Remember: Sometime God says “no” to what you want.

Just as you learned to live with civil rights and interracial marriage, you can learn to live with gay marriage. It really doesn’t affect you. It is much less impactful than that 5-4 decision I had to learn to live with: Bush v. Gore.

P.S.: As for the confederate flag, it is a piece of history. As with any piece of history, it belongs in a museum. People should be free to use it in the historical context. When it acquires other meanings, the government should not use it because it signals government support of those meanings. Individuals can still use it, but must recognize that it might convey a meaning to someone else other than what they intended. When you display that flag or symbol in a non-historical context, you send the message that you support all the meanings of that symbol, because you cannot control how others interpret it.

(climbs off soapbox, feeling better)

Beauty is in the Eye of…

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jun 26, 2015 @ 6:25 pm PDT

Medium Size Me (HFF)userpic=fringeIf you know me at all, you know my taste in watching people — men or women — is simple: I want them to be real. I enjoy seeing the imperfections, the things that make us unique and different. So, not surprisingly, I’ve been a big supporter of the efforts of promulgating a positive body image for women (and also for men, although the pressure there is perhaps different). For example, I supported the Kickstarter for The Nu Project (FB) [warning: link target is NSFW], a project with the goal of help women appreciate their body, whatever their shape, look, size, age, etc. I constantly read articles noting body image activities, such as the recent Dove campaign or the Buzzfeed editors who took bathing suit photos in Victoria Secret suits (for the record, I thought they look great). My wife has a similar attitude — she’s been large since I’ve known her, although she’s now much less large.

Given this, it should be no surprise that when I read to her some of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) shows, we both agreed that Medium Size Me sounded interesting. Just look at the description:

“In Hollywood, it’s who you are on the outside that counts! One thing you can always count on in Hollywood is that there’s never one thing you can count on in Hollywood. If an actress wants a big role, she’d better be prepared to get small. Or so you’d think. Now you can experience the lunacy of La-La Land through the eyes of a young “chubby” actress whose attempt to slim down for tinsel town brought her the one thing she never expected: punishment for not being chubby enough. Sometimes you quite literally can’t win for losing.”

However, although we wanted to see it, I just couldn’t fit it into any weekend. That wasn’t the end of the story. My wife said she really wanted to see the show. Given that I normally pick the shows, when my wife specifically wants to see something — I find a way to make it happen. Thus, on a Thursday night we drove into Hollywood to see Amy Halloran (FB) and Medium Size Me.

The presentation of this show is very simple: A single person monologue, punctuated by images and the occasional video. What the show says about Hollywood and body image, however, is significant.

Amy Halloran had a love of acting, and she didn’t believe that being a chubby girl (who, in reality, wasn’t that chubby) should stop her. It actually didn’t — she acquired an agent easily and started booking lots of parts. The problem was: the type of parts. The fat girlfriend. The fat girl who gets raped. The fat girl who gets raped. The fat girl who gets raped. The fat girlfriend. Often, these parts were in comedies where the fact that she was fat was the target of all the jokes. Hollywood had loads of parts for “the fat girl”. The problem is that the parts often telegraph the body shaming the Hollywood loves to do. The roles that Hollywood gives to the fat girls (less so to the fat guys) just emphasize that to be successful, to be loved, to find happiness, you need to fit Hollywood’s image of beautiful.

She also got a Disney Channel movie where she was confronted with a demonstration of how the industry saw her size. She was also lucky at one point to get a series where she was able to project a positive body image. First slated for the fall, it was pushed to the mid-season… and then was cancelled without even being shown.

After a number of years of these parts, she decided to change her life. She lost 50 pounds, changed how she lived (and she’s been that size for a number of years — my wife guessed around a size 8). Guess what happened.

The jobs dried up. Her agents kept sending her out on jobs for “chubby” or “fat”, but she was too thin to get the jobs. Of course, her agents didn’t send her out for the normal size roles, nor did Hollywood see her as a normal size. In other words, although she had a realistic shape, she didn’t fit Hollywood’s image of “normal”. That’s where she is today. Looking for work. Practicing her craft at Fringe festivals :-).

My wife and I both loved this show, and would recommend it to anyone dealing with body issues (alas, last night was the last performance). It did what theatre is supposed to do: provoke a discussion and stimulate thoughts.

First and foremost, it demonstrated that although Hollywood professes to be pushing for realistic shapes, that push is coming from just a few actors. In reality, the studios are still run by primarily white men who want a particular shape for women, and they will mold society to get it (no matter how it hurts). Yes, we have the Melissa McCarthy‘s of the world — but look at how her image is really projected. Although the fat jokes may be less, how much of her humor intentionally comes from the fact that she is a very large woman doing those stunts? Even with Mike and Molly, how much of the humor is fat based? Read the comment boards whenever Rosie O’Donnell‘s name comes up. Look at what just happened with the Fat Shamers Subreddit. Now think what is fueling that hatred of the larger woman? The few efforts we have seen are attempting to swim upstream. The problem will not be solved until the media regularly accepts women and men no matter what their shape or size, no matter what their imperfections. It also makes me realize how many men are (to put it bluntly) pigs, sullying the name of my gender.

Second, it made me realize what I love live theatre and live performance. As much as the Hollywood Machine emphasizes an unrealistic shape, live theatre (at least to me) seems more realistic. I won’t go as far as to say accepting, but many live productions — especially those in intimate theatre — cast for the talent first and the shape second. Two wonderful examples are recent productions at Repertory East: one of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that cast Rona as a large woman, and the second being their production of 9 to 5 that cast Judy as a large women. Two great performances (from the same actress — Sarah Krieg (FB)) where size made no difference. This is the power of live theatre: it can demonstrate that beauty comes from how you behave, how you perceive your character. [Need another example? Look at the recent production of Violet]. It shows the power of “act as if”.

In the end we had a simple show — a sharing of an experience with love, acceptance, and humor. Sharing your story can provide profound insights.

Medium Size Me (FB) was written and performed by Amy Halloran (FB), directed by Julie Brister (FB). The other technical credits were not provided.

Last night’s performance at the Ruby Theatre in the Complex Theatres (FB) was the last performance of Medium Size Me. There is always the possibility it will be extended as some of the Best of Fringe shows that extend into July.

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

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

 

A Wackadoo That Would Shock Bob McAllister

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 22, 2015 @ 6:32 pm PDT

Uncle Impossible's Funtime Variety (HFF)userpic=fringeOK, those of you who don’t know who Bob McAllister is or what Wonderama was, I’ll wait while you look it up.

OK, let’s go. As you probably know if you are friends with me on Facebook, I’m a big fan of the children’s programming that used to exist on TV. I’m talking the local stuff — before syndication: Sheriff John, Engineer Bill, Hobo Kelley, Tom Hatten. There were also the better known network shows: the aforementioned Wonderama, Captain Kangeroo, Howdy Doody, and such. These shows declined through the 1970s and 1980s; I doubt that many folks younger than 40 remember watching them live at all. But for those of us who did — they bring back memories.

So, when I was reading the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) show list and saw a show with the following description, I was intrigued:

The original Uncle Impossible was an Imaginary Friend & beloved Children’s Show Host paving the way for those like Captain Kangaroo & The Muppet Show. Later in his life, he became a recluse & a shut-in up until his passing. Upon his passing he left a large inharetance to his only living heir; his estranged and eccentric nephew Rex The Impossible. In his Uncle’s will, it states that Rex would inherit the large fortune only if he continues his beloved uncle’s show “Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social”. Rex agreed to the terms, but decides to do it HIS way, making it an Adult Version of a Saturday Morning Kid’s Show.

With the help from his Oddly Sweet Sidekick; Princess Bebop A’Lula, Rex The Impossible brings the new “Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social” on stage by blending the Whimsy of Saturday Morning Kids Shows & Cartoons that we all know & love with Zany Adult themed Variety Acts creating an off the wall experience…….possibly with Ice Cream.

An adult version of children’s shows. What an intriguing idea? Think of the possibilities? Think of what Hobo Kelley might see in her magic mirror? Think of the toys her toy machine might produce? And the cartoons they might show? The characters they might invent (in the spirit of the aforementioned Bob McAllister)?

Naturally, I went out and got tickets to Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB). It was our second show on Sunday. Sad to say, I think the potential of the idea didn’t live up to its execution. But at least we got ice cream.

Uncle Impossible’s show, run by his nephew Rex Impossible (FB)* , assisted by Princess Bebop A’lua was strictly a low-budget affair — and they knew it. In that, it had the appropriate air of a local TV show where things could (and often did) go wrong. But the show was less about the hosts, and more about the variety acts they booked to fill the time. In many ways, they could make (or in our case, break) the show. Let’s look at the various pieces in our production (every performance has different acts):

  • Openings, Closings, and Interstitials. These were run by the aforemented Rex and Princess A’Lula. They were moderately funny, and the Princess was really fun to watch. The two had a strong working chemistry, and had they expanded their portion of the show they could have been great — that is, moving on to playing characters, pretending to be the acts, and so forth.
  • Boylesque by Captain Jack Heartless. Captain Jack Heartless (FB) is a male burlesque (read: stripper) entertainer. In this case, he was in the form of Woody from Toy Story. When the adults left the room, guess what Woody did. That’s right. At least we didn’t see wood. I don’t think I’ll ever look at Toy Story the same again (but then I never did after reading The Pixar Theory)
  • 30 Second Songs by Brady Spindel. Brady Spindel (FB) is a local musician who plays short songs (such as “I wore a red shirt in the hood”) and then ends with a sing along. Being a folk music person — and one familiar with short humerous songs (as well as satirical bluegrass), I found him very amateurish. He needs to take a lesson from the short songs of Tom Paxton and the humor of the Austin Lounge Lizards. Now, if the singalong could have been “When I’m Cleaning Windows“….
  • Clown Comedy by Johnathan Cripple. Cripple played a professor who interrupted the show, sat in the audience, read a paper, and primarily provided someone for Rex Impossible to have a back and forth with. It was more annoying than particularly funny.
  • Burlesque by Ra Ra Sis Bomba. In this skit, the Princess got a pet — Chilly Willy, the penguin. When the music changed, Chilly Willy (who was really the burlesque artist Ra Ra Sis Bomba (FB)), stripped down to her frilly undies, pasties, and wings. She was cute to watch, but … OK, her butt was cute to but… while fun to watch, it just didn’t seem to gel right.
  • Hypnosis by Cathy Kay: Mystic-A-Muse. In this Mister Rogers type number, Cathy Kay does a hypnosis act on someone in the audience. No implanted suggestions, just a fall relaxed, wake up, think you see things in a book. I didn’t find it that impressive, although it was fun to watch.

At least the ice cream was good. Well, OK for commercial ice cream.

In short, the show appeared to be low budget in intent and it knew it, and it went for it. In that, it was good, plus there was ice cream. Perhaps that was the intent. Perhaps it was the burlesque style. I know that burlesque and the clown arts are their own distinct community, and perhaps that style didn’t mesh with the theatrical approach I’m used to. This, after all, is Fringe, which includes everything under the sun.

But I can only judge based on my impressions and my tastes. The problem, I’ll note, wasn’t prudishness. I can handle a good adult show. It was more that I was disappointed because it could just have been so much more. Looking at the pages for many of the acts, I got the sense that there was real talent there, but that talent didn’t come across as presented. That was a loss. Further, the notion of an adult children’s show — especially one that wasn’t blatant about it but used double entendre to reach the adult audience could have been great. Even the strippers could have worked — had the host stayed and reacted to the stripper. It is the reactions that make the funny, not the stripping. Think about Pee Wee Herman. What makes the show work is that Pee Wee is always that child at heart. Even if Rex Impossible was going for the adult humor of Pee Wee Herman, the Princess could have been representing the shocked child. But as it was, it just quite didn’t hit the mark for me. This is too bad, because the concept — executed correctly — could have been brilliant. I will give them points for effort.

I’ll note that one factor — which Rex can’t control, might be age. Not the lower bound of the audience age, but the upper. I’m 55. I was a child in the era of the kid’s TV shows. I remember Sheriff John; I watched Wonderama. I also watched Pee Wee Herman. There were other, younger folks in the audience that found this uproariously funny — and I won’t fault them for that. Humor is intensely personal. To use a baseball metaphor: This was a base hit or a double; it wasn’t a home run. I was hoping for the excitement of the home run, but I’m happy that it wasn’t an error.

On the technical side: according to Rex The Impossible, Brad Bentz was the Sound Tech & Stage Manager. Rex the Impossible was the Creator, Director & Producer of the show. He indicated that although the names are strange, that’s what they go by in the Burlesque, Variety, Cabaret and Circus Performance world.

There is one more performance of Uncle Impossible on Thursday, June 25 at 11:15 PM. Tickets are available through the Fringe website. If this is your style — especially if you like burlesque — go for it. It was enjoyable for me, but could have been so much more.

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

Upcoming Shows: The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

And For This They Named A Sandwich After Him?

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 22, 2015 @ 6:25 pm PDT

Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical (HFF)userpic=fringeFringe festivals serve many purposes, all centered around the notion of having a low cost, short run production of some form of show. Sometimes the show is mature and just can be produced inexpensively. Sometimes the show is a simple artistic expression. Sometimes the show is the first step in a long journey for a production, allowing for audience and reviewer feedback as part of the maturation process. Understanding these varied goals is important to assessing a show, and particularly relevant to the show we saw Sunday afternoon at the Lounge Theatre (FB) as part of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): “The Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical” (FB) (Kelly D’Angelo† (FB) (Book and Lyrics); Matt Dahan (FB) (Music)). This is because the writer’s note makes clear that this is the first-ever production of this show. It had to be trimmed to fit the time constraints of Fringe shows (meaning that an hour of material was cut — more on that later), and it was produced with minimal sets and minimal rehearsal (and funded by Indiegogo). Taking all that into consideration, this was a very good first production. There were some flaws (which we’ll get into), but that is to be expected at this point in the journey. As the Count of Monte Cristo says, “Wait and hope.”
[† I’ll note this is an effort of the Female Playwrights Initiative]

The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic French novel by Alexandre Dumas, written in 1844…. which I have never read. It tells the story of a wrongful imprisonment, love, revenge, and righting the wrongs. It is broad in scope and broad in time. I know all of this not because I have read the book (which, alas, I haven’t), but because I’ve read the Wikipedia entry. Reading the book should not be a prerequisite for seeing a play, musical, or movie: they must be capable of standing on their own and providing sufficient context to make the audience member excited about the story and to want to go and read the book. In particular, the story needs to be compelling and theatrical. It needs to be able to draw in the patron who might only know of the title. This is certainly true of The Count of Monte Cristo — if they haven’t read the book, at least they’ve heard of it (or the namesake tasty sandwich). It is also a property with proven theatricality: there have been numerous TV, movie, and miniseries adaptations, and there have been past play and even musical versions (including a version by Frank Wildhorn, which really isn’t a surprise).

So why do another adaptation now? I can guess at a number of reasons. First, although it has been on the stage, there hasn’t been a definitive version that has stuck around. Second, the success of Les Misérables has led to numerous other attempts to produce similar shows from similar large scope novels. Two examples of this are the recent musical adapations of Tale of Two Cities (a musicalization of the Dicken’s novel) and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (a musicalization of just a slice of War and Peace). Plus there’s that sandwich. So I can see the reasoning behind this. The question is: Did D’Angelo and Dahan succeed in their effort to become the next Boublil and Schönberg? The answer is… the jury is out.

As I noted earlier, The Count of Monte Cristo is a novel broad in scope, with loads and loads of characters (similar to Les Misérables). I’m not going to try to summarize the story here — go to the Wikipedia page to read all the twists and turns. To provide sufficient context for this discussion, suffice it to say that it tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a sailor on the verge of success who is wrongly imprisoned, losing not only his good name, but his fiancee in the process. In jail, he figures out with the aid of another prisoner the individuals responsible for his imprisonment. After he escapes and recovers a vast treasure, he reappears as The Count of Monte Cristo, and ingratiates himself with those who jailed him (who do not recognize him). He then works on them to carry out his revenge, leaving almost all of them dead.

Gee. Not that positive of a story. But then again, 19th century literature often wasn’t. Just look at Les Misérables. But that worked on the stage. A similar story of revenge, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, also worked (although not originally). Then again, Tale of Two Cities crashed and burned on Broadway. The lesson to be taken from this is that it takes a lot of work, and luck, and getting it right to succeed.

Alas, The Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical is not there yet. The Fringe production was good — and was a good first start — but there is a long way to go to whip this puppy in a shape that will succeed on the Great White Way. Where are the problems?

  • Length. The production we saw was two hours…. and that was after an hour was cut from it, and with no intermission. This is simply too long to hold most audiences. Although the book is a classic and a masterpiece, there is simply too much there to include it all. There needs to be some tight trimming to move the story along, focus on the significant pieces, figure out how to “show instead of say”. Les Misérables was big, and they found a way to keep the energy up and the story going. Gone With The Wind: The Musical was also long, and it failed. The entire production, with music and intermission, should clock in under 3 hours.
  • Music. This show attempts to follow the Les Miz and Evita models of being almost exclusively through sung. That’s great for opera, but for it to succeed as a musical the musical numbers need to do what musical numbers do: be memorable, illustrate character, illustrate motives, illustrate emotion, illustrate inner conflicts. Consider what numbers you remember from Les Mez: “Castle on a Cloud”, “Master of the House”, “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, “Red and Black”. Now consider the numbers in Monte Cristo. The current numbers are primarily a scaffolding for dialogue. What do you remember after the show? Perhaps “Carnival”. A successful musical requires memorable numbers that sink into the consciousness and become earworms. Think about how the numbers can be reworked to both lighten the show and be memorable. Think about how they could convey through the music instead of through words. You might end up with some larger song and movement numbers, and have to tighten the dialogue more.
  • The Story. A major problem with Count of Monte Cristo is that it is a downer. Most of the characters are killed off, and it is questionable how much sympathy there is for those who remain, except for the young couple. Think about how Jean Val Jean was redeemed at the end of Les Miz. Think about what you can do to get the audience invested in the characters and want that happy ending. There may need to be some time spent showing why the significant relationships are what they are. For the end, give them a clear happy ending. I’m not sure that’s there now.
  • The Timeline. Reading the production notes, this takes place over a 20 year period, with most of it taking place in a single year. The conveying of the passage of time gets lost on the audience.

These may seem like complaints. They are not. What is there now is a good start — this is the first production of the show. The best shows are not borne perfect; they go through tryout after tryout, cuts additions and changes, until they reach their final version. Wait, work, and hope. Don’t be imitative, be innovative. Figure out a new way to present this story that grabs and excites. It can be done, but work is required. Some good news is that, despite the cutting of one hour, much of the story could be followed. That means the production team is moving in the right direction. Figure out what portions that were cut can stay cut, and what needs to be judiciously returned.

I’ve spent a few paragraphs talking about where improvement was required. Let’s now look at what worked well. I liked the two opening scenes. The first choral number, “Break the Bread” set the tone well, although it did make one think this might be a framing device similar to Man of La Mancha. The initial dockyard scene at For Saint-Jean also worked well, although the telegraphing of the evil characters was a tad broad. The Carnival scene was also enjoyable, and the scenes with Albert and Valentine together were quite touching. I also enjoyed the trial scene.

For a Fringe musical, this had a very large cast. In the lead position was David Meinke (FB) as Edmond Dantès/The Count of Monte Cristo. Meinke had the appropriate sense of evil and plotting about him, although his voice seemed to need a bit more strength to fit the role better. This might be correctable with suitable amplification, although that needs to be balanced with the other characters that do not need amplification.

All of the other actors played multiple roles in addition to their main named ones. There are a few I would like to single out because they stood out in my mind in some way. First and foremost is Mary Nepi (FB) as Valentine de Villefort. This young lady was not only beautiful, but had an operatic quality voice with a lot of power behind it. I hope she goes far with that voice — it was just lovely. She combined this with a touching and nuanced performance — I particularly remember her facial expressions in a number of scenes. Very nicely done. Another strong oerfirner was Jillian Easton (FB) as Lucille Debray. She combined her strong voice with a very interesting look and performance, and again was a delight to watch. The last female voice I’d like to highlight is Laurine Price (FB) (Mercédès / Madame Danglars). Again, a strong voice combined with a strong performance. On the male side of the room, a very strong performance was given by Anthony Gruppuso (FB) as Gérard de Villefort. He combined a supurb singing voice with excellent acting. I also enjoyed the performance of David Zack (FB) (Ferand Danglars) (who we saw in Closer than Ever) — another lovely voice and lovely performance. Lastly, I enjoyed the performance of Bryan Vickery (FB) as Albert Danglars both for its emotions and its quality. Others in the large cast were: Parnell Damone Marcano (FB) (Caderousse); Teresa Tracy (FB) (Héloïse de Villefort); Anderson Piller (Edward de Villefort); Henry Kaiser (FB) (Abbé Faria); Stephen Novick (FB) (Andrea Cavalcanti / Young Dantes); TR Krupa (FB) (Franz D’Epinay); Todd Andrew Ball (FB) (Noirtier de Villefort / Monsieur Morrel); Richelle Meiss (FB) (Luiga Vampa / Young Mercédès); and Amanda Walter (FB) (Barrois / The Dancer).

The Count of Monte Cristo was directed and produced by the author, Kelly D’Angelo (FB), who did a good job bringing quality performances from the acting team given the amount of material and the short rehearsal time. Not to fault Ms. D’Angelo’s direction, but a future production might benefit from having a different person direct. Often an author can be too close to the material, making it harder to see where difficulties lies or where material is extraneous (or where new material might be needed) … this is often due to the material being so well known in the author’s mind. That additional point of view can be vital in moving this piece forward. As no credit was given for movement or general choreography, presumably Ms. D’Angelo served that role as well. The dances and movement were adequate given the limited Fringe stage space and rehearsal periods; again, getting some third-party choreography advice might improve the presentation and increase the excitement. However, care must be taken to not let the effect overtake the content. Matt Dahan (FB) , the composer, served as music director, accompanying the production on an electronic keyboard that provided good sound for the facility. It will be interesting to see how the music works with full orchestration.

As this was the Fringe, set design was minimal: some boxes, a painted screen, chairs, and a table loaded with stuff. These sufficed for the Fringe production. The costumes, designed by Amanda Walter (FB), were sufficient for the Fringe, which only needed to hint at the period and the situation. Future productions may have the freedom and funding for more realistic period costumes. The lighting design of Brandon Baruch was sufficient for Fringe purposes, given that multiple shows share the same space (such as Merely Players, which we saw the previous evening) and lighting can’t be individually adjusted. In general, reds were used to convey tense moods, with other colors conveying other moods. Additional technical credits: Nick Mizrahi (FB) (Fight Designer); Erica Lawrence (FB) (Stage Manager). There was no credit for sound design.

The Count of Monte Cristo has two more performances at the Fringe: June 26th at 7:30 pm and June 27th at 7:30 PM. If you’re a fan of The Count of Monte Cristo, or want to see a broad epic scope musical as it is first getting off the ground, I’d recommend this to you. It was an extremely good first step on the long road to the Big Leagues. Tickets are available through the Fringe website.

[ETA: Dining Notes. Looking for a quick place to eat between this show and our next show at the Complex, we discovered a wonderful European restaurant just a few blocks away: Sabina’s European Kitchen (FB). The two of us split a delightful pork tenderloin “brasso style” with an additional side of roasted vegetables, and it was perfect. There were a number of other things on the menu I’d love to have tried — I haven’t had schnitzel in ages — but it was too warm outside to bring leftovers home. We’ll remember Sabina’s for the next time we have theatre in the area (alas, the Elephant Stages complex may be going away :-( — quick, someone buy and save the building).]

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

Upcoming Shows: The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend brings “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August starts with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), and is followed by the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.