Observations Along the Road

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

Love Between The Strangest of Strangers

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 18, 2014 @ 7:50 pm PDT

It Happened In Roswell (NoHo Arts Center)userpic=theatre_musicalsHow do you celebrate your anniversary? Dinner? Flowers? Expensive trinkets? This year, we celebrated by going to the theatre, and what we saw turned out to be the perfect anniversary love story to see. It was a story about a quest to find true love, even when the government is after you. Perhaps I should explain…

Two weeks ago, when we were at The Colony Theatre (FB), we saw a postcard for a limited run (8 performances) of a new musical being workshopped by New Musical Inc. This musical won the 2014 Search for New Musicals, as well as the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2008, and the Festival of New Musicals in 2007. Further, it looked like one of those “outer space alien attack” musicals we’ve grown to love, in the genre of “Brain from Planet X“, “It Came From Beyond“, “Zombies from the Beyond“, or even “Return to the Forbidden Planet“. It was playing on our 29th wedding anniversary, and so we thought it might be a kick to go to the show.  So last night, after a wonderful dinner of Puerto Rican food, and even though I was recovering from a migraine, we were at the NoHo Arts Center to see the developmental workshop production of “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical“.

Going in, I expected this musical to be similar to the others we’ve seen — loosely based on a pre-existing cheesy movie, with songs that were more in the novelty vein than moving the story forward. The plots tend to be similar: in act I the alien comes to earth with the intent to attack and enslave the humans, in act II the humans triumph over the aliens. That wasn’t Roswell; at least to me, Roswell was a new and clever twist on the alien visit approach. Here’s the story of It Happened In Roswell, which has book, music, and lyrics by Terrence Atkins (FB) and Jeffery Lyle Segal (FB):

Down on his luck Weird World News reporter Joe “Scoop” O’Reilly and his photographer, Frank, break down outside Roswell, NM. His latest story having been a bust and hearing a report about a flying saucer on the radio, they decide to fabricate a story by taking a picture of a hubcap in the air and pretending there was a saucer. This they do, and they head into town to transmit the picture to their editor. When they arrive they go to Mabel’s Diner, where Mabel Brown and her daughter, Betsy, work. Betsy has been fending off the advances of the Deputy Sheriff Rusty Dobbs with a story of another man (when she really lusts after the flat-footed mechanic, Floyd Dimwitty). When Scoop and Frank arrive, they convince Floyd and Betsy to go to the outskirts of town and tow in their car, while Rusty and another women customer, Edna, go off to find the aliens. When Floyd and Betsy arrive at the car, they discover the actual flying saucer, and the female alien, Nine-O. Nine-O explains that she has come to the planet to find out about love. After making some advances on Floyd, Betsy convinces her to come back to the diner where they will pass her off as her distant cousin, Aileen. This starts a number of sequences in motion including the hunt for the alien, including Frank inventing a hideous-looking alien with tenticles. Scoop wants to get a picture of someone being attacked by the fake alien, so he romances Aileen… with predictable results. Yes, they fall in love with each other. The remainder of the story addresses how they resolve that love, how the various other romances resolve, and how they survive while being changed by Major Nails.

As I stated above, this was a developmental workshop. Every expense was spared in developing the set and props — and it worked to the advantage of the show. The production was presented on the existing set of the NMI musical “Max Factor”, and so the only “scenery” was a “Welcome to Roswell” sign and a few 2x4s that formed a little table. Additionally, there was a table in the back where the actor who played Major Nails set with the script, making all the sound effects. The only props were a flying saucer on a stick, the alien tenticle costume, and loads and loads and loads of loads of little white signs on sticks. These signs had pictures of ray guns, real guns, food, and anything else they needed as a prop… including words and instructions to the audience. We understand the necessity of this due to the workshop nature of the show… but guess what… it worked great. If this show moves on, we recommend they keep this approach for the props — realism might hurt the show (well, unless it really makes it to Broadway, but then it would need the Little Shop of Horrors treatment with full orchestrations and five part harmonies and circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back… oh, wrong song).

So far, we have a unique story and a unique staging. There also was a top-notch cast. In the lead positions (which you know from the opening number) were Julie Tolivar (FB) as Nine-O/Aileen and Rory Dunn (FB) as Scoop. Tolivar’s alien was a delight — she had a lovely naivete combined with an underlying seriousness of purpose that was fun to watch, combined with a very cute and slghtly-sexy costume. She sang very well and had a lovely voice on numbers such as “Nothing Is Stopping Me”, although she would benefit from a bit of amplification. She also danced very well. Equally strong (and according to my wife, sexy) was Dunn’s Scoop. He, too, had an excellent voice and a personality that shone through the character; the two actor’s voices blended beautifully in “Shooting Star” — you could believe these two as a couple. Just fun to watch.

However, I must admit that Tolivar wasn’t my favorite actress in the piece. That honor goes to Amy Bloom (FB) as Betsy, who had a look and a voice and movement that just melted me. It was just a delightful innocence that she portrayed. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she sang wonderfully — especially in combination with the other female voices — Carrie Madsen (FB) as her mother Mabel, and Emma Sperka (FB) as the oversexed Edna. When the three of them sang together in the early number “When Will the Ice Man Come?” — the blending of the voices was just spectacular. Bloom used her delightful innocence quite well, but especially in her scenes with Nathan Ondracek (FB) as Floyd. Ondracek had a light voice that my wife also liked (I’m not a great judge of men’s voices), and it too worked very well in his numbers with Bloom such as “As Free as the Stars”.

Rounding out the cast, as I mentioned before, were Carrie Madsen (FB) as Mabel Brown, and Emma Sperka (FB) as Edna. Both sang and acted well; Madsen had a particularly nice number in “Every Day”. Emerson Boatwright (FB) was a wonderful comic sidekick as Frank, especially in his scenes as the tentacled alien. Matthew Herrmann (FB) played the deputy sheriff with the hots for Betsy very well. Lastly, John McCool Bowers (FB) (who we’ve seen before at both Simi Valley ARTs and Cabrillo), was a hoot #1 as Major Nails, but even more of a hoot (#2) as the sound effects guy in the background during the first act.

Lastly, I want to applaud the actors for having fun with this musical… and for letting the audience share in their joy of performing it. When the actors enjoy the show and the work, it is broadcast to the audience and everyone wins (and an additional thank you to those actors who gave their websites in their bios!)

I’ve said before that It Happened in Roswell, was a musical… so how was the music? I should note that, as a workshop, the sole musical accompaniment was a single piano off to the side. I’m guessing it was Ron Barnett, the Music Director, tickling the ivories. The songs in the show ranged from nice character songs to lovely ballads. There was only one number that was really a novelty number (“The United Forces of Dancing”), but it proved later to be integral to the plot (although not, as you might think, through dancing). It would be interesting to hear the numbers with full orchestration; still, I love rinky-tinky piano and piano only scores (the piano-only version of “I Do! I Do!” is much nicer than the full orchestration).

The choreography was by Susanna Young (FB), who created some lovely dance moves for a workshop production.

Turning to the remaining creatives…  as noted before, there was no set and thus no credited scenic designer. There were master carpenters, however, consisting of the co-author, Terrence Atkins (FB); the Marketing Manager, Gavin Atkins/FB; and Wade Clegg. The inventive props were by Scott Guy, who also co-directed the production (together with Terrence Atkins (FB)). The costumes were by Abel Alvarado (FB) and were quite good for a simple workshop (although, if this were a real production, the Major needed proper boots). The alien tentacled costume was particularly inventive. Jules Bronola was the wardrobe head. Lindsey Mixon (FB) was the casting director (and has the cutest baby, who was visiting at intermission). Pat Loeb was the stage manager.

As this is a developmental workshop, I tried to figure out what requires improvement before it is produced. In fact, it was one of the topics of discussion between my wife and I on the ride home. The answer really depends on where the musical wants to go. In its present form, it is about perfect for an intimate to small-midsize house (e.g., something the size of the Mark Taper Forum, Colony Theatre, or Kirk Douglas). Work might be required were it to go into a larger house, but this would be more fleshing out the movement, choreography, and orchestrations. The larger problem would be one of depth, as this is not a “serious” musical or play. Houses — even intimate venues — that go for the more established and deep stories might be less inclined to produce this. I’m not sure how to fix this, as I feel what makes this musical so fun is the tongue-in-cheek nature. If I had to compare it with something, it might be the “39 Steps” quasi-parody that was on Broadway. It had a sense of manic silly earnestness that helped it succeed, and the approach with the signs created that here. I hope this musical does well; we certainly enjoyed it.

The developmental workshop production of “It Happened in Roswell” has (looks at watch) 3 more performances: tonight at 8pm (better hurry), Sunday August 24, and Monday August 25. Purchase tickets through nmi.org, or visit the show website.

[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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… and out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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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Shifting Views of Home

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 17, 2014 @ 10:13 am PDT

Broadway Bound (Odyssey Theatre Ensemble)userpic=theatre_ticketsBack in the last century — especially in the period between the 50s and the 80s — if you wanted comedy you went to a Neil Simon play or musical. Productions like the “The Odd Couple“, “Hot L Baltimore“, “Plaza Suite“, “Little Me”, “Sweet Charity” and many others were reliable comedy vehicles. Today, however, Simon seems to be forgotten. His plays — which were laugh-a-minute joke fests — are produced far less often. But I’ve always liked Neil Simon, and try to see his plays when I can. I have memories (which I believe to be true) of seeing Simon’s Eugene trilogy when it was first performed in Los Angeles in the 1980s at the Ahmanson (the last show was in 1989, but I think I was getting selected Ahmanson tickets then). More recently, REP East (FB) Playhouse has produced the middle show in the trilogy (I thought they did the first show as well, but can’t find the writeup). When I read that Jason Alexander (who we had recently seen in Las Vegas) was directing a production of the third show in the trilogy, “Broadway Bound“, I started looking for tickets. Luckily, the Odyssey put them up on Goldstar… and so last night saw us in West LA at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB), watching the final chapter in the story of Eugene Jerome.

Let me start by giving some background on the Eugene Trilogy itself. The trilogy is a very slightly veiled autobiographical series of plays, with the Eugene Jerome character serving as Simon’s stand-in; Eugene’s brother, Stanley, corresponds to Simon’s brother, Danny. The first chapter explored Eugene’s early days in Brighton Beach; the second chapter explored his growth into writing while in the Army. The third chapter (“Broadway Bound“) obstensibly explores Neil and Danny Simon’s (Eugene and Stanley Jerome’s) first foray into the comedy writing world as they become writers for television. As such, you would expect the focus of “Broadway Bound” to be Eugene — and that’s what I remembered about the play from when I saw it in my 20s.

I’m no longer in my 20s — instead, I’m much closer to the age of Eugene’s parents in the story. Further, I’ve been married just about as long as Eugene’s parents have been married (today is the start of year 30; Eugene’s parents have been married 33 years). Seeing “Broadway Bound” again with an additional 30 years of experience under my belt, I’ve come to realize that this third chapter isn’t a story about Eugene. It really is a story about Kate and Jack, Eugene’s parents. The disintegration of their marriage and the strength of the mother is the focus of this story; Eugene and Stanley propel it along, but their story is a secondary one. Many critics have harped on this as making this story weaker — they’ve cited it as evidence that Simon just tried to pile too much into the story. I think that is more a reaction to the bait-and-switch: you go in expecting another joke-a-minute comedy like “Bixoli“, and discover you are in more of a dramedy exploring the impacts of aging on a family.

When you look at “Broadway Bound” as a comedy — especially if you are expecting the constant jokes of the early Neil Simon — you’ll be disappointed. Although the play is quite funny (although not as funny as last week’s “Buyer and Cellar), you don’t walk out feeling the humor. In the play, the humor comes from Eugene’s observations about life. However, when you look at “Broadway Bound” as that dramedy, it fares quite well. For example, in Ben Epstein (Kate’s father), I clearly see the aging of my mother-in-law — the stubbornness, the forgetfulness, and the unexpected behavior. It reminds me not to get upset at these things, but to find the humor in them. I see elements of long-term relationships I’ve seen in Kate and Jack: how raising children can distance parents; how not talking about problems can push people away from each other; and how the key elements in a relationship is not fidelity, but trust. These are useful lessons, presented with gentle humor. Lastly, the play presents how different parties in a relationship see things in different ways. Kate always see Jack as the young man that he was — the man who noticed her because she danced with George Raft. Jack, on the other hand, sees Kate as she is: a woman who no longer hears him, can discuss things with him, and who is just focused on serving. It shows the growing apart with gentle humor.

As for Eugene and Stanley’s story, it is just the backdrop upon which this relationship story is told. It provides the impetus for the movement of time; it allows Eugene to opine on what is happening. But through the story the characters of Eugene and Stanley never really change. They were comedy writers at the start, and they are comedy writers at the end. The comedy allows them to detach and observe life, but they never learn from it. They can see the humor in what is happening, but can they see the pathos? They also shift in their view of home: it is in this play that Eugene and Stanley (Neal and Danny) move out of the house and being their adult lives, no longer tied to the family drama.

Jason Alexander (FB) adds a number of directoral touches that shows his familiarity with that era from his childhood. Directors can’t influence the written words of the script, but they can influence how they are presented, how the set is decorated and arranged, and the unspoken nuances of the character action. From the absent-minded actions of the mother to the lilts in the movement, Alexander made these people realistic. It was joy to watch.

The presentation was also helped by the talent of the acting ensemble. The youngest generation was portrayed by Ian Alda (FB) as Eugene Jerome and Noah James as Stanley Jerome. Alda demonstrated the talent in his familial lineage — at times he had the winning smile and charm of his famous uncle, and he handled the drama and movement as well as his grandfather. His Eugene was not overly annoying, nor did it channel Matthew Broderick or others that have portrayed the character. James’ Stanley was appropriate boyant, energetic, and crazy. He kept reminding me of someone — I want to say a young Bronson Pinochot. This is a good thing, for he brought the correct intensity to the character.

The parents generation was represented by Gina Hecht (FB) as Kate Jerome, Michael Mantell as Jack Jerome, and Betsy Zajko (FB) as Blanche Morton (Kate’s sister). Hecht has worked with Alexander before, and their familiarity comes through in the easy and realistic way she inhabits Eugene’s mother. She makes the mother believable, with both realistic pain and joy. She brings Kate to life. We see less of Mantell’s Jack, but Mantell’s portrayal makes him come across as … tired. He’s not tired in a depressed way, but its obvious his character is craving more out of life than the same-old same-old, and Kate just doesn’t see that, driving him away. Mantell does a great job of bringing him to life. Lastly, Zajko’s Blanche has a much smaller role (one scene), but she handles that well and believably.

The grandparent’s generation was represented by Allan Miller (FB) as Ben Epstein. He captured the befuddled old man well, but had some wonderful glimpses of his old self in his interactions with Jack.

Turning to the technical side of the presentation: The set design by Bruce Goodrich, combined with the prop design of Katherine S. Hunt (FB), created a wonderful two-level house that appeared to be correctly dressed for the late 1940s. This was augmented with the costume design of Kate Bergh (FB) and the wig design of Marylin Philips to create a realistic place and characters for the story. The sound design by Martin Carrillo (FB) was impressive — particularly the directionality of the subway trains which far too easily could have come from the same speakers as everything else. Leigh Allen (FB)’s lighting also worked well to focus attention when required. Donna Hosseinzadeh (FB) and Amandla Jahava were the assistant directors; Lee Martino (FB) provided the choreography; and Jennifer Palumbo/FB was the stage manager.

Broadway Bound” has been extended, and continues at Odyssey Theatre Ensemble (FB) until September 28. I’d get your tickets through the Odyssey box office; it is sold out on Goldstar.

[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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  Tonight brings a new musical, “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical” at the No Ho Arts Center. Next weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

The Anniversary Post

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 17, 2014 @ 5:41 am PDT

userpic=anniversaryTwenty-nine years ago today Karen and I got married (in Woodland Hills, by Rabbi John Sherwood Z”L). Here’s looking forward to at least twenty-nine more years…

(to the tune of the “William Tell Overture”)
Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary

Pour a cheerful toast and fill it, Happy Anniversary
But be careful you don’t spill it, Happy Anniversary

Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary
Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary

Happy she and happy he, They’re both as happy as can be
Celebrating merrily, their happy anniversary

Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary
Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary, Haaappy Anniversary

We now state emphatically, it’s happy anniversary
Not another day could be, a happy anniversary

Ooooo Happy Anniversary, Happy Anniversary
Happy Anniversary
Happy (slow)
Happy (slow)
Happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy (fast) Anniversary!!!

(Gioacchino Rossini; arr. William Hanna / Joseph Barbera)

Many years ago I saw a post on LJ that suggested an interesting tradition for anniversaries: For each year that you are married, post one thing that you love about your spouse. This year marks year № 29:

  1. I love that she keeps her head in a crisis.
  2. I love that she knows how to calm me down when I start panicking.
  3. I love that she helps me think logically when dealing with big ticket items or expenses.
  4. I love that she knows how to think through situations logically.
  5. I love that she is a very loyal friend, going out of her way to help others.
  6. I love that she is able to express herself very well, and convey information the information to others in ways they can understand.
  7. I love that she is a very good cook, coming up with creative gluten-free dishes.
  8. I love that she is willing to put away the laundry.
  9. I love that she pulls off very nice parties.
  10. I love that she has a good decorating sense.
  11. I love that she cleans up nicely :-)
  12. I love that she puts up with my disappearing off to Boardgame days and my working on the highway pages.
  13. I love the needlecrafting and fabric arts that she does (that is, the results–I’m less enthralled with the stash).
  14. I love that she knows how to deal with our daughter when I’m getting frustrated.
  15. I love that she was active in our daughter’s school life.
  16. I love that she is willing to deal with family situations I don’t want to deal with.
  17. I love that she is willing to deal with contractors and repair critters.
  18. I love that she doesn’t spend too much on quilting and fabric supplies :-).
  19. I love that she has similar tastes in friends to me.
  20. I love that she enjoys going to the theatre with me.
  21. I love that she understands that I’m not romantically inclined.
  22. I love that she puts up me when I’m dealing with my headaches.
  23. I love her compatible music tastes.
  24. I love that she’ll take my car in to get serviced, as opposed to saying “It’s your problem. Deal.”
  25. I love that she and I can have wonderfully intelligent conversations.
  26. I love her creativity.
  27. I love how she has helped raise our daughter into a bright, capable young woman.
  28. I love that she enjoys doing the “Berkeley Run” with our daughter.
  29. I love that she reminds me when it’s time to do the Anniversary Post (she reminded me in the car last night).

Of course, this list doesn’t include the things I love about her that I can’t post publicly :-). Maybe next year. You’ll just have to wait and see.

News Chum Stew: Media, History, Vegas, and Patches

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 16, 2014 @ 1:36 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the links. This week is comparatively sparse compared to last week, the result of a busy week at work combined with the news cycle being dominated by celebrity deaths (the shock of Robin Williams, which overshadowed Lauren Bacall’s death the next day, just like Michael Jackson overshadowed Farrah Fawcett Majors) and police actions (with people acting surprised that racism exists in America… alas, it goes hand-in-hand with similar attitudes towards religion and sexual orientation — America isn’t perfect folks — it is our job to make it better). In any case, here are a few, perhaps less controversial, subjects that managed to catch my eye:

 

Shop Locally

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 10, 2014 @ 7:46 am PDT

Buyer and Cellar (Mark Taper Forum)userpic=ahmansonOne of the most popular movements these days is the locavore movement. The notion is to promote sustainability by eating food that grown or raised locally. An offshoot program encourages people to shop from local merchants and support the local community, as opposed to buying products from no-name large corporations. This is a project that progressives love — in fact, one progressive went so far as to install a shopping mall in her basement, and she does all her shopping there. Well, that’s sort-of the premise of the comedy “Buyer and Cellar” by Jonathan Tolins, starring Michael Urie and directed by Stephen Brackett, now at the Mark Taper Forum.

Buyer and Cellar” is a comedy that takes a “What If?” to its absurdist conclusion. In a book she published about home design, Barbra Streisand indicated she had collected so many items over her years that she arranged them into a collection of shops in the basement of her Malibu barn. What if, Tolins hypothesized, she actually formed them into a mall, and actually hired someone to staff the mall. That’s the basis of B&C — Urie’s character is an out-of-work gay actor hired by Streisand to staff the mall. When the Barbra finally shows up to shop, Urie’s character (Alex) makes a connection with the woman which grows and grows… until he ultimately figures out her ultimate purpose.

The show itself was hilarious. The premise is wonderfully abusrdist, and the stories told truly hit home for Los Angeles natives (who actually understand the amount of time the Santa Monica City Council spends debating parking at a Panera). When combined with Urie’s willing and warm (and natural) performance, it is a delight. I’ve noted in the past how I rarely laugh at shows. This one was truly laugh-out-loud funny.

I’m not sure how much else I can say about this one. The scenic design by Andrew Boyce was overly simple: A white room, with a chair, table and bench, augmented by video projections by Alex Koch that really added very little. I’d go so far to say that there was no scenic design, as it was the actor that created the sense of place, not the scenery, projection, or props (other than Streisand’s book). The sound design by Stowe Nelson was only visible in the wireless microphone stuffed down the back of Urie’s pants.  The lighting by Eric Southern was similarly simple.

Drew Blau was the company manager, Michael T. Clarkson was the production stage manager, and Hannah Woodward was the stage manager.

Buyer and Cellar” continues until August 17 at the Mark Taper Forum. Tickets are available here.

[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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  This evening brings a Queen-emulation band at the Valley Cultural Center’s concert in the park. Next weekend brings “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). I’m also thinking about a new musical, “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical” at the No Ho Arts Center on Sunday, 8/17. The following weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

Link Chum Stew: News, Design, CSUN, Food, Changing Times, and History, plus a Theatre Rant

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 09, 2014 @ 8:49 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the links. This has been a busy week: I finished my year-long analysis of the 800-53 controls at work; our daughter returned from her summer on the East Coast; and there was the usual MoTAS work. I collected a number of links, but forgot to send them all back to me on Friday, so I couldn’t theme them as I wanted to. Oh well. I still think there are some really taste nuggets in here:

*: OK, addressing the item from Footlights. I understand the desire for an app, but I’m not seeing what’s unique here. I learn about my theatre from Goldstar and LA Stage Tix (and I’d love a Goldstar Android app — they only have iOS). Bitter-Lemons will eventually come out with a rating app (I participated in the Kickstarter). So why do I need an app to see what LA Theatre is around. What I need is an app that combines Amazon and Foursquare — looking at my theatre history and what I have liked or dislikes, and recommending particular shows in an upcoming time frame that will be of interest to me. That’s the app I want.

Your Worst Nightmare

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Aug 03, 2014 @ 5:06 pm PDT

Family Planning (Colony Theatre)userpic=colonyWhat’s a young adult family’s worst nightmare? Losing your job? No, you can start over. How about your parents moving back in with you, to live, for an unspecified period of time? That’s truly scary. That’s also the basic premises of the comedy “Family Planning” by Michelle Kholos Brooks (FB) in its last weeks at  The Colony Theatre (FB) in Burbank, which we saw last night.

Family Planning” tells the story of Sidney (Dee Ann Newkirk (FB)) and Michael (Jack Sundmacher (FB)). Sidney is an artist who is working from home; Michael is an unspecified businessman who has recently quit his regular job to start a new Internet business. They have the freedom to do this because, after Sidney’s parent’s divorced, they didn’t sell the family house in Westchester County, NY. Instead, after renting it for a bit, they offered it to Sidney and Michael to live in. However, there appear to be strings. After some setbacks (which I won’t disclose because they are part of the humor), Sidney’s father, Larry (Bruce Weitz) has moved back in with them. After years of being a hard-driving businessman, Larry has gotten into yoga and all that goes with it. As the story begins, Sidney and Michael are attempting to have a little, ummm, adult fun in the living room while the “visitor” in the back of the house is asleep. They are interrupted (because, as Teenagers from Outer Space notes, sex isn’t funny, but frustration is) by a knock at the door. It is Diane (Christina Pickles (FB)), Sidney’s mother, who has suddenly come back home leaving her 2nd husband behind in Birmingham AL. At this point, Larry comes out, and the two of them start going at it tooth and nail.

That’s the setup, and there are loads and loads of humorous details as the story swiftly (90 minutes, no intermission) moves towards its resolution. I won’t spoil the story with the details, but suffice it to say that the situation rang true. We’re currently dealing with a parent in assisted living, and we could just imagine the horror if she had to move in with us. I know others in the same situation… so much so that I truly appreciated the line “You’re truly sexy when you’re thinking homicidal thoughts about your parents.”.

Normally, I don’t laugh out loud at shows — even comedies. Often the comedy is predictable, or the jokes are mundane or obvious. This show was different: there were numerous laugh-out-loud moments with unexpected twists and turns. The ending, of course, is predictable: the situation must be reconciled. The journey to get there is a hoot. Cameron Watson (FB), the director, did an excellent job at keeping the story moving forward, and making the characters behave and interact in a realistic fashion. There wasn’t a minute where I felt the show was dragging.

As I noted, the performances were quite believable — and you could tell the actors were having fun with this. Dee Ann Newkirk (FB) and Jack Sundmacher (FB) were a believable couple with good chemistry; the nuances of their behavior made this very believable. Bruce Weitz and Christina Pickles (FB) were also believable as the parents. For the most part, their behavior was also belivable; alas, there were a few line hesitations that shouldn’t have been there the penultimate week of the run. They weren’t enough to be a problem, but they were like the occasional “pop” in a vinyl LP — just a little distracting.

The scenic design was spectacular. David Potts outdid himself in creating a believable suburban house (with supporting scenic art by Orlando de la Paz. John McElveney (FB), as usual, did the set dressing and properties design, and I felt bad at the quantities of props this show must go through (and the clean up afterwards). The costume design was by Kate Bergh, and seemed to reflect that age and disposition of the people wearing them. The sound design was by Steven Cahill (FB), who outdid himself with the wonderful scene-interstitial music. Lighting was by the resident Colony lighting designer, Jared A. Sayeg (FB), and established the mood quite well. Dale Alan Cooke (FB) was the Production Stage Manager.

Family Business” continues at the Colony for one more week, until August 10th. Tickets are available from the Colony Box Office online.

[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 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 Theatre and Concerts:  August continues with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). I’m also thinking about a new musical, “It Happened in Roswell: An Intergalactic Musical” at the No Ho Arts Center on Sunday, 8/17. The following weekend we’ll be on vacation in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… out of the many available, we have picked Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe on Sunday, 8/24, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town on Wednesday, 8/27.  I’ll note that what they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads and underwhelming. August will end with “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). September is filling out. So far, the plans include “Earth/Quaked starring Savion Glover” as part of Muse/ique in Pasadena on Sun 9/7,  “Moon Over Buffalo” (Goldstar) at the GTC in Burbank on Sat 9/13, Bat Boy: The Musical” at CSUN for the Friday night before Slichot (9/19), “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/21,  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27. October, so far, only has one show: “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25, although I’m looking at “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) for either Sat 10/11 or Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF). November is back to busy, with dates held or ticketed for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 11/8 (shifting to avoid ACSAC), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

Saturday Stew: Lots of Meaty Stuff of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 02, 2014 @ 4:37 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and that means it is time to clean out the accumulated links. I tried to theme these, but I kept coming back to things I always theme about: history, changes, interesting stories, and such. So I thought I would just share them all in one post, with commentary. Here goes…