Observations Along the Road

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

Getting It Right, For Once

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 20, 2014 @ 11:40 am PDT

Once - A Musical (Pantages)userpic=broadwayla“It’s everything that “Ghost” wasn’t”. This is what I turned and whispered to my wife about 15 minutes into “Once“, the musical we saw yesterday afternoon at the Pantages theatre in Hollywood. Perhaps I should elaborate:

  • Ghost” attempted to put a movie on stage; “Once” treated the stage with respect, allowing the audience to create with their imagination, and recognizing it was on stage.
  • Ghost” was electric rock, electric images; “Once” was acoustic simplicity.
  • Ghost” was theatrical complexity; “Once” could be staged in any theatre, including those without fancy electronics or fly space.
  • Ghost” was fancy dancing and ensembles without meaning; “Once” was deep meaning and emotion, without fancy dancing.
  • Ghost” was an example of how not to transfer a movie to the stage–it was forced. “Once“, for lack of a better term, was organic. There was no need for the movie (indeed, one review I saw noted that the stage version was better than the movie).
  • Ghost” was based on fantasy; “Once” was grounded in reality.
  • Ghost” left me blah; I fell in love with “Once“.

One digression before I go on — please note the graphic I used for “Once” (if you are reading this someplace where you don’t see the links and graphics, go to blog.cahighways.org and read the original). I had to create this one — every graphic you typically see shows the New York original cast with Cristin Milioti and Steve Kazee (FB). The touring cast was so good I wanted you to see their faces, so I had to hunt down an image showing Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal. End digression.

I’ll also note going in that I haven’t seen the movie upon which this production was based. I believe that if you have to see the original movie, there’s something wrong with the stage production. Luckily, “Once” stands well on its own (although I”ll note it is about double the length of the movie). The movie was written (and directed) by John Carney; the “stage play” adaptation (e.g., the book for the stage version) was by Enda Walsh. As for the music and lyrics — they are mostly from the movie, and were written by the two leads of the movie: Glen Hansard (FB) and Markéta Irglová (FB).  Both Hansard and Irglová are accomplished musicians and have written for the screen; neither has written for the stage. This, actually, works to their advantage: the music in “Once” doesn’t sound like your typical musical music. If anything, it reminded me a bit of “Robber Bridgegroom” for its feel and integration. It worked well.

Once” signals that it is different from the moment you walk into the theatre. Most shows — you go in, you sit down, the lights dim, the overture starts (if you’re lucky enough to be at a show with an overture), and the story begins. With “Once“, when you walk in the theatre, the first thing you see is people on stage. “Once” takes place in a bar in Dublin, and the stage has been turned into a working bar. If you’re over 21, you can go on stage (bring cash), buy a drink (must be consumed on stage), and experience the bar. Slowly the majority of the cast comes out with their instruments (most cast members play multiple instruments) and an Irish folk music jam session begins. The house lights are up, audience is on stage, and here is the cast just having fun with Irish songs like “On Raglan Road.” It would be lovely to have had an album of that jam session; the music was as good as any concert I’ve heard at McCabes. Slowly the audience filters off stage, and the musicians entice one of the guitar players to play his song. He does — a touching song called “Love”. By this point, the house lights are down, except for one illuminating a girl walking down the aisle onto the stage, listening to the music. She’s onstage by the time she finishes… and the story begins.

Once” tells the story of an unnamed man (“Guy”) and an unnamed women (“Girl”). The story begins as the guy finishes his song, intending to leave his guitar and his music behind in the bar. The girl, an Czech immigrant, was touched by the song. She asks a number of questions, learning he wrote the song for a girl who recently left him to move to New York. The music and the memories are too painful, so he is giving them up and going back to work in his father’s vacuum shop. Suddenly, the girl has a vacuum to be repaired, and offers to pay him with music. Thus begins a quest from the girl to get the guy back with the ex-girlfriend (while the guy is slowly falling in love with the girl). This includes her introducing the guy to her “family”: her mother, her daughter, and some other Czech immigrant musicians sharing a Dublin apartment. She also arranges a 24 hour recording session so the guy can record his music, travel to New York, get a music contract, and win back his ex-girlfriend. This includes arranging a bank loan (with a banker who is also a musician), and getting the guy comfortable on-stage by having him sing at an “open mic” night. This is when you see that guy is falling for girl. Subsequent scenes deepen that realization — that guy is falling for girl, and that slowly, girl is falling for guy. The guy asks the girl to go to New York with him when he goes. She demurs, as her husband is attempting to reconcile. As the story ends, the guy is heading off to New York to see his ex-, who is willing to give it another try; the girl remains in Dublin, but has the gift of a piano from the guy, who bought it with the money his father gave him to get settled in New York. (Note: You can read a longer synopsis on the wikipedia page)

What’s interesting here is the staging: although there are a number of different locations, almost everything takes place in the bar. Tables are moved together, chairs come in an out, but everything else is … imagination. Even most of the other cast members remain on stage when not their characters; they are on the side as the musicians. This is theatre as it should be (and what the recent monologue night at REP reminded us); actors creating the magic with their performance, not electronics or stagecraft. Some interstitial music starts to be played by the actors, people are moving around, and boom — suddenly — you’re somewhere else. The transformation is amazing to watch. Kudos to the director, John Tiffany (FB), for staying true to the simplicity of the story; and to the  “movement” director, Steven Hoggett (FB), for not bringing in traditional dance and choreography. What movement there is seems appropriate — no dance numbers, but rhythmic movements of a folk nature that go with the music. The movement and staging are such that they just seem part of the story, as opposed to stopping the action for a superfluous dance number. As I said, the opposite of “Ghost“.

If I had any criticism of the show, it is that it really doesn’t belong where it is. It works OK in large theatre, but this musical is perfectly suited to the mid-size and small theatres. This would be spectacular at the Colony or Rep East.

The performers are spectacular, which is why I endeavored to find an image showing them. In the lead positions, of course, are “guy” and “girl”. The guy is played by Stuart Ward  (FBTW) (guitar), who plays beautifully, sings beautifully, and conveys a great depth of emotion in his performance. The girl is played by Dani de Waal (FBTW) (piano). A wonderful musician with a lovely voice, she gives a delightfully quirky performance with her accent and playfulness. The two are believable together, harmonize well together, and just mesh. I’ll note that Ward has an EP out with about 2/3rds of the touring production; it’s quite good.

The remainder of the cast, although they have characters, are more in the background and notable for their wonderful instruments and musicality. The more memorable characters include Billy, the owner of the music store where the girl occasionally plays piano (and who has a crush on the girl); the Bank Manager who doubles as a guitar/cello player; Réza, another Czech immigrant who attempts to seduce Billy, and Ivanka, the girl’s daughter. Before I list the players, I just want to highlight Kolette Tetlow (FB) who played Ivanka: her scenes were few and she played no instrument, but her girlish playfulness still shone through. The cast/musicians were: Raymond Bokhour (FB) (Da, mandolin); Matt DeAngelis (FB) (Švec, guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums, percussion); John Steven Gardner (FB, TW) (Eamon, piano, guitar, percussion, melodica, harmonica, music captain); Donna Garner (FB) (Baruška, accordion, concertina);  Evan Harrington (FB) (Billy, guitar, percussion, ukulele); Matt Wolpe (FB) (Emcee, guitar, banjo); Benjamin Magnuson (bank manager, cello, guitar); Alex Nee (FB, TW) (Andrej, electric bass, ukulele, guitar, percussion); Erica Swindell (FB, TW) (Ex-Girlfriend, violin, percussion, dance captain); and Claire Wellin (FB, TW) (Réza, violin). I’d love to see these folks put out an album of Irish music — they were that good.

Also part of the cast, but not on stage at our performance, were Ryan Link (TW) (Emcee, guitar, banjo — except Jul 18-24); Zander Meisner (FB) (Andrej, electric bass, ukulele, guitar, percussion – August 5-10); Estelle Bajou (FB) (u/s Réza, u/s Ex-girlfriend, violin); Stephen McIntyre (FB) (u/s Da, u/s bank manager, u/s Billy, mandolin, cello, guitar, ukulele, percussion); Tiffany Topol (FB, TW) (u/s Girl, piano); Tina Stafford (FB) (u/s Baruška, accordion, concertina).

As I noted, the technical side was brilliant. The scenic and costume design of Bob Crowley worked well — the bar looked like (and apparently was) a working Dublin bar, and the costumes were appropriately folkish. In many cases, they didn’t appear to be costumes at all — these folks looked like musicians. Lighting was by Natasha Katz (FB) and was suitably non-obtrusive. The sound was by Clive Goodwin (FB) and was generally clear, although the generally horrible acoustics of the Pantages tended to muffle the lyrics. Stephen Gabis was the dialect coach, and Liz Caplan Vocal Studios (FB) provided vocal supervision. Rounding out the technical side: Jim Carnahan (Casting), Shaun Peknic (FB) (Associate Director), Yasmine Lee/FB (Associate Movement Director), Jason DeBord (FB) (Resident Music Supervisor), Frank McCullough (Associate Scenic Designer), Peter Hoerburger (Associate Lighting Designer), Alex Hawthorn (Associate Sound Designer), Aurora Productions (Production Management), Daniel S. Rosokoff (Production Stage Manager), E. Cameron Holsinger (FB) (Stage Manager), Aaron Elgart (FB, TW) (Assistant Stage Manager), Chris Danner (Company Manager), and Candace Hemphill (FB) (Assistant Company Manager).

Once” continues at the Pantages Theatre through August 10. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office online, although you can avoid service fees and go to the box office directly. Some dates are available through 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:  Next weekend brings two shows: “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, followed by the annual Operaworks improv show on 7/27. August starts 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). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Saturday Stew: Knives, Nickel, SHIP, Signs, Photos, and Airports

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 19, 2014 @ 8:19 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and time to clear out the accumulated links for the week. This has been a busy week with travel and the move of my mother-in-law, so I didn’t even have the time to theme what I had.


Saturday… um… Sunday News Stew: TSA, Music, Piss, Names, and Las Vegas

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 13, 2014 @ 12:42 pm PDT

Observation StewYesterday was a busy busy day; so much so that the news chum stew I had planned to serve yesterday has continued to simmer on the stove. So here is your Saturday stew… on Sunday….

  • Stupid People Tricks. There are many who denegrate the TSA as “security theatre”. There are others who will argue that whatever they do is a deterrent; there is no way to prove that someone didn’t think about starting an attack, but was turned away from that course because of TSA’s present. That’s the nature of the beast. So what can you prove? You can show the stupid things that people tried to bring through, but were caught by the TSA. Admittedly, some are quite likely innocuous, but others (like the knife in a cellphone) make you wonder “what were they thinking?”. PS: If you would like to learn the history of airport security, I can recommend this recent 99% Invisible on skyjacking.
  • It’s all the Same to Me. Even wonder why all the songs on the radio are about the same length. How can it be due to the grooves on a record when we now play CDs or digital files with no grooves? Someone attempted to find out the answer. The conclusion is that songs get longer, even without new technology. Since 1990, it seems that the average song length has sort of stabilized around 250 seconds (over 4 minutes).
  • Piss on you. We’ve all seen it: the decal of Calvin pissing on something. But Watterson has never licensed the character. So where did the decal come from. Here’s the explanation. Now if someone can just explain the stick figure family.
  • What’s In A Name? Every wonder why Amazon is Amazon, or eBay is eBay? Turns out, there is a reason. Here’s the story behind 39 famous companies and how they got their names.
  • Beyond the Moulin Rouge. During the 1950s, Las Vegas was a very segregated town. You probably heard of the Moulin Rouge — the black casino in West Vegas where there were no segregation barriers, and how it only lasted 7 months. You might have heard how Sammy Davis and other entertainers forced the casinos to change their ways. You probably haven’t heard of Harrison House.


A Story from the Past… in the Future

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 13, 2014 @ 9:30 am PDT

Return to the Forbidden Planet (REP East)userpic=repeastBack in the year 1610 (or perhaps it was 1611), a fellow by the name of Bill Shakespeare wrote a little play called “The Tempest“. Years later, in 1956, a ground-breaking science fiction film “Forbidden Planet” emerged that drew upon some elements of “The Tempest“. Still later, in the mid-1980s, a production emerged in London that explicitly combined even more elements and characters from “The Tempest” with the basic storyline of “Forbidden Planet“, adding in Iambic Pentameter-ish dialogue from not only The Tempest, but numerous other Shakespeare works. This was intended as a musical, and so it added to this structure numerous rock and roll hits from the 1950s through 1960s, including “Great Balls of Fire”, “Teenager in Love”, “Gloria”, “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, and much more. The resulting musical won the Oliver award in London in 1989 (beating Miss Saigon), and is just about to be revived on the London stage for a 25th Anniversary UK Tour. But you don’t need to go as far a London to see this show; you only need to go a few minutes North of Los Angeles to the community of Newhall in Santa Clarita, where Repertory East Playhouse is presenting the musical “Return to the Forbidden Planet“.

Now, I knew none of this backstory when we got our tickets for this show. We’re season subscribers to REP, and when O announced the season back in late 2013 and I saw this show, I went “huh?”. REP normally has a summer musical, and this didn’t appear to be one. I thought, perhaps, that “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” had stolen the musical space and this was just a simple parody. So I researched the show, picked up the original cast album, and gave it a listen. I was very surprised: here were a number of great songs from the 50s and 60s arranged to tell a science fiction story. I began to look forward to this show.

Then June happened. You may remember the events; some try to forget them. When the dust finally settled, the REP community came out of this stronger than ever, as patrons and actors and the community rallied to demonstrate that this little theatre is important to them. Those that initiated the events came out a bit more tarnished, suffice it to say. The lesson to learn from this is not to take on a theatre that has its ducks in a row, with strong community backing. For me, as a patron and support (and unofficial spokesman), I was thinking — wouldn’t it have been great if REP’s next production was some great drama to which we could invite the critics and blow them away… but we get “Return to the Forbidden Planet“. Last night was our scheduled subscription night, so I went in curious: this was a return to normal operations at REP, and as Stan Freberg once asked, “Will it end on a note of triumph or disaster?”

The answer, of course, is “Either way, Daddy-O, as long as it swings! Scooby Doo!”… and REP came out swinging. This was one of the best REP productions I’ve seen: a combination of live music (a first for any REP musical), great singing, actors who just having fun with their roles (which I always claim ups the amplification — something Ghost needed to learn), and a spectacular set. REP is having fun here, and that fun is shared with the audience. It begins when you enter the theatre and hit the bar — which was serving “Tempest in a Tumbler”. It continued when you entered the auditorium and saw the spaceship set… which when you looked closely integrated car stereos, a Darth Vader Pez dispenser, an early (working) Apple ][C monitor, a radar range, hidden "81"s everywhere, and incredibly hilarious labels on everything. The show begins... not with the usual prerecorded announcement, but with the cast coming out in character to warn against cell phones, demonstrate the exits in the manner of flight attendance, and teach the audience participation cues. The pop culture references began here, and didn't let down. Hint: Never wear a red shirt on a spaceship bridge and forget to turn off your cell phone. Then the prerecorded narrator announcements come on, and the iambic pentameter begin with the story proper.

At this point, you're going: OK, now I'm going to get a group telling the traditional Tempest in a science-fiction mileau... but then you notice that the language is conflating many Shakespeare shows, and you start seeing the actors doing 60s songs such as "Wipeout" or "It's a Man's World". You're not in Kansas anymore.

The story itself, as I noted above, is a mix of the original movie and the Shakespeare play. Here's the Wikipedia summary, which is succinct enough I really don't need to edit it further:

The plot follows the crew of a routine survey flight under the command of Captain Tempest. After takeoff, Captain Tempest converses with the ships new Science Officer, who is a woman, and they argue about the importance of men and women on earth. During their argument, the ship gets caught in a meteor shower. The Science Officer suggests that they use the shuttle craft and abandon ship, but Captain Tempest insists on flying through the storm. During the confusion the Science Officer escapes the ship via shuttle craft. Their spaceship is drawn mysteriously to the planet D'Illyria where the crew meet mad scientist Doctor Prospero, who has been marooned on the planet since his wife, and science partner Gloria sent him and their daughter Miranda into space. Doctor Prospero offers to help repair the broken starship and he, his daughter, and their robot Ariel come aboard. The ships cook, Cookie is instantly taken by Miranda's beauty and falls in love with her, a love he thinks she returns. In fact she has fallen in love with Captain Tempest, against the will of her father. During discussions about locating the missing Science Officer, Ariel reveals information about Doctor Prospero's new formula 'X Factor’, which can enhance the brain and mind. After an argument with his daughter over her love for the captain, Doctor Prospero takes the draught of 'X Factor'. Soon afterwards, the ship is attacked by a foul monster, but during the attack it is revealed that Ariel is in the airlock with the missing Science Officer. To save them both, Captain Tempest orders the airlock opened, which allows the monster to gain access to the ship. During the confusion of the attack it is revealed that the Science Officer is Doctor Prospero's wife Gloria, who is then taken by the monster, as its tentacles attack the rest of the ship.

The story continues with the attack unfolding again, but this time Gloria isn't kidnapped by the monster, and Ariel the robot is able to attack the monster to make it retreat. After the attack, more is revealed about Doctor Prospero and Gloria's past. Captain Tempest puts Gloria under ship arrest for her crimes against her husband. She forms a quick alliance with Cookie, whom she persuades to release her and help steal the recipe for Doctor Prospero's 'X Factor' in exchange for helping him win over Miranda's heart. Gloria talks to Cookie, as Bosun, the ships First Mate, talks to Captain Tempest about how to gain the love of Miranda. It is then revealed when the monster returns that it is created by Doctor Prospero's mind due to him taking the 'X Factor'. Gloria tells Doctor Prospero that what she did to him was so that he could keep himself and their daughter safe from the 'X Factor'. Doctor Prospero has no choice but to leave the ship and sacrifice himself to save the others. Once Doctor Prospero has left, it is then revealed that D'Illyria is nothing other than a figment of Doctor Prospero’s imagination, as it starts to destroy itself once the doctor has died. The ship escapes and when once again in space Gloria blesses the union of Miranda and Captain Tempest, and Cookie is pardoned for his behaviour towards Miranda and Captain Tempest. The show ends with the entire crew safe and well with their Science Officer back and Captain Tempest with a new bride.

As I said above, REP executed this every well. There was strong casting, strong visuals (including great graphics), strong singing, and fun. Credit for this goes to the director, Rick Pratt (FB), who pulled the large cast together and provided a great creative vision for the show (as well as playing keyboard during the show in an outfit that made me think of Paul Revere and the Raiders, with the ruffled dickie). Rereading his bio just now, I should have known we were in for fun -- this fellow was a musical director at the Moorpark Melodrama during its heyday in the 1980s.   The show was also a family affair, as his wife and son were in the show.

Casting was very strong. My personal favorite, out of all of the cast, was Beth Ann Sweezer (FB) as Ariel the robot. This young lady was out on stage, on roller skates, in a silver skin-tight costume with silver make-up, in a performance that could have easily been very, umm, mechanical. Instead, her face was a joy to behold -- expressive, playful, shining -- and her movements (especially when you realize this was all done on skates) were fun to watch. That's acting and dance talent, which was then combined with some wonderful singing (including a wonderful rap performance). Her bio shows we've seen her at REP before, and checking out what I wrote, I see she was also my favorite in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. I look forward to seeing her in more REP shows, and hopefully in other productions in Southern California.

Moving from my favorite to the lead positions. As Captain Tempest, Benjamin Patrick Thomas (FB) brought a handsome bravado and a strong singing voice to the leadership of crew of the Starship 81. He handled his numbers, and the iambic pentameter, quite well. As Gloria, the Science Officer, Lori D'itri (FB) brought strong singing chops and dance moves to the role. Lori is another REP musical regular -- we saw here in both Trailer Park and The Full Monty, as well as being a Goldie Award winner for her performance in Dixie Swim Club at CTG. The last lead player was Mike Davies as Prospero.  Davies handled the role with good singing and lots of humor; I particularly enjoyed his epilogue of "Monster Mash".

In the middle positions were Connor Pratt/FB as Cookie and Alina Bock (Actor FB, Personal FB) as Miranda. Pratt's Cookie captured the stoner surfer stereotype quite well, and he sang quite well. What was more surprising for Pratt was that, unlike other actors who faked playing guitars in a scene or two, Pratt actually played his guitar -- it was plugged into the sound system, and he had quite a few solos he handled well. Don't believe me: watch his fingers on both the strings and the frets. Very nice. Bock's Miranda was beautiful and she had a wonderful singing voice... plus at the end she was dancing in the odd costume out of a Madonna musical in these ridiculously high stilettos. I don't know how women do it--I don't think a man could take it.

Rounding out the cast were Tara George as the Navigation Officer, Rodnesha Green (FB, G+) as the Bosun (and vocal director), as Sandra Pratt/FB as the Newscaster (and presumably the opening red-shirt). I was originally unsure about George -- I detected some form of accent (later I figured it out as middle-eastern), and she seemed a bit cold. I think that was her character -- she sang very strong in her numbers. Pratt was also strong in her numbers, in her interactions with Ariel, and I enjoyed her fiddling with her buttons and switches, as well as her popping of the Valium. Lastly, the third Pratt (Sandra) was strong and fun to watch in the interstitial narrations.

This is the first time, I also get to talk about the on-stage band. After all these years, they finally found a way to get Nanook/FB out of the sound booth: put him onstage with a guitar! He was joined by the director, Rick Pratt (FB), on keyboards; Art Gibson on bass, and David Goldberg on drums. It was truly wonderful to have live music at REP, although it was clear that the band was keeping things a little on the softer side so that they did not overpower that actors. I'm sure that as REP does more live music, they will find the correct balance for the facility. It was a great start.

Choreography was by Kristen Pechacek (FB), who did a great job of making the movement work well on the small REP stage. She also coordinated the movement well for Ariel on roller skates and Miranda's dancing in the stilettos. It was actually one of the better choreography jobs I've seen over the years at REP.

Turning to the technical side of things: The scenic design by Frank Rock/FB and Jeff Hyde/FB, was a hoot (as I noted before). Integrating multiple monitors, a Radarrange, a Mr. Coffee, and Apple ][C (working), and all sorts of knobs and switches -- it was just fun to look at for all the little technical details and in-jokes (in particular, note that the transporter has the large label LXXXI, which happens to be the number 81, REP's theme number). You can see a photo of the set and cast here. These were supported by Marlowe Weisman (FB) and Sandra Pratt/FB did a wonderful job with the props, including a large Darth Vader PEZ dispenser. Tim Christianson/FB's lighting was as strong as ever, including some LED strobes I haven't seen before. Tim also did the wonderful puppet used at the end of act I. The videos designed by the director, Rick Pratt (FB), worked very well. Costume design was by Sandra Pratt/FB, assisted by  Flo Loring (FB): the costumes worked well and looked appropriately science-fiction-y. As noted earlier, I particularly liked Ariel (Beth Ann Sweezer)'s robot costume, and Miranda (Alina Bock)'s final costume was a nice homage. Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB did sound, as usual; this was the first time I've seen wireless mics taped to the actors at the REP; I could hardly notice they were on. Whether this was intentional, or if Nanook is still trying to find the right balance between the band and actors is unknown. Kim Iosue/FB was the stage manager, assisted by Vanessa Reyes. "Return to the Forbidden Planet" was produced by Mikee Schwinn/FB and Ovington Michael Owston (FB).

"Return to the Forbidden Planet" continues at Repertory East (FB)until August 16.  Tickets are available through the REP East Online Box Office, as well as through Goldstar. "Planet" will be followed by the limited run "Exit 81" production of "An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein" on the weekends of August 22 and August 30. The next REP full production is "The Great Gatsby", running September 12 through October 18, 2014.

[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 sees us back at the Pantages (FB) for “Once” on 7/19. The next weekend brings “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, hopefully followed by the annual Operaworks improv show on 7/27. August has gotten busy: it starts 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). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.


These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Jul 10, 2014 @ 6:34 pm PDT

userpic=levysEarlier today, Mark Evanier did a post where he talks about his favorite BBQ places in LA.  We only had two in common: a dislike for Dr. Hogly Wogly’s, and a like for Outdoor Grill (although he liked the one in West LA, and we hit the one in Northridge). In case Mark ever comes to the valley, here are some more he might try:

  • Mom’s BBQ. Vanowen and Hazeltine. Perhaps the best Southern BBQ around, with loads of good fixins.
  • Rogers Rib Shack. Reseda and Chase. Not that far from us here in Northridge. Alas, they took the BBQ eggroll (with pork and greens inside) off the menu, but they still have great Q.
  • The Bear Pit. Sepulveda and the 118. Classic Missouri BBQ, that has been around for ages and ages.
  • Rosies. Tampa and Nordhoff. They’ve been around a while, but I think they’ve gone downhill a little.
  • Ribs USA. Burbank. Ate here the other day, and they were surprisingly good (better than I remembered).
  • Reds BBQ. Simi Valley. Lots of food, but more of a sauce than a smoke BBQ.
  • Les Sisters.  Chatsworth. Louisiana BBQ.
  • Dickies. There’s one in Northridge now. Surprisingly good fast food BBQ.
  • My Brothers BBQ. Woodland Hills. Haven’t been there in years.
  • Famous Daves. There’s one in Simi. We never go there; they use soy sauce in the BBQ sauce.
  • Wood Ranch. We never go there — too corporate for our tastes.
  • Kansas City BBQ. North Hollywood. Minnette T. reminded me of these folks. Pretty good, especially before hitting a NoHo Theatre!

So where are your favorite places?


You’ve Been Warned

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 09, 2014 @ 8:17 pm PDT

userpic=theatre2Here’s another collection of news chum, this time warning you of dire consequences. You’ve been warned…

  • You Think The Last Recession Left You Underwater. We’re all hearing about climate change and the melting of the polar icecaps. Here’s a dramatic example of what’s to come: Here’s what LA would look like when the polar icecaps melt. All I can say is that I’m glad I live in the valley. We’ll survive and be what remains of Los Angeles. This is an example of how things change. Here’s another example: a comparison mapping of Los Angeles 100 years ago and now.
  • They’re Back. Think a black cat is scary. How about a whole room of them, preferably dark, in a central part of a city, filled with a lot of people, all of whom have paid a lot to get in there. That’s right. The musical “Cats” is returning to London. Here’s what’s even scarier:

    The Associated Press reports that Lloyd Webber will re-conceive the character of Rum Tum Tugger as a rapping street cat. “I’ve come to the conclusion that … maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” he said, referencing poet T.S. Eliot.

  • Watch What You Say. Our closing warning comes from the good folks at NPR, in a warning about social media posts:

    We acknowledge that nothing on the Web is truly private. Even on purely recreational or cultural sites and even if what we’re doing is personal and not identified as coming from someone at NPR, we understand that what we say and do could still reflect on NPR. So we do nothing that could undermine our credibility with the public, damage NPR’s standing as an impartial source of news, or otherwise jeopardize NPR’s reputation. In other words, we don’t behave any differently than we would in any public setting or on an NPR broadcast.

NPR’s words are good advice — one far too many of us forget. What we do and say on the nets can undermine our credibility — be it something still we pass on, that picture we post. If you wouldn’t say it in public, don’t say it on the web.

Little Known Shopping and Food Facts

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 09, 2014 @ 8:05 pm PDT

userpic=pastramiFor a change, I’ve been able to build a theme mid-week. Today’s news chum brings together a collection of articles about food and shopping, providing some facts you probably didn’t think about…

  • Playing Chicken. We’ve all been there: too tired to cook, so we stop by the market and pick up a cooked chicken. Now, what’s odd about this is these cooked chickens are often cheaper than the raw birds, let alone adding in the cost of spices, labor, energy, etc. Have you ever wondered about this? Wonder no longer. The reason those chickens are so cheap is the same reason that stores have salad bars and other prepared food — you don’t make a profit on food you throw in the trash because it is no longer shelf-worthy or is at near the expiry date. What do you do? Repackage it and sell it.
  • Pizza Pizza. Some interesting pizza related articles. The first looks at two Detroit millionaires, who both got rich off of pizza. One focused on delivery, promising “30 minutes or less”. The other focused on price. One founded Dominos, the other founded Little Caesar. Neither are in the pizza business, and the two are leaving very different legacies. One is focusing on the next life, emphasizing religion. The other is revitalizing downtown Detroit. Does this get you annoyed? How about this — here’s what happened to the Noid, once the mascot of Dominos.
  • Betcha’ Didn’t Know. Here are two lists of interesting facts. The first is a bunch of tips regarding shopping at Amazon that Amazon doesn’t advertise. These tips should help you optimize your shopping, or at least save some money. The second is a collection of facts the big-box home repair stores won’t tell you. Again, these provide useful insights into how these stores separate you from your money, and how to get the most when you need home repair products.


Seeming Substance

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 05, 2014 @ 11:00 pm PDT

Ghost the Musicaluserpic=broadwaylaIn 1995, a little company called Binary Research introduced a little software program called “Ghost“, which allowed cloning of a disk. This technology, which was based on an earlier movie, was later acquired by Symantec, who turned in into one of the most successful disk cloning programs.  It was so successful, in fact, that some theatrical producers in London came along and decided to turn this story about disk cloning into a musical. And thus, “Ghost the Musical” was born. And so, when I heard that a musical about backup software was coming to Los Angeles on tour, the computer security specialist in me just had to see it. As a result, this afternoon saw me at the Pantages seeing “Ghost: The Musical“. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it wasn’t about backup software, but rather a technology-heavy cloning of the 1990 movie starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. However, it was about cybersecurity — if there is a lesson to be learned from “Ghost: The Musical“, it is to protect your access codes and never to share them.

To be serious for a minute, I actually knew that “Ghost: The Musical” was a stage version of the 1990 movie, which I had never seen. I had heard the cast album from the show and it seemed somewhat reasonable, and it conveyed the story well. So even though it might be a a chick-musical, I decided I should see the story to go with the music. It had only lasted on Broadway for 136 performances, but there are other shows that I like that had flopped on Broadway, so what could go wrong?

As I talked about the show with my wife afterwards, I shared with her a number of conclusions about the show — which I’ll share in a minute. While writing this entry up, I read the Broadway reactions to the show. Turns out my comments (which you’ll see in a few paragraphs) agreed pretty spot-on with the New York critics. Would I recommend this show to others? If you are a fan of the movie, you’ll enjoy it. If you are a fan of quality musicals, you’ll find it average but not a stinker (I’ve seen “Caligula: The Musical“, so I know stinkers). Will it have an amateur afterlife? Alas, it may, but only after a lot of reworking — and like Sam Wheat, it may have more substance in the afterlife than it had when it walked this earth as the real thing.

The story of “Ghost: The Musical” appears to follow the movie plotline pretty closely. Some characters appear to have been eliminated, some scenes reordered, but the basic story is there. Sam, a banker, is in love with Molly, a potter. Sam can’t quite tell Molly he loves her, though. Sam discovers some discrepancies in the accounts he manages. His friend, Carl, offers to investigate, but Sam changes the account codes and tells  Carl he’ll investigate himself. That evening, a thug attacks Sam and Molly for Sam’s wallet, and Sam is killed in the struggle. He returns as a ghost, and the rest of the movie, oops, musical is about Sam trying to get in contact with Molly to inform her about his killer and bring him to justice. He does this through a psychic named Oda Mae Brown. Twists and adventures about, and key movie scenes are recreated including the infamous parodied pottery scene, which is very short, seems to add nothing to the story other than the novelty of an actual potters wheel on the Pantages stage. I think you can seen the predictable ending: Sam works with Oda Mae to uncover the real killer (Carl, if you hadn’t guessed), convince Molly that he was really there only in time to complete his task and disappear. Que sloppy and sappy ending.

The story itself wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be. There were some comic moments in the second act that I hadn’t seen coming and were well played. The problem is that it wasn’t musicalized very well. My understanding of musicals is that (a) the music should serve to advance the plot (except for retrospective jukebox musicals), (b) you should walk out with music that you remember, and (c) there should be some form of character growth. This show was the product of Dave Stewart, Glen Ballard (both Music and Lyrics), and Bruce Joel Rubin (Book and Lyrics) (who had done the original screenplay). Translation: You had a story being musicalized by two who were familiar with rock music and not theatrical music, and a theatrical book being done by someone who had only written screenplays. Again I ask, what could go wrong? I mean, there are rock musicians who can write great theatre scores — witness Sir Elton and Cyndi Lauper — and there are screenwriters who can do stories for the stage (look at Aaron Sorkin).

So what could go wrong? The resulting musical had a heavy rock score, which just didn’t fit the story and lent itself to heavily choreographed dance sequences that had nothing to do with the story (making them worse was the fact that the choreography of Ashley Wallen (FB) came across as mechanical and disconnected, instead of integrated and fun). There were internal points that could have been musicalized well — and one or two were — but the songs just never hit home and stuck like a good theatrical song does.  My best example of this was song “I’m Outta Here”, which was just pointless.

What about how the story was translated to the stage? A good playwright understands how stage is different — how you have to suggest things and bring the audience into the imagination of the story. The Fantastiks is a great example of that. Here, sad to say, technology was used to create a movie on stage. There was heavy use of projections — both in the background and as a front scrim. These backgrounds had heavy movements and LED acrobatics that essentially put the movie on stage projected, as least in scenic areas. This created a very heavy dependence on technology that I feel hurt the play — it moved the production away from the imagination that the stage requires into the realism of the silver screen. If I want realize, I’ll go to the movies. I go to the theatre because I want actors to create the story out of nothingness. Where should be blame be placed here? Some goes on the screenwriter, oops, playwright. More, I feel goes on the director, Matthew Warchus, who had the charge of taking the vision from paper and putting it on stage (and this gets me worried about Matilda: The Musical, which he also directed). In a good play or musical, the director disappears into the acting — what is on stage seems a natural way to tell the story and the actors tell it. Here the choice to depend so heavily on technology overpowered (just like the musicians overpowered the vocals), making the directorial choices stand out. It will be interesting to see how this musical improves when it moves to the amateur and regional arena, where the technology just won’t be there. Perhaps it will work better then.

That doesn’t mean the musical was horrible, however. The basic illusions, designed by Paul Kieve, were excellent. Even though you knew the actor playing Sam had physical substance, the illusions and choreography of his movements made you believe he couldn’t interact with normal matter. There were little tricks and sequences that just brought that illusion to, so to speak, life. There was also some wonderful interaction with the technical displays that worked extremely well.

Also strong were the lead actors. The two primary leads — Steven Grant Douglas (FB) as Sam Wheat and Katie Postotnik (FB) as Molly Jenson — sang well and had a delightful believable chemistry between them. They were, to put it succinctly, cute together. Douglas created the illusion of being a ghost extremely well, and Postontnik handled the grieving girlfriend well. She even knew how to work the potters wheel (I wonder if that was in the casting requirements, just like Douglas being able to play the guitar). In the third lead position was Carla R. Stewart (FB) as Oda Mae Brown. She handled the comic aspects of the role well, but was overpowered in her main numbers by the orchestra. I fault the sound guy for that (either the orchestra was over-amplified or she was under-mic-ed), and she should as well. When we could hear her voice, it was good.

As for the rest of the cast, well, you really didn’t get to know them well. The few named other characters — Robby Haltiwanger (FB) as Carl Bruner, Fernando Contreras (FB) as Willie Lopez, Brandon Curry (FB) as the Subway Ghost, Evette Marie White (FB) as Clara, Lydia Warr (FB) as Louise, Hana Freeman (FB) as Mrs. Santiago, and Shannan E. Johnson (FB) as Ortisha — have their moments but never become real characters. The closest you come are Carl Bruner and Willie Lopez, but the latter is a stereotypical hispanic thug, and the former is a stereotypical slime banker. As for the ensemble, they basically serve as a glorified dance troupe during scene transitions while the main cast members change or the set changes. I’m not saying that one expects individualization from the ensemble, but you do expect the ensemble to support the story, to play out characters you might never meet, to give some acting behind the dance. I’ve seen this in other large musicals I’ve seen. Here — and again I blame the director and choreographer more than the performers who were just following instructions — we had dance sequences of ghosts, or business people in suits, or people on the street with umbrellas — that were amplified by LED dancers in the background and choreographed with technically precise rock-ish dance moves. It just didn’t work. The ensemble consisted of: Fernando Contreras (FB), Brandon Curry (FB), Hana Freeman (FB), Shannan E. Johnson (FB), Susan Leilani Gearou (FB), Tony Johnson/FB, Beth Stafford Laird (FB), Andrea Laxton (FB), Ben Laxton (FB), Jake Vander Linden (FB), Michael McClure/FB, David Melendez/FB, Jack O’Brien/FB, Maria Cristina Slye (FB), Lydia Warr (FB), Evette Marie White (FB). I’ll also note that this, alas, was a non-equity tour. This is poor form, as tours are hard work, and equity tours provide important protections to actors.

I’ve commented before on the quality of the score. The score was executed by a 14 member orchestra under the direction of Matthew Smedal. Music supervision was by David Holcenberg, and Talitha Fehr was music coordinator.  Christopher Nightingale was the musical supervisor, arranger, and orchestrator. The major complaint with the music was that it was overamplified — this is a musical, dammit, not a rock concert!

Turning to the technical and the remainder of the creatives. The set was designed by … hmmm, there’s no credit for a set designer, only an associate scenic designer (Paul Weimer).There is, however, a credit for video and projection design (John Driscoll), as well as an associate (Michael Clark). This says quite a bit — there really was no set design. There were hints of sets — a couch here, a sign there, a refrigerator, a pottery wheel, a desk. The rest was all projections. Although use of projections is understandable in a tour, the sets in this show were so dependent on the projections that the magic of stagecraft was lost. The lighting was designed by Hugh Vanstone, and recreated by Joel Shier. The lighting made heavy use of moving lights and LED lights, constantly rotating into the audience. Remember what I said about this being theatre, not a rock show? This was rock show lighting, and I think it hurt the production. Sound was by Bobby Aitken, and Garth Helm, with assist from the UK’s Simon King. Looking at Aitken’s resume, you can see the problem by now — he is a rock show sound designer, and the musician’s sound overpowered the actors voices. Again, there is no credit for costumes, but there is an associate costume designer (Daryl Stone); hair, wigs, and makeup were by Campbell Young Associates. Both were satisfactory. Rounding out the creative team were Thomas Caruso (Associate Director), Paul Warwick Griffin (Associate Director), Sunny Walters (Associate Choreographer), Ryan P. Murphy (Production Manager), Townsend Teague (General Manager), and Donavan Dolan (Production Stage Manager).

Ghost: The Musical” continues at the Pantages through July 13. Tickets are available through the Pantages Box Office, as well as through 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:  Next weekend sees us back in Santa Clarita for “Return to the Forbidden Planet” at REP East (FB) the weekend of 7/12 — the artistic team must have had a ghost advising them, for it was just announced that the Oliver-award-wining Forbidden Planet will be starting a 25th Anniversary Tour.  See it now, upclose and personal! That will be followed by “Once” at the Pantages (FB) on 7/19, “Bye Bye Birdie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on 7/26, “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2, and “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9. I’m hoping to follow that with “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey for 8/16. We then deal with vacations, but I’m eyeing a number of productions in Escondido, including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. Things start to get busy again in September and October, with “The Great Gatsby” at REP, “What I Learned in Paris” at the Colony, and “Pippin” at the Pantages. More on that later. 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.