Observations Along the Road

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

Psst. It’s a Heist. Let’s Sing About It.

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 27, 2014 @ 8:11 pm PDT

Operaworks - The Heistuserpic=ucla-csunTwo or so years ago, we discovered a really interesting program at CSUN. It is called Operaworks, and it’s goal is to make better Opera singers. The advanced artist program, which just concluded, has a slightly different specific goal: to teach opera singers how to “be” on stage. In their training, opera singers are taught to stand and sing in a formalized position. But to be effective in opera, they need to learn how to act — how to move, how to interact with others, how to tell stories with their movements, how to create personas that go beyond the areas. Each year in this program they bring together 30 or so graduate or newly performing singers. They come up with a theme, personas, and then select arias from their repertoires that might fit. They then improvise these areas into a through story, present two performances, and its gone for the year.

Today we saw the second performance. Sorry, you missed it. Try again next year.

This year’s performance was called “The Heist”. It was based on the story of an imaginary crime family called the Mezzos. I certainly won’t be able to tell you the full story, because I simply didn’t catch it all. But let’s try (and note that I’m doing this from memory, and was a bit drowsy from my migraine meds during the first act).

The first act was called “The Family Meeting”. It was essentially a cocktail party where different members of the Mezzo family were interacting. These included Giovanni Mezzo and his wife Holly. After a heist went wrong, Giovanni has gone into hiding. Holly is the mother of Amber Rose, Angela, Annie, Ricardo, and adopted son Angky. Annie lives in the bottle and is a hopeless drunk; AmberRose is the daddy’s girl; Angela is the caretaker of the family; Ricardo is the oldest son, trying to take his father’s place; and Angky, the adopted son who is betrothed to Anastasia, part of the family that killed Giovanni’s father. Also at the party is Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti, widow of Giacomo Carminotti and younger sister of Holly. Rebecca is the mother of Tara, who on her last job killed a bank teller and is suffering from PTSD. Also at the party is Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo, Ricardo’s wife; Baby, who got caught up in the family; and Mark Markson, the family legal counsel and sometimes pianist. As the party goes on, we move from character to character seeing the interplay; the party concludes with the announcement that there is going to be one last heist.

Arias in Act One were: Adele’s Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Annie Sherman as Annie Mezzo]; Czàrdàs (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Rebecca Peterson as Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti]; O wär ich schon (Fidelio | Ludwig van Beethoven) [Anastasia Malliaras as Anastasia Basso]; The Tower Aria (The Turn of the Screw | Benjamin Britten) [Tara Morrow as Tara Mezzo-Carminotti];  La Promessa (Giacchino Rossini) [Lauren Corcoran as Lauren O'Donnell Mezzo]; Dearest Mama (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Cristina Foster as Baby]; Una Furtiva Lagrima (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti) [Ricardo Mota as Ricardo Mezzo]; Steal Me, Sweet Thief (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angela De Venuto as Angela Mezzo]; When The Air Sings of Summer (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angky Budiardjono as Angky Mezzo]; Don’t Say a Word (Dead Man Walking | Jake Heggie) [Holly Seebach as Holly Mezzo]; and I Go To Him (The Rake’s Progress | Igor Stravinsky) [AmberRose Dische as AmberRose Mezzo]. Mark Robson was at the piano.

The memorable performance in Act One was Annie Sherman as the drunk Annie Mezzo — she was just a delight to watch through the entire act, both as the drunk and how she interacted with others.

Act Two is the actual heist, and takes place at the Bank. The characters we meet here are Erin Desjardins, a student about to graduate from high school and her French cousin, Rachelle Desjardins; Manon Elias, a Kim Kardashian-type at the bank with her boyfriend, commercial real estate giant Andrew Gold. Mary Silverstein, the bank manager and Magdaline Small, the bank teller;  Katherine Sullivan, a high-school English teacher; Noel Strand and Sean Faust, the bank guards; Kelly the bank heist manager and her new robber Crystal; and Karlos Keys, a security guard who enjoys playing piano more. Most of the act is the interaction between the characters. When the heist occurs, the manager is forced to open the silver vault. Katherine organizes the guard and the others to overpower the watchman, and they storm the vault. During the melee, Samantha Mezzo is shot.

Arias in Act Two were Laurie’s Song (The Tender Land | Aaron Copland) [Erin White as Erin Desjardins]; O Mio Babbino (Gianni Schicchi | Giacomo Puccini) [Rahel Moore as Manon Elias]; En Fermant Les Yeux (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Andrew Zimmerman as Andrew Gold]; Nun Eilt Herbei (The Merry Wives of Windsor | Otto Nicolai) [Kelly Rubinsohn as Kelly]; Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen (Guiditta | Franz Lehar) [Crystal Kim as Crystal]; Je Suis Encor (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Rachel Rosenberg as Rachelle Desjardins]; Come Now a Roundel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Benjamin Britten) [Magdaline Small as Magdaline Small]; The Silver Aria (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Mary Harrod as Mary Silverstein]; Prendi, Per Me (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti); and Chacun Le Sait (La Fille Du Régiment | Gaetano Donizetti) [Katherine Sullivan as Katherine Sullivan]. Pianists were Nola Strand and Kelly Horsted.

Notable performances in Act Two were Crystal as the naive thief and Erin White with her opening song. My wife liked the clueless bank manager (Mary Harrod) and Rahel Moore as the golddigger.

Act Three takes place at the hospital afterwards. The characters we meet here include the hospital personnel: Sangeetha Ekambaram the head nurse; Brenna Johnson, an RN; her husband Dr. Joe Johnson; and Eric Zingermann, the intake clerk who dreams of a bigger career on the concert stage. We also meet Sarah Westbrook, a gold-digging bored housewife who has secret assignations with Dr. Joe; Megan, a local hypochondriac; Alice Beurre a new bride and her maid of honor, Beth; Marina, the new clown doctor, and Tascha, whose father was injured picking strawberries. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Samantha Mezzo, who was shot in the heist. This act is mostly the interactions between the characters, concluding with Samantha’s death.

Arias in Act Three were: Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Hamlet | Ambroise Thomas) [Megan Supina as Megan]; O Mon Fernand / Kommit Ein Schlanker (La Favorite | Gaetano Donizetti) / (Der Freischütz | Carl Maria von Weber) [Alice Chung as Alice Beurre / Elizabeth Sterling as Beth]; Je Veux Vivre (Roméo Et Juliette | Charles Gounod) [Sangeetha Ekambaram as Sangeetha Ekambaram]; Pauline’s Aria (Pique Dame | Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky) [Marina Kesler as Marina]; Madamina, Il Catalogo é questo (Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart) [Brent Hetherington as Dr. Joe Johnson]; Svegliatevi Nei Core [Giulio Cesare | George Frederick Händel) [Tascha Anderson as Tascha]; Ouvre Ton Coeur (Georges Bizet) [Sarah Dudley as Sara Westbrook]; Things Change, Jo (Little Women | Mark Adamo) [Brenna Casey as Brenna Johnson]; and Emily’s Aria (Our Town | Ned Rorem) [Samantha Lax as Samantha Mezzo]. Eric Sedgwick was the pianist.

Notable performances in Act Three were Megan as the hypochondriac. My wife liked Brenna Casey.

Turning to the technical side, umm, well they didn’t say much. Sean Dennehy was the Stage Director, Julia Aks was the Assistant Stage Director, and Ann Baltz as the Artistic Director.

Look for the next Operaworks production in July 2015. You can sign up for their mailing list at http://www.operaworks.org/.

[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 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.

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A Bye-Bye Too Good To Be Bye-Bye

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 27, 2014 @ 11:28 am PDT

Bye-Bye Birdie (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicLast night, at the Cabrillo Music Theatre’s (FB) penultimate performance of “Bye Bye Birdie“, the artistic director of Cabrillo, Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB) spoke about how this may be Cabrillo’s final show if they don’t reach their fundraising goal (more on that at the end of the write-up). That would be a great loss — Cabrillo has been on a roll this season with great shows, and their production of “Bye Bye Birdie” was the excellent topper to a great season. One way to help them is to buy tickets, so you’ve got the last matinee today to catch! The show is well worth seeing. Here are a few of my thoughts why…

Bye Bye Birdie” is an interesting show. The first Broadway musical of many musicals by the songwriting team of Charles Strouse (music) and Lee Adams (lyrics), it was one of only two to be stellar successes and have a long life (the other was “Annie“). It is also one of only a single handful of musicals for which a sequel (“Bring Back Birdie“) was attempted (two of the others were “Annie” — “Annie 2” and “Annie Warbucks“), and for which the sequel was a notorious failure. The book was by Michael Stewart — his first Broadway musical in a career that included “Hello Dolly“, “Mack and Mabel“, “I Love My Wife“, and “Barnum“. “Bye Bye Birdie” is also one of those musicals that have had few big revivals (unlike equivalent spoofs of the era like “Grease“) — a recent attempt failed badly to recapture the magic. I can posit many reasons — primarily that there are concepts in the book that are increasingly unknown to today’s Boomer and younger audiences, whereas “Grease” builds on the universal high school experience. But when you revisit the show, the story, and the music, you realize that it still can speak to a younger audience whilst being entertaining to all.

How do I know this? Last night, we brought our cousin-who-is-like-a-niece with us. This young woman (14 going on 15) is a rabid boy-band fan, currently into One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer. Speaking to her after the show, she said she could see herself in the behavior of the girls onstage. The reaction of the Birdie Girls to Birdie — well, it is universal in every generation. Her reaction to the show, however, perhaps explains why it has been less successful as well. She asked why there wasn’t more Conrad. Consider: “Grease” is told from the point of view of the kids — the center of the story is Danny and Sandy. Although Conrad Birdie is in the title of “Bye Bye Birdie“, he is not the center of the story. “Bye Bye Birdie” is the love story of Albert and Rosie — those are the characters that see the most growth and change, but who also are more centered in a time that is increasingly foreign to audience’s eyes.

I just realized I haven’t told you what “Bye Bye Birdie” is about. After all, you might not have seen the original show on Broadway in 1960 with Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera (sheesh, this show is as old as I am!), the 1963 movie with Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh, or the 1995 TV remake with Jason Alexander and Vanessa Williams (although I should note that both movies make changes to the story from the original version, and the version we saw last night interpolates a few songs from the movies). On its surface, “Bye Bye Birdie” is the story of Elvis leaving for a stint in the Army. Elvis was changed to Conrad Birdie (a parody name of Conrad Twitty), and his “last kiss” of a WAC was changed to a kiss of an fan club member in Sweetwater OH. This fan club member, Kim MacAfee, was just “pinned” (remember what I said about outdated concepts :-)) by her sweetheart, Hugo Peabody. Jealousy ensues between Hugo and Conrad. However, the real story in Birdie is about a different couple: Albert Peterson and Rose Alvarez. Albert is an English major who gave up on a goal of being an English teacher to write songs for, and manage, Conrad Birdie. Rose Alvarez is Albert’s long-suffering (is there any other type) secretary and girlfriend, who sees Birdie’s going into the army as an opportunity to (a) get Albert back to teaching, (b) get Albert out from his mother’s clutches, and (c) solemnize their relationship. As for Albert’s mother, well, she’s the exemplar for passive-aggressive. Rose conceives as the “last kiss” as a way to get Albert out of debt and make something out of Birdie’s leaving. In Sweetwater OH, however, Birdie’s arrival exacerbates Hugo’s jealousy, and Albert’s mother’s arrival (in response to a “go away” note) fractures Rose’s relationship with Albert. This culminates with Hugo punching out Birdie, and Rose breaking up with Albert, live on the Ed Sullivan Show. The second act features Kim and Conrad’s rebellion, and concludes with the appropriate musical theatre reconciliations. Thrown into this entire mix, for extra spice, is Kim’s family — especially her acerbic and cynical father, Harry.

Cabrillo’s execution of this was excellent. I’ll get to the acting in a minute — let’s look at the “general effect” first. Cabrillo excels in large cast musicals with full orchestration — and they hit the target with this one. The large ensemble with lots of kids works well, and the orchestra is a delight. The stage is used well, and the overall impression is that everyone is just having fun with this. A few spot observations:

  • The opening overture sets the mood for the evening. As the orchestra starts, they keep getting interrupted by members of the Birdie fan club singing “I Love You Conrad”. This increases, with the fan club leader eventually taking out the conductor, leading the fan club in the song, and then finishing by leading the orchestra in the end of the overture. I never saw the original cast, and can’t recall seeing any of the tours or local productions, so I don’t know if this is a Cabrillo invention, but it is great.
  • In the second act, there is a quartet that sings in Maude’s Bar for the “Baby, Talk to Me” number. I turned to my wife during this and whispered, “So that’s what happened to Forever Plaid“.
  • The dance in this production is astounding. I think there is more true dance in this musical than any I’ve seen of late — in particular, numbers such as Rose’s unnamed long dance numbers, as well as the Shriner’s Ballet and “Spanish Rose”, the dancing in “Put on a Happy Face”, the dancing in both “Honestly Sincere” and “A Lot of Living to Do”. All of it just spectacular. Credit goes out not only to the dancers, but to John Charron (FB) (Choreographer) and Kai Chubb (FB) (Assistant Choreographer).
  • I liked Cabrillo’s clever interpolation of the movie’s title song, “Bye Bye Birdie” into the opening of Act II, with the youngest generation forming their own fan club (including a fake band with the drums labeled “The Chirp Chirps”) to sing it.
  • The large ensemble was particularly noteworthy during the ensemble dance numbers, as well as in the ensemble “Hymn for a Sunday Evening”. If there were more productions of the show, I would recommend seeing it multiple times so that you can focus on different ensemble members each time. Alas, there’s only one more performance (and I have tickets for a different show at that time).
  • Kudo’s to the director, Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB), for corralling such a large cast and bringing them into a cohesive whole while retaining the fun, for telling the story in such an effective way, and for bringing out great and believable performances in his cast.

Let’s now turn to the cast (and one of the things that make these reviews so long to write, with all the linking I do). In the primary lead positions were Zachary Ford (FB) as Albert Peterson and Michelle Marmolejo (FB) as Rose Alvarez. Ford’s Peterson was an excellent dancer, and excellent comic and singer, and (at least as far as I could tell through my binoculars from the Mezzanine). He wasn’t channeling Dick Van Dyke or Jason Alexander, but did have a touch of the boyish charm of John Stamos (who was in the recent revival). I kept trying to figure out who he reminded me of. The best I could come up with was a cross between Jimmy Fallon and Sean Hayes. This isn’t a bad thing — both have an easygoing comic charm and a pleasant singing voice. As for Ms. Marmolejo, her dancing simply blew me away. She was effortless and joyful, and it was a delight to watch. Her singing and acting weren’t bad either. We’ve seen Ford before, particularly in Pasadena Playhouse’s “Camelot and Colony’s “Brel, and enjoyed him both times. Marmolejo may be new to us; it is unclear if she was in Zumanity when we saw it; she may have been in some of the tours we saw at the Pantages.

In the secondary lead positions were Austin MacPhee/FB as Conrad Birdie and Noelle Marion (FB) as Kim MacAfee. MacPhee’s Birdie toned down the Elvis impersonation (which is a good thing), and captured a more modern teen idol. I kept thinking Justin Bieber, but that’s dated thinking. All I know is that the teen sitting next to me was practically drooling, so he must have been doing something right. Marion’s MacAfee was a strong dancer and performer; her voice seemed a little high to me but was acceptable. Those familiar with the movie might be surprised with the changes in her role in the stage version; the movie had Kim’s role amped up to highlight Ann Margaret.

In what I would characterize as the comic relief positions were Jim J. Bullock (FB) as Harry MacAfee, Celeste Russi as Mae Peterson, and Farley Cadena (FB) as Doris MacAfee. Bullock seemed to be channeling Paul Lynde, the original Harry, in his performance, which wasn’t a bad thing (Wendt came off as too gruff in the 1995 remake). The script seemed to confine his humor until “Kids”, when his ad-libs really shone and were quite funny (and made me wonder if they changed each show). He was also wonderful in the breakfast scene, and delightful in the reaction shots. Russi’s Mama Peterson, as I said before, is the poster-child for Jewish passive-aggression (e.g., “I’m only your mother; put me out with the garbage”). In the original version, she doesn’t even have her own song (this is made fun of in the sequel when her song notes she can only sing three notes); either Cabrillo or the revised licensed script interpolated the “A Mother Doesn’t Matter Anymore” number from the 1995 movie, and Russi performed it to perfection. Cadena (a CMT regular)’s Mama MacAfee is written to have a much smaller part, but she was also quite good in her introductory scene and in the breakfast scene.

Before I turn to listing the large ensemble and smaller roles, a few more standouts worthy of mention. Francesca Barletta/FB (as Ursula Merkle) was a remarkable character actor channeling her energy into humor. More importantly (especially if I have the right actress identified), it was great to see a larger actress on stage doing what she did. Such performances inspire the young, and we need more of them. As Randolph MacAfee, Micah Meyers was especially cute as the miniature Birdie in the Act II opening number. Rounding out the large cast were (he takes a deep breath): Harrison Meloeny (FB) (Hugo Peabody), Markus Flanagan (FB) (Mayor Merkle), Tracy Ray Reynolds (FB) (Mayor’s Wife), Emily Albrecht (Judy), Jessica Bernardin/FB (Alice), Savannah Brown/FB (Becky Lynn), Amanda Carr/FB  (1st Sad Girl / Lucille), Maggie Darago (FB) (Margie), Gabi Ditto/FB (Nancy), Natalie Iscovich (FB) (Dottie), Isabella Olivas/FB (Cindy), Jocelyn Quinn/FB (Helen), Ali Rosenstein (FB) (Mary Beth), Jennifer Sanette/FB (Mary Kate), Megan Stonger (FB)  (2nd Sad Girl / Peggy Lee), Alison Teague (FB) (Roberta), Antonia Vivino/FB (Phyllis Ann), Natalia Vivino (FB) (Deborah Sue), Harrison Anderson/FB (Dennis), Michael J. Brown/FB (Franklin / Hugo u/s), Paul Crish/FB (Karl), Josh Ditto (Tommy), Jay Gamboa/FB (Alex), Peter Dallas Lance Gill/FB (Bruce), Cameron Herbst/FB (Otis), Kurt Kemper/FB (Montgomery), Michael Kennedy/FB (Paul), Christopher Reilly/FB (Harvey Johnson), Erin Fagundes (FB) (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Heidi Goodspeed (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Timothy Hearl (FB) (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Gina Howell/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Raymond Mastrovito/FB (Maude / Parent), Anna Montavon (Gloria / Adult Ensemble), Paul Panico/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Leasa Shukiar/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Shannon Smith/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), Scott Strauss/FB (Parent/Adult Ensemble), and the kids: Natalie Esposito, Jenna Guerrero, Sam Herbert, Autumn Jessel, Chelsea Larson, Nathaniel Mark, Jade McGlynn, Logan Prince, Emily Salzman, Hayley Shukiar, Ashley Thomas, Abigail May Thompson, and Lilly Victoria Thompson. Guest Shriners were Arryck Adams (FB) and Steve Giboney.

One of the advantages of Cabrillo is the presence of a full orchestra. The orchestral sound at this show was wonderful, thanks to the hard work of Music Director and Conductor Lloyd Cooper (FB) and Orchestra Contractor  Darryl Tanikawa (FB). The orchestra consisted of Gary Rautenberg (FB) (Alto Sax I, Flue, Piccolo, Clarinet);  Darryl Tanikawa (FB) (Alto Sax II, Clarinet I); Ian Dahlberg (FB) (Tenor Sax, Clarinet II); Matt Germaine (Baritone Sax, Bass Clarinet, Clarinet III); Bill Barrett (Trumpet I); Chris Maurer/FB (Trumpet II); Rick Perl (Trombone); Melissa Hendrickson (Horn); Sharon Cooper (Violin I, Cancertmaster); Sally Berman (Violin II); Richard Adkins (Violin III); Rachel Coosaia (Cello); Chris Kimbler (Piano); Pathik Desai (Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Banjo); Shane Harry (Acoustic & Electric Bass); Michael Deutsch(Percussion); and Alan Peck (Set Drums).

Turning to the technical artists. The set design worked well–the scenery was designed by Adam Koch, and rental props were designed by Courtney Strong. The scenery was provided by the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (gone are the days when Cabrillo did their own scenery, it seems). The lighting design by Rand Ryan was effective and worked well; I was surprised that Cabrillo went with a neon sign (but that might have been amortized from the rental). Sound design by Jonathan Burke (FB) was clear and crisp. Christine Gibson was the wardrobe supervisor, using costumes provided by The Theatre Company in Upland CA. Hair and Makeup Design was by Cassie Russek (FB). Gary Mintz was the Technical Director, and Brooke Baldwin/FB was the Production Stage Manager. Cabrillo Music Theatre’s (FB) is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB).

The last performance of “Bye Bye Birdie” is today at 2pm. Hopefully, this post will be up before then. You can get tickets at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Box Office.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, Cabrillo is having major financial difficulties. They are trying to raise $250K by the end of the next two weeks; they are about 65% there, and they need to make 80%. They’ve got a $30K match in place. I feel a bit guilty as we didn’t renew our subscription — I just don’t have the desire to see the shows they are doing next season again. But I believe in what Cabrillo is doing, and will toss them another donation to help them out. You should too, as well as supporting their upcoming dance marathon and other fundraising activities such as Lazertag and a Silent Auction.

[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:  Still to come today is the annual Operaworks improv show. 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: Things You See and Things You Don’t

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 26, 2014 @ 2:56 pm PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday — time for some tasty news chum stew. Today’s stew, which is almost a specifically flavored post, provides some information on things you see, and things you don’t (including things you once saw):

 

Water’s For Fightin’

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 26, 2014 @ 7:07 am PDT

userpic=plumbingI’m currently reading a very interesting book called “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water” by Marc Reisner. It is very timely reading, given the drought that we’re currently facing in California. The book explores much of the relationship of the American West and water, especially the power, politics, and idiocy behind many Bureau of Reclamation projects and Army Corps of Engineer projects — such as the Central Arizona Project, the Teton Dam, or the proposed Narrows Dam — that are not economically viable and often built in unstable areas. There are two chapters devoted to California: one explores the story of William Mulholland and the first Los Angeles Aqueduct (here are some interesting maps related to that), the second explores the history of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Other chapters touch on some Army Corps projects that helped large farmers in the San Joaquin valley, the story of obtaining water from the Colorado, and the more surprising story of how they wanted to get more water for the Colorado / Central Valley from the Feather, Eel, Klamath, and even the Columbia river. What’s missing in the book is any discussion of San Francisco and its water, and the battle over Hetch Hetchy. It is a glaring omission.

In any case, this book has gotten me thinking about water, and a number of articles this week have emphasized that thinking. It’s also got me looking at many government projects a bit more cynically — when you understand some of the political battles behind them, you can see the waste. This is independent of party: both conservatives and liberals, Repubs and Democrats, have fought for water project boondoggles. Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower tried to cut them, but never succeeded.

So here are some articles on water, with commentary:

  • Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone. One of topics repeatedly mentioned in Cadillac Desert is how areas in the west have been over-pumping the ground water (similar to how we are over-pumping oil). We’ve been drastically drawing down a slow-to-replenish resource, and don’t have the water projects to replace it (and don’t get me started on how we’re contaminating the aquifers through fracking). A number of articles are bringing this fact home: the Las Vegas Sun has an article on how the groundwater loss in the Southwest is shocking: “Groundwater losses from the Colorado River basin appear massive enough to challenge long-term water supplies for the seven states and parts of Mexico that it serves” [combine this with the fact that more water from the Colorado River has been promised to the states along its path than flows through the river in a normal year]. The LA Times is reporting that farmers are having to drill deeper to find groundwater for wells. This indicates that the aquifer is getting low. The AAAS Science Magazine is reporting that the Western US states are using groundwater at an alarming rate: “A new study shows that ground water in the [Colorado River] basin is being depleted six times faster than surface water. The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.”  Yes, droughts are cyclical; but global climate change, combined with our misuse of what water resources we have, are making this one even scarier.
  • A Crappy Situation. Think about your personal water usage. Outside of irrigating your landscaping, where is most of your water used? The answer, of course, is the bathroom. One of the articles I saw this week was on why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design. There are a number of interesting points in the article. Thanks to the modern bathroom, the average water use per person went quickly from three gallons of water per person to 30 and perhaps as much as 100 gallons per person. Further, we’re doing silly things like storing medicine, open toothbrushes, and glasses in an environment where fecal bacteria are being flung around. That’s less of a problem if you’re the only person using your bathroom; more of a problem if it shared.
  • Go Jump in a (Concrete) Lake. Our house, alas, has a swimming pool. I don’t want it, but we liked the rest of the house. So here’s an interesting question: What uses more water — a swimming pool or the landscaping that replaces it? If a lawn is going it, quite likely the pool is water smarter (other than the fill, which is one-time). The pool only loses water due to evaporation; you pour water on the lawn regularly. It does make me think seriously about getting a pool cover to control evaporation, however. I just hate to think of the leaves that would accumulate on top of it.

 

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.